Tag Archives: photography class

THEN

My interest in photographs preceded my interest in photography. In the 1950s, my Father brought home a copy of a LOOK magazine book titled something like “A Year in Pictures”, and I kept this book on my nightstand for the longest time, continually leafing through it. To this day, I remember a photograph of a pair of Siamese Twins, joined at the top of their heads.                   This was engaging stuff, the power of photography to explain our world to us in a universal manner.

While I now understand the controversy surrounding it, when my favorite teacher loaned me her copy of ” Family of Man “, it seemed pretty remarkable to my 11 year old self.

I have an interest in things scientific, and am a problem solver, so I learned to appreciate both the magic and the “behind the scenes” processes I learned about  in images like “Helicopter”,  “Transformation of Energy”, and “Bullet Through Apple”.

Years later, while traveling in Europe, I bought a basic 35mm rangefinder camera that had no light meter, nor even any batteries. I learned to judge exposure according to the pictograms on the inside of the film box (Cloudy Bright, Open Shade), but didn’t think of myself as a photographer with a capital “P”, only as a tourist shooting snapshots.

When I returned to the states, everybody was doing something crafty-a couple of my buddies were in Art School studying “Media” A roommate had a darkroom, and photography as an activity utilizing mechanics and chemistry in order to express oneself started to make sense to me, so I dove in.

But I didn’t study Media.

Instead, I learned photography by reading everything I could get my hands on, and by looking at a lot of photographs. Photography as an Art Form didn’t really gain traction with me, but the life of the Photographer seemed pretty cool. The LIFE and LOOK crowd seemed to have good jobs, and what could be better than National Geographic? The photo mags ran articles about what special gear those folks carried on assignment, and occasionally, the special setups they used to get the shot. I am a technique guy, I loved those tools and tricks.

I was off and running.

I enrolled in a couple of Community College photo classes that were designed to stretch my creativity. My first couple of projects were flops-high on concept, but not in execution. I think most of my work was pretty mediocre, but two class assignments really stuck with me.

An Andreas Feininger image introduced me to a storytelling technique of using selective focus to make an image more dynamic. I used this to make an image that was made into a poster for the School’s Automotive Technology Department- it was a real photo assignment “commissioned” and accepted by a third party.

Another class assignment was to shoot three rolls of film, then print and display the five best images that came out of that 108 exposure shoot. I have seen variations on this exercise (shoot geometric shapes, shoot only one color for a week, etc.), and still think these exercises are quite valuable.This is a recent “geometric” version.

 

As can be expected, there were quite a few dogs in the batch of 108 (probably over 100), but a few were photographically interesting, and one “happy accident” double exposure was submitted to a Student Show, where it won first prize!

It is a special feeling to know that total strangers respond to your work (and I don’t mean “likes” on Instagram.

A talented graphic artist brought me into his circle, and I did some of the most creative work ever (my work, his creativity).

I did some product photography, and a few portraits, but didn’t really have the eye for it. I shot a couple of weddings, and think I did OK, but really didn’t have the stomach for it. I hung out with a high powered Rock Band, and that was fun, but they wound up with the girls, and at the end of the day, all I had was a bunch of negatives.

I even got a gig as the still photographer on a full length motion picture.

Little of this was creative, none of it was Arty. I seldom made anything out of thin air, and I am not a concept guy.

However, I was getting pretty good with recording what was in front of my camera- less as documentary, perhaps closer to Journalism, or what Walker Evans called “descriptive photography”. I am beginning to call it “observational photography”.

I enjoy people watching, and have always found myself in the company of “characters”. Although there is not often a lot of people in my photographs, I find the product of being Human to be the most interesting thing to point my camera at. I often went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and in the French Quarter street theater is a way of life. I practiced what came to be called “Street Photography”, but now those guys are formalizing a definition of that type of shooter (and taking the fun out of it), so I am moving away from the category, but my guiding principle is still

 

“….if you are standing on the sidewalk, and saw three Chickens, a Horse with a Purple tail, some bicyclists, and a Peacock approaching, you would have to think,

‘Damn, I need a picture of that’. “

I like to think I had some decent work back them, but we will never know, as all of my work was destroyed by the 1991 urban wildfire that consumed a large part of the Oakland and Berkeley Hills.

I still view photography in terms of the image that you capture, rather than something that is massaged in software. Although there is not often a lot of people in my photographs, I find the product of being Human to be the most interesting thing to point my camera at.

 

That was THEN, next I will talk about NOW.

 

 

 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY THEN AND NOW

Except for cell phone snaps, I have not been shooting at all during the past eight months.

Frankly, the cell phone snaps are intended for Instagram, which I don’t find engaging, so I hardly ever post to it.

However, I have continued to remain photographically engaged in all other ways, and now, I’m starting to get a sense of how photography has changed since I first became interested in it in the 1970s.

Or maybe I have changed.

Or maybe I haven’t, it’s hard to tell.

It is also possible I don’t have anything else to say. At least nothing I want to print and hang on a wall.

Part of this disorientation seems to be screen based photography, part it seems to be the

in current photographic trends.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL.

I enjoy digital photography, but have been disappointed with digital presentation. At first, coming from film and paper, digital seemed so liberating, but occasionally, when I had something printed, I realized the added value a finished print offered, something I could view in my own way.

Twice a month when I was in the Camera Club, we had opportunity to show work. One night was Projected Image Night, and as images came on the screen, there seemed to be minimal discussion, along with a tendency to keep moving. I think this tendency is a symptom of viewing (or even reading) on devices-we push buttons because we can.

Print Night, the alternate evening, was much more satisfying, we had to get involved. We had to assemble the portable “Gallery” walls, set up light stands for viewing, then hang the prints, oftentimes jostling for space, and seldom having enough of it. I believe there was significantly more engagement, and more discussion on print night. They even had to set a timer because the discussions kept going on,

and we would run out of time before we could discuss everybody’s work.

I wanted to learn more about printing, so I enrolled in a Berkeley Community College class which included print critiques as part of each class session, and also provided access to a very nice print lab. The Instructor had a thorough knowledge of photography, and photographic printing, and did a good job of managing the critiques. I greatly enjoyed viewing and discussing the work, it was very gratifying to walk right up to something that caught my attention and stick my nose in it.  And I loved the discussions.

Aside from seeing their iconic images, I think this form of viewing is what made the recent Walker Evans and Brassai exhibits at SF MOMA such rich experiences for me. A great deal of their work was printed no larger than 8×10, and close viewing was essential. I know this is a cell phone shot of a photograph, but you really had to get in there and study this in order to absorb it-at least I did.

Subsequent BCC classes were still about photography, but because that instructor approached it from an arty perspective, the sessions evolved into art classes where photography was part of a larger discussion of imagery. There were no critiques, and occasional assignment presentations were digitally projected. It was my sense that there was less group involvement while viewing the images, and once again, the “slideshow” moved pretty quickly.

It wasn’t for me.

In order to refine their eye, many photographers do look to the greater art world for education, but this doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to say that whatever (photographic) sensibilities I might possess were developed by looking at tens of thousands of photos over the years.

Because the customary method of viewing work in this class was digital projection, I decided to do a web site as a final class project. I had been thinking about one for quite a while, but frankly, I needed such a deadline in order to get it done.

Now maybe my work just isn’t that engaging, but when I hung many of these images as prints on the wall in the previous class, they generated conversation (sometimes quite spirited, sometimes critical), but as projected images, not so much. One thing I realized was the difficulty seeing details, which in many cases, brings out the texture that creates the story. Because it has big graphic shapes, this image had esthetic appeal, but no one could see that the crew members are all elderly Women.

However, once they get past the prettiness, everyone who has handled the actual print zooms in on the crew-this is the hook in this photograph they respond to.

This seems reinforced by the competitions that I entered-accepted entries had big strong elements that would be apparent on a screen-

After BCC, I joined a print based critique group, and had the same experience. The conversations were lively, and John Priola, the facilitator was very good at initiating thoughtful and intelligent dialog within the group. My first two print critiques were quite stimulating, but due to a schedule mixup, I was unable to bring in prints of my 123 Project

 

Since it is on my website, we rounded up a projector, and viewed it that way. The results were embarrassing-

“What is this, some kind of road trip?”

“I can’t tell what I am looking at!”

I think this

and this

came off as just roadside architecture, and neon.

Until I told them the nature of the number of prints it is composed of (35), and showed them the actual size of the Carquinez Bridge shot they were unimpressed, but then they were only impressed by the numbers, not the projected image.

 

 

 

But there is so much detail, along with deep perspective in this photo that the print gets some attention-people in the same room with it tend to like it.

I later printed, mounted, and exhibited this same series locally, and it was pretty well received- I even sold a few prints from it.

It is possible the series is too personal, and isn’t that interesting to the general public. I have an opportunity to bring prints to another critique session at SF Camerawork, and am considering using the 123 set.

We will see the response.

 

Until then, I’m

 

 

Next Chapter

Photographically, these are not productive times for me. For a few years after my                   2010 Calendar stimulated me back into serious photographic activity, I got busy.                            I joined a camera club, discovered Vivian Maier and Garry Winogrand (along with others), and heard this term, “Street Photography” being used. I felt I could identify with Street Photography.

For the next few years, I carried a camera everywhere with me, and while I had done this in the past as well, I am happy to say that these last few years were were my most productive.               I don’t think my craft had improved, but I do believe that my sense of photography has matured.

I wanted to refresh my photographic experiences not by sticking my head in books, but getting out there and brushing up against real life photogs who were doing real work. I saw good work at the camera club, but their organizational model was so enveloped in formal judgings and accumulating competition points, that I didn’t attend any of those the meetings. The other meetings were open showings with member critiques, and though the work was very good, the members even used the same language as the judges, and to me it just didn’t have any soul.

I am not a technical photographer, but the camera club made me want to learn about printing, so I took some classes from the Art Department of a local community college. One  thing I learned is  that I am not good at printing, but I did find value in assignments and critiques. Assignments instilled discipline, and I loved the dialogue of a group critique, but as these classes transitioned from one instructor who used Photography to discuss Art, to another who used Art to discuss Photography, I found it no longer stimulating.

All of this time, I was carrying my camera, and shooting like crazy. I was also entering calls for judged exhibitions, got accepted for a few, and even sold some work. The money was nice, but the acceptance, the validation of my ideas, was the most satisfying part.

What I just described took place from about 2010 to 2017, then started to peter out. I had attended a couple of Street Photography exhibitions and lectures, and although the images were fresh, they didn’t look very different. It seemed as if Street Photography had evolved into a genre, and the practitioners were all using the same rule book.

I also unsuccessfully entered a few Arty competitions, but those applications were really just exhibition inertia.

As Terry Allen would say, “All that exhibiting was just too damned inhibiting for a beer drinkin’ regular guy like me.”.

I was already  pretty unproductive for awhile, then when I broke my camera, I lost all momentum. I already had a few projects on the back burner, and thought that since I was cameraless, I could shift my energy to finishing them up, but like Meier and Winogrand, shooting is much more fun than processing and editing.

I have always used my camera for visual note taking, but over time, this chore was transferred to my phone, as I realized it was more accessible. Now that I don’t have a camera with me, I use the phone for everything, but don’t find it satisfying for “serious” work-I am a viewfinder guy, and have difficulty composing and shooting with a touchscreen.

I haven’t given up on Photography, but I think I just need to find new direction. Daily, I still go to several photography web sites*, which take me in several directions. I visit galleries, have read a few books, and attend monthly member critiques at SF Camerawork. I believe something is stirring inside, and hopefully, it will soon bubble to the surface.

 

Stay tuned.

 

* The Online Photographer

* Shorpy

Petapixel 

* Shifter

 

 

 

Rayko Photo Center provides a stimulus to the Bay Area photography scene that is immeasurable. Aside from providing rental studio, darkroom, and digital printing access, they offer a wide variety of classes and workshops in traditional, digital, and most important (in my view), alternative processes. I just finished a terrific Critique workshop with a very generous instructor-J. John Priola*. This was a very good experience, and if I can muster up enough work, will take it again-John is an excellent facilitator.

During this time, Rayko announced that their Gallery would be closing- a huge blow to our community. San Francisco has always had a vibrant photography scene, and there are a few galleries that are photo specific, but they tend to cater to the Art world, and the “specialness” of that world. In the time I have been going to Rayko, their gallery, under the direction of Ann Jastub, has produced thoughtful and engaging shows, including the current and final exhibit-

10TH ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL JURIED PLASTIC CAMERA SHOW

Like other Hipster trends, there is an element of the plastic camera movement that is just another form of “coolness consumerism”, but  this is different. This is a juried show, and it isn’t about coolness, it is about creativity.

And it sings.

I asked permission to take note with my phone.

The work ranges from images that are photographically interesting

to being photographically interesting with a dose of plastic camera quirkiness,

 

and then to more experimental works of conception and process. My favorites were by a pinhole shot by Andy Mattern

and two images where Robert Schneider reversed the lenses on his Brownie Camera

 

 

Also on display were images from past years,a Holga panorama by Veronika Lukasova

 

Aline Smithson, who apparently used this set built from Legos

Robert Holgren printed this starfish in sections on tracing paper, then stitched it together with staples,

 

and this beautiful print from Michael Borek

The rest of the gallery space is generously devoted to print rack where students can sell their work at very reasonable prices, and a very engaging collection of antique and unique cameras and accessories. The value of this display should not be taken lightly, for inside of every gearhead is an appreciation of all of those knobs, gears, and especially the lenses.

I went through this show twice yesterday, partly because it is so captivating, and also inspiring.

But I also wanted to just hang out, and absorb that great Rayko Photo vibe.

*http://www.jjohnpriola.com/

 

 

 

 

123 Images-Carquinez Bridge at Sunset

There are more images in the 123 series, but this is the last one I am going to talk about here.

San Pablo Avenue pretty much ends where the Freeway entrance to the Carquinez Bridge crosses the Sacramento River. The road itself continues past the Freeway, but the street name is changed as it becomes part of the City of Crockett.

I couldn’t figure out how to take an interesting picture of this bridge. When crossing it, there is something I have always liked the C&H Sugar building, and this caused me to want to include that building in my photo, so I started looking for a vantage point. Just before this bridge/Freeway junction, there is a “scenic view” turnout overlooking the river for at least 180° East and West. This offered possibilities, but in order to get my desired point of view, I had to climb over the parking lot guardrail and then the heavy brush obscured a clear view.

Shortly after, I was reading the user manual for my camera, and the page on shooting panoramic images used a bridge as an example.

em5-manual1

 

I like panoramic images. Because there is so much accumulated information, a lot of detail is brought out, and because the lens position changes during the exposures, there is a perspective shift that can visual interest to even a mundane picture of a bridge. I have attempted a numberof panoramics, with various successes stitching them together.

I drove back out there, and just to the East of that Vista Point is the Dead Fish Seafood Restaurant. As I pulled into their parking lot, I found a small private road that dipped down practically to the riverbank.

I grabbed my tripod, walked down, and started scouting for a good vantage point. I came to a flat spot that presented me with the viewpoint I wanted, and the setting Sun was low enough to light up the C&H building, but rapidly heading towards the horizon. I didn’t have time to think about setting up a tripod or all of the “best practices” for shooting panoramic images. I just started shooting.

I took about 50 images, thinned them down to 35, and loaded them into the stitching software.

35-pic-screen-shot

Frankly, I didn’t expect much, there was just so many lines and angles to fit together.

Stitching images together accumulates a lot of information (the finished file is 131MB and the final image is 4½ feet long)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

so it took a long time for the software to do its thing, but it did it well-surprisingly well. Because the Sun was setting so rapidly, the individual photos got progressively darker by the time I got to the far side of the river, so we had to use some gradient lightening in order to even up the final image from left to right. This too, worked very well. Except for a bit of cropping, there was no other editing done to this image.

I was so pleased with the results, that I kept the jagged image edges created by the stitching software.

carquinez-bridge-at-sunset-resized

Copyright 2016  Jimmy Reina

My position that this image is a partnership between the software and me, and the hand of the software needs to be recognized as much as my own.

 

http://www.jimmyreinaphoto.com

 

123 Images-Liberty Behind Bars and American

I wrote about these two images before, They were both taken on the same July 4th-Indepenence Day in the United States, a day for flag waving, fireworks, and politicians making speeches about freedom and Democracy with a capital “D”.

I shot this image four or five times over the course of a year, and was never satisfied with the results. Because it is inside a building, most attempts would give me enough shadow detail. I needed enough light coming in from the late afternoon Sun to illuminate it for me. But that same afternoon Sun created a ton of glare and reflection off of the window glass. On this day, I think I found the remedy to those problems by pressing the end of my lens directly on to the glass.

Liberty Behind Bars

Copyright 2016 Jimmy Reina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The irony (to me anyway) is that the photo was taken on July 4th and the tablet that Lady Liberty is holding is inscribed with the date of the American Declaration of Independence- July 4, 1776.

Liberty Behind Bars

Copyright 2016  Jimmy Reina

 

I got the shot, and as I drove away on San Pablo Avenue, I found this second situation. In order to get the whole image, I had to make a U turn and shoot from across the street. I am an old Alley Cat, and street life generally doesn’t faze me, so normally I would park and wait for a break in traffic so I could walk out into the street  and fill my viewfinder with the image. However, this corner is about as funky as can be, and the small grassy area where I had to park was filled with quite a cast of characters, most of them probably harmless, some of them probably homeless, but there were some bad dudes there (the City of Oakland has since closed it down by fencing it off). I took the easy way out, and just rolled down my window, and clicked off a few frames.

American

Copyright 2016  Jimmy Reina

Here’s the inside joke. Aside from the American Flag, the car is a Rambler American, something that may only be obvious to a 1960s motorhead like me.

American

Copyright 2016  Jimmy Reina

It has been said that the Statue of Liberty really is the symbol of the beacon of hope the United States represents to immigrants. There is a poem about this hope displayed there, the most famous lines from it are-

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I have to say that “Liberty Behind Bars” seems to take on new meaning with the actions the Trump Administration took this week.

 

www.jimmyreinaphoto.com

 

 

 

 

123 Images-Horse Mural and Troy Orvil

I am showing these two images together because not only are they connected geographically, but the attempt to shoot one led to the discovery of the other.

As usual, I was cruising San Pablo Avenue looking for interesting material, when I saw this horse mural.

Copyright 2016  Jimmy Reina

I took several shots of it, but the land was fenced off, and I couldn’t really get the head on, wide angle shot I wanted.

This mural may not look that impressive in the photo, but when you are standing there, it is quite something to see. The fenceposts behind it are 4-6 feet apart, which would make the mural wall over 100 feet long.

Like most of my work, I let this image marinate for awhile, revisiting it from time to time to see if it had staying power. At the time, I was in a camera club, and I knew that if I were to show this image to the members, the first comment would be a criticism that I was just “photographing somebody else’s art”. I couldn’t argue with that position, but that really wasn’t why I liked it. Although it is a bunch of man made unnatural rectangles, to me it fit in with the landscape.

Months later (post rainy season, grass was now Green), I decided to return to the scene, and get the best shot possible. That road in the photo is San Pablo Avenue, and I drove up it to the next driveway, and asked permission to hike down into the gulley in order to get the shot I wanted. The property owners told me that the mural wasn’t on their property, but I was welcome to try. It was pretty steep, and overgrown, and when I made it down to the bottom, there was another fence that prevented me from getting anywhere near close.

My younger, more rebellious self would have just hopped the fence, and kept going, but these days, I try to have more respect for other people’s property, and besides, I pictured some rancher chasing me through that gulley with a camera flapping and a tripod over my shoulder.

I retreated, drove further up the hill, and asked another neighbor who the landowner was. He gave a bit of background on the mural and the local artist who created it, and told me that the property owner lived across the adjacent road.

I drove back around to the end of a secluded, one block long dead end street, wrote a note with my contact info, requesting permission to climb the fence, and asking the property owner to call me.

I put the note in their mailbox, turned around, drove to the end of the block, and saw this other mural at the rear of a back yard. I thought it was a bit of interesting folk art (with the same stretch of San Pablo Avenue in the background), so I took a couple of shots through the open passenger window of my car. This took less than a minute.

TROY ORVIL

Copyright 2016  Jimmy Reina

It was only when I later looked at the image on my monitor, did I see the body in the foreground.

I can’t look at this photograph without thinking of those American Civil War battlefield photos taken by Mathew Brady.

I am proud to say that this photo was just chosen to be in a Street Photography show at the Los Angeles Center of Photography, running from February 3-March 10th, 2017.

Here is a link for more info—–

https://lacphoto.org/lacps-third-annual-street-shooting-around-the-world-exhibition-2017/

 

I went back to the horse mural, and walked along the fence in front of it, and took a shot that I am pretty pleased with-

Horse Mural

Some days the fish don’t bite, other days, they jump right into your boat.

 

www.jimmyreinaphoto.com