Sunday, January 31, 2016

TIME Machine.

By SqueakyMarmot from Vancouver, Canada  via Wikimedia Commons
Well, sort of. I am going through more boxes of prints and negatives again.  I found this lovely little packet of images from a bona-fide Time camera that I took in March, 2007 on a roll of Kodak Gold 100.  Many things have changed in town since.  The Anberay Apartments on East University Avenue were later torn down and replaced with a high-rise apartment building filled with students spending a ton of $$ to live there.  The Village Apothecary on South University recently closed. Walgreens replaced the bookstore, which was a big loss to anyone needing art supplies.
Yes, a camera is a sort of time machine, and this TIME camera did okay and recorded some images that show some things that are no longer.  The people change daily, but buildings create the landscape, and when the landscape changes, it's all too easy to forget what was once there.  
If you are not familiar with the TIME Camera, it was a dirt-cheap plastic camera made to look like something slightly better. It was given away as a premium for subscribing to Time magazine back in the 1980s.  It has a single-element  fixed-focus 50mm lens with apertures of f/6, 8, 11, and 16.  A metal weight in the bottom gives the camera more heft.    It also has a hot shoe for a flash.  That's it.  

The American West in Toledo

The Toledo Museum of Art is showing a nice little exhibition of photographs of the American West - "The American West - Photographs of a new Frontier," which runs until late May 2016. All of the photographs are from the TMA collection, and span the early days of Timothy O'Sullivan, Carleton F. Watkins and William Henry Jackson, to the more contemporary Frank Gohlke and Howard Bond. In between, there are a lot of albumin prints by Frank Jay Haynes of Yellowstone and other parks. (Haynes was the official photographer of the Northern Pacific Railway, and the Haynes images were donated to TMA by Bill Becker, a somewhat local antiquarian image expert and collector.) There are also a selection of stereo views and a viewer. The stereo views were a booming business in the late 1800s - early 1900s, offering the public an opportunity to see these amazing places in b&w 3-D. Of course, the stereos also were a way to attract tourists to the wonderful attractions of the far west, and especially, Yellowstone. The exhibit also features a couple of beautiful photogravures of Native Americans by the unmatched efforts of Edward S. Curtis. Moving more towards the present, there are examples from Manual Alvarez Bravo (Window on the Agave is a gem of a photograph), Laura Gilpin, William Clift, and others. Of course, no exhibit would be complete without something from Ansel Adams, and I think the examples that the TMA used are perfect in expressing the range of subject and treatment by Adams, with some personal favorites: Moonrise over Hernandez, Grand Tetons and Snake River, and Clearing Winter Storm. There are two photographs by Edward Weston, and certainly not examples of his best, but Tomales Bay is an example of form that so interested him. Brett Weston's Mendenhall Glacier is a fine example of his work with contrasty subjects, reflections, patterns, and abstraction. The images from Frank Gohlke - in the modern era, are really beautiful and haunting, even when they are showing the destructive effects of Mt. St. Helens.

The exhibit does a pretty good job of showing the evolution of not only the photographic process, but also of the the documentary style of the early landscapes to the more nuanced and interpretive images of more recent photographers. Early on, photographers such as O'Sullivan and Jackson were confronted with an unparalleled opportunity to document the awesome landscapes of the West. Those early images led to protecting places such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. The power of the photograph was far better than words or paintings to convince Congress how those amazing and unique places were deserving of becoming National Parks.

On the technology side of things -- it is hard to imagine the effort that was needed to make wet-plate photographs (and not tiny ones. either) of the west. We take a lot for granted now. However, the large-format camera rules in extracting the detail and grand scale of the western landscape.

Take a trip to the Toledo Museum of Art and see the West through the lens of those that were there over the last 150 years. The TMA has a great place to eat lunch, including beer and wine right on the premises. If you are there before the end of February, you'll also want to see a small exhibit called "The City" in the print gallery, and it features etchings, block prints, and photographs of various cities.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Going Back in Time

A few weeks ago, while I was off on holiday break, I had some time to go through some of the "shoeboxes" of film shot back in 2000-2002.  Four boxes of 4x6 (mostly) color prints and negatives that for the most part, have sat there, and have not been scanned or shared.  As I went through them, I realized how much better a photographer I am now than back then.  Some sets of tossed in the trash as there were no images really worth saving.  In 1999-2000, I was starting anew with a passion for photography, learning as much as I could, using better cameras, and hopefully better technique.  I shot a lot on color print film, and did not start developing my own b&w until 2001.  Even so, I shot a lot of images that are just crappy by my current standards.  Lack of good focus, subject position, bad lighting, uninteresting images, etc.  I am sure at the time, I thought some of them were okay. However, I was learning by shooting.  Color film was fairly inexpensive and so was processing at the local stores.   One thing is for sure, some of the images were better after I scanned them in and adjusted them to my preferences.  Overall though, I was learning to "see," to compose, and eventually, after many years I am a much more sophisticated photographer.  Compare this to being a musician, and it's similar.  Same for any art form.  We improve by doing. Until we actually practice, we don't improve.  Whether its shooting every day, drawing every day, playing every day, we improve over time.  We develop a more sophisticated ear, a better vision of our end product, and our imagination is able to produce something because we have taken control of the tools, improved our education about our craft, and have made our tools an extension of our talent.

Of course, one can say that it's easier with digital.  It's just easier to take shitty banal images and fill up a hard drive with them.  The envelopes of 4x6 prints remind me of where I was, and how much better I am now.  I have a better grasp of aesthetics, moods, composition, and so much more than I did 15 years ago.  I should be happy with that, but I know that I can still be better.  That's part of being an artist of any sort. Complacency leads to mediocrity. Always test yourself in some way-- find new challenges, new projects, new techniques.  THE CAMERA DOES NOT MATTER.  It's the gray matter between your ears that will make you a better photographer.  The limitations that you set for yourself are your barriers.  I know this to be true, and not some phrase plucked from the internet.

What do you want to do with your photography?  Why are you not doing it?  List the things that keep you back, and address them.  Fear is the biggest reason for many of us.  Fear of how people will react, fear of the unknown, fear of failure.  You have to learn by doing.  Do it until you get over your fears, and you will see improvement.

I'm 59 now, and  I wish I had worked harder on photography while in my 20s-30s, I had to eventually get serious about photography in my 40s.  In knowing what I know now, I missed a lot of opportunities to document changes that have taken place.  My interpretation of changes, anyways.

Back to the boxes of photographs.  I'll winnow those down, keeping the images that depict family, friends, significant events or places.  A lot of the nature images are crappy stuff.  They served the purpose of learning what I needed to, and if they are not good enough to keep, into the trash they go.

Taken in 2002, with a Contax G1 on Ilford XP-2. My daughter with her Nikon FG and 80-300 zoom.   She was between middle and high school.  This one is a keeper, of course.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Different Tools in the Bag(s)

If you could could see the series of camera bags I have lined up and opened them, you would see different bags with different camera, lenses, etc. Each bag has a different body and a set of lenses to go with that particular body.  Most are Nikon, but not all. One bag holds a Minolta X700, another a Mamiya C330 TLR and two sets of lenses.  Another holds a Pentax Spotmatic F.  The rotating Crappy Camera Bag might have a Yashica A TLR, along with a Holga or a Russkie Zenit 12XP and a Diana mini.  I call it the "rotating" camera bag, because it changes almost monthly, as to what cameras it contains.

Nikon FE and 3-lens kit
However, one of my bags has one camera and three lenses that rarely changes in the lens makeup. This bag holds a Nikon FE with a 50mm f/2 lens, 24mm f/2.8, and the wonderful 105mm 2.5 Nikkor.  I call this my perfect lens trio  - a normal lens, a good wide-angle, and a short telephoto/portrait lens. In addition, it holds 52mm filters (Nikon standard)- red, orange, yellow, a 2-stop ND, and polarizer; remote release cable, business and model release cards, notepad, microfiber cloth, and spare button cells.  There is enough space in the bag to throw in something extra, such as a Holga or a Yashica TLR, or maybe a 180mm 2.8 lens.   In short, it's a versatile tool bag for making photographs.   I could throw in my Fuji X-100s for a digital option, with room for the Olympus Trip 35.

Fuji X100S
Let me elaborate on the last two cameras a bit.  I bought the Fuji X100S back in June, when I could no longer resist the siren call of the Fuji cameras.  CameraMall had some white-box X100S cameras, and I bought one.  I have never regretted that purchase. The X100s features an APS-C sized sensor - just like my Nikon DSLRs, and a fixed 35mm f/2.0 equivalent lens.  Street photography, yes.  Even though the camera has excellent controls that pretty much mimic a film camera, there is so much more to this camera that I have come to learn  about and love over the passing months with it.  It has some quirks, of course, and like any digital camera, there are layers and layers of options and controls set in the menu, and I know that I am not using all of them to the full extent of what is there.  However, if I were taking a trip via air and could only bring one camera, the Fuji X100S would be the camera.

The second camera is the Olympus Trip 35, which I have already written about.  It has become an essential camera as well, and so long as I work within its limitations, I get very good images.  It just never fails to please me with the results.

So, that's starting the year off with a gear post.  Everyone has their favorite camera bodies/lens combos  for particular reasons.  You may wonder why I chose the Nikon FE over an FM of FM2N, etc.  The FE's aperture-priority is usually how I shoot, but it also offers full manual control.  It's also a small SLR, and works just the way I like.