Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Some Good Thoughts On 2020

Obviously, this past year is one that does not need to be repeated. So many things that many of us had planned went down the drain with COVID-19 and the subsequent effects on our world.  On top of that, a country with a disinterested self-indulgent criminal and con-artist in the role of president only made things worse. Despite the assaults on the constitution and the fabric of our society, it took 80 million voters to say "we have had enough."

As I look back on 2020,  it's clear to me that while there are many things I did not do, my lifestyle was not severely impacted.  As a retiree, the daily routine was not interrupted. I did not have to worry about children in school, losing my job, working in fear of becoming sick, telecommuting, or traveling to work.  So, I consider myself very lucky in that way.  Sure, I miss being able to go to a brewery for a quick beer, hanging out with people, and shopping anywhere without having to wear a mask. However, those are not unbearable burdens, merely inconveniences.

The things I could not do didn't prevent me from being creative. like many others, I found myself doing things that were more self-reflective or projects that had been put on hold for various reasons, became important.  New ways to do things allowed me to be "social" in a way that I had not done before, and establish new friendships via social media.  Before the pandemic hit us, Beverley, Adrienne, and I visited the pretty town of Sylva, where the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri was filmed.  Another trip in late February saw Beverley and I visit Selby and Forest City, NC. There were some other trips to Brevard and Biltmore.  Looking back, who knew that by the first day of spring, the streets of Asheville would be nearly empty of people, and businesses shuttered?

Instead of doing some long trips around NC and into some other states, I did a lot of day-trips.  One of my favorites was the day Adrienne and I drove up to Mt. Airy to witness the emergence of millions of periodical cicadas.  Although I had seen them in Ann Arbor, it was nothing like the scale of numbers that we saw that day. I am sure many thousands of cicadas were killed while flying across the interstate. The sound of their combined chorus was incredibly loud, too.   Another fun trip was the one to Linville Falls, where I met up with Joseph Brunjes. It was great to get together with another photographer and talk photography while we walked the trails.  

Last year, Susan Patrice told me about Rocky Fork State Park in Tennessee. I made my first trip there in May of this year.  It's about a 30 minute drive from my house, and I made several more trips there throughout the year.  I rarely saw anyone else apart from people driving along the road.  It's a fantastic stream with lots of small falls and cascades that are seemingly never-ending, with lots of great photo ops.   Likewise, driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway is always a great way to spend a day.  

It was a good time to just drive around and explore the countryside, which doesn't involve contact with other people.  I drove a lot of back roads and visited a number of small towns that were new to me.  So different than driving around flat Michigan.  

I produced two issues of Monochrome Mania during the pandemic.  Issue 2 was about photographing on various trips around Michigan, and issue 3 is all about medium-format toy cameras.  Number three required a lot of work in acquiring cameras to test, shooting with them, researching the history of different models, and of course, going through my older work to choose some images for the magazine.  I ended up separating all my toy camera negatives and organizing them in binders. It will make any future work with them far easier.

Going through my earlier work has been very productive and enlightening.  I have been scanning in a lot negatives that have not been scanned, and in the process found some images that I had forgotten about, and feel different about them now than when I made them.  Sometimes it's good to be removed from the immediate, emotional connection that comes with making a photo.  In doing so, I found some very good images, as well as some really awful ones.  I have also been winnowing out some of the boxes and boxes of 35mm color prints.  In retrospect, some are just not worth keeping. Many were made when I was just testing out cameras, and have lost their relevance.  Images of family, pets, and events are certainly wonderful to have, but not all are worth the space it takes to store them. 

I made some new friends due to Instagram, and my work with the Film Photography Project. In fact, Mike Raso's efforts to keep podcasting during the pandemic prompted him to try some new things like producing You Tube videos.  Using Zoom to record the podcast episodes was a lot of fun, and ALMOST as good as being there in person. Mike is a perfectionist in his production of the episodes, and the audio quality of internet interactions does not match what one gets in the studio with pro-grade mics and equipment.  Nonetheless, the podcasts and videos are really good.  I also got to listen to a lot of other podcasts this year, and my favorite podcast (after the FPP, of course!) is All Through A Lens podcast with Eric and Vania.  It's a great podcast that covers a myriad of topics, and has introduced me to some photographers' works that I'd never heard of before it was on the ATAL podcast.  Also, the banter between Vania and Eric is a lot of fun. Both are passionate photographers, and it shows in the attention they pay to processes and technique as well as just having fun doing what they love.

Another bright spot this year was the continued popularity of film and the explosion of interest in 8mm film. I can't speak to the movie-making, as it's not my thing, but Mike tells me that the demand has been amazing.   As far as still-photography, there seems to be amped up interest in alt-processes as well as conventional ones.  While the digital world is having its battles with SLRs vs mirrorless, or full-frame vs cropped sensors, or Canon vs Nikon, we film users are happily shooting away with our various cameras, formats, and films, and it's all good.  The only controversies seem to be about the price increases from Kodak, and the dearth of home C-41 kits.   The film shooting community is filled with people that are passionate about their medium, and also filled with people that are helpful, generous, and very creative. 

Speaking of social media, I see that there is a lot of resentment of Instagram's policies regarding censorship of images. I know that photographers feel that their work should be shown without censorship, and I agree.  If your work is likely to be censored or removed for what IG feels violates "community standards" I suggest that you use Flickr.  Flickr remains the best place to share your work, and I have been using it since 2004. For me, it's an incredible way to archive my work, and at $50 year it is still a good deal.

Those are a few thoughts on the year.  It was a memorable one, in ways that we could not have anticipated, and I hope, as everyone does, that 2021 will be an improved one.  Best wishes to you all for a Happy New Year, and get out there and take some pictures!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Twenty Years of Photography

Twenty years ago, I went from being a typical family snapshooter to learning all I could about photography, and to become a better photographer.  That quest has never ended -,and I am always learning new things, and how to be a better photographer.  Over the past week or so, I began looking through my binders of early negatives, where shooting with b&w film really began having an effect on the way I saw scenes, and of course, recorded them on film.  Prior to that, I was shooting mostly color print film and color slides - and while I continued to do color work, it was the b&w world where I was learning the most.  Learning how to compose and think in b&w, as well as all the developing of negatives and subsequent printing onto sliver-gelatin paper.  My subject matter changed, compared to what I was shooting in color.  For me, color was where I was shooting macro and close-ups, and I suppose that I was trying to emulate the work of nature photographer John Shaw. While I learned a lot from his books and videos (which are very good), it also coincided with my vocation as an entomologist, and aided my research and work on insects.  

Bill Brudon, Nov. 2001. Praktica
Super TL, Tri-X film.

However, it was my mentor, William L. Brudon, that changed my world with his immense knowledge of black and white films and how to achieve the desired results with so many different kinds of b&w film. Bill was always testing different films with various developers, and he kept notebooks filled with his results. He was also a medical illustrator, natural science artist, and a good photographer. Bill and his wife Margaret (also a medical illustrator) lived a mile from my house, and every time I met with him, his critical eye and old-school demeanor whetted my appetite for more. He introduced me to the works of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Walker Evans, Imogen Cunningham, Stieglitz, and Sudek, among others. His generous gifts of books and cameras and film are something that I shall never forget, and I swore to myself that I would repay him by sharing my knowledge and pass on film, books, and equipment to others when the opportunities arose. As my photography evolved, I did less macrophotography except in relation to work, and I explored b&w and different cameras in much of my free time. 

In late 2000, I developed my first roll of b&w film since I was in high school.  That whiff of stop bath and fixer immediately transported me to 1974. It was magic then, and it is still magic.  To see a roll of film yield images is forever a wonderful thing. I have developed thousands of rolls of film myself, and it never gets old.  My view, my images, my work, to make them something tangible. It's imagination, science, art, technology, and some craft makes those images possible.

Fleming Creek, 12-25-2000. Nikon FE, Ilford Delta 100

Bill Brudon was the person that changed me from being happy to get a picture from my camera, to someone wanting to show the world what I saw, and to always want to do better than the last roll I shot. To experience different film formats and see how they affected my composition and subject matter, to find that elusive moment when I know that BAM! I got the image that I envisioned, and to know that serendipity favors the prepared.  I have also learned that the quality of the gear means nothing without vision.  Some of my best images have been taken with my “worst” cameras.  

Cobblestone Farm, June 2001.  Ricoh KR-5, 28mm lens
and Kodak's High Speed Infrared film with a Red 25A filter. 
Bill introduced me to the world of IR film.

Over the past 20 years, I have certainly handled more cameras (thousands) than I ever thought possible, due to an interest in collecting certain cameras (with an intense excursion into Argus, because I lived in Ann Arbor), and also because I became the person that could sell off a photographer’s estate.  That allowed me to learn an awful lot of photographic history and operate a lot of vintage cameras, some of which are rarely encountered. It put me in contact with many fine people in the Michigan Photographic Historical Society, of which I was a board member for a few years. 

Senescence. Nov. 2001, Nikkormat FT2, Kodak Tri-X.

So, it's hard to believe that in 2000, I was 44 years old, and absorbing so much new information and embarking on this journey into photography.  I certainly did not anticipate that my wife and I would sell our house and buy Bill and Margaret's home when they decided to move to a retirement village in 2002, and that Bill would leave behind a complete darkroom setup for me in that house.  A lot of what I learned proved useful in my real job at the University of Michigan, especially macro-photography.  But macrophotography isn't what I kept doing with my photography, it was learning about this huge universe of photographic technology, the history of photography, the arcane things that you can only pick up by delving into the minutiae of photography.  On top of all of that, it was shoot, shoot, shoot.  As I look over my negatives from 2000-2002, I can see that I often bracketed a lot of shots, as I was unsure of how things were best exposed. Bill also made sure that I did bracket so that I could judge a series of negatives for the best overall exposure. I really enjoyed delving into trying various films and developers, and as I look over those early negatives, I can see now where I should have done something differently had I known at the time. It's not hindsight - it's learning.  

Some proof sheets and negatives from 2001

I started this blog in late 2004, and it's been an ongoing way for me to share my photography, thoughts, and reviews of cameras and film.  That I have been doing it for 16 years astonishes me.  

Huron River, Sept. 2000, Retinette 1a, Agfa APX 100

Bill died in hospice care in July, 2009, at the age of 87. He was a beloved friend and mentor, and he called me "Number 3 Son" (he had two actual sons). I still own many of the cameras, lenses, books, and equipment that he gave me. While we lived in Ann Arbor, I always felt that the darkroom was my little sanctuary, just like it had been for Bill. Moving to NC meant that I would have to finally give it up, and hopefully build a new one here.  I think that is the only thing that I miss from our Ann Arbor house - the darkroom that Bill had built.  I still have yet to build mine, but the downstairs bathroom is where I develop my film so I can scan it. I have plans to convert a large closet next to the bathroom into a small darkroom, and after our kitchen renovations are done in the spring of 2021, I will start working on the darkroom.  

Another important date in my timeline is when I found out about the Film Photography Project. I think it was at Photostock in 2011 when I met a young Mat Marrash, who interviewed me. Within a few years I was a regular on the podcasts, and Michael Raso has become a great friend and collaborator. It’s allowed me to pass on my knowledge to hundreds of people via the podcasts, which I think Bill Brudon would have greatly enjoyed. 


Mike Raso and I at Benny's, Ann Arbor. 2016

So, anyway, back to scanning.  As I go through these binders, I am building up a library of images that I can use for other projects, future issues of Monochrome Mania, and to gather together material that will tell a story when I need it. I had a series of projects in mind when I lived in Michigan, and never felt that I had the quality of images to complete the projects. Going back through those files, with so much time removed from the time I shot them has given me a new viewpoint as to their value.  I sure as hell am glad that I shot on film, because it's really a lot easier to view a sheet of negatives than to scroll endlessly through computer files.  

Argus C-4, December 2000. Nikon FE, T-Max 400 in Microdol-X

This year has been a tough one in regards to the COVID pandemic, but it's also made me take time and go through work that I haven't looked at in a long while.  I do hope 2021 will be much improved, and I can go on some long-overdue road trips to make new images of things that interest me. Oh, and I expect that I'll be using at least one of the Nikons that Bill gave me.

Saturday, December 05, 2020

The 2021 Calendar is Available

Every year for the past 10 years, I have produced a calendar. For years, they were of the gardens and flowers, but the past few years I have had a different focus. Last year it was trees, and Water is this year’s theme for my annual calendar. Most of the images were shot on film, and all are in monochrome, my favorite medium.  The calendars are on heavy glossy card stock, and wire-bound, with enough room to write events on the pages.

 I can’t think of a sound more relaxing and calming as the one I hear from a babbling brook. A rushing stream with small cascades is a common feature of my new home. Moving from Michigan to the mountains of North Carolina has opened up a whole new world of easily accessed photo opportunities, and while there are many amazing waterfalls, the details in a small creek can be just as interesting. Half of the images in this calendar were shot within 30 minutes of my home in Weaverville, NC. The other half are from previous years and many different places. 

Photographing moving water can be challenging, and my aim has always been to stretch time, and let the water flow be represented as how I hear it. We don't hear waterfalls at 1/200 sec - we hear them as a continuous, varying sound, and that's how I approach my photography of them. In those long exposures, I see the variables, the different angles and arcs the water makes as it flows downstream. A small trickle has the same patterns as a much larger stream, and it's somewhat like a fractal. The effect is the same, and just as mesmerizing if you take the time to look. 

 Here's a list of the images, and you can purchase the calendar for $19, which includes US postage. Sorry, but I am not selling these outside the USA. The link to place an order is to the right, under LINKS! 

  • Cover – Rocky Fork State Park, TN. 
  • January – Great Falls, CT 
  • February – Foggy morning along the Huron River, Ann Arbor, MI 
  • March – Laughing Whitefish Falls, Alger Co., MI 
  • April – Ash Cave Falls, Hocking Hills, OH 
  • May – Beads of dew on webs, Mackinac Co., MI 
  • June – Creek in South Georgian Bay, Ontario 
  • July – Ivy Creek, Barnardsville, NC 
  • August – Bass Pond, Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC 
  • September – Rocky Fork State Park, TN 
  • October – Stormy afternoon, Blue Ridge Mountains, NC 
  • November – Rocky Fork State Park, TN 
  • December – French Broad River, Asheville, NC
The last date for orders is December 15th.