Holly Fischer hand builds ceramic sculptures with white stoneware clay. I set the aperture of my telephoto lens wide open in order to shoot close to the objects using ambient gallery lighting and to create an ambiguous sense of scale with a narrow depth of field. Her work in the exhibit represented here is all natural white ceramic. Any darker tonality is created in the editing process.
The play between gallery spot lights and the folded surfaces of her sculptures created a complex geography of shadows and light: shadows on shadows, light on shadow, light on light, for close shifts of grey tones. In some instances I applied a solarization filter to reverse tonality (light to dark and dark to light) and a mezzotint filter during editing for a grainy textural appearance. In either case the sculptures were delightful subjects for my black and white compositions.
I’ve learned not to think when I run out with my camera to take some pictures. I may have a feeling about a place, a time of day, a sense of perfection or ruin in mind, but I am looking in my camera for something that just feels right. When I began as a photographer I had to think until I mastered operating my camera controls, which were all manual. Unfortunately, that habit of thinking about every shot really inhibited my shooting; and I took forever to expose a roll of film.
I was over my hesitancy when my enthusiasm for photography was reignited in 2000 or so when I accepted warm invitations from Randi Laak, then an instructor at the Worcester Center for Crafts, to enroll in his Friday evening photography class. I freely experimented with exposures, films, darkroom chemistry and processes as I had not when I started out.
Together with the freedom in the darkroom (And now in Photoshop), the history of photography of which I had learned as a beginning photographer and witnessed in publications and exhibitions as time passed, and my love of many paintings, prints, sculptures, etc. at the Worcester Art Museum and elsewhere, I am endowed with feelings associated with these beautiful or provocative objects that are evoked, I believe, as I walk through the world. I think those feelings and associations are part of my feeling of “rightness” when something captures my eye.
The universe seems to notice that I take the time to stop and see things then once in a while shouts at me to stop and look at this!
Here’s one example of a landscape photograph of a scene of light penetrating a shadowy wild place for which I felt similarly to when I look at an 18th century painting by Alessandro Magnasco:
I believe digital cameras, their sensors, lenses, and image processors have evolved and multiplied enough that I can buy equipment to make “fine art” for not a lot of bucks. However, I don’t think full frame cameras, professional lenses and the like are without value. They’re tools in talented hands for making extraordinary images.
My point is that I don’t need spend like crazy on high end gear to make photographs that please me and whatever audience I can gather.
After one or two newer model generations have gone to market, leftover inventories may be steeply discounted. I look at specifications. A pro-grade camera may share technology with a lower priced model. Hey, if I can control aperture, ISO, and exposure time, then I’m happy.
I think of this approach as buying trailing edge technology. Maybe it’s just my Yankee stinginess. Whatever it is, I save by buying things that give me raw files, high resolution, low noise, and that satisfy my fussy eye without breaking the bank.
What is enough? I must be happy with the work that I create. If doing photography doesn’t give me joy and satisfaction, it won’t matter what I spend.
Making photographs, thinking of new projects, just feeling like picking up the camera, I am not a mere machine purring along. Habit can carry me through low points, but sometimes life stops me in my tracks as when last month (while my continued search for a job was getting to be a drag) my kid brother unexpectedly and suddenly died. I had been struggling, and now life screeched to a temporary halt while I grieved with my family and friends.
Slowly, I began to process my emotions and thoughts about the event by talking with my surviving brother and two sisters, my wife, my nephews who had lost their father, and close extended family members and friends; I wrote a few thoughts down in haiku form; I edited some photos and took a few new pictures that seemed to connect me with my feelings of loss, and memories of my brother.
My life paused when tragedy struck. I did not take pictures, then I did. I did not write, now I do. Creativity at this time is not a sentimental process, making lemonade when life gave me lemons; its cessation is the hole I fall in; its work is stones I grip to pull myself up again.
Moe and I were in Washington viewing the cherry blossoms on an overcast spring day. That evening my brother passed away. Something about this image felt like what was going on inside me: the grayness of the day, the diffusion by clouds of the light…
The cherry blossom
And the cold spring afternoon
Are now always one
Spring and cold belong
Not together, but alone
One alive, one ghost
I studied photography and the camera, but I’m not a studious photographer. When I’m out in the field I think a little, perhaps change a few camera settings; then I’m done thinking. When what I see on my camera LCD or in the viewfinder feels right I click. It is as though in my mind I’ve closed my eyes to trust the world to show me what apprehended my eye that I could feel but not in that moment comprehend. I trust the world to give me time.
Bankruptcy and the ceasing of production of instant films by Polaroid could have left only Fujifilm as a producer of peal apart instant film for Land Cameras, but no integral instant films for classic Polaroid cameras. However, in 2008 The Impossible Project was conceived and funding was found to purchase the last Polaroid film manufacturing plant in the world.
Ten of the best former Polaroid employees were recruited to join in the effort to recreate film chemistry for SX-70, 600, and Spectra/Image cameras.By 2010 Impossible released its first black and white instant film, recreating instant film for Polaroid format cameras.
Today, it produces black & white and color integral films, 8×10 black & white film, and the Instant Lab, which works with black & white or color SX-70 or 600 films to make instant prints from smartphones and tablets; and it refurbishes classic Polaroid SX-70, 600, and Spectra/Image cameras.
As I said in an earlier post, several years ago I resumed shooting and printing a lot. With some review at the Worcester Craft Center I went back out with my cameras and into the darkroom with less pain and more joy than ever. I changed formats from 35mm to 645 medium format when I bought a used Bronica ETRS.
There are parallels in digital photography. Point and shoots in general make nice images fairly automatically; that’s a big selling point for them. However, trying to edit nice looking images for fine art prints is not always successful.
A combination of factors may account for this. if we say a pixel on a camera sensor and a grain of silver on a negative are equivalent, 20MP or more is approximately equivalent to the resolution of a 35mm film negative. The size of a small camera sensor in a low price camera might be 1/2.5″ or smaller; that is about 2 percent as big as a 35mm negative. The electronic noise that leaks from all those pixels on a small surface area can be thought to be equivalent to grainy film.
Film as a rule records a wider dynamic range of tones than a camera sensor. More contrasty imagery with detail and texture in both shadow and bright zones was possible in a single click of the shutter with film. Electronic noise has been suppressed or reduced in successive generations of digital cameras; and dynamic range has improved–greatly improved in HDR captures which combine multiple exposures for dark and bright regions in the frame.
Another consideration is the file format in which a digital camera saves its image capture. Many point and shoot and fixed lens cameras save in a lossy compressed format called JPEG. In simplified terms, the file is saved in a smaller space by first applying all the optional and automatic camera settings, and then tossing out other data that the sensor recorded but is not required for the picture. It’s like we made a print, and threw out the negative. We can still make some editing choices, but not as many.
The situation may be remedied in the digital world with the right choices. Get a larger format camera. Cameras have been manufactured to utilize many sizes and formats of film from 8mm x 10.5mm frames on disc camera film to 8″ x 10″ large format cameras and even bigger ultra-large formats. In the digital market, point and shoot and fixed lens camera sensor sizes range from say 2 percent to 100 percent the size of one frame on a roll of 35mm film. Their prices range around $80 to $2700 roughly in parallel with sensor size. Lower priced, higher sales volume cameras benefit from economies of scale; higher priced, lower sales volume cameras benefit from better build quality, more durable components, and superior optics.
We get the equivalent to a film negative in cameras that are capable of saving images in camera raw format. Everything the camera sensor recorded gets saved in raw. Some fixed lens cameras have this feature, but many only save in a compressed format such as JPEG. I’ll work up a selected list of camera sensor sizes and post it next time; and another list of selected fixed lens cameras that feature raw capability after that.
When I was a kid, somewhere in high school, I probably thought sixty-somethings were from prehistoric times; I also bought my first serious camera, a Mamiya-Sekor DTL 2000(?) 35mm SLR (Mamiya only makes medium format nowadays)–on lay-away from Denholm & McKay. Before recorded history cities mostly had local department stores; and Macy’s was in New York–you had to go there to go to Macy’s. My best friend got a Nikkormat. That was Nikon’s economy brand–a solid, quality SLR none the less. I usually tell people I have been a photographer since about 1973, the year I began learning to work in the darkroom, but that’s just a convenient time to label as my beginning.
It was a step up from a long growing interest. I enrolled in a continuing ed course in black & white photography at the Worcester Art Museum (worcesterart.org) for two semesters. Dennis Wixted was a patient, encouraging, and thorough teacher who, in addition to technique, taught photography’s history and the contempory scene. At his wake I was just one of many who shared their appreciation of his teaching and friendship with members of his family. I labored with the camera to do assignments and take personal shots, thinking about the camera settings, the light, the film… I think I thought more than I shot. It was a job for me to expose all the frames on a roll of film. Eventually, I started buying 24 exposure rolls of 35mm film, 36 exposures being the other common packaging, a little less challenging to finish.
For most of my later film photography before I changed to primarily digital cameras I used a Bronica ETRS. Here’s one of my images from that camera. The maple trees in the background were at the height of their blazing orange autumn foliage. I used an orange filter on the front of my lens to brighten the leaves that were in full sun to nearly white in my print.
Next time I go over to the dark side and start using digital cameras. Eveything is the same if you think about it.
As I wrote last time digital photography was on its way to surpassing the market share of film or analog photography when I got much more active in the first decade of this century. In my mind, at first, it was hard for me to understand digital black & white photography. Plus, there is an aesthetic to each as practice: one a craft working in all physical media, the other seemingly technological, electronic, office-work-like. One emerges gradually before the eyes, the other instantaneously from the camera, or with a change of settings or a few clicks of the mouse. This thinking took a few years to work out in my mind.
What finally made me happy with digital photography is a realization that the same full spectrum light arrives at the surface of the negative or the surface of the camera sensor. There are parallel choices in editing software to choosing contrast filters and the like. I can still choose my preference of texture and brightness and gloss in photo papers. I can make alterations by hand, hand cut window mattes, and assemble frames.
What is different, do I think? One thing is an historical fluke. Right now serviceable good quality film cameras capable of producing very high resolution “captures” (up to gigapixels in large format) are available at a fraction of the up front cost for their digital equivalents. Afterwards, film and processing costs accumulate, making analog a non-competitive choice in commercial settings where expenses must be controlled. For us ordinary Joes and Josephines, film can be very satisfying at least occasionally or for certain uses such as landscape and architectural subjects. A good thing about today, is the variety of choices a camera enthusiast gets. I can shoot film and print in the darkroom, scan and print from my computer, scan or use my digital capture to produce a transparency for alternative printing processes, such as cyanotype, platinum and many others. A variety of chemistries, tools, and materials can be had from websites such as freestylephoto.biz. Jumping into these processes is easier than before digital emerged.
Another is the physical work (or play) in analog photography. It’s just fun to choose and use various films, papers, developers in different dilutions, amounts of agitation, and more in the darkroom to alter the impact of processing on the negative or photo paper; and then to watch the result gradually darken in as it sits in a trayful of developer under a safe light.
I’m here because I have been a photography enthusiast for many years and my story includes years of shooting film and making a transition to digital cameras. Never a commercial photographer, I’ve mostly made pictures for my own pleasure and to fulfill the urge to create. Other than for social occasions like cookouts and holiday gatherings, I always shot black & white film; and mostly developed, printed, mounted, matted, and framed my own work.
I live in central Massachusetts, a place full of urban and suburban, rural, and (man-made) wild environments such as watersheds surrounding the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, and the Ware River any of which provide many subjects for the photographer.
In the early 2000s my passion for the camera greatly heated up. My mother was growing more frail. I joined the Worcester Craft Center and took some knife making classes as something completely different from the rest of my life to do for relaxation. Randi Laak, the instructor in the photo studio down the hall, once he learned I was a photographer invited me to take a class sometime. I did repeatedly for several years, taking advantage of the darkroom and the convenient time the courses were offered.
Film and digital shared the market when I began these classes, but digital was on its way to dominance. Digital hardware and software give me a great amount of power and flexibility for creating black & white, infrared, and color photographic images, although a much less hand crafted product in most cases. Next time, I’ll talk about my anxiety over that and how I wrapped my head around digital (but without completely abandoning analog) photography.