Unknown photographer

November 3, 2007 at 10:33 am | Posted in photography | Leave a comment

I happened upon this post to Photo.net’s forum, called “A Minor Treasure: Slides from Vietnam, 1967-1968.”   The poster came across a bunch of slides in the estate of a recently deceased man, scanned them, and set up a slideshow on Flickr.  Most of the images are of the Vietnamese people, but there are a couple shots of American GIs.

It’s always eerie to look at an unknown photographer’s historical photographs,  particularly when they are of a time and place so emotionally charged as Vietnam in the late 1960s.


Photography and the art of compromise.

August 26, 2007 at 8:23 pm | Posted in photography | 5 Comments
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Photography is an enormous part of my life and has been for years. I know you can’t tell by looking at the photos on this blog (taken with my digital point-and-shoot), but it’s one of my main driving forces. I still use film — I shoot with a Bronica ETRS-i, a medium-format single lens reflex camera that I got a few years ago. The camera is awesome, but man, it is heavy. Built like a tank, that thing is.

I started doing photography in 7th grade, in the mid-90s when digital was barely a gleam in Canon’s eye.  I used a 35mm manual camera for years (what’s up, Pentax K1000!), and my Bronica is largely manual, as well.  The great thing about using cameras like this is that you learn a lot about light.  You learn a lot about many things, actually, cause there are no illusions about who’s doing the work.

I used to get lost in a darkroom for hours, lulled by the rhythm of printing. It became a dance, agitating three trays simultaneously while keeping an eye on that print you’re exposing. When the darkroom was crowded and the music blasting — and I am super picky about the kind of music I will print to: there had better be no top 40 or gangsta rap cause really, what is creative about that? — and you had to jump over and around other people to get to your enlarger…well, that kind of energy, that creative force that is both communal and completely solitary, got me going.

When I was in undergrad I spent hours in the darkroom. In high school I took my camera everywhere with me. Now, I do neither. My camera is so heavy that I have to carry it around in a dedicated backpack and while spontaneous photo field trips are totally doable, lugging it around every day is not. My lifestyle has changed, too. I work a 9-5 job now, and the last thing I want to after a day in the office is stand around a hot, stinky darkroom and make a few prints. (You’d think that since I don’t have homework to do any longer, I’d actually have more time for darkroom adventures, but you’d be wrong, as I did a negligible amount of homework.)

I have resisted going digital for so long. I still believe that film trumps digital and, if it made sense for me right now, I wouldn’t have even considered it. (Not to mention that digital is the biggest pissing contest…trying to follow and give a shit about a debate over photo editing software or Nikon vs. Canon is about as stimulating as trying to follow and give a shit about two dudes arguing about carburetors or the age-old Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones question. Here’s a clue, guys (and it’s always men debating these fine points): the number of megapixels your digital camera has is NOT equivalent to your penis length, in inches. But I digress.) However, I don’t want to lose photography. So, I considered investing in a digital SLR system. I read tons of websites and product reviews and looked at image comparisons. I had a few systems picked out that I was seriously considering.

In the end, I couldn’t do it. Part of it was the expense — even if you get a good deal on a d-SLR kit, the lens you get is usually pretty crappy, and man, lenses are expensive. Most of it, though, was knowing how much I’ve already invested in film photography. Not the money so much as the time and energy. Honestly, too, I just do not believe that digital equals higher quality than film, and what about obsolescence? Most of the pictures I take with my point-and-shoot remain on my computer, and some of them I upload to Facebook or Flickr, but I don’t have hard copies of them. With film, even if all you have are negatives, you will always be able to see the images.

So, I split the difference. I didn’t abandon my negatives and I didn’t commit myself to a lifetime of darkrooms. I bought a very nice, quality, consumer-priced flatbed photo scanner. It comes with film holders in different sizes and is designed to scan negatives or slides by virtue of the fact that it has two light sources, one under the glass screen, and one in the top, which is the one used for scanning negatives.

It’s going to be weird, developing film and then scanning it to my computer and editing it there. I’m certainly a little hesitant about the whole thing. I played with the scanner a little bit today (I won’t start seriously using it until I get an external hard drive) and here’s a picture from a negative that I scanned for the web. It was taken at the Don Valley Brick Works in the winter.


This is it, without any manipulations except for a bit of cropping. Not bad for a straight-from-the-scanner image, huh? Waaaay better than the very first print in the darkroom, for sure. God. Did I just say that? Am I a convert already?

Get thee to the AGO

December 21, 2006 at 9:27 pm | Posted in photography | 2 Comments

Last night, I met up with my friends Eddie (of almost boy-version-of-me fame) and Stephanie (non blog-reader, but I forgave her for that a long time ago) for a gut-bomb of a Mexican meal at Margarita’s – and I mean that in the nicest way possible – after which we took in the photography exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Currently, the AGO is displaying photographs by Ansel Adams and Alfred Eisenstaedt. It’s kind of a weird pairing – the master of the meticulous zone system and the original California photographer meets the much more of-the-moment German photographer, whose pre-Hitler portraits of ordinary Germans are almost impossible to take at face value – but the photographs are magnificent.

I’d honestly never heard of Eisenstaedt before, though a quick Wikipedia check reveals him to be the artist behind that famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse on V-J Day in New York. Though that photo captures a certain spirit, I have to say that I enjoyed his earlier works much more, maybe because I’d never seen them before. He did several series of occupations in Germany – bakers, the sewing industry, etc. – and they all generally have that Henri Cartier Bresson-like sense of capturing the moment. The kind of neat thing about Eisenstaedt is that he was working in Germany during its Weimar, pre-Hitler, period, which is when the photomontage artists John Heartfield and Hannah Hoch were also producing art that greatly criticized the emerging leader and challenged the racial and sexual discriminatory practices of the time. (Interesting, isn’t it, that German culture flourished so much right before what has to be considered the country’s bleakest period? It’s so easy to forget that twentieth-century German history goes far, far beyond WWII and the Holocaust.) Anyway, my point is that Eisenstaedt was working in Germany at the beginning of a very volatile time, and some of his images – some, but not all- reflect this. However, regardless of whether or not they include members of the Third Reich, I found myself considering the photos in the context of a world existing in the most fragile of peaces, between two enormously devastating world wars, entirely unaware of what was to come. Knowing now what the subjects of the photos did not know then is quite a way to view art…

Everyone is familiar with Ansel Adams. His images of Yosemite are world renowned, and many a student has proudly displayed Adams’ elm trees or mountain scenes on her dorm room wall. Again, it’s easy to forget that behind the sort of American cliche of Adams as the ultimate in black and white photography, there lies a very real artist. Adams started out the way most artists begin – you copy what you see, what is popular at the time, until you find your own vision – but once he found his style, he really never looked back. And, cliche or not, his work is gorgeous. The AGO has many of the most well-known works, including Moonrise over Hernandez, Half-Dome, and the tide series; and up close, they are breathtaking. The exhibit goes far beyond the masterpieces, however, and displays some of Adams’ early images and many of his lesser-known photos.

Adams and Eisenstaedt were working at roughly the same time, and one gets the sense that the US was operating in an entirely different world, perhaps to to its uninvolvement in WWI and WWII, in the sense that US turf was not involved until Pearl Harbour – this afforded artists the opportunity to meditate on the landscape in a way that Germany/Europe were unable to offer their culture-makers. However, this is a pretty limited way to take it all in, considering that the US was facing the Depression in the 1930s and many a bleak portrait was created to illuminate that particular milestone in twentieth-century US history (Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans).

Anyway. I don’t even know what I’m talking about any more. I’m tired and sick and I’m off to Deliverance country tomorrow, so no more posts for a while, darlings.

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Sort of.

December 20, 2006 at 2:53 pm | Posted in photography, things that annoy | 1 Comment

I’ve been developing and printing my black and white images from Turkey for the past few months. I’ve been meaning to scan them and upload them to this blog, but as with most of my endeavors, that fell by the wayside as school picked up.

However, school’s out, baby, and you know what that means –knitting (a Fair Isle hat in the works, a pair of socks), spinning (just finished spinning lacy singles for a scarf), and photography.

I scanned some of my black and white pictures today and uploaded them to WordPress. tried to upload them to WordPress. While the uploading worked fine, sending the saved images to the editor in the proper format did not. I thought I could fiddle with the code and figure it out, but I have only sporadic access to the code. Why, I do not know. So, be that as it may, I have now one (1) zero five black and white photos from Turkey up on the photos page, with more to come as WordPress decides to start cooperating I scan them (I figured it out).

I hope.

Dear careless photography students: fuck off

December 16, 2006 at 4:24 pm | Posted in photography, things that annoy | Leave a comment

(Background: I have been doing creative black-and-white film photography since 7th grade, and it’s a pretty important part of my life. A couple of years ago, before I left Portland, I bought a Bronica ETR-Si (a single lens reflex medium format camera), which takes film that is several times larger than 35mm. Because the film is larger, the normal lens that is on an enlarger won’t accommodate the entire negative; if you make a print from 120 film using a 50mm lens, you get vignetting, which is generally not a desirable effect. Thus, you must use an 80mm lens with 120 size film.

In Toronto, I’ve been using the darkroom facilities at Hart House, the student center at UofT. For a student-run space, the facilities are pretty good: they have several individual darkrooms with a variety of enlargers, including a couple of color enlargers and one with an 80mm lens; a color printer (not a piece of computer equipment!); a digital darkroom; and a new shared darkroom with 7 enlargers. For $30 bucks a year (for students), you get access to all of this, which is a sweet deal: photography is a very expensive art.

The downside of using a communal space is, of course, having to share. Though there are equipment and chemicals curators, who do a lot of maintenance and general darkroom upkeep, students are expected to do their share of the work. We must clean up after ourselves in the darkrooms, pick up our dry prints and film after a reasonable length of time, and return darkroom accessories to the common space once we have finished using them. Unfortunately, it’s rare for me to open the door to “my” darkroom –the one I use because the enlarger has the lens I need– and not find some kind of mess. Alternatively, the darkroom is clean and organized, but the 11×14 trays are missing from the common space, or the drying racks are littered with prints that look like they’ve been there for weeks. I would expect and/or understand this from middle school students, but university students? It’s ridiculous. And so, this is my letter to the careless students I have to put up with.)

Dear careless photography students,

I have had to share the Hart House darkroom space with you for over a year now, and I have noticed that some of you seem to have forgotten –or maybe you never knew in the first place– how to properly use and return the darkroom equipment, and how to clean up after yourselves. In the interest of us getting along, I took the liberty of making a list, full of helpful reminders.

Without further ado, here it is:

1. Remeber, we do not develop film and make prints using rainbows and smiles. The chemicals we use are of varying degrees of toxicity and therefore, it is important that you wipe down any and all surfaces on which you inevitably spill them. I am tired of walking into the darkroom, only to find that the stainless steel sink and counter space are covered in brown and red sludge. And none of the chemicals we use are either brown or red.

2. Please do not hoard the 11×14 developing trays. Normally, there are fifty billion trays, ranging from 5×7 inches to 4×5 feet, and when I can only find three lousy 8x10s, it doesn’t make for an awesome printing experience. You may feel like you are the only person who prints 11×14, and that therefore, it is perfectly okay to keep them in “your” darkroom, but I assure you, you are mistaken.

3. We have a limited amount of space on which to dry our film and our prints. There are six or seven drying screens, and the highest ones are out of my reach; the highest ones are out of everyone’s reach, and as a result, the lower ones fill up fast. I have no idea how many people use the facilities in a given week, but regardless of the number, there seem to be two camps:

a. Those who leave their (goddamn RC*) prints on the screens for what feels like years, so that when I make room for my (fiber*) prints, I am seeing the same muddy, dirty, craptastic shots over and over and over again. (These may or may not be the same people who steal prints; I’m not sure. I am sure, however, that these are the same people who clog the (tiny) film closet with their bone-dry rolls of film.) Just pick them up already!

b. Those who do us all a favor and pick up their prints and film on time. I love you, I really do.

Thank you for your attention to these points. Feel free to start taking them into consideration when using the Hart House darkrooms.



*The reason that the RC (resin coated) prints do not generally belong on the drying rack is that, as far as I know, we have a print dryer. If we don’t have a print dryer, my mistake, and I apologize for being bitchy about your RC prints. RC prints are strong enough when wet to go through the print dryer. Fiber prints are much more fragile, and have to be air-dried, preferrably on screens.

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