Fifty

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I had my 50th birthday yesterday. It was ok.

Half a century is a long walk.

My last blog post was less about the subject and more about perspective, and retrospective.  When you get to this point in your life where you have more road behind you than you have ahead of you, the natural instinct is to slow down and see where you’ve been.  And why you are where you are now.

I started a new job recently. Not photography related.  I don’t make any money doing photography, everything I do is on a hobbyist level.  I still haven’t talked to anyone at my work about my photography.  I don’t know why that is.  I do want to put up some of my own photos in my office.  Is that weird?  Too conceited?  Discuss.

That said, I have ordered new business cards, check it out:

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I decided not to include any of my pictures like I had on my old card. I believe I read somewhere about keeping the design simple and making people to go to your site and your social media.  I thought about putting photos on the back of the cards, but I’d rather have that space open to jot down phone numbers or other info I might need to go back to.

Output this year has been surprisingly consistent: slow but steady.

A few months back, I had an absolutely amazing photoshoot with a collective of local models called the Pink Mink Mafia.

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It was an amazing shoot, with a fantastic ’70 Impala (t/y Brian!). I learned a lot, and realized I still have much more to learn about posing groups of people. I’m grateful for the experience and look forward to shooting with PMM again in the future.

And before that, I broke out and shot some Portra 160. Yes, friends, color film!

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All thanks to Brittany Wilkinson for modeling for me, it was an inspiring shoot all around, and solidified a lot of the directions I want to take in the future.  We also shot some b&w.

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The 1960 Cadillac Flattop at the top was from the recent Water Street show in Henderson.  That’s what has replaces the Super Run, which moved up to Mesquite a few years ago. That show was this weekend, I was tempted to go, but eventually I just wussed out on the 90 mile drive and stayed home.

That’s ok, the Wurst Dam Show is coming next weekend in Boulder City, I will definitely make it to that.

Christmas is coming, and I’m already looking forward to what gear I’m going to treat myself with. My plan is to keep up with the b&w film, home develop, but upgrade to a medium format camera. No idea about brand, or type of camera. It just feels like a natural progression. Any suggestions are welcome, please comment with your ideas.

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The One Way I Might Be Like Hitler. Seriously.

The struggle is real.

And, before anyone rushes to judgement, let me be clear; I have no desire to commit inhuman acts of violence, plot genocide, or spew racial hatred for entire people-groups.  Please, God, No, I’m nothing like Hitler in those respects.

I am concerned, however, that I might be like him in one, very specific, way.

I often worry that my art lacks soul.

That’s what prevented Hitler from getting into Art School, you know.  Well, not that specifically.  The Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (the Vienna Academy for Fine Arts), didn’t stamp “Lacks soul” on Hitler’s applications in 1907 and 1908.  But the general consensus is that, while his was a fine draftsman, he wasn’t a great artist.

Adolf Hitler had a natural flair for drawing.  His high school instructors recognized his talent, but unfortunately he was a lazy student, and essentially dropped out of school before graduation.

In 1908, at eighteen years old, Hitler moved from his home in Linz, leaving behind his mother who was fighting breast cancer, and went to Vienna where he would stay until 1913.

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Vienna State Opera House, Adolf Hitler, 1912

Hitler had a knack for architecture, it is said he could draw detailed pictures from memory of a building he had seen only once.  In fact, one of his examiners at the Vienna Academy acknowledged Hitler’s skill by suggesting he apply for their School of Architecture, and pursue being an architect instead of the fine arts.

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St. Charles’s Church in Vienna, Adolf Hitler, 1912

Hitler was having none of it.  After his second rejection from the Vienna Academy, he stayed in Vienna and continued to paint, often selling his paintings of the city. Hitler frequented the artists’ cafes in Munich in the hope that established artists would help him with his ambition to paint professionally.

At this point, some might be reading this thinking, “I don’t want to humanize this monster”, and I get that. Obviously, I’m being sensationalist in my choice of subject, sure, but that doesn’t negate my central question, “Are there people who just have natural genius when it comes to the arts?”

Earlier I had said that Hitler had a natural talent for drawing, and nobody disputes that. What everyone also agrees on is that the Academy was correct in rejecting his application, his human figures are mediocre, lacking in life, form and feeling.

He seemed to lack the sufficient insight to truly portray others in his art, and obviously that speaks volumes about his character.

Was there something he could have learned, or developed over time?  Was he born to be a monster?  Or was there something that could have been brought out to help him make great art?

It’s a question that has always fascinated me; are truly great artists born and not made?  Was Picasso always going to be a world-class, ground breaking artist?  Was Mozart born to earn a place in history with his music?

Or, to quote Alan Sorkin’s dialogue from Steve Jobs, “You think John [Lennon] became John by winning a raffle, Woz? You think he tricked somebody or hit George Harrison over the head? He was John because he was John.”

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Old Woman, Adolf Hitler, 1908

The common belief is that some people have “It”, whatever that elusive quality is, and most people do not.  Picasso had it.  John Lennon had it. Maria Callas had it.

Yes, sometimes even I wonder if I have “It”.

Sure, I got into art school.  Suck it, Hitler!  But I’m pretty sure it was only because a California State University cashed my tuition check.

Are there people who just have natural genius when it comes to the arts?  And what do you do when you realize that you are never going to be one of those people?

Do we do it for the praise?  Or do we do it because that’s all we can do, and we cannot do anything else?  Or anything less?

If my work does lack “soul”, or heart, then so be it.  If I have been chosen to only be 2nd rate or 3rd tier, so be it.

But here’s the thing: At this point in my life, I know who I am as an artist.  There is no running away from that.

All I know is that I have a vision, and the will to see that vision realized. I have a total, impassioned and unwavering belief in my art.

And maybe, at the end of the day, that’s what truly counts.

After spending an afternoon perusing an exhibit of famous art works at the Academy of Design in San Francisco, Mark Twain wrote, “I am glad the old masters are all dead, and I only wish they had died sooner.”

Life in Black and White

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Life in black and white. It’s a good life, so far.

I have processed only a handful of rolls at this point, so it’s hard to tell for certain. Too early.  I screwed up my very first roll, I didn’t load it onto the reel properly.

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You can see where the film pressed against itself during the developing. Lesson learned. And I haven’t made that mistake again. Yet.

It’s one of the many hazards of home developing.

I was able to mix the developer and fixer correctly, so there’s that. I am using boring old D-76 developer, for all you film nerds interested in the technical babble. I was using a stock dilution, and have only just moved to a 1:1 for my last two rolls.

I’m using water for my stop bath, which seems fine, and I’m not using a wetting agent, but I’m reconsidering that at the moment.

For the film itself, I started with 2 rolls of Ilford HP5+ 400, then 2 rolls of Kodak T-Max 400, and then my last two have been Kodak Tri-X 400. I need to go through all the selections again before I choose one and really stick with it. It was the Ilford that I screwed up during developing, so I probably shouldn’t have formed too solid of an opinion. That said, I am leaning towards not liking it, but I’m willing to give it another day in court before I completely discard it.

Man, I liked the T-Max. Look at those tones!

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The Tri-X has been good, too.

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Different films do different things under different circumstances. This is all part of the learning curve. I anticipated the first 3-6 months of this was going to be about experimentation, it’s actually one of the reasons I’m glad I didn’t jump straight into medium format. Gotta learn to walk before you can run.

My Plustek 8100 dedicated 35mm film scanner has been pretty great, too.  Nice sharp scans, though I wish I could get bigger files with better resolution.  I actually want to start printing some pics soon, I would like to see what they look like in the real world.

Which brings me to confession time.  Yes, I still manipulate my photos in Photoshop.  However, I am spending far less time on my film scans than I was spending on my digital work.  I had accumulated a workflow in digital that often meant I was spending an hour or more on one shot.  Now, I do some spot removal, I adjust contrast, I dodge and burn, and I still do some light sharpening using a high-pass filter.  That last step is the only one that actually doesn’t belong, everything else is just a computer replication of the work I would have normally done in the darkroom anyway.

Anyone who thinks photographers shouldn’t use Photoshop doesn’t know the first thing about photography, it’s history, and how much manipulation when into working the negative.

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James Dean in Times Square by Dennis Stock, dark room print notes by Pablo Inirio.

Again, this is all early stages. But I do know that right now, I would much rather pick up my film camera than my digital.

What did I want out of this experiment? I wanted to do more in the real world, and home developing and scanning has given me that. I wanted to get away from color, and get back to black and white. It’s been surprising how much that has thrown me off, how little I paid attention to lights and darks when shooting digital. Man, I got lazy.

I wanted my Instagram feed to look different that most other people’s.  I could see my photos looking like everyone else’s, and it bothered me.  Yes, I’m vain that way.

My only worry was that I thought an all black and white feed would be boring.  I was wrong. An friend of mine rightly commented, “I’m tired of the black and white…. said no one ever!” Indeed.

I’m shooting again this weekend, with a model this time.  My immediate short-term goal is to get more people in front of the camera.  If I’m brutally honest, some of my film automotive photography doesn’t look that different from my digital work converted to b&w.  But somehow the people look different.  People look better on film, more interesting.  More real.  Digital has a weightless quality to it that you don’t really notice until you capture someone on film.  There’s more volume with film, forms seem more substantive, more thorough.

But that’s just me, and I might be wrong.

Here’s to capturing the real.

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Film. Mostly.

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Say hello to my little friend.

PlusTek 8100 35mm film scanner. It’s a dedicated film scanner which, from everything I’ve read, is better for 35mm film than a traditional flatbed scanner, like the Epson V600.

So, there it is.  My first purchase after I have decided to go back to shooting film this year.

Before we go any further, let me be clear. I will not be shooting film exclusively.  I will still use my D610.   This weekend, for example, I’ll be taking it out for a cool car show I’m going to (No, not Mesquite Motor Mania….it kills me that I’m not going to MMM this year!).

I am not abandoning digital, not at all.  But, I will try to minimize my digital shooting.

The plan is getting right back to basics; 35mm black and white, and develop at home.  I’ve still got my darkroom bag for loading the film into the developing canisters.  In fact, that is the only thing I have left from the old days.  To start home developing again I’ll need to get…well, everything really. The tank, reels, thermostat, timer, containers, chemicals, and a dozen other little things.

And film.  I’ll need to start buying film.  Again.

Now, after posting my previous blog posts laying out some of my reasoning regarding this decision, many people have offered advice and voiced some concerns.

Some said that I’ll disappointed shooting 35 mm compared to my DSLR.  If I really wanted to do film properly, I should go medium format.  Fair point.

Here’s the main reason I’m not getting into medium format just yet.

Money, money, money, money.  Money.

Yes, I know I can pick up a decent Yashica Mat-124G or Mamiya RB67 for $200-$300, or so. But any money budgeted for that has already been spent on the above scanner. If I would have bought a MF camera, I would have still needed to get a flatbed scanner.

No, I already have an outstanding film camera with my Nikon F100, and even a pretty great SLR in my Pentax K1000.  That’s what I’ve already got, therefore that’ll be what I’ll use.

Apprehension about money will be a specter that haunts this project all year.  At the beginning of this year, I had a certain budget set aside for a new lens that I’ve wanted, that I’ve talked about getting for a year now.  Well, I guess that’s on hold.  Indefinitely.  Now part of that budget is already gone, and with the funds needed to purchase the above mentioned developing items, that will be even less for film and chemicals throughout the year.

It’s going to be a shoestring kind of year.  Photography on a budget, indeed.

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But damned if it won’t be worth it.  I can feel it.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

Welcome to doing something different.

I’m excited about getting back to basics. I’m excited about relearning the process. I’m excited about getting away from color for a bit, and not just by desaturating a digital file.  I’m excited about connecting with other people who shoot film. I’m excited about spouting pretentious nonsense that only other film shooters will barely understand (“Yeah, I’ve switched from D-76 to HC-100, but I prefer dilution H to dilution B, obviously.“) I’ve missed out on talking like a hipster about vinyl records and microbrewerys, this is my shot to be a pretentious hipster!

I’m excited about photography again.

It will be February, probably, before I get it all up and running.  Until then I’m scanning old film and getting practice with the scanner.

So, stay tuned, friends, good stuff is developing. I promise.

Film. Maybe.

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Film.  I think the answer in 2018 is film.  At least, that’s the direction I’m leaning.

My last few posts have been about the existential crisis I’m currently experiencing.  After 10 years of hard graft I feel like my photography has ground to a halt.  I have exhausted my vision and my passion.

All creatives go through this.  Honestly, hand over heart, a large part of this is me just being a over-dramatic, whiny little bitch, and someone needs to smack me up and tell me to knuckle down and get on with it.  However, that’s not the whole of it. There always has to come a reckoning, a re-evaluation of your goals.  And your methodology.  And your motivation.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

I mentioned how I took photography courses in college. I’m not going to say it was a time before digital photography, but it was close. We shot film almost exclusively. I learned to develop my own b&w film, print in a darkroom and mount my prints. I learned how to print in color. The chemistry was as much a part of the experience as the shooting.  I loved every second I was in that darkroom.

Film ticks a lot of the boxes I’ve been seeing as empty. I said I’d like to get away from my computer, get away from the electronic. More and more all the jpgs and photoshop just seem empty to me. I’d like to get back to doing something physical, something real. Film ticks that box.

Film would also slow me down.   Overall, I’ve been good at restraining myself with posting photos, and only sharing shots that I work hard on and really stand out.  I’ll go to a car show, shoot 300+ pics, and I’ll post 5-7.

What will happen if I go to a car show shooting film is that I’ll shoot 36 pics, or 72 if I have two rolls, and that’ll be it.  It’ll slow me down not only with posting, but with thinking out the shot before hand.  Film forces you to knuckle down and think through framing, light and shadow, foreground and background.  You should be making hard choices when you shoot film.

It will also separate me in terms of content.  I’ve mentioned about getting lost in a sea of content. Film simply looks different than digital. That’s not a value judgement. I know people who are amazing photographers who shoot digital, and I’ve seen film photographers who are absolute crap.  Again, I am not saying that film is superior, it’s just different.  I’m looking for different right now.

So, why haven’t I committed to this plan yet?  One word.

Money, money, money, money. Money.

I’ve also said how I’ve got no hustle, no game, how I don’t make any coin from this.  At all.  I am the very model of a hobbyist photographer.

With digital, that’s cool. I’ve invested in a camera and some memory cards, boom. Done.  Film costs money. Every time you go out and shoot, you spend money.  Chemicals cost money.  I’ll need to purchase (again!) all the chemicals, the bottles, the developing tank, a thermometer, the film holders. I’ll need to get a dedicated scanner.  I’d like to get a light meter.  And a red filter.  And a deep yellow filter.

There goes the new lens I’ve been wishing for.

I haven’t committed to this plan because I just don’t know how sustainable it is. I’m crunching the numbers now.  No, seriously, I have created an Excel spreadsheet trying to calculate a monthly budget for this to be able to run throughout the full year.  I’m not even joking.  I don’t want to hit June or July and have exhausted the budget.

And this is just for the Nikon F100 35mm film camera I already own (see above).

I haven’t even mentioned how I desperately want to shoot medium format film.

Jesus, I’m a mess.

 

 

The Sick Boy Method

The story up to this point: I had vowed to give up photography.  Altogether.  I had a plan and a purpose.  I was like Renton in Trainspotting; Never again, Swanney. I’m off the scag.

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No more, I’m finished with that shite. Gonna get it sorted out. Gonna get off it for good.

I had made the decision. I was putting the camera on the shelf and taking up painting. Again. I had priced easels.  I had priced paint. I designed the space in my garage that I was going to turn into my makeshift studio.  Here’s what I’m talking about, here’s a bad scan from what my room looked like circa 1992-1993.

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Real artist’s loft, right?  Ignore what’s on the easel, I’m sure I had only begun whatever that monstrosity was.  Painting had been my life up until that point.  Here’s some pics from my solo exhibition around that time.

New York School Abstract Expressionists were my idols: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Klein, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko. I inhaled their work like air I needed to breathe. I was prolific. I was passionate. I was good.  And I walked away from it.  I had come to a point where I felt I couldn’t communicate what I wanted within that language.  Painting no longer gave me the words to say what I wanted to say.  That’s when I moved over to photography.

I started taking photography classes as electives, but something immediately clicked.  Only, I didn’t know what it was.  I was taking pictures of streets, rock quarries, industrial warehouses, and suburban houses.  And I had no idea why.  I just knew I had to do it.

Eventually, though, I walked away from that, too.  I put everything down to get married and raise a family.  Then, around 2008, I picked up photography again.  But, as I explained in my previous post, after 10 years of pouring everything into this, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was spinning my wheels.  Working hard and contributing nothing. Saying nothing. Getting no artistic or emotional return on my investment to this craft.

I was going to try something new.  Well, old.  You know.

Then I took this selfie.

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I take a lot of selfies.  This one isn’t that special, overall.  However, there are some interesting things going on with exposure and lighting effects, and the color seems more balanced, thought out and mature than in most of my earlier selfies.

Someone commented on it, “Easy to photograph yourself.  Try drawing a self portrait, that’s not so easy.”

I was livid. What a shitty, condescending comment. I wanted to punch my monitor.  First of all, I had spent years in life drawing and life painting classes.  I knew exactly what it took to draw and paint a self-portrait.  Don’t lecture me on what’s more difficult, friend.

Eventually, after talking a long walk and trying to arrange my thoughts, here was my reply:

The truth is that, no, it’s not easy to photograph yourself. It is actually pretty difficult to do, or at least to do it well. I, too, had that same condescending attitude towards photography when I was painting, so I know what you are trying to say. However, since moving over to photography, I soon learned it is far more complex than just pointing and shooting. I’ve been doing this seriously for 10 years now and I’m still learning, still growing. I’ve got many dozens of photographer friends who will all tell you the same thing – photography is not easy. Sure, you can learn some of the basics, shutter speed, ISO, aperture, quite easily. But to actually master the things that make great photographs, light, color, composition, they are as difficult, if not more so, than drawing or painting. So, don’t do that, don’t make that same mistake that so many other people make, that what I do, that what so many of my friends do, is an easy-breezy, effortless endeavor. We assure you, it is not.

Then it hit me.

If I was finished with photography, I mean truly prepared to put in on the shelf for good, then this snippy little comment really shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did. In fact, I probably should have been nodding in agreement.  “Yes, you’re right,” I should have thought, “Just pressing a button is the easy way, the lazy way, and I can’t wait to get back to making REAL ART with pigment and brushes and canvas and everything else that all the traditionalists deem to be REAL ART.”  That should have been my response.

But it wasn’t.

My revelation, my road to Demascus moment, right there in a lousy facebook post.  I wasn’t done with photography.  Not just yet, anyways.

 

Institutionalized

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“Sometimes I try to do things
And it just doesn’t work out the way I wanted to
And I get real frustrated
And I’m like, I try hard to do it

And I’m like, take my time
And it doesn’t work out the way I wanted to
It’s like, I concentrate on real hard but it doesn’t work out
And everything I do and everything I try it never turns out

It’s like, I need time to figure these things out
There’s always someone there going, ‘Hey, Mike
You know, we’ve been noticing
You’ve been having a lot of problems lately’

‘You know, you should, maybe, get away
And like, maybe you should talk about it, you’ll feel a lot better’
And I go, ‘No, it’s okay, you know I’ll figure it out
Just leave me alone I’ll figure it out
You know I’ll just work it out myself’

And they go, ‘Well you know if you want to talk about it
I’ll be here you know and you’ll probably feel a lot better
If you talked about it, so why don’t you talk about it’
I go, ‘No, I don’t want to I’m okay, I’ll figure it out myself’
And they just keep bugging me and they just keep bugging me”

I just want to say “Thank You” to everyone who has kept bugging me.  I appreciate the response I got from my last blog post.  People have been writing wonderful things to me and I have honestly tried to take them all in.

It is difficult at times, I find myself being more like Mike than not.  Both for wanting to try to work things out on my own, and because all I really wanted was a Pepsi.  Just one Pepsi.

And she wouldn’t give it to me.

The short answer is that, for now, I will be continuing to do photography.  Probably.  At least, I think I will.  I do want to give it up, but I don’t.  And, more importantly, I don’t think I can.  I think it might be a part of me in a way I haven’t fully understood or been self-aware enough to recognize. I’ll unpack more of that in my next post.

This post is really just to say “Thank You”, everyone.

And, on a broader note, continue to bother people.  Especially in this season.  People can have so much pain in this season of Joy.  Bug them.  Get in their face and say, “You know, we’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately. And like, maybe you should talk about it, you’ll feel a lot better'”

And then listen.  Just shut up and listen.  Don’t try to fix anything, don’t try to see people as a project to work on, or an issue to resolve.  People are people, they often don’t need “fixing”, they just need a soundboard.  Or a hot cup o’ java and two ears.  Or a shoulder.  Or a friend.

And, if they won’t talk to you, make sure they talk to someone.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-8255

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Institutionalized lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC
Songwriter: Mayorga Muir
Artist: Suicidal Tendencies