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.

Plustek

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

I Was Thinking About Giving Up Photography. Altogether.

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“It’s an entirely different kind of flying.”

I was reading through my last blog post, “2017 – The Year I Stopped Caring“.  A couple of things jumped out at me here in December, almost 10 months since i wrote that.

“2017 is also the year I stopped caring about constantly generating content.”  I wrote that just as I had started my 365 Days Of Instagram project.  Who was I kidding, I was even more committed to constantly generating content.

Also, this quote, “In short, 2017 is the year I stopped caring about where I think I should go. And started to simply enjoy the journey.”  Hilarious.  Enjoying the journey lasted about a month, maybe six weeks, tops.

It’s been a rough Autumn. For various personal and professional reasons, I haven’t had the best 2017.

By early November of this year, I made a decision that I was finished.  I didn’t want to do this anymore.  I was done.  I was going to put the camera on the shelf for good.

Here are some of the reasons that had gone into making that monumental decision, in no particular order:

1) I’ve been doing photography seriously for about 10 years now, and I just don’t know what I’ve got to show for it. It’s frustrating. A co-worker of mine says, “If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.” So much truth. I’m tired of getting what I’ve always got, which appears to be very little.

2) 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.

3) To be financially successful at photography has nothing to do with being good at photography, and everything to do with being good at marketing, sales and networking. Everything I’m crap at. I’ve got no hussle, I’ve got no game. And I doubt I ever will.  And day by day, I get more and more frustrated seeing mediocre photographers get more and more exposure.

4) Everybody is doing photography. That used to never bother me, in fact it was something I encouraged. I liked that everyone was taking pictures. It’s a big world, with lots to see and share. But now I’m not so sure.  I’m wondering what gets lost, what gets buried in this tidal wave of content.

5) I think I might have hit a plateau in my work. Right now, I have no vision and no inspiration on how to go forward and how to get better.  That frustrates the hell out of me.

What was I going to do?  I was going to go back to painting.  That’s right, I was going to buy an easel, some acrylics, some medium, some good board (I’ve always hated painting on canvas, I didn’t like the looseness of the material.) and get back to where I started. I mean, where I truly started.

I had calculated what it would cost, I had visited art stores here in Vegas and online. I had a plan.

There’s something about a good painting that is just good for my soul.  Painting, for me, was a connection to thousands of years of human achievement.  What are those 15,000 year old cave paintings in Lascaux, France if not just pigment, some sort of canvas and an application of media?  When I was painting, I felt I was part of something nearly eternal, as opposed to just jumping on a relatively new form of technology (photography), and an even newer branch at that (digital photography).

Also, painting ticked most of the right boxes mentioned above. It’s physical, it is movement and action in real time, in the real world.  The tactile work of painting, of feeling the brush connect with your canvas (or board, or wall, or whatever) is real in a way that manipulating .jpgs on a computer will never be.  Also, there’s something to seeing your work in 3D, in real time, to be able to touch and explore it live.

Painting would allow me to go big.  I used to do 3′ x 6′ canvases all the time.  Which is certainly possible in photography, but financially prohibitive, especially in my current financial state.  To paraphrase the Joker in The Dark Knight, see, I’m a man of simple tastes. I enjoy Ultramarine Blue, and Cadmium Red, and… Cadmium Yellow Medium! And you know the thing they have in common? They’re cheap. Well, cheap relative to 3′ x 6′ photographic prints that is.

Also, I know I was a good painter, a good artist. Full confession, I’ve always had lingering doubts about how good of a photographer I am.  Those self-doubts have been growing stronger lately.  I look at my work often and remark that I see nothing special here. For all my crotchety complaining, pointing to all the other photographers being mediocre, I see the three fingers pointing back at me.  There is not a creative out there who hasn’t gone through seasons of self-doubt.  Hell, I would almost say you weren’t a creative person if all if you’ve never felt down about your work.  Self-doubt makes us the creators we are.  But this, recently, has been more than that. Something broader, more insidious.

It’s been a rough Autumn.

So, what happened?  What decision did I finally make?

Stay tuned, next blog up soon.

2017 – The Year I Stopped Caring

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These past few years, I have written a year end wrap up and new year preview.  I laid out plans for success for Generator Photography.  Because if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.  It was all about setting out goals to strive for. Solid, verifiable goals.  As you know, dreams can inspire you, but goals can change your life. Goals are all about action. Goals turn dreams into reality.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

2017 is the year I stopped caring.  By focusing on these solid, verifiable goals, I have tried to turn this, my photography, into something I believe it was never meant to be.  I came to see “success” strictly in terms of money, marketing and financial sustainability.  Who doesn’t want to earn a living doing what they love?  It’s an enticing goal, and full of allure.  But it’s not me.

I’ve talked before about how my mother wanted me to become a CPA.  I think I would have been a great CPA.  I would have had a big income, a well funded retirement plan, profitable business connections, and I’m pretty sure I would have hated my life.

2017 is the year I stopped caring about trying to make this a career.  Please understand, I’m not giving up trying to get paid gigs.  Quite the opposite, the more I get into off-camera lighting and portrait photography, and as I get better at these marketable skills, I think I have a real chance of earning income.  Just, not enough income.  That used to bother me.  I wasn’t working hard enough, hustling enough, marketing myself enough.  Don’t let your dreams be dreams.  Just do it!

Pass.  I’m doing this for me. To fulfill my creative goals, not pay off my financial obligations. I am following my vision, and I’ve decided that that is enough.  I’d tired of looking at myself as failing every goal.  This year, I’ve stopped caring.

2017 is also the year I stopped caring about constantly generating content.  I have spent many years shooting for the sake of shooting.  Which was great, by the way, not a mistake at all.  This is how you get good, you practice all the time, you work at it daily.  But some of that wasn’t just practice.  I put pressure on myself to develop my brand, to constantly generate content, and to have my sites never be stale.  I’m done with this.  If I go a few days without posting a photo, maybe Generator Photography won’t come grinding to a halt.  We’ll have to wait and see.

2017 is the year I stopped caring about camera gear.  My desire to get a really good zoom lens to replace my prime lenses tell you that I have stopped caring about bleeding edge sharpness and moved to caring more about what the picture says, rather than how sharp it looks.  I’ve come to believe I need to be able to capture a moment with passion and emotion, rather than with only dry, sterile technical skill.

Full confession, I may have mislead you on that last point.  I’m still interested in gear, but it’s all about lighting gear these days.  I’ve traded reading lens reviews to brushing up on off-camera lighting techniques.  I’m still buying year, but it’s new Yongnuo flashes and triggers, 48″ Octoboxes and reflectors.  And stands.  So many stands.  I still don’t have enough stands.

In short, 2017 is the year I stopped caring about where I think I should go.  And started to simply enjoy the journey.

Get in, hang on, it’s going to be a great ride.

Who’s with me?