Infatuated with color

Finally getting around to processing all the color slide film I have stashed in the freezer.  Found some fun street shots, probably from the spring of this year, made in Cedarburg, WI, just north of Milwaukee.

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With color film you of course look for over the top color.  Have you noticed how bold, primary colors are showing up in advertising and displays more and more?  Makes it fun to see how people present their goods while having a good time with them.

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Makes you want to throw on a swimsuit and hit the beach for some serious sand castle building.  The reflection just adds interest.

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According the company, Milwaukee’s finest beer.  Definitely some of the best signs around.

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday!

Fading colors

Finally got around to having all the 4×5 slide film in the freezer developed.  A mix of last fall and this fall, so there were a few nicely colored images.  Lab manager told me the E-6 chemistry from Kodak is done – no more available.  Slide film will now only be processed with Fuji chemistry.  I do so little anymore it’s hard for me to know if there’s a difference in using Fuji chemistry on Kodak film.  Not much of an issue soon, though, since Kodak quit making slide film anyway.  Just have to enjoy it while it lasts.

Here’s the best of a couple years’ large format slides.

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Autumn Extremes

Fall colors around here weren’t as I expected.  The many people I’ve mentioned this to are mostly likely tired of hearing about it and would prefer the seasons move on to something new.  Between being disappointed and being busy at work I’m only now starting to look through all my images to see how they may turn out.

So far a couple have caught my attention.  Neither is the grand landscape of fall quilted colors, but rather portray those aspects unique to photography of showing something usually missed or very difficult to see.

Lines of the season

Lines of the season

This one is just a close-up of a few leaves.  These were surrounded by hundreds of similar colored and shaped leaves but what caught my attention was how the lines and shadows enhanced the dimensionality of the composition.  The light was just the right angle to bring out the surface details while being bright enough to highlight the color.  All the little irregularities in the leaf, signs of its end, break up the linear nature of the image and bring some character to the subject.  It’s a scene easily missed if you are literally looking at the forest instead of the trees.

Morning Shore

Morning Shore

This one is a multi-image HDR composition, with enough exposures to enable the viewer to see the rocks as well as the clouds at sunrise.  The location overlooks Lake Michigan and that morning a strong wind was pushing 4-5 foot swells right into the rocky shoreline – hence the wispy appearance of the water.  Standing there you would be able to see the sunrise or the rocks, but probably not both – the dynamic range was too great even for human eyes.  I liked the color version but it was complex – grey rocks, green grass, pale blue water, pink/orange sunrise – and hard to decide on the subject.  Turning it into B&W resolved much of the conflict, I believe.  Now it portrays textures, from hard to soft, permanent to ethereal, giving a sense of anticipation of what might happen next across three distinct layers from bottom to top.

Getting hyped up about fall colors is easy to do since I have a history of color slides for my early photography experience.  Each year I just want to capture that feeling again, only this time with better skills and “seeing” so that I’m amazed at the images.  Some years it happens; some it doesn’t.  What I have to keep remembering is there are scenes everywhere – just have to seek them out and make something of them.

 

Continued to return to basic photography

I was out chasing fall colors a few weeks ago and discovered I’ve spent so little time with my view camera I’d lost any skill with it I’d acquired.  Do I tilt it this way?  Is that really in focus?  Where’s that shutter lever?  Frustrating.  I’ll be surprised if any of those pictures come out worth anything.

Fortunately a colleague of mine recently sent a link to a developing tool for 4×5 sheet film that isn’t expensive or difficult to use.  You can see it here:  https://shop.stearmanpress.com/products/sp-445-compact-4×5-film-processing-system.

What’s great about it is the use is essentially the same as the tank developer I have for 35mm and 120 film.  After loading the film you can do all processing with the lights on!  Granted, it only does 4 sheets at a time but I’m not looking for a production line, just a way to get more skilled with my view camera.

Since I had a few sheets of exposed B&W in the freezer – waiting to accumulate enough to take to the lab – I tried it out.  Shots were from the late winter of 2015 up in Door County, Wisconsin.  Here’s the best of the bunch:

Ephraim, WI from Peninsula State Park

Ephraim, WI from Peninsula State Park

Not a remarkable image but it does show the development system works as advertised.  The tones are even, no spotting or unusual lines on the negative, no gradient of development across the image.  Not bad for less than $100 and ease of use.

What this gives me is the ability to work with my view camera and get quick feedback.  I can make a few images, write down the settings and actions I used, then develop the sheets and see how they turned out.  It is literally the old fashioned way of learning photography.  From this I can be more confident with this camera when the images are truly important.

So what’s the point now that cellphone cameras do such a great job?  Doing it this way pleases me.  It appeals to my interest in learning a skill that results in uncommon outcomes.  Using a view camera makes me more thoughtful about photography, from the initial composition to the final print.  With all the possible movements it gives flexibility in how the image will look, more so than digital cameras.  And it uses film, which has a look to it that is hard to replicate with digital (in my opinion).

It definitely warms my heart to see people out there who are still working to improve the “old” ways of doing things.  One engineer’s frustration has become my tool for education.

Time travel

Time really gets away from me in the summer, as evidenced by the lack of posting here.  About anything.  Well, now that fall is coming on strong I hope to have more things to say about what I see.

Speaking of time, isn’t it interesting in this time of instant digital imaging, when the slightest action by anyone with a smartphone is broadcast to the world, there’s still a great interest in old photos.  I found a website (the URL which I’ve unfortunately forgotten) the other day that is run by someone who buys old negative and photos at garage sales and antique barns, and then posts them online hoping someone will see and recognize the subjects.  Generally these images made using film and photo paper, and many of them are square, indicating the use of a medium format camera of some sort.  Most likely the twin-lens reflex type – you know, ones you hold at waist level and look down into the viewfinder on top.  I’m guessing just about every middle class family after WWII had something like this to replace that Kodak Brownie everyone seemed to use.

The images are usually pretty interesting.  Something about the 12-image-limit of the 120 film roll imposed a form of discipline on the photographer.  Subjects were intentional, even when not formally posed.  Scenes were important reminders of events or locations.  Time was taken to make the image because the composition was important to the photographer, and usually other people as well.

These images have character to them beyond the composition.  Different tones, borders, fine details, even noise from the film chosen gave them a unique look, something we may have lost in the digital age.

Or not.

Mamiya 6, 50mm lens, Fuji Delta 100 Film

Mamiya 6, 50mm lens, Fuji Delta 100 Film

Sure, it’s a film image, but the digital capability means I can make it whatever I want beyond simply a photograph.  We can re-create memories, emotional content, or just vintage appearances.

Personally I think it was easy because with the film I was 90% there….

It’s hard being green (apologies to Kermit)

Weather here has been what passes in Wisconsin as a heat wave, with the usual warnings about high heat indices and drinking enough water.  When the humidity builds and the sun shines freely it means just one thing to me – infrared and clouds!

All that water vapor rising from the ground to hit the cooler air up high makes for wonderful big puffy cloud days.  Combined with all the full foliage, the still air and bright light, infrared is the tool of choice for strongly contrasting and dramatic images.

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ISO 100, 20 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Think of the first photographer who took out a film traditionally used for more utilitarian purposes, made some landscape images on a sunny day, and then processed them just to see what came out.  What a great surprise that must have been, to see what’s around through a different set of eyes.  And then to offer the world an expansion of photography tools to enable us to see the world in an alternate fashion.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ISO 100, 15 sec., f/8, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Some may argue that digital is not the same, that “real” infrared film is only sensitive to those wavelengths whereas the sensor is sensitive to a wider band but has the greens and blues filtered out.  My approach is not that of a purist.  I’m looking for interesting, novel and unique images that are recognizable as infrared and give the high contrast and detail I’m fond of portraying.  I will use infrared film at times, but not that much.  It’s more fun to process a digital image to make it appear just the right way rather than “guessing” how to expose the film and then waiting to see if it was correct.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ISO 100, 25 sec., f/6.3, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

What’s surprising is you can’t always tell how the luminosity will appear.  In the picture above all the leaves on the trees are green, as is the surface of the tennis court.  Yet the trees all appear to be different tones, and the court surface is darker than most.  Funny – we see green but in the infrared there are a myriad of shades of which we aren’t aware.

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

ISO 100, 20 sec., f/5.6, Hoya R72 filter, 14-54mm lens

Again, except for the sky, clouds, tree trunks and service lines on the court, everything in this picture is green.  For infrared, not all greens are created equal.  Ain’t that cool!?

Walk in the park

Once I accumulate enough film to justify the time and chemicals, into the dark I go for some processing time.  If I were more organized the mystery of what is latent in each roll of film would be minimal.  Not being that way, though, means I get to discover all those things attracting my attention over the past season or so.

The inability of glancing at a screen to see whether the image is desirable does change my workflow in the field.  I check and re-check the exposure (has the light changed?  is that cloud moving too fast? are those shadows where I want them?) and spend more time looking in the viewfinder to confirm the composition.  Still, pressing the shutter release remains a wish more than a certainty.  I marvel at the great photographers who just “knew” they had the shot.

My attention continues drawn to the iconic, and possibly stereotypical, compositions.  I feel like the beginning guitarist who simply wants to be able to replicate a favorite riff or melody.  If I can do it as good as “they” did then it means I’m learning this craft.  The challenge is when to step beyond “them” and find your own form, your own vision to be developed and presented to the world.

Or, you can just have some fun.

Continuing my pursuit of Eliot Porter’s intimate landscapes, I find the city weaving within itself these areas where nature has sway, where immersion in the local haven enables you to push away the metro buzz.  Milwaukee’s European roots run very deep, with an appreciation of how the city and the country can be integrated.  Efforts at reclaiming rivers and their banks, returning areas to a sense of wild and bringing intention to the interface between people and nature result in surprising vistas.  The concrete jungle gives way to the border environment, a shoreline where urban structure can meet and interact with the seeming chaos theory of the natural world.

I believe most people don’t crave the wilderness, the absence of civilized existence as a way to rejuvenate a soul.  I do believe, however, that the complete removal of nature is detrimental to all civilization, that people suffer in many ways by being divorced from the organic world.  A city should encourage semi-wild places where gardeners and planners have little authority, a place where people can recall that deep sense of wildness and exploration.  In their own way these are also intimate landscapes for those who turn to them with an explorer’s heart.

Rising toward the sun

Rising toward the sun

Reflection on a world's fair

Reflection on a world’s fair

Atget homage

Atget homage

Local thoughts on the woods

Local thoughts on the woods

Urban hieroglyphs

Urban hieroglyphs

Emerging from the shadows

Emerging from the shadows

Laughing tree

Laughing tree

Civilization on the prairie's edge

Civilization on the prairie’s edge

Dinosaur tracks in snow

Dinosaur tracks in snow

A river through the city

A river through the city