A Year of Shooting Film

On June 6, 2017 I started photographing with film again. The last time I was super serious about film photography was in high school, where we were blessed with unlimited chemicals and film. Sadly, all my negatives from high school got stolen from my apartment when I was living in Italy.

It was a relief to go analogue, and a respite from digital, especially social media. I could just shoot all day with either my Leica M-A, Pentax K1000, or Argus C3 and never worry about battery life. I could totally unplug and just focus on the real world, and producing decent images. I didn’t think about how an Internet audience would react to my photos. The goal was just a print.

I developed most of my film except for the first few months of shooting. For that I went to Photoworks SF. Once I got the hang of shooting film, I joined the local darkroom, The Harvey Milk Photo Center, and bought a bunch of tanks and chemicals and a scanner (under $250) to develop and post-process my own film. The tanks, chemicals, darkroom membership, paper, and film come out to under $600 a year to develop and make my own prints. This is assuming I”m shooting 1 roll of film a week, and am just doing black and white. For the most part 90% of what I shot at this time was black and white. Tack on another $300 a year for chemicals and film if you want to do color.

The first trip I took with my film camera was to Oregon with Paul Wozniak and Dave Alcaraz. The familiar panic of film set in. Would the photos come out? With digital I would’ve known right away, but it was refreshing to just focus on my surroundings.

Samuel H. Boardman State Park

(Leica M-A, Portra 400, 28mm Elmarit f/2.8, f/8, 1/125)

My next trip was at the end of December to Yosemite. There was no snow, but I caught a beautiful moonrise.

Moonrise at Yosemite
Leica M-A, Velvia 50, 90mm Elmarit f/2.8, f/2.8, 1/60

After awhile, I soon grew tired of photographing landscapes. There was a feeling that it had all been done before. I devoted more of my efforts to street photography, since the same street was never the same on different days. I went to Cuba with my friends, Dan Fenstermacher and Harvey Castro. We were struck by the perpetual golden hour that suffused the city streets of Havana. I wish I had lots of great shots, but my technique still needed a ton of work. I would get anxious, and click before the shot was there. Dan got an award for 2 of his photos! But all wasn’t lost, I did get a few photos like this one:

Malecón Fisherman, 2018
Leica M-A, Portra 400, 35mm Summicron f/2.0, f/11, 1/1000

Street photography is something you have to do everyday in order to grow. For me 5pm to 6pm is perfect for street photography since there are so many people in the streets. After Cuba, I went to LA with Dan (again) and Armand (@armand67gt on Instagram). My modicum of skill and luck finally hit a level where I was getting the shots I previsualized.

Los Angeles, 2018
Leica M-A, Portra 400, 35mm Summicron f/2.0, f/8, 1/1000

After LA, I was in New York for the Nor’easter snow blizzards, and even went out in that weather to photograph. I was very happy with this photo:

New York Snow Blizzard
Leica M-A, Portra 400, 35mm Summicron f/2.0, f/8, 1/60

For client work, I’ve been stuck with digital. There have been opportunities to offer film, but nobody has taken me up on it. Now that I’m done with a year of shooting film, and look at social media again, I can’t help but be struck with the tyranny of an audience. To produce any lasting art, the masters of the past relied on solitude. Photographing with a film camera and leaving your phone at home has totally provided many hours of solitude these past 12 months.

Rush Hour, San Francisco, 2018
Leica M-A, Kodak TMax 400, 35mm Summicron f/2.0, f/11, 1/1000

The pull of the world towards digital is still very strong despite this current film renaissance. There’s such an emphasis on NOW that the expectations are high for getting an image right away. I know that the great photographers rarely dabbled with “old” technology. Joel Meyerowitz is an exception with his “Connecticut Light” work where he used a large format, view camera that took 8×10 film. As technology advances, a new way of telling a story opens up, and its important to take advantage of that. However, with innovation pushing a new camera 3 or so times a year in the case of Sony, or every 3 years in the case of Leica, and the rest somewhere in between… Is it really worth it to keep up? I would have to say, “No.”

For my own photography, I’ve let film be the thing I shoot for travel, street photography and portraits. The great things about 35mm film photography is that I’ll never have to upgrade my camera. For landscapes and night time scenes, with a really portable, digital mirrorless kit the photos come out so clean. I know large format, film cameras still can beat digital in landscapes at day time, but digital is so convenient. Also, every year, the sensors are heading towards 1/30th of a second Milky Way shots that are clean, and at currently, science fiction level ISOs.

Images are basically free to produce these days. Video, however, has always been a production, especially if its high quality. Where does this leave us? Nostalgia for the past isn’t the way forward, nor is being prisoner to a tech company’s idea of what is art, and what people ought to see. At the end of the day, you have to have a story worth telling that’s so good that even if you’re just sitting by a campfire, people will love it. The same is true for our images. Regardless of what the post-modernists says, the fun and exciting photography still has to be about something. Epic images have to be about something you are passionate about, and that you’ve risked lots to get.

Do you shoot film? Want to meet up? Let me know in the comments below.

The Philosophy of Art

The Internet makes words mean different things. If you used the word, aesthetics, pre-Instagram, then that word could have meant, “The study of the beautiful and to a lesser extent, the ugly.” Post-Instagram, the word can mean, “The results of one’s ‘gains’ from doing things to get swoll,” or to use less idiom, “the physical results of following a fitness regimen.” If you do a search of “aesthetics” on Instagram, a good portion of the 16 million posts is dedicated to hour glass figures and six pack abs.

This is the tragedy of technology: to make the masses masters of words instead of philosophers.

So that thinking about the arts isn’t drowned, I’ve revived for posterity the term, “the philosophy of art,” which is a poor substitute for aesthetics. That word to the ancient Greeks meant simply “of perception,” or the things that came to the senses. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the Greek word became elevated to something akin to “The Philosophy of Art.” Yet it meant so much more, if we consider how the great philosopher, Kant brought brought to light flaws in Humean skepticism regarding space and time by using the Transcendental Aesthetic.

Why the philosophy of art in this point in time and place? There is widespread ignorance of terms such as “temporal power,” and “phenomenology.” The latter is a tool for revealing how many of the arts lack the former. Nobody asks why certain types of photography are privileged over others: well-marketed over authentic, viral over quotidian, digital over film, sharpness over grain, single photos over photo essays. I’ve asked this question, and the answer seems to be a fetishization of technology where pixels are chosen over morsels of meaning. We live in such ignorance of how things were or can be that the simple act of questioning is a radical cure for such ignorance.

From now on this blog will be more about the philosophy of art than photography. I will still post images to illustrate points, to make a point, to surface, to adumbrate, etc. But my main task will be to continue the work of exposing the aesthetic origin of things considered not so aesthetic, e.g. much of technology is an aesthetic choice, and we learned this from Gadamer. Also, much of what is regarded as inspiring photography is merely a technological fetish, and it is this that needs to be exposed.

Chasing Fog in the San Francisco Bay Area

Enough folks have asked me how I chase fog shots that I’ve added useful tools / links I use to chase fog.

1) Is the government saying there will be morning fog? Check here first!

2) SFO Aviation data: If it’s good enough for our planes, then it’s good enough for you. Look for “Ceiling” in the forecast. If it’s 800 feet or below, then there’s a good chance of low fog. There might not be fog, but if there is it will be low. I got a shot with a 900 feet ceiling but that more had to do with extreme luck. A ceiling of 1500 feet is great for Mount Tamalpais.

Golden Gate Bridge at Night with Fog
Golden Gate Bridge at Night with Fog

3) The “weatherforyou.com” site is almost useful. I just wish I could zoom into the maps. It shows you fog cover for different blocks of time.

4) Also, it helps to consult a webcam.

5) There’s also the Escaype App but you gotta pay for it.

I hope this helps. Chasing fog is like hitting in baseball. If you get it 3 out of 10 times, then you’re a success. There’s nothing like seeing the fog roll in low into the San Francisco Bay during dusk or dawn.

Instagram Hubs Are Bad & Are Just Link Farms

You open up Instagram. You see that someone has posted a photo you took. They say stuff like, “Congratulations, you have been featured!”

Are they featuring you out of the goodness of their heart?

While I was running the @IgersSF account, I would notice that featuring photos more often benefitted the @IgersSF account than the folks I featured in terms of likes and follows.

How can you tell the difference between a hub and a real Instagram community?

  • Hubs never asked your permission to post your photograph. More in depth details on this at DIYPhotography.
  • Hubs hardly if ever communicate back after they featured you.
  • Hubs have owners that are elusive and are rarely seen in the real world. They might even be bots coded to auto-feature *cough* steal photos, and grow an account.
  • Hubs never give back to the community.

What’s the solution to hubs? Google came up with a solution a long time ago for link farms, and it’s about time that Instagram implement it.

“Search engines countered the link farm movement by identifying specific attributes associated with link farm pages and filtering those pages from indexing and search results.” (from the Wikipedia article on Link farms)

A similar thing can be done for Instagram hubs using a Bayesian filter.

World Wide Instameet 10 in Berkeley

On Sunday I went to one of the World Wide Instameets happening at Berkeley. The hosts were Cory Maryott (Cal class of 2014), and Instagram denizen, Milkstachio. I personally brought some dahlias and sunflowers as part of a hashtag project I’m working on. More on that later. I felt the photo walk was well-timed for catching the sunset and getting dinner later. Also, there were some spots with great light that were part of the walk.

Cory Maryott

The co-host volunteered to pose for my hashtag project, #dudesholdingflowers. But honestly, everybody gets flowers. See below.

Danielle McGuiness

I asked Danielle McGuinness to pretend to have a conversation with the flower.

Queena Li

The refection of the flower in Queena Li’s shades was too hard to resist.

Adventures on a Ledge

Some adventurous folk went out on a ledge.

For dinner, the group with to Pieology, a pizza place that only makes personal sized 10″ pizzas made to order. The conversations that interested me were from a guy who shoots great landscapes that recently moved here or one of the pro-photographers that showed up. “Can I be your second shooter (for a wedding)?” “How do you get a social media job?” “Where’s a good place to shoot in SF?” or questions about the iPhone 6 were bandied about.

After dinner, the group split up. Most of us went to Berkeley BART. One of the younger guys was eagerly taking street photos on the lamp-lit street of Telegraph Avenue. Of that, someone said, “That’s a real photographer.”

Who To Follow on Instagram

Don’t follow anybody in the top 100 if you want a follow back. This elite group with at least 2.2 million followers only follows back an average of 222. That means your odds of getting a follow back are less than one-thousandth of a percent.

Also, don’t follow anybody who recently became a suggested user. In typical “nouveau riche” fashion, most start unfollowing people once they’ve reached this coveted status. On average, they follow less than 500 and unfollow 2/3rds of their followers before their suggested user status.

Honestly, just follow people whose photos you really like and who engage with you back. Yes, both. You can already “follow” people whose photos you like in galleries and in books without the engagement, but Instagram is all about engagement.

My pal, @combustionchamber, asked me who to follow on Instagram. Here are three folks that aren’t IRL friends but whom I’ve admired from afar that I’d like to suggest. Here are folks on Instagram whose art I like but also have a high degree engagement.

Larry Nienkark, landscape photographer: This guy even gives discounts to his superb prints in the comments.

Melody Riffs, singer: She is singing 1000 songs for 1000 strangers. One of them might be you.

Ac Colvin, night-time and fashion photography: Ac really reaches out and chats with his audience. I really like his night time shots around San Francisco, especially the long exposure ones.

Finding Photographic Inspiration from Tree of Life

Terence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is one of the few films that dares to answer the question, “Why?” Kubrick’s 2001 also made such an attempt but it didn’t quite have as clear of an answer in the way that “Tree of Life” does.

Malick carved his vision for “Tree of Life” well before Instagram launched, so when I look at his film, as someone who came to Instagram first, I can’t help but notice how much it all looks like Instagram in its early days.

Here are some inspiring images from that movie.

canyon

stainglassspiral

sunflowers

trees

rain

saltflats

The Challenge of Sydney Summer Rain by Trent Parke

summer_rain

This photo taken by Trent Parke in 1998 screams of many contrasts: light and dark, wet and dry, soft and harsh, under-exposed and over-exposed. The last contrast seems quite intentional given Parke’s oeuvre. He was a sports photographer (Street Photography Now, p. 129) and this has given him the speed, reflexes and confidence needed to take some chances by not using traditional apertures and shutter speeds, and yet yield great results. For example, in the above photo, given the same composition a street photographer would go for 1/250th of a second and as much depth of field as possible. While still keeping the same depth of field, Parke intentionally goes for a longer exposure, despite having adequate light, and ends up creating the play of light with the rain.

The challenge behind this photo is that you should take photos even if the weather is far from ideal. The reward is taking a photo way better than photographs of breakfast or comfy interiors.

Aperture in a 50mm Lens

I volunteered to do a modeling shoot, and I got to learn a bit about how what apertures to use on a 50mm f/1.4 lens. In this case, I was using a Canon 50mm USM f/1.4 lens.

I don’t think you ever want to use it wide open since it gets really soft. At f/2.0 it is still soft but it has a nice blur. If you take a head shot at f/2.0, you get some really sharp eyes (if you focus there) and all the wrinkles blur away.

Do not use f/2.0 for a bust or full body shot. Bad idea. Everything is blurry.

When you get to f/5.0, that’s a great f-stop for a couple. You still aren’t tack sharp yet.

At f/5.6, you get tack sharp photos.

Beyond f/5.6 sharpness begins to fade, but just slightly.

5 Instagram Tips for Newbies: A very biased film photographer perspective

These are my tips for newbies on Instagram.

1. When you first sign up follow a few select friends that will follow you back.

The Instagram community has suffered from the onslaught of spammers that actually sell fake follows and likes online. Don’t make the mistake of following every one of your facebook contacts and appear like one.

A spammy looking account has more followings than followers.

spammy_looking

A non-spammy newbie account looks like this:

cyndies_profile

Sure she’s following more people than are following her, but with continued engagement via likes and photos, this user will eventually have better than less than a 1:1 ratio.

2. Straighten out landscapes unless you are going for dynamic tension.

Photographers trained in film were taught to straighten out landscapes. Ya, I know, it sounds lame from a “there are no rules in art” perspective, but there it is. Lucky there are so few of us.

3. Don’t cut people off at the feet.

This is another prejudice of those trained in photography. It has to do with the notion that photography is about capturing a “subject,” but we post-moderns don’t believe in that, right? If photography is about capturing the subject it must do so completely.

4. Don’t follow people, get a follow back and then unfollow.

This is pretty douchey behavior reminiscent of MySpace days. While we are at it. Don’t ask for a shout out.

5. Don’t steal someone’s photo.

Got any other tips? Add them in the comments.

Cheers,
Barce.

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