I’m taking a bit of a break from my review of the book I mentioned in my last post. It is the weekend after all.
Last night I went to the “cage match” at the Harvey Milk Photocenter. Basically, a photographer sends a photo to the @streetfotosf account and then a bunch of prestigious judges brutally and honestly judge the photos on a scale of 1 to 5.
The main lament of the judges was that they weren’t being shown something new, except for one judge who was okay with a “seen-before” photo with emotion or a mood.
We are awash in images seen before, but in film this trend takes a different twist. Americana, or anything basic but nostalgic seems to be the trend. The images all seem to say, “Behold, I can time travel, and look, it’s not digital: it’s film.”
This does not a photograph make, if we define it the way the “cage match” judges define it: Something I haven’t seen before.
Laundromat by u/Blueberry-STi via r/analog
But what do we mean by “something I haven’t seen before?”
Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being is a novel that presents a tension between every moment being unique and never happening again (and thus unbearably light), and every moment as something that’s happened before (Nietzschean eternal return).
Our judges notion of “something I haven’t seen before” is somewhere in between. What is this in between?
If we define a photograph as an image that we have not seen before, we’re hard pressed to recall any film photographs that fit this except for say experimental art in the vein of Irina Chernikova’s abstract experimentations.
Another trend is the use of Portra 400. By far and away it is the most hashtagged film on Instagram just recently breaking a million hashtagged photos this year. A distant second is Ilford HP5+ which as of this blog post is at around 459,000 hashtagged photos. This isn’t really scientific because I’m not taking into account hash crashing, but Portra’s dominance seems to be confirmed by YouTubers like Willem Verbeeck who feels it’s the standard.
How does one find a start for a photographic review? The first and only major blocks of text in Minutes to Midnight describe a UFO encounter by a set of witnesses. Will the photos be a fiction or a factual set. Will the photos be like the UFO, somewhere in between requiring interpretation?
In Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful he starts off with an analysis of Hegel’s turn of phrase for art: “a thing of the past.” How could Hegel say such a thing? Gadamer grapples with this and parsed Hegel as saying that art, gods and cultural significance used to be one. Christian, medieval art has this unity, although the god of Christ requires no architecture. (Matthew 18:20) Of our time (nihilism & many cultures in one state at each other’s throats – in a word, Balkanism), Gadamer must ask, “But what is all this compared to the alienation and shock with which the more recent forms of artistic expression in our century (20th) tax our self-understanding public?” (p. 7) Gadamer is asking this in 1977, a time of stagnation and malaise for the Western powers with conceptual art ascendent and eclipsing the “revolutionary” art of the 1960s. We still live in a time of “the conflict between art as the ‘religion of culture’ on the one hand, and art as a provocation by the modern artist on the other.” (Ibid.) (Perhaps a 21st century Gadamer might have written of our fractious time “religions of cultures.”)
In Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight we see the tension between this “religion of culture” as he is steeped in the tradition of street photography, and the provocations. Of the former he creates an homage to Robert Frank in Photo 22 of a car that is covered by a white tarp.
Trent Parke also provokes us by using film and focusing what in the 20th century were considered flaws: grain (most of the photos esp. photo 33) & motion blur (about 14 photos has this). The 21st century with its focus on hyper sharp images, megapixels and clean high ISO shots is anathema to what Parke has accomplished: giving film photography’s flaws a valence.
Grain occurs when a film is pushed or under exposed.
I focused on the aesthetics and style of Minutes to Midnight. In my next post, I’ll focus more on individual photos and how they relate to the UFO encounter.
This index of Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight is in preparation for a review of this great work published in 2013. Trent Parke saved up for 5 years to go on a road trip of Australia. During that time his partner got pregnant and birthed their son – both moments viscerally captured. Trent Parke used a high contrast black and white film with very rich, dark tones. Here is the index.
Moths to light
Children all with balloons except for one
Beauty pageant contestants on cars
Motion blur of pedestrians et alia on George St.
Club Hotel Wiluna
Aboriginal community? Some people lying on the pavement like dogs / with dogs.
Diving into a reservoir
A dragon fly caught on a spider web
Guys driving in a car with an open beer container
Festival at night: XXXX Land
Crowd under tree roots, motion blurred… has a Prometheus aesthetic
Woman with infant; motor bike
People at a beach; some reconnoitering from afar
Dead cockatiel on road
Child in a field
Sydney Harbor with a blistering, lithium-like light reflected
Soap bubbles in plaza
White silhouette (famous photo)
Street on a rail line
Car covered in a white tarp (Robert Frank homage)
White linens on a clothesline at night
Child watching TV at night
Overview / Aerial of a car kicking up dust through a curve in the road
A marsupial jumping through the trees at night
Man in the garden with leaves floating about (prelude to alien abduction)
Spider webs, brush, twigs, barbed wire
Horses at Twilight (ocf)
Child with bloody elbow, screaming
Dog with dead furry creature in mouth
Bats with wings in flight back lit
Two page spread: grainy silhouettes in park
Burning kangaroo corpses
Couple sleeping in the back of a pick up truck
Dead, marsupial fetus
Two page spread – black
Night: bright white silhouette amongst leafless trees
Raining on farm hands
Kissing in a mosh pit
Swimming / underwater
Pregnant woman underwater
New born in water
Swing set with children at night
Bats flying at night (long exposure with light trails and motion blur)
After the Ricoh GR III came out, I’ve been looking for something with a similar form factor but in analogue format. The original Rich GR1 that uses 35mm film is now way too expensive ($600 and up as of June 2019). All film cameras seem to be jumping up in price, but the one jumping up the least and offering decent lens quality is the Olympus XA.
As you can see from the sample files, it works quite okay for photos where you don’t need 1/1000 of a second or faster. When you need that quick street shot, you often end up with motion blur.
Olympus XA with motion blur
Kodak Tri-X 400 especially when pushed one stop offers a nice bit of contrast with rich blacks, and grain that doesn’t detract or is too noticeable. I’ve used other film stocks like Ilford HP5+, another great film. Since the Olympus XA already has soft lens look wide open, that in combination with a flat film like HP5 makes it a tough combo to use. If you’re going for a dreamy and grey effect though it could be worth a shot. For me, Tri-X is the film to use with the XA.
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 work on 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. I bought a bunch of tanks, a slew of 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. If you want to do color, tack on another $300 a year for chemicals and film.
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.
My next trip was at the end of December to Yosemite. There was no snow, but I caught a beautiful moonrise.
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:
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 anticipated or previsualized.
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:
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.
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 in their own times. 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 note that potential 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 thing about 35mm film photography is that I’ll never have to upgrade my camera. For landscapes and night time scenes, I know that with a really portable, digital mirrorless kit the photos can come out so clean. However, I know large format, film cameras still can beat digital in landscapes at day time, yet 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. Will I still shoot film? Yes!
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 say, exciting photography still has to be about something. Epic images have to be about something you are passionate about.
Do you shoot film? Want to meet up? Let me know in the comments below.
50g of washing soda (I baked baking soda at 400F for one hour to turn it into washing soda).
Develop the film in this soup at 86F for 15 minutes. Agitate for the first 30 seconds and 5 seconds every minute until done. Stop & fix as you’d normally do.
I found the results to be interesting. The beer turned the grain in Ilford FP4+ ISO 125 into irregular shapes, and the grain was larger. Some frames became foggy. Many frames displayed some sort of bromide drag. Some frames were flat and others super contrasty.
In the example below you can see 8 bands of bromide drag.
Here’s an example of fogging with bromide drag, too.
Here’s an example that came out okay. If you zoom in, the grains are highly irregular, large and spotty. I suspect this might have something to do with the beer bubbles. There’s bromide drag in the bottom left.
Beeronol is expensive to make. 2 bottles of Guinness Stout (25cl) is already $4 versus sixteen cents ($0.16) per teaspoon of Rodinal per roll of film. If I wanted to make a photo look like it was from long ago, the irregularities with bromide drag, fog, and graininess make this a good choice.
I stand developed Ilford FP4+ ISO 125 in 500ml of 68F, 1:100 Rodinal for an hour. I was expecting a very fine grain, and high amount of accutance but was slightly disappointed. The highlighting and gradient effect you expect from stand development still blew me away. In the highlights the grain was fine, but the midtones and shadow areas gave medium grain that one would find in pushed film. With all this said, when looking at a magnifier, these were the sharpest negatives I had ever seen. The quirkiness of the results will make me think twice before using it as a film for landscapes, but the detail I got from the close up shots with bokeh make me see the potential for portraits.
Unfortunately, the low-end Epson V600 scanner I had wasn’t able to capture the subtleties in highlights that I could see in the negative. I’m pretty sure that as a print the highlights will be there, and if not, a little dodging should fix that.
Here’s a photo shot with Ilford HP5+ 400 pushed to ISO 1600 stand developed in 500ml of 68F, 1:100 Rodinal for 2 hours. This shot is exceedingly sharp thanks to the lens, and stand development process. However, the grain prevails everywhere. Some like this; others don’t. I am a fan of grain, but also understand the need for fine or undetectable grain for portraits.
Here’s a photo shot with Ilford FP4+ ISO 125 in 500ml of 68F, 1:100 Rodinal stand developed for an hour. You can see the fine detail and sharpness, but the bokeh area has a bit of grain.
Here’s another photo shot with Ilford FP4+ ISO 125 in 500ml of 68F, 1:100 Rodinal stand developed for an hour. This is a photo of a very popular spot for photographers, Sutro Baths in San Francisco. There were at least 2 couple photography sessions happening while I was here.
So I’m really not sold on Ilford FP4+ for landscapes, but close ups and portraiture would seem to be its strength. I was surprised by the amount of grain, too. I am not sure I would buy this film again.
I’ve seen Sicario and Arrival, and both had far more emotional resonance than Blade Runner, and Blade Runner 2049. In Sicario, I felt the loss of innocence of Agent Kate Macer played by Emily Blunt. In Arrival, I mourned for Louise Banks’ daughter which set the emotional tone for the rest of the film. These are both masterful films by Denis Villeneuve who is the director for Blade Runner 2049.
Neither Blade Runner had that emotional resonance. I thought Roy Batty’s poetic language before dying was beautiful. Gaff’s line, “Too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?” still sticks with me for its sang froid. I thought the “love” scene between Rachel and Deckard which teetered between rejection, and near rape, made me feel very uncomfortable. Yet, where was the emotional core?
The sequel to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, is even worse at evoking an emotional response. Like a reverse Voigt-Kampf test, if this movie left you feeling nothing, then you’re probably human. Yet, I can’t dismiss it. There are certain visuals that haunt me. There’s a scene where Officer K (Ryan Gosling) arrives at a dystopic orphanage, that looks more like a junk yard, where a sea of charges are made to take apart green computer boards. This harkened back to a visual that might more be seen in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men.
I could not find fault with the world-building which extends Ridley Scott’s original vision, and at the same time has a Villeneuve and Cuaron feel to it. The visuals delighted. The world is headed to the ecological breaking point: sea walls to protect the city because the glaciers have melted.
The philosophical questions raised by this Blade Runner sequel are the same as the last one (can an android be human?) except with the addition of the idea of a skin job revolution derivative of Battle Star Galactica (RDM).
It just gets worse and worse, both in Hollywood, and in dystopias, so maybe the replicants should take over.
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.