Sergio Larraín and the Photoagraphic Experience

Who is Sergio Larraín? He is considered Chile’s greatest photographer (1931 – 2012) who made street photography “using shadow and angles in a way few had tried before.” The great French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, after seeing his London photographs, gave him an invitation to join and work for Magnum. He accepted this invitation. After a brief & meteoric rise as a photographer in the public eye for a few years in the 1960s, he became a meditation hermit in the mountains of Chile.

Many photographers believe that his photos hinted at what could’ve become an even greater career, and that his true contribution to photography is his exploration of the photographic experience. By photographic experience, I mean that sort of experience that is a pre-requisite for a great photo. The way Larraín describes it is as follows: “Freed of conventions… the images arrive like ghosts.” (Sergio Larraín by Gonzalo Levia Quijada, Agnes Sire et al., henceforth SL.)

...the images arrive like ghosts.

…the images arrive like ghosts…

How does one arrive at this preternatural state for doing photography, i.e. the photographic experience? In a letter written in 1982 to his nephew (from SL), he gives photographic advice akin to Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

  1. Find the right camera: fits you, comfortable in hand, has only the features you need – no extras.
  2. “Act like you’re going on an adventure.” He suggests a city that is not a home town and doing what the Germans call a spazierengehen, a wandering about without a destination.
  3. Develop your photos. Throw all the prints away except for the best one. Put that one on a wall.
  4. Take a break. Study the works of others. Expose yourself to only good art. At this point, “the secret will slowly reveal itself.”
  5. Let nothing conventional distract you.
  6. “The conventional world puts a veil over your eyes. It’s a matter of taking it off during your time as a photographer.”

Then “the images arrive like ghosts.” The attainment of the photographic experience will lead to your good photos.

In my next blog post, I will being looking at Sergio Larraín’s book, Valparaiso.

2019 Trends in Film Photography

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.

There are 3 trends in film photography:

  • More film is being bought at a rate of 5% year over year
  • Very basic shots highlighting filmic qualities, or nostalgic Americana that might be expected of Stephen Shore shooting large format are awash online
  • Portra 400 is by far the most hashtagged film, and perhaps most used or sold?

We still haven’t answered the question of what is something we haven’t seen before.

Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke, Giving Valence to Film Flaws, An On-Going Review

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.

A Highly Subjective Index of “Minutes to Midnight” by Trent Parke

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.

  1. Moths to light
  2. Children all with balloons except for one
  3. Beauty pageant contestants on cars
  4. Motion blur of pedestrians et alia on George St.
  5. A crowd
  6. Club Hotel Wiluna
  7. Aboriginal community? Some people lying on the pavement like dogs / with dogs.
  8. Diving into a reservoir
  9. A dragon fly caught on a spider web
  10. Guys driving in a car with an open beer container
  11. Kid’s wrestling
  12. Festival at night: XXXX Land
  13. Crowd under tree roots, motion blurred… has a Prometheus aesthetic
  14. Woman with infant; motor bike
  15. People at a beach; some reconnoitering from afar
  16. Dead cockatiel on road
  17. Child in a field
  18. Sydney Harbor with a blistering, lithium-like light reflected
  19. Soap bubbles in plaza
  20. White silhouette (famous photo)
  21. Street on a rail line
  22. Car covered in a white tarp (Robert Frank homage)
  23. White linens on a clothesline at night
  24. Child watching TV at night
  25. Overview / Aerial of a car kicking up dust through a curve in the road
  26. A marsupial jumping through the trees at night
  27. Man in the garden with leaves floating about (prelude to alien abduction)
  28. Spider webs, brush, twigs, barbed wire
  29. Horses at Twilight (ocf)
  30. Child with bloody elbow, screaming
  31. Dog with dead furry creature in mouth
  32. Bats with wings in flight back lit
  33. Two page spread: grainy silhouettes in park
  34. Burning kangaroo corpses
  35. Tree stumps
  36. Couple sleeping in the back of a pick up truck
  37. Dead, marsupial fetus
  38. Two page spread – black
  39. Night: bright white silhouette amongst leafless trees
  40. Raining on farm hands
  41. Kissing in a mosh pit
  42. Jellyfish
  43. Swimming / underwater
  44. Pregnant woman underwater
  45. New born in water
  46. Swing set with children at night
  47. Bats flying at night (long exposure with light trails and motion blur)

How to Reduce Social Media Usage

We all know that social media causes a slew of mental health and societal issues:

But lucky for you, you are already an analogue shooter, or are about to be one, and we all know that shooting film means less time spent on line.

I’m going to give you 7 ways to lessen your exposure to social media.


Insta option to remind you to use it less

  1. Limit your time in app. Instagram has a way to set a reminder that you’re about to, or have exceeded your time. I choose to limit my Instagramming to 1 hour a day.
  2. Let your audience know your posting time and commit to it. I let my audience know in my bio that I’m posting every weekday at 11:30am.
  3. Limit your followings. Under 150 is ideal. Figure out who isn’t engaging with you, and cut that person out of your socials.
  4. Don’t use in app chat. Send them to Twitter or website with your email, or other chat app where you know you won’t get sucked in for too long. Discord are great options.
  5. If you feel like logging into the socials, go outside and shoot some film.
  6. IRL More, e.g. have more IRL conversation, use a landline or payphone (Yes, that old thing that takes coins), find a paper flyer to an event and go to it.
  7. The zine or the photo book should be the focus of your analogue, photographic efforts. All great work should culminate in a zine or photo book.


Put your posting schedule in your bio! This is true of all socials on where you post.

What did you think of this list? Am I leaving anything out for lowering your social media usage for better health and more happiness? Let me know in the comments below.

Why I torched my Instagram account

You might be asking what do I mean by torched? Here’s how I’m defining it.

  • I manually removed all my followers.
  • I manually removed all my followings.
  • I deleted or archived all my posts and highlights.

Once I committed this virtual seppuku of my account, I felt like a horrible burden had been lifted off me.

Why did I do this?

1. My account still looked and felt inauthentic.

I had removed about 10,000 ghost followers (manually) and got to about 1400 followers. At this point my engagement was 10% without even trying with hashtags or engaging with my audience which was pretty decent. I could get a 30% engagement if I posted a decent photo and engaged with my audience. What gnawed at me was different evaluations of my account comments being inauthentic. I used a calculator like this one. No matter what I did, folks from inauthentic DM groups would comment on my photos no matter what in the hopes that I would engage with them.

2. I was sick of the implied supposition that if someone commented and liked my photo, I owed them the same thing.

Seriously, is every photo awesome? I would look at photographs and see that they would get the same scores or hundreds of comments from the same people on the same kinds of photographs. I get that when you start out in photography you photograph the same thing lots in order to hone your craft, and because of the subtle differences in light, shadow and color. For influencers, photographers become a means to an end: a way to grow a following and a way to get engagement. This reduces the world to a mere photographic resource at the expense of story telling.

3. The interactions on Instagram are (on balance) not healthy, nor what I need.

I’m grateful for all the friends and positive interactions that I’ve had on Instagram. But if I weigh all the pros and cons, I’d have to say overall that my experience on Instagram has been a negative one. You run into so many people that are just using other people to get ahead – that’s simply not healthy.

As someone that is passionate about philosophy, I never found folks who combined philosophy with a love of taking honest photos.

4. There has to be a better way to build community.

Even in its early years, people like Lady Elizabeth Eastlake noted how photography created a motley republic of sorts that crossed barriers of class. There have existed “republics of photographers,” a sort of tribe, global in nature, bound by just the desire to chase light. I remember how in the 1990s travelers would make fast friends with just nothing more than a camera in common. Many think Instagram did this for the first time, but it did not. However, with early Instagram, it was very much possible to travel the whole length of the country and all you needed was an account to gain the hospitality of a stranger.

Now, moving into its 9th year and making Facebook billions last year, you have to wonder if you can even create community with an app so antithetical to it. Instagram has become an ad platform designed to turn your attention and by strip mining your life’s photos into profit. Whatever community is there flourishes despite this, but there really ought to be a better way.

How should photographic communities be really built in the 21st century?

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 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.

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 anticipated or 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 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.

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.