An ongoing fear of mine is that my most successful projects come about by accident: that they are a last resort, or an experiment, or a mistake of some kind, that I end up following through with and come to find that they’re truer or more authentic-seeming than my more intentional or carefully-conceived work.
For example: when I had the idea for my most recent project, A Formal Feeling, I was reacting to a set of circumstances over which I had no control. Last summer I was coming towards the end of my Masters, and I had been in the beginning stages of the final assessment Major Project I’d originally planned to work on, when various family losses began to pile on top of one another to the extent that I could no longer see my way ahead. In late August I kept returning to the opening lines of a particular Emily Dickinson poem, and so eventually I decided to make a project about the traumas that were clouding my view, with the poem as its basis. I had a title and nothing else: no imagery, no idea of what shape the project might finally take.
Starting out, I thought the project might be a lot more abstract than the way it ended up. This was the first image I took for the project that communicated what I’d been envisaging. The bewilderment, the slight blur of the body against a dark, still, natural backdrop; more impressionistic than my usual work, but it represented my experience at the time with accuracy.
As time went on, I shot many different kinds of imagery for the project, and some patterns began to emerge. The project began to hold its own shape. As it transpired, this image didn’t fit with the rest, didn’t speak to the title in the same way as the other images, and it wasn’t hard to make the decision to exclude it. Still, I return to it now, and am reminded of those first harsh days of striking out afresh, into the unknown of the project and of the new circumstances I was in, and how valuable image-making was to me then in a very tangible way. The ability to give shape to the raw strangeness of unfamiliar and deep-lying emotions by way of a photograph felt like a kind of release: my feelings could be named, even if not in words.
A Formal Feeling ended up being, amongst other things, an exploration of distance, of remnants, of the ways we choose to preserve certain things rather than others: how often we privilege the preservation of fictions over blunt, material reality. I had thought the project would convey my feelings: in fact, it was a way of pushing my feelings away, of holding them back behind the glass of a camera lens. This first image, in all its oblique honesty about myself and my experiences, was irrelevant, just as I myself was to the project at large.
You see what I mean about my fear that my best projects are accidental: the eventual work had very little to do with me, and I was only ever following its thread. (Or rather: the work is mine, but is based on a series of impulses that I cannot verbalise to myself, and so feels beyond my control.) The extension of this fear is that I’ll never find a formula, and that my projects are things I alight on by virtue of blind luck, and I may never land upon another. And so the image means something different to me now: where once I saw in it my confusion and trauma, I now see my creative predicament: my grasping around in the dark for a new thread to follow.
Earlier this year, I did a “The Setup”/Usesthis interview, discussing all the tools I like to use. It was fun to do, especially since it is one of my favorite blogs to read. I’ve adopted loads of tools of all kinds myself having read about them there.
Honored to have a print up in the Bakery Photo charity auction again this year, with that image from my Life at Waist Level series. So many great images in the show, looking forward to getting up to Portland, ME to see them all in person soon.
So I shot my first zone plate images the other day, using the Pentax 67 zone plate cap (f64) that I made using a Pinhole Resource zone plate. For fun and for reference, I shot lensed images alongside each shot, using the 110mm 2.5 lens. The camera was mounted on a tripod and the zone plate exposure was 8-Mississippis long (using Pinhole Assist as a meter).
The film was Ilford HP5, developed in Cinestill Df96 monobath, scanned using a Nikon D610 and Negative Lab Pro.
Pretty happy with this, though I need a better black background to have it go fully dark, which is what I intended.
There is an old lyric that says “the brushwood we gather and tie it together, it makes a hat. Pull it apart, a field once again.” Such is a way of thinking in old Japan, one finds beauty not in the substance itself, but in the weave of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates….A noctilucent jewel which exudes its glow and color in the dark, and loses its beauty in the light of day. Were it not for shadows there would be no beauty.
— Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows
The act of making a photograph is challenged constantly by the seduction of making a “nice picture,” instead of the purpose of capturing the “spirit” of the subject and expressing my vision through photography. For me, the word “spirit” may also be replaced by the word “life.” To hold myself at the very edge of admiring the beauty of a subject before falling into that seduction, and still maintain the discipline to remain focused on the “spirit,” has been the most interesting challenge of my creative life. Whether it is a flower, a pear, or the human body, beauty always invites me to step into that seduction…
…I choose instead to be seduced by the shadows, because these may be the very places—between the human and the spirit worlds—that the “life” of a subject comes into existence.
— Kenro Izu, from the introduction to his book Seduced.
And no list could hold what I wanted, for what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together—radiant, everlasting.
—Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women
h/t Sarah Hendren
parrhesia - n - (Rhetoric)
boldness or frankness of speech; the act of asking forgiveness for speaking in such a way
I’m excited to have one of my images included in this online exhibition of historic process photography at Analog Forever Magazine. The winning 30 images were chosen by Niniane Kelley—whose own work I love—and one of the other photographers included is Diana Bloomfield—whose work in pinhole and alternative process printing is an inspiration to my own. Not to mention all the other wonderful artists and images also chosen.
This is my image, a cyanotype I made from that pinhole of Anna I posted about earlier:
Took this shot of my pal John at the top of Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree last April. As with all of my “Life at Waist Level” series images, he’s captured in the process of looking into the waist level finder of his own camera to frame a shot.
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this image, it’s been in or will be in 4 different shows so far.
Camera details: Mamiya 7, 65mm, Kodak Portra 400nc, asa 50
A photograph is a universe of dots. The grain, the halide, the little silver things clumped in the emulsion. Once you get inside a dot, you gain access to hidden information, you slide inside the smallest event. This is what technology does. It peels back the shadows and redeems the dazed and rambling past. It makes reality come true.
— Don DeLillo, Underworld
Whatever ideas you have in advance about the subject you want to photograph are just that - ideas. They are not the work itself, but rather the things that lead you to the work. They give you a reason to show up. Usually once you start working, other things happen, you see something else, or you might even find something quite different from what you set out to find.
If you allow your preconceived ideas to be a ball and chain around your ankle, so to speak, the results can often be nothing more than a lifeless illustration of an idea. The ability to improvise and respond in the face of the unexpected is what will make your work interesting, what will make it more resonant and meaningful for you, and probably for the viewer as well.
— Dawoud Bey, from The Photographer’s Playbook
Anoush Anou and the Sunflowers, September, 2018.
Shot with an Ondu 4x5 pinhole camera with a Graflex 6x7 back on Kodak Portra 400, handheld.
Pinhole Assist Log Info: EV 11.4, f225, 400asa, 7 second exposure.
Another image that shows me the way with pinhole. Seven seconds is not so long that I can’t get a legible image handheld, and the wind-tossed sunflowers help create shallow depth of field.
Anna, August, 2018.
This is the image that hooked me on the possibilities of pinhole photography. It was shot using an Ondu 4x5 pinhole camera with a 405 pack film back, fuji fp-3000b film (RIP), handheld. I love the way the background is way overexposed and the light wraps around Anna’s face glowingly.
Notes to self: shoot backlit and expose for the subject close in.
Pinhole Assist Log data: EV 10.9, f225, asa 3200, 1.6s exposure
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