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January 31, 2004

Cheaper Photo Books, B&W Cross Processing and More

I posted numbers a few days ago in my post Some Interesting Numbers that quoted from an article referencing Steidl's costs for publishing a photography book...I got a fair amount of feedback indicating the numbers were startling or humbling or depressing depending on your point of view.

Ag Magazine's latest issue refers to a considerably cheaper option for independent artists and adventurous book buyers with smaller wallets...the "on-demand" photobook, available in smaller runs (about 200 to 300 copies typically) and generally affordable prices. Ag's article refers specifically to John Gossage's Dance Card, which is available for 31 Euros from One Star Press...check out their interesting website, which has numerous artist books available, though I wish they'd provide a little more information on the artists and more of a preview of what you would get from the artist with the book.

It's very encouraging to see this, though, and the modest runs and simple presentation do tend to provide the feeling of greater intimacy with the artist relative to the fatter, more expensive and more heavily marketed books in bookstores currently. A look around One Star's website also shows that movies are available, though pricing for movies on demand looks much more onerous: a limited edition DVD from Tina Barney (known for her striking portraits and snapshot style tableaux of her family using large format) is 500 Euros for 15 minutes worth of video---ouch!

I've referenced cross processing with color slides and negatives in a couple of my previous posts, and as it turns out, there's an interesting twist on cross processing using Polaroid 8x10 film: combining 809 color negative Polaroid film with 804 black and white to produce a sepia image...this is known as "Polaroid Chocolate" and has been used most prominently by Sports Illustrated's Walter Iooss to photograph a series of prominent professional football players. This old thread from Photo.net discusses the process briefly and Tracey Storer, a Polaroid expert, provides an example and a description of the process. Some of these portraits can be seen on Iooss' own website (look up portraits and football)...I've seen the images in print and they are quite stunning, even for those who hate American football and plan to be far, far away from the television this Sunday.

I hope to be start shooting 8x10 in the next couple of months, and though Polaroid 8x10 film is outrageously expensive, this looks like a fascinating process...though I may try to find people who've tried it first, or simply stick with good old, smelly sepia or brown toning with fiber prints for the time being.

Speaking of fiber prints, I mentioned yesterday that I had hit the darkroom and enjoyed the ability to dodge and burn to my heart's content to create at least viewable prints out of less than viewable negatives. The other side of the story, of course (one the digital only shooters will never have to face) is dust spots, which require the evil process of spotting the print...much more tedious than using the Photoshop clone tool. One of my prints was particularly affected...so I scanned it, and it was easy enough to work with and produced a surprisingly decent looking result. The other image, though, simply looked better in fiber than in pixels.

Here's the scan of one of the shots, a travel grab shot taken last summer in Prague with a Zeiss Super Ikonta:

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January 29, 2004

Analog Readings: Ag Magazine, and Sad American Fashion

Well, I hit one of my busiest stretches yet since the holidays passed, and gained a new appreciation for just how difficult it can be to keep the blog updated regularly. One of the things that kept me away was the darkroom (gasp!)...yes, my first extended period with black and white and chemicals in over two months...just catching up with some old negatives that needed to be printed for a magazine submission.

I'd love to wax rhapsodic about how the smell of the chemicals and the appearance of all those prints fresh from the fumes sent me into heights of rapture and ecstasy...but it wasn't quite that. It *was* fun, though, after not doing it for a while, and I was most struck by how a couple of negatives that I overexposed significantly (had to open up the enlarger all the way) ended up being nice looking 11x14 prints, just through simple dodging and burning...if they had been digital shots, I'm sure the highlights would have been toasted. With that said, I'm going to scan a couple just to see what I kind of results I get digitally...and I'll share them this weekend if they're worthwhile.

I've noticed in my brief time in the world of blogs and photoblogs and art blogs how a big part of what makes the world go round is links, links, and more links, making the Web and the blogs themselves a rich but perhaps constrained and inward-looking universe for content, knowledge, reflections and discussion. There are still a fair number of offline sources of good information, though, and to the best of my ability, I'd like to try to regularly provide references to good offline tidbits and periodicals...maybe it all goes to the web one day, but I'm one of those old-fashioned troglodytes that actually likes picking up something printed once in a while.

I just received my issue of Ag Magazine, a 12 year old UK based fine arts photography quarterly that is heavily focused on photography and darkroom technique, with some aesthetic discussions (mainly courtesy of photo critic A.D. Coleman), artist portfolios and brief reviews of books sprinkled in. I chanced upon the publication purely by accident when browsing Amazon...did you know they have a magazine subscription area? I didn't, but purely on impulse, I browsed their photography category, and came across Ag, which intrigued me because the regular writers were folks I'd recognized as being smart and down to earth authorities on photography; besides Coleman, there is Eddie Ephraums and (the recently deceased) Barry Thornton.

Even more impulsively and irrationally, I sprung for a subscription, and so far I have enjoyed what I've gotten. For American readers familiar with photographic magazines, the best description I can make for Ag is that they're a hybrid of Photo Techniques (more technique oriented) and Lenswork (more oriented toward fine arts), and Ag shares Lenswork's form factor, which is smaller and more like a booklet. I have yet to fully read through the latest issue of Ag, but one of the immediate highlights is an article by A.D. Coleman on the haunting self-portraits of Laurence Demaison, who I'd never come across before.

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Ag is, unfortunately, not cheap, nor is it carried by US bookstores to the best of my knowledge (though really well-stocked urban bookstores may carry it)...and it's very expensive even by the standards of fine arts publications, especially one so focused on technique...about $20 to $25 an issue as part of a yearly subscription. They are building up their website gradually, though, and perhaps we'll see at least a taste of their high quality content and writing online in the future.

Sometimes, in a fit of "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome, I'll lament how folks in Europe get all the good stuff...take for example Vogue magazine, which is at least interesting and occasionally electrifying in the UK and Italian versions and positively sleep-inducing in its American incarnation. I had an old UK Vogue lying around from my travel last summer and looked through it, and it had more interesting ideas and layouts than the last half-dozen American Vogues combined.

The latest issue is no exception: the only remotely interesting photography comes from Mario Testino's images of Natalie Portman inspired by her role in Cold Mountain (which as a movie seems to be inspiring interesting celebrity photography)...and Irving Penn steals the show with his image accompanying a feature on the allure of mud in beauty products.

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Bare Necessities, Irving Penn

Oh, and though I gave props to Interview Magazine in my post A Guilty Pleasure, their latest issue (Feb 2004) is very boring as well: the obligatory spring/summer fashion feature (with photography by Cleo Sullivan) is cute (but relies as much on illustration as it does on photography). Otherwise, the most interesting thing from a photography/design standpoint is the Prada foldout in the center.

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January 27, 2004

A Photographer's Filmmaker -- Guy Maddin

I just finished watching the DVD of Guy Maddin's 1993 film Careful, and it's one of the funniest and most poetic of art films available for those with a cultish bent. Maddin is a Canadian filmmaker with a style derived from old silent films and a bizarre sense of humor, whose movies have historically had a tough time cracking even the smaller art-houses and film festivals.

To be honest, on the evidence of films like Careful, Archangel, and Heart of the World, I'm not sure what it is that makes Maddin so inaccessible. His campy sense of theatrics would seem to have broad appeal to a whole generation of ironists, and he has a beautiful way with light and gets the most out of the simplest of sets, and a modest array of actors. His movies have a distinctly low-budget feel, and the way he uses sound, bare bones sets, expressionist lighting and lurid two-strip technicolor in something like Careful, while mining Freudian themes broadly and hilariously, makes for a weird and totally engaging experience.

Even if people had a tough time digesting all the weirdnesses and surrealism Maddin brings to the table, it would be hard to imagine a more visually inventive filmmaker with such modest resources...comparisons to David Lynch's early films (particularly Eraserhead) are apt, except Maddin seems more sincere and a bit less self-indulgent and willful than Lynch.

From a photography standpoint, I can't imagine all the Holga, Lomo and pinhole camera users out there not being thrilled with Maddin's use of sets, composition, and light...he makes something as simple as getting a glass of milk for your mother seem like the most cracked yet poetic of experiences, and I know it's filmmakers like Maddin, Lynch and Cronenberg I look to when I really want to be inspired to try something different visually in a more "underground" way (as opposed to the lighting methods of glossier mainstream Hollywood productions). Careful makes amazing use of color...it starts out all red, and then (according to Maddin on the DVD voiceover commentary) he maintains a two-color palette throughout most of the rest of the film, alternating between various highly saturated and odd color combinations.

Apparently, Maddin is starting to grow beyond his cult, thanks to the release of DVD versions of his earlier films, and his recent Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary actually got a good amount of press coverage, including (horrors) an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He has a sympathetic and very good independent distributor in the US in Zeitgeist Films, (sort of a counterpart to Steidl Books in the photography world in representing quality non-mainstream artists); Zeitgeist maintains a good amount of information about Maddin on their website.

I highly recommend the DVDs of Careful and Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (which includes "Archangel" and "The Heart of the World"). Here are some recent barebones experiments, inspired by Maddin.


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January 26, 2004

Some Interesting/Humbling Numbers

Some interesting numbers I’ve heard/seen lately…sort of a follow-up to my post “Working For Pay…Or Not” from last week:


Pay for a front page photo in the Boston Herald: $100

Pay for two to three photos in a Boston Magazine (monthly) feature: $250 to $300


Not exactly inspiring numbers for editorial/photojournalist types. Now if you want to skip the work for pay stuff…if you want to simply pursue the fine arts angle, and you’ve assembled what you feel to be a fairly impressive body of work, maybe you’d like to publish a book. Of course, there are all sorts of low tech publishing options if you want to print small quantities, and I consistently hear about aspiring and established reputable photographers issuing small quantities of work in the form of inkjet prints, bound or gathered into a small book.

But what if you want to publish with a more reputable small press that has a shot at getting some modest press coverage, and placement in the better independent specialty outlets (Photo-Eye)…and maybe even the more well-stocked urban locations of Border’s and Barnes and Noble. Say Steidl, one of the hottest and best boutique publishers, who have assembled quite an impressive resume lately with recent titles like Mitch Epstein’s Family Business, Robert Polidori's Zones of Exclusion, and Paul Graham's American Night.

Here are some numbers from a recent Picture Magazine article, "The Power of the Art Book" on the costs of book publishing, with Steidl featured...these numbers come from an interview with Alexander Gallan of Distributed Art Publishers:


"A photo book priced at around $65 is successful if it sells 3000 copies. It should cost around $13 to make, so if you print 3000, you're looking at $39,000. In the U.S., bookstores buy books at around a 45% discount, so the publisher is selling that book for $35.75. Distribution costs come out of this, so the break-even point is somewhere around 1100 copies.

"Artists receive on average 10% of the net billings based on the wholesale price -- so for a $65 book they get around $3.50/book (when books are sold at a 45% discount to stores). So on a print run of 3000 -- which granted is small --- a sell out would return to the photographer around $10,000."


So this isn’t exactly a casual thing to pursue…and of course, you have to have a reputation in order to be able to secure a book contract in the first place. In response to the inevitable question regarding whether publishers work with emerging talent as well as established photographers...


"Steidl's list has a good number of exquisite books on emerging photographers. Marc Joseph, the photographer of American Pitbull...is a perfect example. He has shot for many magazines and makes a decent living as a commercial photographer. He is not a well-known name yet but is getting his name out there. For a few years, he's been photographing pitbull culture in the U.S. and amassed an impressive collection of images that really tells the story of this subculture. Steidl loved it and is releasing it as a major photo book. It is Marc's first book ever and from it he expects to get a lot of payoff in terms of his career"


Steidl does have an interesting if odd array of titles...in addition to the outstanding ones mentioned earlier, it also has more dubious titles from Lou Reed and David Byrne (in equally dubious packaging...check out the books at your local bookstore if you don't believe me). On the other hand, they're also going to be publishing work from Alec Soth (featured on Conscientious last week), whose work strikes me as being extremely worthwhile...I'm definitely looking forward to his book.

On a side note, I have to say, looking at the very polarized reviews on the Amazon site for Joseph's book on pitbulls, it does look interesting...check them out. And here's another review of the book.


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January 25, 2004

Helmut Newton--Some Thoughts

Helmut Newton passed away on Friday, and the standard obituaries are slowly trickling out (New York Times, Washington Post, wire services, etc). The words spilled on him to date in the wake of his death have been surprisingly superficial and tame ("the King of Kink" is as deep as the descriptions have gotten), odd given the nature of his life and career, and given that he only recently released an enjoyably gossipy autobiography. I'm hoping that more thoughtful retrospectives on the man, his outsized work and equally outsized personality eventually appear...most likely from the arts and culture journals in the coming weeks/months.

It's been said that Newton polarizes people with the explicit, cold and frequently sadomasochistic nature of his fashion and nude photographs, and I can certainly see what the fuss is about, particularly looking historically at what he introduced to the fashion world in the 1960s and '70s. But my personal reactions to his work, especially the most explicit stuff, has been mostly boredom...perhaps I've been desensitized by the permeation of his concepts and presentation (in watered down form) into popular culture the last twenty years.

Or maybe I'm just bored by S&M fashion, though I admit that looking back on some of Newton's '70s work recently, there's a wit I detect in some of his best images that I missed when I first felt the thrust of all of his Amazonian models. I still prefer Guy Bordin, though, when it comes to clever, creepy and cold kink in fashion work.

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I can easily play the purist or elitist and even say that Newton feels lightweight when I view his work back to back with some of my artsier favorites like Sally Mann or Sarah Moon (who did fashion work at the same time as Newton)...but this really misses the point of Newton, who never wanted to be put up on a pedestal with other photographic "artists" (or self-appointed artists). Newton always made his desires and fetishes open, and in his most compelling work, even with his cold, unsentimental tendencies, he had an intriguingly playful and even warm approach at times. And for better or worse, he seemed to be a sensationalist on his own terms...after a reportedly disappointing and heavily compromised stint with British Vogue in the late 1950s, Newton went to French Vogue in the 60s and got the support he needed for his pioneering work.

One area where Newton excelled was celebrity portraiture...I have his book, "Portraits" from 1988, and though there's a reasonable amount of plumbing of Newton's pet themes, the sexuality on the whole is fairly restrained. And when he is engaged with a person as a friend or loved one, it's clear how good he can be...the touching portraits of his wife, the clever self-portraits, and the memorable portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Jack Nicholson (who are a bit overphotographed, to put it mildly) among others, demonstrate a surprising sensitivity.

The interview with Newton by Carol Squiers that starts the book makes it clear (as does his recent autobiography) that whether one loves or loathes his work, he is a character that marches to his own drummer. In my opinion, he's a fairly enjoyable personality ... but of course who knows what future revelations will bring about the kink beyond the images in his life (though all parties associated with him maintain in stories that it was strictly a photography thing, and that Newton was actually quite prudish in real life).

An excerpt from the interview:

Squiers: You've said you're not capable of being anything other than a photographer. What's the difference between being an artist and a photographer?

Newton: Enormous difference. I say, and not for the first time, that art is a dirty word in photography. It'll kill photography. All this fine art crap is killing it already. I'ts very serious.

Squiers: There seem to be many overt references and allusions to mortality in your work. The most obvious reference is the picture of the Xray of the skull and necklace with the quote from Shakespeare in the beginning of Big Nudes: "Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust". You're shaking your head. Do you disagree with this?

Newton: Totally. I'm not at all interested in death. I'm not preoccupied by death. My wife, June, once said, Helmut, don't you want to discuss this subject? And I said, it doesn't interest me. I don't want to discuss it, it's a waste of time. She has a friend she discusses it with. But I don't want to know her opinions. I don't care about it. I'll spend a lot of time being dead, I'm sure, like most everybody. So there you are: I couldn't disagree more.

Over the holidays, I picked up, purely randomly, a publication put out by Reporters Without Borders that features roughly 50+ black and white images from Newton, which were donated royalty-free to support press freedom. It's a curious mix of some of Newton's greatest hits (like the YSL image of the woman in the suit smoking in an alley) and some recent street photography, with a healthy amount of women...though again, the sexuality is mostly restrained, so it's a good introduction. I was entertained by Newton's affirmation of women in more humble occupations (messengers, road engineers, soldiers) through subtle highlighting of their sex appeal and attractiveness, and it's quite tame and very in keeping with what is done by magazines as mainstream as People these days. Newton's legacy is quite a bit more risque, of course, but it's nice to see that in his later days, even though he wanted to outrage the world more than ever, that he had the ability to dial the volume up or down as the subject warranted.

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"Messenger Girl" Helmut Newton 1990

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January 23, 2004

Working For Pay and Doing What you Love...Or Not

Mike Johnston is one of the best online columnists out there, and you can read his column "The Sunday Morning Photographer" on photo.net, and I also encounter his stuff online on the Luminous Landscape site. Offline, he has his own subscription only newsletter, the 37th Frame, and also writes regularly for Black and White Photography, a UK print only publication.

I like Mike because of his ability to wear many hats, transitioning seamlessly between ruminations about the aesthetics of photography, the hard headed business realities of trying to make money with photography, and discussions about photo gear. His writing is incredibly straightforward and unaffected, as if he were speaking to you directly face to face as a peer or camera enthusiast, but he carries considerable weight with his experience and knowledge in the photography world.

Two of my favorite recent columns of his are "Working for Pay" and "Wedding Photography and the $39K Schmuck", because they speak to a dilemma that confronts many aspiring photographers...how viable is it to pursue making money at photography? Consider this excerpt from the wedding photography essay:

"In 1988 I took an interesting seminar from a photographer named Karl Francetic. He said at the time that the average pro photographer in America spent 75% or more of his or her time marketing, charged a day rate of $500, worked an average of two and a half days a week, billed $75K, and kept $39K before taxes.

He called that pro "The $39K Schmuck.""

Likewise, in his "Working for Pay" essay, Johnston talks about how he got to the point of charging $675 for portraits, but the work got increasingly less personal and more subject to the whims of clients (who are paying the bill, after all). Which brings me to a reality I've learned from doing paid work and assisting others: there is *not* a common understanding among people out there of what photography is worth...to one person, a $50 portrait is dirt cheap, to another it's wickedly expensive and overpriced. (compare this to the worth people put on more mundane skills like programming, web design, or consulting) This is a very hard reality for many people aspiring to professional status to grasp.

Here's an excerpt from Mike's essay:

"One student gave me an outraged lecture about how I had a "captive market" and that I was "harvesting money" (I wished!) and that nearly $100 was an outrageous amount of money to charge for a measly custom portrait. At the other extreme, one girl — the daughter of a nationally-known television personality who made millions of dollars a year — refused to pay so little for a portrait. Instead, she hired the fanciest portrait photographer in town, for many times what I charged...and then came and asked me for bunch of my prints, so she could take them down to the fancy pro studio and ask them to do a portrait just like one of mine!"


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One of my more "marketable" portraits, and I sure do like it...

Of course, stories like this can be found in a variety of corners of the web, but it seems they're outnumbered by people with a lot of gear who are dying to make their hobby pay some of the bills...and I can understand some of this thinking. Photography is not a cheap hobby, and if you've got all that equipment and sunk cost, why not find a way to pay for it? And it doesn't have to be the drudgery of weddings or dullness of family or high school senior portraits, does it? One can surely do well paid, interesting commercial work, and get paid for fine art prints. Didn't the big artistic names out there like Philip Lorca di Corcia, Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggleston, etc start out small, do great commercial work and eventually command big bucks for the uniqueness of their vision?

Not quite, at least not in most cases. I was stunned in my Alternative Portraiture class when my teacher showed us all sorts of inspiring alternative portraiture and fashion work, and then pointed out how many of these individuals benefited from wealthy families, trust funds, spouses, etc. -- photography was *not* paying the rent. And when lucrative commercial work does come around, it's stuff the artists barely tolerate, and rarely produces work that makes the art books...I believe di Corcia's first book had exactly one image he shot commercially that he was happy enough with to include. It's a grim reality, and everyone has to make their peace with how much clicking the shutter is worth to them, and what they're willing to put up with in order to pursue the photography muse.

There's a lot more to be said about this than my meager musings, but I'm grateful to someone like Mike to illuminate the issues with some force. Note that I'm *not* saying one can't make money doing photography (and I certainly don't think Mike is), and I know many people who are happy carving out a niche in more modest realms (family photography among a small network of friends, bar mitzvahs and weddings in one's locality, etc). But the hard work involved in making a name for oneself and being reasonably successful at making a living -- while still enjoying the process of photography and being true to one's vision -- well, it's a much more difficult and complex question than one might think.

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...but I like being able to do this stuff as well, and not worry whether I'm wasting time doing non-portfolio quality work. From an ongoing "Dreams of Dance" personal project.

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January 22, 2004

A Guilty Pleasure

Most all the art snobs I know have their own guilty pleasures around the pop culture machine that they consume semi-regularly...whether it's the top 40 boy/girl band they listen to privately while professing the virtues of Sleater-Kinney, Outkast, or the White Stripes (or name your cool rock/hip hop band of the moment), the celebrity talk show they can't resist tuning into even as they write their latest check to NPR, or the copy of People Magazine or Us that they steal glances at while meaning to get to their latest Amazon hardcover purchase.

My guilty pleasure is Interview Magazine, which of course was the Warhol magazine brainchild that begat a lot of the dreadful celebrity rags that surround us now. Interview has been through a few facelifts in its 20 or so years of existence, but in the face of the sheer glitz and high tech that characterizes today's celebrity culture media machine, Interview is almost a cotton candy relic now...and I like it with its more modest and lightweight current profile.

It's a pleasant way to view some interesting fashion oriented photography and (relatively straightforward) celebrity portraiture as well, and everything is presented in a much more modest way than fat, glossy, overweight and self-important vehicles like Vogue, Harper's and Vanity Fair. I always find that I get some good ideas by browsing through the magazine before doing a portraiture shoot, even if I don't intend anything close to the look the magazine features for its subjects. (There's quite a bit of boring and even embarassing photography as well, but that goes with the territory).

The issue I picked up has a feature story on Naomi Watts photographed by Ellen Von Unwerth, much of it in the style of the roaring '20s, with Watts cast as a "latter-day Daisy Buchanan" according to the mag...though the most interesting images have Watts looking more contemporary and androgynous in the effectively creepy way that Von Unwerth works with most female models (see cover image below).

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Naomi Watts by Ellen von Unwerth

Also featured of interest are some tintypes by Stephen Berkman accompanying a feature on the movie "Cold Mountain", a Karl Lagerfeld layout featuring Linda Evangelista that's definitely hit or miss, a couple of "lost" Herb Ritts photographs of Eric Balfour, and a short (the only kind the mag has) one page feature on Lucas Samaras, self-portrait photographer extraordinaire. Plus boatloads of the usual celebrity interviews celebrity fluff that still yields a good barb or dishy gossip if you're willing to read closer. And even some thoughtful, if very brief, music and film commentary buried in every other issue or so.

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Jack White tintype by Stephen Berkman

The printing quality of the magazine is pretty mixed, to be generous, so the photographs, even when they're good, don't get the treatment they deserve...in fact, the issue I have is bad enough that I think a couple of spreads look slightly out of focus when they weren't intended to be. But I still find the magazine a cheap and worthwhile diversion. Anyway, at 8 bucks a year for a subscription, it's not a bad deal at all.


P.S. On a more serious note, Antonio of defocused, whose site I recommended yesterday, now has a page of his Polaroid transfer nudes featured on the Polaroid site. Worth visiting, for Polaroid transfer stuff that's much more serious, thoughtful, and gritty... thanks to Luis at flux+mutability for the reference.

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January 21, 2004

Wading Through Photoblogs, and Two Intelligent "Art-Photo" Blogs

Photoblogs, photoblogs…I’ve been checking out photoblogs…specifically, sites focused on personal photography, with the predominant format being the daily shared photo that over time, becomes part of a visual journal and growing personal portfolio. I’ve enjoyed the great number of them that I’ve visited, and already there’s been mainstream press coverage (NY Times article courtesy of Jeff Phillips' very worthwhile and funny photoblog), and growing communal networks of photobloggers. Not to mention, a steady number continue to go online each day beyond the thousands already out there.

I outlined a series of options for sharing photographs online in a two part series recently, but it’s clear that prior to starting my own modest blog, there was a phenomenon developing that I was clueless about for over two years. I’m still gathering my thoughts and confirming my initial impressions, and I know I’ll have more to say about photoblogs within the context of photography overall. I’ve already added a few that appeal to me on my "Photography Blogging" sidebar, though there are many, many more that warrant a visit.

In the meantime, though, I’ve discovered a variant on the photoblog…the visual arts and culture blog focused on photography, which explicitly references other artists who may serve as an inspiration (or at least food for thought), and makes their work part of the journal. I already mentioned Joerg’s site Conscientious as perhaps the most comprehensive and impressive I’ve encountered, but there seem to be several others emerging that are worthy (and Joerg does link to a number of them). Two outstanding ones that recently came across my radar screen are Luis Farrola's flux+mutability and Antonio Vieira's defocused.

These sites mix links to well-known (and not so well-known) photographic artists , provide sample photographs and the occasional sparse comment, with personal work (particularly in the case of defocused) sprinkled in. The scope of a site like Conscientious is huge, and within such an expansive site, Joerg actively applies some categorization and makes numerous juxtapositions between artists…though he leaves plenty of room for the viewers to make up their own minds. The minds behind flux and defocused, in contrast, provide a more modest selection of work and fewer words…giving their sites a greater sense of quiet, letting the impact of the varied photographs and artists deliver the mood, and letting the site visitor make the connections. (Recently, flux has taken to including more text, but the text is often insightful quotations or excerpts from artists or other reviewers, which give his blog an even more poetic feel)

The results, over the course of days, weeks and months, are intoxicating…the kind of web experience that establishes a very loose and unspoken sort of intellectual exchange between fellow travelers who love photography as part of a broader art culture. Detractors might argue that it’s a lazy and passive exchange that doesn’t involve enough explicit discussion of ideas, and doesn’t do justice to the actual artists’ work, given the limitations of web sized images (which is what most online galleries provide). Personally, I really like how the format of the good “art-photoblogs” allows for more fluid visual and intellectual connections to be established, without requiring a lot of verbiage.

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Pinhole Image from Defocused

In the interest of full disclosure, flux+mutability and defocused have both recommended my site recently, which is crazy and undeserved, given how many superior artists and bloggers they have already linked to (not to mention the quality of their own work). But I’m honestly not giving them heavy props as a mutual back-slapping exercise…I like them because, along with Conscientious, they really make the web a fertile ground for shared appreciation and reflection on some of the most interesting photography and art out there. (Luis also has a very good companion site that provides more of the his own photos).

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Diana Image from flux+mutability

There are other worthy sites that have different mixes of external work, commentary, and personal work that I intend to examine further, such as dublog, and some blogs make photography part of an extended range of artistic passions (animation, painting, science fiction, etc). I'm in over my head at this point in terms of exploring all the options out there, though I enjoy it when blogs can not only allow for a sharing of personal passions, but enable viewers to actually get insights into acts of personal creation (such as the creation of this watercolor on the Cassandra pages -- August 20th entry).

One of my goals for my site was to be able to discuss the art and practice of photography in a highly open-ended manner, move beyond dead-end discussions of photo equipment and careerist ambitions, and make my modest photographic experiments part of the dialogue. Though I can’t speak for the exact intentions of the others I’ve mentioned here, I’m glad to see that there are creative and open-minded people who share some of the same ideas and exploratory spirit, and I actively look forward to discovering even more of them as I continue.


P.S. Ed Leys, the man behind California Light and Structure, one of my featured galleries, is part of a multi-artist show on California Landscapes at the Louie Gallery at Ohlone College in Fremont, CA. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until after the holidays that the show ends this week...but if you're in Northern CA and can stop by, the show is *highly* recommended. At the very least, check out Ed's online gallery if you haven't already done so.

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January 19, 2004

Cross Processing: Additional Thoughts and Craziness

I posted a couple of days ago about crossprocessing, including a link to some exploratory work of my own that indulges the excesses of the process (to put it kindly). I've since thought about it some more, and found a few more links to interesting stuff.

Though crossprocessing has a very distinct look (which elicits strong positive *and* negative reactions), in reality it doesn't have to call attention to itself that dramatically to make an impact. One of the reasons it's been popular in fashion (and still remains popular among some photographers and video people, despite the claim that it's out of vogue) is because some subtle changes in hue can produce genuinely interesting results. While most tutorials focus on the wackiness of the results, this thread on photo.net (scroll to the bottom to see the best examples) provides some more thoughtful discussion regarding how to get the most interesting effects (look at Craig Magee's stuff toward the bottom...very good).

Eric Milner uses cross processing currently to produce subtly striking motion picture stills...perhaps not as wild and wooly as what most people expect, but still very effective for commercial work and distinctive (look at the color images in the "Faces" section). The effects of cross processing can still be seen in numerous realms; the other day, I saw a Dr. Pepper commercial with Smokey Robinson which clearly employed a color palette that evoked cross processing...in particular, some odd but interesting greens, which provided an appropriately urban and contemporary mood.

czarina_crossprocess_wide_framed.jpg

One of my very first crossprocessed images.

From a technique standpoint, the experience of most people (and I'd agree with them) is that slide film intended for crossprocessing should be shot and exposed at its rated speed (as opposed to the recommendation by some that it should be overexposed), and that tungsten film produces the most interesting results (something I haven't explored much yet). Note that "best results", though, assumes you want skin tones and colors to vary controllably...I admit that in the past I've pursued more extreme results because of their unpredictability (and I'm admittedly weird in that I actually *like* the cyan cast produced, and have actually told labs *not* to color correct too much).

A more basic point, which should apply well to both extreme dabblers and more cautious types, is that for portraits, cross processing's tendency to blow highlights works really well with caucasian skin...somewhat similar to the recommendation in black and white to overexpose skin tones by 1 to 2 stops. (Of course, if you want a flatter, more documentary style look for your subjects, cross processing is the last thing you want)

anne_crossprocess2_framed.jpg

Difficult scan, but the skin tones on the print reproduced nicely for this subject.


I alluded to the controversy over Photoshop filters/actions designed to mimic cross-processing, but the irony of any outrage over this approach is that, within the film world, cross processing itself has been looked down on by some for the same reasons...that it's a push-button approach that's too easy and unsubtle. You can make your own judgements, but here's a more thoughtful digital explanation of how to do things in Photoshop, with some excellent visual examples. And whether anyone likes it or not, more and more film is being discontinued, and ironically, the films that remain keep getting better, but as a result, it's been reported that it's harder to get the really desirably crazy effects one used to get from older emulsions.

Finally, I looked around the Web for some cool and random examples of cross processing from the more mischevious corners of the photography community, namely the Lomo/Holga/other random cameras crowd, but there was surprisingly little. Here are a couple of interesting Lomo shots, but in the case of the plastic cameras, it appears that the random distortion and light leaks they get from their cameras produce color tweaks with enough pizazz for them.

Finally, this all begs for a broader discussion of just what lengths people will go to to get crazy/distorted/"artistic" effects from their photography. One of the bigger laughs I got was from this thread on using expired film for distortion effects...lot of interesting tips worth exploring, but the showstopper post for me was this one:

"Think of all the things your not suposed to do with film and try them. I.e. leave it on the back window shelf of a car for a number of weeks, or put it on a radiator so it gets acelerated aging from the high temperature. Leave it in your pants pocket after exposure and wash the pants. This gave me great bubbled effects where the emulsion was atacked by the detergent. Leave it in a biscuit tin with an open container of hydrogen peroxide beside it posibly even at an elevated temperature. Finnaly get a gas hypering kit from luminos and over hyper the film. This should bring up the base fog level to the point where the images will only barely be seen if done long enough."

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January 18, 2004

In Living Color

If you scroll down to my previous post, "Dying Darkrooms", you'll see a digital version of my first B&W darkroom print taken over a year ago. Here's a scanned version of my first color darkroom print, taken in the same area...same general subject, same elements, even a spider web in both, but quite a difference in mood, you think? (I'm keeping it relatively small here, but compression kills the detail, so if you're interested in seeing a larger version -- where you're more likely to see the spider web -- you can do so over here.)

foggy_morning_in_tyringham_mf_framed.jpg

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