Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It feels good!

A collaborative work between Arthur Morgan, Etienne Barillier, and myself and a cast of dozens of talented people has been released into the wild.  Fiction number 19, ete (summer) is a French fantasy/sci-fi mook (magazine-book).  It contains well written stories, articles, and, now, photographic portfolios of related subject matter.

Our series of images and words cover a range of ten characters and personages famous or infamous in French history and literature.  Arthur Morgan brought us together to recreate these people in a very Steampunk style.  We worked with talented creative costumers to bring the reinterpretations of history to life.  Everyone brought something rather special to the project.

From a photographic perspective, the effort covered a wide range of situations and possibilities.  We shot on location at the Palais Garnier (the old and still incredibly beautiful Paris opera house), Pont Alexandre III (of which more will be seen in my next major project), in the narrow streets of l'isle Saint Louis, Parc Georges Brassens, and in the studio.  We shot in the cold.  We shot in strong wind.  We shot in the rain.  We shot in small spaces.  We shot in vast landscapes.  All involved using strobe techniques to help isolate and properly light our amazing subjects.  Quickly followed by image processing (press ready) using the Gimp.

The entire project was shot and processed in three weeks in March, 2014.  That was the month before my wife and I returned to the US to clear out our "Plan B" storage unit.  We'd kept just enough furnishings and personal items to populate an apartment should Paris not have worked out.  This photo project was wedged into our lives and, well, the results are in the viewing.

Our work has been reviewed by Lorkhan et les mauvais genre.  Here is a translation of our portion of the review.

... And finally, the portfolio that struggled to convince in the previous issue is back, except that this time it is very successful! A collaboration between Stephen Barillier, Arthur Morgan and American photographer Chistopher Perez, offers us a gallery of the most famous characters from the imaginary (and also some real), the French, and the late nineteenth / early twentieth century, all mixed with a nice steampunk sauce. Fantomas, Dr. Mabuse Rouletabille, Arsène Lupin, Marie Curie, Mata Hari and so on, a real nice little collection, with an explanatory text for each of them, it is a real success!...

A real success, eh?  Right nice words, those.  Yes, we're thrilled.

I've put off posting outtakes from the project until September.  I'm doing this so that French readers have time to go away pour les vacances.  I'd like to share these images with as wide an audience as possible and feel I'll have everyone's attention after spending a relaxing month or two in the summer sun.

As has been said many times: Stay tuned!

Ninja ~ out of the Age of Steam

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Inspiration ~ Why do we photograph?

Something in a short conversation with Phillip Morgan triggered a cascade of questions and possible answers.  The primary question was why do we make photographs?

An easy answer to this question is to satisfy a desire to make a pretty picture.  For some photographers their answer is a bit deeper and a bit more complex.

Portland, Oregon is home to a photographic arts gallery that was inspired by Minor White.  It's called the Camerawork Gallery.  After a show of my palladium work was held there, my wife and I would occasionally attend other artist's "opening day" celebrations.  It was there that we first met Christopher Burkett and, later, John Wimberley.  They both had their own shows at Camerwork.

M. Burkett somehow found out that I tested camera systems for resolution and other image making properties.  The start of our conversation was given to talking about Zeiss, Nikon, and Schneider optics.  He was in love with his Zeiss APO-somethingorother that he just bought for his 6x6cm Hasselblad.  We also talked about his Nikkor enlarging lenses.  They are, apparently, incredibly rare.  He certainly valued high quality gear, but that is not what motivated him.

Christopher Burkett's reasons for making beautiful landscape images in color using an old film process is much deeper than simple camera collection.  His story is rather interesting.  One day, when he was a christian brother living in a monastery, he had an experience of all life being filled with light.  Seeing light in everything inspired him to express this realization in photographs.  He felt he had to make images.

Photography is for Christopher Burkett a way of sharing his deeply spiritual experiences.

John Wimberley is another photographer who has taken his art into the realm of the highly spiritual.

Looking at John's images of Native American rock art during his gallery opening led me to ask him a question that started an interesting conversation.  I asked if he understood the nature and purpose of Native American rock art? John's quick reply was a quiet but emphatic yes.

John told me that interesting symbols of animals, patterns, shapes, and people were created and used by Native American shamans for spiritual reasons.  If I understand the process correctly, when a shaman had a particular experience of passing from this world into another he would record something of that event by etching the related shapes and symbols into rock.  Later, the shaman could return to stare at the markings as a means of re-entering the original experience.  Native American rock art work acts as a gateway to the spirit world.

The beauty of John's photographs is undeniable.  He has taken years to hone his craft and to state exactly what he believes and knows in images.  Just as with Christopher Burkett, John Wimberly uses his photography to share deeply spiritual experiences.

Talking with photographers who have very clear reasons for doing what they do was, for me, infectious.  I too wanted "good" reasons for doing what I do.  Their conversations invited me to look deeply into why I take pictures.  What is my motivation?  What do I want to say?  What has to be revealed?  What do I do with the result?

Take an hour or two and watch M. Burkett's OPB video as well as M. Wimberley's interview video to see how they've grappled these kinds of questions.


Sunday, June 08, 2014

Bievres ~ Photo Fair

Every year the village of Bievres plays host to an International Photo Fair.  One of my students strongly suggested a visit would be required.

Bievres ~ a photoswap
... sitting proudly on a tall tripod, welcoming guests to the show...

On Saturday morning we awoke to the sound of rain.  This on a day that supposedly had zero percent chance of the Wet Stuff.  There was nothing to do but gird the loins, leave the sun hat at home, and set off.

On arriving at the station, the Weather Gods had figured we'd had enough dampness for one day and the Bright Yellow Orb shown down bright and surprisingly hot.  The fair is held up the hill from the RER C Bievres drop-off-point.  The hilly center of the village is given over to the fair.  Simply following the crowds led me to a narrow lane filled with vendors of old and ancient appareil photo.

When we lived in the States I sometimes manned a table at our local photo-swaps.  So it was with great interest that wandered the aisles to see what the Europeans had on offer. 

Bievres ~ a Photo Fair
 Brass lenses of several designs -
Objects of Serious Desire of former times, these

The advertising suggests the event is international.  A quick listen to who was saying what revealed that in addition to the expected French vendeur there were tables and booths strongly manned by Swedes, Italians, Germans (my gawd! yet another invasion?), and British (oh good lawd! how did so many get here? are the maps these days that accurate??).

What was on offer Blew My Little Mind.  Brass Lenses.  Stacks and stacks of Brass Lenses.  Lenses the likes of which some photographers might believe would add "something special" to their images.  Bit Brass Lenses.  Little Brass Lenses.  Convertable Brass Lenses.  A Brass Lens to Fit Any Size.  Most were ground by Parisian Opticien.  Some by the English.  Gawds!  If only I were a wet plate collodion practitioner...

Bievres ~ a photoswap
 ... oh, so much to pick through... looking for... 
well... what, exactly?... what do we need today?...

... and if I were interested in ether and egg-whites, there were a great many chambre to choose from. I saw everything from fairly recent Linhof 4x5 rail cameras all the way back to ancient and sometimes Very Large format wood photographic tools.  Many of the oldest cameras came with holders ready to take your hand-coated glass plates.

Then there were the several Canon 7 rangefinder cameras avec f/0.95 lentille.  I'd only ever see one of these In The Wild.  Now I saw three.  In one day.  Putting that Chuck of Glass on a mirrorless body would dwarf the poor thing.

Bievres ~ a Photo Fair
 How many of these Rare Beasts can on show offer?
This one was listed at 1900Euro.

I was surprised by the shear volume of Nikon film-era gear.  Camera bodies.  Lenses.  My my! the lenses.  Some in perfect condition.  Much in a Well Worn State.  I spied a pretty Ais 28mm f/2 and a late Ai 85mm f/1.8 K in mint condition sitting amoungst absolute junk.

Similarly, the Germans and (to me rather surprisingly) the Italians laid out a feast of Leica equipment.  Yes, there was the expected rangefinder gear (bodies and lenses) good and great.  Yet there was a fair amount of "R"-series SLR stuff, too.  If I were susceptible to such things, there were more than a few tasty R-glass optics to be had.

As I wandered the aisles I couldn't help but notice that not much was selling.  Not the big ticket items at least.  So I visited as many tables as I could to get a sense of why this might be.  Well, one answer was immediately at hand.  Price.  With only two exceptions, I found people pricing their gear over the top end of What the Market Would Tolerate.

Here are a few examples, and don't forget to multiply these prices in Euro by 1.36-ish to get the actual costs in USD.

Bievres ~ a photoswap
 ...just a few of the many steeply priced lenses 
to be seen at the show...

Well used Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 for 375Euro.  Ancient Saphire Paris LF lens (I'm not convinced it was a complete optic) for 1000Euro.  Three Canon 50mm f/1.8 EOS with non-working AF for 79Euro each.  Canon 50mm f/1.4 EOS for 290Euro.  Linhof Kardan 4x5 for 1200Euro, and this thing was thrashed.  Pentax Takumar 85mm f/1.9 (you know the one) for 250Euro, and this too was completely knackered.  Leica M-bodies in battered condition started at 800Euro and jumped into the stratosphere from there as condition improved.

I met Dan The Man From WICE and his girlfriend on the lower lane of the swap.  I was reminded by Dan's Parisienne friend that "... in France, one must barter.  It's expected..."  Considering that she might be right, I went back to the table with the EOS 50 f/1.4 on it to see if I could get a better price quoted.  On arrival I found the lens mounted on a little Japanese woman's Canon.  As she played with it, taking photos of nothing and everything, she asked if he'd take 270Euro for it.  His immediate replay was "Non!"  So much for that idea.

The two tables where things were reasonably priced against current market expectations (using eBay as just one source of comparison) not much was moving there either.  One guy had a nice collection of 8 or 9 condition Nikkor manual focus lenses.  I was sorely tempted by his 50Euro 100mm f/2.8 E, 50Euro mint 50mm f/1.4, 100Euro mint 85mm f/2 Ais, and 50Euro gorgeous 28mm f/2.8 Ai.  Since I already have many of these, why duplicate things with more glass I'd never use?  Still, what struck me was that these wonderful optics were still sitting on the man's table unsold.

Bievres ~ a photoswap
 ... there is simply no way to haul this home on the RER... 
no way...  really... there isn't... OK?...

So perhaps the lack of sales wasn't just about price?

On my way out I walked the aisle dedicated to old and ancient photographic images.  Tin plates. Albumin.  Platinum/palladium.  Early silver.  All manner of subject, too.  Travel.  Studio portraits.  Street scenes.  As I picked through a few stacks of images I was reminded of the Real end product of the photographic endeavor could be.

On reflection I'm curious as to why there were so few images compared to the Boat Loads of cameras and lenses.  Maybe it has something to do with how people feel the creative spirit is activated?  You should've heard the conversation in French/English between a Japanese visitor who's black mint condition Leica M4 sported an early chrome Leitz lens of some kind or other.  The Frenchman went nuts as he recognized it as being something Incredibly Rare.   After-all, if you have Just the Right Lens and the Perfect Camera, maybe you too will make a fabulous photo?

Bievres ~ a Photo Fair
 ... a table?  Who needs a table when a blanket a wee-bit-o-open- lawn will do...?

Riding the RER C back to Versailles-Chantier to jump the next N-line back into Monstparnasse Bienvenu I couldn't shake the feelings I had for a photograph I saw.  It was, perhaps, 6.5x8.5inches in size and printed on heavy double weight paper.  It was of a nude from behind.  The print was obviously late 19th or very early 20th century.  The blacks were not clinically black, nor were the whites brilliantly white like modern works might strive to (easily, these days) achieve.  No, this image had a subtlety of illumination, composition, and tonal range that really appealed to me.  The light, ah the light, seemed to drip, slide, and ooze down the model's body.  Wasn't this what photography was about, making a fabulous image?

That one single beautiful print was the Very Best Thing I saw all day.