Dear Comrades, have I told you about Commie Camera Day?

Pause briefly from your labors and I will share with you some exploits of glory in the name of International Commie Camera Day...
— http://www.filmshooterscollective.com/
 This is the Benefit St. Armory in Providence photographed with a Chaika half-frame camera. This is the building that I like to point out to anyone who will listen that was moved in 1906 (rolled on logs, mind you) to its present location in order to make way for the east side railroad tunnel, which lies a couple hundred yards to the south. The west portal of this tunnel was the site of the May Day "riot" in 1993, where some student partying got out of hand. This lead to the tunnel being sealed up. May Day became associated with the Communists in the 20th Century. Now that area is a parking lot. So it all comes together. Sort of.

This is the Benefit St. Armory in Providence photographed with a Chaika half-frame camera. This is the building that I like to point out to anyone who will listen that was moved in 1906 (rolled on logs, mind you) to its present location in order to make way for the east side railroad tunnel, which lies a couple hundred yards to the south. The west portal of this tunnel was the site of the May Day "riot" in 1993, where some student partying got out of hand. This lead to the tunnel being sealed up. May Day became associated with the Communists in the 20th Century. Now that area is a parking lot. So it all comes together. Sort of.

I contributed a small write up about International Commie Camera Day for the Film Shooters Collective.

You can see the whole piece here.

Photography and Baseball [metaphors]

Today is the first day of the baseball season and although it's snowing and many games on the east coast have been postponed it still makes me excited. Excited for the baseball season? Nope, don't really care about that. I get excited for the photography season.

Graveyard, Douglas Ave, Prov. 1994

When I was young and could indulge in such fanciful notions I had this idea of aligning my photo season with the baseball season. Training camp opened and I would go through my gear, do some film testing and generally get myself ready to get out there. In these years I was doing most of my own work with a view camera, and I didn't shoot that often in the winter. (I don't really like snow pictures and don't often do them. Here's a rare exception, from 1994 4x5 FP-4)

So the baseball season would start and I'd get out there and start working. Hopefully by the All-Star break things would be going along well, shooting, processing, seeing the field. Going well or not it was a moment to reflect and to see what was needed to make the most of the rest of the season, knowing that the fall light lay ahead. I never made the payoffs and I never won the pennant but I kept at it until winter. I don't really know how that came about as I'm not really a baseball fan of any seriousness, but these days I don't let myself take the winters off.

Going year round can generate a lot of self-inflicted pressure, and that pressure can in turn put up creative blocks that need to be overcome. I've developed a tactic for that that seems to have taken the form of another sports metaphor: the change up.

The change up can simply mean picking up a different type of camera, or shooting different film. It can be changing modes all together, perhaps listening and recording audio or sitting down with a notebook and writing. Once when I was feeling especially frustrated and completely lost I gave myself permission to give it up and just write. Which I did for about three months. When I picked up a camera again it was because I was excited to do something with it, I was inspired again. I knew that photography would be there if I needed it and as it turned out I did and it was.

There are times I will shift from one project to the next and that can bring about a new set of problems but I'd rather that than feel I was pounding my head on a wall or just going through the motions. Identifying a habit and then doing the opposite can be a great change up. Avoiding people? Go shoot portraits. Only like sun? Go shoot in the rain.

Maybe photo projects have their own seasons, certainly they their own internal rhythms. Stay flexible and you can move with them too. So get out there, give it 110%, leave it all on the field, take it one picture at a time and bring home a pennant. Whatever that is.

 

 

The ghosts of edits past

Editing a project for a show or a book has it's stages, from shooting, which may continue well into the editing stage, to the initial selection from contact sheets, printing, sequencing, more printing and then on to book layout or exhibition hanging.

When it comes to sequencing, I've found no better way than working with actual prints, laid out on the table or the floor, shuffling and shifting until the rhythm is right. Digital or film, it doesn't matter, you need the space to see it all together flowing from one image to the next.

The hardest aspect of any edit is the cutting away of things you like and have become attached to. It starts out fairly easily but eventually you get to where it hurts, and you agonize over each choice. But choose you must and (hopefully) the sequence shows you what it needs most. The deadline looms, you convince yourself it's right and up it goes.

 

It begins...

Sequencing underway...

We have an edit...

 On the wall for all to see.

On the wall for all to see.

You pack up the outtakes, hang the show, make the book and move on. Sometimes those outtakes linger with you, like ghosts popping in unexpectedly until finally you go back to that box and have a visit. Some, you admit you still like. Some give you ideas for new work. Thanks to the miracle of modern digital media you can put them up and excise your ghosts. And so I shall. These are outtakes from Canonicus' Bow.

Closing the Loop

On work and practice.

I don't make New Year resolutions but the end of year break seems to be as good a time as any to reflect and to think about what I'd like to work on in the coming months. Specifically I've been thinking about how I go about what I do and how I can be more effective in doing it. 

Taking apart the term creative practice I'll consider both halves in order. Looking back at 2015 I find that i have a number of interesting projects going, I have ideas that I'm excited about and I'm curious enough to want to continue the pursuit. I have been shooting as the stack of negatives (and digital files) testifies. So far so good. However I know myself well enough to know that I'm very fond of keeping projects somewhere between 20-80% complete. Not completely vapor but still ripe with potential, still able to keep me happily busy pursuing leads and reaching dead ends free from the final nail and critical assessment that comes with being done. There are a couple of projects that I wish to see in a finished state by this time next year. I can visualize that, so it remains to move them there. Ideas, actions (in the form of taking photographs and recording sounds) words written, the creative half looks healthy enough.

How about the other word, practice? I like the sense of that word that describes what musicians do prior to performance. Few people are so gifted as to be able to perform at a high level without dedicated practice, and beyond that there are positive aspects that come only through repetition. There is a physical fluidity that comes from what's described sometimes as muscle memory, you just know where and how to move without having to think about it. There is confidence that comes from that and from a deepening insight into what the materials are capable of. Therein lies the catch within my own recent process. Insight and knowledge requires seeing the thing through every stage. For me that would mean from shooting or recording, to negative or file, to print or to screen to whatever the finished state should be. Then looping back through the process over and over again. I have plenty of practice in shooting and handling the camera, I earn my living shooting after all, but to get better I need to see finished prints and edited files, and I need to have others see that too. I need to close the loop. That is something I didn't do often enough in 2015. That is what I will endeavor to do this year. We'll see how it goes.