Pinhole Photography- another way to have photographic fun!

Don’t worry- I’m not abandoning lensed photography with high-acutance, high-precision cameras. I love my Rolleiflex! What I am doing, though, is exploring pinhole photography and other forms of lo-fi photography (my previous post with the Lomo Belair triptychs for example). I find it quite liberating in many ways – you have to quit worrying about precision, and just make images. Live with the serendipitous. Like this first image. I’m absolutely blown away by what I pulled off with it – it’s actually a double-exposure. I’m going to play around more with the idea of multiple exposures on pinhole.

Foggy Bottom Metro, Waiting
Foggy Bottom Metro, Waiting

Pinholes, although they are very slow in many ways, have some major advantages – because there is no glass to distort the image, they are absolutely rectilinear. Straight lines will always be straight lines. There’s no shutter or aperture to set with one – the pinhole is the aperture, and in the case of my pinhole camera, it’s f/208, which means that even in full sunlight I’m getting roughly 1 second – 2 seconds for exposure times. The shutter in this case is just the body cap – take it off, count one one thousand, put it back on. It doesn’t get simpler than that. Of course, this has a different downside – hand-holding exposures is not realistic, ever, unless you really really really love motion blur.

Pan-American Health Organization HQ
Pan-American Health Organization HQ

I like motion blur well enough, but I like it applied selectively – I like the contrast between sharp, static and moving, blurred. I like how using long time exposures captures a third dimension to a photograph, time, that we perceive as non-existent in “typical” photography where time is condensed/extracted to 1/500th of a second. Playing with time in a camera really does in a way turn the camera into a time machine. It also shows us that our concept of time is artificial. Things exist not IN time but rather THROUGH time.

Playing with Triptychs

I’ve been having so much fun lately with my photography. As it should be – it should never be WORK – it should be fun. And the Lomo Belair X/6-12 is part of the reason. Yeah, it’s lo-fi, it has a plastic fantastic lens, it’s auto-exposure with virtually no feedback (you never have any idea what shutter speed you’re using). But you’re shooting medium format panoramics! And for $250!! Where are you going to find a (useable) Brooks Veriwide or a Horseman 6×12 for $250? Even a 6×12 roll back for a 4×5 will set you back $400. So there’s a lot to like about it for the money.

And although the negatives themselves are, shall we say, less than razor-sharp, they do make awesome contact prints (witness my Roman panoramics and my recent Sinister Idyll series). This triptych was inspired by a vertical panorama series I saw someone else do. Theirs was a landscape, but I thought this office/apartment/retail complex in Washington DC would make a good urban subject to try it out on.

Columbia Plaza
Columbia Plaza

Another fun experiment with my Lomo. This time a vertical panoramic triptych. I intentionally skewed the middle panel to give what is otherwise a very static subject some visual movement and dynamism.

Columbia Plaza
Columbia Plaza

Very Special Portraits

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take some portraits for a friend. I consider it quite the honor to have had the opportunity to take these portraits. It’s not often that you get to take pictures that really make a difference for someone, and aren’t just a vanity project. My friend, Arnel, needed some new photos for work, and for his blog. Arnel has ALS, and while not in Stephen Hawking’s condition, he is confined to a wheelchair, and has side-effects from the medication he takes. Despite it all, he keeps on working, and maintains an upbeat attitude. These two portraits are my favorites of the bunch.

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I particularly like the one that shows his wheelchair because it’s there, it reminds you that he’s not ordinary, but it also doesn’t pull you away from his essential dignity and presence. It presents his disability as just a small part of who he is, rather than defining him by it.

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We did these last two photos for his blog – he writes about his experience as someone with a disability, and what he does to overcome it. Here he’s demonstrating how to use a head mouse – there’s a sensor that mounts to the top of his laptop screen and looks at his head, and it reads the movement of the little silver square and translates that into clicks on the screen. He can type with it, too.

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We did these shots in his living room which he has set up as an office. I brought along some portable battery-powered studio lights and used them to illuminate him working because unlike the portraits, which were taken outdoors (we were extremely lucky that we had high overcast clouds providing a beautiful natural softbox effect), the work area was quite dim and lit with overhead recessed lights which would have been terribly unflattering in addition to being too dim to get good exposures.

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Roman Panoramas – Miniature Platinum Prints

After printing a few of these panoramas from Rome, I was so taken by the intimacy of the miniature format of the 2 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ contact print, I went and made a whole series of them. I’m at fourteen of them now, but that number will fluctuate a little as I finish printing and edit down from there. I’m going to go out shooting this weekend and make some more images in the format and perhaps build a full show’s worth.

Columns, Marble Floor, Trajan's Market
Columns, Marble Floor, Trajan’s Market

I took the portfolio to the Sunday morning critique we have at Glen Echo, and instead of presenting them as raw prints, I matted them with 8-ply mats with oversize margins (11×14 inch mat boards, so roughly 4-6 inch margins around the 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch window). I also cut the windows such that all the mats could be viewed in landscape orientation regardless of whether the image was in portrait or landscape orientation.

Trajan's Column, Via Fori Imperiali
Trajan’s Column, Via Fori Imperiali

Presentation is very important when considering your work. It should be the first thought on your mind when planning a show – of course you need to edit the body of work, but how it will look on the wall is just as critical to successful reception as the work itself. Good presentation will focus the viewer’s attention on the work and block out the distractions of everything else going on around it.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Also, if you’re at all concerned with selling your work, makes a huge difference in the sales price – poorly presented, someone would pay a poster price for an original Ansel Adams, if they bought it at all. Properly presented, your work will fetch premium prices even though nobody has really heard of you outside your own city.

Column Fragment, Imperial Forum
Column Fragment, Imperial Forum

This webpage is a prime example of the issue of presentation – showing these images here in this size on this medium is a complete and utter failure to represent the scale, quality and impact of the images. You’re looking at them on your monitor, in a size well beyond their actual physical size in reality. And because they’re scans of the prints, the paper texture is exaggerated as are any minor flaws due to the handmade nature of the prints.

More Tiny Contact Prints

Here is the continuation of the tiny prints series. All of these are still from Rome, again the Lomo Belair X6-12 as the camera of choice. I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend about these and while sharing them online is great, seeing scans of them at what ends up being a much larger size than the actual print, they lose some of their impact.

This is a statue of the Archangel Michael, in the Castel Sant’Angelo. His body is stone but the wings are bronze.

Archangel Michael, Castel Sant'Angelo
Archangel Michael, Castel Sant’Angelo

The umbrella pine image is one of those that when I scanned the negative and worked with the image in Photoshop, all the “flaws” of the negative become quite apparent, and you start thinking it’s not a successful image. But contact printed, it cleans up nicely and really sings.

Roman Umbrella Pine
Roman Umbrella Pine

St. Peter’s Basilica Facade. This is one of the images that made me respect the Belair and its results more than I did initially. It’s still not going to ever match a serious panorama camera like a Horseman 6×12 with a highly corrected glass lens, but it does a great job for what it is, and certainly it scores extremely well in the value-for-money proposition – I got mine used for $200, whereas a used Horseman would set you back closer to $2000.

St. Peter's Facade
St. Peter’s Facade

The plaza in front of St. Peter’s was set up for a Papal Mass when I was there. The sea of folding chairs made for an interesting composition, leading your eye back to the obelisk and beyond.

St. Peter's Plaza
St. Peter’s Plaza

These are the famous three remaining columns of the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. This one really strikes me because of the simple, graphic nature of the subject. It’s another one of those images that everyone photographs when they’re at the Forum, and everyone knows it, even if you haven’t ever been to the Forum. Printing in platinum/palladium takes it somewhere new and different and it doesn’t feel like just another tourist image.

Three Columns, Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum
Three Columns, Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum

All these images are platinum/palladium prints, in this case all are a 50/50 blend of platinum and palladium, on the new wonderful Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper. I’m going to have to try a pure platinum print with it next and see how it behaves.

Mexico City part 2 – people at work

More from Mexico City – people at work.

Throughout the Centro Historico, there are organ grinders playing their portable instruments, hat in hand for tips. A five peso coin is sufficient a tip if you enjoy their music. I gave this man a 10 peso coin for photographing him.

Organ Grinder, Calle Madero
Organ Grinder, Calle Madero

At the Templo Mayor museum, this guy was washing the windows, dangling from the roof basically on a couple of ropes.

Window Washer, Templo Mayor Museum
Window Washer, Templo Mayor Museum

Mexico City is a very musical city, if you give it a chance. It has a definite rhythm, and part of that is the sounds. The organ grinders are out, cranking away, and on seemingly every street corner, there’s someone intoning the litany of what they have for sale. This lady was outside the taquería next door to my hotel every day, pretty much all day, reciting the kinds of tacos they had and extolling their best quality. I never heard her voice waiver or decrease in volume.

Taco Lady
Taco Lady

All around the Zocalo, and at various spots through the Centro Historico, there are these shoe-shine booths. While the canopies shade the patrons pretty well, the shoe-shine men (and women) are out there in the sun and the heat all day.

Shoe Shine Booths, Zocalo
Shoe Shine Booths, Zocalo

Another part of the daily rhythm of Mexico City – people hauling stuff on carts.This guy is pulling a load of plastic baskets, but this is a pretty small load compared to some I saw.

Hauling Baskets
Hauling Baskets

Outside the Catedral Metropolitana, skilled day laborers set up soliciting work. Here are two plumbers specializing in gas, an electrician, and a plasterer/house painter.

Day Laborers, Cathedral Metropolitana
Day Laborers, Cathedral Metropolitana

My first full day in Mexico City, I got up early and walked around through the Centro Historico and got to see the city as it was waking up. Here was a street food stall set up on a pedestrian passageway cooking breakfast for the businessmen and shopkeepers in the neighborhood.

Cooking Street Food
Cooking Street Food

Across from the cook was the lime juicer making fresh limeade.

Juicing Limes
Juicing Limes

This is my tour guide who led us up through the bell towers at the Catedral Metropolitana. The cathedral is the largest Catholic cathedral in the Americas.

Cathedral Bell Tower Tourguide
Cathedral Bell Tower Tourguide

These dancers in traditional Aztec/Mexica costumes could be found most days performing on the plaza beside the Catedral Metropolitana. Here they were sheltering from a light rain in front of the Hotel Ritz (which is, unlike its namesake in Paris, a budget hotel) after a performance.

Aztec Dancers, Hotel Ritz
Aztec Dancers, Hotel Ritz

In the park area across from the entrance to the Anthropology Museum these traditional dancers were performing. At the top of the pole is a musician playing a traditional flute. The dancers are suspended by ropes at the ankles, and spin around to extend the ropes and lower themselves from the top.

Dancers, Chapultepec
Dancers, Chapultepec

Beginning of a new series – tiny contact prints

When I was in Rome last year… (no jokes please!) I shot a bunch of panoramic images with my new-to-me Lomo Belair X6-12. My just completed session of the Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class I teach inspired me to dig them out and see how they would fare in the medium. I’m really loving these tiny prints – 2 1/4 by 4 1/4 inches! They make you get up close and intimate with the print. I’m matting them in 11×14 inch 8-ply mats for extra measure.

ColosseumPanoPtPd

ColosseumVertPanoPtPd

TiberPanoramaPtPd

Sometimes you have to walk away from a process or a practice for a while, which happened to me with platinum/palladium. I was on a kick of doing other stuff, shooting my travels with the Rolleiflex. Then it was the Fuji rabbit hole with digital and the X-T1. Then this class came along and I needed something to jumpstart my printing. These images were just the ticket. Photographers in general have an obsession with how big they can make their prints, and even the general public too. But there’s something to be said for tiny prints. I still remember the Andre Kertesz show at the National Gallery where they had a lot of his early work on display – in his youth, he could only make contact prints off of small negatives from roll film cameras because he was poor and didn’t have space for a dedicated darkroom. Getting up close and personal with his images, like “Underwater Swimmer”, which is all of 1 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches, really makes you think about the image itself instead of being awed by its size. Not that I have several million dollars to spare, but I’d much rather spend that kind of money on a print of “Underwater Swimmer” than on Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”. Fortunately, the Kertesz would be a lot cheaper to buy than the Gursky anyway.

On a separate note, I’d like to give a shout-out to Carol Boss at Hahnemuhle papers. All three images above were printed on the new Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper. She has very generously become a sponsoring partner of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium class at Glen Echo Photoworks, and is supplying us with our paper. It is a wonderful new paper- very easy to coat and print on. It may well displace my old standard Bergger COT 320.

Photography, Alternative Processes, Really Big Cameras, and other cool stuff

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