July 4th Shoot – Figure in the Landscape, Along the Potomac

I was determined to avoid crowds and public gatherings on July 4th. Post 9/11 I get nervous in large crowds, especially when ingress and egress are difficult, and when large numbers of them are drunk. Not that my PTSD* gets triggered and I feel like the walls are closing in or anything (although I did get near-panic at Obama’s first inauguration- that was just WAY too many people and it was hard to move- even if something rather pedestrian happened like someone fell and got hurt, or a bottle of carbonated beverage froze and burst and people panicked THINKING it was a gunshot, you could have gotten trampled to death in the stampede!). Anyway, back to the real story – so I wanted to avoid the National Mall, because it’s just a filthy zoo of humanity on the 4th, so I called up a friend who had expressed an interest in posing for me, and we went out along the Potomac to some spots I know that are fairly private and make for good shooting. These are the first few images from the shoot (we’re still negotiating the use of the rest of them).

Chern K - Profile
Chern K – Profile

These first two portraits I particularly like. The profile shot was taken with a Rolleinar close-up adapter on my Rolleiflex. The Rolleiflex by itself has a minimum focus distance of 3 feet, which is fine for general subjects, but for flowers, bugs, macro photography in general, and even tight portraits, 3 feet is not close enough. So Rollei in their infinite wisdom invented the Rolleinar close-up filter sets. They come in four strengths – 1,2,3 and 4. The 4 is extremely rare and you almost never see one on the market in any size. The #1 cuts the minimum focus down to 1.5 feet, the #2, to .75 feet, and so on. I have a #1 and a #2. At some point I MAY get a #3. Some people complain that the Rolleinars add too much “distortion” to portraits and as such are bad for doing them. I say shots like this disagree with that notion. If you need more proof, check out the work of Richard Avedon, as well as my friend Sanders McNew (the book cover for “Triptych: Sixteen Months” looks like a good example).

Chern K - Backlit Portrait
Chern K – Backlit Portrait

The backlit portrait was shot normally, no close-up filter required. I was figuring out the exposure for this shot and used my meter in incident reading mode. I had a brief doubt when taking the shot because the meter was suggesting only 1 stop different from what would have used for a non-backlit subject, but I went ahead and used the setting anyway. My doubts were renewed when I looked at the raw negative – reading a negative is a skill any serious film photographer should develop, and I’m pretty good at it now, having looked at literally thousands of negatives I’ve produced over the years, but I’m still, always, getting better at it. This was a case in point.

Then we got into playing with props, specifically, an ostrich egg and some leather masks I got at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

Chern K - Ostrich Egg
Chern K – Ostrich Egg

I’ve been carrying around this ostrich egg shell for a while – I got it as a prop to use for another shot in my Tarot Cards: Re-imagined series. But getting the model who is supposed to use it to show up and sit for me has been a challenge, so it has been lingering, unloved, in my prop bag for some time. Well, it earned its keep with this shot. This is just a straight scan of the negative, so I’m still playing around with how to render the ostrich egg better – I want to preserve detail in the shell without it looking gray, or getting too blown out. Just as I got the shot composed, clouds kept drifting in and out of the sun’s path, changing the nature of the shot. I watched and noticed that the blown-out brilliant highlight caused by the direct sun on the shell’s smooth surface was greatly reduced by the cloud cover. By the time I got the meter reading for the cloud-diffused light, though, the clouds had moved on and it was back to full sun. So a waiting game ensued. I took this shot with partial, thin cloud diffusion because it was getting too hot for either of us to keep standing there waiting for a big cloud to drift back over again!

Chern K - The Sun Peeks Out
Chern K – The Sun Peeks Out
Chern K -Devil Mask
Chern K -Devil Mask

Here are the mask shots. Not much to say about these really – they’re fairly self-explanatory with the masks doing the talking. The masks were also bought for use in the Tarot Cards: Re-imagined series, and this is giving me new impetus to take up the series again and try to finish the Major Arcana.

I shot these all with Ilford PanF because it is such a slow film, and I wanted to try and shoot a lot of these wide open to get the blown-out, swirly background the lens is capable of producing. On the Rollei this can be a challenge with faster films because the fastest shutter speed is 1/500th of a second, which still isn’t fast enough in bright daylight to let me shoot the way I was looking to if I used even FP4+.

I don’t know if it was because I had been bottling up my human figure creative juices for so long, or the fact that I had a good model who understood how to pose and move, or having the right tool in my hands for the job, or what, but I got a crazy amount of successful images from this shoot- fully 24 out of 36 were ones I wanted to work with. That’s an amazing hit ratio, especially when you consider that of the 12 I didn’t pick, probably 1/2 were variations on a theme of ones I DID pick. So an 80% +/- hit rate? WOW.

* I was working in the Pentagon on 9/11, when the plane hit. Low-flying aircraft still make me jittery, but 12 years on, that’s about it. I have it pretty good all things considered.

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