Four more images from my series with K.T. at Land’s End. It’s funny how when you’re shooting, sometimes you’re so in the moment of doing it, you don’t realize the parallels you’re creating. In this first pair, the parallel is obvious.
We had an interesting space to work in, so I had him turn and repeat his pose both front and back. I was thinking of exploiting the cubic volume of the collapsed structure, and contrasting the rectilinear forms of the structure with the organic ones of the body.
The reclining poses are similar as well, but in a less obvious way because the backgrounds are different, as is the placement/emphasis on the figure. In the tree figure, the human form is front-and-center, definitely the main subject of the image. The coarseness of the bark and the wild gnarls of the branches contrast with the contained, orderly, smooth human body draped over them. In the surfside image, the human figure is very much present, and the focal point around which the image is structured, but it blends in to the scene both tonally and formally.
Last but not least, I thought I’d make a diptych out of the two foyer shots, since they so harmonize with each other. I know I wasn’t thinking “Gee, let’s make a diptych out of this!”, or at least not like THIS, when I took them. Back when I took these, I thought almost exclusively as a single-image shooter. Each image was a discreet entity, even if part of a narrative series. So I certainly shot them to be a pair, but I would have envisioned hanging them side by side in separate frames. Funny how serendipity works, isn’t it?
I’ve been doing a lot of housecleaning. I’m preparing what used to be my old office (the computer is now in the library, aka the second bedroom) to become the “camera room”. I have all the shelves I need, I just have to clear out some more stuff and get rid of the old computer desk I used in that room. In the process of cleaning it up, I found a whole bunch of old negatives that I hadn’t done much with. I had tried scanning some of these in the past, and had issues, but I think that was as much my old scanner and my old scanning software that couldn’t handle them as well. These two images were some of the rare color nudes I’ve done. I’m not entirely sure why I don’t do more color nudes – I think there’s a mental association with color nude work and shall we say “non-artistic” photography. I think it’s much harder to do a good color nude because it becomes so hyper-realistic that we start to look at the model not as a model, but more as a portrait, and as such we start personifying the models rather than seeing them as abstract everymen and everywomen.
These shots can’t be duplicated – the graffiti-covered structure (which used to be part of a military guardhouse overlooking the entrance to San Francisco Bay) has since completely collapsed into the sea and/or was removed by the Army and/or Golden Gate Natural Recreation Area rangers for being tragically unsafe. Quel dommage – it made for a really cool backdrop. These are two survivors from that excursion, and proof that checked-baggage x-ray scanners are indeed hazardous to film (thus the difficulty with scanning and color-correcting them).
K.T. was a great model to work with. You can’t see it from these shots but we were out photographing in full-on San Francisco Golden Gate fog. Which is COLD. And WET. But he bravely got out there on the crumbling concrete in the sand and the wind and the fog with nothing but his birthday suit and posed. I think we worked for about 2 hours. Yes, he did have a bathrobe to slip in and out of between shots, I’m not that cruel. I’m going to try and coax him into posing again for me a good 10+ years on from when these were taken.
I’ll be following these up with a batch of black-and-whites I did with the same model at the same location. One of the great things about San Francisco is that public attitudes toward things like (respectful) nudity are so relaxed. Although the location looks very isolated, we were just perhaps 60 feet down a cliff from a well-traveled footpath, inside the city of San Francisco proper. I was shooting on this same beach another time, that day being a rare sunny day in SF, and my model was standing next to a rock in the surf, naked as the day he was born. Out from between two sheltering rocks comes a rather grungy looking tennis ball, hotly pursued by a Golden Retriever. Who is shortly followed by its owner. We don’t have any time at all to react, and my model has no way to cover up. The dog’s owner pauses for a second, surveys what we’re doing, says, “nice day for it!”, smiles and walks on after the dog.
An introductory video discussion about my upcoming class at Glen Echo Photoworks. The course runs on Fridays, from September 19 to November 7, from 7-10pm. The concept of the course is to introduce students to the use of the human figure in narrative photography – telling a story with pictures whether it is a single image, a diptych or triptych, or a series. We will cover the historical use of male figures in narrative photography, from Hippolyte Bayard’s nude self-portrait as a drowned man in protest of having withheld his announcement of the photographic process he invented so that Daguerre could go first (and get all the credit and financial rewards that came from being first) to modern photographers like John Dugdale, Arthur Tress, and Duane Michals. We will also look at the use of the male figure in relation to questions of gender, sexuality, and identity. To register for the course, click here – The Narrative and the Male Figure
These are some from my vaults. I was doing some clean-up in my library and went through my catalog of negatives, and came across these. I shot these on the old Kodak HIE infrared film. Alas, not only is HIE no more, but virtually all IR-sensitive films are gone now too, other than Ilford’s SFX and Rollei IR. Kodak HIE was the king of the crop, having far greater infrared sensitivity than the others (it topped out over 900nm, whereas most of the other films were 820nm, or even 750 with the Konica). It produces a beautiful pictorial effect, and made for some very interesting figure studies. I only ever got to shoot a few rolls of it before it was gone, and the few I had stashed didn’t keep well, even in cold storage. Lots of people have asked about bringing Kodak HIE back as a product – I would love to see it happen, but it isn’t going to. Here’s why – the infrared sensitivity is effected by a specialized dye. The dye requires chemicals that are A: rare, B: very expensive, and C: don’t age well. To meet the minimum manufacturing requirements, very large quantities of the dye would have to be made. At the end of the products’ commercial life, Kodak was not selling enough of the film to cover the cost of the dye, and it was generating tremendous waste as the dye was going bad before the current stock would be sold, so they were not only throwing away dye, they were throwing away finished product.
I have had eight images published at Eastern Sierra Center for Photography’s website in their “Paradigmatic Nudes” gallery online. Most of these images you’ve seen here before on my blog. The images featured are my whole-plate sized gum bichromate prints of Philip, a model I’ve worked with and my Type 55 Polaroid 4×5 format shots of my friend Jose. I’d like to give a big shout-out to Laura Campbell, their curator and director, for repeatedly selecting my work and having faith in my creative vision. Please go check out their website and see the entire gallery.
Here’s one instance of where Richard Daley’s admonition to “get out, vote early, vote often” is actually legitimate! Please go visit my entry in the Onward Compé `14 competition, and vote for me in the Peoples’ Choice category. You can vote daily, so please do!
Since I got a request for more of the figure studies, I thought I’d post a few. These were all done on the old Polaroid Type 55 Positive/Negative film. What made Type 55 unique was the fact you could produce both a print and a re-useable negative. The catch always was that you got either a good negative and an overexposed print, or a good print and a thin negative. I think most people opted for the blown-out print, because the stuff was too expensive to throw away the negative.
I submitted three photos to the Onward competition for emerging photographers. Emerging is defined in this case as not having a current ongoing relationship with an art gallery. I’ve had shows, both solo and group, but I’m not represented by any art gallery on an ongoing basis. Perhaps by the time I retire it will happen. In any case, Onward will be good exposure for my work (this time I’m submitting some of my older pieces, male figure studies shot with Polaroid Type 55 back when it was still available).
There are two rounds of judging – the first round, by JPEG only, will be complete and the results announced by December 16. A second round will be judged from actual submitted prints come January, with final results by February 1. The exhibition will take place in March at Project Basho in Philadelphia.
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).
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).
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.
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!
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.