Today was my session of the “Meet & Shoot” class I co-teach with several other instructors at Photoworks. The class is a five or six session workshop on street photography where each instructor takes a group of students out for a guided photography excursion to a location of their choosing. Students can sign up for all sessions, or pick and choose which ones they want as their schedule and/or instructor preference dictates.
This time, I had three new students and three repeat students from the last time I taught this class. Due to some last-minute scheduling snafus, three of the students were unable to make it, so it was a very intimate walkabout, and I was able to teach as much as I was playing shepherd.
We met at the Columbia Heights Metro station, and once the crew was collected, we took a walk up to the little plaza in front of the Tivoli Theater where a saturday farmers market was in full swing. My three students, seen below (L to R: Matthew, Suzan and Bobbi) wandered around and took full advantage of my guidance for the session to use color as a foundational theme. The farmers market was a perfect opportunity, with all the fruit and vegetables on display.
Columbia Heights is an ethnically diverse neighborhood, with a strong Latin-American presence. This is very obvious in the colors and styles of signage on shops and restaurants, and makes for a great subject for a color-based exercise.
Here Bobbi, Suzan and Matthew are examining some signage on a Dominican restaurant on Park Road.
We continued along Park Road over to Mount Pleasant, another neighborhood in Washington DC that also has a significant Latino presence. I took the opportunity to discuss including graffiti and public sculpture in your work as a “street” photographer. If you’re going to include other peoples’ art in your photography, make sure that you have a solid reason for doing so- it’s fair game as documentary, or if your capture and interpretation is transformative (abstract/close-up, for example), but if you’re planning to exhibit and market photos of other peoples’ art, even if it is displayed in public, you’re at best in an ethical gray area, and potentially in a copyright violation scenario.
Street photography is very much about found images – you’re not setting out to intentionally create compositions, but rather responding and reacting to things you encounter, like this poster that fell into the street and got run over until the rough pavement surface pierced through turning the whole thing into an abstract composition.
We had a great morning of shooting, and wrapped up for a chat at a cafe on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan (another neighborhood bordering on Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights). I’m very pleased with my students, and I’m looking forward to seeing their images from today at our recap class in three weeks.
For the Memorial Day holiday weekend, I took a short vacation down to Mexico City. I wanted to do an art-themed vacation, taking in museums and popular art and crafts, to get some inspiration for my own work. And of course, to take images of my own. For this trip I decided to take my new Fuji X-T1 and a couple lenses because it was much more compact and less conspicuous than the Rolleiflex. It proved a baptism by fire for me with the camera, as I was shooting with it 10 hours a day every day for five days. This generally is a good thing, and I’ll write up my impressions in a separate post.
One of the first things I noticed about Mexico City is that it is a very young city – you can tell the population skews much more toward 20 than toward 60. There are young people everywhere, wandering the streets of the Centro Historico, visiting the museums, riding the subway. I spotted these two young lovers on the plaza in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. You saw many young couples like these two holding hands and being publicly expressive. This was a bit of a surprise to me as my last impression of Mexico City was 30+ years ago when it was a much more conservative, much more Catholic place, and this kind of public display between unmarried youth would have been frowned upon.
Further signs of change in Mexico City – young gay couples holding hands in public. These two were touring the Casa Studio Diego Rivera with me, and I caught them in an unguarded moment on the roof of the studio. I should have taken their portraits too, but I did photograph them together with their cellphone as they were trying to do selfies with not much success. They were very cute and sweet.
I also saw several other young gay couples out on the street holding hands in the Centro Historico, which surprised me a little as I was not expecting it there.
On another early Sunday morning, I took a walk through the Alameda park, which was just up the block from my hotel. This boy and his dad were out to go roller skating in the park. I loved his punked-out helmet with the spiky mohawk.
In a passageway between Calle Madero and Calle Tacuba, just behind the Banco de Mexico, there’s this big bronze bird bench (try saying that five times fast!). I spotted this lady taking a rest, smoking and playing on her phone. As is typical everywhere now, people of all ages are glued to their phones.
A handsome young man on his phone, outside Chapultepec Park. Hot travel tip for anyone planning to visit Mexico City – the entire city seems to roll up the sidewalks and shut down on Mondays, at least as far as attractions go – there’s maybe one museum open. They even lock up the gates to Chapultepec park and only allow bicyclists who are transiting through to enter!
I went out for an early morning walk my first full day in Mexico City, to see what the rhythms of life are like. This man presented a dramatic composition in the morning sunlight as he leaned up against the wall.
This is a view I’ve seen a number of times but wasn’t ever sure how to capture it until yesterday. I’ve always had the wrong camera with me, either from the focal length, the aspect ratio, or both, perspective. This is an outtake in the sense that I was doing a model shoot with a friend of mine on the pier of the old C&O Canal bridge that used to cross the Potomac River in Georgetown, so taking this photo was not the purpose of the shoot. This is the view looking straight down at the dock for the boathouse.
I was particularly drawn to the geometry and angles formed by the decking on the boat dock, with the red decking running perpendicular to the unpainted deck, and all the triangles formed by the perspective you have to take to see the scene in the first place. Even the boat, which has a totally different shape and texture to the decking, creates more triangles with its prow, and provides visual tension running the opposite direction so you move your eye around the image.
In this set I’m including some black-and-white shots along with the color ones to show what the Fuji can do. I used the b/w+R setting (the equivalent of using a red filter when shooting black and white film). I don’t know that this is as extreme as actually shooting black-and-white film with a red filter in terms of the contrast and look, but I like it.
Mustafa showed up to the shoot in a tux, which is hard to work around if that’s not what you’re aiming for. It’s a good look, and a very elegant one, but not necessarily fitting a pool hall. I tried to shake things up a bit with the kaleidoscope glasses, the steampunk welder’s goggles and my own vintage leather jacket. Tip to models – unless you are told wardrobe will be provided, always bring at least two different looks to a test shoot with you so you don’t get stuck looking out-of-place on the shoot.
Mustafa has a great face – he looks good from lots of angles. When posing a model or a portrait subject, you want to make sure that you’re not doing anything un-flattering. If you’re turning the head away from front-on, you want the nose to either obviously stand back from or break the contour of the cheek so you don’t inadvertently flatten it by having it by having the tip of the nose meet the outline of the cheek. At the same time, pay attention to the eyes – you want to see whites on both sides of the iris. If you turn someone’s head in part profile and then have them look back at the camera with their eyes, the irises in the corner of the eye make them look like a psycho-killer. In these shots it works because he’s looking the same direction with his eyes as his face is pointing.
Yesterday I had a model shoot with three aspiring models who needed to build their portfolios. We went to a billiards parlor for the afternoon and I put them and the Fuji through its paces. It was also the first test in the field for my new 400 w/s bare-bulb strobes. The new strobes are battery-powered via external rechargeable batteries. They can be configured to sit on-camera and be triggered via hot shoe, take a wireless remote trigger like a PocketWizard, be triggered via sync cord, or be triggered by a proprietary wireless trigger system that also allows you to remotely adjust the power level from the camera position. The first one I bought was a Calumet-labeled version. When Calumet was still in business in the US, these were quite expensive – a single head unit plus the required but not included battery pack would have set you back a cool $1000. Nowadays, they’re on clearance on Amazon for $300 or so. They are also now being sold with the NEEWER, Flashpoint and Godox labels, at a much more reasonable price – I got a NEEWER version with the external rechargeable battery pack for $400 as a second unit for doing fill flash or background lighting.
These first two shots were taken with Alex shooting pool. In the first shot, I set him up taking the break shot. Don’t let the fact that he’s a model fool you- he’s also a pool shark – right after this shot, his break dropped three balls. I wouldn’t bet against him. This was taken with the Fuji 56 f1.2. My main light was the Calumet Genesis in an umbrella softbox, and the fill was the NEEWER with a gridded reflector and a red gel in it. Having the ability to both color gel and grid the fill is really handy, as the color adds a touch of drama to the scene, and the grid keeps it from spraying all over the place and coloring things you don’t want it to, like the table felt.
For this shot, I kept the lights the same but switched to the 23mm f1.4 so I could get in close and still get the extension of his shoulder, arm, cue, and the ball on the table, as this table was in the middle of the room with other tables behind me, and I only had about four or five feet to work in. The red gel adds a touch of drama and energy to the shot without overwhelming, and is a good way to deal with the very mixed light in a pool hall where you can have fluorescent (the over-the-table lights), halogen/tungsten (lights in the bar area and on the walls) and LED (accent lights like rope lights around partition walls and the like, or under the bar) all in the same area.
I also did some head shots with Alex (who is an easy, professional model to work with). I backed this indie film called Hallucinaut on Kickstarter last year and as my reward, I got these kaleidoscope-lensed glasses that appear in the film as a prop. I chose them specifically as my reward as something that would make a really cool prop for photo shoots. This was their first appearance in one of my shoots. They really pick up and reflect colors well, and make for a dramatic statement.
A variation on the theme, I broke out my welder’s goggles and matched them up with a vintage leather jacket for a steampunk look. Alex’s short-cropped hair adds to the look by letting the goggles really stand out against the shape of his head.
In the last look for Alex, I did two versions of this really clean, minimal portrait. When I showed it to him on screen he commented “I have a really long neck!” as if that was a bad thing. I reminded him of what you’ll hear on every season of the now-ended America’s Next Top Model – it’s a really good thing to have a long neck. Tyra Banks and her photographers were always reminding the contestants to elongate their bodies and gestures, to create drama and elegance. If you have a short neck, stretch it out, otherwise the camera can make it look like you’re neckless and just have a head glued directly to your torso.
These were both shot outdoors under the eave of a parking garage, and combining the flash in a beauty dish as a fill with the backlight of the street behind made it easy to completely blow out the background into a nice even white. Handy trick when you’re going studio-less and need an even background.
I shot all these images in RAW, then converted afterward to JPEG. I like working this way because it feels more like traditional darkroom photography, where I’m working from the in-camera negative. Working from in-camera JPEGs, while still very good, to me is not as good because it’s like making a copy of a print – changes have been made and nuances have been degraded.
Not that there should be any doubt, but the Fuji 56mm is a knockout lens (Fuji has always made some top-grade glass, especially for their medium-format cameras). The falloff in sharpness at wide-open or near wide-open is creamy-smooth, and the rendering of out-of-focus highlights is never harsh or jagged.
Takeaways from this shoot:
-Work with good models. Not everyone is a good model, and not all good models start out that way, but if you’re new to the process of working with models, hire folks (and I do mean hire, as in pay for with cash, not just trade-for-prints/CD) who have experience working with photographers.
-know your equipment. If I were not as experienced with studio lighting, figuring out what was going on with my Calumet/NEEWER flashes could have been a pain, as they don’t have modeling lights (to save on battery life) and are not TTL because they’re made to be universal and are not dedicated to any one system.
-have fun. Be loose, work with your environment, take advantage of the opportunities it presents, and challenge yourself to overcome its obstacles. You’ll make much better pictures that way.
What is your name, and where are you from?
Bruce Schultz from Lafayette, Louisiana.
How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?
I’ve always taken photographs for myself as an artistic expression, since the early 1970s.
I make images with wet-plate collodion to make tintypes on metal, or ambrotypes on glass, or glass negatives to make paper prints in the form of salt prints and albumen prints. I have one salt print and three albumen prints in this show, all from glass negatives.
What drew you to the specific media you practice?
I grew bored with making black and white images with film, printed onto factory-coated silver gelatin paper, something I had done for almost 40 years. As digital photography had emerged as the dominant means of making pictures, I regressed and sought out the basics of photography as it was first practiced. So I took a workshop in Missouri with wet plate photographer Bob Szabo in 2007.
Since then, I no longer shoot film. I make tintypes at civil war reenactments, and also photograph a wide range of subject matter from still lifes, landscapes and nudes. I’ve made images for movies (“Beautiful Creatures” and a remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”) And TV shows including “American Horror Story” and “Into the Badlands,” in addition to several CD covers.
How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?
Since my chosen process requires exposures of several seconds to minutes, action can’t be photographed but even that can be overcome if one is willing to invest in a high-powered, eyebrow singeing flash equipment. I will occasionally pay homage to 19th century images.
In today’s mobile, electronic world of instant communication and virtual sharing of images, how important is it to you to create hand-made images?
I’m not opposed to digital photography, and I use it in my career as a communications specialist, but digital imagery is too realistic, too perfect for my purposes. With wet-plate collodion, serendipitous flaws are inherent in the process. Fingerprints, smudges on the edges, specks of dust, bubbles, scratches, are inevitable and they make it obvious that this is a one-of-a-kind handmade image never to be repeated.
Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?
I don’t really think about the digital realm, what I’ve done digitally or anyone else has done with a digital camera. I do often marvel that in the time span that I make one image with the wet-plate process, someone could shoot hundreds of pictures. Because of the labor and time involved to set up the chemicals and equipment, making an image with the wet-plate process is a deliberative effort. One has to make sure that what has caught their eye is truly worth the effort and time to make just one picture.
And I have to admit that I get some kind of rush from knowing that I’m making photographs the same way that the early photographers did, experiencing the same frustrations when things go wrong, and the same tingle of excitement when everything comes together. Using the same formulae and materials but with the benefit of modern technology like air conditioning in a darkroom and electric lights.
Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?
I have made digital prints from my wet plate images, but they do not equal a print from a wet-plate negative and I no longer do that because the quality is inadequate.
If so, how do you incorporate it? Is it limited to mechanical reproduction technique, or does it inform/shape/influence the content of your work?
I want to learn to make digital negatives from tintypes to make albumen and salt prints. I am even willing to attempt using digital capture to generate a digital negative and from that, make albumen and salt prints, especially for images that I make while traveling abroad since flying on airplanes can’t be done with flammable chemicals and hundreds of pounds of equipment.
What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today?
Sales of vintage photography have increased with higher and higher prices as buyers recognize the significance of photographs that have survived for more than a century..
Alternative process work has emerged as a significant movement as the art audience recognizes the effort and dedication required to generate these images. And shows like this one illustrate that more people are creating bodies of work based on handmade imagery.
That’s not to say that serious artistic expressions can’t be the product of digital capture, but so many images are being created digitally that we are being overwhelmed with snapshots fired in scattergun fashion. I’ve read that more photographs have been taken in the past 2 years than in the first 150 years of photography. I’m not sure how that figure was derived, but it is mind-boggling. But most of those images will never move beyond a phone or computer screen, and it’s expected that many will become lost in the progression of obsolescence.
It also troubles me that folks get so caught up in taking a snapshot or video that they don’t truly experience a moment for what it is. A photograph or video will never convey an experience. Credit photographer Sally Mann for expressing that notion in her book that memories are being supplanted by photographs of a slice in time, and not living in the moment and experiencing what is happening in a viewfinder and not actually in front of our eyes. Years from now, we will remember an event as it was, or does the photograph corrupt our memories? I know that I now cannot be sure if some of my earliest memories were what I recall, or what my father’s 8mm movies show.
Where do you see yourself in that world?
I have no idea. I’m too busy shooting pictures, mixing chemicals and coating paper for printing to worry about my miniscule impression on the art world.
These two pieces are quite moody, and that somber undertone of them inspired me. From their weathered appearance to the various forms of damage they’ve taken over the centuries, they act as a kind of memento mori to remind us that even art in marble will eventually die.
I’ve joked to friends that this one is proof that there were zombies in ancient Rome – but in fact the damage to the face is probably caused by relatively contemporary rivals seeking to damage the visage of a now-dead adversary, or inadvertent blows from overzealous Renaissance-era treasure hunters or clumsy builders trying to clear debris in preparation for fortifying the former Imperial tomb.
This one has suffered different indignities – while his visage remains relatively intact, at some point his head was separated from his shoulders, and later re-attached.
Just for the record, to the best of my knowledge there were no zombies running around ancient Rome.