It’s a fascinating little vignette of a Hong Kong photo studio, still working in an all-analog workflow. I have tremendous respect for the photographer doing what he does because especially with retouching color negatives, it’s a huge challenge. Sitting and staring at a 2 1/4″ negative under a magnifying glass for hours, tweaking the little lines and creases and blemishes on someone’s face is true craftsmanship. On the one hand, it’s something I wish I knew how to do – on the other, this is one thing where the convenience of digital is highly seductive.
Just a few better images from the trip to Puerto Rico. Definitely NOT with a view camera – everything was shot with a Contax G2, mostly with the 21mm and 90mm lenses, with a couple of 45mm grabs in there. As always, working with the G2 is a joy, and it produces incredible results. Even though it isn’t “as silent as a Leica”, I enjoy the whirring of gears of the auto-focus, and the snick-snick of the shutter.
I’m some kind of obvious when taking photos, as even when I’m using the G2, which is a pretty inconspicuous camera, I seem to attract attention. My father and I were coming back from dinner and I stopped to take a photo, and this panhandler approaches me. He asks, “How much does that camera cost”? I can tell he’s not a photography enthusiast, so I reply, “I don’t remember, I’ve had it for a while. It takes film” – hoping that will discourage any thoughts of taking it. He then states, “I guess you have a relationship with your camera”. DUH. I do, but don’t even THINK about trying to end that relationship non-consensually. I do have a love affair with my cameras, and I’ll happily share that with anyone interested, but I’ll smack you to the moon if you try to mess with that.
This time, I was paying attention to creating abstract compositions, which is easy in some ways because the tropical light is so strong, even early and late in the day you get powerful shadows and directional light, unless you’ve got profound overcast. The wrinkle is color- because our natural perception of the world is color, working with color film tends to emphasize our connection to the reality of the subject and distract from perceiving it as just line and form. I hope I’ve managed with a few images to challenge that limitation. I know for myself as a predominantly black-and-white photographer that switching gears to see and think in color is hard – some of the photos I took on this trip I can look at and see very clearly that they would be better as black-and-white images. Sometimes color creates contrast that we don’t see when we are used to thinking only of tone and reflectiveness, and sometimes what looks good as contrast between light and shadow looks god-awful in color because it’s too harsh and the color is overwhelmed.
For those who are interested, all these were shot on Kodak Ektar 100 (with a few using the new Kodak Portra 400). I think it is my new go-to 35mm film, displacing even my beloved Fuji Reala. I like the palette of Ektar better now- the Fuji’s greens are a little too strong, the blues and reds a little weak compared to the Ektar. I’m also highly impressed with the Portra 400. I brought along two rolls of it thinking I might use it for some night photos. Dummy me didn’t segregate it from general population in the film pocket of my camera bag, and I accidentally grabbed a roll and loaded it thinking it was still the Ektar 100 (BAD Kodak – the design for the canister is identical except for the text label, so you can’t tell easily through the plastic tube which is which). The upside is, I can almost not tell any difference between them, at least in a scan and a 4×6 print. I’ll let you look through the gallery and decide for yourselves which is which. I’m not telling.
On a spur-of-the-moment thing, I’m running off to Puerto Rico for a weekend with my dad. I have an underwater film camera with external flash, which is all fine and dandy, but it is rather bulky, so I decided to stop by my local camera store and see what was on the menu in a digital point-n-shoot. I walked out with an Olympus 6020 Stylus Tough. It seems to have a lot of potential, so we’ll see what I get from it. I’m hoping I can get some interesting shots from the bioluminescent bay. I’ve had a lot of fun in the past doing underwater photos, but of course there’s always been the frustration of having the 36 frame limit. Now, with a 4GB card I can shoot a lot more than that, and even do movies. It’s not much bigger than my phone (thicker, but not as long, and about as tall) so it fits nicely in a pocket. The LCD on the back is not the sharpest (my iPhone screen is WAY better, but it ought to be). For daytime/land-based photography I’m still going to bring my Contax G2 and a bunch of Ektar 100. THAT has been the rock star in my travel photography world – I brought back images from Barcelona that turned into enough sales to virtually pay for the trip.
I’ll be relying on my dad as a tour guide of sorts for this trip, because he’s been there several times, and this is my first. We’re staying in Old San Juan, and I’m looking forward to spending some time at El Morro and San Cristobal, as well as walking the colonial streets and doing a little shopping. If I’m lucky I’ll bring back one of the Vejigante masks and you’ll get to see it in some of my upcoming photo work from the new studio. For those who don’t know what a Vejigante mask is, it’s a Puerto Rican cultural icon – they’re a combination of native, African and Spanish culture. Made for Carnival, they’re supposed to scare away evil spirits. Part of the culture of wearing the masks is to go around with an animal-skin bladder full of air and spank people with it to chase away any ghosts or devils that may have gotten ahold of them. This spiritual quality of the practice is somewhat belied by the fact that the primary targets of the swattings seem to be pretty women, so it’s more of a pick-up line than an exorcism in contemporary use.