I have to toot my own horn a little today – my spring session of Introduction to Large Format Photography is sold out! I’m even adding three additional seats today to accommodate the folks who contacted me yesterday about registering. The class will cover the basics of how to use a large format camera. We’ll get an understanding of the camera itself – the various types of large format camera, the components of the camera, how to use it, and especially in this digital day and age, WHY to use it. To paraphrase Edward Weston’s comment about color photography: “There are things you can say in large format that you can’t say in anything smaller”. We’ll have specific lessons on film handling and processing for large format, portraiture, studio/tabletop photography, and architecture.
I teach at Photoworks Glen Echo, a non-profit photography education center in Glen Echo Park, which is operated by the National Park Service. Glen Echo Park is a former amusement park a few miles away from downtown DC in Glen Echo, Maryland on the banks of the Potomac River. Originally envisioned as a suburban housing development for the elite of Washington at the end of the 19th century, the only resident to ever build and take up residence was Clara Barton. It became a Chataqua meeting center, and then in the early years of the 20th century, an amusement park. It rose to its peak by being at the terminus of a street car line running out from Georgetown (a neighborhood in DC and formerly a separate incorporated city in itself). The park endured changing demographics and evolving tastes, but closed up shop in 1970. The US Park Service took over and converted it into a community art center where people can come to learn pottery, glassblowing, cast and fused glass, stone carving, photography, painting. There is a children’s dance theater and puppet theater, and the 1902 Spanish Ballroom has square, contra, ballroom, and swing dancing events practically every night of the week. The centerpiece of the park is now and has been since its installation in the 1920s, the Dentzel Carousel which is freshly restored and fully operational. The carousel offers rides daily from May to October.
Photoworks is the photography center, located in the Main Arcade building. This year marks their 40th anniversary. They offer a full range of classes from introductory photography for children and teens to advanced classes on topics such as The Long-Term Photo Project, iPhone Fun (getting the most of mobile device photography), Photographic Editing and Presentation, and Platinum/Palladium Printing. Photoworks has a full wet darkroom for film processing and black-and-white printing up to 16×20 inches, a fully equipped digital darkroom with Macintosh workstations, Epson flatbed scanner and Nikon 35mm dedicated film scanner, and Epson printers for up to 24″ wide prints.
A while back, before I went to Paris, a friend loaned me his Fuji GSW 690 II to play with, since I didn’t have anything in a wide-angle to take. While I wasn’t crazy about the camera’s operation, and I don’t particularly like the way it renders color on color film, I have to say going back and revisiting the black-and-white negatives I shot with it I’m actually pleasantly surprised. It might be worth giving another try some day. I may just have not shot enough with it to get a good feel for the operation.
Here are a few loose odds-n-ends I shot back at the end of September, but kept on the shelf until I was all done with the Paris photos. I like playing around as light levels fall – it’s a challenge to balance foreground and sky, but when it works, it’s beautiful. I also like the colors you get when you mix different kinds of lighting.
I was walking around Glen Echo Park in the evening after visiting for (I think) an exhibit opening. I had the Rollei with me, and a roll of Kodak Portra 800 loaded. Portra 800 is another one of those “miracle” emulsions, in my estimation. It is expensive (almost $10/roll), but when you need it, it’s there and it works so well at what it does. Yes, it does have more grain and less contrast than Portra 400, not to mention Portra 160, but the difference compared to what you would have seen in older 800 speed films is almost not worth mentioning. It’s a specialty film, and because of the price, not something I’d shoot every day in lieu of a slower film. But using it is not a sacrifice, like other films used to be.
Here is one of the street lights in the park, glowing in the pre-dusk.
The Dentzel carousel is endlessly fascinating. The bright colors, the lights, the music, the motion – it’s a nostalgic combination that provokes a range of emotions from childish joy to melancholy. Here the lights of the carousel are glowing inside the carousel house, and the neon of the old Midway perks up the background through the trees.
Another view of the carousel house, framed with ornamental grasses. The glow of the lights is particularly inviting – I’d love to go for a ride.
One of the circus masks on the crown of the carousel peers out at you through the reflections on the carousel house window. The lighting and the stillness gives it a slightly sinister air.
The neon of the arcade reflects in the windows of the carousel house, and I’ve caught myself taking the photo in the reflection as well. The reflected neon gives it a true carnival atmosphere – it almost feels like a real live amusement park, instead of the culture and arts center it has become. Which is not to say that the park lacks vibrancy and vitality, but it has a new character now, a lovable low-key quality that reflects and honors its past while preserving the facility for the future.
I should have been doing this all along through the class, but we’ve had bad luck with scheduling and are as of now still three weeks behind schedule because of holidays, work schedule conflicts and the like.
My student brought his 8×10 Deardorff to class, and we went out and shot a few frames around the park. Here he is with the ‘Dorff. Isn’t it a beautiful camera?
And here he is under the darkcloth. I don’t know why he used it white side in, but it’s his camera, he knows how to use it, so as long as he can focus, I’m not complaining.
Here he is pouring a water stop bath into the Jobo drum I brought. We used the Jobo free-standing and not on a processor or roller base – I just ran a water bath for it in a regular developing tray and rolled it by hand. This technique works, but it’s much easier on a proper roller system, and infinitely better on the Jobo processor.
Despite the challenges of processing the film with the Jobo tank by hand, we were able to produce some useable frames. Here he is holding one of the negatives, a portrait of me. Every year he goes back to Vietnam for vacation, and while there he does a fundraising project with photography for a charitable organization. This year, his project is to take portraits of the clients of a clinic that provides healthcare to people exposed to Agent Orange, and sell the prints to raise money for the clinic. It feels really good to me to know I’m having a small part in helping his project.
There are some really great flower beds at Glen Echo, and the US Park Service does a terrific job of maintaining them. While waiting around for my student to arrive, I wandered about and took some close-up shots of the cone flowers and Black-Eyed Susans.
These were all shot with my regular 50mm f1.4 lens on my Canon 5D, not a special macro lens. I’m impressed with the close-focus capability, considering it ISN’T a macro lens. But I would love to try one of the L-series tele-macros for doing insects and the like. Bees get rather skittish, as do butterflies.
Zooming out, metaphorically speaking, here are some shots of the buildings around Glen Echo, which you’ve seen variations of before here on my blog.
The light was changing as my student and I were out for him to take photos with his 8×10 to use as practice negatives for platinum/palladium printing. While he was shooting his 8×10, I had the Canon with me and caught the Popcorn sign and the reflections on the windows of the carousel as the light was dropping and the neon came on.
The bridge that leads over the stream to the parking lot had beautiful slanting sidelight on it, and framed these two people perfectly, casting long shadows.
This is what I saw on my way out, after class was all done and I was walking back to the car. The Glen Echo sign is particularly magnificent and at the same time haunting after dark, because of the emptiness, especially on a weeknight.
Just thought I’d do a re-visit of all my Glen Echo color work, to put them in one place. When I get a bit more organized, I’ll put my platinum/palladium Glen Echo photos together and do another mini-gallery. This has all been shot with a mixed bag of films and cameras. Mostly my Rolleiflex 2.8E, with one nod to my Canham 5×7 (the Glen Echo sign at night – it’s special enough it gets its own row). The films have been Kodak Portra 160NC, Kodak Ektar 100, Fuji NPS 160, and Fuji NPH 400. With the exception of the Ektar 100, most of the film used has been anywhere from a couple years out of date to almost a dozen years expired. Which says a lot about the quality of modern color film emulsions.
Part of the purpose of this exercise was in response to a discussion recently on an online photography forum I read where someone was complaining about how hard it was to take good photos in places you are familiar with. While I love travel photography (I’m getting ready to indulge in some serious travel photography early next year, probably one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips – I’ll keep you updated as the time approaches), I think it’s absolute baloney that you can’t take interesting photos of places you know and see every day. If anything, the opposite is true. But each type of photography requires a different mindset. Photographing on the road requires you to be able to filter out the extraneous detail because it’s ALL wondrous and new. Photographing at home requires you to turn off the detail filter so you start finding the interesting stuff you ignore because it’s what you see every day.
Photographing my own neighborhood is about recording and observing change – it’s like doing a series of portraits of the same person – this week in a suit, next week in a sundress, then later in an anorak, this year a little taller, next year a beard, the year after with a tan and a buzz cut. The Glen Echo photos are another form of portraiture, portraiture of a place. Places can have spirits and identities, and their face changes over time, just like a person’s.
Here are a few portraits of a friend of mine in his natural element. Charles is extremely fond of gardens and gardening, and this is one of his favorite gardens that belongs to a friend of his. I hadn’t seen him in several years, and so the other weekend I drove up to Baltimore to visit, and brought along the Rollei to shoot his portrait. I’m so glad I used some of my last remaining rolls of Fuji Reala – they did him justice. It was the least I could do to honor him as he’s been such a good and devoted friend over the years.
Here are a couple from my ongoing Food Truck series – the cashier and the head chef of Pepe, the Jose Andrés-helmed gourmet food truck here in DC. I THINK the young man giving the interview in the second photo may be Jose Andrés’ son.
The following two are shots of a friend of mine who is thinking of getting into modeling, so we did a couple test portfolio pieces out at Glen Echo a month ago. I think he’s got the face for it, for certain. The trick will be to figure out if he can move and pose, and if he can get his body conformed to modeling industry standards.
And last but not least, here’s one from the vaults of another very dear friend from Singapore. We went to Fort Canning and went up on the roof of the remnants of the fortifications to shoot some photos of him and some of his friends, and I grabbed this one between poses. It captures his personality absolutely, although he foreswears this photo now because he has quit smoking. But it still reflects his inner sparkle and cheek.
I’m trying to get better at photographing strangers, and photographing unposed portraits. I find it incredibly easy to photograph people I know well because I can perceive little gestures and nuances that reflect their personality. The trick will be to get better at that kind of perception with total strangers, without imposing preconceived notions of what I THINK they are on them. Perhaps it’s an impossible chase, but it’s one I’m going to hazard.
Just some more playing with movement studies using the Rolleiflex. This was shot with 11 year old expired film – Fuji NPS 160. It has held up remarkably well. Otherwise I don’t have a lot to say, as the pictures speak for themselves I think.
This is a blended platinum/palladium print (60% platinum, 40% palladium) print, on Bergger COT320 paper. This was by a student from my Intro class, but I reprinted it for this session (the student left the negative behind after the Intro class, and I happened to really like the shot anyway). This one was coated using a glass rod as opposed to a brush, to demonstrate the difference in the coating technique, and the final appearance of the print.
This is a palladium print on light Kozo paper, by Patrick Brown, one of my students in Advanced Topics. He was also in my Intro class. It’s so nice to get follow-on students so you can see their progress!
Kozo paper is a Japanese paper made from tree bark, and it is surprisingly strong for as delicate as it is – this is perhaps a 90 lb paper. It does have a tendency to dissolve in aqueous solutions, but if properly masked when developing, the image area can be preserved, even if the edges do get fringed a bit. This is a perfect example. I included the paper margins to show more clearly what the paper texture looks like.
We had some challenges this class session – the original idea was to try out some different paper types, and I had obtained a sampler of several kinds. We started the morning with Stonehenge, which was supposed to be a good paper, but something was dramatically wrong with the batch we got, as we were making 30 minute exposures and still coming up weak and flat. After this is over, I’ll get a little more for myself and try pre-acidifying it to see if that helps, but no mention of acidification was made in the sample kit and I couldn’t find any reference to acidifying it online. Fortunately we didn’t waste too much time before figuring out it was the paper at fault and not the chemistry, and life moved on.