Tag Archives: New York

Rendering The Spirit: Interview with John Sarsgard

Hilly Kristal
Hilly Kristal

Could you tell me your name?

John Sarsgard. It’s of Danish origin… two of my great grandparents were immigrants from Denmark, and two from Norway, on my father’s side.

Where are you from?

I was born and grew up and was educated in Mississippi, where my Iowa farm boy father met my mother during his military service in World War II.

How did you get into photography as an art medium (as opposed to casual or professional use)?

I was initially attracted to photography via the darkroom, as a combination of science and magic. We lived in a small house with one bathroom, the only place a darkroom could work, and I learned to develop and print very quickly. I suppose I initially photographed things I liked or disliked or was attracted to for other reasons. I think I began documenting these subjects without much notion of art, but as I continued, I gradually wanted to make my photographs reflect my reaction to the subject, and make it more visually interesting. When steam locomotives were still around, for example, I wanted to photograph them because they were going away, and I had to have my own images of them. But then I noticed that all my locomotives looked similar to other photos I had seen, and started thinking about how to incorporate my thoughts and feelings about them, and how to make images that I thought pleasing. For years until now, that has continued. Photographing subjects to which I feel a connection, and attempting to express my connection and at the same time to make an image I find pleasing. And making prints myself has continued to be part of the process, although with a now dedicated darkroom! I wish I still had the 120 contact prints of the locomotives.

Which alternative processes do you practice?

Platinum/palladium

What attracted you to alternative processes in general?

Alternative processes provide much more freedom of interpretation for the artist. When I make an inkjet print, the final medium plays a much smaller part in my expression. I work on the image in Lightroom and/or Photoshop and then attempt to get the printed image to look about like what I have on the screen. Many of the inkjet papers are quite beautiful, but the possibilities for personal expression in the alternative processes are much richer. I am not attracted to them just because they are old. New alternative processes and variations on the historic ones will continue to be developed, and I would not reject them because they are new.

What drew you to the specific media you practice?

I saw Stieglitz’s platinum portraits of Georgia O’Keefe in the Metropolitan Museum and loved them. Along with daguerreotypes, I started appreciating photographs as objects of beauty in addition to a means of recording an image. Then I saw many of Carl Weese’s platinum prints up close, and held them in my hands, and knew I wanted to learn to make these things. I studied with Carl to learn. Perhaps I will try daguerreotypes some day, but for now, I would rather focus on making better platinum prints. Also, I am attracted first to the contact printing processes because I worked in the information technology industry for 35 years, have fairly good hands on computer skills, and am quite comfortable making digital negatives. I was a fairly good darkroom printer in silver gelatine, but the things I always wished I could do better printing in the darkroom are much easier for me in Photoshop. Maybe I will try some of the other contact processes, but for now I am enjoying getting better and better at pt/pd. I do dream a little about getting a big camera and learning one of the wet plate processes.

How does the choice of media influence your choice of subject matter (or vice versa)?

Good question, one I still am working at answering. When platinum printing was king, people used it for all kinds of things because that was what they had. Most of the subjects to which I am attracted result in portraits, landscapes, or people in places to which they are connected one way or another. I think all those work well in pt/pd. I did a series on young men in New York playing hard ball street basketball in a park in Greenwich Village. I enjoyed doing it but never thought of it as a platinum subject, but I would consider individual portraits of these guys as works for platinum.

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?

It is just what I do. I do not complain about the electronic world and virtual sharing and all that goes with it. I participate in it. But I believe there is a place for photographs as things that can be held in the hand that have a beauty of process as well as a beauty of subject and composition. I do not create hand-made images because I think there is something wrong with electronic ones. I do it for their own sake and because I love doing it.

Is your choice to practice alternative, hand-made photography a reaction to, a complement to, or not influenced by the world of digital media?

Pretty much same answer as above. I make these things because I like what they look like and love making them. I do not reject digital media. People download lots of music from iTunes, and people still buy vinyl. They don’t buy vinyl because they are Luddites, but because they appreciate its special qualities. That’s how I feel about alternative, hand-made photography.

Do you incorporate digital media into your alternative process work?

I do. I print almost entirely from digital negatives.

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 would not say that digital media informs my alternative process work. I would say that my alternative process work drives what I do digitally.

What role do you see for hand-made/alternative process work in the art world of today? Where do you see yourself in that world?

Hand-made/alternative processes have unique qualities all their own that add greatly to the more conventional images most people know more about. Painters and sculptors employ lots of different media and materials, and are richer for it. So can photography. But it is up to us as artists and to the rest of the photography establishment to help people learn about these alternative methods and materials most people have never heard of or seen. I love this kind of work, and I want others to see and appreciate it, so I try to get it out there for people to see. I like to do small things to help people see platinum/palladium prints up close and without barriers. I think doing thinks like showing work framed but not under glass helps. I show platinum prints to portrait clients.

Mrs. John Frisbee, Sam and Frank, Stuyvesant/Kinderhook, NY

Obtained from the Frisbee estate, this early daguerreotype (circa 1840s) is an approximate 1/4 plate (the dimensions don’t strictly correspond to 1/4 plate, but it is noticeably larger than a standard 1/6th plate image) in a leather case. The seals are entirely missing and thus the plate is loose in the case, and it demonstrates numerous mat abrasions around the edges.

Frisbee Family
Frisbee Family

Condition issues aside, it’s still a striking family photo from the 1840s, and quarter-plate size images are getting rarer. I’m pleased to add this to my collection.

Bikeshares – riffing off the Public Transit theme

For rather obvious reasons, most of these are of the bikeshare here in Washington DC. I will be shooting more in other cities where I find them – I’m going to try New York the next time I’m up there, as the CitiBikes are everywhere in Manhattan. I do have token representation from Paris, though. I shot these with a range of cameras, from my Rollei to a loaner Fuji GSW 690 II, to my RB-67. Each has their merits and the different formats I think actually work together to convey the varied moods and perspectives of the bikeshare experience.

Ve'Lib Bikeshare
Ve’Lib Bikeshare
Capital Bikeshare - Konica Infrared
Capital Bikeshare – Konica Infrared
Bike Share Rack, 11th Street
Bike Share Rack, 11th Street
Wet Bike Seat
Wet Bike Seat
BikeShare #2
BikeShare #2
BikeShare #1
BikeShare #1
Capitol Bikeshare, Rhode Island Avenue
Capitol Bikeshare, Rhode Island Avenue
Capitol Bikeshare, 7-Eleven Windows
Capitol Bikeshare, 7-Eleven Windows
Bikeshare Downtown, in the Rain
Bikeshare Downtown, in the Rain
Capital Bikeshare, Snowstorm
Capital Bikeshare, Snowstorm
Bikeshare Kiosk, Washington Monument, NIght
Bikeshare Kiosk, Washington Monument, NIght

Niagara Falls

On the way up to Toronto, we stopped off at Niagara Falls to take in the view.

Niagara Falls, from the American Side
Niagara Falls, from the American Side

This is the Rainbow Bridge over the Niagara River, as seen from the observation deck on the American side.

Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls
Rainbow Bridge, Niagara Falls

The “we” is my best friend Steve, his wife Missy, and her sister Marybeth.

Missy, Steve and Marybeth
Missy, Steve and Marybeth

Missy had never been to Niagara before so it was a must-stop. I think Steve and Missy are going to come back for a long weekend when they’re by themselves and not rushed to just enjoy the place.

The shots are a little gray looking because we were severely backlit – we were at the falls around 2:30 PM and the sun was still very high in the sky, and the falls were west/southwest of where we were standing. Can’t change geography, so we just had to compensate for what we had to work with. Next time if we want photos with the falls as a backdrop, either I’ll bring a flash for fill or we’ll just take them in the morning when the sun is coming from the east.

Steve
Steve

All images once again care of my trusty Rolleiflex 2.8E on Ilford FP4+.

Collecting again! Brady Imperial Carte de Visite

Here is an “Imperial” Carte-de-visite by Mathew Brady’s New York studio. It’s called an “imperial” because it is the size of what later came to be called a cabinet card (roughly 4 1/2 x 6 inches), whereas typical carte-de-visites are 2 1/2 x 4-ish (roughly the size of a modern business card).

Anonymous Gentleman, Imperial CDV by Brady
Anonymous Gentleman, Imperial CDV by Brady

Whoever this gentleman was, he’s obviously quite dapper and very fashionable. I’m sure he’s someone famous and important, but I don’t know Victorian American personalities as well as I should. As a photographer, I’m wondering if either this was made with the same camera and lens as was used for the smaller images, or if this was shot by Brady himself instead of one of his assistants, because the depth of field is so shallow that at this size, his hand and leg closest to the camera are obviously out of focus. If this was shot by Brady himself, perhaps his eyesight was bad enough at this point that he didn’t realize the hand and knee were out of focus. If that was not the case, then it’s possible the fault lies with the lens – when you focus anything closer, the depth of what is in sharp focus in the image decreases. In order to project an image roughly 4 times the size using the same lens, you have to focus much closer and the depth of field will be noticeably shallower.

If anyone out there has an opinion or better yet some historical fact to prove/disprove either or both possibilities, I’d greatly appreciate hearing from you.

Anonymous Woman by Bogardus

Anonymous Woman by Bogardus
Anonymous Woman by Bogardus

This is an anonymous portrait by Bogardus, one of the “big names” in mid-19th century American portrait photography. The carte itself and the print are in excellent condition, and I love the photographer’s blind stamp on the back. I’m including two more below by Bogardus to show the different blind stamps he used. I’m sure it evolved further over time, but these are the ones I have in my collection.

Plump lady cabinet card, Bogardus Studio
Plump lady cabinet card, Bogardus Studio
Nellie Keeler, on Bogardus' Sideboard
Nellie Keeler, on Bogardus’ Sideboard

On a parallel but unrelated note, I think the cabinet in the Nellie Keeler and plump lady photos is to Bogardus what the “Reaper” clock is to Brady (as referenced in my previous blog post). The article I linked mentioned that the author found two copies of the Reaper clock like the one Brady had in his studio – it would be very cool to find Bogardus’ sideboard and bring it into a studio.

Memorial Day Weekend, Part 2- Brooklyn, Coney Island, Lower Manhattan

Brooklyn/DUMBO:

Brooklyn Bridge at Hicks St
Brooklyn Bridge at Hicks St
Brooklyn Bridge, Flag, Clouds
Brooklyn Bridge, Flag, Clouds

We got ice cream here at the Brooklyn Creamery- some of the best ice cream I’ve had in ages.

Brooklyn Creamery
Brooklyn Creamery

There is a line going down the block out the front door of Grimaldi’s Pizza basically every minute that they’re open. I don’t know if you can see the sign or not, but on one of their banners it says, “coal-fired pizza. Cash Only, No Slices”. I assume they mean charcoal when they say coal – I couldn’t imagine pizza made in an actual coal-burning oven. A little coal tar with your pepperoni?

Grimaldis Pizza, Brooklyn
Grimaldis Pizza, Brooklyn
Cellphones & Aliens, Brooklyn
Cellphones & Aliens, Brooklyn
Cadman Car Service, Brooklyn
Cadman Car Service, Brooklyn
 Fortune House, Brooklyn
Fortune House, Brooklyn

Despite the image in most people’s minds of the New York City subway being gritty, grimy, old and just plain filthy, once you get out of Manhattan there are some very attractive stations. This tile-work was in the entrance stairs to the station at Prospect Park for the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Face, Prospect Park Subway
Face, Prospect Park Subway
Brooklyn Museum Of Art
Brooklyn Museum Of Art

Coney Island:

Arriving at Coney Island from the Subway.

Coney Island Sign, Subway Exit
Coney Island Sign, Subway Exit

Nathan’s Hot Dogs – they’re a cliché, but still – you can’t pass up a Nathan’s hot dog and cheese fries your first time at Coney Island.

Nathan's Hot Dogs, Coney Island
Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Coney Island

We had to ride the Wonder Wheel, and of course, we had to take one of the swinging cars, even though they don’t get as high.

The Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel
Kiosk, The Wonder Wheel
Kiosk, The Wonder Wheel

While in line for the Wonder Wheel, I saw the sign for the pay toilet and wanted to take a picture of it – the sign and the old metal turnstiles are just so cool (and before you ask, I didn’t pay to go in and find out exactly what they looked and/or smelled like- even though it was opening weekend, it’s still Coney Island!). This old man with a fancy walker (purple anodized aluminum frame with a hand-brake and a fold-down seat) saw my Rolleiflex and struck up a conversation – he had been a camera salesman at a store in Brooklyn for many years and remembered selling them.

25 cent Toilet, The Wonder Wheel
25 cent Toilet, The Wonder Wheel
Inside the Wonder Wheel
Inside the Wonder Wheel
Luna Park, The Beach, From the Wonder Wheel
Luna Park, The Beach, From the Wonder Wheel

Here is the world-famous Cyclone roller-coaster. The ride was fun but frightening, not only because it is bone-jarring from the wood track, but because the coaster operators were not paying enough attention and allowed the incoming car to slam into the back of my car as we were getting loaded in. Fortunately we were already strapped/safety-barred in, so the shockwave of the impact passed through instead of knocking me forward into the back of the seat in front. Much as I love riding roller-coasters, especially the old wooden ones, I don’t think I’ll ride the Cyclone again.

Cyclone Coaster, Luna Park, Coney Island
Cyclone Coaster, Luna Park, Coney Island
Back Curve, The Cyclone, Coney Island
Back Curve, The Cyclone, Coney Island
End View, The Cyclone, Coney Island
End View, The Cyclone, Coney Island

Lower Manhattan, Evening:

This was how I ended the day, back in lower Manhattan, hanging out around Union Square, and doing some book shopping at The Strand.

The Empire State Building, Union Square, Broadway
The Empire State Building, Union Square, Broadway
Bow-front building, Manhattan, Evening
Bow-front building, Manhattan, Evening