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.
I love the personal touch on this card – “Yours with Respect, Chas. Cain” and “Emma” in the negative number spot. He looks like he’s barely old enough to shave, yet out in the world on his own. The handwriting is somewhat unsteady – teenage nerves at dedicating the card to an intended? At first I thought the phrasing was a bit odd for a teenage boy, but that was the 19th century, now we are in the 21st. A 21st century kid would probably not send a picture of himself in an ill-fitting suit to a girl he liked with the inscription “yours with respect” (he’d probably sext her with a photo of his nether anatomy from his cellphone), but “yours with respect” is VERY much in keeping with a 19th century teenager’s style of expression.
Also note the feet of the posing stand peeking out from behind his legs – because photography is so instantaneous these days, it’s something we never experience today unless you happen to get into alternative process photography, so it stands out as anomalous to a modern viewer.
A beautiful stereoview of one of my favorite places. Seeing the building from this perspective, it’s no wonder it collapsed and burned in the 1906 earthquake. It’s amazing it didn’t slide wholesale into the sea!
Ok – I managed to get my FotoWeekDC portfolio contest entry submitted. With three hours to spare, give or take. I’m submitting nine images from my Colors of Night series. I finally got to take advantage of my (rather pricey) large format film holders for my scanner, and re-scanned some of my 5×7 negatives from San Francisco. I submitted 5 San Francisco and 4 Washington DC night shots. Fingers crossed, they’ll go over well.
Here’s a Union soldier, identity unknown, from the William J. Tait studio. This may well have been taken immediately prior to shipping out to battlefields unknown – the studio address is Courtlandt Street and Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan – basically in the site of the modern World Trade Center. Back then it would have been only two or three blocks from the waterfront piers. It’s another image that obviously meant a lot to someone as it has a fold across the middle – someone was carrying it around with them in a pocket. Did the sitter die in combat, or was it just a fond memory of a critical time in US history that inspired the owner to keep it at hand?
In a totally different light, here’s a west coast sailor. This time, most likely the 1890s, on a cabinet card. The original card is a little bit bigger than 3.5″ by 5″. I did a very mild clean-up of the scan in Photoshop to make the image more readable online. The original card is slightly lower in contrast and has a couple very minor spots in the background that do not interfere with the subject. I tried to scan his hat at high resolution to see if I could read the ship’s name he was assigned to, but it couldn’t be resolved (at least not with my scanner).
There’s a noticeable difference between the two photos, and I don’t think it is just attributable to the changes in photo technology between 1860 and 1890. The Civil War sitter has a far more somber expression on his face and in his body language – it’s as if he knows he is going to die, and this is a reminder to send back to his family so they won’t forget him when he’s gone. The 1890s sailor, on the other hand, is having a lark, getting his portrait done while in port perhaps as much a souvenir of the location as anything else. Later I’ll re-scan and post my Hong Kong sailor photos to provide a comparison.
All of these were shot with my 240mm Voigtlander Heliar f4.5 lens. It is fast becoming one of my favorite lenses for its rendition of out-of-focus areas. I knew it was a legendary lens for black-and-white shooting, but was unsure how it would render color. As you can see here, it does a beautiful job with color, despite being uncoated. It does give a slightly vintage look to the color palette, but some of that might also be the film I’m using – Kodak Portra 160 NC.
Over the weekend I went to see the Pier 24 exhibit space in San Francisco. It has only been open for a year or so (the current exhibit is their third ever, I believe). It represents a novel approach to the museum experience in general and photography exhibits in particular. The facility itself is located in one of the old waterfront warehouses along the Embarcadero (thus the name), directly beneath the Oakland Bay Bridge. The interior is divided up into roughly 20 rooms. Admission is FREE, but by appointment only. They allow twenty people at a time for a two hour block, so your distractions during your visit are minimized. Another way they minimize distractions is by having NO wall text – the floor plan flyer you get upon entering has the only labels for the exhibits, consisting of the photographers names who are hung in a given room. Absolutely maddening if you’re not familiar with everyone in a given room, but at the same time, quite liberating because it frees you from having to accept the curator’s “authoritative” context. The current exhibition, up through December 16, is entitled simply “HERE”. The theme is work that in some way connects to San Francisco – either taken in or near the Bay area or by photographers who called it home. Work exhibited spans the range from 19th century mammoth plate collodion images printed on albumen paper by Eadward Muybridge and Carleton Watkins to 20th century Modernist masters like Edward Weston and Ruth Bernhard to color mural prints by Richard Misrach and Larry Sultan, and even a five-minute video clip of the car chase scene in Bullitt with Steve McQueen.
Much of the work on display was not to my taste – I don’t like what has been derisively labeled “hedge fund wallpaper” by some New York gallerists referring to recent deadpan posed-snapshot color mural prints. However, there was enough early imagery to satisfy my inner antiquarian, and now that I’ve seen enough of that kind of work, I’m starting to appreciate it for what it is. I still wouldn’t accept money to hang in my house, but one example finally struck home as to what was going on in the photograph. There was a room with a series of VERY large color prints by Anthony Hernandez of vacant interiors. On the literal surface, they’re incredibly ugly, showing abandoned and/or ruined interior spaces with industrial carpets, missing drop ceilings, and junky furniture. One thing that did catch my eye though was the use of color itself. If you stepped back and looked through a defocused eye, the images became all about abstract color fields, geometric forms, and intersecting planes. The graphic abstract geometry creates a contrast with and tension against the literal detail of the photographic image, making your brain switch back and forth between the two characteristics of the image – the texture of the purple carpet, the gray popcorn ceiling and the white-washed faux-wood paneling in the hallway against the receding, intersecting planes of colors converging on a vanishing point in the far rear of the image. I think it’s this kind of tension in a photograph that has too often repelled me from post-modernist photography – it’s too easy to be fixated on and distracted by the details and not see the whole picture. I still don’t like the “posed deadpan snapshot”, whether it’s printed 4″x6″ or 40″ x 60″. But at least I can start to “get” another genre.
While I was out shooting these photos, I was approached by a number of people to talk about the camera, which I’ve come to expect. ALMOST all of them are very interested in what I’m doing, what’s the story of the camera, how old is it, etc. And then you get the occasional joker, like the fools driving past me in their Porsche sedan who had to roll down the window and shout, “Haven’t you heard of a thing called digital? Why haven’t you gotten with the program yet?” To which I responded – ” This (my 5×7) is a half a Gigapixel”. I smiled politely, turned my back, and muttered to myself, “so bite me”. Which is actually a bit of an understatement – a 2000 dpi scan of a 5×7 negative is 1.4 gigapixels.