Saturday, December 21, 2013

Best of 2013

2013. Damn this year went by fast.

I remember the day that I wrote down my resolutions for this year like it was yesterday. Talking about those resolutions, which ones DID I accomplish this year? Maybe this post is the perfect way to reflect on what has been a very successful year for me. Here goes.

As a recap, my 2013 resolutions where:

- Getting Published again.
Well that has a huge check mark next to it. My work was published in Dodho Magazine, Camerapixo, Blur Magazine, Extraordinary Vision, Fstop Magazine and I had feature interviews in Adore Noir, Stark Magazine, ƒ11 Magazine and Slices of Silence. Check!

- Show my work in at least one gallery and learn how to write artist statements.
I did better. Ian Tan Gallery out of Vancouver now represents my work. I hope I can add a couple more galleries to that list in 2014. Check!

- Enter international competitions.
In 2013 I received 7 honorable mentions in the 2013 International Photo Awards and won a bronze medal at the 'La Prix de la Photography' international competition in the non-professional Nature/Trees category. Check!

- Shoot more film and dabble more in 4x5.
This was the first full year of photographing on film. Loving it! So much that I bought a 4x5 camera and that's going to take all my focus for next year. Check and Check.

- Meet up with more photographers.
A very long list. I had the pleasure to meet up with Chuck Kimmerle, Kevin Boyle, Marc Koegel, Rob Tiley, Benoit Jansen-Reynaud, Aleksandra Miesak and Didier Demaret. All who I greatly admire. So a big fat Check.

- Devour more photo books.
My wife bought me 2 signed photo books by Michael Kenna. I love those things. Every time I see something different where I go 'that's brilliant!'. I've also read 'The Camera', 'The Negative' and 'Examples' by Ansel Adams from front to back. Check.

- Explore more.
I didn't do a lot of exploring. I never went hiking this year deep in the mountains for example. But I keep exploring the Prairies though.

- Build my darkroom.
That did not get accomplished. The plan still sits in my head. But we are talking about moving in a few years time. It would be a waste of money to get completely set up and then have to take everything down again. Too bad though because I am really looking forward to printing my work in a wet darkroom again.

SO all in all a very successful year. But let's go over the photographs. Because that is why you are here.

Somewhere in February I found this tree close to home. It was days after a fresh snow fall and the air was still humid and full of fog. This photo has so much meaning to me personally.

This was photographed in Yellowstone in March when I met up with Chuck Kimmerle and Aleksandra Miesak. Yellowstone is a beautiful park (although we only saw the north part of it due to winter road closures)! Funny story though. We were driving back and I saw this tree on this hill from a long ways away. It was like my eyes were constantly scanning for things like this. Turned out... This little one was on a hill besides the Yellowstone National Park Training Center.

Yeah I know.

We went back to Belgium in May for the very first time in 5 years. Here are 2 photographs from the same day. One of the rare occasions where I was actually able to do some work (between drinking beers, meeting friends for beers and family duties). Priorities right?

During the summer I disappointed myself with storm chasing. Not only where the storms not really all that great, but photographing thunderstorms on film is ... let's say ... interesting. Nothing came out of that endeavor.

In September I made this simple photograph. Again, very close to home. I love simple scenes like this. This is what I thought was a fresh cut hayfield and I named it that way too. Now I think it's actually canola...

Another one from September. A month in which I started experimenting with long(er) exposures. Here is a 2.5h long exposure of the moon gliding across the sky over Ghost Lake Reservoir.


Here are 2 photographs from a weekend I spent in November alongside Paul Zizka at Abraham Lake. I was super super pleased that I came back with original photographs from this place. It was a very creative weekend. Probably the best photographs I made all year.

Riding on that high from November, I went to the Spray Lakes Reservoir for a sunrise shoot. It was again one of those mornings where everything fell in place. Very pleased about the results from that morning.

And finally, on my way back from that shoot, I saw these out of the corner of my eye. Definitely one of those gems I would have missed in the morning. I thought this would make a perfect Christmas card don't you agree?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The story behind the photograph

A few weeks back I photographed the Spray Lakes Reservoir area on the edge of Kananaskis in Alberta.

It was a glorious day. I photographed from sunrise to deep in the afternoon. Initially I set out to photograph the lake. I know November is a great time to photograph the big lakes in the Rockies. It's cold enough for the first snow to start falling but most of the time, not yet cold enough for these massive bodies of water to freeze over.

Long story short I had a blast.

But at one point in the afternoon I decided that I had had enough fun and it was time to start make my way back home.

The sun was low – maybe 90 minutes from setting. I was driving on a snow covered highway doing maybe 80–90km/h with tress on either side as far as the eye could see. I wasn't prepared to see anything that was worth photographing when out of the corner of my eye I see something. Something interesting. I checked the rear view. Good, nobody behind me. I slammed on the brakes. I come to a stop in a cloud of snow dust and pull a U-ey making my way back to where I approximately saw ... something. I come to the spot and YES, it's bingo time!

I quickly gather all my gear and make my way through the knee-deep snow of the embankment to this spot. A beautiful circular stand of trees on the edge of the forest.

It was a bit of a tricky exposure. Having a combination of sunlit snow and shadowed snow. Both have pretty solid Zone placements that can't really be misplaced in any other Zone without consequences to the negative. Oh, and I have to somehow combine these deep shadows (the trees) as well.

This was going to be interesting.

I screwed on the red filter to bring out the most contrast I could get in the sky (which had developed gorgeous high altitude ice clouds by now). I measured the light and decided that the shadowed snow should fall in Zone V. The sunlit snow then fell in Zone VII. A little hot but still ok for Delta. The dark trees fell in Zone III with the clouds falling somewhere in the Zone VI area and the blue sky around Zone IV.

Composition was tricky too. I wanted the photograph to be simple. Excluding as many trees sticking in the frame as possible. I changed lenses about 4 times to finally land on the 65mm I believe. Good. That is one of my lenses that has multicoating on the elements. Because I noticed the sun and was photographing straight in it. By stepping about 30 cm to the right from where I initially stood, I could let the sun shine through the trees. The coating would help me keep reflections to a minimum. I choose a small aperture (I believe ƒ16 or ƒ22) to get the smallest sun star possible without affecting the quality of the negative.

A few weeks later, I developed the film. Developing time was normal and I chose 1+1 Perceptol. In the end it's a beautiful negative with great densities throughout and superb detail. I hope it will print pretty easy in the darkroom once I'm set up.

In post I raised the contrast (as usual) and burned in the sky to add even more separation between the tonalities. I also burned in the sunlit snow areas. That gave them a little bit more definition.

It was definitely a scene I had not planned on. But I was very pleased about stopping. In total I shot 3 frames with varying composition. I settled on the last composition.

I sincerely hope you like this photograph and the story behind it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Video blog

Here's a little video I did a couple of weeks ago where I went to the Waiparous area for the first time after the flood that happened in June. Initially I was hoping for a cracker sunrise... Sadly that didn't happen. But we had a great day none the less.

Below are 2 of the early results of that day.

Keep an eye out for more behind the scene vlogs.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Catching up

Wow. 2 months without a blog post!
Let me start by offering up my sincere apologies. I have a good explanation I promise.

It has been a very crazy busy summer and fall let me tell you. I loved every minute of it and I am finally able to tell you all about it.

First of all 'Snow Barrier' won a bronze medal at this year's Prix de la Photographie in the non-professional Nature/Trees category. Absolutely crazy news that made me very happy. The photograph will also be featured in the winners catalog of this year's competition.
On top of that my work received 7 honorable mentions in this year's IPA awards too.

My work also got featured in 3 online magazines accompanied with 3 interviews. And I had 3 photo features elsewhere on the web as well. Preparing all of that material took a lot of my time away from photography but none the less, I loved every minute of it.

Here's a list in case you were interested in reading up on me and my work.

- Adore Noir Issue 16
- Stark-Magazine Issue 18
- Slices of Silence, artist spotlight

- Photo feature in Dodho Magazine Issue 6
- 'Field of Placidity' featured in Camerapixo Magazine 'No Rules-edition'
- Photo feature in Blur Magazine #33

OK so now we got that out of the way what else did I do over the summer and fall?
Well, remember this post I wrote last year? I finally started working/experimenting with this idea with some success. Let me share some results with you.

These photographs make me pretty proud. They are both – in my opinion – quite a departure of my normal work and are more conceptual then I've ever done. And well quite frankly, the technical aspect of it is quite interesting too.

The first photograph is a 2.5h exposure of the moon over Ghost Lake. I believe the moon was like 75-80% full and this was photographed at either ƒ8 or ƒ11 on Ilford Delta 100.

The second photograph is a 60 minute exposure of the sun through 16 stops of ND filters at ƒ22 and then underdeveloped by 1 stop. Very interesting experiment.

It's neat to play around with these long exposures. I quite like doing them.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My trip to Belgium (Part 2)

In my previous instalment on the subject of 'my trip to Belgium' I told you guys I was meeting up with another photographer. Here's how that went.

A day before we left Cochrane (talk about last minute) I emailed Didier Demaret with the notion that I was coming to Belgium. I asked Didier if he saw an opportunity for the two of us to meet each other and maybe go out shooting or go for a coffee or something.

I've been following Didier for over a year now (thank you Google+) and he quickly became one of my favourite Belgian photographers. He's primarily a long exposure artist that does some really beautiful minimalistic work. And that simple fact surprises me. When I lived in Belgium I found it very hard to find ANYTHING worth photographing. But Didier showed me, stuff is there.

Anyway. So on my birthday, I made my way down to the little town of Ecaussines. Yes I had to use gps navigation to find the place. But it was just under an hour's drive away from where we were staying.

When I crossed into the French speaking part of Belgium I immediately noticed that the sense of 'space' was much greater here. Towns had fewer houses. A lot more trees and fields, etc. In a sense it's like driving out of Calgary onto the prairies. Well not quite. But that's all I got right now. :)

I had just parked the car around the corner of Didier's house and was walking up to the front door when I heard a car stopping behind me. I turn around and Didier jumps up out of his car with this enormous smile. I could see he was as excited to meet me, as I was to meet him.

Anyway. Long story short. Didier invited me into his home and introduced me to his girlfriend. She was busy working on some sort of architectural plan for her studies. It looked all very complicated. Didier also showed me about 12-15 framed prints of his. He had just finished preparing a new batch for a exposition he was part of.

I always find it very interesting to see other photographers prints and presentations. They can say a lot about the photographers' personality. Without saying a word I studied his prints. I could immediately feel and see that Didier had the same COD attention to detail then myself. His prints looked immaculate.

So then Didier invited me to do some sightseeing around his town. We grabbed the gear, jumped in his car and set off. He showed me around for a bit and showed me 2 castles. All very nice but I was hoping for some more... let's say... minimalistic scenes. ;)

Afterwards we went to see the inclined plane of Ronquieres. An immensely impressive structure that permits ships navigate a 222ft vertical elevation in the local canal. Pretty crazy undertaking... The whole structure serves as a huge local landmark. I've always heard about this place but had never seen it before. It made me pretty silent.

Then I saw my first photograph! It got me pretty excited. From underneath the inclined plane I could make out a really nice minimal scene. I asked Didier on our way out to stop exactly here. We walked into the field a little bit. The field was still bare but it was freshly worked a few days before (if I had to guess). That's where I made this photograph.

Anyway. I know this is becoming a bit of a long blogpost.

Later that day, Didier took me out for a 3.5 hour hike around some fields and pastures. Rain was now coming down hard. Navigating slippery mud and puddles we finally saw another scene. And then another and another.

Trying to photograph the scenes above I realized, I forgot my spotmeter! I only brought one bag on our muddy hike and the other bag (with the light meter) was in the car. Which was 30 minutes away from where we where now. Luckily, light had not changed a whole lot during that morning. AND I had my trusty iPhone with me WITH a Light Meter app. Looking back, that app nailed the exposures pretty good.

And then we came across this tree. Now this was a bit of a challenge. But again, the light meter app prevailed. I still can't believe it by the way. I should use it more often.

By now, we were both soaking wet. Didier was apologizing for the bad weather, but I told him I love photographing in bad weather. It's the truth. I love being out in fog, snow, rain, ... 

And THEN we saw this scene. It was pretty spectacular. Well at least in my book.

We came across 2 trees across a field. Again the field was still bare. Behind the trees the background was getting simplified by rain (yup it was still raining hard and we were basically trying to not go face first in the slippery mud in front of us). I immediately 'saw' the photograph. I wanted to silhouette those trees. And I wanted them to have some presence in the frame.

I screwed on the 127mm with the 2x Vivitar extender. The trees fitted the frame perfectly (oh yeah I still had no spot meter). As I was watching through the viewfinder I noticed the bird. I turn to Didier "Dude there's a bird in between the trees, you see it?!". I was excited about this. Then – like on command – the bird started walking from the right tree to the left. I tripped the shutter when the bird was exactly in the middle of the trees. Framing the bird between them (oh yeah, the bird was a model!). I can't tell you how excited I was when I saw the negative of this!

In that negative you can exactly make out what bird it is. For you bird people out there, it's a Northern Lapwing. :)

After this encounter, we decided to not jinx it any more and find our way back to the car. Happy we finally found it again we headed out to a local cafe and grabbed ourselves a hot chocolate and talked a bit about the day. It was amazing to work along side Didier for a few hours. And it was interesting (yeah let's call it that) to brush up on my French again. :s I just hope I didn't offend Didier to much. hahaha.

Anyway an hour later I was standing under a hot shower trying to get the cold out of my bones. My camera bag was soaking wet. I just let it air out. Since my camera doesn't use any electronics I wasn't too worried. But I was worried to see that my film compartment in my bag and all of my exposed rolls of film inside of it, was still soaking wet 2 days after our meet up though.

But nothing was lost. No photographs where harmed. :)

It was great meeting Didier and see the person behind the imagery. I strongly suggest to everyone to check out Didier's website. I can assure you, if you like minimalism and B&W photography, you will be impressed.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What happens when a B&W landscape photographer, photographs horses... in colour.

A few weeks ago, I was able to fulfill my marital duties and ...

Wait for it.


Photograph our horses.


I got you there didn't I?
It happens every summer. And time after time I have no clue what I am doing.

But this year it was slightly different. Sarah had done some research. And in the days before the actual session, she showed me a pile of photographs she liked. She had done research on Pinterest and Instagram ...

Yay for me! 

She showed me details, overall photographs, portraits, ... of horses. All really good stuff. All stuff I could do too.

Or so I thought.

And then she said:
- "I think I want them in colour."
- "Wait what?! In colour?!" I replied. "No no no. Maybe you haven't noticed but I don't 'do' colour anymore honey."
Oh the horror. I had to photograph the horses in colour?! Something I had not done for ages. Maybe there was a way to convince her that these photos would look amazing and original in classic black and white. I had to convince her. I had to.
- "Oh I know you don't do colour anymore" she said, "none the less I want them in colour."
I tried to say "but ..." in combination with the sad puppy look, but that didn't work. I knew I had no way out anymore. Sarah's mind was made up long before she had even asked me to photograph the horses.
 - "Ok" I said to myself "Screw it. I can do this". "How hard can it be? Right?" 

You see every year, I step up to that same challenge with a lot of confidence. You probably know how it goes. You have this mind full of ideas. 'I want to do this and that and what do you think about this and that?'Only to get literally smacked in the face with failure 5 minutes into the job.

That was in short how it went. 5 minutes in, I just wanted to quit. Even with the 5DmkII (Yes I did this digitally, I'm not completely crazy) on continuous shooting and servo focussing, I still wasn't able to press the shutter fast enough. Yeah I am a slow poke. 

So I just ended up pressing it constantly. And make 20 shots in a row. Heck we'll edit later. I was literally putting all my eggs in the 'spray and pray'-basket. Something I never EVER do. I felt like a hack.

Anyway, the horse wasn't really interested in standing still for anything longer than 2 seconds. He was more interested in what he was seeing around him. Or 'oh wait... fresh grass, I gotta taste that, it looks so different than my regular grass, nom nom nom'. You see our horse Oli (his name is Qhromatic but the previous owners gave him the stable name Oli) has the attention span of a 3 year old (well he IS 3 so maybe that's why).

Anyway. Loooong story short. It was a frustrating experience and one I will have to repeat next year. And the year after that. And the year after that ... etc. Oh and of course it is an experience that always ends up with a little fight between the misses and me. :)

But 614 photographs later (not kidding), I got about 20 keepers. Twenty! That's a 3.25% success ratio. That is sad. But lucky for me, the wife loved the keepers too. That meant I was able to escape the dog house. Oh wait we don't have a dog. But you know what I mean. And that I scored some big time points too.

Every time I photograph our horses, I have a growing respect – at the end of a session – for photographers that do this for a living. May it be equine, wedding, pet, action photography or anything else where a subject moves fast and needs the photographer to react in tenths of seconds.

I came to the conclusion that I can NOT photograph horses. Or people. Or other moving organic things. I like landscapes. I like to compose. Take my time... Enjoy the moment, listen, feel, smell and then press the shutter.

There is an art to action photography. One that I still have to learn.

Monday, August 5, 2013

My workflow

Once in a while I get emails from other photographers with the simple request to share my workflow with them. Usually I just forward them towards a document I've written a few years back (when I was still playing the digital game) that explains everything from capture to output.

Since I believe in the 'sharing is caring' methodology and I don't believe in keeping knowledge (or secrets) to once self, I will share this document with you here too. I've done so in the past but here it is again.

Basically what I do is very simple and very similar to what I once did in a wet darkroom. That is, I dodge and burn, I apply contrast (selectively or not) and I use a technique that is similar to selective bleaching in darkroom terms. That's it. No intricate selections or fancy Photoshop work. I don't have the patience for that I guess. 

Now that I've switched to film, nothing has really changed. The capturing of it all now happens on film. And I use Ansel Adams' zone system technique. That means I define the zone where the shadows need to fall on and I measure where the highlights fall on the scale. If they fall lower than desired, I over develop, and vice versa I under develop.

Nothing fancy. See it as the recovery slider in Camera Raw. If my highlights are 'too hot' I can get them back during development. Downside of it is though is you have to really know how high those highlights fall on that scale. So you know how much to over or under develop. Obviously there's no way back. Once the negative is developed you're done. 

Well that's partially true. There is still a way of intensifying the highlights in an under developed negative by using a selenium bath. And I've used this technique once with good results. 

The key to this all is previsualization. You need to understand and know how you can reach a desired end result on your negative before you start the developing process (or even exposure process all together). And the end goal is to create as much separation between tones as you think is needed. Some scenes require not a lot of separation (think fog images). Too much separation in foggy scenes will render that photograph too contrasty and thus not 'truthful' to the original conditions. I'm not saying photography is truth. My work is often far from the truth. 

Lucky for us, but some film these days is very forgiving. The film I am using (Ilford Delta 100) has a very long flat characteristic curve. Which means it will hold highlight information really well without blocking up. 

Delta 100 curve vs FP4+ curve. Notice how the FP4+ curve has a real shoulder. Which means if your exposure is not 100% correct, you will end up with blocked up highlights. Notice also how the Delta curve is steeper than the FP4+ curve. This is why Delta 100 is considered a higher contrast film than FP4+.

Here's a raw scan of Ilford FP4+ in DD-x. Notice the gorgeous mid tone rendering and very smooth grain structure. This film would work well with portraiture I think.

The difference in film is often described as this. FP4+ is creamier in the mid tones (because of the rounder curve) and Delta is a more contrasty film. Since my work is mostly high contrast anyway, I chose (after testing a lot of film) for Delta. It produces very good results in combination with a developer called Ilfotec DD-x (also by Ilford). It is such an amazing combination in my opinion.
Developers change the look of your negative. Think of your developer as the sharpness slider in Camera Raw. 

Here's an example of what acutance means. This Delta 100 roll was developed in Rodinal. Grainier than DD-x but slightly higher acutance. 

Here's an enlargement from the center section of the photograph above. You could count the leaves and branches if you wanted too. The extraordinary thing about this photograph is that this was made with a 60 year old camera with mediocre optics. 

You choose your developer mainly for something they call acutance and grain. Acutance is about the transition between edges. For instance a dark tree in front of a light sky. Acutance describes how sharp that edge is going to be. And how many tones that transition is going to consist of. Think of it as an unsharp mask. Acutance on the other hand has nothing to do with resolution.

Grain is also partially controlled by developers (developing Delta in Rodinal for instance will yield a sharper acutance but also sharper defined grain) and partially controlled by process. To much agitation in development (or a temperature that is too high) equals more grain.

Again everything boils down to preference. And grain compared to digital noise is something that is in my opinion beautiful. Grain can really add to the drama in a photograph for instance. Grain also often is accentuated in the darkroom when you start to heavily burn in areas of a photograph.

Here's a good example of what I mean by that. 

The original scan truthful to the negative (top). You can see I place the foreground on Zone II. Which means deep tonalities and slight detail. In the final photograph (bottom) I added a little bit of contrast on the bottom part of it and a whole lot was added in the sky (together with burning in areas). You can see how that burning in accentuated the grain. I didn't mind that at all in this composition. It complements the drama that this photograph is carrying. 

Ok so all of this needs to be decided before I press the shutter. I measure light according to the – non existing – end result in mind. It's an interesting exercise. Because there's no LCD to check exposure on. Everything is done 'in my head' so to speak.

At first that was a challenge. I hardly dared to press the cable release. Was I right about exposure? Was I right about development? Etc etc. It took some time for me to translate my vision to desired negative densities. Now I'm confident enough to make those decisions real quick.

So once everything is developed and hung up and dry, what do I do next?

Usually I have a good idea of what negatives I want to scan in. Yes scan. I will get back to this later in this post. I scan everything on an Epson Perfection V600 Photo. It's a relatively cheap scanner that does the trick for me. Keep in mind my scans are not high resolution. This scanner realistically can't handle anything above 1200dpi. But the scans are fine to produce small 10x13" prints at 240dpi for proofing purposes.

Once I've done all the tweaks to it (like I describe in the pdf at the beginning of this blog) I save the layered tiff to 2 hard drives. I then output a 1000px wide jpeg for posting on Flickr, G+, Twitter and Facebook.

For making the big prints, I'm currently in the process of finding a high resolution scan service in town. I tried out ABL imaging a few months ago and was rather disappointed. A few days ago I contacted a new company and will try these guys out soon.

Printing also happens digitally. I print using simple K3 inks on Ilford Smooth Pearl paper (290gsm) using Epson printers. For all my printing work I use Resolve Photo, who is – by claims of a lot of photographers in Canada – one of the best printers in Canada.

Ultimately. In the next year or so, I want to ditch all digital processes and print in a wet darkroom again.   I am thinking of printing somewhere along the lines of 20x24" or 30x40". In other words. Large. 

And I am currently in the market for a 4x5 enlarger. I would love to find a stand alone floor model enlarger like the Durst Laborator or a DeVere 405 or 507.

If you have any leads... make sure to let me know. :)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This year's solargraph collection

Each year, around winter solstice, I set out about 10 tin can pinhole cameras. 

This year was no different.

Well. To be honest there was. This year I was going to go BIG. Sarah and I started drinking 'Folgers Coffee' and the moment I saw that plastic 'can' I KNEW this would make a pretty decent pinhole camera. So last december I started doing calculations on pinhole sizes and making these cans light tight. I ended up with 3 big cameras that hold approximately a 7x10 paper negative. All the other cameras were recuperated from previous years. Regular round tin cans (think beans or any other vegetable that comes in a can) and square tea boxes.

I loaded everything up with a wide array of photographic papers. And set them out in the elements.

6 months later – on Summer Solstice – I retrieved them.

Luck was not on my side though because I choose the day where everything was starting to flood around Cochrane. I retrieved 8 from 9. That last one is still up and I made the decision to leave it hanging for 6 more months.

Looking at the results I was very disappointed at first. Only one camera yielded a result that I was happy with. There where camera's that where tampered with and therefor produced not the desired results.

The conclusion I'm drawing this year is that it seems like fiber based baryta papers are not the way to go with this project. Maybe those papers are not stable enough to do this project with. RC papers on the other side are perfect. Sadly this year, I used very little RC paper. Therefor results are ... let's call it ... different then previous years.

Let's go over the results shall we.

Here's the one photograph I am happy with. This was the result of a square box that was angle upwards with a piece of curved paper inside of it. It shows the construction of one of Cochrane's new office buildings (for the record, it's damn ugly). For the longest time this building was covered up in scaffolding and tarps. You can see that in the image (outline of building). And then with about 90 days to go in the exposure, the building was 'unveiled'. You can also see sunlight reflecting of work trucks that were always parked on the left hand side of the building. 

Here's a result from one of the round cans. On the left side you can just make out the outlines of what is a truck trailer that had some advertisements on the side of it. When I hung this camera up I was hoping to get more of this trailer in the photograph though. Guess I need to learn how to aim better. At least you can make out it's long shadow. The left edge of this photograph is probably duck tape covering up this camera's line of sight.

Here's a weird one because I have NO CLUE how this happened. This could have been the result from the camera that hung on the parking lot of one of the churches in Cochrane. If it is this one, I found it hanging sideways (notice the two distinct solar paths). I was so bummed out by this one though. I had envisioned it rather different. None the less, it's kind of a visually interesting image. On a side note also note the straight lines. I think this paper saw light once and these are the artifacts of that.

Here's another weird one. No idea how I ended up with something like this OR what the subject was. Maybe this one is even upside down. I don't know. But I like it the way it is. 

And this is what a happy accident looks like. I really like this one. I love the scratches on the paper. I like the sense of light in it. It almost radiates neon light. 

Here's one from one of the big coffee cans. Made on bad paper though. Next round I'm trying these out with RC paper. You can hardly see the lines that the sun made. The weird shape in the middle of the photograph was cause by the paper being wrinkled up inside of the can. The photo shows a slew and could be pretty sharp with RC paper I think. There is a lot of detail in this foreground.

And the last photograph I want to share with you shows a slew too (in the distance just before the trees) and is the result of yet another big can. This is also done on fiber paper. And shows the same creases in the middle of the image.

Anyway. Not a lot of people know that I am doing these things. When I started this project, it was my reaction against the perfection in digital photography. This was me letting go and letting chance decide what I got. I still like this project and will continue working on it for many years.

Monday, July 29, 2013

From Can to Can't

Before I move onto part 2 of my trip to Belgium I want to share this with you.

Last Friday I stumbled upon a song on YouTube that I had completely forgotten about. Although recorded very recently, I've only heard the song (before Friday) maybe half a dozen times on the radio. I should say satellite radio. The reason why I listen to satellite radio in my car is because most radio stations here in Calgary have gone hipster. There's one rock 'n roll station out here and it plays very little new rock. And by rock I mean the real rock, not folk rock, indie rock, alt rock, or anything else hipster.

Anyway. Too much details.

So the song I heard was called "From Can to Can't" and was recorded by Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) and Scott Reeder (Kyuss, The Obsessed). Four great musicians with an especially talented vocal artist in my opinion. I LOVE Corey's voice (totally in a very manly way of course).

Here's the un-synchronized video for it.

The song is featured in the movie 'Sound City' and is Dave Grohl's documentary about the legendary studio with the same name. Grohl acquired some of the equipment before Sound City closed up shop. He was inspired to tell the story of that place by just the shear history that place had. The amount of platinum records that came out of that place (and probably the fact the Nevermind was recorded there).

If you really have 20 minutes to spare, check out the making of/behind the scenes of how this song came together. I find it very fascinating to see artists in their moment. I especially enjoyed Nielsen doing the solo. Man he was playing his heart out. Loved it

The reason why I bring this up is because of the following, and the subtitle of the movie already says it best "Real to Reel".

And check out the trailer before you read on.

Here are a few quotes from the trailer that stuck with me.

  1. "I heard some young guy in a band say: you don't have to practice anymore. You just slice it up into a computer and it comes out perfectly"
  2. "In this age of technology, where you can manipulate anything, how do we retain that human element (in music)?" 
  3. "Be true to yourself and make music that you love" 
  4. "How do we keep music to sound like people"

All these quotes touched me deeply. Change the word music into photography and the same quotes can apply to what we do today.

Quote 1 and 2 could apply to Photoshop for example and how you can simply pick good elements from 10 photographs and combine them into one photograph. Requires very little vision. You just combine after the fact and fake it. This sadly has become the norm in 'commercial' landscape photography these days. For examples of what I mean, pick any edition of Outdoor Photographer for example. Everything is so highly saturated and over sharpened it hurts my eyes. Not to mention the amount of exclamation marks on their covers. It really is ridiculous. I can't believe I once swore by this magazine to point me in the right direction.

Quote 3 has to basically do with your interests. Do what you love (photograph what you love) and everything will flow naturally.

Quote 4 again applies to digital manipulation beyond the normal: contrast, exposure and dodging and burning. How do we keep the integrity of our work intact when we can manipulate everything and anything in our work? It's one of the reasons why I stepped back to film.  And ultimately want to make silver gelatin prints again.

I want to follow my gut in deciding what to do in the darkroom (and not measure, and let numbers or auto masks decided for me) where to dodge and burn for example. The coordinated dance of movement of hands and dodging and burning tools is something I look forward to. And of course the magic when a photograph plops onto the paper in a development tray. Now THAT is fascinating stuff.

You might think I'm stuck in the past. Romanticizing film photography. And that I keep forgetting about the fact that everything is faster, quicker, simpler, easier today.

Sure it is. Sure I am.

But the whole point I'm trying to make is that photography doesn't have to be perfect. Photography doesn't NEED to be perfect. Something in my opinion, a lot of photographers are forgetting about these days. I believe a photograph looses it's magic when you delete all human flaws it contains.

“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.” — Salvador Dali
There. That's my thought of the day. :)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My trip to Belgium (part1)

Yesterday I realized that I've never shared any stories, background info or pictures for a matter of fact of my trip to Belgium. So allow me to make that up to you.

Let me start by saying this. In the weeks before we started our trip I started thinking about the following concept. Would I be able to simplify the landscapes in Belgium so they would 'fit' my current minimalistic vision? Would I be able to eliminate all the power poles, fences, houses I remembered this landscape had.

After a couple of days in Belgium I knew the answer to that question. I would not be able to photograph stuff the way I wanted it. There's just no way. Not around the place I was staying at least.

Then I said to myself, I need to go to the coast and spend a day there. By myself. Just so I can at least photograph something between all the family and friend obligations etc. Yes I was mostly busy doing other stuff than photography.

So one day I went to the North Sea. At first it was an overcast grey day but around noon the sun came to play and by 4 o'clock there wasn't a cloud in the sky anymore. It was like somebody said 'let's give Oli all the conditions (except rain and snow) we have and see what he comes up with'.

I started the day out just over the border in Northern France. The day before I was researching (on Google maps) and noticed some wave breakers just over the border in Malo-les-Bains. It's just a tiny little town with a really nice beach. But the real treat there are these wave breakers. You can really make some interesting horizontal compositions with them. Here's a 9min20sec long exposure of half of one of them.

After photographing these breakers for a bit I moved on to Belgium. And then I realized how much I – as a photographer – rely on my smartphone in Canada. I had no 3G, no access to satellite pictures on Google maps, no nothing. I was flying blind. I had no idea where to go.

The plan I devised was simple. Lets stay as close to the coastline as possible. Great plan! So I started following the 'Koninklijke Baan' (Royal Road) which I knew followed the beach. Somewhat.

In Raversijde I saw something I could not pass up on. Somebody placed this beautiful row of white benches on the promenade. But instead of facing towards the beach. The benches faced away from the beach. No idea what the thinking process behind this was but it was perfect for me. Again I slapped on the Lee Big Stopper and made a long exposure. There were a lot of people thinking passing by or driving by on their bikes. Everybody thought I was shooting video so they were all smiling and waving in front of the camera. While I was making the exposure. I knew though the exposure would be very long (I believe this was a 23min exposure) so it really wouldn't matter how many people would pass by. The moment I saw the negative I knew I had succeeded in my vision. I am really happy how this on turned out. Only minor adjustments had to be made. I added a little contrast and burned the edges. Done.

I moved on. Following the same road I was on. I passed by the big port of Ostend and finally in Wenduine saw another scene I HAD to photograph. A really nice stone breakwater going straight in the North Sea. Now this was an interesting experience. When I initially was making my 9min20sec long exposure I had my doubts on how the water would show up.

Here's a little behind the scenes iPhone shot of the conditions that day.

The tide was rolling in. And it wasn't rolling in straight. It was rolling in sideways. Therefor the water level on the left side of the breaker was higher and more turbulent then the left side. Big was my surprise when I saw the negative. The foam on the waves had formed this misty white L shape. I like L shapes. I don't know why. But they 'hook' your eye and throw it in a complete different direction. It's different then an S-curve for example. The L-hook is more violent or dynamic I think. Anyway. Here's that photograph. Again, minor tweaks. Contrast and a bit of dodging and burning.

After that I went back home. In the end I think I came home with 3 portfolio pieces.
In the next post I will tell you all about a little outing I had with Didier Demaret. Check out HIS work! I was excited to meet him in real life and I'll tell you all about that in the next part.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Welcome to the nightmare in my head!

For the last few weeks I've been feeling down. Not psychologically, let's get that straight from the beginning. But from a creative standpoint.

It's funny really. I haven't touched the camera all that much ever since I came back from Belgium. I used it sparsely, here and there.

And then last week, I saw this body of work by Michael Jackson. The photographs that Michael is creating are absolutely brilliant.

But it pushed me even further down. "Why can certain artists be so creative?", I asked myself. Why can somebody come up with such a brilliant concept and I can't come up with anything even remotely interesting.

I really didn't get it. I was looking for an alternative approach to my own work. Do I go for the pinhole stuff? Do I go for some weird alternative process? Do I want to do more long exposures (nah, too many people are doing this already, it's getting old). Do I want to do more extreme long exposures (maybe, but it's boring stuff, I'm not sitting around waiting for a 5h exposure to finish up). Do I do this? Do I do that?

The whole situation pushed me in a downward spiral.
Ask my wife! I was grumpy for about a week. Locked up in my head. Thinking, pondering, weighing options, analyzing...

The fact of the matter was that I though of my work as the biggest load of cr*p ever produced. I get phases like this where I just want to hit delete, toss the camera as far as I can toss it and just do something else. I just didn't wanted to create anything anymore. Because I knew it was going to be mediocre, or would contain stuff I've done so many times before.

Then it hit me. I hit myself on the forehead. HOW could I let myself slide like this? I shouldn't be paying attention to what other artists are doing. I should do my own thing. If I do it long enough, eventually something will come out of that, right?

I remembered Cole Thompson talking on his blog about Photographic Celibacy.

Did I really want to do something different then what I am doing now? It wouldn't fit into my idea's about art and what fine art is. That it has to be created from the heart. Your work has to reveal your soul, it has to show the viewer who you are.

If I pursue something that wasn't me, how could that make me happy or proud in the end of it all?

Long story short. Ever since I've put my locomotive back on the tracks I felt a little better about my work. I went out this week to chase some storms. And after a successful night this week I came back with a big grin on my face. "Sarah, I've shot 2½ rolls of film tonight". I was extremely happy about that fact. "I think I've pushed through".

That's exactly the thing. Sometimes you forget how hard you love doing a certain thing. For me that is photography. I remembered this week. And it re-sparked my energy to create more work.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bronze medal, PX3

Sorry for my lack of blog posts or activity on all social outlets. I've been a bit busy doing everything EXCEPT photography things.

A few weeks ago I got some exciting news that I want to share with you.

One of my photographs I entered in the PX3 competition (Prix de la Photography, Paris) earned a bronze medal in the Nature/Trees category. I can't tell you how excited I am about this news! The jury (top international decision-makers in the photography industry) selected PX3 2013’s winners from thousands of photography entries from over 85 countries.


Funny story about this is that I had no clue until a fellow photographer congratulated me through Twitter. Hmm I had no idea. Searched for the email in my inbox, and at first I couldn't find it (it was in my spam, lol).

I'm very happy and proud with this because this is my very first real award. And because PX3 is one of those competitions that is know for it's very high quality standard. And a competition that is highly respected in the photo community.

But I'm sure I was just lucky though.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

New talk for Mark Koegel's Workshop!

I am very pleased to announce that a few weeks ago, +Marc Koegel has approached me to do a presentation on my work on one of his workshops around Calgary.

Let me tell you I didn't even had to think twice to give him a 'you betcha' answer.

Now, if you don't know who +Marc Koegel is, let me introduce him to you. So you can see for yourself why I am so excited about this opportunity.

Marc Koegel is a Vancouver, B.C. based fine art photographer, educator, writer and director of Vancouver Photo Workshops LTD. His black and white long exposure landscapes, nudes and architecture photographs have been widely acclaimed and exhibited (and Marc has received multiple awards too) in Vancouver as well as internationally, in the US and in Europe.

I believe Marc is in my opinion one of Canada's leading long exposure photographers. His portfolios often revolve around singular objects and ooze out his signature moody dark atmosphere. You really have to check it out for yourself on his website

Marc and I share a common passion for photography, and film photography as well. I believe it's only natural our paths finally meet and I feel honoured, Marc asked me to do this presentation for him.
So this coming Sunday, I will be giving a little exclusive, 45 minute talk on what I do and why I do it for his students. Marc also told me that this workshop is now sold out. Which makes this even more awesome. 

I am very much looking forward to the opportunity at hand. And I am looking forward to making a new friend in Marc as well. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gallery Representation

Pretty crazy news actually.
Moving forward, my work will be represented by the Ian Tan Gallery out of Vancouver and that for Western Canada.

I KNOW! :)

When I got the initial request to show my portfolio to them, I was a little bit surprised. Wasn't this just a little error from their part? Ian and Julie told me they were looking to add a photographer to their artist roster and where thinking of me. I mean... Me?! But after a phone call and numerous emails back and forth, I knew it wasn't a mistake. They were dead serious about it.

Needless to say, I was going to grab this opportunity by the horns!

So for the last month I was keeping myself busy preparing a 16 photograph Prairie Portfolio. And – as usual – I learned a ton of lessons during the process that I want to share with you.

From the get go, I knew I wanted to present these photographs NOT as loose prints in a box, but as matted – finished – 16x20" works of art. 8ply mattes were a must. Problem with that was that 8ply is pretty thick. And by adding a decent backing to the photographs, that made every photograph about 3/8" thick. Which was initially causing me a lot of stress. Where in the heck would I find a box that was 6" high?!

All of the archival boxes I could find came as 3" or max 4" high. Not 6". Was I allowed to bring a 16x20" box with me on the airplane was another worry. I called Westjet. Who couldn't give me a definite answer. 'It is all up to the clerk at the desk, and if that person makes an exception for you'.

OK that wasn't going to work. I needed something sturdy (just in case I wasn't allowed bringing it on the plane in my carry on luggage). Something.... wait a minute. I needed.... a road case!

I found this awesome guy in Olds who build me a custom 16x20x6" (inner dimensions) road case from scratch and it fitted the prints perfectly. Now I could just check in, put the prints in the belly of the plane, and KNEW they were going to be alright. No need to worry. 

SO in the end, I prepared a 16 photograph matted portfolio, some extra pages for in the portfolio (like a title page, statement, bio and summary pages). And a leave behind package containing everything in print what I had showed them, including a few interviews and features I had in the past. I also prepared a DVD with the whole portfolio in low res files, the above mentioned leave behind as a pdf, bio, statement, basically everything in pdf form. And a slideshow (which you can see at the bottom of this post). Yup... I was prepared. :) I was going to knock this out of the ball park.

Meeting with both Julie and Ian from the gallery was like meeting good friends really. We had an awesome meeting last Monday and time simply flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to leave for the airport again. And then it hit me.

Holy cow! I have gallery representation! I had to pinch myself a few times to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Dreams really DO happen.

Ok to be completely honest, I feel like this is the accumulation of 2.5 years of hard work and determination/perseverance. Proof to myself that you always need to stay the course and stay true to what you believe in. Work away at your plans and dreams. Wait, and eventually good things will happen.

But I couldn't have done this without these people:
  • Costas from Resolve Photo. For his ongoing expertise in printing B&W work and giving his honest opinion about my work. If it's not up to par, he always lets me know. Very much appreciated my friend.
  • Hannah from Framed on Fifth. For her expertise when it comes to framing and matting my work. You make my stuff look good. Big huh!
  • My friends Zoltan Kenwell, Paul Zizka, Jeremy Fokkens, for giving me their unsalted opinion on my initial selection. They helped me narrow it down from 24 to 16 images. Thank you guys so very much. I am lucky to have such great friends/peers like you.
  • My colleague and copywriter master Noel Blix to help me out rewriting my bio and artist statement to better suit the portfolio presentation. You ROCK!
  • My friend Kris Schofield for giving me his opinion on both the artist statement and the bio page.
  • And of course Cliff from RoadCaseGuys for building the road case on such short notice.
I couldn't have done this without you guys! Thank you so very much!