Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Protect the Prairie

I usually don't let politics or believes mix into my professional photography pages, but here is something I wholeheartedly approve. 

In the 4 years I've lived around Calgary/Cochrane, I've seen these grasslands disappearing first hand. Oil and gas wells are being drilled all over. If that's a good or a bad thing that's for everyone to decide for themselves. But the thing is that these wells are popping up wherever these companies want to drill them. And nobody is stopping them. Not even the owners of the lands where these wells are going onto.

To me it seems like they are raping the land for all it's worth. 

As a photographer that has based most of his work around these valuable (or as most see it, mundane) areas, I think it's a real sight for sore eyes. But more importantly. It actually shows me how few people care about these grasslands. Sure they don't have the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains nor are they the protected National Parks that we all enjoy. And obviously this isn't Banff or Jasper. But if everyone started opening their eyes, maybe they too could see the beauty in the everyday landscape.

I believe these grasslands are truly beautiful and that they are valuable ecosystems that need our protection from the greed of man, right away. 

So join me in signing this petition in the hopes we can raise our voices and be heard on this issue.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


A month and a half ago (give or take), thanks to my friend Laurence, I 'found' these two relics in the prairies to the north east of Calgary. She had stumbled onto this scene a fews days before and I asked her if she would be able to disclose the location. I was happy that she agreed to do so. 

When I came to the scene, I knew it was going to be a tough scene to photograph. There where a lot of long grasses spread out everywhere and I somehow hoped, I could work around them.

Like I said in my previous post, film photography can be a very hard teacher. And that's either a good thing or a bad thing. It all depends on how you look at it. The majority of photographers would be so disappointed after a while that they would contemplate giving up photography all together. In my opinion, photography is not about stringing together winning image after winning image. It's about personal satisfaction.

Sometimes the outside world thinks that we – photographers – create winning piece after winning piece. Or the photographers that we follow – through our various feeds (like Twitter, Flickr, Google+) seem to do so by posting winner after winner.

How do they do that? How do they keep themselves inspired 100% of the time?!

They don't.
It's just humanly not possible.
It is just clever marketing.
Remember that!

But back to the post I was trying to write.

Here are the two negatives I was talking about. These are straight scans. No alterations to the negatives have been made (I didn't even clone out the dust). Technically, nothing is wrong with these negatives. They are sharp, the metering was fairly good, highlights on the snow are white, ample shadow detail.

I could have underexposed this by about a stop or so to give the cars a bit more density, and developed it N+1 (maybe even N+2) for more contrast. I was afraid I would loose to much detail in the cars by doing so. Now I know I can.
Although, the scene looked OK on the ground glass, I was wrong. Seeing the 2 negatives I made was a big disappointment.

And why is that?

Sally Mann said it the best in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannShe said: "There's always a time in any series of work where you get to a certain point and your work is going steadily and each picture is better than the next, and then you sort of level off and that's when you realize that it's not that each picture is better then the next, it's that each picture ups the ante. And that every time you take one good picture, the next one has got to be better".

I couldn't agree more.

Before I had even set up the camera, I had walked around these relics and I had a very good idea this was going to be a bust. When I was photographing in digital I would have snapped away while walking around, looking at the LCD and THEN realizing that it was going to be a bust.

At least it was a bust for the minimalist in me and for what I had in mind with this scene. But nevertheless, I went ahead and exposed a couple of frames. I essentially took these exposures as a light metering exercise and to be able to study the scene a bit further afterwards.

So when I
do go back in the future, I have a better idea what to expect and what to look for. 

Just for fun, lets dissect the two negatives.

Photograph no 1

This is the view looking North East, standing from the range road. I kinda like the overall, diagonal composition but in the end it is a boring photograph waiting to happen. The light just isn't there and the sky is very bland. Remember kids, in photography, light is the most important ingredient! The scene is also full of annoying clutter. And I can't help it but question what this scene is about? The cars in the foreground or the house and the trees in the background. There are too many elements in this scene to make a compelling photograph don't you think? 

Photograph no 2

This is the view looking South West. Placing the subject in the middle is definitely NOT the way to go for this scene. Although I used a bubble level, I can't help it but feel like this negative is crooked (actually both feel crooked). And what is that grass doing on the bottom of the frame? That is definitely something I didn't see. Again a very boring flat sky. That range road in the background is not very flattering nor is that fence. Maybe a potential square in this view?
So how would me be able to make this better? 
Well I think you will agree with me that we need to simplify this scene. There are so many elements in both these negatives that are making this scene look very cluttered, that we either need to eliminate some (by taking our weed whacker to the grass) or by using a technique that will simplify the scene for us.

Two things I am thinking about doing are: photographing this scene during very foggy conditions. That way I will be able to simplify by eliminating background elements. Or photographing this with a long exposure on a stormy spring/summer day. That way we can get that dramatic sky I think this scene deserves, and all the grass will be blurred making the static elements stand out more.

There you have it. That's my confession. Most of the times I suck. Just like every other photographer out there. My initial meeting with these relics was not something that produced the results I was hoping for. But it has become the starting point of a thinking process.

A process that I know I will enjoy.

To be continued...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Why I shoot film

Last year, I switched from a digital workflow to a – for now – film capture, and a digital scan workflow. Eventually, I will ban the digital part out of my work all together. And print in a darkroom again. A lot of people claim I am nuts.

The reason why, for me is part aesthetic, and part emotional.

Don't get me wrong. Technically, my images aren't any sharper than when I photographed with digital (I would even claim the opposite) but that is not the point of photography I think. If you get hung up on technical aspects of photography (sharpness, noise, how big is your sensor and how many megapixels do other photographers have available, ... ) then you might be one of those pixel peeper persons. My tip to you is: if you want to grow further as a photographer, you need to understand that you will eventually have to let those ideas go. Why? It is my opinion that if you don't, you will never 'see' beyond what that craft has to offer.  

But let's not make this a digital vs film debate. Because that's not what this post is about.

But why do I like film? Well one of the reasons is it is a teacher of technique and pre-visualization that is UNFORGIVING. If you get it wrong. Your negative is toast. Everything I need to do before I press the cable release are mental exercises. In a way, it fuses my creative brain with my analytical brain. It makes me think about exposure, zone placement, aperture, depth of field, moment of exposure, the development proces, the printing proces, the emotional story I'm trying to tell, ... BEFORE I take the photograph.

Here's a portrait of me by Kris Schofield
while composing a scene with the film camera.  

My camera is a box. A 'dumb box'. With a lens in front, and a film holder in the back. There is no in-camera light metering. No electronic level. No nothing. Bare bones. I can't just take a few snaps and hope for the best, review them on my LCD and go from there. Nope.

Film is an incredible teacher. And it drives me to do everything better for the next frame, time after time. When I use it, it's me. If a negative didn't come out the way I envisioned it, I know it was me. 

I also take a lot fewer photographs with my Mamiya RB67 Pro-SD. I can take 10 on one roll of 120 film. I'm fortunate that film is still easily available. My film of choice is Ilford's Delta 100. It is contrasty just where I like it (in the mid-tones). Pan F plus (50 asa) is the film to go to, for a lot of landscape photographers. Part for the contrast as for the fine grain. And although it is considered a high contrast film, I don't like it. The contrast is in the wrong place. 

So as a conclusion I would say, film is making me a better photographer.

And I hear you say. 'But what you just said, can't you just easily adapt and follow that in digital photography too?'. Sure you can. I'm just telling you my story. With film I make 1-2 maybe 3 frames per scene. I used to do at least 10 with the digital. As a result, I am walking around scouting the surrounding a lot more now, usually before I pull out the camera.

I feel film is far more rewarding than digital. For example, when you develop your film at home, I love the moment when I open up my film tank after the final rinsing process and hang the film up to dry. You feel like a million bucks when everything looks like you had intended it to look like. 

You should give it a try someday. It's a lot more fun.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Best 12 of 2012

After every year, it is great to look back at your work, at what you have accomplished that year.

For the last 5 years, Jim Goldstein does this great thing on his blog where he tries to share as many 'Best of your year' blogposts by his readers and contacts. So for the third year in a row, I am in. 
2012 was a huge year for me and my photography. My work got featured in Lenswork no 103 (which was my biggest accomplishment by far of 2012). I showed a 40x60" print in a gallery and I got a little bit of international recognition with 8 honorable mentions in last years IPA's (the International Photo Awards). 

2012 marked also the decision where half way through the year (it was August), I decided to move 100% back to film. Since then I feel personally satisfied with my work.

Anyway, here are my favourites of 2012:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Resolutions

Alright! My first post of 2013 (and my 100rd post in total), so I have to make this a good one! Oh the pressure...

Now that everyone has posted their 'Best Photos of 2012' (I didn't), it's time to make some plans for the new year. I usually set out to accomplish 2–3 small goals. I do this every year.

Last year I set forward these 3 goals:
  1. Get published: I checked that off the list in November with a cool feature in Lenswork no.103.
  2. Show my work in a gallery: I checked that off the list this summer when I showed a 60x40" print in a local gallery.
  3. Enter International Competitions: I checked that off the list with 8 honorable mentions in this years International Photo Awards competition.
For 2013, I am going all in with more than 3 resolutions! 10 resolutions. That's a lot to check off... I know I will have to focus on my goals and be true to this list to make 2013 a successful year, just like 2012 was. This is what I set forward to accomplish this year.

  1. Build my darkroom. I really want to get going on this one and want to accomplish this in the first half of this year. And start printing in the second half. I am accepting donations. So if you have old darkroom stuff you want to get rid of, give me a call.
  2. Get published again. Need to submit more of my work to magazines.
  3. Learn how to write artist statements and gallery submissions. This is a big one that I want to accomplish.
  4. Show my work in at least one gallery. 
  5. Enter International Competitions.
  6. Shoot more film. And learn even more about it. Learn to use the zone system even more. Simplify!
  7. Dabble more in 4x5. Maybe even buy a large format camera.
  8. Meet up more with some amazing people. Listen and learn from them. 
  9. Explore more. 
  10. Devour more photo books. 
That's it really. If I can accomplish all of these goals, I will be a very happy man. 

Oh, and I would love to hear what your goals are for 2013!