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.