I’ve been building my portfolio over the past 6-7 years, but have struggled with how to present the work. I do not tackle big projects or causes for various reasons. I could just pull together the “best of” portfolio, but I want a little more than that. So instead, I have create a portfolio of Couplets. A couplet is a pair of lines of metre in poetry usually comprised two lines that rhyme. The word “couplet” comes from the French word meaning “two pieces of iron riveted or hinged together.”
Here I present visual couplets, comprised of two images that are visually hinged together by what I consider to be the core concepts in photography: theme, composition, color, gesture.
Couplet #1 Hotdog
Downtown Los Angeles is filled with paradoxes and juxtapositions. Bridal shops and the homeless mix on Broadway.
Last week I feel in love with photographing downtown LA. I’ve been downtown many times, but never felt quite at home there and it was always hit or miss to find the shots. I’m trying to identify what was different, so that I can capture it in a bottle and repeat. Here are three things that were different:
- I used my 50mm lens instead of the 35mm (I’m talking effective focal length after accounting for the crop factor). While in Cuba, Oaxaca, and Portugal, the 35mm hardly ever strayed from the camera. But these are towns with narrow streets and intimate cultures. I think the 50mm may be better for places like downtown LA with its big wide streets and protective sense of privacy.
- I spent the better part of 3-days just photographing. I was in a groove where all I had to think about was photography. I hadn’t spent the better part of the day solving business problems. Slowly my mind wandered into that creative mode that I just don’t (can’t) show that much of at work.
- I worked alone. For much of the time I was on my own rather than shooting with other people. Although the safety of shooting can be prudent, shooting alone allowed me to wander more, linger more, and just plain not worry about if I was in someone else’s shot.
As I hone my street photograph, I am thinking more and more about the relationships and layers. In this image, for example, I see this photogenic, active woman in a stripped shirt doing something fairly indicative of LA (these bacon wrapped hot-dog carts are everywhere). I immediately start to figure out what other elements I’m going to include in the scene. I’m looking to create some relationship between the elements of the image. Originally it was just the vendor woman and the woman on her phone on the right. Then the scene got messy, but I had the camera to my eye and was able to identify the moment when these four faces all aligned to a good composition. Nothing occluding, just the faces in proximity for a conversation, but not.
I’ve always had a difficult time photographing in Downtown LA. I don’t know whether I felt intimidated or just couldn’t find my footing with its big wide streets. This past weekend I spent much of three days photographing downtown with my, now common, two cameras / two prime lenses style. For the wider streets of LA, instead of primarily using the 35 mm, I found my stride with the 50mm. (Of course these are taken with my Olympus OM-Ds, so the focal lengths are 17mm and 25mm respectively)
Sometimes you come home with only one image, but that is all it takes.
It was cold and breezy outside, so Jerry Weber and I decided to shoot Christmas Day the Los Angeles Union Station instead of downtown Broadway. Up on the train platform, there were trains on two adjacent platforms, effectively creating a tunnel except for a small slit near the roof and between the train cars. I took a bunch of shots while the passengers were loading, but the payoff was near then end with the last few stragglers.
The sun, though low, was quite intense and in looking at my early shots, I had the wits about me to push down the EV 2-stops. While I was shooting, I was just concentrating on getting the face in the shaft of light, keeping my framing straight, and fixing the relationship between the light in the upper right and the corner of the frame. I didn’t recognize the reflection or little red lights on the side of the train until I looked at the back of my camera.
Lately as I’ve scrolled through my “friends” posts on Flickr, Facebook, and Google+ I’ve done just that – scrolled through. Very few have made me stop and look. Most have left a different impression. An impression of the processing over the content. As Jay Maisel would say: “I don’t want to see the fine hand of the photographer”.
As I take my first steps exploring my photography through film, and I see the results of a well exposed B&W, I am reminded of the Stieglitz and the early masters. Their photographs had a quality that, although they used many developing and darkroom techniques to coax the best prints from their exposures, never exposed to the fine hand of the photographer over the fine mind of the photographer.
In this image, which I entitled “The Tower”, the representation of the clouds and sky that has been brought out simply by allowing my roll of Ilford Delta 100 to express the magic baked into the science of its emulsion. The final result is not something, I fear, that I would have ever pre-visualized. I am afraid that I have been too steeped in the 21st century digital mania to have done a digital color to B&W conversion with this subtlety.
It’s been about 1 month since I purchased my Hasselblad 500 C/M and I finally have something to show for my efforts. When they say “3rd time’s the charm” maybe it is true. This was my third roll. The first two were in color, as was the fourth and I haven’t really even cracked into looking at them yet.
I think it is worth talking about how different it is processing a film scan versus digital RAW file. Film is different. Film is smooth. Film has years of expertise baked into how it is going to react to light. When I process a digital RAW file it is too easy to go beyond reality. I only need one weak lapse in judgement to push a slider too far – and there are so many sliders. I have no background in how light works from a physical perspective or the special properties of light sensitive silver gelatin. Only me, my two eyeballs, my screen, and that gray matter between my ears that too easily seeks stimulation over subtlety.
When I worked with my film scans, the tones were set. The tonal relationships were set. Sure, I could push the pixles around a little – a bit more contrast, a dodge here, a burn there – but the scanned file didn’t posses that Gumby-like elasticity of a RAW file that allows us to morph our image (almost) to infinity and beyond. Instead, the film engineers are our guides with a century of so of expertise painstakingly refined to respond just right to the light. Dashed are those thrill-seeking voices in my head.
Then there is the view of the camera. Medium format is different. My one and only lens is an 80mm focal length. When we shoot with our nifty dSLRs, we are used to thinking about the compression and field of view of an 80mm lens – whether on a full-frame or cropped. Only in Medium Format 80mm gives you the field of view of 50mm (in 35mm land) and 25mm (in micro four-thirds land), but the compression is different. The perspective is different. It is more accurate to think about a 35mm frame to be a cropped version of a Medium Format frame (and remember, Medium Format is just a cropped version of 4×5, etc…) And yes, today we have good rectilinear corrected lenses but the compression is different. The feel is different. The expansiveness is different. And it is this expansiveness that peaked my interest in Medium Format to begin with. The fact that I’m shooting film was pure economics (who can afford those digital backs?) – until now that I see the results.
Here I present my first of 4 images of Disney Hall in Los Angeles. A beautiful elegant building with trademark Frank Gehry styling. Each image will be posted separately, because each image deserves its own page.
Hasselblad 500 C/M, 80mm, Ilford Delta 100