Art Brewer SVA Show

Photographer/Artist Art Brewer is someone I’ve written about before, and someone I will surely write about again. I’m a big fan of cool people. I’m a big fan of good photography, and I’m a big fan of photographers who have poured their lives into creating an archive on one particular topic or subject. Art is all the above. Recently, I was able to stop by Art’s studio to check out a few of the images he is printing for a MASSIVE show at the School of Visual Arts in New York. This show will highlight over 150 individual pieces from Art’s collection on the history of modern surfing.

At 43 I finally feel like I found a subject I can work on the rest of my life. Starting now I’m way behind the game. Art has been covering modern surfing for over thirty-years and his archive is one of the greatest ever compiled. Years ago, when I worked for Kodak in Southern California, I realized there was an opportunity for me, and for the company, in working with the global collection of surfing photographers. Problem was I didn’t know a single surfing photographer. So, being a good corporate detective, I called around. “Talk to Art Brewer,” was the response I heard over and over again. Not only was Art open and receptive to learning what Kodak had to offer he also became my link to the entire surfing photography world.

What I love about Art’s archive is the range of work. Browsing the work you see every format imaginable from 35mm to 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, 4×5, point and shoot as well as an odd assortment of other formats and techniques. When you walk into Art’s studio you find yourself frozen and wanting to simply stand and look. Big prints and artwork adorn the walls, an incredible range of oil, ink and emulsion. And every time I go there is something new to feast my eyes upon.

And as you can see by the above images, Art is also a bookmaker. And like all things Brewer, Art publishes a range of books. From his Masters of Surf Photography monograph to his two-volume Blurb masterpiece on Bunker Spreckels you never know what he is going to come up with next. And if that’s not enough…he teaches as well, which you can see in the film below. I was going to write that Art is a great person for young photographers to study, but I’m going to amend that. Art is a good person for any photographer to study. There are certain people who are creatively restless. They are creative searchers, people who run the river of life and can’t wait to see what lives beyond the next bend. Art is one of those people.

Shaking off the dust….

One of the things I’ve noticed with modern photography is our expectation of being really good really fast. It’s so EASY to make pictures, so if we can make them so effortlessly then why shouldn’t we be able to make great work right away? Outside of the lucky situation, photography typically doesn’t work that way.
I know for me it takes a lot of time, energy, practice and rhythm. Yes, rhythm. When I don’t shoot for a long period of time I actually have to get out in the field and shake the mental and physical dust off BEFORE I’m able to really work at a level that I’m satisfied with.

So a few short weeks ago I taught a workshop in Victoria BC, hosted by Luz Gallery and all their fine folks. We had a class of ten rabid students all waiting to make a few “documentary portraits.” I arrived in Victoria a day early and the weather was absolutely perfect. Standing in the hotel room, running my hands over my equipment-something we all do admit it-I realized it felt a bit foreign. My gear felt like a family member I’d known my entire life, but someone I hadn’t seen in years.

So I grabbed the Leica and the Fuji GF 670 folding camera and went out to shake off the dust. I left the hotel, walked straight to the harbor and immediately began asking strangers if I could “make their portrait.” All I was doing was trying to get my head back in the game of being a photographer. Like many of you, my head is polluted with far too many things, so many that I can’t possibly concentrate on what I need to unless I quiet all the work, family and business voices floating around in my melon.
So I headed out and just began to shoot anyone, anywhere in any way. The first image was the young girl in the “Canada” shirt, who I intentionally shot in extreme backlit conditions. I wanted to FEEL the light through the viewfinder as it pierced my eye. I wanted to see how my hands fit on the camera, where my “default” finger position was. And, I wanted to talk to people I didn’t know. I wanted to see what I could get away with if you will.

Walking up to strangers, asking them to make a portrait, is something that freaks a lot of people out, but as a photographer you just have to be able to do it, so like finding my rhythm with my gear I’m also looking for a similar connection with the people I’m photographing. I see them approaching and I try and determine what my odds are. Sometimes I go after the most difficult looking person, NOT because I’m looking for a great image, I’m simply forcing myself into the world I need to be in to be able to eventually get the images I want.

Again, when I walked around Victoria I was not looking for great images. I know that might sound odd but I wasn’t. It’s not that I’m ignoring that opportunity, but I’m mostly getting into the right mindset. I’m looking for people, faces, interaction, conversation, light and to get my timing back online. For the first day I normally SEE images instead of MAKE images. And if this doesn’t happen to you, keep it to yourself! I don’t want to know I’m the only person this happens to?

I typically set a goal for myself, say a single roll of 220 Portra, and then I make myself go use it. Anyone who comes near me, “Hey, can I make your portrait?” These images, or portraits, are made in 15-seconds or less. “Thank you,” and I’m gone. I see a patch of good light, I shoot it. Just to remind myself of the primary ingredients. A bird takes flight. I shoot it. Get my timing going. And I’m also waiting for that first, “No thank you,” that comes when you ask and get shot down. For me, it always feels horrible, but I know it’s coming. I need to feel it to feel alive in some strange way. It reminds me this isn’t easy, we only think it is.

The New Mexico Project

For those of you who are frequent visitors to the ranch I wanted to bring something else to your attention. I recently started a new site based on my ongoing project in New Mexico. Aptly titled, “The New Mexico Project” this site brings a real time look at how I’m approaching this story, and what actually happens along the way. Stills, motion, audio recordings, Blurb Mobile stories, copy, journals…..ALL OF IT.

Now, this idea is very much a departure for me. I normally don’t really show anyone what I’m doing until the project is complete, so sharing feels strange. I’m doing this not for me, nor for you for that matter. I’m doing this to try and get those IN the photographs involved with the project. I have to say, the fact this never occurred to me before is a bit embarrassing, and points to the fact that as a photographer, often times, one needs to be pretty self-centered, just to be able to get things done, at least in the photo-world. Well, as you know, I’m not really a part of the photo-world now, at least in the commercial sense, so I can do things I could not afford to do before.
It struck me one day as I was working in Espanola(small town north of Santa Fe) but my mind was focused on galleries, magazines, publishers, etc, I realized that if the project were to come to light, and I did a show in New York or Los Angeles, the people LEAST likely to ever see it or interact with it were the people right in front of my camera. I realized that WHEN this project is complete, it needs to be shown IN THE PLACES I’M MAKING THE IMAGES.
So, this is the first step.
A favor if you’ll pardon me. If you like the site, hit the follow button and follow along. If you feel like reblogging, then do so, and if not no big deal.
The images in this post are screen grabs of “typical” content.


Rob Hornstra

Thanks to Andy Adams and the Flak Photobook Network for posting this video. I wanted to repost because I just enjoy what this guy is doing and how he is doing it. I’m telling you, those folks in Amsterdam are a talented bunch, and they like to live life, so what’s not to like. I think the future is ripe for people like this who just do things a bit differently.

Fuji GF 670 Review

This camera is sharp. Super Dynamite and the remaining remnants of his B-day party.

When you think of Smogranch you probably don’t think of equipment reviews. There are a lot of folks out there who hit the technology/gear interface on a regular schedule, and most of the time I leave the reviews to them. However, I recently had the opportunity to use the Leica M9. I posted several images made with the M9 and gave my thoughts as to what I liked and didn’t like. I wouldn’t call my M9 post a review however. I’ve used the Leica M for fifteen years, so if you don’t know by now that I love the camera, well, then let me just say again, the Leica M is my main camera. In addition to 35mm I also like to shoot medium format. I consider medium format to be my “second” system, but having said that I’ve done projects solely with this format. I like 6×6, 6×7 and 6×9 and have cameras in all three sizes.
Thanks to a few super-kind folks at Fuji I was recently able to get my hands on a Fuji GF 670 FOLDING rangefinder, a camera I had heard much about but had to test out. There are many medium format machines out there but the Fuji is in an elite class for several reasons. First, it folds. Yes, and when I say “folds” I mean it REALLY folds. This is such a grand feat when it comes to being able to easy carry both a 35mm rig and a medium format rig, especially when traveling the world. My entire foreign rig fits in ONE bag, a Tenba Ultralight, and this is key to my entire working relationship. With the Fuji GF my life just got easier by having a camera that takes about 1/3 of the space of my current Hasselblad + 80mm setup. The Fuji sets a high mark by also being able to shoot 6×6 or 6×7 with the same body simply by flicking a small toggle switch INSIDE the camera. You can’t switch mid-roll but come on people we can only ask for so much. How great is this reality. Shooting a portrait series…go to 6×6. Shooting a landscape series from the same project…go to 6×7. I’m not sure thought of this but damnit get that person a corner office and a bottle of your best sparkling wine.

The photographer in some truly horrible light for your viewing pleasure.

So, over the past few weeks I’ve been traveling and snapping with the Fuji and I have a few things I’d like to share. First of all, this is the quietest camera I’ve ever used, and by a LONG SHOT. It’s so quiet if anything is going on around you….you can’t even hear it. The camera has a rather large look, but it very light and easy to hold. It does take some getting used to to be able to find that focusing ring, which is right in front of the lens. It’s not difficult but when you consider my prior focusing ring is on the Hasselblad and is about two inches wide you will know why the Fuji takes a few minutes to feel out. I’ve used it now for two weeks, and my thumb goes right to the small focusing cup. No big deal. The top shutter speed is 500th of a second, which is slower than I’m used to, but I’m shooting TRI-X at 200 and my Portra 160 at 100 so no problem there either. The camera has aperture priority which I’ve actually used quite a bit. I normally use a hand held meter, but recently because I was using two film speeds at the same time, I decided to use Fuji AP and see how the meter worked. It was dead on, every single frame. I’m not saying this is going to happen all the time, but yesterday I shot for several hours with both the Fuji and the Leica, and I just let the Fuji go in terms of the meter. I did use exposure compensation which is easily accessed by the same dial that controls shutter speed. Easy as pie.

Look at that falloff. Super Dynamite taking in some nature.

I KNEW this camera would be sharp. Why? Because I have a Fuji 6×9 rangefinder and the lens on that thing is RAZOR sharp. The GF 670 is very sharp and look at that falloff….dreamy. Wide open the lens is sharp and ultra shallow just like we like our servings of medium format. Now, on to the viewfinder. One of the best and brightest I’ve ever seen. This is HUGE. Low light, no problem. Glasses like me, no problem. Great move Fuji. And, as you can see by the pics, film advance, spinning wheel baby. Love this. A throw back perhaps. Slow for others perhaps. I like it. I use my thumb in case your wondering. If you are wondering I’m worried about you.
But there is something more here people, something very important that gets overlooked by people fixated on the nuts and bolts. The camera looks really damn cool. “Who cares?” you might ask. Well, I do. You see when I’m using this thing in the field people are intrigued by it. Yesterday I was shooting in New Mexico, came up on this group of gents, a wild group, and I pulled out the Fuji. “Que es esto?” one guy asked as he marveled when I pulled open the front of the Fuji and a mini-bellows popped out. People love this thing. I can’t tell you how great this is in the field. You might not think it’s a big deal but you can really use this to your advantage. Most people think it is old, so you have to explain, “Well, kinda, but not really.”
My only hesitation about this camera is you have more moving, working, folding parts with a camera like this so it’s not going to take a beating like a Blad or Mamiya 6. You have to be careful when you fold it. If you force the thing closed you will be cursing me and looking at a repair bill. Having said that, I’ve probably opened and closed it a hundred times without incident.
Over the past week I’ve been using this camera while I work on my New Mexico project. I’ve seen dust, hot temps, snow and wild weather including a mini-dust storm twister/rain explosion in a parking lot. I’ve shot portraits, landscapes and everything in between. Now I’m not going to spill these photographic beans quite yet, seeing as I don’t have the film back. But I’m probably not going to spill these photographic beans even after I get the film back because I like to live with my work before I release it. But, if I have a few things, here and there, that might help you better understand the realities of this camera I will surely share.