If In Doubt, Always Shoot It

So as I’ve said before, my favorite thing in life is doing documentary work. Well, my favorite PHOTO thing in life is doing documentary work. That could be a wedding, a portrait shoot, but more directly, a long-term project of some sort.
I like to get out, alone and disappear into a place, a people, a theme and see what I come up with. I turn off all my electronic distractions, I tune out the rest of the world and I focus on what I’m in direct relation with.

Over the years I have noticed a trend with myself, as well as quite a few other photographers.

In short, if in doubt, shoot it.

We always think, “Oh, I can come back later and do this particular shoot,” or “I can come back when things are better and reshoot,” and suddenly the time is the up, the people are gone, the place burned down, the coup changed the name of the country, etc, etc. Again, if in doubt, shoot it. And I mean now. Right now.

These images are scanned contact sheets of crossed Fuji transparency film. I shot them several years ago, and after having a conversation with another photographer, I found out that this place is gone. I don’t know for sure, haven’t been there in years, but I heard it was true. Gone. The “Ace of Spades” the legendary club on the shores of the Salton Sea, reduced to dust. The sea has a tragic history, even beginning, and much of what was there when I first visited is gone.

Are these life-changing images? Was the light great? Are they great moments? No. But I have them, and in some cases, that is what matters. I have a record. It was hot, it was windy, the light sucked, etc, etc. always an excuse, but never a good one.

So next time you are out and you find yourself forming that excuse in your mind as you begin to lean backwards…stop yourself and try leaning forward. You never know what will disappear right before your eyes.

A Day at the Bullfights

A few years ago, in middle Mexico, working on a project about locations.

We start in PV, shooting multiple locals, then slowly work our way south.

I eat a sandwich in the airport in LA before boarding, and by nightfall, as we sit in the warm mugginess of the Mexican black, the sandwich and it’s hidden poison begin working on me.

Delusional. Visions. Toxin. Sickness. Food poisoning.

Around PV we have time to kill and we learn about a bullfight. We learn about a female bullfighter, we go.

I shoot Pentax 645, black and white, of the bullfighter, as she readies herself to do battle. It’s just me working, no other photographer, and I’m accepted. I talk a little, walk a little and wait for the light.

We have time before the fight so I wander the plaza and look for details. No real reason for these images, other than they caught my eye. This is the perfect photo moment. Walking and shooting. 645 color.

No assignment, no cause. I can do anything I want, in any way I want. The best images are most often made this way.

I will use these in my journal, as a reminder of this place and this time.

Crossing Over

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I think I first heard about cross processing back in the late 1980’s. This trend, or style, was based on using one type of color film, such as color negative, and processing it in chemistry designed for another style of color film, such as color positive. Each film responded differently, with the older films tending to be better options, due to their profound change when processed in a chemistry not native to their original design. Newer films were more technically advanced and could handle the changes in chemistry, exactly what the cross-processing photographer didn’t want.

Kodak EPP was the film of choice for many crossers, and in fact, there were many photographers, who for certain periods of time, seemed to do nothing else. Cross-processing, was and is, a fad, but for a time had a significant place in the photo-industry.

Cross-processing was also the first time I heard the term, “One tricky pony,” describing these photographers who shot everything with this method. For some reason this look was popular with young, fashion, portrait, celebrity style shooters, but eventually became accepted in genres as traditionally conservative as the wedding and portrait world.

Crossing faded from view after editors and like began to tire of the look, but in the 90’s crossing returned with a vengeance. But, at the same time digital imaging land, full-scale on the scene, and suddenly anything could be a “crossed-look.” I can remember clients saying, “Let’s just do digital and play around with it to get that crossed look.”

And now, for many folks, there is no reason to even do cross-processed imagery. Nowadays, many images for commercial use are processed far beyond anything crossing a film could produce. I routinely see images in contests, images featured in magazines, that are processed almost beyond recognition.

And so with the new age of over-manipulation, I’m thinking the cross is a great symbol to usher in the death of cross-processing.

These images were done a few years back, with a Fuji transparency film, processed in C-41 chemistry. Not sure I like the look at all.

I was never a big cross guy, but did see some beautiful EPP crossed photography that was done very well. I’m not even sure EPP is still around, but this film, even in it’s original state, was a LEGEND of our industry, and is one of the most significant films ever produced. I have many stories of this film, but those I’ll leave for another time.

Where to Start

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My latest contact sheet session was far more successful than my last.

Yes, slowly I learn my way. I can’t expose ten in a row, then toss them all into the developer at the same time. You see, after they are exposed, they need that luxury chemical bath as soon as possible.

You let them sit, they will fog my friends.

So, the latest batch. In all their glory. About 25 rolls so far, on the new project. I think MAYBE I have four or five images that are worth considering for something. Not sure what yet, but something down the line.

Le Machine

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Someone gave me three boxes of Ilford paper, 250 sheets each, 8x5x11. It was old. Real old.

But, it worked. I made my 13 fogged contact sheets yesterday, and after doing so, I realized I had one of these Ilford boxes.

I said, “Ah, what the heck,” and made a test print, thinking it would be fogged worse than my contact sheets. It was perfect.

Contrasty as heck, but right on the money. What was so great, as I made print after print after print, was that I’m now beginning to really be able to read a negative.

I was popping in image after image and making ONE print each. These prints are for editing purposes, to be able to lay them out on the ground and see how the images should sequence. This project is WIDE, VAST and somewhat all over the place, so editing will be critical.

I was able to expose the images, drop the print in the developer, and then go back to the enlarger and swap out the image, all the while the print came up on its own.

The paper is resin coated, which would normally not be anything I would use, but in this case, I love it. I love dark, contrasty images, and this paper is just what the doctor ordered.

What is crazy is that I only had 13 rolls, but only go through about a third of the rolls. I’ve actually got a fair number of images that just might make a cut of some kind, somewhere long down the road.

The other interesting thing about RC paper is a five minute wash and machine dry. So I walked from the darkoom with all my contacts done, as well as a giant stack of prints to edit with. I do need to go back and finish the rest of the images, but it was a good start.

The real kicker here was the images, and the look of the images. Leica Tri-x and TMZ, just the way I used to work all those years ago. Nothing looks like this. They look so good. And there are certain times of the day, certain types of light, where these materials really shine, and I had a few of those times.

I can’t wait to take them to 16×20 fiber. This will be some time down the road, but it is nice knowing I’ve got something to look forward to.

Sorry for these horrendous images of the images, but the iphone camera is beyond bad.

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