Trying to find Southern California

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I find it so difficult to work in Southern California. When I say “work” I mean photograph. My other work, meaning Blurb, is totally fine here in SoCal, but I don’t respond to this place visually. I’ve tried to like SoCal so many times I don’t know what else to do other than realize it just isn’t going to happen. Southern California for me is just too normal, too sterile and organized. You KNOW if I’m shooting reflections of MYSELF I’ve hit rock bottom.

These pics are a few random moments from the past few weeks. I’m one of those people who carry a camera everyday, all day, regardless of where I’m going or what I’m doing. Could be a simple run to the store to buy ten pounds of carne asada. When I’m traveling with people they will ask, “Hey, we are just going around the corner, are you really going to take your manbag and your camera?” My response is always the same, “First of all, it’s a purse, and second, YES, I’m taking both items AND my audio recorder.” To NOT take these items makes me feel naked and not in a good way.

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Yesterday, in a fit of Southern California inspired creative failure I came up with yet another book project, one that I hope takes everything I dislike about this area and funnels it into one, somewhat cohesive, somewhat interesting essay. And people when I say I don’t like this place, it’s nothing more than saying visually it doesn’t float my boat. I like old, I like culture, I like random and unpredictable, everything that SoCal is not. In general it is an easy place to be, which is perhaps another reason it doesn’t work for me. I like places that are more of a battle. A masochist you say? Perhaps. For the most part here everywhere looks like everywhere else. The places I find more interesting are simply too time consuming to get to based on our horrendous traffic problem. So, I continue to look, hunt, plead, beg and search for those little moments that sustain me, but I have to say, it’s getting more and more difficult to play the game. I have the major itchies and when I get these typically drastic measures are at hand.

I need a vacation.

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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.

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Okay folks, here they are. Still sealed in anticipation of what they hold in their magic. I know, I know, I’m crazy, but I’ve got film processing in my future once again.

If you have never processed your own film then this post will be difficult to grasp, but let me tell you, there is something about “souping” your own film that is immensely satisfying.

I was in the darkroom a few months ago, with a photographer I had asked to watch print, and midway through the first print he said, “What I really enjoy is doing the film.”

I know it might sound odd, but there is something magical about it.

I think it might be simply because rolling, then processing is what you learn first in the lineage of manual, analog life, and I think it sticks with us.

I can remember being in the dark, with the rest of the class, at San Antonio College in 1990, rolling my first roll of film. My eyes WIDE OPEN yet unable to see even my hands in the pure darkness, hearing the frantic, excited voices around me as we all learned of this other life impossible to view.

I rolled my first roll on top of itself. In short, I ruined it, but I didn’t know enough to know I had ruined it until I popped it out of the tank and had the slippery, pink emulsion come off in my fingertips.

Roll two was a success, and I’ve had the curse from that moment on. You realize there are endless possibilities with this photo-life, endless, only held back by our imagination, our passion and our will to enjoy, explore and yes, suffer.

Doing your own film can allow you to live, breath, outside the mainstream world. You can be completely alone, isolated and yet producing.

Sure, there are issues, headaches a plenty. When we get worn down by the photo-life it is easy to say “let the lab do it,” or “I’ll get dust spots, and I hate doing that.” There are a million and one reasons NOT to do your own film, but when you reduce the cons to what they really are, most are just tiny pebbles in our shoes, that if allowed to grow, suddenly become larger than life.

Much of my work will continue with the lab, the professional lab, in Los Angeles, that does my processing, scanning, and my beloved contact sheets. You see I need things that they have and I don’t, but for a nice little portion of my work, I want to bring the personal relationship back. I want to live with these images from start to finish.

Doing your own processing also allows for much experimentation. As you can see, I, on the recommendation of a friend, bought HC-110 developer. I don’t know of a single lab in the United States using this developer. Most labs have standardized, and for good reason, but this particular syrup will give a particular result, unlike any other.

Doing your own film allows for the real exploration of what is possible, not only in theory, in your mind, but in practical application.

Hot developer, uncommon chemical ratios, violent agitation, four hour development times, etc, etc, all with unique results.

I know a lot of photographers look back on the times in their careers when they were running film, making prints, and either laugh, as if that is beneath them now, or cringe because they hated doing it.

But for me, I look back with fond memories. There were many times of frustration, of printing on deadline for the Daily Texan, bleaching eyes with pure bleach because my exposure was off, or spotting prints, fingers smelling like fixer, editors bitching and moaning, etc. But man, that was fun, and I felt truly alive. And, I felt like a photographer.

It seems odd that something so simple could be so important, but for me, I realizing, it really is. Will I continue to process film in the years to come? I don’t know. I think I will, but hey, i thought I would be Mr. Technology at this point, and we all know how that turned out.

Printing in the darkroom the other day I took a break and walked into the main area of the lab, and there stood a young, high-school girl processing film. While I was printing I kept hearing this slamming noise and couldn’t figure out what it was. It was her, slamming her four-reel tank into the sink bottom to clear air bubbles from agitation. It made me laugh. But I could see, just by looking at her, that she too had the photo-life bug, and getting her hands wet, stained, etc, was an integral part.

So if you run into me in the coming months, years, just know if we shake hands, you might pull away with residue of the photo-life on your hands.