Taste of Uruguay: Portrait of a Place

You ever hear a motion picture director talk about how a location became one of the characters in a film? “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” is very much about location. “The Motorcycle Diaries,” and even films like “Seven” where you don’t ever know where you are but it’s so foreboding and dark, not to mention rainy, that you can just FEEL how horrible things are about to get based only on the depressing cityscape. Still photography works the same, at least when you are trying to tell a story. These images were made in Uruguay while we were working on our project. These images were made in the same place as the last post, the exact same place, but these images have a different feel, and if they had to could live on their own as a mini-snapshot of place.

I described before how we move from small shoot to small shoot while compiling a story. You imagine the puzzle in your head and you slowly begin to link the edges and then dive in deep to fill up the center. So when we arrived on this scene my goal was to make the images I made in the last post, but while I was there I realized that this little room, in this one little building, was also something I needed to have a little feel for. Looking back on this I realized I am missing ONE very important image which was the bar at the opposite side of the room. It was, well, the perfect neighborhood bar. Why didn’t I shoot it? I don’t know. I can see the bar in infinite detail, in my mind, but I didn’t shoot it. Oh well, just another mistake in a LONG LINE of mistakes I’ve made with camera in hand.

These images become important for a variety of reasons. First, for your memory. Regardless of whether or not you ever use these images it’s nice to look back on them and say, “Oh ya, I remember that place.” These type images also come into play when you make books. Sometimes the reader needs a transitional type image to set the stage for your best work. A book of nothing but your best work might be a portfolio more than a book. Books ebb and flow, so informational photographs can be as important as anything. You might use these images near a chapter head to ease into this place, space or community. We also walked through this room to get to the performers out back, so it was a link to the subsequent images.

These images are also very important to the people in them. They are proud of this place and it shows in how they behave. If you promise to send images you sure as Hell better do it. I’ve heard photographers say “Ya, I always promise and then never send anything.” On one hand I appreciate their honesty because A lot of other people claim to do this but don’t. I know for a fact because I once did a project several years after another photographer did it and it was SO BAD it was like scorched Earth. “The other guy promised us everything and gave us nothing.” It made my life Hell. In the case of these images, they didn’t ask. Or maybe they did but my Spanish was so bad I didn’t understand them? “Soy amable!” “Yo quiero leche y queso!”

The first two images here were made by myself, but after seeing me make these images the guys in the third image asked me to photograph them. In turn other people are watching while I’m making this portrait which in turn gets them, indirectly, involved in the shoot. It breaks the ice and gets the photographic ball rolling. The people you photograph are your conduit into the far reaches of your work, without them you are going nowhere. They do not see photography the same way you do, and this is something you must keep in mind the entire time you are working or showcasing your work.

Taste of Uruguay: Navigating a Portrait

It was hours before the big show. The post breakfast drowsiness compounded by the sun through car windows as Martin navigates the streets of Montevideo. We have a plan. “These guys are going to be getting ready and we will try to get permission to photograph.” Flashes of light and dark, searing sun and reflections of inverted buildings. I close my eyes. Four of us, all waiting to see what we will see or what we won’t. “Llamadas” approaches but we want to “set the table” beforehand. We need to BUILD this story and body of work. We are here for about ten days, maybe more, and can only hope for so much. Little victories are what matters. We mostly ride in silence. Martin parks and we spill out of the tiny car. The scene is slow, mellow and movements can be FELT. There is no secret, we are all here to work, to make pictures and fortunately for us they are game to play. There is an inside area and an outside area, both with decent to good light. The sun is still high so the people outside hunt for shade. This is good for us. I start with the Leica, almost to get them used to me, but with the color and paint I know I want the square.

“Can I make your portrait?”
It begins. Open shade, broad light over my shoulder and now all I have to think about is focus and my composition. The square solves a lot of things for me, after all, it’s square. CLUNK, WIND, CLUNK, WIND. I’m wide open, at 2.8 and I’m at close focus. I only want his eyes sharp. At frame twelve I need to reload and the great dance begins. Flip the lever out, wind until I hear the leader come free, twist the side door, pull out the insert, unhinge the film, spool it tight, then slowly, VERY slowly lick the tape. This NEVER fails to get people involved. “Did you just lick that?” “Yes.” Take out new roll, pull off the tape, invert and load into the insert, spool the end, twist tight, insert the holder, close the back and wind until it stops. Pull the dark slide. “Listo?” I ask and move in again.

These images are not really up to me. I begin by putting myself in position but the rest comes from the other side of the lens. The first shot is serious with intensity in the gaze. During the second shot the serenity and connection are broken as someone from the edges says something. Like cracking through a sheet of ice. The genie is out of the bottle and now I can only react. If I force it and ask him to settle back into me it won’t work. The magic is gone, so I just stop talking and keep shooting. It’s nice for me. I like to be here, but invisible to those around me. I can have conversations with myself, or daydream, while I’m working. It’s part of being on the road, and part of life behind the lens.

Make it count. There is no need to shoot endless imagery. Ever been on the other side of the camera? “Relax and just be normal.” Impossible. It’s all artificial, we either both accept the game or we don’t bother playing. This is your chance to act and it’s the same for them. They are not themselves, not during these little moments. They are actors in the world stage and for just a brief moment I am the conductor, the composer or the chief mechanic. They don’t really know what it is I’m attempting to do. I must relay this by speech and emotion. Win them over, get them on my side and do to them what I need to do. Sometimes it feels good, other times no so much, but the internal battle is what makes it all interesting. And then suddenly it is gone. If it went well the memory alone will fuel you to the next encounter, and if it went poorly it can stain your mental existence for days, weeks, even longer perhaps. Fragility is real but worth continual exploration. Is it good enough? Am I good enough? Does any of it matter? There is a weight to the exposed film and comforting to look down and see the rolls piling up. I can’t see it, but I can feel what I have or what I missed. I try to be in the moment but my mind begins to build the mental puzzle of imagery. What pieces still remain?

As I close my eyes I see light blue and the stars upon a face.

The New Tri-X

The original TRI-X Profile.

Back in the late 1990’s I worked for the Eastman Kodak Company, otherwise known as The Great Yellow Father.

It was during this time period that the first real digital cameras landed and began to make their mark. Now these were far from being perfect machines, but they were good enough to actually run six columns in a newspaper or grace the pages of high-end catalogs.

I didn’t really sell these things, but I spent a lot of time speaking to photographers about these cameras and also teaching photographers how to use them. We all knew this was the future, or at least one version of the future.

At the same time that Kodak launched these babies they also launched their film profiles, meaning you could shoot your digital camera while using a profile for a film like TRI-X, Kodachrome, etc. The idea was that you could shoot digital and get the look of film.

Let me say this again, “You could shoot digital and get the look of film.”

Now this, at the time, struck me as rather odd. I mean here was the latest, greatest digital beast, capable of all things photographic, and yet we were programming it to look like a film that had been around for fifty years.

A few years later I quit Kodak, went back to being a photographer and lived through generation after generation of digital camera and software, and today I still find myself living through generation after generation of all things electronic, and yet I find what I love more than anything else is using that same old film that has been around for over fifty years.

So last year I did a traveling book tour with Jerry Courvoisier, a Santa Fe based Adobe Lightroom guru. Jerry knows more about this software than anyone I know, and in fact spends much of his time teaching 2-3 day intensive Lightroom workshops. If you are using this program, want to use this program, want to really learn this program, he is the guy you should be looking up. Now being a film shooter, Jerry busts my chops every chance he gets, and I try to do the same to him. We’re photographers, we’re guys, that’s just what we do. I know he secretly wants to shoot film.

So earlier today my phone rang with Jerry on the other end. It seems he was writing up a post about Adobe Lightroom 3, the latest version, and his method for using the software to mimic the holy and beloved TRI-X, and wanted to know if he could mention me before reducing me to digital fodder. I said “Heck yes,” cause I love reading about me, might even my favorite subject.

Now before I go any further I have to say something. When I first saw these profiles, as I mentioned above, I found this concept strange. But what I found even stranger was the number of these profile attempts that popped up over the past ten years. It seems that every year or so someone comes out with the final, be all, end all TRI-X simulation device. And when I mention profile, this was, and is, just one method of creating this look. Using a software like Lightroom is just another way of getting from point A to point B, and if you follow the link at the end of this post you will see that Jerry has gone far beyond a profile and actually provides a full working tutorial on this process.

In fact, this concept, converting digital files to the look of film is a HUGE part of digital photography conversations. Not only have I had this discussion twice this week, but with Adobe adding this ability to Lightroom 3, you know it was on the radar for some time.

My opinion? Good, I hope they finally nail it. I really do. Not only will I use it when I shoot digital, but if it make the masses happy, and allows them to realize their vision then more power to them.

But I have to say, I’m still really puzzled.

If there really is “No reason to ever use film again,”(When you hear this it is a sure sign the speaker is sponsored by technology company) then why are we still developing computer actions to simulate film? Why is every tragically hip wedding photographer developing, and then subsequently trying to sell, action set after action set that simulates film? Why are people scanning old Polaroid borders and slapping them on their 5D Mark II files? Why did that Impossible Project thingy happen and Polaroid return? Why do college students rebel when the schools threatens to close down the traditional darkroom? And this morning, an email in my inbox from a photographer who saw a TRI-X rebate on bad color digital images(redundant in many cases) while watching TV last night.

I think this little battle in the larger war of film vs digital can teach us all a lesson.

It doesn’t matter.

Regardless of your feelings, you should check out Jerry’s link because he can probably save you a lot of time and get your images looking like TRI-X in an efficient manner. And I’m lighting a candle for the Adobe Gods, hoping that this time around, digital TRI-X actually lives.

And for me, until they pry it from my cold, dead hands, I’ll be using the original.

Lightroom 3 TRI_X Tutorial from Jerry Courvoisier

Looking for a Look

So I had this idea.

But I need to experiment to get it where it needs to be.

It’s about Orange County. Living here. Just something that dawned on me the other day.

So I went out and I began the great hunt, only I didn’t know what I was hunting for exactly.

So I go out, walk around, shoot, come home, process and then study what I have. Then I go back out, tweak what I’m doing and try it all over again.

I’m getting closer. I’m not there yet, but I’m feeling something. I’ll figure out where I’m going and then go there.

Here is the first image.

It involves a high speed film, a filter, a hot developer, constant agitation, a bit of flashing(not that kind!), and some luck…….

It’s not there yet, but I’ll get it eventually.