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.

New Film Test

By the time you read this Kodak will have announced their new addition to the Portra family of films.

I received a sample of this new emulsion, weeks ago, but due to my schedule from Hell, I’m just now I’m getting to these images.

Now I’m not one to make bold proclamations or canned responses that people love when introducing a new product, things like “I could have never done this before with my old film” or “This new film has taken my photography to new level.” Why don’t I do this? Well, because we all know that is total bunk. It never fails that we are bombarded by this stuff when new things land in our laps, but I won’t do that to you. I prefer to actually speak in normal human terms, terms that have yet to be controlled or destroyed by the marketing machine.

First off, my old Portra film was great. I had no complaints. I had been using it for years, and I know it inside and out. I rate it at 320, sometimes giving it a little more depending on the scene, and would swtich from VC to NC depending on what I wanted or what color of pants I was wearing. Ha, got you, not paying attention already. SNAP OUT OF IT.
So, when this new film arrived, I wasn’t thinking to myself, “Oh thank God, I need a new film.” But, being the curious photographer I am, I wanted a little testy on this stuff. In short, it works great. Does that sum it up for you? I made pictures I could have never made before? My clients were in tears and willing me their unborn children? The kids I was photographing got smarter just by me being there? “E” none of the above.

My observations are this. It seems like a true 400 film, although I’ll keep shooting at 320 because that is what I’m rating my TRI-X at and I want to keep the same meter reading. Two, it is very fine grain. This is nice, and will help with the 35mm I shoot. 6×6, not so critical to me. And let’s face it, we’ve all learned how to digitally add grain over the past ten years, so we don’t really want to get rid of all of it do we?

The film also handles cold and warm light. I played around with making some cooler images from this work and those pictures looked great. So did the warm images. Lastly, the scanning. Scans were right on the money, with only super-basic moves being required. And oh my God, there was detail in the highlights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I do miss my plastic looking skintone from my digi cam, but I’ll get used to this film look. Ah, yes, I joke. Sorry.

So whether you are new to film or a long-in-the-tooth emulsion jockey give it a test on your own and see how it fits into your workflow. Kodak makes the best films, at least in my opinion, and this is just another in a long line that have defined my personal DNA, family history and every single positive thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.

The Great Yellow Father has scored yet another hit.