New “Field Magazine” for New Mexico

I just ordered this thing and received it in less than one week. The doorbell rang and I looked through the glass to see yet another Blurbish box, the 157th time this has happened to be exact. I actually didn’t know what it was because I had only ordered the magazine a few days ago and didn’t think that could possibly be enough time. Apparently it is. BOOM, it’s here. I did one of these months ago, a small one, 20-pages, which I’ve been using in the field. This last trip, which was mostly wasted replacing the entire sewer line at my house, I used the magazine while working just outside of Santa Fe. The response to having the magazine was as good as you could get. In fact, it was what prompted me to do this version which is 80-pages and has more of the full story of why I’m out doing what I’m doing.

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Making a publication like this, and then showing it in the field, is evidence you are not messing around. In fact, after I showed the previous version, the person I showed it to referenced the magazine later the same day and then again a few days later. I think it also had a lot to do with this person saying “You guys are okay,” and “I think you have good intentions with what you are doing,” and in that neck of the woods trust is essential to do any kind of photographic business. As for making a tool like this I don’t over think the matter. I see a need and I just go. So far this methodology has worked out pretty darn well, both commercially and now entirely and joyfully on my own.
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As with many of the things I create these days, I didn’t have a lot of time to obsess about the meaning or particulars. Even with limited time the creation of this tool forced me to spend focused energy in regard to editing and sequencing. This is NEVER a bad thing even when after doing so you realize how LITTLE good work you actually have. Sob, sob. I think it has been four years and counting on this project, but a very, very light part-time at best. Doing this particular kind of work you realize the world isn’t a small place at all. You realize that even one state, in one country, on one continent would take a lifetime to really get to see and understand.
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Full admission here…looking at this magazine makes me FEEL really good. It FEELS great to find a bit of clarity in the photographic clutter of life. I carry this thing in my bag and hope I can show it to others. It makes me think about what I’m doing and how the people IN the photos would respond to this. How would they feel? What does it mean to be included? What will it mean to those who have yet to see it? Having this magazine also makes me feel like there are A LOT of photographers in the world who could do amazing things with this tool. The magazine represents a very special place in the heart of generations of photographers. We all know the current state of the editorial world, so when you think about doing a magazine on your own, and running work the way it was intended to be seen, you realize just how powerful a tool like this can be. If I was a better designer I would love to create a collaborative, quarterly publication showcasing good photography with enough real estate to allow the work to shine.

White Sands “Magazine”

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Guilty.

I’ve done it again. I’ve spawned another publication. This particular item from a brief encounter with White Sands National Monument, which is one tiny piece of my New Mexico opus. I can’t really call this a magazine, but I can call it a magazine format, which it is.
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There was some confusion about this, but what I do is open InDesign and under the file menu you will see “Book Creator.” This allows you to punch in relevant information about specifics and then the plugin generates your files automatically, complete with bleed and trim lines. In short, if it works for me then it HAS to work for you. My design skills are puny, something I acknowledge up front to set the appropriate expectation levels.

Am I selling this little beast? No. Am I professing it’s beauty? Only it’s size, shape and material. Am I claiming it makes a profound statement? No. Am I claiming it forced me to edit my day’s take? Yes. Did creating this force me to think critically and make decisions? Yes. Am I going to make more? What do you think?

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Over the past two weeks I’ve created at least three magazines, several books, a few letters and an assortment of handmade objects, both from the road and from here at home. It’s been a strangely productive time, but the pull of the unknown is creeping into my subconscious once again, which can only mean one thing. I must make more images. The monkey on my back is undeniable, insatiable and can’t be reasoned with.

Note from Mom

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I recently visited White Sands National Monument in Southern New Mexico, and upon return I sent a few images to my mother. She sent this note in reply.

“When we went hunting with my Uncle Lester on the Havasupi Indian Reservation North of the rim of the Grand Canyon we would sit by the campfire every evening and he would read stories to us about the desert. We would have eaten potatoes and fresh deer meat with onions. The wind would make that low whistle you can only hear at a place like this as it dances around the sage brush. Perhaps those ghosts are dancing there. We would be up before daylight back to the business of hunting. I got lost once with just a MilkyWay candy bar. I finally climbed a high hill and took a look around. Made my decision and traveled on. I finally ran into the cross fence I was told I would run into if I went that-a-way. It was just about dark when I got back to camp. I was glad. These are times that build wonderful memories that last all your life.
The desert is a magical place that plays all kinds of tricks on you. What you know well other places doesn’t apply to the desert. It shows you another dimension. You need time for the desert. You have to let it find you.”
Like the pictures.

Una Pura Verdad: a film by Flemming Bo Jensen

Several years ago, while I was still working as a photographer, I received a call from the marketing director at Blurb who asked what I was working on. She explained that Blurb had a film crew and was looking for a photographer who was mid project. I gave a quick explanation of my New Mexico Project and film crew said, “Yes, yes, yes.” Several weeks later I met up with the team in Southern New Mexico and we spend three days together. It was a great experience, and the resulting film really took on a life of its own.
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Fast forward to 2012. Early in the year I taught a workshop in Peru and one of the students was this photo-Jedi from of all places Denmark. I’m a product of the public education system here in the good old US of A so I was VERY well acquainted with Denmark. A red and white flag of some sort, reindeer and people who live in mud huts, but what was puzzling to me was the photo-Jedi himself. He went by the name Flemming Bo Jensen, which in itself was complicated and confusing but nothing compared to the language he spoke when he we first met. If you haven’t heard Danish please look it up online. It turns out the perpetually traveling Dane was an encyclopedia of anything Star Wars and would often times reenact entire scenes, playing all characters and reciting dialogue to perfection. Talk about a great skill to have. He was also an accomplished photographer and technology dude of the highest of levels. After the workshop we remained in contact and ultimately made plans to connect when his travels aimed him toward the American Southwest.
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I was continuing to work on my New Mexico Project and began to realize how advantageous it would be if I had another film to play with. Blurb had plans to release their rich-media platform, so I knew I would have a home for both the original film and as many other motion pieces I could create. I mentioned this to Flemming and asked if he would be up for working together. He was.
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So, we formed a plan, lit some candles, sacrificed a few, small woodland creatures(kidding) and set out into the Land of Enchantment. As with all things in my life, I didn’t have much time. I took a week off from work and we did what we could. Some things worked really well and others not so much, but what I can state with absolute certainty is that we both learned a lot. I did audio recordings of text I had already written, and tried to wrap my head around an edit that might be interesting. Flemming was buzzing around our tiny house like an angry bee, shouting instructions in Danish and waving his arms in a figure eight pattern as he talked about growing up on a farm in Degobah. At the end of the week I departed for California and Flemming rented a supercharged Dodge and continued his travels.
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Over the past few months the film began to take shape. Flemming approached a local friend and guitar player, David Goldberg, who agreed to do a soundtrack. I processed the film and made my selects. Flemming, through his Danish music scene connections, began to polish the sound and edit. Ultimately what was born is the film you see below; Una Pura Verdad(A Simple Truth). If you want to know the technical details and read Flemming’s take on the matter you can read his post HERE. When the film was finished Flemming and I made the instant decision that the finished film was more of a opening than a closing. We both know that filmmaking is going to be a big part of our future, probably more for Flemming than me, just based on time, but we already have plans for a future meeting in Santa Fe with more films on the visual horizon. This film was a tremendous amount of work, and I wish I could say it will repay us with fortunes in lost gold and invitations to late night parties in Hollywood, but the reality is this film was a labor of love that will, chances are, end up costing us several thousand dollars to produce, more if you count the time and travel. It’s something we did because we felt we needed to do it. It’s a personal project down to the DNA. Many thanks to Flemming, my wife Amy, David Goldberg, the Copenhagen crew and also photographer Arthur Drooker who led this horse to water. Siempre junto.

Una Pura Verdad from Flemming Bo Jensen on Vimeo.

First New Mexico Prints

The darkroom is finally up and running. Drying racks are not completed yet so I’m using the old school clothesline and wooden pins. It works. My goal on this day was just to break the ice. Was talking with another photographer yesterday telling him I had finally started printing and he said, “It takes me about three days before I’m in the right mental space to make a real print. (He is a master printer.) He said he starts with small work prints and several days in he begins to make larger more important prints. I totally get it.

When I mention the darkroom I get a lot of photographers who make comments like, “Can you get paper anymore?” or “I bought an Epson,” or “Ugh, never again.” They know the answer to the first question buy they don’t want to think about it. Switching to inkjet happened a long time ago. For guys from the newspaper world, I get the third statement. I think it all depends on what you did in the past and what you are doing now. I can only speak about why I am doing this.

I’m not a great printer, so working in the darkroom means several things. First, it’s very slow and time consuming. Learning to print well is like learning a new language starting from zero. There are a million ways to mess things up. The darkroom requires ability, patience and A LOT of skill. The chemistry alone is an art form. Temperature, agitation, dilution rates, etc, are all critical elements and each in themselves a separate education. In other words, it’s really damn hard to make great prints.

So why would I do this?

For me it’s about intent, meaning, slowing down and ultimately making things. I made my first inkjet prints, with the help of friends, in the early 1990’s. We were amazed as we stood around and looked at what came spitting out of the printer. For the next decade I truly fell in love with this new technology. Oh, and you can call an inkjet print by a variety of trendy and gallery friendly names but you are still talking about an inkjet print. Ink ON paper. I think they look great and don’t need the apologetic titles given in the past ten years.

For me, there isn’t any reason to compare inkjet and wet darkroom prints. The are two very different things. Inkjet prints look great, are technically incredible and are machine made. You can work in the light, use a nearly endless variety of paper and make prints effortlessly in a very short amount of time. Wet darkroom prints are made by hand, impossible to replicate and require copious time in the dark. The wet darkroom offers far fewer paper choices and requires a skill level that takes far, far longer to acquire. In so many ways the digital prints far surpass the technical aspects of the wet darkroom print, but as we all know by now, more horsepower doesn’t always win the race. Great images and prints are not really about technical perfection. I think they are more about feeling.

So at 43, what is the rub? The short answer is this. Working in the darkroom made me a far better, sharper photographer in the field. I could no longer be sloppy, make a good scan and make a workable digital print. Making a good darkroom print starts with a good negative, so you have to be more focused and more on your game. I also love the reality of never being able to make two prints the same, meaning that each and every print is a unique object, the complete opposite of digital printing. But ultimately my decision to go back in the dark is spurred by the unfortunate reality that I have absolutely no feeling toward machine made inkjet prints. I’m not sure when my love of digital prints departed me, but it did and in a big way. I have two state-of-the-art printers in my office, one capable of 24 inch wide prints and I have real time access to state-of-the-art printers that do sixty inches wide. I haven’t even plugged in my printers for months and months and told my wife all I wanted to do is donate them as fast as possible. (Plus, I have a plethora of labs to choose from if I want an inkjet print and the cost of prints has hit rock bottom.)

I have a feeling for me this started when I realized my life was so tied to the computer, a device I both love and loath. I LOVE the computer for doing things like this, blogging, email, etc, but I find it sterile and detached when it comes to my images. The minute I went back in the darkroom, after a fifteen year break, I KNEW I was in trouble. I KNEW it was my future, and that it would be a long and trying road.

I printed earlier today and I found myself trying to lose my digital leash each and every step of the way. Digitalization has ruined my attention span and ability to focus. I put a print in the developer, where it sat for about five minutes with agitation, and my FIRST thought was, “I should grab my phone and check my email.” I also realized I had two and a half hours and MIGHT be able to make ONE decent print. My mind flickered with options of how to avoid this reality. When I print digitally there is a casualness that I can operate under because the worst case scenario is load another sheet, hit print and walk away. Casualness in the darkroom, from my experience, means bad print, time waste, mental anguish. The darkroom for me is a therapy of sorts. My modern mind SCREAMING for empty calories while the isolation of the dark deprives me.


The other thing that printing has reminded me of is that I don’t need to make huge prints. SO much of what I see at gallery shows, portfolio reviews, etc, are images printed on a grand scale…for no apparent reason other than we now have the technology. The idea being “bigger print, bigger paycheck.”

I included these last two images because the first one shows a 16×20 image on the left and 3.75×2.75 prints on the right. The final image is all 3.75×2.75 prints. I made the large print just to see how the physical setup of the darkroom was working. I then made the small prints to see how small I could go and was suddenly greeted by a set of prints I was in love with. I knew immediately my first darkroom goal will be to print my entire story in this miniature size as soon as I have the time. These tiny prints are SO intimate and force the viewer to engage them at a different level. You don’t back up to see these prints you actually move forward. I love this.

We are consuming more words, content, visuals and information than at any point in the history of our species, but the understanding of the content and the depth at which we comprehend is what is really in question. For me the darkroom process is about attempting to shift this paradigm.

Maybe this all stems back to the idea of my prior post in regard to speed, ease, convenience, automation and the technological domination of modern photography. I know I’m not alone in this. Over the past fifteen years I’ve had many, many conversations with photographers who have drawn the proverbial line in the sand and said, “Okay, I’m going digital.” I’ve NEVER understood this. Our conversation would cover all aspects of the superiority of digital printing and how much EASIER and QUICKER it is. I would nod silently and then wait for the inevitable…….all these people uttered the EXACT same line. “There’s nothing like silver.” So if this is the case then WHY are you abandoning it? (This exact same conversation applies to photographers going digital with capture.)

I don’t have a difficult time looking at digital printing and wet darkroom printing and being able to say “these are simply two different things.” What is the right choice? There isn’t one. Whatever gets you or me doing what we do is a good thing.

I find myself asking “What’s the hurry?” and often times I don’t have a good answer. At some point I might be spitting out inkjet prints again, and there are a multitude of other digital printing options that are interesting and compelling, but just because they are out there doesn’t mean I’m going to bury the darkroom process which in a VERY short amount of time has taught me more than I could have possibly imagined.

And I’ve only just begun.