Thursday, December 27, 2012

Inteview with Scott B Davis

Scott B Davis is a Director of Exhibitions and Design at SanDiego Museum Of Photographic Arts.  Along with doing a fabulous job at that post he is an accomplished photographic artist working in platinum prints and teaches that technique in private workshops.
Earlier today it was my great pleasure to visit his home and take a tour of the darkroom, which he built over this summer.  The work there is still continuing (show me an artist whose vision is done and finished and I’ll show you a dead artist) and you may see a few construction tools in some of the images here.  His platinum prints are among the finest that I have personally seen. His work and accomplishments can be found by visiting  You can aslo find contact information there in case you are interested in purchasing a print or taking a workshop.
Here is a transcription of our chat, which was conducted in a loose interview format:

(Scott B Davis in his darkroom)
Q.  What was your first darkroom experience and how did you become a photographer?
A.  Well, I took photography in high school in the ‘80s and I thought photography was purely for dorks and dweebs and I thought it was not for me.  Took a class, passed it and forgot about it.  Then I moved to California from D.C. area when I was 18 and I remember a moment when I was driving on the freeway and had an epiphany that I wanted to take black and white pictures.  There was no reason for it, but I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.  I got my fathers camera, took some pictures, went to community college to gain darkroom access and just kept going.  That was 1991 and by ’97 I sold every piece of darkroom equipment I gathered because I was printing solely in platinum by that time.

Q.  What equipment do you use to create your work?
A.  I use a Burke & James 8x10 and a 16x20in camera that I designed and built in 2002.  I use a 19in Dagor and a 30in Artar, but mostly I’m a wide-angle guy.  I used the 16x20 full time for 5 years, but after switching to 8x10 and starting to scan the negatives I found the experience to be a like working with a 35mm – it’s just that much easier.
 (16x20in camera custom made from cherry wood - folded)
 (Meticulous plans for the above camera)

My 16x20 prints are all direct contact from original negatives, while for larger 20x24 prints I scan the 8x10s and make a digital negative to print from.  I print the 16x20s in an edition of 10 prints and the big enlargements are editions of 5. 

I process my film by inspection method using a number 3 Kodak safe light.  It is very accurate – as soon as you see the highlights you know you have about 45 seconds more in the developer.  There is still work to be done in the darkroom like building the light baffle, print viewing rack for the 20x24 triptychs and lots more.

For a long time now I have used a UV exposure unit for printing - it's a lot more consistent than the sun and I can print at any time.

Print washer – 22x28in was also designed and built from scratch.  I use it mostly when I am making the larger prints and when I’m in full production mode, which means that at most I make three of four final prints a day.  Platinum printing is a very meticulous and time-consuming process.
Q.  What about your history with platinum printing?
A.  I got into platinum in 1996 when I bought the 8x10 from Nelson Photo here in San Diego.  I taught myself the process, but after a year or two of printing I took a workshop with Dick Arentz who wrote the book on platinum printing.  That workshop taught me two things.  One was how to make a platinum print – because there is ‘making a platinum prints’ and then there is ‘Making A Platinum Print’.  And also it taught a lot about using the right side of the brain and interpreting work and making more personally expressive prints rather than simply making prints by the numbers.

Q.  What makes you stick with platinum through all these years?
A.  Truly – I love the actual process of making physical prints.  It’s a process that, not unlike print making proper, requires a lot of knowledge and experience to master the technique.  I love the fat that it has a rich history and heritage.  I also like to exploit platinum for the things that most people don’t exploit it for – most printers are interested in the mid-tones and the glowing, singing whites, and I love to get a nice white as much as anybody but I love to get these juicy, mysterious, heavy dark tones.  I’ve had master digital printers tell me that they can make a print that looks “exactly” like this pint in front of us, but personally I don’t want my next print to look exactly like the last one – I want the next print to be a little different because they stopped making the paper, or I was having a bad day, or I was having a good day and it’s the best print I’ve ever made from that negative.  I love the fact that these prints are artifacts that are unique things onto themselves.  
  The other part of it is that, in essence, nobody can take these materials away from me.  Epson can stop making 7800 K3 inks tomorrow, or they make a new printer that doesn’t use those and they stop supporting your printer’s technology.  And, sure, miners in the Ural Mountains can stop mining platinum and I’d be out of business, but really, it's like making your own D-76 developer – the materials are there, in theory I must emphasize again, nobody can take them away and I can continue making prints that I love and work with a historic process that has a lot of character and integrity to it.
Q.  What subject matter inspires you most?
A.  I shoot at night primarily and LA is where I have done most of my night work.  There I make photographs that suggest a different story of a city that is loaded with iconography and are in opposition to people’s perceptions of what that city is.  LA as a city is very different from what "the industry" and Hollywood wants you to see.  For example this image of an alley and a ramshackle house behind a tattered fence – no wealthy people or stars live here, real Angelenos live here and that’s what my work is about. 
 (two 20x24in prints)
Q.  Who is your top influential photographer?
A.  That would have to be Mark Klett – I took a workshop from him once and that taught me more than three years in a university.  I really love what he has done – from the photographic survey project all the way to today.  He continually explored the medium, and fused it with history well.  He’s a really smart visual thinker.  What originally drew me to his images is his innovative approach to landscape.  For example he started including power lines in his landscapes because that’s the landscape of the world we live in today.  He painted the most accurate picture of the American West that I have seen – from petroglyphs to graffiti, cars on highways and power lines and all that is the definition of our culture today.

Q.  Do you think there is a benefit to new aspiring photographers in learning to use film?
A.  I do, I definitely do.  That benefit is actually in understanding how to use Photoshop on a much deeper level.  It’s a slow road to learn, as you know.  There’s not a lot of people today who have the patience to learn what the film curve is, how to manipulate it by development and do all the testing.  However that knowledge the toe and shoulder of a film curve can give people a huge leg-up in understanding what a natural curve looks like in Photoshop.  A sensitive eye of someone who went through the process of learning film, ‘practicing the scales’ is what I call it, will have an understanding of the proper relationship of zone 4 to zone 5 as an example

Q.  Do you think film will survive in 25 years?
A.  I doubt it.  I like to think so, because I like the materials I use and I like the process, but we have already seen it decline to a point that there are very few good films now being made.  Even the companies that have their heart in it 100% will come to a point when they will only fire up the coating machine three or four times a year and at that point the quality control will drop drastically, the chemistry will not be fresh and there’s not going to be that consistency.   It’s like making scrambled eggs – if you make them only a few times a year they are probably going to be mediocre, but if you make them every morning you’re going to have a good technique down.  So that’s what I see – there’s probably going to be film around, but is it going to be any good?  That’s anybody’s guess.  I do think there is a chance of digital resulting in a greater appreciation of a physical print, but whether even that is true I don’t know – very few people appreciate newspapers any more…

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Minor Update: Darkroom, Planning + Kenneth

  The past few days have been filled with darkroom time.  I am printing up a storm of images from Japan, Guatemala and Nepal - those where the most popular images during my first journey and I'm making more to sell on the road during the second run.  I recently found a little stash of Luminos Pastel Red RC paper at a local store and was thrilled when the 11x14 pack was still good and printed well.  The pack of 20x24 is definitely fogged from age and will have to be printed using lith developer - I do wonder how that's going to work with red base.  If it turns out well I will place one of the images in Gilli's window.  Here is a shot of one of the 11x14 prints. Architecture and other non-organic subjects seem to work best with this paper.

  This little bundle of joy finally came in handy as well. A bottle of Kodak Anti-fog No.1 that I found in my San Diego darkroom with the lot of chemistry included in the purchase of the space.  Containing benzotriazole as the active ingredient this addition to developing agents knocks back the age-fog pretty well.  I used it on the old pack of Oriental paper and was able to clear up the whites.

  Planning of the second trip is moving ahead as well.  I am in contact with a few photographers that I would like to visit and interview.  Some of them work in wet-plate processes and, along with interviewing them, I would love to learn as much from them as possible during the visit.  I'm waiting on a lot of replies as well - I think folks might be too busy with Holiday Season...  

  There is still plenty of time to support the interview project and the second journey in general, so jump in if you have not already done so.  I am extremely thankful to the first 10 people who have contributed so far - Major Kudos To You!

• • •

  At this point I would like to touch on a much sadder note - on Wednesday 12/12/12 a good friend of mine Kenneth Julio Moilean died in a single car accident in Northern California town of Arcata.  Most of my readers have not had a pleasure of knowing him, but I feel this very much deserves an entry in this journal-style blog because I am deeply touched by this event.
  Ken was a true friend and tomorrow a group of people who were part of his circle of friends will attend a memorial in Balboa Park here in San Diego.  At the same time there will be a similar gathering up in Arcata.  I know Ken touched a lot of lives with his upbeat and kind personality and a lot of people are currently grieving his passing.  He was an adventurous soul, a true dreamer and one of the most sincere people I had known in my life.  He had a strong interest in space exploration and an even stronger one in making this world a better, kinder place.  His smile was contagious and the light in his eyes shone brightly for all who took a moment to see it.  Rest in peace dear brother - may the stars open up to you like you have always wanted them to.

• <3 •

Friday, December 7, 2012

Indiegogo Funding Campaign Launched

Well folks I did it.  The new funding campaign has been launched and is currently on the way!

This time I'm using the indiegogo platform because the funding from them is not dependent on the funds reaching 100% of the goal.  This does NOT mean that it's not important for you to donate what you can and to share it with as wide of an audience as possible.  In fact I will do anything to convince you to do so - just ask.

Here is the link: 

When you take a look at it you may notice that this time I have no fancy video and the description is shorter and more concise.  I think the fact that I actually completed the first construction faze and did the incredible journey this summer is going to carry some weight in place of a video.  If you don't think that the journey was incredible indeed - try driving a school bus for 9.300 miles with no budget and get back to me with your thoughts.

I do think that the interview project that I am embarking upon is going to be great fun and will make an impact in this digital age by exposing the passion that film-users have toward this artistic craft.  Yes - you read it correctly!  I am proud of the fact that analog photography is a blend of art and craft - anything produced by hand with dedication of countless hours that are needed in order to perfect ones printing skills is a craft.  It is the vision that is carried through and implemented via that craft by the individual photographer that makes this an art-form.  I hope you share this view with me.

Aside from providing start-up funds for the second cross-country journey the success of this campaign will enable The Photo Palace Bus to gain a very important component of the original vision - namely the fold-out studio.  I simply do not have personal savings any more to spend on it and am counting on the communal support.  Of course a community is made up of individuals, hence You have to plug in and do something to help.  That something could be a contribution of any amount that you feel comfortable with.  Our individual places in society vary and while some scrounge about to get the next roll of film, others upgrade their Leica cameras whenever the newest model comes out.  Think about it and do what you can.  It would also help out tremendously if after you make that contribution you would share the link to this campaign with your friends and help it to go viral

The fact is that the $10K that I am hoping to hit there will not carry Gilli and me too far - the studio will cost at least $4K, diesel is not back to $1.20/gal like it was in the 90s (and that's a real shame), spending even one night a week for 9 months at RV sites (which is where I large developing and printing sessions must take place) will add up to $2.500, the promised books and prints are going up in price as well...  Oh yeah, unfortunately I need to eat too - hopefully I won't forget about that. 

I will do my best to supplement the budget while traveling by selling my prints once again at rock-bottom prices and by offering workshops to the interested public.  That is really how I hope to stay on the road until Fall 2013.  I the campaign goes viral and the $10K goal that would truly be fantastic!  Even if it doesn't - you know I'm good on my promises (after all Photo Palace was built after an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign from which I got very little funding in the end - I'm devoted and committed 100% to this as you may have gathered by mow).  Every perk described there will be fulfilled.

Right now I feel like this Japanese lady - just waiting on the train to come.  Unlike this lonely lady I can not count on the train to come - Japanese trains are notorious for keeping the schedule down to a minute and this campaign is a wild shot in the dark... For those of you interested in the details - this image was taken during my stay in Japan using a Rolleiflex camera and Verichrome film 

Thank You,

New Project Announcement and First Interview

Well folks this is it, I know you've been waiting very patiently and here it is:


Film Interviews Project

I am embarking on a series of interviews some of which I will conduct in person while traveling in Gilli and some of which will have to be conducted via e-mail because Gilli can't fly and there are people across the world that I would like to get involved.

The interviews will be aimed at elucidating a few things about the state of traditional photography today.  I will seek out artists working with analog means (both new and established ones), photo gallery and museum staff, educators, producers of photographic materials, processing labs, and pretty much anyone else I can think of who had anything to do with film photography.  The interviews will at first be published here on this blog and later in a book form (providing the success of the new funding campaign that I am about to launch - more on that in the next post).

With these interviews I hope to provide the public with a few bits of information such as where they can get buy and process their film, why some artists are still working with analog (and why new ones are starting to work with it all the time), which companies are manufacturing what products and what do we have to look forward to, what do photo galleries and museums have to offer in terms of their dedication to traditional prints and what do teachers of various institutions feel about the darkroom craft.

With that I hope to inspire more people to pick up a film camera of any format and go out and gain some confidence and experience by shooting film.  
• • •
Here is the first interview - if you have any suggestions for questions to labs for future interviews feel free to contact me via email
~ ~ ~
Gaslamp Photo Interview
The following interview was conducted with Dan Novice – owner of the last commercial lab in San Diego area that still deals with film.  The mane of the lab is Gaslamp Photo and it’s information can be found at 
Q.  When did you open this lab and why?
A.  I started it in 1990 just because I was so passionate about images and the process of making great images and I still love it to this day.
Q.  What services does your lab offer?
A.  We do black and whit and C-41 film processing and digital printing up to 24x36in.
Q.  How did the advent of digital photography affect your business?
A.  We had to buy a lot of new equipment and learn the new tools to make digital imaging part of the business.  It’s been a good thing for us.
Q.  In what way has it been good?
A.  We’ve been able to add more cervices and become more automated. The amount of work that I can accomplish now is much greater than what we’ve been able to do in the darkroom days, the workflow is much more efficient these days.
Q.  What advice would you give to an aspiring film shooter today?
A.  To concentrate on composition.  I think digital shooters shoot like a machine gun and I think film is great because it allows people to slow down and look at the content of their images.  I think it’s a great tool for people to start with.
Q.  What is your favorite technique in analog photography and why?
A.  I like the traditional rough border – the filed out carrier.  To see the whole frame is just great.
Q.  Do you currently shoot your own images?
A.  I don’t print my own images because I don’t have a darkroom for printing.
Q.  Where do you see film photography in 25 years?
A.  You know, I’d like to say that it will survive.  I see things being discontinued and it’s kind of discouraging, but I see other companies coming in and picking up where Kodak has dropped off and there are other companies out there that are thriving.  I still see a lot of enthusiasts who are very excited about it.  We have students come in who have never seen a roll of film and don’t even know what it is and at the end of the semester they keep shooting and they keep coming in, so that’s encouraging.
Q.  Anything else you would like to add?
A.  I just still love film and I love seeing it come out of the machine, I love to print it – it’s an enjoyable process.  Being in the darkroom I think is therapeutic and very relaxing and I think a lot of these younger kids who have not shot (film) before, they have been all digital, and now they get in the darkroom and a lot of them love it, they really enjoy it.  Time goes by fast you know, but it’s relaxing and I like it.
Notes from Anton:
I still remember when there were about a dozen labs in San Diego where one could bring a roll of Tri-X and have it processed on site.  Now Dan is holding down the fort on his own.  About 4-5 years they had to move out of the heavily gentrified Gaslamp district of San Diego and now he is located in Mission Valley.  Dan was very accommodating in inviting me back to see today’s set-up and even offered to process my roll of film that I shot around his lab – I politely declined only because I get an enormous sense of satisfaction out of processing my own black and white.  I got some great images using my Rolleiflex, for now here are some digital images of the place:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Short Summer Summary & Some Solid Shots

Hello dear friends and readers! 

  I have been back in San Diego for 3 months now and all this time I've been silent as a cricketless night.  Not a lot has happened during this period of time.  I have been spending a lot of time in my North Park darkroom working on printing the images collected over the summer and planning the next Photo Palace journey. I have also been working a fair bit on repairs to those systems aboard The Bus that have failed during the initial journey due to the builders' lack of construction experience and practical knowledge.  I am happy to report that all systems are back in operation and Gilli is road-ready once again.

  Now that a good chunk of time is separating me from the whirl-wind experience of this summer I feel that I can be more objective in summarizing it in a post and here it goes.

  Few words can describe the excitement felt by me during the construction of The Photo Palace Bus in the spring.  Working for 14-hours per day and with help from Ryan and his father I was able to complete the first stage of remodeling of an ordinary school bus into a mobile darkroom in a record time of 3.5 months.  I must note here that because of the unique nature of this venture I don't have any other previous projects to compare this timeline to, so I say 'record' based on the bewilderment of those who have seen Gilli and asked how long did it take to get her all built up and on the fact that that time was much shorter than I have anticipated.

  In retrospect the amount of naivete that was present at the point of departure in June of this year was simply tremendous.  Not making a solid plan of action seemed like a gran poetic notion befitting of the general feeling that art is best made in empirical manner.

  After Ryan and I decided to go our separate ways I was left on my own in Tennessee with less than half the budget necessary to complete the round-trip adventure I found myself in a state of relative despair, which is quite possibly self-evident upon reading the posts on this blog made in early and mid July.  The decision to press on toward Maine was a tough one, but I am very glad it was made nonetheless. 

  Progressing farther eastward I reached the capital of US.  I am very grateful for the kindness exhibited by my Rainbow friend Alan Berger in hosting me at his Washington D.C. residence for the much needed period of clarification of thoughts.  It was a pleasant stay and allowed me to make some connections relating to further travels.  From there on my spirits were once again on an elevated level and I found myself finding good contacts along the way.  I made my way around the country making decent guerrilla-style art sales and exposing the intrigued public about the importance of and value behind hand-made photographic prints and the historic path of traditional photography at every stop along the way.

  Looking back on the reactions I got in various parts of the country that I visited I can honestly say that New England area was by far the most receptive.  People there seemed most engaged and intelligent and were most impressed with the magnitude of the project.  I look forward to visiting that part of the country as soon as the weather and funding permit.

  I'm glad I had time to visit some of my dear friends in NY and MN - next journey, planning for which is currently on the way, will surely include a lot more stop-overs like that.  I am also happy to have had the opportunity to continue my research into the collection of magic lantern slides by Rev. John Rahill purchased by me in 2011.  I visited YMCA archives in Minneapolis MN and dug about in the records of Topeka KS where Mr. Rahill was active shortly after returning from Russia in 1918.  Though records from that era are spotty and hard to come by I was rewarded with some intriguing findings, but I believe there is more to find out on that topic so I plan to visit the Minneapolis archives again.

  It was a tough decision not to go on westward after Minnesota, but I believe it was the most sensible one.  The mountain passes of Montana and those that would have awaited me on the path from Washington state down to California could have brought all sorts of unexpected turns of events and with no crew and near-zero budget I played it safe.  After all - I did reach Maine thereby completing the initial agenda of crossing this vast country diagonally on the very first Photo Palace adventure.

  Admittedly nothing can compare with the feeling of the open road and all the potential it holds, so upon my return to California I felt drained and lacking inspiration.  It took a while to get into the swing of things here, but now I am determined to continue traveling and have came up with a project that I think is worthy of a cause and may interest of the greater film-shooting community.  You, my dear reader, will not have to wait much longer for the next update revealing that project.

  For now - here are some of my favorite images that were made during the summer.  I must point out that the amount of shooting time was limited by the fact that I had to do everything from raising funds to driving and planning by myself, so unfortunately I returned home with only slightly over 60 rolls of film to work from.  That is a relatively low number for me - I have been known to shoot that many rolls in less than half of the time I spent on the road, but then again I didn't have a large school bus to take care of...
Note - I spent two days writing wonderful descriptions to all these messages and arranging them in chronological order.  I swear I was hitting the 'save' button religiously every 30 minutes.  When I went to publish this post ALL the information below this lone was GONE and none of the images were even in the cache.  I reserve the right to come back and add descriptions later, but right now I'm so mad that I will simply put them up with no information and see how I feel a few days from now and if I feel like adding descriptions.  Sorry folks - that's 'the brave new world of digital.
Stick with analog my friends!

I decided to come back and add a little edit to these images as they did feel a little bare with no captions... I will the comments to a minimum though and let them speak.

Hug, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Kid Village Fire, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Meadow Moment, Rolleiwide

Rain Dance, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Joe and Security, Minox IIIa (do not try to do stand development with Minox or you will get that fall-off that you see at te bottom of the frames)

Dancer  III II I, Polaroid 690 with expired Polaroid 600 film

Drummer, Stereo Realist (stereoscopic card)

4th of July Prayer, Rolleiflex Tele

It's Just a Plant, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

DC Bodega, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar (this is the only negative scan seen here, I'll do my best to print it and replace the image)

Mary on the Wall, Rolleiflex Tele

ME Rainbow Singers, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Moon Tracker, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Waving Flag, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Freeway and Gilli, Minox IIIa (Lith print)

Heads, Minox IIIa

Chimney in NY, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Bus Ruins, Tachihara 4x5 with Polaroid 55PN

Kodak Wall, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

Kodak Wall, Polaroid 680 with expired 600 film

Portland Couple, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar, print toned in Polytoner

Propped Wall, Leica M3

Square Scene, Leica M3

Rhode Island Stretch, Leica M3

Gilli and Train, Rolleiflex 2.8F Planar

AZ Hotel, Robot II

Man on Bench, Robot II

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Last leg of the First Journey

  Topeka Kansas to San Diego California in 50 hours in a school bus - I do NOT recommend it... That's the short version.  Here's the longer recount of what I recollect.

  After giving the workshop I finally had enough funds to get back home, so I decided to shoot straight for home - partly because the area that I was to travel through is extremely hot and I wanted to get though it as fast as possible and partly because I have a feeling that that is the same area which has the least possibility of generating random interest in this project by just showing up.  People in New Mexico and Arizona (especially the low-lands) are, in my opinion, not the most artistically-inclined.  I may yet be proven wrong on this during my future journeys there, but I know for a fact that during the hot parts of the year (and those account for 80-90% of it) it's hard to see a single soul on the streets there because residents just want to get from their home into the car, then from there into the place of business where they were going and then back in the same quick fashion - the ticket there is to spend as little time outside of an air-conditioned environment as possible.  So I decided to make the 1500mi (2400km) drive in as quick of a time as humanly possible.

  I left Topeka at about 5pm on Saturday and arrived to San Diego Monday at about 7pm - that may be some sort of a record considering the vehicle and that there was only one driver.  If commercial drivers licenses were given out simply by judging how numb someones gluteus maximus muscle is after a drive I would definitely easily qualify.  The drivers seat in Gilli is original and was not designed for long stretches of driving - 2-3 hours I can do easy, but after 4-5-6-10 straight hours of bouncing up and down in it I found myself having to stand up while driving, which is actually kinda fun and feels a little like surfing a giant metal board down a freeway.

  Kansas was nice and flat and not too hot and I drove well into the night exhilarated by the fact that I'm going home and hopped up on a major amount of coffee.  Still, I couldn't do the all-nighter and soon after I crossed into Oklahoma I started to doze off and pulled over somewhere either in Oklahoma or Texas.  Both of those states have parts dubbed Panhandle because of their shape and those parts are very similarly flat, boring and desolate.

  I woke up at 8am because the air was already starting to get hot and stuffy and proceeded to drive all day down to I-40 and then on in through New Mexico, past Albuquerque and into the northern part of Arizona before finding myself not being able to go on any further.  I fell asleep right after getting off the big highway just 40 miles or so into Arizona.  I think I did about 550 miles that day - knowing that my average speed is about 50 when on the flats that's 11 hours of pure driving time.

  In Arizona I chose the route that would avoid Flagstaff and at the same time would avoid the very low and hot I-25 that I had to deal with before (that's where Gilli overheated that one and only time and I have a prejudice against that road now).  So, after looking at the topographical maps I decided to go with a series of small one-lane highways thinking that it'll be relatively flat and not too extreme when it comes to elevation changes.  Somehow I must have miscalculated because soon after I started driving I found myself on a pretty steep incline.  Gilli does not like hills and I was going 25mph for abut an hour until I reached a 7000+ foot plateau.  It was a gorgeous drive up there and here are three images from that part of the drive.

  There is a national forest there and someday I'd love to go camping in it, but this was no time to stop - I was determined to make it back to San Diego by Monday night because one of my favorite bands plays very Monday in my favorite bar in the town of Ocean Beach, so that was the major incentive driving me forward. 

  When I got off the plateau it immediately got to be close to 100°F, which made me ever so more determined to keep driving as fast as possible.  The tough part was just coming up though and I was not looking forward to it.  There is a mountain pass in California just west of El Centro and I know that road all too well.  Back about 10-12 years ago I worked as a photographer for a portrait company that would frequently send me on shoots to Yuma and even a light-weight car that I drove back then did not like that climb very much.  I knew I was in for a slow ride, but I had not anticipated exactly how slow.  In a few parts of it I slowed down to 15mph and it was pure hell.  Going so slow did give me plenty of time to contemplate every boulder, dust off the dashboard and admire the glistening of broken glass on the freeways shoulder.  Here is a quick little snapshot to give those of you who have never been in this part of the country an idea of the landscape.  Elevation - 3000ft.

  It was still close to 100 degrees and Gilli was close to overheating for about 2 hours.  I watched the thermostat closely, but there are no marks between 180° and 240° and the point of no return is 220° - the needle must have hovered somewhere around 215°...  Tense! Thankfully she pulled through like a champ and soon I found myself on the wonderfully speedy downhill part barreling down toward San Diego.  

  I can't tell you how excited I was to see the sun go down into the ocean as I was approaching Ocean Beach.  It was very unfortunate that I was just about 5 minutes from the actual ocean and had to take this sinking sun photo from the freeway, but I think it was still worth it.  San Diego river can be seen on the bottom right and Pacific ocean is just beyond the background trees.

  Driving into Ocean Beach, my old hang-out, in a school bus was very surreal to me, but I did not count on there being still so many tourists and locals out - I completely forgot that it was indeed Labor Day holiday and people come out in droves for that occasion.  I barely found parking, stepped out of The Photo Palace and breathed a deep sigh -  the first trial-by-fire journey was over and Gilli and I were back in one piece!  Amazing...

  I am going to take a short break from posting updates on here and allow a little time to separate myself from that experience in order to write a fair and balanced recollection report.  Meanwhile I will develop the rest of the film shot, make some contact sheets, clean up the incredible mess that is currently my San Diego darkroom space, dig out the scanner to make some scans and, of course, print print print.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Topeka Workshop Done - now back to San Diego

  Today I held a workshop at The Villages Inc. in Topeka KS - a group home facility for youth in need of a place to live and learn.  It is an alternative to Juvenile Detention Centers and some kids that live there have been in and out of 'the system' since being very young.  For the reasons of confidentiality I was explicitly asked not to post any images of them on here, which is a shame because before I knew of that rule I did take some great pictures of them at work.  

  I love how serendipitously this workshop came together!  On Thursday, when I was done with my research at Topeka Library concerning John W. Rahill and his lantern slides and general activity as a minister of Topeka Central Congregational Church, I decided to walk a mile and a half to Wolf's Camera Shop.  It was very hot and after just a few blocks I had a feeling that the walk is not going to be what I anticipated (pictures I wanted to take would have been rather boring as the neighborhood was pretty typical with no pedestrians to be seen and the day was just heating up) and I had a feeling that I should turn around and drive there instead.  When I rounded the corner of the library I saw a group of three people peeking into Gilli's windows and looking intrigued.  I offered them a tour and they loved the work and the concept.  As it turns out one of them was actually the executive director Sylvia Crawford and she said that some of her kids might be into it, took my card and called me back later that afternoon after finding out that indeed there was interest.  Sometimes things just work out when you follow your gut.

  Today I had four 16 year old students, two boys and two girls, and met them at the property at 9am.  They were very enthusiastic and as interested and focused as anyone at 16 can be.  We briefly went through the history of photography leaving out some more boring details and focusing more on the evolution of the process of printing. I got a lot of questions about Polaroid manipulation and the technique of light painting.  They loved seeing the historic daguerreotype next to the one of Gilli and me taken by Mr. McElroy just a week and a half ago.
  Then I launched into the relationship between film speed and shutter/aperture combinations.  Before I lost their attention with dry numbers I pulled out a light meter and showed them how it all ties in.  I think they got the idea...  Afterward I went through the number of formats of cameras starting with view cameras (the cherry Tachihara 4x5 seemed to evoke the most trepidation) and down to Minox - I illustrated all the cameras with my own images taken with the cameras I was displaying.
   Next I pulled out my favorite Tele Rolleiflex, loaded it with a roll of Tri-X given to me in Rochester by the wonderful folks at Kodak and we went outside to take portraits of them using that wonderfully classic combination.  I kept taking light meter readings and changing the camera settings, thereby reinforcing the material that I just presented to them.  Each kid got to do three poses - everyone wanted at least one shot by The Photo Palace Bus, seems like it strikes a note with everyone who sees it.
  After the quick photo shoot we went into the darkroom and I demonstrated what it takes to develop a roll of film.  We went through the times with various developers and settled on using Rodinal at 1/25 dilution for 7 minutes.  The pictures turned out pretty nice in my view, but, of course, girls will be girls and one of them was disappointed with the way her beautiful hair laid...  What can I do - we didn't have a make-up artist on sight, this wasn't a glamor shoot.
  Once the film was washed it force-dried with the aid of a conventional hair dryer because I would have taken a good hour or more for it to dry in current humidity that we are experiencing here.  The kids seemed to be fascinated with the look of negatives - they kept referring to the 'setting on the phone' that inverts the images and now they knew what it was actually emulating. 
  To give them a good idea of how gelatin silver prints are made I went through the various aspects of enlargement controls while making the contact sheet.  Then came time for them to chose their favorite poses and actually print one image on their own under my supervision.  They did all right - I think as good as anyone printing for their first time can do.  The prints came out a bit flat, but I wasn't about to push them to keep making infinite test strips because by then the darkroom was heating up pretty good and I could see the beads of sweat forming on their foreheads. 
  In the end we took a little walk down the picturesque hill on top of which their group homes are located and talked about Ansel and his pre-visualization concepts.  When we came back to The Bus their prints were dry.  I cut up the contact sheet and gave them each their three 6x6cm images and the 8x8in final prints.  The highest praise they could formulate is the it was "G as hell" and I took that with gratitude - anything that deserves the 'G' label in their world means that it impressed them to the maximum.
  The workshop ended at 3pm and we were all exhausted by then.  Linda, one of the house parents, invited me in for hot dogs and a protein shake and before I left supplied me with a care package of fruit bars, Oreos and canned fruit - I will enjoy them all on my long journey back to San Diego.

  Now I have the gas funds needed to make it back to California and am looking forward to being home again.  It's been almost 3 months since I left and the time couldn't have been more adventure-packed.  One thing I am not looking forward to is driving the remaining 1500mi through the scorching heat that is prevailing in New Mexico and Arizona...  I will be extremely thankful next time when Gilli has a roof air conditioner - this was really a trial by fire kind of trip, but it was well worth it.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Des Moines IA - Christian Photo Store

   This is the first time two updates were written on the same day - I feel like a writer more than a photographer/driver, but I think any film shooters living around or passing through this part of the country may appreciate this quick info.

   While driving through Des Moines I stopped by Christian Photo today and found a wonderfully receptive and kind staff there who were genuinely excited to see The Photo Palace Bus outside of their establishment.  Located on the northern part of town it is one of the bigger camera stores that I have found along this journey.  I was happy to find a great selection of film (including the hard to find Fuji FP3000b) and a full line-up of darkroom supplies that's enough to start printing with.

  Also they do have two cases full of film cameras - the one that is not pictured is more of a regular student selection and includes a good number of AE-1s and other cameras of similar type.  The one I liked better is located behind the counter on the wall and has some nifty finds - if anyone wants a good deal on a Stereo Realist for just $50 (I checked it out and all the speeds are working, unlike in mine...) or a Contax RTS (Didn't ask how much that one was) - do give them a call at 515-270-8030 and I'm sure they'd be happy to help out.  There was also a very odd old fold-out 35mm German camera the name of which I forget now, but all the shutter speeds were working great and it seems like for $30 it might have been a great deal, if only I had the extra $30 to spend... It is pictured on the same shelf as the RTS, third from left.  Also - a fair deal on a Rolleiflex RIII lens hood - considering what I see them fetch these days on eBay $50 is not bad...

  Thank you Christian Photo for your enthusiasm and commitment to film!  Here's to many more years in business and to film never going away.


P.S. I am sorry I won't be able to make it to your photo walk-about tomorrow - it sounds like fun, but I would love to get two days to dig through and see what I can find in the archives of Topeka concerning some photos I have from 100 years ago, so I'm on the way there right after I post this and hopefully I'll make the 260 miles in one shot...  I'll be back though and hope to catch one of these events next time.  Cheers!

Minnesota update No.2 - Lumen print, Museum of Russian Art, Darkroom Equipment.

  Minnesota was definitely fun enough to grant a second update, so I'm writing it from a rest area located on I-35 about 90 miles north of Des Moines before attacking that city (Photographically-speaking.... don't want home-land security folks alerted by this).  I will do my very best to keep this one short as I do want to get on the road and I can feel Gilli heating up by the minute - it's going to be in the 90s here today.

  While staying at my dear friend Alecia's place I tried out a new (for me) technique called Lumen printing.  It's a great way to make good use of some old fogged paper and it was actually suggested to me by Mark Osterman of George Eastman House.  All one needs for this process is some gelatin silver paper, plant life, contact printing frame (or simply a heavy piece of glass with a flat support) and regular fixer.  Toner is optional and I will experiment with that later.  Essentially this is a contact printing technique that makes use of the fact that enough UV light will turn the silver salts withing photo paper dark without need to develop the image out.  You would place a leaf in contact with paper under glass and expose it for a good amount of time to our old friend The Sun.  You can watch the paper turning darker shades starting right away, but it took me giving it about a 15 minute exposure in order to get good definition within the leaf itself.  After exposure just bring the frame inside a dimly-lit room and immerse the photo paper into a fixing bath.  That's all!  You can use the plethora of available toners to create the desired shade, but I kinda like the way that the straight print looks.  Experimentation is the key here as the image may look fine when you first look at it, but does bleach out a bit in the fixing bath.
  Here is a frame while being exposed and the resulting image (the swirls on the lower third of the image are my reflection upon the surface of the glossy Kodak RC paper - in reality it's a pretty smooth pleasantly consistent background)

  After leaving Alecia's I had a feeling that there may be something else in Minneapolis that I needed to do, so I found a wi-fi spot and searched around the art scene to see what was happening that day.  I found a lot of 'Daily' listings for multiple pages-worth of museums, but none of them really called to me until I came upon a blurb about The Museum of Russian Art, which just happened to be hosting a Soviet photography exhibit.  Wow!  What a coincidence - I just could not pass that up.  
  I decided to combine the pleasureful with productive and called up the curator (who is actually Russian herself), told her a little about the research I'm doing about the YMCA slides from Russia 1917-18 and was very happy to hear that she was willing to meet with me later that afternoon. 

  On my way to Minneapolis I drove down Hwy 77 where I found this wonderfully picturesque old house - crushed by a maple tree and abandoned many years ago.  I went to town with multiple cameras on this little find and here is an image taken with Fuji FP100c - 4 exposures.

   I pulled up to the museum about 3:30 and parked right in front of the museum, which is housed in a very neat-looking building.

  You can find a lot more information about this wonderful organization HERE.  It was not long before Dr. Maria Zavialova (museum curator) came to the lobby to meet me and led me into the conference room in the back.  We spent a good deal of time pouring over the 300+ scanned magic lantern slides on my computer and she seemed very interested in their content and the photographic abilities of Mr. Rahill himself.  She said that this collection could be well worth showing and we are going to proceed to communicate further about that.   I am very excited with this opportunity as this is actually the only museum in US dedicated solely to Russian motifs and I think this would be a great kick-off for this body of work that has not seen the light of day in 85+ years.  

  After the slides were all looked through and discussed it was already past the closing time at the museum, but Maria was kind enough to turn the lights back on in the photo exhibit and I suddenly found myself having minor childhood flash-backs. 

  The show consists of vintage black and white prints found by a particular collector during his multiple trips to Russia.  Here is the introductory write-up about Mr. Thomas Werner himself.

  I like the arrangement of the space withing with gallery and the tonal range chosen for the paint and displays.  There were also some old-school Russian cameras on display, which made me relate to the show even more.

  The images ranged from professional to amateur creating a good range of print quality of subject matter.  I enjoyed seeing images paired up - a glamorized propaganda image next to a gritty real-life snap shot.  There were quite a few of them and they really gave a good insight into the life of ordinary Russian folks.

  One of the images had some pretty neat darkroom work put into it - it was a professional photo taken for an old Soviet publication dealing with mining.  Interesting dodging and burning makes that image stand out from the straight-forward printing style in the rest of the exhibition.

  I recommend anyone who is interested in Russian imagery and finds themselves in Minneapolis area to stop by the museum - the show will be up through September 23rd.

  After exiting the museum Maria showed the true value of Russian hospitality and invited me for tea at her house.  How could I say no to that?  She lived only one house away from the museum and I didn't even have to move Gilli. 
  We had a lovely conversation over some deliciously strong tea, made with mint from her own garden, and buckwheat honey plus some quick sandwiches that totally made me road-ready.
  Maria wrote an interesting dissertation on symbolism in art and interpretation as carried between cultures.  I found myself on the same page with her - to each of us symbols and imagery carry a significantly varied meaning dictated by our personal past along with the culturally accepted norms, so in general truly figurative abstract communication is close to impossible when different cultures and time periods are involved.  In fact, even when communication happens one-on-one and in real time we chose to speak while making assumptions based on our past experiences and knowledge while the listener is left to interpret the words through his/her own memory filters, so, the lesson is, be very careful in your wording if you want to be clearly understood and followed.  I also agree with Maria that some basic generalities can indeed speak through time and across cultures due to the inherently similar experiences that we all go through due to having to deal with the basic nature of being Human - that gives me some hope that we can all relate in the long run.
  After leaving Maria's place at around 7pm I saw that I missed a call from an earlier e-mail I sent out in response to a Craigslist ad that I answered to.  I can not help, but to look up ads for any darkroom equipment in various cities I visit and sometimes the timing actually works out for me to go and look at it in person.  This was one of those times and within a half an hour (after giving a quick photo-history lesson to some random, but interested and eager, visitors who saw the bus and were intrigued) I found myself meeting Barbara and her family at the old printing shop on 48th street.

  Ah, the days when every print shop, every company, every school and a slew of other image-thirsty companies HAD to have a darkroom in the back room or basement...  Those were the good-old days and I only wish I could have been alive and active in photography during those times.  What we have left now are the shambles of that film culture being cleared out of those spaces to make room for computer desks and office chairs.  Luckily there are still plenty of nooks and crannies that hold small photographic treasures out there and this was one of those occasions.
  If anyone reading this in Minneapolis area would like to start a darkroom of their own please let me know and I can probably connect you to Barbara.  You can also go to Zumbro Restaurant - have a good meal and ask her husband about the equipment there in person.  I got the warmest reception there and it is only my loss that I decided to drive out before the morning as I was graciously offered a meal there on the house due to my current financial woes and general analog enthusiasm. 

  Equipment for sale and still there includes a 35mm Durst enlarger in great shape, two Thomas-duplex safe-lights and a few smaller ones as well, print trays galore, a nice big darkroom sink (in need of cleaning, but it would be pretty groovy-looking after some scrubbing), light-table for transparencies (I don't understand this contraption - it has a spray of water coming over whatever you put on it, so it's not to squeegee anything off, but possibly to examine film while it's still wet..?) and a beautiful stat camera (!), which by the looks of it is capable of making graphic negatives of up to 20 or 24 inches.  I would have totally grabbed that beast, but right now it would have taken up the entire hallway of the bus and I'd have to climb around it on the table to get to the darkroom....  However, I was lucky enough to have Barbara hand me over plenty of odds and ends including some Agfa and Ilford paper, fixer, developers (including my favorites Rodinal and HC-110) and toners, some of which I have never heard of, but with which I am looking very much forward to experimenting.  Here's a quick shot of the treasures rescued this time around.

  I took off from the city feeling fairly accomplished an with a definite intent to be back there for a more prolonged period of time during my next trip to this part of the country.

  After I got some diesel at a local Flying-J truck stop I found that the entrance back onto I-35 was under construction and I had to take a detour down a long country highway.  The signs were pretty confusing and I took a wrong turn at one point - it didn't take me long to realize I'm going the wrong way though.  I mean, c'mon, any time you see a sign like this you KNOW you're going the wrong way...