Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day One of West Coast Trip - Freestyle, more Allan Barnes and More

Day One - My first update from the West Coast trip #1.

  Today I headed out pretty early out of San Diego and drove to Los Angeles with a few things on the agenda.

  The trip to LA went smoothly.  Gilli performed wonderfully, as she always does and I even maintained an average speed of about 58mph all the way there.  I do love driving this beast - sitting so high off the ground and moving so slowly I was able to spot numerous interesting things that I have missed during all the other hundreds of times I have driven up I-5.  I am very excited to continue the journey up 101 and enjoy the mellow pace of The Photo Palace Bus as I dip into the redwoods, but more about that after it happens.

  First stop was a private residence in Redondo Beach.  There I picked up a Majestic Tripod for an artist friend of mine.  He asked for me to find 3 of these beasts for his installation project involving photographic equipment.  These tripods are pretty hard to find, but I was able to complete this task and this purchase completed the set.  In return for the tripods I am looking forward to receiving a wonderful 8x10 Kodak 2D camera with all the fixings.  I already have one of those cameras, but this one will serve as a good back-up and it also has a period lens that I am going to use to create wet plate collodion portraits and other images.  It's just not the same working on a 100+ year old camera with a modern lens...  just doesn't feel right.  I'll post a picture of that camera when I pick it up in the Bay Area in a couple of days.

  Then I made a stop at Allan Barnes' studio just south of downtown LA.  He was ever so kind as to provide me with one of the chemicals needed for wet plate and I am hugely thankful for that.  He was actually working with the same pair of students that I met during the time I saw him for the interview which you can read in full HERE.  The two lovely ladies were once again sharpening their collodion skills using their extremely photogenic daughters as models.  The plates they were coming up with this time looked a lot more technically polished and I could totally see the improvement.  The whole gang also took a quick tour of The Bus and all seemed to have enjoyed it.  I didn't want to hold them up for too long plus I was very excited about my last stop, so the visit only lasted a mere half an hour or so and I was off again.

  My third and last stop was in Hollywood at one of my favorite places on the West Coast - Freestyle Photographic Supplies right off Sunset Blvd and within view of the famous Hollywood sign on the hill.  Gilli finally made it to this mecca and we even found a front row parking spot in their lot.

  For those of you who don't know about Freestyle I would like to say that they are the premier supplier of all things that have to do with analog photography and more.  Whatever you need - there it is.  Most people I know order their products online.  As I am based in San Diego I have a pleasure of stopping by there in person, browsing the isles, looking at sample prints, picking through the clearance rack and just breathing in the tradition.  They have wonderfully helpful and knowledgeable staff and it's always fun and educational to pick their brains.  Here are some images of this wonderful shrine of tradition to give you a sense of its scope.

 As you can see the store contains a plethora of chemistry, papers, equipment and finishing products.  I highly recommend making a stop there during your next time in LA - it's a definite photo-vacation destination.  
  However the purpose of my trip there today was not simply browsing and purchasing their products, but a visit with Eric Joseph who is Freestyle's Senior Vice President and is in charge of Merchandising and Product Development.  Upon a suggestion from Steve Anchell (more about whom I will be writing later) Mr. Joseph was nice enough to make an appointment with me knowing The Photo Palace Bus will be passing by.  We had a wonderful chat that lasted over an hour and I must admit I am more impressed with Freestyle than I ever was, not to mention being completely being taken aback by the level of approachability and kindness exhibited by Mr.  Joseph (he did make a special trip to the store to meet with yours truly as he doesn't normally come in on Saturdays).  I must admit that the talk we had was heavily skewed toward him talking and me listening - that is only normal during a meeting of a giant and an aspiring artist such as myself and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  

  First thing that I saw when I walked into the conference room was a pile immaculate of inkjet prints strewed about the large table.  Freestyle is not adverse to the digital medium and I can't blame them for that.  What is commendable though is that they try to educate photographers old and young about the importance of PRINT QUALITY.  Let me expand on this just a bit.  
  How many photographers these days will spend a week, a month, a year shooting without EVER printing out ANY of their images?  They will share those images on Facebook, post them to Instagram and Tweet them for the whole world to see.  They never commit the image to a real tangible print.  They also don't control what screen those images are being seen and the impact that is lost while looking at a photograph, however beautiful its potential may be, on a poorly calibrated or low resolution monitor.  How many times have we walked into a gallery with a group (or god forbid solo) photography show and have seen prints that made us cringe?  The blacks are all over the place, tones are off...  Curators today select images for exhibitions by looking at them on computer screens at uniform resolution and file size.  Having selected an interesting image they ask the artist to send a print - what they don't know though is that that 'artist' is going to go to Kinkos or Wallmart and send their file though some awful machine to be printed on the cheapest glossy paper and when it gets hung on the wall it screams amateurism.  Therefore Freestyle under the leadership of Eric Joseph have developed an educational program to remedy that.  He travels around the country with a portfolio of 140 prints on every paper available on the market from 8 different manufacturers.  He tells people how to calibrate their system for optimum output and how to select a proper paper for each image.  HERE is a link to all the educational programs offered by Freestyle among which you can find Mr. Joseph's seminars.

  Enough about digital though - that's really not what The Photo Palace Bus is about and my readers know that.  I was there because I respect Freestyle for sticking with film and keeping the darkroom world afloat.  A few years ago it seemed like the world of analog photography is on its way to be six feet under within our lifetime and that scared me personally.  I love the experiences of shooting film, being warmed by the knowledge of a latent image waiting to emerge in the development, going through the steps in the darkroom to bring it to life, caressing the paper in the developing tray (or sometimes struggling with a mural-sized sheet of wet fiber) and then looking at a final product knowing that I put some thought and effort in its creation.  That is why I built The Photo Palace Bus - to inspire and provide new souses of blood flow to the shrinking market of traditional photography.

  It seems that folks at Freestyle were on the same page with me when.  As Mr. Joseph explained to me, 12 years ago they made a conscious decision to stick with film and keep it alive by all means necessary.   They started making contracts with smaller fledgling companies around the world in order to keep them from going under like so many have in those days.   In the past I have heard some grumbles about Freestyle 'buying up all the stock' - now I understand the reality of the situation and know that that is the only way that those companies can still be kept alive.  The enormous effort that goes into coating photo sensitive materials is costly and that cost increases drastically when you have to resort to firing up the coating machine only once or twice a year.  The expenses of cleaning, calibration, chemistry and electricity become prohibitive when you have an uncertain market and what Freestyle is doing by sometimes buying the entire run of a certain film or paper is providing that market for a companies with limited distribution outlets.  Without Freestyle companies like ADOX would likely be a thing of the past long ago and we would be saying 'remember that great film?' rather than having a chance to buy that film from Freestyle.

  Not only that - Freestyle is working tirelessly on encouraging production of new materials by those same old manufacturers and I applaud them for it.  I must admit that the amount of information that was dispensed to me during the hour spent with Mr. Joseph was rather overwhelming as he is a true walking depository of knowledge and I am struggling to recall all of it, but let me give a little hint - watch out for something new coming out very soon by their house brand Arista.   I can not divulge more details at this point, but I'm excited, I know that much, and all the darkroom devotees should be too.  If you have not done so yet - sign up to receive their darkroom catalog by mail and keep your eyes open...  Oh yeah, and you might (or might not) see a mention about yours truly and The Photo Palace Bus on one of those catalogs in the near or distant future.  Be that as it may, those catalogs are just good to have on hand for then a fancy strikes you and you want to try a new paper, experiment in alternative processes, finally invest in a proper storage/filing system and for a number of other things related to your love of film.

  At the end of the day, among a few other wonderful folks who expressed interest in the giant yellow bus parked so prominently in front of Freestyle, I was also please to meet Michael Baker who brought out for me to marvel at some of his gorgeous 20x24in direct positive prints.  He uses a 12in lens and almost nothing else to capture these images.  He simply puts the lens on a tripod, creates a makeshift dark space by the use of black cloth, sets up his fabricated creations in front of the lens and exposes the sheet of paper, which I assume is somehow fastened to a wall in the darkened room.  Because he finds himself 'in the camera' along with that paper he is able to dodge and burn each print during the exposure and the results are quite stunning.  Also, due to the fact that there is no negative, each image is unique and that's always a nice quality in a piece of art. The direct positive fiber paper made by Harman technologies has an incredibly deep and rich black, which unfortunately does not at all show in this quick outdoor snapshot.  I highly recommend giving that paper a try - I loved it and still have 4-5 holders in the bus loaded with it right now.  Here is Michael and his work in less-than glorious representation.

  I left Freestyle Photo as they were closing up and Michael was kind enough to open the exit gate to a wider position so Gilli could fit through on her way out.   In about 3.5 hours I was in Santa Barbara, where I am writing this update from.  Now I am off to the relative comfort of The Photo Palace Bus to see exactly how cold it will get while sleeping in there in the winter.  Tomorrow there is an art walk event that happens here every Sunday along the picturesque shore of the Pacific Ocean and I will be parked prominently by it inviting all to come on board, see the history display and perhaps buy an image or two to replenish the gas fund.  
  Oh!  Almost forgot - here's a shot of my first fill-up of this trip.  $200 - bye-bye....

Anton Orlov


  1. Sounds like you're off to a great start!

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    2. Thanks George - I am pretty excited about the good start. I think it's going to be a great little trip! Thanks in large part to you of course.

  2. Thanks for stopping in at Freestyle this Saturday. I applaud what you are doing and hope that we can do some things together in the future. It is always great to find people who share the same passion for traditional silver-based and historical process photography as we do. Good luck to you on your journey and stay in touch. Say hello to Steve Anchell for me when you see him.

    1. Thank you Eric for having me over and for the kind words. I'll be coming back by in a few weeks, hopefully you'll be in town and we can chat a bit more.

  3. I wish I had know you were going to be in LA, it would have been cool to come over to freestyle and see the bus and meet you!

    1. Michael,
      I hope to be back in LA a few more times and I'll be sure to give a notice on here of when that will happen. Right now I'm trying to set up a Magic Lantern show for the time when I'll be passing through there on my way south to San Diego, so if you have any ideas of a good venue don't hesitate to drop me an email.