My 52-Week Photo Challenge

I’ll be graduating college in May and want to be sure I create photographs even when I no longer have photography classes. I decided a good way to make sure I keep shooting is to start a 52-week photo challenge.

Each week I will take a haiku written by my partner, Ethan Zierke and attempt to illustrate it in a photo. I plan to use instant photos taken on my Fujifilm INSTAX Mini 90 Neo Classic because I rarely get my film shot, developed, and scanned on a weekly basis.

I will be illustrating the following four in January:

Jan. 1-7: Poets toss rotting
books from knotted shelves to fro-
-thing populations

Jan. 8-14: A new snow dusting
Above old fixtures rusting
Long live frozen towns

Jan. 15-21: the quiet surrounds:
swallowing sounds, each louder
than my heart expounds

Jan. 22-28: impossible, yes,
the silence cannot listen:
what is there to say?

Jan. 29-Feb. 4: everything is there
and nothing at all; let the
taboo fruit tree fall

Feb. 5-11: the beads of sweat roll
like pearls across mirrored plates:
severed heads of fear

Feb. 12-18: the fruitless dreamscape
buries the rediscovered
paths, past and future

Feb. 19-25: I am not mindless:
I left my mind at home
for you to sustain.

Feb. 26-March 4: Love and passion are
concealed by confused hunger:
a futile attempt

March 5-11: love teeters on the
edge of your bathroom sink where
mirrors hold my heart

 

Check my Instagram for weekly updates. I will be posting monthly updates here on my blog.

Video Review: Cinestill 800T

For my third and last (maybe?) 35mm film stock review, I tried CineStill 800T. The results were stunning and I would choose this film over Kodak Portra for portrait work any day. Below are some of the images I show during the video.

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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T
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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T
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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T
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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T
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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T
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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T
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Minolta X-700, CineStill 800T

Hanging Prints with Magnets

One year ago, I tried to Google how to hang gallery images with magnets and my search turned up almost nothing, so I wanted to share the method I’ve used to hang group gallery shows.

Using magnets is great because it’s much cheaper than framing work and it still looks professional. All you need are nails or screws from the hardware store (not copper or aluminum) and small disc magnets, which you can buy for about $0.25 each.

You can find the magnets I used online here. The discs are about the same circumference as a normal nail head and are strong enough to hold my 16×16″ prints.

The first step of this hanging method, and probably the most difficult one, is taking measurements. I used a ruler to measure out where each of my prints would go in pencil leaving several inches between each.

Next, I put nails on each corner about half an inch inward from my measurements. This way, the magnets will sit on the boarders of your image instead of insecurely on the very corners of your prints.

You can hammer the nails all the way into the wall so your prints will lie right against it, but I prefer to hammer the nails in just enough that they are secure. This way, my prints sit about one inch from the wall, which provides some dimension.

Magnet Mounting Diagram

Gallery display nail setup
I measured out 16×16″ squares in a grid pattern then hammered in four nails on each corner.

Once your nails are in place, hanging work is easy. Simply center the print on top of its four nails and place a magnet on each corner.

You can learn more complex methods that use magnets here.

 

Here are other supplies I used to hang my show:

  • Clamp lights, available at hardware stores
  • Outdoor spot floodlights
  • Hammer or screwdriver
  • Extension cord, preferably with several outlets
    • OR an extension cord and a surge protector
  • Printed/mounted artist statement

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Click here to view the images I displayed in this show.

Iowa Project Update 2

A little over a month has passed since I posted my first update for my rural Iowa project. Like all long-term projects, it slowed down as time passed, especially after I ran out of small town near Iowa City that I could easily shoot.

I am mostly satisfied with the results. I can see some themes really starting to emerge in the series and hope to continue the project long-term. Unfortunately, the university’s Hasselblad is not available to me except when I am enrolled in a photography class, so I won’t be able to continue the project over winter break. This wouldn’t be a problem except that I want to stick with square format images and don’t have another square format camera. I’m a bit of a purist in that I’d like to stick with film and the Hasselblad’s original 1:1 aspect ratio throughout the entire project.

The best part about choosing film for this project, for me, was my rate of success. I shot 11 rolls of film (132 exposures). There are about 16 good images that I plan to keep in my show which means I am happy with about a 12 percent of the total images I made. It might not sound like a lot, but that’s much higher than I achieve in digital.

evolution_edited_final_800Photographer Mason Resnick made this meme that describes my experience exactly.

To be fair, I do shoot film pretty conservatively only making about one or two images of a single subject before moving on, but I think this is a benefit and I’m a better photographer for it. Limiting my number of exposures helps me make more deliberate, consistent work and really develop a noticeable style.

I still have some cropping and editing to do before I can call this project finished (for now). Plus, I need to write an artist statement and figure out the order I want to hang them at the group show. But you can expect the full project in order with an artist statement on my project page under the Work tab in the next week.

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Portra 400

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

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Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

Top three reasons I still shoot film in 2016

Photographers who grew up shooting digital are making the switch to film. In a survey published last year, Ilford learned 30 percent of film shooters are under 35 years old and 60 percent of them have been using film for less than five years. And many of them use film just because it’s fun.

I definitely fall under these categories. I discovered film in June 2015 when I was given my great grandma’s old Minolta X-700. It was 35mm, so I definitely wasn’t attracted to film because it has higher image quality (though I shoot medium and large format now, which reach better quality than digital camera). I liked it because it made me feel more deeply connected to my photographic process.

Here are three ways film changed the way I shoot.

  1. Film is physical.

Before I started using film, I rarely had the opportunity to handle my images. Prints were the only way I could access my work. With film, the process is touchable from the start. My shots take up real space in the physical world before they became fully fledged works of art. Therefore, each photo feels important and is a tangible product of my efforts. This increases my investment in my work.

  1. Film changes the way you think about shooting.

Shooting on film makes photography less automatic. A roll of 35mm film can only hold 24 or 36 images. If you’re shooting medium format, those numbers drop down to 12 or 15. Because I don’t have an abundance of money to buy lots of film, this forces me to shoot more deliberately. I find it difficult to go through more than one roll in a day, because I will often shoot only one image per subject. With digital, I might have hundreds of images to sift through at the end of the day.

The fact I can’t look at your images immediately after shooting (known as chimping) also works as an advantage. This improves my skills by forcing me to envision your images in my mind’s eye.

  1. Film isn’t instant. And that’s a good thing.

Waiting for the lab to develop my film is one of my greatest joys. My lab typically takes three to five days to finish developing and printing my images. During this time, I have the opportunity to reset so I can view my finished images with fresh eyes making me a better judge of their quality and composition.

That gratification of finally finding out whether my image is pure gold or garbage just isn’t as sweet when it’s instant.

Thoughts while Visiting the Vivian Maier Exhibition

Yesterday I went to the Des Moines Art Center to see Vivian Maier: Through a Critical Lens. Like many, I instantly became a fan when she went viral online a few years ago. I loved her work both for her photographs and her story. Maier was a Chicago nanny who was also an avid photographer. Late in her life, financial restrictions forced her to move to a small apartment and keep many of her belongings in a storage unit. In 2007, she ran out of money to continue making payments on the storage unit and her belongings were sold to a Chicago auctioneer for $250.

Maier died in April 2009. A man named John Maloof purchased one of her lots at auction and posted some images online six months after her death. People have been obsessed with her photographs ever since.

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The biggest controversy surrounding Maier’s work, of course, is whether she intended for it to ever be shown and if it is ethical to do so. According to the book Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, she was secretive about her photography and would not discuss her work with employees at the drug store that developed her negatives who recognized her talent. When she lived with families as a nanny, they were not allowed inside her space, where she set up a darkroom in her bathroom.

For filmmakers, for her fans, and for the people who knew her when she was alive and now must reconcile that elusive figure with her posthumous reputation as an artist, Maier’s story is titillating precisely because of how it deviates from the familiar narratives about artistic aspiration. They can’t understand why she never put aside her profession for her passion. People who never saw her without a Rolleiflex around her neck express bewilderment that they were in the company of a great talent. (“She was a nanny, for God’s sakes.”)

Vivian Maier and the Problem of Difficult Women by Rose Lichter-Marck,

Undated, New York, NY

Our automatic assumption, as humans and as photographers, is that photographs are taken with the purpose of sharing. We cannot be sure this was Maier’s goal, however, especially since she continued to shoot even after running out of money to pay for processing. This could indicate that she took photos simply for the purpose of shooting.

Whether it be because she was not confident in her work or was too private, she clearly did not want to share her work during her life. Assuming Maier would have wanted her work shared after her death, it is impossible to know which photos she would have chosen to show or how.

Because few vintage prints exist, we also cannot know how she would have printed her work. Many aesthetic choices are made in the darkroom and the artist did not did not have any say regarding the printing of the images displayed.

We cannot even know how she would have cropped them. At the exhibition, I noticed several images were crooked and wondered if it would be ethical to make a seemingly small edit like straightening them.

 

If you want to learn more about Maier, I would recommend the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. It details how Maloof purchased and curated her images and is currently available on Netflix.

My Black and White Photogram Project

A few weeks ago, some of my work was shown in on online group exhibition called “Auras” on Don’t Smile, a women’s photography blog. I had never received that kind of recognition for my photography before and it was an honor to see my photographs alongside work from talented artists from a range of experience levels.

I realized I hadn’t previously posted anything about this project, though it was completely analog, and decided I wanted to share my process on the blog.

I created the body of work, Artifacts, during a 4×5 large format photography class. My great grandmother had recently died and my family was beginning to clean out her home. Through photography, I hoped to document her house as it was before anything was moved. But equally important, I wanted to find a way to represent an almost spiritual feminine presence that I imagined I could still feel in its spaces.

This lead me to incorporate photogram techniques. Photograms are images created by placing objects darkroom paper and exposing the paper to light. The spots where the objects sit on the paper blocking the light remain white. The parts of the paper that recieve direct exposure to light turn black during development.

I had seen Man Ray’s photograms (which he called Rayographs) and had made similar ones, though rudimentary, in my first darkroom class by dumping all the contents of my backpack onto the paper.

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My first-ever photogram

Before I started my project, I also looked at photograms by contemporary artists. Some used simple materials like salt to compose entire galaxies, which inspired me.

I had not seen any work, however, where photogram techniques were used in combination with images taken on a camera.

I experimented with semi-transparent materials (so they would not completely block out the images) like salt, plastic wrap, artificial flowers, and lace. In the dim red glow of darkroom safelights, I strategically placed the objects on top of the paper (either 11×14″ or 16×20″) where they would interact with different parts of compositions in the images. After exposing, I developed my prints normally.

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My artist statement:

During any life event, it is easy to inadvertently obstruct moments by
becoming too engrossed in recording devices. But without photographs or
other memory aids, one must rely wholly on flawed human memory to recall
treasured moments.
This photoseries is an experiment in capturing memories retroactiv
ely.I grew up visiting great grandmother’s house almost every day. When I was
there, I never thought to pull out a camera to
preserve special little moments — my grandma cooking, doing laundry, working in her shed, or relaxing in front of the television —
until it became impossible.
After she passed away, my memories of her began to soften. Sharp impressions rounded out and became warmer, even to the point of idealization. I grew afraid of the important parts disappearing altogether. About a year later, I traveled home to capture this effect and, hopefully, halt its progression.
The human mind preserves few memories perfectly. Mine betrays me, imposing false artifacts on my most pristine recollections, altering them and instilling pleasant fiction. These alterations overwrite parts of even my most permanently fixed memories. Three-dimensional objects positioned on the paper in the darkroom illustrate memory’s failures in a way that cannot be captured through a lens.