Iowa Project Update 3

This winter I was able to use the university’s Hasselblad camera to continue my rural Iowa photography project over break. My goal was to shoot about 10 rolls of film in the five weeks but I ended up shooting only about two and a half, one still being unfinished inside the camera.

My motivation was definitely effected by the fact that I knew I wouldn’t be able to see my images for a month after shooting them because I lacked access to the school’s scanner. My sudden loss of interest made me doubt my long-term commitment to this project and also how sustainable it would be after I gradate in May, losing many of the tools I use.

Regardless, I sat down and scanned my two finished rolls of film on the first day of school and the good images reenergized me. Though I’m open to new ideas, I think I’ll continue this project until the end of the semester.

At the same time, I would like to expand on this project and push it forward. This semester, my goal is to keep working with the same rural Iowa themes and motifs but adding more portraits. I’m not sure yet whether I would like to capture them street photography style (which sounds funny considering they’re rural) or planned/staged yet. I’m not even certain I want to keep working completely on the Hasselblad. I’m considering switching to one of the school’s 4×5 large format cameras or (gasp) a DSLR.

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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 Portra 400

 

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

Year in Review

I’m currently making photography resolutions including learning how to sell my photos and beginning a 52-week photo challenge. But I recently realized that looking back at accomplishments over the last year can be just as important as setting goals for the next. I also want to look at my year in review.

I learned a lot in 2016. I took a class on large format photography. I gained the courage to ask strangers if I may take their portraits. I participated in my first three photography shows, two group shows with my class and one online.

More than  anything, though, the best decision I made for my photography was starting a blog. In the past, I was reluctant to share my work. I didn’t want any of it out in the world for others to see until I felt completely ready.

Instead of allowing me to improve privately without judgement, hiding my work set me back. I was convinced I should keep my images private until I considered myself a fully fledged photographer.

But that’s just not how it works. I rarely shot anything except when it was required for class and I hated the results when I did. Working alone in secret gave me little motivation to make anything at all.

The piece of advice that changed my mindset came from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I read the book several times in years past but his words finally sunk in in 2016: “You can’t wait until you know who you are to get started.”

If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started “being creative,” well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.

—Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

I knew he was right. I couldn’t wait until I perfected my work to start interacting with others. I had to hone it by sharing. And so I launched this blog in September 2016.

Composing a blog post every week was a challenge, but now I’ve written over 20 posts and am glad I took time to make every one of them. I went through at least double the film I was before starting my blog, probably more. Plus, knowing the images would be public forced me to try even harder to produce my best work every time I went shooting.

Secondly, starting a blog allowed me to find a community of photographers online. Between this site and my Twitter account, I’ve learned acquired all kinds of useful advice. Any time I have a question, I now have a small army of film photographers I can call on for help.

Lastly, my blog offered me a space to share work in progress from where I am right now at this moment in photography, not where I will ultimately end up. Looking at my blog as a sketchbook rather than a perfectly curated gallery allows me to focus on what’s most important: to keep creating work. One day I might look back at the work I am making now and dislike it. But the fact remains that continuing to shoot is the only way to get where I am going.

Here are some of my favorite images I made in 2016:

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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

 

swisher-2print
Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

norway-12print
Hasselblad 503CW, Kodak Ektar 100

 

iowa-city-5print
Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

 

marquette-1print
Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Portra 400

 

norway-6print
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.