Back at it

I graduated from the University of Iowa in May, which caused me to lose access to a lot of their amazing film equipment… but I just bought a Braun NovoScan 120 film scanner so I can finally make digital copies of my images again.

I’m still getting used to it, and I’ve been having trouble getting the colors right. The scanner makes almost all of the adjustments automatically. Ektar is so saturated, I’m sure that’s throwing off the colors completely. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always had this issue while scanning Ektar.

I won’t write a review of this scanner until I try using it with some other (more scanner-friendly) films. I just wanted to get some images posted on my blog to celebrate the fact I’m back in action.

All of the following images were created in La Porte City, Iowa using a Mamiya 645 1000s camera and Kodak Ektar 100 film.

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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.

My Philosophy on Color Correcting Scanned Negatives

Last week, I was using Photoshop to spot dust off a scanned negative with my boyfriend sitting beside me. After watching for a while, he asked me how I feel about digitally editing images shot on film.

Having the perspective of someone without a photography background can be so valuable. I never thought to ask myself this question in the past. If I love film for its look and its materiality, why alter it digitally?

To give you an example of the types of changes I make, here’s one of my originals. I scanned this one in as a TIFF using my university’s Hasselblad Flextight X1. It lacks a preset for Kodak Ektar 100, which I’ve been using exclusively for my current project, so I choose RGB negative then edit later.

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I consider most of the edits I do adjustments and enhancements. They are never serious manipulations that alter the content of my images (though I did remove a bird in this one).

In Camera Raw, I performed lens corrections so the architecture would be perfectly straight, cropped, adjusted levels, sharpened, and color corrected. Then I opened the image in Photoshop where I used the spot healing brush to remove dust and did some more minor levels adjustments to avoid clipping the highlights.

Still, my biggest qualm when I’m scanning and editing my own negatives is that I can’t be sure my adjustments, especially color corrections, are true to how Ektar might be intended to look.

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Even from a professional lab, the look of a single image can vary. In this Tweet, @Afsoneh shows how different her scan and print looked coming from the same lab.

In a way, these disparities can be disappointing. I choose to buy Ektar supposedly for its vibrant colors similarly to how I would buy Portra for its skin tones or Tri-X for its contrast but I know my compensation in Photoshop may look nothing like Kodak intended. When I upload an image to Twitter or Instagram and tag it “Ektar”, it can feel like false advertising.

At the same time, sticking to a particular look is not important to my work. In fact, there is no way to adjust negatives perfectly because there is no exact recommendation. An Ektar preset, which my software lacked, would get me close but would only be a starting point. And even then, I would adjust in Photoshop after scanning.

After thinking about how I use Photoshop to edit scanned negatives — especially in terms of color — I realize that what really matters is that I achieve my desired aesthetic in the end. The art of creating images is all about the artist’s intention.

Rural Iowa Project Update

I began a photography project about rural Iowa almost a month ago and wanted to share some of my first images.

Initially, I started with a different project idea and was shooting digitally but quickly changed my mind. I decided since it’s my senior year of college I want to spend time making images I love, on film. Especially because after graduation, a lot of the film photography resources and equipment I currently use — cameras, film scanner, darkroom, chemicals — will no longer be readily available to me.

With this project, I want to capture  visual markers that reminded me of my hometown. I grew up in Northeast Iowa in a small town named Marquette, but I’m shooting in places I never visited before. Yet, within them, I find many of the same familiar elements. This ubiquitousness is developing into the theme of my project.

I’m shooting all my images on the university’s Hasselblad 501CM, which I chose primarily for its throwback square format. They have a great kit with three lenses but I typically use the “normal” 80mm lens (f/2.8) for my work.

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Settings, focusing, and film winding are all completely manual, which I personally enjoy. There also is no light meter, but the free Android app LightMeter has always served my needs. The iPhone app is called myLightMeter Free.

So far, I’ve been using Kodak Ektar, a relatively saturated film, for all my exposures because I think its colors the nostalgic feel I’m seeking to create.

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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100
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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100
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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100
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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100
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Hasselblad 501CM, Kodak Ektar 100

This project is still in its beginning stages and there is room for the concept to grow and change. If you have any location ideas or suggestions for my project, please let me know in the comments.

Dreamy Rural Iowa Diana Pinholes

To mix things up, I wanted to try using my Lomography Diana F+ in pinhole mode. I had never made a pinhole image before and I thought it would be a break from the formal images I’ve been working on for a semester-long project. (Some are posted on my Instagram.)

I shoot much more casually with my toy camera because the results are so unpredictable. It allows me to stop thinking and make images just for myself.

Plus, it’s really easy. The Diana can instantly be converted into a pinhole by removing the lens, then switching the shutter to bulb mode and the aperture to pinhole mode, f/150.

The exposure times for 400 speed film were listed right in the Diana manual, so I chose Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film to keep things simple. Of course, I could have done the math and then factored in reciprocity failure instead but Lomography’s approximate times served my purpose.

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I used a tripod for all of my images. To avoid camera shake, I covered up the pinhole with my left hand then depressed the shutter and inserted the plastic piece that holds it down with my right hand, based on a suggestion from this Flickr forum. I uncovered the pinhole to expose the film and when I wanted to stop my exposure, I covered the pinhole with a finger again before letting the shutter back up.

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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (3 seconds)

I developed the roll of film by hand and I was surprised at how well my images were exposed. They all had the soft, dreamy feel I wanted which was enhanced by the nostalgic feel of black and white film.

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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (3 seconds)
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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (15 seconds)
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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (4 seconds)
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Diana F+, Ilford HP5 Plus 400 (10 minutes)