Friday, December 25, 2009

Yes Virgina, There Will be a Book!

I wrote this possibly for use in a book about Steampunk that Evelyn Kriete is working on and/or as the preface for a book I'd like to put together with the shots from the public shoots.

Reversed scan from about 05/07/05. This is the shot that started it all. Pulling the old disc to unearth this, I noticed I had labeled them "Ghost Images."


"I am plagued by the thought that I am perhaps the last of my ilk; that I have jumped through a window in time and have a connection to a recent past that reaches still further back and, be it either real or imaginary, if I don't give it form, it will vanish."

I most often shoot with a ponderous Graflex Super D built in the 1940’s. This giant single lens reflex camera features a leather covered mahogany box that I peer down into via a chimney-like hood and a shutter mechanism that works much like a window shade. The instrument moves at the speed of a turtle and requires everything to be manually set. I don't use strobes, but instead, plain 200 watt house lamps in old style reflectors. My exposures are relatively slow and can be disturbed by bouncy floors or subjects that move. The digital manipulation of my negatives requires careful handwork to reconstruct the images and the time from capture to final print can be days or longer. Why, in an age where cameras can handle all photographic functions quickly and automatically, go to all that bother?

There is something very reassuring in knowing that as long as there is light, I can make a photograph, but there is much more to it. What a digital camera can do is no less than amazing, but the seamless and relatively foolproof technology comes at a price. Digital photography is largely an out-of-the-box affair and a non-physical, non-tactile medium. The pristine, impersonal way a photographer is led to interface with the digital image-making chain, can create a void, a distinct lack of connection to the creative process. Using a large format camera that requires a methodology that is slow, physical, calculated and relatively difficult; it transforms the photographic act, giving it a sense of direction and ceremony. I see the image as it takes shape on the big ground glass screen, feel the mass and solidity of the instrument, smell the ancient mustiness of the focusing hood, and hear the “plunk” of the shutter mechanism, intuitively sensing whether it is working properly; the link is almost visceral. The whole picture taking process requires not only mindful concentration, but also cooperation and interchange between subject, assistant, and camera operator. What it is usually a very one-sided operation, wherein the photographer simply grabs a likeness is transformed into a collaborative dialogue.

As an undergraduate, one of my painting professors, Angelo Ippolito said of a piece, perhaps one of mine: “It’s too clean, you need to mess it up a bit.” Paradoxical, but what I believe he was getting at was that the visual structure and execution was too pat. The artist hadn’t really set a challenge, something “messy” with which to work so as to find an interesting and vibrant solution. Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned as an undergrad was that the “interesting stuff” is a subconscious process; that creativity happens when you set to work on problems, by indirection, not by trying to create “art;” frequently the end product takes even the creator by surprise.

Though I have been taking pictures since I was five, it’s only recently that I found a way to work with photography that would lead to interesting solutions. The images I previously made were largely about being at the right place at the right time, framing the shot with skill and making good, technically solid prints. I would often set out, camera in hand, with all kinds of romantic notions in my head only to come back sorely disappointed. I largely moved away from photography in favor of painting and drawing, since these media raised issues I could dig into. In graduate school, in conjunction with small paintings I was making, I started using antique roll-film cameras perhaps thinking that doing this would visually inform the work in some significant way. The commitment though, was more to the act of painting on top of and collaging these images than the photography itself, which was still too abstract for me; I could only carry around a shadowy vision of what my photography might be.

In May 2005, a chain of odd circumstances led to the photographic "mess" I had long needed. I was visiting my parents, who live in the heart of the Catskill Park in upstate New York, when a large storage freezer failed and needed to be emptied. Buried beneath the crystallized tubs of ice cream, desiccated London broils, and chickens frozen since 1987 were approximately 38 rolls of old-style Polaroid film that my dad had squirreled away in the late 1970’s when Polaroid stopped its manufacture and the local department store had dumped the remaining stock for $1 a roll. My dad gave me not only the film, but also the swanky Polaroid 110B camera that went with it. Before I left to go back to Philly, he insisted I take one shot of my friend Dana who had driven me there. My dad kept the positive, but I plunked the paper negative inside the camera case, I guess as a kind odd memento since the film was over thirty years old. When I got home, I scanned the negative in color and reversed it to see what it the image would look like. It was fascinating! The image was eerie and painterly at the same time. I had gone from using photography to inform painting, to painting informing photography. I was hooked.

Soon after, along with two colleagues, the cache of Polaroid film was used up via free portrait shoots we did in front of The Book Trader in Philadelphia during the Philly Fringe. I bought a Speed Graphic so I could use the then available Polaroid sheet film and tried various emulsions both in-date and expired. The whole experimental process fueled itself bringing me to the point where I am now. Polaroid peel-apart film is now over a year out of production and I can only get instant film imported from Japan made by Fuji. The film's characteristics are nowhere near as interesting as some of the older stocks I used to employ. I cannot wax too nostalgic since this is the photographer's lot; we have to roll with the times, adapting to the available materials. Also, I discovered that what I considered to be the amazing properties of the film were not that critical. Sure, they created some serendipitous points of departure, but there are other ways to create happy accidents or find a direction based on where the image may be pointing. The vision has become internalized.

This more organic way of working that I evolved has often been referred to as “Steampunk Photography.” Ironically, I don’t consider myself part of that sub-culture and never set out to be; yet my background and creative motivations, led me in a similar direction. Like the Steampunks one of my goals is to bridge past to present-- to be romantically modern. A perhaps fictive past where things were less complex, tangibly inventive, and on more of a human scale, what I’d call a kind of “old energy,” has been with me since I was a kid. I grew up in an enormous converted circa 1889 mansion across the street from the Ansonia Hotel in New York City. The neighborhood, in my childhood years was full of estate shops and I had a field day browsing through them, amassing a fairly large collection of old cameras, 78rpm records, pocket watches and other interesting stuff, like the scrapbook of an Edison recording artist, Leola Lucy, who was on the “tone-test” circuit, a kind of “Is it live or is it an Edison Diamond Disc?” sales pitch from the 1920’s.

Though I started out in the sciences (art was not considered by my family to be a “real” profession), I ended up with a BA in theatre set design and eventually an MFA in painting. I have never taken a photography class. My dad bought me my first darkroom kit, a simple set-up for making contact prints and I learned mostly on my own. As a teenager I worked for Nathan Rabin, whose archive will soon be part of the National Gallery Library, a photographer who got fantastic results using simple tools.

While my art training was far from “classical,” I did countless figure studies. As an undergraduate at Harpur College in Binghamton, New York, I took classes with sculptor Charles Eldred. Eldred lived a time warp, which was his own world that hovered between past and present. Arguably his art was “Steampunk” long before the label existed. His pieces often centered on a romantic and re-invented vision of the past, particularly in the post-industrial Triple Cities, where he grew up. The work was not anachronistic; it was fresh and modern.

The creative bridge to the past Eldred was able to build and the feelings it embodied stayed with me though it took a long time to finally emerge full force. It took much experimentation and artistic stumbling around before things started to gel. I drew a lot and also made paintings. I might have made a career as a painter, but the pieces never seemed to be quite “there,” as if the medium were still fighting me. The work did not meet my standards.

My undergraduate teachers also instilled in their students a concept that is now largely out of sync with today’s visual world: that the “how” is more important than the “what.” That is, the way an image “speaks” with visceral immediacy via its visual construction far outweighs any grandiose conceptual conceit the artist may profess. Rare or shocking subject matter needs the backbone of an inter-linked formal invention, or it is just flash-in-the-pan sensationalism. I guess you could say I'm "old school," insisting on craftsmanship, thoughtfulness, and depth; yearning for the poetic. When much of what is being produced now is forgotten, I believe these values will prevail.

RA Friedman, principal photographer

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A possible turning point: 12/13/09

(Self-portrait drawing by RA Friedman, 1986.)

I'm just back from NYC where I did a shoot where there was only one customer. Sometimes this happens; it's just not the right "crowd." Fortunately, this is the only time it has happened when I had to get the gear to and from Phila. to NYC and back. When I shoot out of townI have to hope that one of my very generous friends or relatives is available to let me crash. If I had to factor in a hotel, the whole Tsirkus project would really be in the red.

I have much to be thankful for even if I didn't get to hit the heights with my old Graflex Super D. I got to see my friends Joe and Steph, who is an artist (website: and their nine-month old daughter, Olivia. I managed to negotiate the NYC subways with eighty pounds of gear in fine fettle. I found an excellent new assistant who handled the lack of traffic with grace and good humor. I made some professional contacts.

Most of all, I had time to think about the Tsirkus project and where I want it to go and how to steer it. For the long term, what's the most important thing for it and how do I want it to fit into my overall plans/goals as an artist? I'm still not sure how I want to craft/re-craft the model.

Really the most important thing about Tsirkus has been that it is a way to connect with a lot of creative people, but moreover allow folks to creatively play. I feel strongly that is hugely important in these times and in this particular culture in which I find myself. On the flip side, I have to be realistic about the wear and tear on myself, my gear, my friends/relatives, and my bank account, especially if the shoot turns out to be less than fortuitous.

Stay tuned for updates as the "Tsirkus saga" evolves.

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Monday, November 30, 2009

First plan drawing for a set of modern magic lantern slides.

First drawing made for the "33 Things about being an artist" project.

One of the things I love about drawing, being alone in the studio, away from the phone and email, is all the ideas that flow through my head.

My goal is to make 33 images within the next two months and then to turn them into a magic lantern show.

I'm loving the public and community work I'm doing, but there are ideas, emotions, commentaries, satires and loci of humor that need an outlet and this is my "box" for them. I may take some heat for these, then again, my experience has been that which you worry over is usually just ignored.

I was thinking today, my story is not so unusual, what is, is that I survived long enough, learned enough, studied enough, and worked enough to give it form.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My New York City (Photo) Marathon

Photos here: Just click!

Who: Tsirkus, Liz from Design Glut, Gemini and Scorpio.
What: Amazing late night Halloween Party--Masquerade Macabre
Where: The far east end of Bergen Street, Brooklyn--Brooklyn Urban Sanctuary.
Why: Because to have missed this adventure would have been a pity.
How: You want us to give away all our secrets?
Small Miracle: Every negative made it home safely and dried nicely.
Trivia: All the equipment was wheeled over city streets from 66th and Broadway to 86 Allen Street in Manhattan on the return trip in order to avoid the NYC subway crush. Mapquest shows this as 4.91 miles.
Time taken to scan all negatives: 5.5 hours
Time to edit: ?? It's a work in progress. This is a first, having this many images to refine. Images will be added as they are edited. If you don't see your shot, stay tuned!

This was a real adrenaline rush requiring no caffeine to keep awake. Forty three frames were shot over the course of four hours at a high-energy, music filled bash in the wilds of Brooklyn.
(By way of accounting, 3 were misfires, 3 were gratis. for a total of 37 paid shots.)

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Monday, October 26, 2009

Perhaps a bit too Steamy?

OK: Photos here:

Photo to the right: G.D. Falksen, writer and arbiter
of all things Steampunk.

An absolutely amazing day of shooting, as anticipated, at Brooklyn Indie Market. Like last year we had rain, but no wind, but what rain! I mean it was like the monsoon season on a tropical isle. I was not able to leave until about 8:30 a full hour and half after the event let out. I'm willing to get wet, but not soaked and I had to make my way down to Fourth Avenue and Union St. to the N train, which is about six long blocks.

Liz from helped with the shoot and was a fabulous right-hand, setting up shots, engaging the crowd, and helping me field-prep the nasty goopy "Fujiroid" remains for their return trip to Philadelphia. The humid weather worked to advantage with the negatives since they ended up drying very slowly at first and then once in the lower humidity of my cousin's place, they dessicated with very little chemical "noise," thus requiring little retouching. The drying process is, I'm starting to believe, the deactivation of the chemical reagent. Once dry, the surface is inert and can be washed under running water. You can't do that when wet; it will remove the image.

I'm getting good at getting the gear up and down the subway stairs too. I was pleasantly surprised, that a number of people offered to help me even though I really was not having much trouble--mostly just making a din as the cart hit the stair risers. It left me neither sore nor out of breath. Primarily it was the long day on Saturday, getting up at around 3AM after going to sleep at 11 and then the long day that tested my mettle. Rather than shlep all the gear back to Philly only to have to do it all again in a week, I left most of it in a safe spot in NYC after carefully pulling it all apart, cleaning everything (especially the power cords that were wet and caked with mud--Liz gets bonus points for getting them into plastic bags without so much as a sigh.) and taking a mental inventory of supplies. I really need a closet somewhere near downtown Brooklyn where I can leave a second tripod, set of lights and backdrop holder; a package about the size of a regular college dorm trunk. Any takers?

RA Friedman, Principle Photographer

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Project for the Year:

In addition to the MuralArts/Pew funded project it has become clear I need to focus and get a new major work or works out the door in the next year. The public shoots have been in high gear, but the art presentation part of the project has felt stalled to me.

I recently made a list that I may keep to thirty-three things. It is called "Everything you ever wanted to know about being an artist. (And we're gonna tell you, though you probably don't want to know) " It's serious, but it's also humorous too and I think the photography will be very engaging.

The plan, and these things do change, is to make the slides on regular 35mm glass-mounted slides and then have conversions made later to the giant 3.25" x 4" slides that go with Boris.

I will be looking for models, though this is a shoestring operation, so TFCD and TFP will be the business of the day.


RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Saturday, October 10, 2009

10 09 09 "Selling It"

I have to admit, I was a bit put off by the idea of coming up with "snappy" verbiage as Larisa Fuchs of Gemini and Scorpio requested, but I gave it my best shot none-the-less. I'm learning more and more that marketing and spin DOES matter. I tend to like, accurate, low key, intellectual descriptions of things, but my guess is that if you are going to pitch what you do to someone planning a night out on the town, that's not gonna work.

Now I just need to figure out how I'm gonna shoot a twelve-hour party!

"RA Friedman's Tsirkus Fotografika is art, fantasy, time travel and alchemical wizardry. Tsirkus reinvents the modern portrait invoking the spirit of the itinerant tintype artists of old while mixing in retro-futurism à la Jules Verne and a bit of Dr. Caligari-esque mystery. It's instant art made on real silver film, an experience of collaborative creation, an encounter with the dark and perilous science of photography, and a chance to swim in the fiery waters of mad genius! All this is topped off by a sitting fee that belongs in the 19th century."

"A real bringing forth of fantasy vibes."
- Edward Pramuk, Artist

"Steampunk Photography!"
-Egophobia Magazine, Romania

"Friedman's frozen photos have the look of splashy oxidation — sometimes sexy and wasted, sometimes gloriously wretched, always stately."
-Philadelphia City Paper

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Monday, October 5, 2009

Back from The Island. 10/05/09

Images here! Just click me!

I'm still waiting for the negatives to completely dry from the Jazz-Age Lawn Party on Governors Island yesterday. It was like a late summer day yesterday: sunny, not too hot, a very light breeze. In a word, perfect. What a contrast to last weekend.

This is just the first batch. There are additional images waiting for my attention, but it is 2pm and I've been klagging along since 7am.

I did the whole round trip via the Chinatown bus and then walked to and from the ferry that goes out o the island. The heavy (guessing around 75+ lbs) equipment package set up and broke down just fine and traveled over the bumpy city streets with ease. The K-mart folding "Magna Cart" is getting a little wonky, so probably a good idea to upgrade soon to something made for the abuse professional shooters dish out.

Getting on and off the bus was the biggest effort and I had to forgo the first one back to Philly since it was so full. I was even able to take back all the wet negatives by taping two on a sheet of heavy paper and "tubing" them. This is definitely getting down to a, if not a science, a methodology. And while w'ere at it, I think I've discovered the near-perfect vegan lunch for the road: coconut curry made with potatoes, yam, carrot and spinach. It keeps beautifully, is delicious, pleasantly fills you up for hours, and is extremely nutritious without making you feel heavy. It also digests really easy. A small container of nuts, a bottle of water, a Larabar or two, and I'm set.

The only bugbear was the light that seemed to change from minute to minute, making it hard to get a fix on what the exposure should be. Instant film is pretty unforgiving. It's either spot on or it looks off. The negatives, on the other hand are often great even when the positives look bad. I'm seriously considering investing in a spot-meter to take readings off of peoples' faces. One of my first two sitters needed four shots to get anything even close to correct. They were good sports and I didn't charge them. I suspect the auto stop-down on the Graflex wasn't working quite right at first and was sticking. You have to really push the plunger down to make sure it engages. I'm learning.

Lea assisted and was fantastic working with the sitters to get a great shot. She has a natural ability to get people to experiment in front of the lens, which is the essence of what the whole Tsirkus project is about.

"Business" was a little slow since all agreed, including Eileen who is one of the event organizers, that I was a bit far away from the action, that being the bandstand. Next year the plan is to be in the thick of things. People really DO need to see you and they often won't walk fifty feet to check something out. What's the old shtick? "Location, location, location..." I'm also going to look into a canopy to help moderate the sun, similar to what we did at Flag Fest. It's also good rain insurance.

I also met some cool photographers, Don Spiro, an ex-Philadelphia, and John Margolis, who is a documentary shooter working around NY. I had previously talked to him a few months ago concerning large-format work. There was even a Bush Pressman and a Speed Graphic (both old school 4x5 cameras) looming about taking photos of the hurly-burly. I hope those people post their shots. John was shooting with an old Rollei, one of my favorite cameras.

Let me just comment at this juncture that I believe it's important not to worry about anyone stepping on your territory. First of all, there is no "territory." My feeling is I actually hope someone is crazy enough to devote their time and energy to doing something similar to this project! I tell people whatever they want to know. I don't believe in trade secrets. Also, trying to control what other people do is a big waste of time. I'd rather be shooting and shmoozing.

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dry(?) Run 09 27 09

Photo: No, it's not garbage, it's a studio on the move! Tsirkus gear, appropriately waterproofed awaits its return to Philadelphia on the Chinatown bus.

The mobility of the vintage portrait studio has been on my mind quite a bit these last few weeks. Trying to move the equipment through the New York City Subway system on the last jaunt to Gowanus back in August drove home the idea that I have to think light, modular, and easy-to-handle. Oh! and add one more adjective: waterproof! You can't tell what weather may do suddenly.

I have abandoned using a single heavy trunk as in shoots past and now have a trusty (and water resistant) Craftsman tool bin to hold the camera, film holders and film. ($19.95 at Kmart). The tripods and stands perch atop that and are wrapped up and bungied as a unit. They then are bungied to the small, foldable hand truck I use. Additionally, there is room to bungie-on one or more small bags that hold the miscellaneous equipment and supplies, including lunch. Everything comes apart pretty easily to take on the bus or get down a flight of killer steps.

The Jazz Age Lawn Party shoot on Governors Island was supposed to have been today, but the weather had been touch and go. (It's now 3pm in Philly and the Sun is out!) I knew that any notification of a last-minute cancellation was likely going to happen after I was already in transit. When I got off the bus and was all raring to head for South Ferry, I checked in and yes, the event had been nixed. Even though I did a 180 and headed right back to Philly, it was a good opportunity to shake down the new arrangement for moving the gear and it worked pretty well. Everything stayed dry and I got a chance to catch up on some badly needed sleep since the bus invariably sends me to dreamland. Hopefully, the rescheduled Oct. 4 date will be dryer.

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Roamin' Holiday...What A Long Strange Trip It's Been...

…But Marvelous! Photos here!

The Accordion Pool Party was a spectacular success, a Pittsburgh first and new territory for Tsirkus wherein the vintage studio traveled by bus, plane, truck and shoe leather over 500 miles for its maiden long-distance engagement. I do believe the crowd was truly ensorselled.

Never have I watched the weather so closely. This was an outside shoot with no canopy or overhead protection. There was just a twenty percent chance of rain, but it was very grey and overcast and I thought the sky was going to open up any minute to literally and figuratively wash the whole project out. Things remained rain-free and the diffuse lighting conditions were perfect for photography and didn’t dampen the ebullient spirits of all involved. I had fantastic help from Robin A. and the very talented multi-media artist Isabella Ferrari who was my right-hand man during this jaunt.

Susan Englert, a Pittsburgh artist, and member of the Tsirkus crew co-coordinated the event with Deb Knox. What’s next? I expect to see more from these cutting-edge creators, much more.

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh/Lawrenceville contingent: Susan, Charles, Robin, Carol, Deb, Larry R., and the whole APP event crew.

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Annual Report, Appended.

The year going from August 31, 2008 to August 31, 2009 saw the project, known as Tsirkus Fotografika expanded greatly with shoots not only in Philadelphia, but also New York City. Tsirkus did seven public shoots for a total of 123 impromptu photographic collaborations. These images can be seen in he gallery section of

While our tax year has yet to close, to date, between income generated by the public shoots and donations, the project is roughly at a break even. The total amount given to various charities and artistic projects that sponsored Tsirikus’ presence over the August to August time period is $366. We have been very successful in fulfilling our mission to both provide a “draw” and a creative activity for our sponsors’ events as well as helping them to raise badly needed cash. Sponsors include the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, City Kitties Cat Rescue, The Franklin Inn Club (Philadelphia), and the Jazz Age Lawn Party.

The satisfaction level of our sponsors has been extremely high with repeat shoots scheduled with many. The new fiscal year looks even busier and livelier. September has three public shoots booked including one in Pittsburgh and one on Governor’s Island in NYC. October has two shoots already scheduled with more likely.

In March, Tsirkus’ principal photographer, RA Friedman was awarded a $20,000 project grant from the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program as part of its Journeys South initiative. Friedman’s work in developing Tsirkus as well as much help from Tsirkus associates was largely responsible for the success of the proposal that was submitted. Working with the residents of South Philadelphia, the endeavor will hopefully dovetail with the Tsirkus project and provide Friedman with additional creative time.

In February, Tsirkus partnered with Frank Siciliano of Steamed Punk to fabricate the first projector for a planned magic lantern show. Modifications are complete including a 45 cubic foot-per-minute cooling fan and a one kilowatt light source attached to a modified circa 1920 Keystone “Model C” projector that has been named “Baby Boris.” Baby Boris can be seen on the Tsirkus home page. A second, identical projector body was recently purchased on e-Bay and once modified will complete the pair needed to conduct a show of oversize projected images.

Tsirkus also got a brand new look with a website designed by Jenna Hannum who did the project pro-bono. The beautiful site, most importantly, has taken Tsirkus from an ad-hoc, rag-tag operation to one that has a professional presence. Traffic has been steady and is conservatively 100 visitors a week with many spending a few minutes looking around. Additionally, Susan Englert, an artist from Pittsburgh donated a large chunk of time and expertise to create lively informational cards that we now hand out at events, as a way of further networking.

Draw downs to the account were for the second projector, approximately $81 and for equipment and liability insurance for six months, approximately $90.00. All other expenses such as film, travel, assistant honorariums, and incidentals have come from the funds generated by the shoots themselves where each itinerant portrait sells for $10.00. Approximately $145 still remains in the account which will go for yearly liability insurance due in Oct.

Funding exclusive of donations: $801

Professional Fees: $145

Film: $110

Transportation $ 84

Other, est. $ 500

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Tsirkus Fotografika

“Lit from Within”

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Upcoming Shoots!

September and October look quite busy!

Diabolique Ball, Philadelphia, TBA
Sept 12, Accordion Pool Party, Lawrenceville (Pittsburgh), PA
Sept 25, Shoot for P.O.S.T. at ICA, Philadelphia-Alex is assisting.
Sept 27, Jazz-Age Lawn Party, Governor's Island NYC
Oct 2, Gravedigger's Ball, Laurel Hill Cemetary Conservancy-Amber, tentative, to assist.
Oct 24, Grand Chrononauts Tea, Brooklyn Indie Market--Liza is assisting.
Oct 31, P.A.W.S. Mutt Strut, Philadelphia-Amber, tentative, to assist.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland

The Skinny:

Fantastic images, great people and check out the photos here:

A Few More Details for the Curious:

This was Tsirkus’ second NYC shoot and the first we did in the Big Apple where we sold the photos. Additionally, it was the first shoot where everything for the vintage studio traveled outside of Philly without benefit of private transportation (except for one late-night taxi ride home).

“Charmed” feels like the correct phrase to describe the shoot. Everything went without a hitch from aesthetics to the technical with each photo looking like a little jewel ; the level of photographic results getting better and better as the night progressed. Lea Bender, who assisted and styled, is an accomplished documentary-type writer, dramatic and physical performance artist, and producer. She’s a natural at creating figural arrangements for the camera and has an uncanny ability to put the sitters and ease and draw out their most interesting character and expression.

The 1920’s enthusiasts who had turned out to dance to the syncopated rhythms of Michael Arenella’s Dreamland Orchestra thought the shots were the veritable bees’ knees. Lea and I were busy until about one-thirty in the morning when we finally called it quits. All in all, an incredible collaboration took place between subjects, stylist and photographer.


Camera: Graflex Super D 3.25” x 4.25” Single lens reflex, mahogany body, Moroccan leather covering, best focused without wearing glasses.
Lens: Ektar 152mm
Film: Fuji FP3000b
Lights: Smith Victor floods with regular 200 watt household bulbs. The lamps were positioned to the left of the camera so as to not shine through a doorway onto the dance floor.

The negatives were saved by taping them to heavy card stock and rolling them into tubes so the sticky, wet surface did not touch anything and received airflow. This worked great. The “goops” (throw-away paper negatives) as they are sometimes called had a hard time drying in the ultra-humid weather. This provided a convenient excuse to visit friends and stay until Monday since I wanted to be sure they were fully dry before stacking them flat and taking them back to the studio. The negatives have to fully set before they can be in contact with anything, otherwise the very caustic developing agent will cause the image to self-destruct. Also any dampness on the negatives will get on the scanner glass and that slows things down a lot. Once the negs. are dry, they are fairly harmless and can even be washed to remove surface crystals and dirt.


Getting everything for a full shoot into one college-size footlocker was a real trick. My impulse on a shoot like this would normally be to have a second camera, usually the Crown Graphic, as a back-up. There was nowhere enough room. I opted for a 3.25 x 4.25 Graflex Supe D dating from 1948 and expertly modified by Bertram Saunders (now retired, unfortunately) to take a 4x5 inch holders. The camera had needed some focus tweaking which I recently did and it was good to go. The 152mm Ektar lens is not as good as the 190 Optar on the full-sized 4x5 Super D, that I recently used at The City Kitties fundraiser, but the camera is small and light by comparison.

The trunk traveled easily from home base near Naval Square, Philadelphia to the Chinatown bus at 11th and Arch and arrived in A1 shape at Grand and Allen streets in Manhattan. One thing I’m rapidly learning is “Be prepared for anything.” I waterproofed the camera bag since thunderstorms were predicted, but I never counted on the inner city travel being so physically arduous. The subway was easily over 100 degrees F with near 100% humidity and very hard to move through with a big heavy trunk on a handcart. Being one who usually opts for the stairs, I had no conception as to how inaccessible the whole system is. There are only elevators at certain stations; many stations have long climbs to street level and I saw many people with baby strollers struggling with similar problems to mine. I repeatedly had to lift a seventy -five pound “brick” and then carry it up to the light and air above. Those early morning exercises I guess paid off.

I had plenty of time before the 9pm shoot, but I decided to not go to where I was staying which was near Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Instead I opted to directly travel out to Brooklyn and then come back to eat, shower and dress for the 1920’s. This was fortunate. The interchange at 42nd St. from the R train to the Broadway local would have been pure hell with all that gear—a long walk through the station up and down multiple stairways. It’s no surprise to me that I can’t remember seeing anyone wheelchair bound on a subway train.

To get the studio-in-a-trunk out to Gowanus in Brooklyn, I had to navigate my way down a very crowded Canal street to the “R” train station and then out to Union and 4th Avenue via walking through two block parties to get to the Green Warehouse, a shul that has no air-conditioning. Because it was shabes (forgive my use of Yidish here), they could not open the big pull-down door until after sunset.

When we quit at 1:30, we packed up quickly and Lea hailed a Gipsy cab, and negotiated with them to take me back to 66th and Central Park West, and then to travel on Harlem, where Lea lives, for just $40.

Getting back on Monday, the 24th, was a bit of a trick. Luckily the 66th Street station on the Broadway line has an elevator. The problem was finding a car that was not so packed at 9:30 on a Monday so I could physically get on board. It took three trains before I miraculously squeezed on, probably more out of desperation to get out of the heat than anything else. Even though the Chinatown bus is far to the east of Seventh Avenue, I chose to not try for a cross-town connection since I already knew what I was in for. I opted to get off near Houston Street and walk through SoHo. My stop had no elevator, so I once again carried everything up and then discovered that many of the curbs in SoHo have no cuts for wheelchairs, but I managed. I made the 10:30 bus and was more than ready to return to Philly, friends, studio and un-crowded streets. Will I be rethinking logistics for future NYC shoots? You bet!

Special thanks to Lea, Eileen Regan, Michael Arenella, and my cousin Annie and her husband Herb.

RA Friedman, Principal Photographer

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

07 12 09 Shoot aboard the Gazela

The Gazela is an 1884 Barkentine that is maintained by a special conservancy in Philadelphia. This shoot was for the Franklin Inn Club's annual party.

It was a fantastic afternoon of shooting with beautiful light from the late afternoon into evening. The shoot was done with a Crown Graphic field camera. The Franklin Inn people were quite enthusiastic and Alex was a natural at directing them---bravo!

Gazela photos: Click here!
Updated edits on some of these images will be up soon, so check back!

-RA Friedman, Principle Photographer

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Flag Fest Shoot!

OK. The most important thing: Images are here! (Click on the text!)

We were dodging raindrops on Saturday but people did turn out and Sunday turned into a really beautiful day.

We got to test out our new backdrop taken during the 1876 Centennial and courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia. Also, for the first time we used ballasts to hold down the backdrop supports. They were made by filling Zip Loc bags with water! One of the biggest hazards of shooting outside is your backdrop can become a big sail and take itself out along with anything in its path. Yes, go for the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared!

Special thanks to Amber and Trinette who both helped with the shoot, my friend Tom Durham for printing the backdrop and Elaine at Frugal Frames for helping me get the backdrop seamed together. I couldn't have done it without you.

A number of shoots are coming up in Philly in case you missed us. Stay tuned!

Post by RA Friedman, Principle Photographer

Sunday, May 31, 2009

City Kitties Fundraiser Shoot 5/29/09

Images, they are here, just click!

This was one fo those memorable shoots where there was a great crowd, people were really into it and everyone was really on point.

Special thanks to Nicole J. (at above/ left) for helping out.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ot Azoy! Zut Alors! It's Alive!

Baby Boris is now fully functional and we gave him the first test run shake down. The radiant energy of the hugely powerful light source quickly heated up the test slide made on thin polyester film stock taped to a piece of window glass and started to buckle it! This was something I had not considered.

We then tried sandwiching an Estar based (Kodak trade name for the heavy polyester base they use for their sheet film) transparency between two pieces of glass with no mask. The combination of the thicker film along with the heavy glass on both sides allowed the slide to easily stay in the projector two minutes with no apparent damage and it was cool enough to handle as well. Boris stayed nice and cool at the slide stage; no problems there, although he does heat up the room.

So, the answer is the slides will need to be masked in-camera and then just trimmed into the mount which is a simple sandwich of two pieces of window glass cut to size and carefully taped on the edge. This is actually a more elegant solution and avoids a lot of gunky tape. Additionally, I may need to cycle between two projectors if I want to keep an image up a long length of time. The plot certainly thickens!

The photo is by Frank Siciliano of Steamed Punk and FPS Design. I was there while Frank was making this image. The working method was nothing less than impressive and the resulting image speaks for itself---amazing.

Friday, May 22, 2009

First Glass Test Slide

Slide #1, a true silver image on thin, archival polyester film stock, mounted with archival tape in glass. Good probably for 100+ years and Sunday 05/24 we'll plunk this into Baby Boris and see how it flies. Thanks to Elaine at Frugal Frames for the glass!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Selected Images

A volunteer designer is currently working on a new site that will include galleries for the lare number of images Tsirkus has shot over the last three years. For now, these are some fun images from the Brookly Indie Market "Grand Chrono'nauts Tea" taken last October. These were resurrected from the instant negatives. The positives were spirited away by the time travelers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Baby Boris Phase II


Craftsman: Fank Siciliano of Steamed Punk
Concept and Kibitzing: RA Friedman
Original unit: Keystone 3.25 x 4" lantern slide projector, circa 1920, 400 watts.
Lamp: Quartz in mogul base
Wattage: 1KW or 19,000 Lumens
Cooling: Two fans, input and output. Input fan moves forty-five cubic feet of air per minute.
Switch turns lamp on and off while fan remains running during cool-down.
Brass pipes contain power wiring for fans to prevent heat damage/ignition.
Condenser and slide stage remain cool enough to handle comfortably even after unit is running ten minutes.
Intended use: Low tech multimedia show slated for Sept/Oct 2010.

Photos by Frank Siciliano, FPS Design.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Some Experiments

I've been experimenting by stretching my digital files to about 240 inches (20 feet) high and then taking 8 x 10 sections and printing them.

I tried this with various shots including a shot made with my Rolleiflex and a test file from a Nikon D200. All held up remarkably well and probably all would be good enough to be projected. The prints look like nothing up close, but step back about fifteen feet and they read.

The Nikon shot lost the most detail, which makes sense. Remarkably, a shot done on 3000 speed Fuji and shot with a 152mm Ektar on a Graflex Super D and then scanned (paper negative) at 800% can resolve the loops of woven sock taken from about ten feet away--the white area of Mr. Monkey.

So, I think at this point, what I have to do is to some side by side controlled and objective testing and go through the whole process from capture to lantern slide, to projection and really see wherein lie the differences.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Self Assigment

This is the beginnings of a self-assignment I'm working on: Spaces that normally don't get looked into or photographed. Philly has a lot of these--the spaces between close-set buildings. The problem is finding the proper convergence of physical arrangement, light, and of course, one's own state of mind.

Camera: Nikon F100 on Fuji Superia 400 Film

RA Friedman, principal photographer, Tsirkus

Monday, May 4, 2009

No, it's not sock monkey love, but rather a test shot with a Graflex Super-D 4x5 that dates from about 1948. The camera was modified with a Graflok back by Fred Lustig about a year ago, but never worked correctly since the back plate was warped. A very fine mechanic named Bert Saunders recently did an expert repair and it now works beautifully.

The web jpeg doesn't do the level of detail justice. The lens was stopped down to f11 and you can see the individual loops in Mr. Monkey's body. The "noise" odd image quality is due to the scan being from the paper negative, not the positive.

Lens is 190mm Optar, which is a Tessar, 4 element design. Film is 3000 speed Fuji 3.25 x 4.25 pack film. I hope to shoot some full 4x5 sheets in this amazing piece of equipment. This is the file equivalent of shooting with a 60 megapixel camera! Currently, the upper limit for digitals is about 39mp. Oh, and those cameras are about $40K.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

05/02/09 PAWS Publicity/Fundraiser Shoot at The Ethical Society, Rittenhouse Sq.

Well, people not exactly beating down the doors for portraits, but a very nice crowd--lots of dogs, cats, rats, and ferrets too! It's was a great meet and greet. Amber assisted with great skill and panache and for the first time I had fantastic promo. materials to hand out, courtesy of Susan "Miracle Whip" Englert, an absolutely astounding artist working out of Pittsburgh.

These are "quick and dirty" edits which I may return to. They were made by working off of the normally thrown-away Fuji FP3000 instant film paper negative. The sitters walked away with the orginal positives.

Set-up was as follows: Crown Graphic, Xenar 135mm, 400 watt "hot" lighting. Enjoy! RA Friedman, principle photographer, Tsirkus Fotografika

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Temporary Digs:

We're parked on Blogger for the moment in anticipation of a going to a regular website once some more funds and perhaps a volunteer designer/webmaster steps forward. No nudes for the moment, but I'm hoping to be able to put back the images that talk about the human form fairly soon.



Images from Recent Public Shoots

Upcoming Shoots:

May 2, Saturday, 1-4 PM, to benefit P.A.W.S. Ethical Society, Rittenhouse Square.

May 29, Friday, City Kitties, Stay Tuned!