Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Week of 12/24/2012: South Philadelphia Rambles

1800 Block of Iseminger Street, South Philadelphia:

Odd empty spaces, Philly has many, especially between buildings; neglected accesses where time seems to stand still. Often, these spots appear drab and undistinguished. I like to think they are simply waiting ever-patiently for the right light and atmosphere so they can, at last, reveal their stories.

The day I shot this was a long, fantastic jaunt in the urban landscape yielding many images where the power of nature seemed to be smiling down on me.  I revel in such good fortune but don’t count on such luck, making mental notes of places I need to check out again. This will definitely be a spot to revisit.

Camera:    Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2, Olympus Digital Micro 4/3 14-42 zoom.
Exp:          ISO 200 @f14, shutter speed, not recorded, approximately 2 stops under meter.
File size:   11” x 16” @240 dpi
Proofed:    Epson 3880 on Moab Lasal 235 Paper
Other:       Slight perspective correction and cropping as well as contrast/value
 adjustments and conversion to b&w in Photoshop; much masking done by hand.        

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Week of 12/17/12, The Concrete Muse: Northeast Philadelphia/ Medium Format Love/ New Etsy Store!

A first photographic immersion into a country, a city, or a neighborhood is always problematic. I haven’t the temperament of a photojournalist and I don’t like feeling like a tourist. My desire is always to spend time, lots of time, and really start to let a place sink in. If I ever photograph a city like Paris, I’ll have to go and live there first.

My Philadelphia is much like William Penn’s; it ranges as far as I can walk on a good day. Occasionally, I enjoy the modern-day luxury, usually on the return home, furnished by the Market-Frankford Line or The Broad Street Subway. The Northeast is beyond my usual perimeter. Having occasion to be there a few weeks ago, I decided to make a day of it, riding to the end of the El and then walking around.

I was not prepared for the landscape. It was so spread out, so bleak and so uniform. I’m told it was developed en-mass after WWII and it certainly has a kind of cookie-cutter look. There was certainly an interesting mix of people and cultures there, but where was the evidence in the landscape? I puzzled over how I could ever capture it or what there really was to fix on film. Off the beaten path and in back of what seemed like an endless strip-mall sprawl, I shot this one, solitary frame. 

Film: Tri-X  120 rated at ISO 200
Exposure: by guess, approx. f8 @125
Developer: HC110 1:49, 6.5 min (-20%, 1 stop) at 68F 30 seconds initial agitation,
two inversions every 30 seconds thereafter.
Scan: Epson V500


Etsy Store! I now have a selection of  hand-proofed archival prints, including this one, up for sale. They range from inexpensive postcard sizes up to very reasonably priced 12 x 16's.
I will be adding more in the coming weeks.

Etsy: Click here! 



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Week of 11 05 12: The Concrete Muse

This week’s photo was taken from the South Street Bridge in Philadelphia back in August on Kodak T-Max film using a Superheadz “Black Slim Devil,” a Japanese toy 35mm camera that sells for $30 and has a very wide angle of view. Be sure to grip it far back and from the ends, or your fingers will end up in the frame! It’s a lot like the one-use Fuji Quicksnap, except it is reusable and you can load it with any available film stock. I love using this camera because it weighs close to nothing so it’s easy to carry around and it’s always ready to shoot. There are no adjustments and I keep the camera in my bag all the time with film advanced and the shutter set.

This instrument drives home the notion that it’s not so much the camera as simply being there and ready when the moment strikes. Years ago Popular Photography ran an article entitled “C.Y.C.W.Y.—Carry Your Camera With You.” I couldn’t agree more, in fact, I feel like something’s missing if I don’t have some kind of photographic device at hand. Assuredly, this capture is not optically or technically perfect and I had to exercise a fair amount of legerdemain in Photoshop to get a solid print and it will probably see a few more iterations. I seem to always want more detail, depth and tonality, but in my thinking until someone invents the perfect camera, it’s far better to forgo some of that rather than missing nature’s ephemeral spectacle. I often carry this camera and a more bulky medium format, shooting both if time permits.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Success! Press Release and Images for The Big Nude Pinhole Shoot at the Rotunda

For Immediate Release:

09 18 12

Local photographer dares big-time fail; receives audience ovation.

Possibly the largest figure tableau ever created using pinhole photography and light painting happened Monday night, in West Philadelphia as part of the Philadelphia Fringe. RA Friedman, working with fifteen brave volunteers and two talented assistants, filled The Rotunda performance space at 40th and Walnut with nude bodies and then captured the scene using primitive analog technology—a camera that takes Polaroid style film that is little more than a box with a tiny hole cut in the front. Friedman has been refining his self-invented technique since 2010 and received Kickstarter funding to do this first large-scale shoot. The shot was first set up with people clothed (bottom image) and then social armor was shed as people bared it all for the camera’s unblinking eye (top image). 

Says Friedman: “I really did not expect the hearty round of applause from the event-goers after I passed around the second, and final, nude group shot. This kind of work can’t happen alone. One needs a great crew, excellent collaborators and people who enthusiastically support the project. Really, the kudos should go to the subjects for taking the risk and generously giving their best energies.”

Each who attended the event paid $20 to get a copy of the final image and be enfolded into Friedman’s work, as they became both audience member and nude model. Friedman has a New York City shoot planned to happen in the next few months and is already scouting possible locations and planning fundraising. Art and photography enthusiasts can check out Friedman’s work through Sept. 30th at Ven and Vaida, 18 S. 3rd Street in Philadelphia. Six large figure and nude pinhole works are on view, as well as other pieces from the photographer’s edgy endeavors. Hours are Tues-Sat 11-7 and Sunday 11-5.   

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Last Minute Sign Ups/ All Is On Schedule

I will be at Coffee Bar on Sunday, Sept 16th from 4 to about 5 pm for people who were not able to meet with me previously. I will bring the paper work and you will need to bring either $20 cash or a check.  Coffee Bar is located on the Northwest corner of 17th and Locust in the Radisson. 

Preparations for the shoot are on schedule. I will be at the Rotunda starting at 5 pm on Monday to set up. I will be reachable by text or phone, but not email. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Info: The Big Nude Pinhole Shoot at the Rotunda

Welcome! The info. you need is below. I apologize in advance that it's so involved and detailed, but I assure you your participation will be more  than worth your time and energy, which is very much appreciated.

Please check here for any updates/changes prior to the shoot. You can also call or text RA Friedman: 267 240 3527.  Email: (Frequently offline, including weekends.)

The Rotunda is located at 4014 Walnut Street, just above the Penn campus. It is easily reached by public transportation.

The shoot is Monday, Sept. 17th from 8pm to approx 11pm.
Please be there promptly at 8.

Sign up will take place at Ven and Vaida, 18 S. 3rd St., on Friday, Sept 7th from 6-10 pm and also Tuesday, Sept. 11, from 7-10 pm. If you can't make either of these times, shoot me an email. I'm in West Philly or Center City and can break free to meet at a neaby cafe.  My email is 

Only those who have signed up, had a brief orientation, and paid the $20 fee per person ahead of time will be admitted. Sunday, Sept 16th is the cut-off. There will be no onlookers, or persons not directly involved with the shoot or The Rotunda allowed in the building. Please make arrangements for childcare, etc. The Bridge movie theatre is next door and there are other Fringe events going on for non-participants to attend. Dip in and enjoy!

The $20 fee is to offset Fringe participation fees, space rental, and materials.

A model release is required which allows the image to be used commercially. It might be published as an editorial image, appear online or hang in a gallery. The photos are generally very soft focus and are generally far from likenesses. Still, you may elect to not face the camera. It is my policy not to publicize the identity of the models but you will be putting an image of your nude body “out there,” so consider accordingly. Please be aware too that you are going to be in a large space in near-darkness, nude, still, silent, and in close proximity to other unclothed humans for extended intervals of time.

Bring a bathrobe or something you can put on and take off easily.  Some kind of slip-on footwear is probably also a good idea too.

Although I (RA Friedman) have done much test shooting, this is the first time working in this size space with a large group of unclothed people. The shoot is scheduled from 8-11 pm.  The goal is to compose and shoot two large figure arrangements and if time permits, some smaller groupings and individual figures.

It takes about one-two minutes to paint each person with light. The total exposure may take up to fifteen minutes during which you will need to hold as still as is practical.

Please, turn off your phone’s ringer, text-notification, etc. We will take a short break at about the midpoint, but please let people know that you are not reachable during the duration of the shoot. You can leave RA’s number to call in case of dire emergency: 267 240 3527.

Production of the final archival print can take a few months and may even involve some re-shooting in the space. We will post updates on the Stand in the Light project page on Kickstarter, and will email to the address you give as well.

Your cooperation, energy and patience are key to making the shoot a success by becoming, with me, an interlinked ring of artistic collaborators. I believe you will find the experience creative, challenging, rewarding and fun.  Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns prior to the shoot.

Thank you for participating!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Silver, Carbon, and Brass: Press Release

For Immediate Release

Silver, Carbon and Brass: The Steampunk Photography of RA Friedman

Ven and Vaida Art and Jewelry, 18. S. 3rd St. Phila., PA  19106

Opening: Friday, Sept. 7, 6-10 pm Artist’s Talk: Tuesday, Sept 11, 7-10 pm

Sign up for the shoot at The Rotunda is both of the above days.

Steampunk: 1.Victorian science fiction, a speculative world where the Steam Age coexists with the future. 2. Art, craft, costume and form that arise out of this idea, often incorporating DIY technology, mechanical contrivances, and the turning of design structure inside-out. 3. An individual involved with Steampunk culture.

In a show of 29 prints, RA Friedman, working in a Steampunk vein, captures a collection of time-travelers, nudes, nocturnal denizens and the as-yet-to-be-labeled. "Silver, Carbon and Brass" consists of two bodies of work. The first is from various retro and Steampunk events with his Tsirkus Fotografika, a mobile photo booth project started in '08. The other is studio nudes, often complex, multi-figure pieces done with a camera having only a small hole for a lens.
Shooting instant film w/a vintage camera, Friedman saves the paper negatives then lets them age and dry out. They are then scanned in order to initiate the painstaking work of digitally restoring the image. Though all photos are formal arrangements, mummery gives way much like in early 20th century German Expressionist Art. At the crossroads of photography, painting and printmaking, the viewer’s conceptions of a camera-made image are challenged. As an odd light emerges from deep velvety tones, forms appear and dissolve and time and space are transported to a rich dreamlike realm.
Those attending the opening night reception or the artist’s talk will have a chance to become part of the show. "The Big Nude Pinhole Shoot at The Rotunda" is scheduled for the evening of Mon. Sept. 17th as part of Philadelphia Fringe. Sign up is through Ven & Vaida only. Participants will pay a $20 fee and help create a clothes-free tableau which Friedman will photograph. Each person will receive a signed and limited edition archival print, upon its completion, via US Mail.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Rekindling a Banked Fire: Figurative Pinhole Photos

Between other kinds of figurative experiments, studio work, and much street photography, (much of it still under wraps) was it really over year since I had done any pinhole work? Yes. I had hoped to do the first big multi-figure pinhole project last September or November at the latest, but things got delayed in terms of getting a space. With the big shoot coming up Sept. 17th at the Rotunda in Philadelphia, I didn’t want to re-start cold. I knew I should not only shake down the equipment and materials, but also get back in the groove and reconnect; align this process with my current ideas and vision.

I had two models work with me in the last three weeks. I continue to keep the camera spiked in the same position, being careful not to disturb it, so that all the shots are from an identical station point, allowing me to combine images. For the moment, I have in process, the two pieces here, that, if they are like the last batch, will take weeks into months to resolve to my satisfaction, although I can already tell they will go faster due to the learning curve. I will proof print, work and rework them until I feel they are “there.” These two photos were done on 4x5 3000 ISO Fuji Instant film, which, unfortunately, is now out of production. I have thirty sheets remaining for the Fringe shoot, but I hope I can find another box or two for sale at reasonable price. Luckily, the smaller format 3000 speed film is still around and combining smaller format shots with these is a distinct possibility. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Let me preface by saying, I’m not in the habit of long discourses about equipment. I prefer my photographic adventures to be about connection, experience and creativity, not the gear. My philosophy, which is far from unique, is that the equipment truly doesn’t matter. A camera is a tool and an astonishing one at that, but also it’s a means to an end. Still, sometimes the machinery is so odd, verging on wacky, and one’s relationship to it is a bit skewed and has implications that go beyond mere tech; therefore it deserves some verbiage to be spilled.

When I worked full time in the non-profit world, the jobs quickly became very dull, boring and routine. I needed an outlet. I daydreamed often about photography and finding the perfect camera for capturing the urban landscape. I wanted to find the ideal antique roll film instrument that would get me the kind of photos I yearned to make. Much like the Sunday painter who accumulates a complete set of the most expensive oil paints or pastels that barely get touched, I amassed cameras. I did manage to pluck some solid images, but mostly I gathered a lot of gear. The majority were barely tried and then sadly sat, fallow. The bottom line was the problem was not the equipment, but my life. The grind was sucking me dry.

Over the last few years, I’ve weeded down. I made the decision that I don’t want to be a camera collector. Instead, since about 2010, I’ve shot thousands of photos and spent countless hours in the urban landscape rather than sitting around thinking about what kind of camera to use. A lot of the gear I accumulated ended up having mechanical issues as well, so not only do I have a lot of unused cameras, a lot of them are indisposed and need pricey repairs. So, part of thinning things out has been getting a few fixed, deciding which I’ll never use, selling some off or finding homes for others, and running a few tests.

Ironically, the cameras that ended up being the best for the urban maw, turned out to be the neither antique nor unusual.  I’ve done a ton of shooting with a Panasonic Lumix, a micro 4/3 system digital that has an electronic viewfinder. I equipped it with a better non-kit Olympus medium range zoom lens. I also use a Nikon F100 35mm, alsosporting a wide angle to near- telephoto lens. The agility, durability, and versatility of these two image capturers far outweigh any drawbacks that might be generated by the relatively smaller formats.  Recently, too, I’ve taken to carrying a disposable camera—no focus, no exposure adjustment, no anything! You just see, advance the film and click! Admittedly, the focus is not always that great, you get over and under exposure and grain, but surprisingly, I’ve gotten a number of memorable shots.

Despite a methodology that seems to be working for me, I figured it might be fun to have at least one really decent antique that I could use. I chose a German camera with an uncoated f 2.8, 75mm Xenar lens that was made about 1935.  Named a Welta Weltur, it takes still-available 120 film and produces sixteen 4.5 x 6 cm shots per roll.  What makes the Weltur so unusual is it’s a compact folding camera that has a small coupled, in-finder split image focusing system that is linked to the moving front standard. The whole lens and shutter assembly moves in and out. The theory is that you move all the lens elements, not just the front optic; therefore the image quality improves. The way the Welta engineers were able to integrate a system like this into such a small package boarders on the ingenious.

When I first got this contraption, I had Carol Miller at Flutot’s Camera clean the Compur shutter and I had run a roll of Tri-X through it. Inspecting the negatives, I realized they were probably badly done by the commercial lab, poorly scanned, and I had never really put the camera through any kind of real tests. So, this weekend I made some images using Efke 100, a modern film made in Croatia that many say has the qualities of old fashioned film stock. Additionally, I developed the negatives myself, something I hope to do more of in the coming year, but that’s for another entry!

Deploying the camera is slow. This is the kind of tool made for capturing big vistas that don’t move very much or taking photos of friends and loved ones where you have their cooperation.  One winds the film from one red window located on the back of the camera to the next, located higher up, carefully aligning the numbers printed on the film’s backing paper. The negatives are spaced closely and accuracy is important.  To shoot, you unfold the camera, point it towards you to set the speed and aperture (I just guessed), then flip it around, frame, focus, and carefully push the shutter plunger so as to minimize shake. The in-the-viewfinder rangefinder is accurate, but it is a bit pernickety and it often takes a few tries to make sure the two images are, in fact, aligned. Also, the viewfinder is fairly dim and the framing is not parallax corrected. 

I have to admit a strange feeling of disorientation using this camera. I really didn’t know what to shoot—what kind of things would work well with its character and I also found it very much got in the way of my working style, which has changed radically over the last few years. I couldn’t really pre-visualize what I was going to get. Some of the accidents were fortuitous. Maybe that is true appeal.

Tech: Efke 100 film, HC110 developer diluted 1:49 at 68F for 8.5 minutes with 2 agitations every 30 sec, scanned on Epson V500 using no special hardware or software, spotting and adjustments in Photoshop.

The photos can be seen here:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Your Papers Please?



On the 20th of May as I was photographing at the corner of  9th and Sansom, a Philadelphia police officer dismounted his bike and asked me what I was I doing. I replied in a calm, normal tone: “Public street, I’m photographing.”  At the time of the encounter, I was intently aiming, from pedestrian level, a small lens at the window of an abandoned dry cleaning establishment. No part of my body or camera was in contact with the building. From my viewfinder I could see pretty much what an image search on Google Earth would reveal. I.D. was demanded.  No explanation was given except rather mechanical responses that told me little and some vague reference to “living in a post-911 world, the Patriot Act and ‘I’m just doing my job.’” No other inquiry was forthcoming. He would hear none of my protestations and was told if I continued I would be hauled in where they would lecture ME. Bottom line: I was harassed and treated like a criminal for no probable cause.

I was doing my job as well. I live, work and exhibit here. I pay sales, real estate, business, and net profits taxes. I’ve even worked for the City of Philadelphia doing photography as part of The Mural Arts Project. My charge is to reflect what is, which entails countless unpaid hours simply looking and literally thousands of image-captures. It involves miles of pounding pavement, in all kinds of weather, with valuable equipment out in plain sight under constant specter of experiencing theft, harangues and personal injury. Now I have to worry about the cops too?

Since 1994, I’ve walked nearly every street in central Philly, much of West and South Philly, in some of the worst neighborhoods and the saddest careworn streets. I’ve always shot from where pedestrians can readily access in spite of the temptation to trespass to get a better shot. I work alone, silently, joyously, like a tourist enjoying the sights; frequently greeting strangers I encounter. How ironic that yesterday’s first photograph was that of a downy baby bird and when I was apprehended, I was photographing an accumulation of dust.

I’m not here to debate the idiocy of the Patriot Act or the utter foolish nonsense of the American political landscape. The broader implications of this small incident are chilling and reveal volumes about the decline I’ve witnessed in America and the insidious and evil war against art, artists, freedom, and truth. It gives me great sadness to even have to think about venting such mental stench as this so I can get on to things of substance.


RA Friedman

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Prepared Eye

A beloved professor, Edward Pramuk used to say to his students that it was the artist’s job to live with uncertainty. Apart from existing in an artistic and economic landscape that seems to have a mind of its own, I seem to be forever adding new quandaries.

Experience has taught me that what is the burning question today, will be tomorrow’s “been there, done that” and I will move on to more thorny issues. I’ve also learned these puzzles are unanswerable, paradoxical-- all is speculation. The work becomes the casting of my opinions and what I think one day may be diametrically different the next.

Years in the studio have made clear what the methodology needs to be: I make drawings/prints; I revise, make new iterations and move on. How one applies oneself is almost self-guiding. But if, as of late, one is simply taking to the hard city streets with a camera and trying to assay a vision from an ever-dissolving-ever-becoming human phantasmagoria, how does one feed the muse, sensitive oneself and prepare? Oddly, I have found both drawing and making invented photographic images is not a bad way to start and temper one’s vision.

A few months ago, on the heels of spending countless hours digitally manipulating the pinhole images from the Stand in the Light Project, I turned my attentions to making new photographic realities using urban landscapes taken outside and figures shot in the studio. All but the most fantastical of these collages, are believable as having just been taken as single, straight-on photographs. The image made in Photoshop that I cook up in the studio today is likely to inform a vision I capture on the street at some future point. I have already seen this happen.

Are these constructed images any less real than the instantaneous fleeting captures? How are the two types of photographic images in dialogue with each other? Which is more meaningful especially in age where photographs are now routinely faked? How do I interpret and present them in context?