Tuesday, December 31, 2013

12/30/2013 Taurus at the China Shop

Location: 20-21st and Walnut
Image size: 12.25 x 8.25 @240 dpi (cropped, minimal scaling)
Camera: EOS 5D
Lens:  24-105 f4 @105mm
ISO: 200
Exposure: f22 @ 1/5 (Tripod)
Proof: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

The curio window with its odd juxtapositions of knick-knacks, the crumbly brownstone, the fraying post-war apartment house, the leaden post-rain light; I felt like I was peering back into my childhood.  Such moments of realization are quite powerful. Perhaps that is why I had to realize this photo as best as possible given the gear I had at my disposal.

It took three trips back to the locale to get an adequate starting point. I had shot the scene last Saturday while running an errand. Then, I went out with the Lumix and a tripod, re-shot, printed, and liked the result even better, but the Lumix was just not registering enough detail and the 84mm equivalent zoom required too much cropping and I could see the file was on the cusp of dissolution.

Sunday it rained in the early morning, but it later cleared and out I went with the full-frame Canon. Even though I shot from the sidewalk, I was concerned about attracting attention. The positioning of the figures had to be fairly precise. Trying to get the point of the left dancer’s headpiece to sit between the reflected windows probably produced a funny sight as I inched the tripod over, went too far, muttered under my breath and then shifted it back. The shop is closed on Sundays, luckily.

My technical objective is always to get things as close in-camera as possible. My experience has been that if I have to exercise a lot of fancy footwork digitally, it usually means the image becomes a metaphorical Frankenstein’s monster that haunts me. I’d much rather go back and reshoot (if possible), learn from my mistakes and sleep soundly.

The 105mm zoom didn’t reach quite as far as I would have liked, but certainly the cropped size is more than adequate for the prints I’m doing and the image file is quite sharp and detailed. I made just a few small adjustments of tone post Lightroom. To strengthen the composition, I cropped the head off of the figure in the upper left that I believe is Leda. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

12/23/13 CityLights

Location: 24th and Bainbridge
File size: Approx. 12 x 17” @240 dpi
Print size: 8” x 12”
Camera: Canon EOS5d
Lens: 35-105 f4 Zoom @60mm
ISO: 400
Exposure: 2.5 seconds @ f8

I frequently think of Archimedes’ injunction: “Give me a place to stand, and I’ll move the world!” With no implications as to stature, for me it’s often the question of finding a good vantage point rather than a place to put the fulcrum. Sometimes it’s a hole in a fence, a space that hasn't been cordoned off, or in this case, simply a view that opened with demolition that hasn't yet been forever obscured by the new building.

Walking down Bainbridge I have watched the town homes springing up in assembly-line fashion. I knew this vista would not last   I had photographed the location the day before, but the photos were wanting. The view was too wide; I hadn’t honed in on the subject. I also believe I shot using a signpost or telephone pole to brace the slow exposure. Even though the ISO was kicked up to 1600, they weren't tack sharp which I felt was necessary for a photo such as this.

Keeping my fingers crossed that I’d have a clear night and an unobstructed view, I returned the next evening -- with a sturdy tripod. I had to shoot using the ten second self-timer to minimize camera vibration and hope a car didn’t come down Bainbridge at the point of exposure. A few of the shots had to be redone because of this.

Happy Holidays! 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

12/16/2013 Gray Day

Location: Near 10th and Callowhill
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: 14-42 ED zoom @35mm
ISO 200
Exposure f11 @ 1/200
Image size (cropped/scaled up) 16” x 16” @240
Print: Epson Artisan 1430/Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

I've actually become better in the cold than I used to be, but the day I took this was not made for photography. It had been gray all morning, but looked like it might clear up. I felt the newly fallen snow would not last long, and I had to move. (I was right!) Around 12 I set out with a few flakes coming down. This became more intense and the temperature rose enough so that it was now a very wet snow. The streets were slushy.

I took only the very compact Lumix since it was about as much camera as I thought I could handle given the iffy conditions. It’s not a cheap device, but at this point its value as a trade-in is low and if I happened to fall into a mud puddle, life would go on. Despite the nasty conditions I enjoyed working, but after about two hours, it was clear, it was probably not wise to stay out much longer. I was also getting tired of wiping wet snow off the top of the camera and wondering if the electronics were going to fail. My hands were getting stiff even though I had three layers covering them.

Pretty much done, something made me steer slightly east on my return walk home. When I saw this week’s landscape I nearly shot it hand-held, but again, something told me to drop the legs of the tripod and get every last grain the system could render. The file revealed in LightRoom (just installed) far more detail than in SilkyPix, the processing program that came with Lumix.  Even the structure of the water tank panels on the skyscraper is discernible. Because of this, I was able to both heavily crop and enlarge the image by scaling it up, considerably.  

This is not the type of light I usually photograph and the goal was to create a print that conveyed the gloomy look of things but was not flat and lifeless. I was able to do this, by making a fairly flat print to start, but applying local contrast to important details. It probably got a little out of hand, and could have been done more simply, but I was able to control many areas of the print, quite easily even though there is a lot of hand-drawn masking. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

12/09/13: Cast Iron Front

Location: North side Girard Avenue near 6th St.
File size: Approx 13” x 19” (full frame)
Print size: 8” x 12”
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Lens: 24-105 Zoom at 24mm
ISO: 200
Aperture: f22
Speed: 1/50
Print: Epson Artisan 1430/Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal
Iterations to final: 28

I had made a similar shot a number of weeks ago on 35mm with a monopod, but no matter what I did, I could not wrest a good print from the negative; the light was clearly not right, too flat. I watch the sky and the light a lot, but last week I did t more so than usual with trekking on foot to re-photograph this in mind. The day I shot this, nature cooperated going from a fairly overcast morning to strong, raking sunlight in the west around two pm.

I hung around long enough for the cars on the street to leave and was able to shoot from the outer edge of the parking lane so as to get a view straight to the ground. I also did some medium format shots on the tripod I had brought along.

Although the initial quick proof on my kitchen door made me think this would be an easy print, I was deceived. I had a great deal of difficulty balancing the desire for a strong graphic structure, the tonality and also being sure the textures were strong. The pilasters are nearly pure white on the bottom and dark rust on the top, further complicating things.

This print, though vivid and spatial still doesn’t show as much texture on the iron facade as I’d like. There are still some techniques in the post-processing and printing that I can try when I’m set up to do them. It will be interesting to see what the medium format shot reveals. Do I need to get out the 4x5 for subjects like so as to reveal the micro-textures I desire?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Week of 12/01/2013 Experiments in the Cold

Camera: Canon EOS 5d
Lens: Canon 28-105 zoom @105mm
Exposure: f9 @ 1 sec
ISO: 100
Location: 10th and Callowhill
Image size: 10” x 15” @ 240 (cropped)
Print size: 8” x 12” (Horizontal on 13 x 19 paper)
Printer: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

Although I definitely have my spots, my vantage points in the city that I return to, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s the unexpected, the impromptu capture that keeps the blood flowing. This one spontaneously happened while experimenting with a loaner camera and a light tripod with a 3-D Junior Manfrotto head, as I went to revisit the site of last week’s shot.

The system worked well and I found it to not be so ungainly that it was a liability. Some heavy elastic hair bands allowed me to attach a carry strap for toting around the legs. The camera held even in the vertical position and the combination also worked as a very solid and portable monopod. All that was missing was a quick-release arrangement to easily mount and remove the camera out in the cold. 

The optical quality of the full-frame Canon trumps the micro 4/3 Lumix; especially noticeable is the difference in image detail. This is not surprising given: the sensor is markedly bigger, the lens is pro-grade, and the system has an image stabilizer. The trade-off is the Canon is about twice the bulk and weight and lacks the rotatable fly-out screen of the Lumix, which I love when taking shots at high and low angles. The Nikon FM2n, the 35mm I often use, with the same focal length zoom, is about 2/3 the size and weight of the Canon.   

Film has its strengths and weaknesses, but mostly I am enamored of working with mechanical cameras. Food for thought is these recent full-frame digital images are, in a number of ways, superior to the home-brew scans I’ve been doing from 35mm. At the size I’m printing, an un-cropped image approaches the medium format shots I’ve done plus there is no immediate cash outlay.  So far, they feel right when printed.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

11/25/13 Analog or Digital?

Location: Ridge Avenue near Lemon Street
Image Size: Approx 13 x 19 @240 dpi
Print: 8” x 12”
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: Nikkor 28-105 Zoom
Film: Kodak Portra 400, developed by PhotoLounge
Scan: Epson V500
Conversion to black and white in PhotoShop
Print: Epson Artisan 1425/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

This image seemed to be calling to me to go and reshoot even though the day was bitterly cold. Miraculously, I caught a similar light and cloud shapes that also work.  The re-do was with the micro 4/3 Lumix on a monopod at a low ISO. I also did a capture with an amazing 6 x 6 cm 120 film folding camera made by Zeiss in the 50’s called a Mes Ikonta. I’ll be posting some of the Zeiss shots on the Concrete Muse Facebook page.

When the cold wind is whipping by, I want to keep things as simple and easy as possible so I can think about what I’m photographing.  A single camera with a zoom lens fills the bill, but I really wanted to see what a large negative shot of this would look like. The Mes has very small controls on the shutter for aperture and speed.  Additionally, the film advance is via a red window that has a tiny tab for opening and closing its cover. Top that off with a rangefinder that is a separate window and a manually set focus! It’s just too fiddly for serious winter use in the field; my hands started to feel like ice cubes.   

The negative had some long, thin scratches, possibly created when I slid the film out from the mylar sleeve that it came in. These I carefully repaired using the healing tool in PhotoShop.  I created three scans that I then combined: one for the foreground, one for the sky and one for the dark area of the broken wall on the right.  The print felt to me like it didn’t need to be a full 13 x 19 and would work better printed somewhat smaller.

The two prints at similar size, make an interesting study. The second digital version is below. The medium format version will be posted in the next few weeks. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Week of 11/18/13

Location:  Broad and Tasker Streets
Camera:   Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: Olympus 14-42 ED
File size and print size: 10” x 15” @240 dpi
Print: Epson Artison 1430/Cone Color Inks/Moab Lasal

It had started out as a bright and sunny day, but had quietly transformed into a gray afternoon. The section of Pennsport and South Philly I had trekked turned up little; even the junk shop I had photographed a scant few weeks ago, I could not locate again. All I seemed to encounter were row upon row of well-maintained homes. On Delaware Avenue one feels as if one is standing on the precipice looking down on the end of humanity. If I ever figure out how to squeeze that into a photograph, I’ll really have something!

I think of the photography more as a journey than a destination. I don’t worry if my travels yield no photographs. The images always seem to find me. Lo and behold at Broad and Tasker I spotted an empty store that beckoned me. This was another case of barely remembering taking the shot, except that I recall repositioning my left hand to get a better composition and then the second figure appeared in the background and I hit the shutter.  The man in profile is like a specter from the days of The Rat Pack. It was not until I got home and brought up the file that I noticed that the reflection was the same man I remember noticing shortly afterward. He had trucked past me as I made my way home.

The print required a lot of time to let me know what it needed, to find its pictorial structure. There were twenty-two iterations.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Week of 11/11/2013 Divagations on a Deux Chevaux

Location: Near 16th and Spruce
Camera: Argoflex ca. late 40's)
Lens: Varex Anastigmat,75mm, f4.5
Print size: 11.5 x 11.5” @1880 dpi
File size: 30” x 30” @240 dpi
Film: Agfa APX 100 re-spooled to 620, 2010 Expiration
Develop: HC110 1:49, 9min @68F
Scan: Epson V500
Print: Epson Artisan 1430/ Media Street ECR Inks/ Moab Lasal

This full-frame shot was probably done around 2011. I’m getting better about developing film in a timely manner, but this was part of a rather large backlog that I’ve been slowly denting. I had recently shot some more of this very old (2005) APX film in the studio using my old Rolleiflex and fairly careful metering using a digital camera to measure the exposure. I mainly wanted to see if I could hit the right developing time for the odd, but convenient developer dilution I use. I think I’m in the ballpark but it was clear the negatives were not consistently exposed; some were extremely dense, others thin.  This negative was dense in the light areas, about right in the mid-tones and somewhat thin in the dark areas, definitely a challenge!  The image was just quirky enough, to convince me to go ahead and see what might unfold. 

The Cone pigment inks seemed to have been clogging the print head, so I flushed everything and temporarily went back to my old Media Street dye inks.

The Argoflex is an estimable camera especially considering that a non-overhauled one goes for about $25 on e-Bay. The lens is fairly sharp lens and has a nice bokeh. It’s smaller than most twin lens cameras and somewhat lighter as well; a great way to try one’s hand at medium format photography on the cheap.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Week of November 4, 2013: West Philadelphia

Image Size: Approx: 13 x 19 @240 dpi
Location: 34th and Lancaster
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: Nikkor 35-105 zoom
Film: Kodak Gold Max 400
Scan: Epson V500
Proof: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

As I recall, the day I shot this, it seemed nothing was really falling into place, I had walked around a lot but little seemed to feel like it would it make a photograph.  I don't worry about this too much.  Letting go of all the unnecessary stuff in my head is as important as making the images. Then I saw the clouds and the rooflines and the photo was just "there" in the viewfinder. Likewise, the print seemed to be self-guiding and didn't fight me. It politely asked for certain things and I obliged, getting a result that I liked in seven or eight trials, rather than twenty or more.

West Philly, that always seemed so rock-stable is also seeing changes in the landscape. This is very much a mixed use area. The concrete block and hedgerow you see in the foreground that looks so at home here are part of a typical 7-11. Right across the street, Drexel has just demolished a rather unassuming low building that I think was an engineering research lab and it looks like they are preparing to put up something very tall and large. The landscape is always in flux.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Week of 10 28 2013: Urban Idyll

Exciting News!!

It’s official! An image from the project has made its way into the national and international print world!
The photo is in the November issue of The Sun Magazine, p.8.  It looks like it hasn't hit the newsstands quite yet. 

Location: Lookout above Waterworks, Fairmount Park
Image size: 11.5 x 17.3 approx
Camera: Superheadz Blue Ribbon
Lens: Super Fat 22mm
Film: Kodak Gold 400
Develop: PhotoLounge, 19th and Chestnut, Phila. 
Scan: Epson V500
Print: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

A super-wide angle lens creates a world all its own; or, one could say, one that simply does not look like the one we perceive due to the optics of the human eye.  I carry a $20 plastic appurtenance along with my regular camera and I’m starting to get a feel for how it renders the physical world. I went back to the location where this was shot and was surprised to see how shallow the space actually is.

I can very easily see why people become toy camera junkies but I’m in no hurry to invest in more gear or give up my more complex, slower cameras. I still love the discipline of a very a carefully composed and technically executed shot, and the results when it flies. I’m suspecting too that working with different camera methodologies on a regular basis causes each to play off and strengthen each other.  

Right: Photo that will be appearing in Nov.'s 
The Sun Magazine. Taken at 22nd and South (L2 Restaurant). Camera was a 1936 Welta Weltur. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Week of 10 21 13

Location: 11th near Race
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: 14-42 ED
Print Size: 11.5 x 15" approx @240 dpi
Output: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Week of 10/14/2013: The One Year Mark!

Location: Broad and Noble Streets

Image Size: 29” x 29” @240 dpi

Printed: 11.5” x 11.5”

Camera: Rolleiflex K4

Lens: Schneider Xenar

Exposure: f19.5 @ 1/10   (Guessed, no light meter.)

Film: Kodak Portra 400 (120 roll film)

Develop: PhotoLounge

Scan: Epson V500

Print: Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

First things first-- with this week’s edition, The Concrete Muse is one year old!  The support and encouragement the project has received has been primary to its success. My thanks go out to you all, especially those who email me back with perceptions and ideas.
The plan is to continue into year two and to improve and refine both the vision and the technical along with project expansion: photographing further afield from Center City, finding new sources of funding, mounting new and innovative exhibitions.

Now back to the image…

Noble Street is almost not a street at all. It’s a pass through between Broad and Thirteenth, right next to the Inquirer plant, a shortcut that also leads to where the Reading Viaduct comes down to street level. With the planned development of this area into a park, I can surmise, almost with certainty, it will not continue to look this way. I had previously taken a shot at this locale on 35mm, but it seemed to be calling out for an image that would encompass the feel of things in depth and detail.

The 60 year-old Rollei, though very intelligently designed and a pleasure to use is much slower than a 35mm slr; it doesn't have a zoom lens, a viewfinder that is a mirror image so when you move left the image moves right, and the format is a perfect square. Strangely, I've had the camera for years, but I still feel like it is going to be many more rolls of film before it will feel like a natural extension of my vision. As you can see by the two shots, it causes a definite change in the way things are seen and captured.

The day I shot this (last Tuesday) I used a light tripod on the street, something I had never done before.  It was great to be able to shoot at super-small apertures, slow shutter speeds and get amazing depth of focus, but I could see what a nightmare this could be trying to get the camera on and off the tripod and getting things adjusted if this were the dead of winter. Working this way, it would not be much of all that big a jump to going to a view camera where you are carefully looking at every corner of the composition rather than working more from the hip, but it’s probably not advisable to bury oneself under a dark cloth in this kind of environment.  I was surprised at how much car and even pedestrian traffic there was.  

Right: The original 35mm shot, Nikon FM2n on super-cheap Kodak Gold film. Jpeg straight from the processor's preview CD.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

10 07 13: Shores of the Schuylkill

Place: Schuylkill Banks, across from The Philadelphia Museum of Art
Image Size: 11.5 x 17 @300 dpi (full frame)
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: 28-105 Nikkor Zoom
Film: Kodak Portra 400, 35mm
Develop: Photo Lounge
Scan: Epson V500
Proof: Epson Artisan 1430/Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

I’m forever hungering for more texture and detail in my prints, although I am finding lately that smoothing an area and making less of a focus may be necessary to the overall structure of an image. I’d much rather do that in the printmaking than have regrets that I didn’t capture enough on the light-sensitive stock.

In keeping with my desire to get as much from the negative as possible, I made the print and then re-made it. I could have rested satisfied with the first version, but my curiosity got the better of me. On the second go-round, instead of a single scan, I did two: one for the foreground and one for the background, which I then masked and combined in Photoshop.  I was rewarded by a much livelier rendition in the second attempt, especially in the foreground flowers. I went to nineteen iterations, playing with balancing the sky off against the foreground. I wanted the dark clouds to move forward and have some variation in tone and not be a dead “curtain” but not so strong that they became the primary focus.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Week of 09/30/2013

Place: Ridge and Buttonwood Sts.
File Size: 12.5 x 18.5” @300 dpi
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: 28-105 AF Nikkor (used manually)
Film: Kodak Portra 400
Develop and proof scan: PhotoLounge
Scan: Epson V500
Conversion to black and white in Photoshop
Full size print: Epson Artison 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

I try to be democratic with my lens, but something about this woebegone vacant lot near Tenth and Spring Garden and its immediate environs seem to get under my skin—in a good way. Maybe because it is one of the few places in Philly where one gets such an open view of early Twentieth century industrial buildings.  I ended up trekking down there twice this weekend to re-photograph it in the ultra-clear afternoon light Philadelphia has been experiencing these last few days.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

09/23/2013: More Mannequins!

Location: 17th and Chestnut

File size: 11” x 14” @ 240 dpi (slight crop)

Camera: Fujica Gs645

Film: Tri-X 120 rated at ISO 200

Develop: HC 110, 1:49, minus 1 stop

Scan: Epson V500

Proof: Epson 1430 Artisan/ Cone Color Inks/ Moab Lasal

Photography is largely about romancing the fleeting moment.  Each photograph is an intersection of multiple factors, an unrepeatable performance that never plays out quite the same again. The ongoing process is a hard teacher too. As the old saw about experience goes: It gives the test first, then the lesson. Certain images make me wish I’d spent more time the subject, or had been able to muck around in the confluence of light, form, space and atmosphere a bit longer; they worm their way into memory for future reference. They are like nameless lovers who vanish into the night.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not Exactly a Kodak Moment

Image Size: 13 x 17 @240 dpi

Locations: Woodland 
Cemetery/ Rittenhouse Square/Studio

Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2

Lens: 14-42 ED

ISO: 200

Proof: Epson 1430/ Cone Color Inks/ Epson Lustre

This last week I've just wanted to break routine, so I thought I’d risk unleashing some of the other work I’m doing. This is from a series entitled: “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Maybe it has to do with taking my first vacation in ten years, an all-too-brief but fantastic jaunt to Seattle.  There is also a kind of psychological shifting of gears that always happens for me as summer gives way to fall.

Without this becoming a statement of purpose, let me say that I often encounter interesting spaces that look like they should be stages for some kind of drama. It must be my theatre background (I did my undergraduate in set design). It’s also an idea that goes back to work I did in drawing and painting in graduate school.  So, I sometimes experiment with these vacant spaces and move figures from photo to photo to create compositions that exist solely in my mind's eye.

It surprises me that the artistic validity of creating a synthetic photographic moment is still an object of bitter dispute. Is not any methodology that gets one to the desired ends fair game?  In this case, it is the ability of Photoshop (and constant practice!) to meld separate realities together. The figures were captured in Rittenhouse Park, the landscape is a cemetery in West Philadelphia, and the odd figure with the mask is an abundantly talented artist and model named Holiday Noel, photographed in my studio.  All were shot with no specific end in mind. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Week of 09/09/2013: Development Opportunity

Location:  Near 6th and Green Streets
Camera: Nikon FM2n
Lens: Nikkor 135mm f2.8
Image Size: 6” x 9” @260 dpi
Film: Kodak Portra 400
Develop: PhotoLounge
Scan: Epson V500
Print:  Epson Artisan 1430/ Cone color inks/ Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Lustre

At the time of its construction, around 1900, the steeple of this church was likely the highest point in the neighborhood.  Serving both as a religious and social anchor, houses of worship like this often took decades to complete and were over-built with care and artistry; they needed to endure for centuries. Now their numbers are dwindling in Philadelphia’s urban-scape.  The steeple of another church near 11th and Spring Garden, likely to be razed, is visible in the background.

Although I don’t harbor the grandiose notion that I can move the world, doing this shot made me think of the quotation from Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand…” As I recall, I spent a great deal of time looking for a vantage point from which to shoot. There was a fenced in lot adjacent and I just couldn’t get close; though I did eventually find a spot that worked, but not as precisely as I would have liked.  I really could have used a huge 200mm lens which would have required a tripod.   Such are the problems when one travels on foot and can carry only limited gear.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

On Johnny Redleaf and the Freaks of Nature by Kent Allen Jones

Although lasting a few short minutes, and being only a teaser for a larger project ( a full length screenplay), I found myself watching this video over and again as a kind of daily fix. Based on the life of Johnny Redleaf, a friend of Jones', Jones has created a coterie of remarkably detailed figure sculptures that he has set in stop-action motion to the song “The Bird That Follows Me,” a soundtrack by the group The Strumbellas.

The video can be seen here:

Jones, in a video interview by Gene Shibuya , which on a recent Laboratory Arts Collective DVD precedes the animated short, cites the influence of Breughel and Goya. In keeping with finding inspirations in pre-modern ideas, Jones’ animation is heir to animated clocks,  found in old European towns and villages whose cast of characters, like Jones’, include the grim reaper. Specters that are both curiously engaging and strangely moving, we are reminded of the transience of life; that the sand in our hourglasses is irrevocably slipping away. The lyrics to the soundtrack reprise: “Oh, I believe in death, ‘cause death has always won the last hand…”

Like their Gothic antecedents, Johnny and crew’s gazes are fixed, their expressions blank or limited, they wink and grimace, smile or look surprised as a jack-in-the-box. They move about haltingly, they don’t walk; they slide as if they are being pulled along. Their bodies are oddly deformed. The men share a stock build (perhaps made from the same mold) that also appears in Jones’ other works; they have huge barrel chests, sway-backed haunches that are hyper-developed yet they rest on spindly, wasted legs that frame deep set genitals accentuated by the skin-tight union suits and thermal underwear that many of them sport.  Their anatomies as well as their outfits are puzzles left open to interpretation, but the overall impression is their physical shells are cast-offs, gratuitous costumes; their last vestments have been put back on so they can be seen in the earthly realm.    

Deep in our psyches, we think of statuary as fixed and immobile. Living sculpture is the stuff of the Pygmalion myth. By animating figurative sculpture whether by mechanical devices or stop-action there is a peculiar disconnect that occurs.  Knocked off balance we are launched into a space where we don’t quite know how to digest what we are seeing. Are we amused, frightened, or both? 

The simple story line of the music video consists of the characters entering a forest for a cookout (they bring along a grille, but there is never any food prepared or eaten) and they then play their various instruments. We hear singing voices, but they come from somewhere else. That the vocals and perhaps their playing of diminutive instruments doesn't synchronize is not really an issue; these characters live in their own underworld.  

However, there is a short but pivotal section of video that takes place away from the mythical space. It likely is a side-room in Jones’ studio. Jones in full costume, made up as a Freak of Nature, complete with major body padding and a false W.C. Fields-like nose enters the space. He then meets up with his initially still and lifeless pint-sized double whose face is unmistakably shared with the artist. The tiny figure comes to life and there is a dumb-show and a bit of clowning around. It as if they are comparing themselves and perhaps chaffing each other as to who looks better or is more true to an ambiguous reality.

Because the interview precedes the music video, the viewer recognizes that here is Jones, disguised as his creation, engaging it directly and giving it life. It’s like the mirror that faces a mirror and recedes into infinite space.   But the emotional gut punch is delivered by the realization that the artist is willing to become identified with his creation and descend into its world full stop despite its grotesque, unlovable form. Unconcerned that he might look utterly ridiculous and creepy, he demonstrates his full immersion and commitment to the creative process; he metaphorically takes the last plunge.

Jones appears to be in his 50’s. For a twenty or thirty something artist to have done this, it would not have worked; it would not have made sense. When one is art school age it’s very easy to have a fascination with death and knock it about, and be dark for the sake of effect; death and finality is far away, an abstraction.  One doesn't think about this or that project possibly being the last go round or about what one’s whole career tallies. For the middle to late career artist, as in the song that accompanies the video, these are everyday realities: “There’s that bird that follows me, singing from a branch of a dying tree…”  Jones makes the elegy take wing. 

Photo courtesy of openimagebank.com, Astrological clock, Prague. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Week of 09/02/2013: Improbable Anatomies

Location: Approx 17th and Walnut

Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2

Lens: 14-42 ED

Image Size: 10 x 13 @300 dpi (full frame)

Proof: Epson 1430, Cone color inks, Epson Ultra-Premium Lustre

Occasionally I have a day or run of days when everything feels like it is on fire. Last weekend into early in the week was like that; everything was cooking. I had an idea (always a dangerous thing!) that had been my head a long time-- to use bits of the photographed urban landscape as part of collaged drawings with which I'm experimenting. The time seemed right, so I headed out.

Although I shoot mostly film these days, here digital seemed like a better choice; I could try lots of things, do it fast, and without the expense of film or developing. I decried last week about how the more polished parts of town didn’t work well for me, but lo and behold! This week’s shot just appeared while I wasn’t looking.

My eye is always drawn to representations of the human form, be they commercial or purely aesthetic. Like so many instances, my timing was pure dumb luck; this retailer had decided it was time to usher in the fall fashions. Also, as so often happens to me, there ended up being a number of odd things in the shot that I had not consciously seen at the point of capture. This is one of the beautiful things that helps keep me at it: visual bonuses.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Week of 08/26/2013

Camera: Nikon FM2n

Lens 35-70 Zoom

Film: Kodak Portra 400

Date taken: 07/31/13
Location: 15th and Walnut

Develop and Scan: PhotoLounge, 19th and Chestnut

Conversion to b&w and editing in Photoshop

At this juncture, I don’t think of myself a street photographer. I’m not all that good at shooting from the hip (though I’ve improved a lot in the last year) and things have to be a bit internally off-center, in order for me to start pointing my lens at random strangers. More to my style is shooting objects and vistas--what I call the “urban landscape;” photos devoid of people or I’ll set up a shot and wait to see if a serendipitous figure will appear.

On the flip side, some things just get in my face and cry out to be recorded on film. Like so many photos, I barely remember taking this one and I have no conscious memory of the young woman with the rather indignant look on her face. While I was editing it, I also noticed that her fist is clenched. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Week of 08 19 13: Serious Toys

Location: Near 3rd and Girard
Image Size: 6 x 9” @150 dpi
Camera: Superheadz Blue Ribbon
Lens:  Super Fat 22mm plastic doublet
Film: Kodak Ultramax 400
Exposure: Approx. f8 @ 1/125
Develop and Scan: PhotoLounge
Conversion to black and white and adjustments in Photoshop

As more and more neighborhoods become gentrified (including my own), I’m finding I have to travel farther afield to find things to feed my eyes. The decaying ruin, the accidental, the rebellious, and the out-of-kilter generally are banished with alacrity where everything is polished to look new, wealthy and manicured.  As in this case, one need only hit the ragged fringes of an area to find something interesting. In less than a decade, much of Northern Liberties has gone from being old and odd to built-up and rather dull. It’s no wonder that photographers often trek to poorer countries where the texture of the human soul lives closer to the hardscrabble surface of the physical environment.

Granting myself permission to shoot with a simple, fixed focus camera is a great way to break the routine and feel lighter. The Blue Ribbon, an all plastic tool which is a deep cerulean blue, is technically a toy camera much like those sold by the Lomography people except its design and build does not create funky chance effects, aspects the serious Lomographer seems to crave. There is some distortion from the ultra-wide angle and a tiny bit of edge fall-off, but the lens is surprisingly sharp and non-poetic, so the camera goes for a paltry $20 on sale. It is lightly built but should hold for many rolls if not abused. The Ultramax  400 film used here is a mere $2.09 for a twenty-four shot roll from B&H Photo. The film color is a bit hyper-saturated for my taste but converts to black and white with no problem, the grain is quite fine and the sharpness is excellent

The camera is available at the link below:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Week of 08/12/2013

Location: West End of South Street Bridge
Image Size: 10 x 13 @300 dpi
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: 14-42 Olympus ED

Although I may opt to simply see and experience, rather than photographing, there is nearly always a camera, often two, ready to go in my bag. This shot was caught on a morning walk up to Penn.  I’m pretty sure I just turned around and there it was; the camera was not out and I wasn’t thinking about taking pictures.

Often, the less I think about photography and the less self-conscious I am of being in the landscape with a capture device, the better things go.  I’ve never done well with the idea of “going out to take photographs” unless I give myself permission to come home empty handed. Also I’ve found, the lighter the gear, the better. The less the gear screams “Pro photographer!” the happier I am.  I’d much rather be taken for a tyro or a student and simply blend in. Toy cameras are great that way. I’m currently using a tiny 35mm camera that’s bright blue and it seems to do an end-run around what most people perceive as “camera.

More shots!
This weekend I did a late night shoot at Gemini and Scorpio's Lost Circus: 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Week of 08/05/2013

Location: Spring Garden Bridge, looking north
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
Lens: 14-42 ED @14mm, f6.3
ISO 200
File Size: 10 x 13 @300 dpi (Full Frame)

I guess the old saw about persistence being the key to success has some truth to it. I had shot from the bridged into the train yard many times and also shot the SEPTA yard from the side near Drexel many times, always with mediocre results; they were just very matter-of-fact shots.

Capturing the urban landscape I’ve become very aware of barriers and adept at working around them when possible. I often shoot only to come back and find a building has gone up and blocked the once open view. The Spring Garden Bridge has some solid walls in spots, but they are only about six feet high and I had a suspicion that they hid an interesting view. By using the fly-out LCD screen I was able to hold the camera above my head and trip the shutter. It was very sunny and the best I could do was to see the coarse arrangements of shapes, taking care to be sure the horizon was level—truly an intuitive act.

I made two files, one for the sky and one for the land that I then combined. I hope to print this one soon. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Week of 07/29/2013

Location: Fairmount Park Water Works
Camera: Panasonic Lumix G2
ISO 200, f7.1 @1/2000
Lens: Olympus 14-42 ED @14mm
Image Size: 10 x13 @300dpi
Proof: None

If you walk around enough, you are bound to encounter at some point light and atmosphere that is rarely seen and is highly ephemeral. A photographer like Ansel Adams would set up his heavy large format camera and tripod and simply wait for the right moment. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of that kind of schedule (although it would be a great way to catch up on my reading).

I generally stand clear when I encounter other photographers while I’m out in my travels. I don’t speak to them and I don’t get in their space. When I arrived at the overlook, a well-known Philadelphia landmark, I saw a young woman there with an I-phone and I assumed she was catching the sky show that was unfolding, so I kept a healthy space until I realized she was not photographing but busily texting away. I moved in, took about five frames and then the scene evaporated. I shot so quickly, I didn’t even have time to remember to take the focus off manual nor shoot at the best aperture.  Luckily, being stopped down more than optimally worked in my favor. I did, however purposely underexpose and thus prevented the highlights from blowing out. Although the lens probably wasn't really focused it didn't matter since the great depth of field of the wide angle plus the small aperture more than covered.

I did not have a chance to proof this print, but I’m looking forward to the printmaking.  Unfortunately, both my printers are currently indisposed, one of the hazards of the digital workflow. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

07/22/2013: Through A Glass Darkly

Location: Approx. 25th and Parrish
Camera: Fujica Gs645
Film: TX-120, at ISO 200
Develop: HC110 1:49, 7 min at 68F
File Size: 11.5” x 17” @300 dpi
Scan: Epson V500
Proof print, 4x5 approx., Epson 1400, Cone pigment inks

Given the mercurial weather, it’s been a good time to stay in and get caught up on the many undeveloped rolls of film I have in the ‘fridge. It was perhaps a few months ago that I shot this and I barely remember the jaunt, but I was, and still am thinking about images that somehow feel like an alternate reality.   

Even using an inexpensive scanner, like the V500, I’m always startled at how much depth and detail larger film engenders.  A 4.5 x 6 negative, which the Fujica shoots is closer to 43 x 56 mm, about three times the area of 35mm. From what I have been able to glean, this odd camera was originally popular with wedding photographers in the pre-digital age. While it’s a bit futzy to use (for instance, you have to be sure to cock the shutter before you close it, or you’ll break the shutter linkage), when folded it is very compact and it sports some very smart features such as: a parallax corrected rangefinder with a good size split-image center spot, rapid film advance, and an easy-to-use built in meter. The 75mm f3.8 Nikon lens is an excellent optic. Automation?  None!  The camera takes two small button cells for the meter, but will work without them. It’s not fast on the draw, but is a great camera for things that are fairly static (or cooperative) that will benefit from a richness of tonality and detail. 

To get the final printable file, I made multiple scans. The value range of the Epson V500 is somewhat limited. I find no matter how much I tweak it I either clip the shadows or the highlights. The way around this is to make at least two scans, each covering a certain value range and then combine the files in Photoshop.  I made a special darker scan for the fluorescent light in the upper left corner. Film is very forgiving and unlike digital that just blows out highlights, you can often coax detail from spot areas that are overexposed.