Posts Tagged ‘handmade photographic processes’

Ancient Text, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, photo by QuoinMonkey, © 2003, all rights reserved

Ancient Text, on the Mesa, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, Kodak C-41 negative print by QuoinMonkey, © 2003, all rights reserved

I used to shoot one photo at a time with a solid, black bodied, manual Minolta: 5 lenses, 9 filters, and a viewfinder. The metal body was covered in hard, black cardboard that would later peel away with age.

To haul all this around, I carried a heavy, powder blue canvas bag with multiple packs of extra batteries, a hotshoe mount, dedicated flash (by no coincidence, the exact size of a shoe), and never fewer than ten 35mm film canisters strapped to my body. Cameras, lenses, film, and photo paper were expensive. Nothing was to be wasted.

Now I pick up my light, plastic, Canon digital, swing out the LCD monitor, try to make out the distant image through the sun’s midday glare, read the manual cover to cover to decipher symbols representing functions that can either do this, or that, and possibly my laundry, and take as many shots as I need to get the precise composition and depth of field I’m looking for.

I used to go to the darkroom and spend hours drenched in safelight red: developing and exposing negatives, moving sheets of FB (fiber-based) Ilford, Kodak, and Fuji paper between developer, stop, fix and two or three baths of rinse water. I would watch in wonder as black and white gelatin silver images rose to the surface as if by magic from the bottom of the gray troughs.

Then I’d throw the wet prints into the roll drum, wait for an hour while they rinsed, hang them to dry with wooden clothes pins or press them one by one through a heat drum dryer, then lay them between archival sheets of paper and tote them home.

Now I sit down beside my laptop, plug the white connector cord into the USB port which automatically pulls up the software I need to automatically download hundreds of photographs into predestined, neatly labeled folders of light and color. I can then print them, send them by email, view them as a slideshow, flick them across my screensaver, or do absolutely nothing with them. They take up virtually no space.

Virtual-ly. No space.

I used to spend hours writing in watermarked paper journals, choosing just the right tooth, texture, ink, and pen, and display them in neat rows on oak bookshelves. I’d go back now and then to read and touch and taste and smell how the paper had soaked up the odor of the place I was living in at the time I was writing on it. I would turn page after page and wonder at who I’d become.

Now I type everything into a plastic computer on a tone deaf keyboard at a speed that keeps up with my brain. Except when I’m doing writing practice by hand (by hand, now there’s an old phrase), or making a grocery list, or jotting down a quote I hear on NPR, Fisher Space Pen to ruled pocket notebook, while driving home from work.

Camera Icon, Clip Art                                        Camera Icon, Clip Art                                       Camera Icon, Clip Art

I’ve been thinking about choices. Choices have consequences. I’ve been thinking about sketch books and journals since reading One Journal, Ten Thousand Journals and handmade photographic processes since I wrote the Pinhole photo piece. I spend so much time in front of the computer.

And then there I was the other night, wooden pew 6, in the heavy, ornate, 150-year-old church that is Plymouth Congregational on Franklin, listening to Mary Oliver during the question and answer session mouthing, “Computers are bad,” with that little impish smirk on her face.

Mary Oliver doesn’t own a computer. She writes her poems on paper, draft after draft. She said she likes having all the crossed out words in her hands, holding the creative process. Natalie Goldberg is another writer who doesn’t use the computer. She writes her books by hand in large spiral notebooks and then has her assistant type up the manuscripts.

It got me to thinking, how many other writers, photographers, and artists are still using the old-style methods of creating?

Photoshop? Or sandwiched negatives, gurgling vats of water, and darkroom collage. Microsoft Word? Or handmade paper journals, brisk, soft, and cool to the touch.

I’m not the only blogger writing about changes and choices. Fluent had a piece last week, To Laptop Or Not to Laptop…. and Starting Over had a post about 10 Things to Do Without Technology. These are topics worth exploring. Because the thing about paper processes, notebooks, darkrooms, paint, graphite, and canvas is that they ground us.

Creative people are noticing because we are losing our ground.

When I’m at the computer 24/7, I’m often spacey and stir-crazy by the end of the day. It’s so familiar to me, I barely notice anymore. But there are days when I want to jog 10 miles (I don’t jog), yell at the top of my lungs, or run down the street screaming, “Stop the insanity!”

Why does everything have to be fast and speedy? When did we begin to need everything instantly and become afraid to patiently wait? What happened to slow and steady wins the race?

Writer’s Sketch of the Gate, Mabel Dodge Luhan House, Taos, New Mexico, January 2003, B&W negative print by QuoinMonkey, © 2003, all rights reserved

I want to be more in my body. I want to choose paper, not plastic. But I love the speed, connectivity, and community I have found on the web. A person anywhere in the world can read this post. Does anyone still find that astounding?

I predict there will someday be psychologists going to grad school to specialize in abnormalities resulting from constant computer use: time spent in the head, no time in the body. Maybe there already are.

Tonight Liz and I are going over to the Fairgrounds to buy perennials, annuals, shrubs, and trees for our gardens. Friends School of Minnesota is having their yearly sale.

They say they prepare children to embrace life, learning, and community with hope, skill, understanding and creativity. They are committed to the Quaker values of peace, justice, simplicity and integrity. That’s something I can really get behind.

I hope they remember to teach the little ones that everything around them will move at the speed of light – and they’ve got to learn how to stand still, how to stand up, in the middle of a tornado.

I’m suddenly longing to turn off my cell phone, slip the Dell into hibernate, and dig my hands into rich, wormy dirt. I’m suddenly longing to turn off all the buzz, and walk outside where my feet can be firmly planted on the ground.

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

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I saw a post over on This Is Mimbres Man that reminded me that Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day passed on April 29th. Check out his images at Pinhole Photography. I made my first pinhole camera over 20 years ago out of a Quaker Oats container. And seeing the image come to life was the thrill of a lifetime. If you are a photographer, you’re probably as passionate about photographic processes as you are about the photos themselves.

It is similar to the way artists love their canvases, drawing papers, paints, and graphite. And writers have their favorite pens, papers, and notebooks. It’s no secret that creative souls spend a great deal of time and money on regular jaunts to the nearest independent office supply or art materials store. It’s in our blood. I could spend hours trying out pens, marking across pads, or choosing the right ink.

Process is important to any art form. And old style photographic processes teach a photographer the details of capturing light and shadow and transforming them to canvas. When I was in art school, I majored in Media Arts with an emphasis on black and white photography. But I took a lot of Fine Art classes to inform my processes. That’s when I began to dabble in alternative photographic media like pinhole photography, cyanotyping, brush on emulsions, mural prints, and exposing negative images on raw clay. It busted my photography wide open.

Digital has taken over the marketplace. But there are purists who still preserve the old methods of shooting and developing, people who are more fascinated by process than instant gratification. If I had endless amounts of dollars, I’d set up an elaborate art studio and darkroom on one whole floor of a new 5000 square foot home. I know what you’re thinking – I could jerry-rig a tiny darkroom into my bathroom right now if I wanted to.

That’s true. I’ve got an old enlarger in storage. But I’m feeling too worn out for the likes of 3am romps across splashing trays of developer, stop, and fix to get to the shower. And it sounds too perilous for our cat, Chaco, who has currently taken up residence in the bathroom sink.

What I do want to say is that I’m happy to still be able to find people like Mimbres Man and George L. Smyth at Handmade Photographic Images who are still doing it the old fashioned way. (Mimbres Man is also into insect noises and bottle rockets. So I head over to his site when I can to surf unusual behind the scenes happenings, the white noise in all our heads!)

You can learn how to make a pinhole camera at Oatmeal Box Pinhole Photography by Stewart Lewis Woodruff.  And George L. Smyth also has a blog, Meanderings, at Best, about handmade photographic images.

If you’ve never experimented in the photography of yesteryear, there’s no time like the present. Handmade photographic processes are the world of photography’s best kept secret. They are image-making history and bones, photographic anthropology. Archaic practices will slow you down long enough to really listen to the visual. And build on the structures of the past.

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

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