I’m a bit late to the party about writing up a blog post about this, but back in August of this year I debuted a project that I had been working on since February of 2015, and planning ever since I wrote up my last blog entry, you know, the one from almost two years ago. Well, for once I have an excuse for the gap in my posts, and here it is! The project is called Creative Combustion, and it features 18 artists who are either from, or located in, Minneapolis. The exhibition was hosted by Gamut Gallery and its wonderful staff, who documented the opening night in a facebook album. There is a print edition which is available for purchase from Blurb and a web version where you can view all of the essays and photos for free on Medium, both links are below. If you’re curious about what this all is, read on for full project information.
What we might know about an artist’s work, regardless of the medium, often stems from our own perception of that work as a viewer. With prior knowledge of the artist’s intent, we can skew our perception to match closer to that of the artist’s vision. We bring in our own meaning to a piece, drawing from our own ideas, opinions, and life experiences. We also draw in the message that the artist had intended for their viewers to think about and create for ourselves a story behind the artwork and why it is — or isn’t — something that we relate to. However, while each viewer is entitled to his or her own perception of art, how often has an in-depth look at what makes that artist tick, what drives them to create their works, been examined? Responses to the question “What inspires you?” are met with only a short discussion, leaving the person asking with only an interpretation of a response. As a result, the artist’s original vision becomes foggy to the recipient and the true source of the work is left behind and unexplained, despite its key role for the artist.
Among the ever-rapidly growing list of creative individuals in and from Minnesota, there are those with a truly spectacular view on their craft and their motivation behind it. They have shown that innovation is not a concept that they take lightly. They take their work very seriously, never faltering or giving up in their craft. Their work stands on its own, projecting the skill and confidence of its creator. These are the individuals that I began to seek out over a year ago when this project began, hoping not only to discuss their work but to discuss their creative spark, and the ingredients that come together to light it in an event that I call creative combustion.
Like a translator tasked with creating books in different languages, the task that I had placed upon myself was to interpret the artists’ thoughts and ideas and put them into my own words and photographs, going from the language of thought to the language of tangible written and visual narrative. However, my intent was not only to interpret their thoughts, but experience them. If an artist mentioned a location, I traveled there with them or met them there, or if the spark was lit by an idea or a thing, we would make sure it was present in the room before proceeding with our conversation. I wanted to understand the psychology behind their responses by experiencing the spark firsthand and capture it in photographs and words, eventually showcasing the process of creative combustion itself.
Over a year later, I, as well as a few others who have helped me in this journey and have been key contributors to the project, have had the privilege of meeting with a sample of artists from a large variety of creative fields. Painters, musicians, gallery curators, master brewers, and aerial performers are a small sampling of the types of individuals who are featured in this book, each with a unique story to tell about their work and their creative spark. It is thanks to their tireless work ethic, ability to innovate, and unique sensibilities that Minnesota is seen as a state full of creativity. Without them and their generous donation of their time and thoughts, this book, these words, and these photographs would not exist today.
This past December I took some time off and went to Colorado for ten days. I went to visit a few friends and take some time to myself to do some exploring, hiking, and beer drinking. I traveled fairly light, I managed to take everything I needed in two carry-on sized bags. Gear was especially light, I only had my cell phone and my Voigtlander with a few rolls of Tri-X with me, it was all I wanted to carry. No DSLRs, just the basics. I ended up taking a lot of photos of breweries, nature, and spaces I thought were interesting. The photos below tell a brief story of the trip. As always these are straight scans, the most I did with them was a bit of exposure corrections and cleaning up of scratches, nothing more. All photos made with my Voigtlander Bessa R3A, Nokton 40mm f/1.4 SC, Tri-X shot at box speed and developed in Diafine.
I made some new friends at Great Divide, The two in the foreground were a married couple from Texas on a beer tour of Colorado. We got to talking and decided to go to some of our favorite places as a group.
While not a native Colorado brewery, Epic Brewing was our next stop. It was only 8 blocks away and it seemed like the logical thing to do. After a few other watering holes I decided to take a day to myself and go to the mountains. I spent the following day in Frisco mostly hiking around and talking to a glass blower.
You could participate if you wanted to, he was very generous with letting people heat and mold the final product.
A few more shots of watering holes and breweries. I especially love getting photos of the workers in these places, seeing how things are made is one of my favorite things to be able to witness.
I did my part and visited some art museums, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Spending time to dissect paintings and photographs is important.
I couchsurfed for the second half of my trip. I stayed in a house in Five Points with some very musical and creative individuals. I enjoyed staying there and talking about music and learning from others. This was their living room.
Five Points is one of the most culturally interesting places in Denver, it’s a historical representation of all of the change that the city has seen throughout its existence. I could try to write an article about it but there are so many already written, and I’m not much of a writer anyway.
The Butcher Block Cafe was incredible. A diner after my own heart.
All in all, I was able to mentally and physically stretch, relax, and enjoy myself while I was in Colorado. Sometimes having all of that space to yourself is what you need the most.
It’s said that quality matters over quantity, and my personal portfolio has certainly gone the way of much less quantity as of late. I’ve been doing the vast majority of my work for Face Forward recently (see their photo section for that) and haven’t had much in the way of personal prints or photography. I’m trying to change that, though. I’d like to spend more of my free time out and about with my camera when life permits, so I think I’ll try to do that more. I went to Vancouver last summer and got some pretty good photos out of the trip, though most of the photos that I kept were those taken in their vast forestry. No street photography. That felt strange.
While I have noticed that the things that capture my interest enough for me to take a photo have changed throughout the years, I feel as though the original intent of photography for me has remained constant: photography is my tool for relaxation and my preferred method of expression of emotions, whether they be happy, sad, inquisitive, or anything else, I express these emotions best through imagery. Subject matter can vary but all the same messages are there, for me at least. I think that because of this constant that I’m satisfied with taking my time with my personal work. I get much more satisfaction and feel more peaceful from putting out something that I care about with the “personal work” label on it than mass producing photo after photo and sharing it with the whole world over and over again. I could speak volumes about each of my personal photographs, each one comes with a story of its own, something that separates it from the other photographs that I take.
Stories behind photographs are important, the photo is only half the vision, the other half is what moved the photographer to capture it. I’m not really sure what my goal with this post is, I’m mostly just thinking out loud here, but I had these thoughts on my mind as of late when I looked at how few prints I had created vs the sheer amount of images I’ve captured at shows, festivals, etc. These photos here are the only ones that I have developed in a long time, but I’m attached to them the most. The forest in Vancouver was a place where I could think clearly without hearing the white noise of the city. I spent most of my week there, exploring and taking time to myself.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. Given my track record it’s clear that I can’t keep a regular blog, I don’t know if I should be attributing this to my laziness to write or to my otherwise busy schedule. Either way, I’ve decided to finally put up some photos I took when I was in Barcelona and surrounding parts of Spain. Before I get into that, though, I’d like to say thank you to the nice folks over at Photojojo for featuring my post on creating solargraphs, I’m glad people are interested in doing them, and that something I wrote was helpful. Usually I’m on the receiving end of the how-to’s so this is quite flattering.
Now onto the good stuff. All photos were taken with a Voigtlander Bessa R3A and a Nokton 40mm f/1.4 lens. Various films were used, mostly Tri-X and Neopan 400 if memory serves. All films were shot at a variety of speeds ranging from ISO 640 to ISO 1600 and developed in Diafine.
That’s about everything I’ve managed to scan so far, when I have access to a film scanner again I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. This is only a snippet of what I saw and experienced while in Europe, but these are some of my favorite moments from the trip.
Hope everyone had a happy holidays and will have a terrific New Year.
It’s amazing what you can find on rolls of shot film that you’ve left lying around and forgotten about, if you do that sort of thing from time to time. My developer recently starting changing color from a nice crystal clear to an ugly, deep yellow. I needed to test out my developer before using it any more, especially since I had four rolls I wanted to go through in one day. I rummaged through to see if I had any old film lying around, I found an old roll of Ilford Delta 400 that I shot about a year ago and never got around to developing, I completely forgot what was on the roll. Since I had no clue what was on it I thought it would work out nicely for a test roll. I process the roll and find this gem on it, a one year old frame processed with year and a half old chemistry, sometimes I love my luck :)
After over a month long hiatus on scanning, I decided it was time that I got down to business. I scanned in most of the images that I liked from my Seattle trip, but i’ve got more on the way, which will be in another posting here when I get around to doing that.
Seattle was an excellent week long adventure full of shooting, and with my then new voigtlander bessa r3a and nokton 40mm f/1.4 SC, no less. I shot with mostly Neopan 400, Tri-X and Fujicolor Pro 400H (NPH 400 for those of you who remember that). The 400H performed nicely, it’s an excellent substitute to Kodak’s PortraVC, which is only sold in packs of 5 now if you don’t order online, which was why I went with the fuji. I only wanted a few color rolls, not an entire box. I had concerns about this film simply because I didn’t know it’s capabilities, but it performed like a champ. Neopan 400 was also relatively new for me at the time, I’d only been shooting it for a few weeks beforehand, but I was pleased with the initial results. the SC lens combined with a film that’s already claimed to scan nicely definitely didn’t dissappoint in that area.
On to the actual visit. I spent a lot of my rolls on Pike’s Place Market alone, it’s hard not to over there. The market itself takes up a vast space and sells a huge variety of things from food to handmade leather goods, to magician’s supplies. Figuring out how to capture the spirit of this place when walking around takes some work, despite the endless photo opportunities.
One particularly popular area of the market was a certain booth that sold a variety of seafood. These guys loved to entertain, they would toss fish around from place to place, and were just very energetic people in general.
EDIT: A reader kindly reminded me about this fact, none of the people working in the booths are the actual farmers of the food, but simply resellers. It’s a sad fact that it’s rare to catch a glimpse of the actual makers of the products, but the place is still very photogenic.
I managed to catch them during some downtime, which seemed like their relaxation period. No presentations going on, no tossing of fish, no nothing. Just a moment of silence for the booth that seemed to show a side of the workers that one normally wouldn’t see. Don’t let the quiet side fool you, however. These guys are just as energetic off duty as they are on duty.
While the booth was at full capacity again, I walked around back to avoid the crowds, and saw a few of them who were off duty, they were just as vibrant and charismatic in the back as they would’ve been up front. Talk about seeing immediate duality in the same place from one image to another.
There are a lot of people with cameras at Pike’s Place, and I mean a lot. It seemed like one in three people was armed with a DSLR and a huge lens, being out there with my Bessa made me feel different from the pack. In fact, only one person even recognized my camera as a rangefinder, and could even name what kind it was. She works in one of the fruits and veggies booths, and knows her stuff on film cameras.
She’s the one on the left in the above image, and saw me moments after I took this photo of her and her coworker. She asked me how I liked the Bessa and the lens I was using. From there we started talking rangefinders a bit, she told me about how her boyfriend is a Leica fiend, hunts for all the best deals on Leica gear. Another woman then joined in on our conversation.
She had a light leak problem and wanted to know what she could do about it. The woman at the booth suggested that she bring it in and she could have a look at it and fix it for her, I thought that was nice of her to do. Two complete strangers, and they’re completely trustworthy of each other. Forget Minnesota Nice, Seattle Nice dominates over that here, no doubt about it.
The other goods that the market sells are equally interesting to visit, the handmade leather booth especially. I spent some time looking at belts and whatnot, and just doing the usual looking around.
The bags were a nice touch, asking to be used in a photo. I didn’t hear what these two were talking about, though. Mystery conversation, mystery people. I went back to looking around at the goods at the booth. Several days later I came back with my color film and reshot the person at the booth actually working on a belt.
Other non-food booths also offered some interesting moments, just watching people picking out stuff, trying things on, etc is an interesting process. You kind of see yourself doing the same thing, so they’re like a mirror image of you.
This woman as looking at some jewelry, and my actual intent wasn’t to take a photo of her. I was framing the overall scene, but then she turned in my direction and I decided that was a better shot. I love street photography for that reason, you never know what’s gonna happen. Also, being able to see it constantly thanks to lack of finder blackout while shooting is even nicer.
Kids were present in the booths also, just doing their own thing. A lot of them were playing with the actual merchandise or just making funny faces at passersby.
This one was tearing up some paper, and enjoying it. He took to that paper with a vengeance, I guess he must have gotten a cut from it. This was near the same booth as the woman above, I think just one booth down, actually.
All of the non-food items being sold are fun to see, some of those things you can’t buy in the usual places. Antique shops, maybe, but not anywhere else. There were some Asian style clothing areas to buy things like kimonos and other types of clothes as well as shoes. Antique stores dominated the lower level of the place, especially the memorabilia stores. Those are always a big hit, people like collecting old things. Says the guy with the film camera and record player.
Just outside one of the memorabilia shops, this one happened to be selling old signs. Signs with things like old advertisements on them, signs from old boxes that had fruit in them that had the logo of the fruit company, road signs, etc. Something somebody might put up on their wall or add to their old stuff collection. I don’t know. I can’t spend more than 20 minutes in those places before I feel like I’m looking at the same thing over and over again. Some people though, they can spend forever in those places. I just move on, like I said I can’t stay in those places for a long time.
What’s a trip to Pike’s Place without visiting the very original Starbucks? Not much lost, actually, at least in my opinion. Sure, the place looks nice but the building is ridiculously crowded, maybe I should’ve visited when people weren’t as present to appreciate it more, but in the middle of the day, man it’s not worth waiting around that place for coffee.
The entrance looked like this almost the entire time, I wish I could says sans photographer in the way but there was always someone there, right in the doorway, with a camera. I decided to keep my distance, mostly to avoid being trampled though. This woman’s purple shirt (or whatever you would call it) stood out. A lot. In a sea of greens purple tends to do that, especially when it’s right in front of you.
The Starbucks had some musicians playing nearby, pretty common sight around Pike’s Place, they’re everywhere. They’re playing all kinds of music, from traditional to jazz, there was plenty to be heard as well as seen.
This one was sitting right by the popular fish tossing booth, doing his thing. The woman in the background is completely unnecessary, I wish I would’ve known she was coming, I guess I should work on my seeing-through-pillar abilities.
Back to foodstuffs, the fruits and veggies booth looked amazing, I had to go back and reshoot them in color. It didn’t seem right to leave it at black and white, which was my reasoning for using color film in the first place for Pike’s Place.
Immediately outside of the market there are some noteworthy places I found as well. There was a tea shop in which you could taste as many different varieties and blends as you wanted. The woman there just kept serving until you said you had enough. It’s a nice little shop, a great break from the hustle and bustle of the market.
She was in the middle of getting a blueberry and herb mix together, while telling me something about it’s subtle qualities. She really knows her tea, and knows how to sell it. I almost ended up buying a bag of leaves for myself but decided not to, I had a lot to do that day.
I found a few more places near the market where I visited, one of them even had a tiny arcade/entertainment area complete with a merry-go-round. I stood in there for a while, got bored and took this:
It’s been a little while since I updated the blog, lately I’ve been busy with work, and in one case, not work. I took a week long trip to Seattle with my cameras and spent the entire week shooting and relaxing. To make a long story short, it was a much needed vacation. I’ve developed all of the rolls from the trip but I have yet to scan anything, so there will be an update on that later once I get around to the scanning process and actually have everything up on my computer.
In the meantime, I’ve spent my time doing photography of a very different sort from what I usually do. For the past month or so I had been planning out a studio shoot to capture dancer movement, and other similar ideas to that theme. Given that studio photography is almost the polar opposite of my typical style of street and journalism for work, my working style changed considerably. I knew that I had to actually plan this one out in advance, figure out lights, find a model then coordinate with her as far as outfits go and the actual timing for the shoot, etc. I actually found myself having a lot of fun doing all of this, getting involved in that kind of planning is easy, and I found myself easily spending hours at a time some nights planning and talking with fellow photographers about my options.
Luckily enough for me, all of the planning and coordinating fell into place seamlessly, which gave me more time to work out the fun part of the shoot: lighting and other such details. I began my quest for good lighting inspiration in two forum threads I came across: One Light Setups and New One Light Setups. I also did some searches over on deviantART to find what I wanted. I ended up settling on two main light setups, shown here:
The distances shown aren’t 100% accurate, but you get the idea. The lights can be moved farther from or closer to the subject as desired, the files are only for reference purposes. On a sidenote, the file used is very, very handy for creating lighting mockups such as the ones above. No more drawing things out on paper or however you do it, the link to the file can be found here. Take note that I did not make this file.
The first setup is as simple as can be: a 100ow halogen bulb with a softbox and a dimmer camera right and a foamcore reflector camera left. Simple, yet very effective. The second setup is 2x300w halogen lights/barndoors on either side and a 500w hairlight overhead.
The next step was to find a model. I decided to ask a friend instead of having to deal with a professional model for multiple reasons. The model I chose to work with is a friend from college, and is very comfortable in front of a camera. She’s very respectful of equipment and willing to help with the actual studio setup prior to shooting. I would’ve been happy to set everything up myself and don’t like to burden others, especially when that other person is your model, but she ended up helping substantially and sped up the whole process of setting up taking down equipment. Multiple times throughout the shoot when things needed to be moved around she would ask how she can help out, or when a problem arose she contributed ideas as to it’s solution. She has a very positive and energetic personality, and never once complained about a single thing. Overall, she’s simply a joy to work with.
Throughout the month I touched base with her on any new ideas I had developed so there would be no surprises come the day of the shoot. Any clothing ideas, any light setups, etc. I made sure she knew about. In retrospect, I should have everything planned out so I can simply send one large chunk of info instead of sending it in pieces over time, that will be remedied in the future.
Once everything was set into motion, studio rented, model found and ideas flowing, the next step simply was to wait until the day of the shoot. Come the day of the shoot, we arrived at the studio at around 1pm or so. The first thing I noticed: no boom. Well, shit. There goes one setup I had planned out. But wait! Not so fast, turns out the owner of the studio runs a mini hardware storage in there as well. We found all sorts of things like PVC piping and steel rods, clamps etc. that were available to us at our disposal that were hidden away in a closet. Once I confirmed that I can indeed play around with the parts in the closet, I decided to deal with the second light setup later and start shooting right away. I put up the first setup, she changed into her outfit, we got some dance music going and began working.
We spent quite a bit of time with the first setup, I knew that simple was effective, but I didn’t know how effective that could be until I started using it. The possibilities with one light are seemingly endless, and I wanted to make as much use of that as I could. Two of the three outfits we ended up using were shot with the one light setup, the last outfit was done entirely with the three light setup.
When the time came to change setups, the improvisation with the found parts in the closet began. We found a steel rod that spanned just as wide as the seamless background was and two extra light stands that rose up to 13 feet. Rod + stands = solution. We started working on clamping the rod and taping up the clamps to the stands so they would hold their position, making sure not to forget to hang the light from the rod by it’s handle before taping down everything. Due to the decrease in height that I would’ve been using, the 500w was out of the question. I tried it out anyway, and as I expected the light from above was far too strong. I swapped out the 500w with a 300w light that’s identical to the barndoors that are placed from either side in setup 2. After some test shots, I picked what worked and once again we got down to shooting.
The improvised overhead light worked out very well, leaving us pleased with our work. While I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for from it, I feel that if I were to set it up again I could get more out of it, and more consistent results. Given the physical space of the studio and the time frame we had to work with it, the three light setup definitely didn’t disappoint, and some beautiful photos came out of it. It’s a setup willing to work with more, and hopefully will be once I have time to spend in a studio again.
Overall, a month’s preparation for one short day in the studio culminated into some great photos, and of course some great times in general, the interaction between a photographer and his subject is something one must experience for him/herself, and if there’s anything I have learned about this stretching of my boundaries, is that even though two styles of photography may be polar opposites as to how they are done, but when there is a person involved as subject, the connection made between the two people to capture the moment is priceless, and that’s what I loved the most about the entire process.
Nikon D60 (Sadly, I couldn’t borrow the D700 from work so I used my own body)
AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D
AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED (borrowed from work)
AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D IF-ED (older, heavier version, borrowed from work)
Voigtlander Bessa R3A
Nokton Classic 40mm f/1.4 SC
The Bessa setup was an experiment as well. Not exactly a studio camera but I thought why the hell not? The rolls from the Bessa have yet to be developed, but I hope to have that fixed soon. I used Tri-X exposed at multiple speeds and it will be developed in Diafine.