The physical magic of Polaroids

This is something I've only just recently started to think about. This topic is nothing new -- others have philosophized about this, sometimes at great length. But it really struck me last night as I was thinking about it.

One of the many unique things I love about Polaroid photography is that your photographs literally capture a piece of physical light from the subjects you're photographing. The physical light bouncing off of that person, or thing, is literally captured and imprinted on the photograph that comes out of the camera.

In other words, you're literally holding a physical piece of the actual light coming from that person or thing. It's right there in your hands, and it's crazy to think about. 

This is not something you get from any other form of photography.

It certainly isn't something you get from cellphone or any kind of digital photography. With that, you're just getting 1s and 0s, or digital approximations of the light. 

With other forms of analog photography, like 35mm or 120mm, you don't really have this magic happening, either. Technically, yes, you have captured the physical light of the person or thing on the negative. But we don't often go around handing out negatives, right? Photographers make prints from the negatives. And by that point, you're not working with the original light anymore. You're projecting from the negative onto another source, so it's a reproduction of the light -- not the actual light itself.

What all of this means is that Polaroids are unique in a very special way. They literally capture and imprint a real piece of what you're photographing. When you take a Polaroid of someone, the Polaroid print is the real light that was coming off that person, now on your print.

When you think about it this way, it can have some real profound effects on how you photograph, and how you approach making photographs with this medium. 

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What's better: The place, or the photograph?

This is a continuation, in a sense, of my previous blog post. The question might seem ridiculous, or perhaps even a no-brainer. What's better: The place/thing, or the photograph of it?

Most people, I think, would say the actual thing. The real place, the real object, and/or the experience, will always trump a mere photographic representation of it. Of course, visiting a beautiful park, or going to a nice restaurant, or going to a movie theater with friends, is always better than a photograph of it. 

I think most people would say a good photograph to document the event is nice, but the experience itself was more important.

And yet, what about in 10 years, when that park looks totally different? What about in 20 years, when that restaurant is no longer there? Or in 50 years, when that movie theater is long gone? 

Perhaps it is a ridiculous question. Both might be equally important in their own ways, and the answer really does depend on the passage of time, and your own perspective.

But maybe, just maybe, for the common everyday places and things -- if there is such a thing -- in time, the photograph becomes ... "better." 

I'm not really sure. But it's a good question to ponder. 

Adding photographic magic to my everyday

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. If that's true, how much is something worth that has a memorable picture of it? How does it feel to walk past places and people everyday that I've photographed? When I walk by the same place later, and remember the photograph, am I walking through the photograph? Or am I projecting an image of how I believe the place to look in the photograph? 

These are some of the questions I've been asking myself lately. I'm in a fortunate -- and interesting -- position: that my photography is practically squarely focused on the things, people and places around me. I'm not often traveling a great distance to take photographs. I'm taking photographs practically right outside my front door, all the time, and rarely ever that far away.

Often these are places that I'll photograph, love the photograph, then walk by the same place, oh, 3 months later. The place has taken on a mystical, magical quality.

This is happening more with strangers on the streets as well. Some people who I've photographed, I'll see them again weeks later. And when I see them, their presence is almost unreal. It's kind of like, if you saw in real life a character in a movie that you thought wasn't actually a person. 

I think this is partly because I really do pore over my photographs. Some more than others, of course, but the good ones, I really like to spend time with them. Study them carefully, let the images simmer in my mind, and think about why and how I made those photographs.

Then when I see the subjects again in real life, it's kind of like, seeing a new piece or element of something you already know so well. For me, this has a strange way of keeping reality always fresh and interesting.

But the original photograph is the photograph. I'm rarely compelled to take another photograph of something after passing it again. It's kind of like, the photograph is the document of the thing or person. What's the point in making another? Why muck with reality?

Seeing with new eyes

In addition to my regular shooting and darkroom printing, lately I've also been digging into photographs I took early last year. At the time, I did not put much stock in these images. I did not think they were very compelling, and not worthy of adding to my portfolio, printing, or even posting to Instagram. 

But what a year does to your perspective! Since I started focusing on shooting film, I've certainly developed my eye. I've become more selective, and specific, about the things I shoot. I have a much better sense of what, and how, I should be photographing. And I'm constantly refining my eye. 

But apparently, it goes the other way too. My eye must also be attuned to things that I did not initially appreciate. Because when I look through these photographs, I realize now that they are compelling, in their own special way. Here are just a few, all shot in early 2017.

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2001 in new 70mm print

Today I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, at the Castro Theater here in SF, for its new 70mm print/50th birthday release extravaganza. This is a movie that gets better and reveals more of its beauty and mystery with every viewing. Seeing it today, roughly a couple years since my last viewing, in 70mm, was a transportive experience.

I think a lot of what makes this movie so special and important is that it's pure cinema. It's a film made not just to tell a story, but it's a work of film as an art itself. 

What I mean is that the movie's sole purpose is to tell its story through the medium of film, and using the medium itself to tell the story, without any outside manipulations or effects, digital or otherwise.

Watching it today, there were so many sequences that I could not figure out how they were shot. Sequences that people today wouldn't bat an eyelid at, given modern-day special effects. 

But when you think about the fact that 2001 was made purely using actual, physical, tangible things that you can see, on the tangible medium of film, it astounds you. 

And that's part of the beautiful mystery of the film. Not just is the story ultimately a mystery, but the way it is told and committed to film is just as mysterious. 

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A new project

So in addition to my Tenderloin portrait series, and my other street work around SF, I've begun work on a new photo series! This one will be focused on a residential area of Palm Springs, called Blaisdell Canyon.

This is in its very early stages. But I think what I'll be trying to do is present the area in a way that conveys an epic sense of emptiness.

I still view it as street photography, but on a larger scale. And inverted, in a way. 

The work I produce with this should be viewed on large silver gelatin prints, not on a computer screen.

For that reason, don't expect to see much digital output from me around the photographs, beyond the video below. It shows the first 16"x20" print I made for the series.

I'll be focusing on taking more photographs, making large darkroom prints of them, and eventually have them exhibited.

So, stay tuned!

A tiny wedding chapel in the woods

My friends and I stumbled upon this chapel outside Flagstaff, Az., on our way back from the Grand Canyon. It's called the Chapel of the Holy Dove, and apparently weddings are held there all the time. In fact, there was one held just hours before we arrived, according to a note on the wall!

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Shooting with the Pentax K1000

Today I went out and walked around Chinatown, and the Embarcadero, primarily to scout some possible spots for an upcoming shoot I'm doing. But I brought my Pentax K1000 with me, and ended up shooting quite a number of street photos in the process. 

It's been well over a year since I've used this camera, and I realized again what a joy it is to shoot with. Because it's fully manual (and mechanical), making pictures on it is a much more tactile, physical experience. You need to do a little bit more work to take your pictures, but that's what makes it so great and so fun to shoot with. It really feels like you're working the camera, and making all the decisions on your own (because you are), and I love that about it. 

Plus, it just feels great in the hand. It's very ergonomic, without any unnecessary frills or clutter, and the perfect weight. Not too light, and not too heavy.  

It also has a wonderful shutter sound. It's more of a clap than a click or clack, but still plenty swift and mechanical. 

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Digital images of film negatives

So I've started on a bit of a new project among others -- taking digital images of my film negatives, using my iPhone, on a light table.

I'm digitally shooting 35mm color, 35mm b&w, and 120mm b&w film negatives, as well as 35mm slides.

I am not sure exactly what I'm trying to do, say or achieve with this, but its been very fun and exciting so far. Below are just a few images of my 120mm b&w negatives, shot this year and last around the Tenderloin of SF and Lake Merritt in Oakland.

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Falling in love with slide film

I was recently gifted some slide film, and have since fallen in love with the format. It certainly has a much livelier tone and vibrancy to it than color negative film. But what I think I love more is what you get back: Individually mounted exposures that are exactly the pictures you took. It's like holding a tiny little print in your hand, which you can do whatever you want with, and enjoy for as long as you live. You can project it, gaze upon it on a light box, or simply hold it up to the San Francisco Bay. 

film is eternal

Yesterday I began a new black & white darkroom printing workshop at San Francisco City College.

One of the other photographers printed a photo of a bunch of lions feeding on a buffalo carcass in the African grasslands. 

It was a beautiful and bold photo. Perfectly composed, taken from a high angle so that the camera is peering down on the lions as they fed. The image quality was super sharp.

We asked this guy, So when did you take this photo? We figured it was fairly recent. 

Sometime in the 70s, he said. 

Apparently he had dug up the old negative, and decided that was the photo he was going to print yesterday.

Looking at the beautiful print he made, you never would have guessed that the original image was captured 40-some years ago.

Art I'm thankful for this year

[In no particular order]

Good Time (film)

Blade Runner 2049 (film)

The Disaster Artist (film)

Dunkirk (film)

I, Tonya (film)

A Ghost Story (film)

A Deeper Understanding, by the War on Drugs (music)

Pure Comedy, by Father John Misty (music)

Cry Cry Cry, by Wolf Parade (music)

Damn, by Kendrick Lamar (music)

Hot Thoughts, by Spoon (music)

Sleep Well Beast, by The National (music)

Songs of Experience, by U2 (music)

Loney Dear, by Emil Svanängen (music)

Stranger Things 2 (tv)

Apple Watch Series 3 (tech)

Tesla Model 3 (tech) 

Larry Sultan exhibit at SF MOMA (photography)

My photography

My friends' photography

My music 

[]

Tomorrow is a departure // a trip to Yosemite // and the larger, Sierra Nevada // mountain range region.

A safe base in Mammoth Lakes, with only 1 camera and lens, to physically take // my Nikon f3.

On the agenda, is an old west Ghost town // with a literal connection to inspire // to make.

Film to be used: Ektar 100, Portra 400, Portra 160 ... Kodak Tri-X.

There are things to capture // of this season's end // and the end of golden disasters.

New music in progress

I'm excited to report that I'm hard at work on a new album!

This project is a new foray of sorts. For the first time I'll be making an album comprised solely of original songs, drawing on my own experiences over the last half-decade.

In that regard, I consider it to be a true original writing project -- both from a lyrical standpoint, as well as from a songwriting perspective. A return to form for me.

In late 2016, I began writing lyrics for what I thought could be new songs. At the time, I was finishing a different album, The Invisible Santa But Still Oceans Remain. Given the subject matter of this new material, I didn't think it would be right for that album.

But it did mark the beginning of a new series of stories I would write. Stories focused on the people I've met since I moved to San Francisco, the relationships I've had, and the places I've been.

The stories are the basis, and foundation, of these new songs. Without them, there would be no new music.

These stories, and their songs, I hope, will blossom into visual pictures of their own. 

Stay tuned!

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