When traveling in a new place, I’m drawn to the backgrounds, the negative spaces, the tapestries of color and texture that exist just behind the people and cars and advertisements and graffiti. That background is what differentiates one place from another; it’s what makes a place a place. But it can be hard to photograph [well] because there’s all that other stuff in the way. And I didn’t have the weeks or months, let alone days, to immerse myself in the buzzing energy of Oaxaca enough to anticipate those moments of perfect urban composition.
As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a handy conceit. I was struck by how many Volkswagen Beetles were plying the cobblestone streets of the old city. So I took a photo of one or two—I love the juxtaposition of an old car against an interesting facade. I found that the familiar and graceful shape of the Beetle was a convenient foil for my true intention—to capture something of the place behind it. So what started out as a whim, turned into a sport, and I began walking the streets of old Oaxaca intent on collecting Beetles in their natural habitat.
Last night was my second darkroom class (of the intermediate level), and though we had an assignment to under- or over-expose a roll of film so we could play with push/pull processing, I disregarded it (out of a lack of camera/interest) and simply came prepared to print my own photos, on my own paper (11×14″ matte fiber), to my own specifications.
I decided to continue to toy with the split-filtering technique we were introduced to in the last class, but I’m still a little clumsy around the enlargers, so after I made my test strips and chose my exposures (f/4, #00 8s, #5 12s) I accidentally forgot to engage the #5 filter, so the first two or so seconds of the what should have been the constrast-only exposure were completely unfiltered. I immediately exposed another paper correctly, and then developed them both at the same time.
The “happy accident” had a wonderfully dark and grainy sky, as a backdrop to the birds, shoes, and jump-rope on power lines (that you might recall from seeing the negative-scanned rendition at the top of A study of power lines and pigeons), whereas the sky in the intentionally exposed print was much lighter shade of gray, with less visible grain. It’s worth mentioning that this was a 3:2 vertical crop of a horizontal 35mm frame, so the negative was significantly enlarged beyond the size of the paper, further accentuating the film grain.
I hoped I’d go back after the course to actually print some of these photos (as opposed to the ones we shot and developed specifically for the class)—I even bought my own paper—but I never got around to it. So when I discovered last week that the second level darkroom course was about to begin, I jumped. (Sometimes it helps to have a little external motivation.)
Tuesday night was the first class, and I printed the first photo from “my analog year” (Rondel Place, from A study of power lines). We experimented with a technique called split filtering, in order to expose the highlights and shadows of the image separately. Of course, I made a quick and dirty scan of the print to compare and contrast the results here. (Note: The only digital post-processing I did was cropping, desaturating, and resizing.)
A year has passed since I began my delayed gratification photography project—an attempt to broaden my horizons by limiting myself to a Leica M3, one lens (50mm), and one type of film (Tri-X), for one year (as recommended by Mike Johnston). In the end I shot 18 rolls of film—about one and a half per month—a far cry from Mike’s recommendation of 2-4 per week! I had all of my negatives scanned, so one could argue that this was “analog photography” in name only. Early on I had designs to take a darkroom class, but the timing never worked out. It’s something I could always pursue in the future.
I filtered through the 650-odd photos I took and whittled them down to the strongest 18 (technically 19, as the panorama below was stitched together from two separate photos). It’s purely coincidence that I shot 18 rolls of film and ended up with 18 winners. I didn’t constrain myself to picking one shot per roll. Several rolls, especially in the beginning, had no winners, and several had more than one. Not surprisingly, the majority have appeared in prior blog posts (as indicated). I’ve arranged them below in the order that they were taken.