Usually I aim to create our annual photo book between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I fell behind the last two years. 2013 lay half-finished, and I hadn’t even started 2014. A few words of encouragement from family motivated me to restart the project. Over the course of two weeks in June, I spent every free moment putting them together.
Translating the English captions into French is the hardest and last task required to complete the books. Not only was Stephanie swamped with summer school at the time, but translation stands out as one of her least favorite things. So for the first time I used Fiverr to hire someone to do it for us. It only cost $30 to translate both books, but not having to coerce Stephanie into doing it was priceless. And it meant we were able to get them printed just in time to bring with us to France. Onto 2015!
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.)