Shelley Lake was interviewed at her studio in western Massachusetts on a lovely sunny summer day in June 2006. Her website can be found at www.shelleylake.com
MAGNAchrom: As an artist are you known as DOCTOR Shelley Lake?
Shelley Lake: Some people refer to me that way jokingly, but for the most part they call me Shelley.
MC You’ve been in the arts most of your life. As a child were you artistically-driven?
SL I started when I was three and have thought of myself as an artist all my life. Even when I was practicing chiropractic, I thought of it as a tactile art.
MC And as a three year old child, how do you know you are an artist at that point?
SL Well, I got a lot of support and affirmation early on doing crayon drawings — particularly drawing very early and I still draw quite a bit and enjoy using my hands to create art even though I interface with technology I still maintain hand skills as much as possible.
MC So if you have a tactile need for art, and it’s clearly coming out in chiropractic as in art, how does photography satisfy you?
SL Well, that’s a good question...
MC Is it all the gear? I mean, (laughing) there is a LOT of stuff to touch and move and so on — is there a technical aspect to it?
SL I think I was looking for a creative partner, which has been a theme in my adult life as I move away from the more direct ways of making art to more technically-oriented art making. I found that working with the camera enabled me to capture places instantaneously that would otherwise never be envisioned.
MC Is it more of a personal thing? You seem driven to capture pictures that have a sense of “being there” and clearly you need to capture that somehow for yourself. Thus, in terms of commercial work, are people coming along for the ride? Are they following your work like a person would follow a movie, a cinema?
SL The camera enables me to revisit places that I can only experience briefly. Some of these places are so expansive that even though you are standing there, you can’t witness them except by revisiting them through the camera. I’ve often said that the camera is just an excuse to go to beautiful places. For a while I went to these places and never thought of bringing a camera because I felt that they couldn’t be captured. And it is only recently that I decided that I would try anyway.
MC And it seems that you have done it. That you have captured “something”...
SL it is an approximation of the place and it’s not as good as being there, but it is the best I can do.
MC But you’re also capturing the “feel” — I mean, looking around here in your studio there is a drama here in all of these pieces. Are you a dramatic person?
SL No. But I’m drawn to (laughs) dramatic people! (pauses) And I’m drawn to dramatic places with a tremendous sense of scale. I’m often at the edge of some precipice in order to do these captures. Sometimes it is frightening to just stand there with my camera ‘cause I’m often cliff-side. That’s pretty dramatic.
MC You don’t have any phobias about heights or anything?
SL No I don’t. But there are many times when I’m literally on the edge and am concerned for my life.
MC A wind might take you away...
SL Or the ground might give way, ‘cause some of the erosion is really bad and I know that a lot of people have stood where I’m standing. I see all the tripod marks. There are definitely moments when I’m concerned about my safety.
MC Well, speaking of moments, can you tell us the worst thing that has ever happened to you while you were taking pictures?
SL (laughs) Well, I accidentally lost a rig at Horseshoe Bend and ended up losing a 4x5 camera and the BetterLight panorama option over a cliff. But fortunately the digital back (the insert) was tethered to my backpack so at least I didn’t lose the back. And the back actually wacked against the cliff-side and I was able to fish that out. The back still works perfectly.
MC So it didn’t need to be repaired?
MC What about the camera?
SL I ended up hiring a river guide and going back into the canyon at Horseshoe Bend to retrieve the remains. And I still have bits and pieces of the camera. I thought that the insurance would honor my policy if I had the remains, but that really didn’t end up being that important. It was more that I really wanted to see what happened to it.
MC I see. And the lens of course, was gone, gone, gone...
SL Yeah, but I actually recovered half of the lens! And I also recovered the panorama option and sent it back to BetterLight.
MC So if that was the worse experience — just an equipment thing — then what was the best experience?
SL The best thing, hmmm... You wonder what makes something the best. There have been moments in the field that were extraordinary with the camera. Sometimes it involved waiting, sometimes it was sheer luck. And luck seems to be a big part of the process — as someone who is totally out of control (laughs). Part of moving into photography was control. It affords a tremendous amount of control. Maybe not as much as simulation-based graphics, but close to it. Yet you are at the mercy of the elements and the weather and the wind.
MC Is there a hint of gambling in there? Or is that just more of a spiritual thing? Because you must be unlucky sometimes too...
SL Oh yes, Most shots are absolute failures and I have plenty of those... I find with the BetterLight back I almost always have one or two opportunities in a capture. It’s not like I can bang out a dozen shots at a site. So it’s usually a singular experience with the camera.
MC Perhaps no different than using an 8x10? I mean, it’s the same situation: with getting only one or two shots in.
SL Yeah that’s right.
MC Does that make the luck sweeter then? Because of the limitations?
SL Yeah I think the limitations are great, but because of the resolution and color fidelity of the back, the odds are really good that the capture will go well. And then it becomes a matter of composition and timing.
MC For such panoramic shots, you must have to do quite a bit of “pre-visualization” because you really don’t have the time to run through the whole scan, look at it, modify your composition, and then go back.
SL That’s exactly right.
MC You gotta just look at the scene and say “I think this is going to look good”...
SL Yes absolutely, that’s true. With panorama I use the laptop to visualize the composition, instead of the groundglass. I typically overshoot the scene spatially so that I have some wiggle room.
MC Mostly in the horizontal direction?
SL And some top and bottom. Often but not much. I’ve had a lot of success stitching shots together even though I have the panorama option. The focus is totally unforgiving. So that is a critical part of the equation
MC And you use the software to do that?
SL No, I typically use a loupe on the groundglass. In the field I don’t use the auto-focus feature of the back. To me it’s too risky. And I often don’t have time to pursue that.
MC Right. It slows you down — one more step.
SL That’s something I would use in the studio religiously but not in the field
MC You also shoot with a Fuji 617. Can you compare the WAY you approach your subject with that camera versus the bigger BetterLight equipment?
SL I think of the Fuji medium format camera as a “point and shoot” camera even though it’s unwieldy in some circles compared to the 4x5 platform. It’s extremely convenient and spontaneous. So it affords the spontaneity that I otherwise can’t enjoy with the 4x5 platform. Using it compositionally is much more straightforward because the rangefinder approximates the shot instantly whereas the panorama option is much more mysterious as to what the outcome will be. It’s funny with the medium format: I tend to “bulls eye” my shots more than with the panorama option. Not sure why that is.
MC What do you mean by “bulls eye”?
SL Where the focal point is in the center of the shot.
MC So more “formal” then?
SL Yeah, I tend to be more sprawling with the panorama option.
MC It’s interesting. I see that now, with the exception of that piece that they have an asymmetry to them which is very appealing.
SL I think so too. I’m less likely to bulls eye with that panorama option. In the medium format, I’m also able to do verticals which I’ve begun to explore. That’s a refreshing change from the horizontal format.
MC I haven’t seen your verticals!
SL I don’t do them often, but I’m beginning to explore them more.
MC If you were traveling today with the BetterLight, would you be bringing your Fuji with you as a companion camera?
SL Yes, and I have done that. When I’m on photo safari in my RV I bring everything. Even the Canon 1Ds digital.
MC So you basically have a complete toolkit. Is that a problem? You suddenly have all these choices!
SL No. I like having choices. And I’m not intimidated by choice. The more familiar I am with each platform, the easier it is for me to make the choice. That was true even in massage modalities ‘cause I would learn shiatsu and chiropractic and Swedish and a multitude of things and the more familiar I became with each modality, the easier it was to make a choice.
MC Back to that tactile thing: it’s becoming one with your equipment so that you can become one with your image, is that right?
MC Is that why you have to be the best in a platform, get to really learn it, and then you won’t get rid of it? It’s almost like being married for a while.
SL That’s true. For the first year I only used one lens with the scanning back — I used the Schneider 90mm XL. And it was a good exercise. Having only one lens and no other choice. And I became very intimate with that lens and wasn’t distracted. I think sometimes it’s good to constrain the situation just to master something well enough to move on to the next experiment.
MC Do you think those photographs where you limited yourself are more intimate than your later work?
SL It’s more like an evolution as I introduced new elements into the toolkit, I’m able to optimize each element for each situation. And it’s often an optimization experience where one combination is going to yield the most beautiful result. And the same thing is true in Photoshop — you have levels, curves, color balance, selective color, and a gazillion choices. Knowing that hue/saturation is the appropriate tool for this problem set versus selective color. Those nuances make a huge difference. And you can only realize those skills by mastering one tool at a time.
MC Did you have formal darkroom training?
SL Yes. I started when I was 13 in the darkroom in the closet making prints with an enlarger and chemicals.
MC Personally, I find that wet background the perfect analog to Photoshop as a darkroom. And yet there are things you can clearly do in Photoshop that would have taken you bloody forever to ever try to attempt in the darkroom! For example, something simple like wanting to warm up the shadows — and nothing else. It’s trivial to do in Photoshop yet painful to do in a wet darkroom.
SL Right. Photoshop is the state of the art in software engineering. Everything pales in comparison.
MC When did you first start using Photoshop?
SL I guess I started with Macintosh in the mid 80s.
MC Did you use MacPaint, MacDraw?
SL Yes, I have an early example of that on my website. I did a capture of the early Mac user interface and created a billboard-sized print as art.
MC You were at MIT at the time?
SL I was at MIT from 1977 through 1979. That’s why it’s such a blur for some of the dates ‘cause I had exposure to Photoshop-like environments a decade before they became commercially available.
MC So tell me about MIT. In particular how this MIT experience has lent itself to your ability as an artist today.
SL The most important thing I learned at MIT -- and it’s still important today -- is: does it feel good? That was the foundation from which everything grew. And that was Nicholas Negroponte’s vision for the computer interface. So it was a lot about feelings.
MC This was the “Visible Language Workshop”?
SL He called it the Architecture Machine Group back then. And now it’s the Media Lab. He let go of his involvement/control recently at the Media Lab.
MC He was one business man.
SL It always was a business. And it was supported by DARPA. All this technology was born of the military with the toolkits being staged on the field for military maneuvers.
MC I remember seeing in the early 80s an interactive 3-D map of Aspen.
SL Yes it started with Aspen. They took a car and put four cameras on top of it looking north/south/east/west and captured every meter of town and all the menus and was able to gather enough data about Aspen so that you could visit Aspen vicariously through the computer.
MC Hah! Woefully out of date today! You wouldn’t recognize the place! (laughs)
SL Yeah isn’t that funny? There was a project that pre-dated Aspen that I was personally involved in which was the first art-slide videodisk. We digitized every slide in the Roche library (MIT) so that you could go to that library online, interactively.So it was the first project of its kind and it pioneered the interactive video disk.
MC That issue of the underlying military connection — you had no problem with that because that was just where the money was coming from?
SL I guess if the military is going to invest money in a pursuit, I can’t think of a better way to spend it. It was peacetime more or less and it was an inspiring and peaceful experience to be in the laboratories. Even though the technologies could be used or repurposed for anything. And that is the nature of technology — it has the potential for good or evil. But it is the people behind it that ultimately determine its fate.
MC That’s true of art as well. The technology has nothing to do with whether a photograph is digital or analog. Do you get into the debate about film vs. digital? Or do you try to stay away from that?
SL Ironically I just bought a film camera on the heels of this digital revolution and find that film as a platform is still solid, and has some timeless qualities about it, particularly for large format printing. And the two coexist side by side each having different strengths and weaknesses. I hope to see film... well to be honest with you, on some levels I wouldn’t mind if film went the way of the dinosaurs, because it is so counter-intuitive working with it often.
MC Isn’t that part of the joy of luck? That counter-intuitive, unknown, throw your dice and hope it comes back, and when it does it’s joyful?
MC Digital gets rid of some of that luck, don’t you think?
SL Oh no. The only advantage digital has is instantaneous gratification, instant feedback
MC Is that a good thing? Or bad thing?
SL It can be deceiving. Sometimes the small digital display when explored at a larger scale, may fall apart, or you may think you “got it” but you didn’t.
MC Is it because it encourages you to be lazy? As opposed to film, which bites you if you get lazy! You can get away with more stuff with digital...
SL (laughs) I’d say the scanning back is anything but lazy!
MC Of course! I meant more like your Canon 1Ds
SL The 1Ds MkII, in certain circumstances, does begin to rival the medium format platform for resolution and color fidelity. And its just a matter of time when things reach the 20-something megapixel range where we’ll see a turning point. But I think its so much more spontaneous. Particularly for the human form and portraits, where medium and large format really gets in the way of the human that’s doing portraiture.
MC Sure. Yet people still love shooting 4x5 portraiture, ‘cause there is certain look to it. And then there are others who go out and buy LensBabies on their teeny digicams to make it look like it was taken with a big format camera! For me it’s wacky to see these reactions more than anything.
SL Yes. As a teenager I loved photographing people. Now I’m a reluctant portrait artist. So I prefer photographing sculpture at this point (points to a framed photo of a detail of David)
MC I assume that is Florence at night?
SL Yes. That is David at the Palazzo Vecchio. The replica.
MC Taken with the 1Ds?
MC Yeah, you probably wouldn’t want to haul all your gear around at night and half an hour later you’d get your shot of David.
SL Actually, I’m ready to bring my 4x5 to Florence. I’d love to do that! I was scouting locations primarily so that I could later go back with the BetterLight.
MC That’s interesting. I think you and I have come to a similar conclusion, which is the use of digital cameras as a scouting tool. A digital Polaroid if you’d like. The pictures are good in their own right, But this allows me to come back later with a laser focus to get the ONE picture.
SL Absolutely. But I have to add that the Canon does a pretty good job. But I know that the BetterLight scanning back would blow it away.
MC So if today you had a Hasselblad H2 with a 39 megapixel digital back, would that change your camera makeup? Might you use one camera for everything?
SL Perhaps. I have not had that experience that you are describing to know how I feel about it.
MC Well, let’s go on to the future. You’ve had a varied artistic past, which includes everything from digital art to hands on art to analog photography art now traditional photography. Where do you see yourself as an artist in 5 to 10 years? Are you still going to be doing photography? 3-dimensional? Film? Where might you take those?
SL Well I’d like to return to simulation-based graphics. And I think in about 5 years that will be a lot easier to facilitate. I like the motion picture arts and sound and may explore some audio/visual multi-media projects.
MC More of an installation kind of thing?
SL Perhaps. As these LCD and plasma displays get cheaper... Last time I went to Chelsea I must have seen half a dozen installations that were motion picture based arts. And some of them were audio visual. It’d be great to have an electronic display instead of something on paper that’s more kinetic.
MC What will that do to photography when you can buy an electronic display — that size hanging on your wall — and subscribe to “Shelley Lake du Jour”? Is this going to be a business model? Is it going to make photography more ephemeral than it already is?
SL The idea of static furniture, although it is appealing to some people, something more idiosyncratic and kinetic would be interesting. You would always have the option if you’d like something to remain unchanged.
MC Perhaps it’s not that you’d hang electronic paintings on the wall, but rather that the walls would be electronic?
SL Absolutely, I’d expect to see that more or less as screens become more affordable and larger — floor to ceiling wall displays. The irony is that this is exactly what was going on back at MIT in 1977. I witnessed that early on knowing it was just a matter of economics and time before...
MC So we can wake up to the Grand Canyon if we want?
SL Absolutely with a live webcam for that matter.
MC So that means that popular photography will become more like cinematography? More experiential?
SL These portable HDTV cameras are becoming ubiquitous. Actually they’re probably on every street corner surveilling us. All you need do is go to the Google satellite to practically see yourself on camera.
MC Does this experiential future perhaps marginalize traditional print photography?
SL Well when a Van Gogh commands $20 million dollars I don’t think that printmaking is going to disappear anytime soon.
MC So the two will co-exist like digital and analog photography?
SL It’s more like rare real-estate.
MC How so?
SL Once the artist is deceased there are no more made.
MC But do I care who shoots the picture of the Grand Canyon so I can wake up to it hanging on my living room wall?
SL Well I think there is some ongoing fascination with celebrity and the people behind the camera, their life and what meaning they bring to the image. In fact, there is more obsession with celebrity today than ever before. And maybe it is a diversion from politics and sad situation — I don’t know why, but the people behind the image are even more important than the image itself.
MC Can a photographer who doesn’t follow the path of celebrity get recognized in today’s society? In other words, does work stand on its own, or is that no longer true?
SL I don’t think work ever stood on its own. I think it has always been about celebrity and probably will always be the case. That’s why I feel inadequate as an artist. The idea of being celebrated on some level is offensive, as if there is some kind of hierarchy...
MC ...of marketing, sales, PR. A machine in other words?
MC Is it true then that all the famous photographers today are successful celebrities?
SL Well Cindy Sherman comes to mind. Where she has celebrated herself in the image. So she’s a literal example of this phenomenon. And the fact that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie could command 4 million dollars for the photographs of their newborn baby.
MC Does that feed our cultural narcissism?
SL I think it is a diversionary tactic on the part of the media to take its eyes off of what is really important.
MC So it would be similar to what Marx said about religion being an opiate of the people?
SL Yes. Absolutely
MC Is there room then for a true artist?
SL There is plenty of room. It just doesn’t make the headlines because it would not be cost-effective for corporations.
MC So it is the quiet determined artist doing his or her thing for themselves and there is enough ability if you are good to make a modest living but not get worldwide or even national recognition that would come only with promoting oneself.
SL I think the Internet has changed the marketplace. I grew up with ABC, NBC and CBS and now there are thousands of channels and media has decentralized and become more personalized such that one can be celebrated in microcosm.
MC Everybody can be famous for 15 minutes! But it may be that only a small bunch of people know who you are...
SL The population is so huge that a microcosm today was a macrocosm not so long ago. “Oh, you are only seen by 200,000 people” is a bad Nielsen rating.
MC Which galleries carry your work?
SL I’m carried by The Watkins Gallery locally. That’s currently my only dealer.
MC What is your relationship with your gallery? Is it a love/hate thing? Is it a totally good experience?
SL It is a great experience. I show not only in that gallery but in other places and being able to display the large format prints is critical as the internet, at six or seven inches, doesn’t really begin to tell the story like experiencing work in person. Particularly with these wide format prints, you can’t really appreciate the detail and color unless you can see them face to face. So the gallery enables one to experience what I can envision the art looking like
MC What is the biggest print you currently make?
SL 44” x 78”
MC I assume you don’t make too many of those! That is awfully big to handle!
SL No. But I have a fairly good market for my large format prints. Through my internet sales. The internet is my primary dealer/gallery. And I take out full-page ads in Art News and Art in America and that drives people to my website and those clients are willing to invest in these prints sight unseen. Which is amazing.
MC Well you have the CV to allow one to pull that off.
SL It doesn’t hurt.
You can see more of Shelley's work at www.shelleylake.com
Friday, September 26, 2008
Shelley Lake was interviewed at her studio in western Massachusetts on a lovely sunny summer day in June 2006. Her website can be found at www.shelleylake.com
Thursday, September 25, 2008
By Diana Bloomfield
My very first photography class, back in 1981, was titled “Large-Format Photography,” offered at Bucks County Community College, in Newtown, Pennsylvania. At the time, I didn’t have a clue what “large-format” meant, but going on the bigger-is-better theory, I immediately registered for it. Knowing as little as I did actually turned out to be a good thing. I wasn’t yet wedded to any one type of camera, nor was I restricted in my views of how I “should” be photographing. And, fortunately, no one had ever said to me, “You can’t work with a large format camera until you master the 35mm, followed by the medium format, followed by years of darkroom work,” comments I’ve since heard over the years, from both fellow photographers and instructors. In fact, I knew so little about photography, that composing an image upside down on the ground glass seemed like the most natural exercise in the world.
Working with a large-format camera taught me all I needed to know about light, exposure, and composition. Since I also wasn’t that accustomed to the relative ease and spontaneity that is inherent with a 35mm camera, I never felt I was giving up anything with large-format, which definitely taught me to wait, to be selective, and to take my time before clicking that shutter.
Many years after that first class, I began to create images using lensless cameras and printing in “alternative” processes. These images seemed to stem more from my mind’s eye, rather than from any literal perspective. Around that same time, I had also begun teaching photography workshops myself. Long before the proliferation of digital, students would come into class with very expensive and complex cameras — all-automatic 35mm cameras — that completely overwhelmed them. They would talk about how the camera wouldn’t “allow” them to do something as simple as change aperture or shutter speed, and were totally dependent on the camera’s controls and programs. The very idea of photographing in “manual mode” threw them completely off-kilter. So I initially began to make pinhole cameras, simply to illustrate just how basic a camera really is, and that compelling images can be made with a $5 camera made out of foam core and totally lacking in programs, controls, or even a lens. I was finally able to convince them that they were in control of their cameras, not the other way around. I also showed a wide range of amazing work, made by various pinhole photographers, and, somewhere along the way, I became intrigued myself.
I love that the pinhole camera, with its long exposures and unique perspectives, plays with time and space in unusual ways, and offers a certain kind of fluidity not often found in still photography. And while these dreamy pinhole images might seem far removed from the early documentary work of my past, I still see similarities. For me, the attraction of photography is this idea that we can stop time and preserve it forever. Yet when I actually look at my own photographs, it’s my own memory of that time that’s been preserved, however skewed, inaccurate, and selective it is — not necessarily the actual, literal moment in time. Pinhole images, especially, seem to somehow capture our memories, transporting us to another place and time, or to a barely remembered past. They can whisk us into a future found only in the mind’s eye, and arrest the world in a timeless kind of dream. This is what I find most compelling and magical about photography — regardless of what label they’re given (documentary or otherwise). I have photographed with large-format pinhole cameras, most often home-made, including a 20x24 and a 7x17, using film of the same size. I also use an 8x10 and various 4x5 cameras. I then print in platinum/palladium, or in the dual process of cyanotype over platinum/palladium (re-registering the negative with the second process), and, more recently, gum over platinum/palladium. Since these are contact printing processes, the image is only as big as the negative; consequently, I like to start out with a reasonably large original negative, or make larger negatives digitally.
So, here, in this 21st century world of digital technology, where the creation of illusion is as close as the touch of a keyboard, and where images can be infinitely reproduced with repeatable precision and accuracy, some of us are still working with relatively antiquated methods of the past, either in our choice of camera, in our printing methods, or in both. And, yet, many of us willingly turn to computer technology — in my case, as a way to create larger negatives suitable for contact printing.
For me, making digital negatives has been nothing short of a dream. If needed (often the case with original pinhole negatives), I can change or correct the density of my negatives to suit a particular alternative process or to control my exposures in printing; I can easily and seamlessly erase unavoidable scratches and dust marks; I have also recently made CMYK separation digital negatives for use in tri-color gum printing (something I have yet to master, but the capability of doing so is right there at my fingertips). Another non-trivial positive is that my original negatives can be preserved, without suffering the degradation of constant use in alternative printing. While digital transparencies are not inexpensive, knowing that I can make another if one is damaged is certainly liberating. Obviously, the possibilities with digital are limitless.
While borrowing from the past, in both choice of camera and printing methods, affords limitless learning, discovery, and creative opportunities, meshing those antiquated techniques with the seemingly futuristic and ever-changing world that is digital, makes this an exciting time to be a photographer. As an old friend of mine once remarked, “19th Century craft immersed in a decidedly digital future — what a perfect art this is.”
Reprinted from MAGNAchrom Magazine, Vol 1, Issue 6. www.magnachrom.com
You can download the reprint of this article in PDF format here:
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
HASSELBLAD UNDER PRESSURE!
So far, one of the biggest (and frankly totally unexpected) surprises at Photokina 2008 is the announcement by Leica of a "full sized" DSLR camera body offering a unique 37.5-megapixel, 30x45mm sensor together with a complete new line of Leica lenses. This camera offers both leaf and focal-plane shutters. Curiously, it reminds me greatly of a mini-version of the classic Pentax 67! If priced well, this could bring Leica back into the game as the full-frame camera arena is getting crowded these days and there is a speed and handling weakness with current digital medium format offerings by the likes of Hasselbllad, Sinar, Mamiya, PhaseOne, and Leaf.
Clearly, the move is both defensive, in that Leica can no longer look back to those halcyon days when it commanded the premier brand, as well as offensive — specifically to Hasselblad... Consider the following points:
¶ 3 years ago, Hasselblad effectively abandoned its classic 50x architecture in favor of its newer, lighter all-digital system, much to the dismay of its diehard fans. This move eliminated an easy upgrade path to the new architecture, further isolating its user base. Lastly, Hasselblad decided on a closed system, thus forcing users to buy exclusively from Hasselblad. Apple tried this and failed. It remains to be seen if this is a smart move or not.
¶ Additionally, it also abandoned its long-standing relationship with Zeiss in favor of Fuji for its glass. While Fuji lenses are arguably "just as sharp", the Zeiss brand conveyed a prestige and guarantee of top quality. The German lens manufacturers have never forgiven them this slight. This may explain the eagerness Zeiss has shown to get into bed with Sony — to punish Hasselblad.
¶ Phase One has been a long-time competitor to Hasselblad and now they have entered into a strategic relationship with Leica to go after the pro market in a big way. So not only does Phase One have Leica now as a partner, it also has Mamiya. With these strategic alliances, Phase One can squeeze Hasselblad from both ends of the market
¶ In response, Hasselblad has recently offered its entry-level, H3DII-31 system at significant discount rates and is encouraging its resellers to offer agressive lease plans. Lowering prices is their only option at the moment since the overall quality of a Hasselblad system can be equaled by several vendors, most of which offer "open systems". My take: manufacturers lower prices this dramatically only when they plan to end-of-life their product. Expect to see the 31mp Hassy disappear from the official list of Hasselblad products within the next 3-6 months.
¶ Feeling the heat, Hasselblad has recently announced a future delivery of a larger "645" sensor which will likely be 54x40mm to match Phase One's offering. Presumably this new sensor will also require a new body (the HC4?). Further, such a bigger sensor will possibly REQUIRE the use of the special-purpose "tilt/shift" lenses (i.e. HC28, HC35, HC50, HC80, HC100) all of which have a larger image circle. It is not clear how the other current Hassy lenses would/could work with this new larger-sensor model. Changing architectures this significantly mid-stream might add to current user complaints. (unless they make it backward compatible with the 50x series!! Fat chance)
¶ Sinar in particular might be in the cat-bird seat as they stuck with maintaining compatibility with the 6x6 format in their Rollei-based, Hy6 camera system which will eventually allow them to offer 56x56mm sensors as they become available. Given the drastic drop in the cost of silicon sensors, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 6x6 sensor within two years. Such a sensor could relegate Hasselblad to "me too" status among medium format manufacturers. (of course, they could always resurect their 50x series! Wouldn't that be ironic!)
As you can see from the above diagram, Hasselblad's bet on the 36x48mm standard has suddenly become a VERY crowded place with competitors at every turn. It remains to be seen if Hasselblad can survive. Personally I hope so as I admire their products and vision.
What are your thoughts?
Sunday, September 14, 2008
By J Michael Sullivan
We RB67 owners are second-class citizens when it comes to comparing our beloved beast of a camera to its electronic brother the RZ67. Perhaps one of the most obvious examples is that Mamiya never offered a 1.4x teleconverter for the RB67 — something in my opinion is a glaring omission. Fortunately, the RZ67 and RB67 share the same mounting ring. I wondered: could I modify the RZ67 teleconverter to work with an RB67? I figured I'd give it a try.
First thing was to procure a Mamiya 1.4x tele-converter. Lucky for me there was one in exc+ condition on eBay that with some counter-bidding I was able to purchase for only $142. Upon inspecting it, it was clear that the primary problem with mounting it to the RB67 was two obnoxious studs that got in the way of the tele-converter from being mounted properly on the otherwise identical RB67 lens mount. Amazingly, I could find NOTHING on the internet regarding whether these two studs had any purpose other than preventing RZ lenses from mounting on RB bodies. I decided that they must serve no other purpose and herein document the steps I took to modify the 1.4x tele-converter for use with my RB67.
- a small "jewelers" philips screw driver
- a 1/16" drill
- 5 minutes
STEP 1: Note the two offending studs — these prevent RZ lenses from being mounted onto an RB body.
STEP 2: Remove the plate by unscrewing the 4 mounting screws with your jeweler's philips screwdriver. Be careful not to lose the Shutter Release Lock Pin (see previous image).
STEP 3: Flip the plate over and using the 1/16" drill, drill out the soft bronze studs BY HAND (do not use a power drill).
STEP 4: Dust it off, and align it back on the teleconverter, being sure to locate the Shutter Release Lock Pin back in its proper location. Re-attach the 4 mounting screws
STEP 5: Verify that you can manually move the shutter cocking pins
STEP 6: Mount the teleconverter on your RB67
STEP 7: Mount your lens on the teleconverter (Note: the teleconverter is optimized for 90mm to 180mm lenses)
STEP 8: Verify that you can cock the shutter
STEP 9: Take your picture! (Note that you will need to add exactly 1 stop more exposure to compensate for the 1.4x longer lens)
And that's about it. Here is a sample photo using a Mamiya RB67 + 250mm + 1.4x teleconverter:
Saturday, September 13, 2008
The 8x10 photographs of Cristina Mian & Marco Frigerio
By CRISTINA MIAN e MARCO FRIGERIO
Working Class is a part of our series about the consequences for Italy’s economic structure since China was accepted into the WTO. Many Italian factories, especially in the textile sector, are rapidly transferring their production to the Chinese, resulting in massive economic changes to both the landscape as well as workers.
The body of work is currently composed of four chapters: Invisible workers, Ideographs, The Dragon invasion, and Working Class. But Working class in particular represented for us a way for exploring new photographic territories and expanding the boundaries of our way of composing and thinking of our photography. In fact for the very first time we decided to put ourselves into the frame, to become part of the composition, and to use our presence, our body, as a form of interaction with the ambience we were capturing.
For the other chapters in our series, we’ve always photographed in a Dusseldorf school-like way — very objective and very depictic. However, at a certain point in researching Working Class, we realized that this was not sufficient anymore, as we felt the need of a more subjective point-of-view: A photography in which not only our thoughts, our emotions, our visions, were clearly expressed, but in which we had the possibility to “risk” ourselves. We wanted to be modified by what we felt and saw in the places we were in. To experience directly the feel on our skin, the smells, the memories, the emotions, and the lives connected with those places.
We also wanted to experiment with our bodies, in one world to interact with our subjects in a way that this interaction became for us —both on a personal as well as on a photographic level — a means of continuous personal discovery, pushing our research into unexpected and unknown territories. This is why we decided to put ourselves in our Working Class images. And our interest for performance art and body art played an important role, since we became interested in these artistic disciplines it was clear for us that we had the expressive need to “translate” their influences in our photography. In other words, they had to be part of our creative processes.
From a visual point of view we were influenced by our devoted passion for Francis Bacon’s paintings. In many of his works, particularly around the main contorted figure(s), there are often other figures that he called “Observers” or “Witnesses” (for example, a man with a hat, or a photographer, or whatever). This kind of visual and conceptual reference deeply influenced the way we posed or acted inside our composition. For example, the way we manipulated or used some objects (like a newspaper). That is not to say that everything was planned. On the contrary, improvisation was our way of choosing how to pose and what to do. But it was a kind of improvisation deeply informed by the influences from performing art, body art and Bacon, and that which we had “accumulated” over the years. And it was this rich history which at that in that particular moment exploded in a new and more personal form.
We prefer that everyone viewing these photographs find his/her own personal meaning for the “disappearing” figures. Our original intention was that they symbolize the fact that we are “crossed” by those places, but also that we were passing through them, like a kind of mutual absorption in a mutual modification/interaction. We also liked the fact that those disappearing figures are as if they were coming from nowhere, past or present or future, and going nowhere, or just disappearing into those places, into memories, into the glass and steel...
Cristina is not present in any of the photos as at the time she was pregnant, and it seemed to us much too “obvious” to portray a pregnant woman, as there are too many strict meanings connected with maternity and birth.
You can see more of Marco & Christina’s work by visiting their website: www.cristinamian.com.
From a technical point of view, all the “Working class” series was photographed with an 8x10 view camera (either Calumet C1 Green Monster or Sinar F2), using Velvia 50 and Velvia 100F transparency film.
Reprinted from MAGNAchrom Magazine, Vol 1, Issue 4. www.magnachrom.com
You can download the entire PDF here:
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Kodak continues its commitment to film. On September 9th 2008, they announced a new, ISO 100, 35mm color negative film, Kodak Professional Ektar 100. According to Kodak, Ektar 100 “offers the finest, smoothest grain of any color negative film available today.”
They tout that it is ideal for scanning. Obviously, this good news for those who continue to shoot film. It will be interesting to compare its quality to that of the newer breed of digital SLRs. One could expect it to provide similar quality to even the most expensive DSLRs as much of the resolution of a system is dependent upon the lens anyway.
With such a high-quality product, one can only hope that Kodak will release roll film as well as sheet film versions in the near future!
Learn more about Kodak Professional Ektar 100 35mm color film click here.
NOTE: if you want your product reviewed or announced on this blog, please send email to editor "at" magnachrom "dot" com
Sunday, September 7, 2008
It is amazing to me some of the things that slip by on eBay (on the other hand, it is equally amazing to me how people regularly overpay on eBay as well).
Here is one that I thought was deserving: An exc+ Mamiya RB67 Pro SD body for a "buy it now" price of just $219.95! No takers! What's the world coming to?
P.S. Shutterblade reposted the item a few weeks later and someone did indeed snatch it up.
P.P.S. I've purchased many things from Shutterblade and find them to be a reasonable source. Just be sure to ask lots of questions! See their ShutterbladeStore
NOTE: if you know of any noteworthy eBay listings for medium or large format equipment, please send email to editor "at" magnachrom "dot" com. Thanx!
Saturday, September 6, 2008
By Joan Sullivan
Joan has spent the majority of the past 20 years living/working in and otherwise roaming around Africa and Asia. When she is not designing HIV prevention and behavior change interventions, she is behind a camera. Digital photography lends itself well to such a mobile lifestyle; it is now her preferred medium.
In the War On Dust, we are all reluctant conscripts. Sooner or later, no matter what digital format we’re shooting, no matter how meticulous we are when changing lens, no matter how good our Photoshop skills, we will be forced to choose a weapon and do the unthinkable — clean the sensor.
The good news is that ‘sensor cleaning’ is a misnomer. The hermetically sealed image sensor lies protected behind a low pass filter, so we — and the ubiquitous dust — do not have easy access to it, for good reason. Instead, what we touch during the sensor cleaning process is the low pass filter, not the actual CCD or CMOS.
The bad news is that this silica filter is highly sensitive and can be easily scratched if proper cleaning techniques are not meticulously observed. You could also cause serious damage should the battery suddenly die during cleaning, causing the mirror lock-up mechanism and shutter to release while you are inside the camera chamber. The same risk applies if, for some reason, you use bulb setting while cleaning. Thus, be forewarned [Praemonitus praemunitus]: to minimize risk while cleaning the sensor and/or camera chamber, always place your camera in ‘sensor cleaning’ mode while your camera is hooked up to AC power. If this is not possible, then only a fully-charged battery should be considered as a last resort.
So which cleaning weapon to use?
There is a small but growing arsenal of sensor cleaning methods. These fall primarily into two camps: “wet” and “dry”. Other high tech strategies, such as the new self-cleaning sensor units from Canon and Nikon and built-in dust removal software to delete residual dust spots from processed images, will not be discussed here.
For this review, we tested three VisibleDust products that were received unsolicited from the Canadian manufacturer. These include the VisibleDust DHAP Sensor Cleaning Swab™ (for wet cleaning), the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly® 724 Sensor Brush (for dry cleaning), and the VisibleDust Sensor Loupe™. All products were tested on an old Canon 20D with plenty of accumulated dust.
Before discussing the wet and dry methods, we’d like to say right up front that we were very impressed with VisibleDust’s sensor loupe. Although there are other less expensive tools to examine camera interiors, we found that the array of six LEDs inserted into the circular interior wall of this loupe provide superb lighting which evenly fills the chamber to improve detection of dust and other debris on the sensor filter as well as within the chamber.
In our opinion, the most important use of this kind of sensor loupe is to help the photographer determine, a priori, what cleaning method is most appropriate for each cleaning session in order to minimize physical contact with the sensor filter. If you see through the sensor loupe that most of the dust is only loosely attached to the sensor filter, then you should start with a dry method such as blowing air (not compressed air!) or the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly described below, since dry methods are less invasive than wet methods. However, if you see spots on the sensor filter through the sensor loupe, then you will have to use a wet cleaning method which requires physically wiping the sensor filter.
The sensor loupe also comes in handy after cleaning, to examine the sensor before re-attaching the lens or lens cap. In particular, it can help highlight any stubborn particles or spots which prove resistant to your best cleaning efforts.
Using the VisibleDust sensor loupe, we examined the camera chamber of the Canon 20D and determined that most of the dust particles were loosely attached to the sensor filter. VisibleDust’s Arctic Butterfly 724 Sensor Brush is one of several types of dry sensor cleaning products on the market, but it stands out with its patented super-charged fiber technology (SFT). It combines a 16mm sensor brush, a rotating DC motor and two AAA batteries in a plastic housing. By pushing a button on the handle for about 10 seconds -- away from the camera, prior to inserting it into the camera chamber — the head spins rapidly to charge the bristles. These positively charged bristles attract dust, and when drawn gently a few times across the sensor filter, they literally lift dust right off the sensor filter. Pull the Arctic Butterfly out of the camera, spin again to dislodge any dust picked up by the bristles and put the cover back on to protect the bristles. It is very easy to use, and
After using the Arctic Butterfly, we re-examined the sensor filter with the sensor loupe, and concluded that 95% of the dust particles had been successfully removed. However, we could still see one rather large dust particle on the filter.
To remove it, we next used VisibleDust’s DHAP Sensor Cleaning Swab with three drops of VDUST PLUS Liquid as per instructions. After one swipe with the orange cleaning swab, we re-examined the filter with the sensor loupe and saw a perfectly clean filter. What a beautiful sight!
Could we have arrived at the same result using just the wet swab without having first used the Arctic Butterfly? Perhaps, but there is something infinitely logical to trying to remove as much dust and debris as possible prior before physically dragging a swab over the sensor filter. For this reason alone, we would still recommend that your sensor cleaning strategy begin with a quick swipe of the Arctic Butterfly, followed by a quick swipe of a moist swab. However, if you are in a particular hurry and can’t do both, then you will probably get similar results from just the wet cleaning method, which we have been using successfully for several years.
Whatever your sensor cleaning strategy, don’t forget to clean the lens mount and rear element before re-attaching the lens to the body. Furthermore, since the mirror stirs up a lot of dust inside the camera chamber every time you take a picture, it makes good sense to keeping the walls of your chamber as clean as possible as well, especially if working in a particularly dusty environment and if you change lenses frequently. And, on a final note, we have heard from several photographers that storing cameras face down in camera bags with lenses attached also can minimize dust from entering the chamber.
In conclusion, we believe that no one cleaning method will work for all photographers with all cameras in all situations. The rule of thumb is not to be obsessive about keeping your sensor clean, and not to clean the sensor any more frequently than absolutely necessary.
You can see Joan's work at www.joansullivanphotography.com
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tom Paiva is one of the most prolific night photographers in the world. This interview took place over the course of a phone call in the late spring of 2007. Tom is a most animated interviewee — full of quick jokes and insightful observations, as you will find out by reading this most enjoyable interview.
Tom’s work can be seen at: www.tompaiva.com
MAGNAchrom How can you explain the recent — relatively recent anyway — craze for night photography? It’s seems that everybody’s doing it.
Tom Paiva It does seem that it’s become extremely popular. I noticed that it’s in the media and in the press, especially in the last year or so. It’s a new discovery for many. Personally, I like the nighttime and I’ve always been enamored with it. So for me, it’s not a big surprise.
MC When did you first take your very first night photographs?
TP When I was just a teenager. I got my first 35mm range finder camera — a Leica knock off — I was about 15 and took pictures of almost everything as everybody did at the time. Exploring yourself kind of thing. I decided to take some pictures of the neighborhood at night but I just didn’t know what I was doing. I started with one-second exposures which was the longest shutter speed the camera had, but it wasn’t enough. Someone told me about “bulb” and I started to play around with that. I tried several second exposures and even minute exposures and all of a sudden I got airplanes streaks taking off at the local airport in the background, I couldn’t figure out what they were first... obviously that goes back a long time ago. I started doing my serious photography in the mid-eighties at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
MC None of this was commercial work at that time? This was just for your own fulfillment?
TP Not commercial at all. Definitely for my own fulfillment. I was figuring out where I wanted to go and I think that’s one of the toughest things for young photographers. I’m working with an intern right now who is assisting me and he’s fascinated with the night stuff I do but I don’t think it’s what he wants to do. He wants to try to find his niche and I said “you’re twenty-six years old, it takes years to find your niche and your direction”. As for me, I decided that I liked the man-made environment and shooting at night. I find it peaceful and contemplative and that’s one of the reasons why I do it, but it took me years to find that niche. Night photography is sort of like working with a blank canvas, as all the light is added, usually by man-made lights.
MC You must have originally shot in black and white, is that true?
TP Yes, I shot in black and white. I started processing my own film in my teens. I got a cheesy little how-to book on it and bought a few basic things, and started processing 35mm roll film. After a while I started making prints through a local darkroom. You joined for a small price. You bought your paper and negatives and then they included all the chemistry and such. I did that for years because I was living in little apartments or shared with two or three roommates and there was never any room for a darkroom.
MC So it must have been quite a surprise when you put color film in for the first time.
TP Yes, It was about 1970/71. I still have some of those images. I moved to San Francisco in the sixties. One of those early photos is at night in the fog in San Francisco of the Transamerica Pyramid under construction. I date that from about 1971. It was shot with Kodachrome with those nasty green night skies. But at least I was able to get exposures with it, not really knowing what I was doing. I did pictures in New York at night, too. I did a shot out the window of my grandma’s place in Brooklyn with the snow coming down, a long exposure with a single car going down the street with lights on. That always fascinated me and it definitely has a mood to it with a single street lamp. You can probably imagine what that image looks like.
MC Probably tungsten back then. If we were to look back on your portfolio we would see the technology of city lighting change over time, wouldn’t we?
TP Yes. That’s very true. In fact I know of just three city street lights here in Los Angeles that are still tungsten. They’re very rare nowadays on city streets worldwide. I was at a cocktail party about a year ago, and the conversation went to night photography. One of the guys turns out to be a lighting designer for the City Planner’s Office for the City of LA. So I told him I knew about this one light that’s tungsten. We’re having this intense discussion and by that point everybody’s leaving our conversation because it was so boring for most people. I told him the street corner. He said, “if you go down another mile, there’s another one, and then there’s a third over in the East LA”. They call them ‘acorn lamps’ which are rare today. They are hung by a criss-cross wire that goes across the center of a busy intersection. They were at every major intersection at one time. Those light fixtureshave no adaptors for sodium or halogen lamps.
MC Those must date from the sixties or the fifties?
TP He told me they’re from the sixties. I’ve actually shot under them. They definitely are tungsten lights. And it does have a different look but nobody seems to notice.
MC When you’re walking around at night, is your eye trained so that you can immediately say, “oh that’s sodium and this is that” or do you need equipment to tell you what the color temperature is?
TP No, my eye tells me what’s going on. I have a color meter, but it rarely works with high-discharge lamps. I sent you a few images that are with sodium vapor as well as mercury vapor lights. There’s the weird green spike that you can’t really filter out, but you can get much of it out with magenta filters.
MC So you learned to embrace your color friend, huh?
TP Yes. I remember Steve Harper at the Academy of Art back in the eighties and he would rag on about color balancing and how difficult it had become with the new lamps and he hated them all. Mostly because he was used to tungsten film and shot under tungsten light at night and everything was white. Of course, we don’t have mercury vapor or sodium vapor balanced film. So for those we have to filter, either in the field or in the darkroom or Photoshop.
MC I look at your pictures and it seems to me that you celebrate color. You don’t hide it.
TP No, not at all. However, some of these views were also shot in black and white.
MC When you shoot black and white, you’ll stick another sheet of film and just tag on a second exposure using the same focus and everything, right?
TP Right. It’s the way I work when I shoot at night. I always keep a box of Fuji Acros film in the camera case just in case I do want to shoot black and white. Sometimes I’ll go weeks without using any of it. At other times I’ll shoot three, four or five sheets in one night, if I think it’s really a monochrome or graphic image. I’m not really known for my black and white work so I don’t really play it up. I don’t process it anymore. I recently got rid of all my black and white darkroom equipment, I gave it all to a friend of mine who still shoots 4x5 and 8x10 black and white.
MC When you have your film processed, do they also scan it for you or do you do your own scanning?
TP I do my own scanning unless I need to go very high resolution. I have an Epson 4990 and I find that with 4x5 I can get a decent 20x24 print. Beyond that it starts getting a little soft. So if I’m going larger, I’ll have it scanned at one of two labs that I work with who use an Imacon or drum scanner.
MC Do you find that the Epson can keep up with the dark areas or does it tend to have a little problem down there when it gets shadowy?
TP For some reason, the Epson doesn’t do as well with black and white. I don’t know why. I’m not an expert on this, but in general I find that with transparencies it does a great job. A color negative also seems to show some extra grain.
MC Well maybe it’s because the noise tends to be in the dark areas and with a negative, dark areas represent the highlights, which are more readily visible to the eye.
TP That’s a possibility. Even in a creamy sky, like a twilight sky, which is basically close to a Zone V, there is still a little noise in the negative. I’ve got a continuous smooth tone and that’s where the noise seems to be. That and the highlights. In the shadows, I make sure the shadows are black, so you don’t have a full scale when I scan black and white. I’ve had things printed up in magazines with black and white images that I’ve scanned, and they look just fine.
MC These days a lot of the high-end digital cameras are capable of doing some very long exposures. Have you tried them?
TP I currently have two digital cameras, a Canon 5D and 20D. I didn’t want to spend the big dollars for a fancier camera. I feel it’s a poor investment unless you’re shooting a lot of commercial work or have very deep pockets, which I don’t. The ‘noise’ is there, but not objectionable unless you go large. My personal work is all large format film and the digital cameras are for commercial work. I’ve just heard that Pentax will be coming out with a medium format camera for their 645 series. I have Pentax 645NII gear with a wide variety of lenses: 33mm to 300mm. Their optics are right up there in my book. So it kind of excites me, the idea of them coming out with a camera with a large sensor to match those lenses. Because I have too much money invested in those lenses to sell them on eBay for next to nothing.
MC Aren’t you lucky you didn’t dump them like everybody else seems to have!
TP Right. I dumped a lot of things in the last few years. I have kept the auto-focus 645 gear, but it is very sad, Michael, but I have not shot with them in over a year. The only thing I shoot film with anymore is the 4x5 or 8x10. Two major clients of mine that I was shooting tons of film for all of a sudden a year ago said they only wanted digital.
MC This was 220 or 120 film?
TP I used both. I shot 220 mainly for aerial. But now the thing is digital, that’s what everybody wants. It’s fast and for commercial work, it’s fine. I’m not the kind of guy who says “oh the quality is terrible and film is fabulous.” No, you shoot whatever’s appropriate. For a lot of things, most things nowadays, digital is good. Especially anything that goes to press. I’m on my fourth generation digital camera. And even the early generation cameras, with only five megapixels at ISO 1600, a full-page magazine spread looked great.
MC I’m not surprised.
TP I was actually really nervous when they said we want to run this image for the cover. It’s a low light and hand held shot. I shot a half a dozen of those and I gave them the sharpest one yet it looked just great in the magazine. Here we are worried about shooting RAW files and fixing this and that, and I didn’t need it. For many publications, it doesn’t seem to be necessary.
MC When you print your 4x5’s and your 8x10’s, are you printing mainly from the scanned output onto inkjet?
TP I like the Fuji Crystal Archive prints. I know it is hard to believe, but I don’t have a color printer. I’ve been dealing with the same color printer in LA for about fifteen years. Unfortunately they tripled his rent and he was really struggling anyway. He had been in business for twenty-one years and he shut the doors just a few months ago. It really saddened me. I did a 4x5 portrait of the owner and his wife in his photolab before they tore it all apart. It’s all gone now, the end of an era. Rents have skyrocketed here in Southern California.
TP Lately I haven’t had the need to make prints commercially. I haven’t found a person to replace him with because clients don’t want prints anymore. For example, for building contractors I primarily shoot 4x5. I would scan or get it scanned and have a digital print which went into a book that they have on file in the office. But they don’t even want that anymore.
MC The rumor is that your brother has moved all digital?
TP Yes he has. My brother, Troy, was so anti-digital just a few years ago. He laughed at me when I got my first digital camera half a dozen years ago, and now here he is and I had just gotten a whole bunch of slightly outdated film for him. He used to like Kodak’s 160T tungsten film in 35mm.
MC Unfortunately, Kodak stopped making that, that’s for sure.
TP I just finished a semester of teaching color photography at a local junior college and we were doing color printing the old fashion way, using a Kreonite machine and color negatives. Half the students in the class had never shot film before!
MC Welcome to the new world order!
TP It was a big thing for them to learn what an f-stop was. Photography majors in junior college — some second semester and they’ve never shot film. That was a shocker for me.
MC How is it possible that a junior can declare a major in photography yet not understand what an f-stop is? Is all the emphasis on composition and meaning and not about technique or technology?
TP Very much so. A lot of the students only do the minimum to get by and they have these fancy point-and-shoots. The first thing I asked of the students was to take all the cameras off P, Programmed mode. Some of them didn’t like that. I said you’re going to understand what’s happening from now on. Several of the students really responded to it and they appreciated the extra effort. Perhaps we have to start from ground zero again. I was teaching them more than just color, but basics. I showed them a lot of images in order to try to get them to understand how things were done in the nineteenth century and even the first quarter of the 20th century – when things were pretty primitive. I brought in some of my old cameras such as my Speed Graphic Press camera and my Graflex 4x5 SLR. You need to know those cameras exist and how they work.
MC Fabulous for handheld photography.
TP Yeah, they’re great. I do lots of portraits with the Graflex SLR. You want to be able to move around and not have to be encumbered by a tripod. I brought it from a celebrity shooter in Hollywood.
MC Peter Gowland use to make a lot of those kinds of cameras.
TP Do you know of his twin lens 4x5? I’ve never seen one but I’ve seen pictures—what a monster. It was huge. My 4x5 RB Super D which is the top camera that Graflex made. The lenses have bubbles in them but they work great. Can you imagine selling a new lens today with bubbles in it? Who would buy it?
MC What do you do when you’re on vacation? Do you avoid photography or do you actually go on vacation to take photographs?
TP I take a camera whenever I travel. I went to Seattle on business recently and stayed a little longer. I took maybe twenty shots. I visited a friend of mine on the weekend. You’re going to laugh but I took pictures with my cell phone! They’re kind of fun.
MC When you travel that light, do you avoid bringing a tripod or do you always bring a tripod?
TP I always bring a tripod, even if it just a table-top tripod. Some of my students were saying they can’t afford a tripod. I said, boloney! I brought three little tripods into class, the cheapest of which I bought for two bucks. The most expensive table top tripod I had was thirty five dollars which is a really nice one with a ball head. I’ve actually mounted a 4x5 on that believe it or not. I told them, “don’t tell me you can’t afford one”.
MC You can always place it on a car in a parking lot at night if you want.
TP Yeah, I also told them get a beanbag. A little pillow or similar.
MC Do you really enjoy teaching? Is this a kind of thing that’s turned you on?
TP Yes, I enjoyed teaching. It makes you look at yourself. I find though, that you are working hard for the top 20% of the students. So you have to really want to do it. I realize now that teaching is really underappreciated in this country. You have to spend so much time outside of the class time preparing.
MC So whose photography turns you on these days? Besides your own of course!
TP Thank you. I like the work of Ed Burtynsky. He does a lot of 4x5 and 8x10 — a lot of industrial work. He just did a book on industrial China which is wonderful.
MC How would you compare his work to Robert Polidori’s?
TP It’s similar in style to Polidori’s. I think Burtynsky’s work is tighter. Polidori is more “off the cuff”. I like his work a lot, too. Polidori’s book on hurricane Katrina and New Orleans is inspirational. I was in New Orleans about six months after Katrina and it was a tough place to wander around. I took a panoramic camera with me that trip and that’s all I shot. A Horizon, a little 35 mm.
MC Did you ever do anything with those negatives?
TP No I didn’t. I wandered around some nasty areas where there were cars on top of houses — a lot of strange things. It’s similar to what I did two weeks after 9/11 in New York City. There I used my press pass which got me into Ground Zero at night. I took shots in there and used my little table top tripod. You could see flames licking up and the eerie glow that we have all come to recognize.
MC Were these night shots?
MC What about New Orleans?
TP New Orleans I did daytime. I also did some twilight stuff. I was there for other reasons, not specifically to shoot. It was a holiday for me and I visited friends. It’s tough when you’re traveling with non-night-photographers to do night photography. I won’t subject people to that anymore.
MC Do you subject your wife to it?
TP No. No. I’ve been married ten years and she’s never been out with me night shooting. She loves my work. She likes to see the final product.
MC I find that when I travel with my wife, we basically have to go our separate ways, it just doesn’t work.
TP When I travel with my wife, I’m not going to go out there and hustle and try to do a lot of things. At the holidays, I did a family portrait with the Graflex 4x5 SLR in black and white, it’s wonderful. I did 8x10 prints for the whole family and they just loved them. Black and white at the holidays is so old school! I did some night photography over the holidays, too. It was fifteen degrees at night and blowing snow. Here I am with the only camera I had with me, my Graflex with only black & white film. I did some night shooting, some twenty minute exposures. They came out great. But who’s going to want to be out in fifteen degree weather for twenty minutes standing around?
MC That’s cold – I know.
TP You walk around with your hands in your pockets. You have a coat on and gloves and you’re cold, and the camera’s out there doing its thing.
MC The Norwegians have a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
TP So true.
MC I’ve only shot once at night when it was twenty four degrees or so, and it was so uncomfortable. It takes a certain kind of person to really, really, really want it.
TP My brother rendezvoused with a Canadian night shooter, Larrie Thomson. Larrie goes out in ten, fifteen, twenty below zero, doing his night stuff and popping flashes. He shoots in the Canadian and American Midwest at night, even in the winter. He keeps the engine running in the car all night. A great night photo he has is of a low shot of this icicle coming out of the tailpipe, attached to the ground. Ice coming out of the tailpipe of a running car!
MC It seems as if there is very tight knit group of people centered around the Nocturnes website and all these offshoot sites. They seem to all know each other.
TP I went to the Academy of Art with Lance Keimig and Tim Baskerville and we are all still shooting at night some twenty years later. Unfortunately, with family, businesses and geography, we don’t really talk as much as we used to. The web has shown us all that there are more people out there doing the night thing than we ever could have imagined. Just check out the site, www.thenocturnes.com and see that there are literally hundreds of night shooters out there working.
MC That’s such a fabulous resource.
TP Things change, times change. I think that over time the night photography fad will wane. Some people are going to get upset at my saying that. So many people are into it — just check out flickr. We’ll see somebody’s experimenting, they get images that they like, put them all online. You have the TV screen on the back of the camera. It’s the new Polaroid—instant feedback. If a scene doesn’t work, you shoot again. If you don’t like the color, you fix it later with Photoshop. But that’s exactly the problem.
MC I think it comes down to a recipe that involves a little bit, quite a bit of luck, but also in the end, patience. And the whole technical side has disappeared because it used to be that that was the most onerous aspect of it. You really did have to know your film, know your processing, know your reciprocity and now you don’t have to.
TP Right. And once it becomes easier, it loses its charm and its mystery.
MC Alas. Easy seems to be what everyone wants these days.
TP I’ve been in a doldrums earlier this year and had a difficult time getting pumped up — I haven’t shot nearly as much as I did in ‘06. But I’m starting to get back into it.
MC What helped you out of this doldrums?
TP One thing was figuring out ways of reducing the physical challenges of schlepping gear, especially with all the “security” requirements at airports.
MC Give me an example.
TP I’ll take a 4x5 with me to New York for a couple of weeks for a shoot, and ship the film ahead. Then I’ll ship it home. I’ll carry the lenses and field camera with me just because I don’t want to ship them — too much invested in the set the lenses that I have. The airlines have been unfriendly to photographers lately — and most everyone else, too.
MC When you ship film, you mean via FedEx?
TP Yes, I FedEx the film to the hotel and write “hold for (my name)-future guest” on it. With better hotels it’s in my room when I arrive.
MC Do you also FedEx back to your processor?
TP I use to do that but I don’t anymore, as the new lab I’m working with is uneasy processing film without explicit instructions. I just ship it back to myself. My old E6 lab shut down in January, so I have to drive quite a ways now. Even though it’s only eight miles away it can take forty five minutes with traffic. It’s part of life in LA.
MC This might then explain another reason you like night photography: There’s less traffic late at night.
TP Yes, but the labs have cut their hours back. You used to be able to drop your film off at a lab at 10pm. When I moved to LA, about a dozen years ago, there were three or four photolabs in LA open twenty-four hours. I could go in there and drop film off when I finished shooting at two o’clock in the morning. And if I needed more film, I could get it there, too. It was great — very handy.
MC Do you tend to shoot with an assistant or do you still tend to shoot solo?
TP I like to work alone, I can concentrate more and twilight is a key thing for me which takes a lot of concentration and you have to move fast. Twilight is really only a few minutes for the camera. I really like twilight. You’ll see that in my images. People say: “oh it’s so hard shooting that time of day” but when you get the work back and it works, it’s great. I like to be able to see nice warm tones mixed with cool ones. Eight months ago I tore a rotator cup in my left arm — a typical photographer injury. All the fifty pound camera cases that have been shouldered finally takes its toll. I have this hard case with wheels on it with handles. It’s great but it weighs seventy pounds when full. People said: well it’s got wheels on it, what’s the problem? But you’ve got to lift it in and out of the car!
MC Exactly.. I myself need to be careful about my back — chronic back pain.
TP So if you have to go anywhere without the car you might have to go up and down a short flight of stairs or you’ve got to lift this thing up and carry it up and down, up and down. Camera cases and bags are a very personal thing. That is why there are hundreds to choose from. Currently, I am using several 15-25 pound cases to ease the weight per case. I transfer what I need to a small shoulder bag and work fast and light. It’s a lot easier to maneuver and I bring a little dolly which I pile everything onto. I have a soft sided bag. I bought an old Zone VI white bag on ebay popular in the seventies. Remember those?
MC Of course! They were great.
TP You can see the white bag easily at night, too. They’re perfect for a field camera, two or three lenses, the light meter, and accessories. And then what I do is I take the field camera out, I put it on all the holders right where the camera was. And that’s very easy to transport.
MC Don’t you use a Toyo Field?
TP I’ve owned a Toyo Field. I found it did not have enough movements for me. I’m now using a Canham DLC45, as my field camera.
MC That’s a sweet piece of machinery there.
TP It’s a nice camera, with virtually unlimited movements and only about 4 ½ pounds. It can take my 58mm lens to my 450mm lens with the same bellows. All told, I have about a half dozen large format cameras. The Canham is the one I travel with, since it is so compact and light. I already mentioned the Graflex, which is a working camera — it’s not a toy. I also use Toyo G monorail cameras, one with a short rail and bag bellows and another with long rail and pleated bellows. These cameras are heavier but very sturdy, especially in any sort of wind. I also have a Toyo G 8x10. It can be a challenge keeping a view camera perfectly steady for an hour — wind or not. I also don’t mind heavy tripods, so I use studio ones, both Gitzo and Slik.
MC Your pictures seem to have a certain kind of view. Neither seriously wide nor very long. You seem to prefer a middle ground. It would appear that you’re shooting a lot of, somewhere between 90 and maybe 210 and that seems to be the bulk of your work.
TP You got it. The 90mm is probably the most commonly used lens for me. I travel light. Next month I’m going to be sailing on a freighter — what they call a bulk carrier: a thousand foot long ship full of sand.
MC This is a project for yourself then?
TP Yes. Is starts as a commercial job, but I use it to shoot a lot of personal work. The client is giving me full access but they want to see what I shoot. They said, “if we like it, we’ll buy it. If we don’t, we won’t”. I like working that way, because it lets me shoot what I want, rather than being encumbered with a long shoot list. Clients don’t really know what they want until they see it anyway. But most importantly, I am getting access to a very interesting and rarely seen industrial environment; a working ship at sea. I’m paying for my own airfare and expenses. I’m going to be taking a 4x5 and my most common, lightest set of lenses. It will be in a carry on bag the same size of most serious 35mm photographers. Digital equipment, too, of course.
MC I guess where I was going with this is I don’t sense that you use a lot of movements other than your normal architectural ones of rise and that kind of thing. But maybe you do much more.
TP I do a lot of architectural work. Shooting, working with architects, lighting designers, contractors and landscape architects. I do use movements. With the Schneider 90 XL, for example, I can shoot a ten story building from across the street, architecturally correct. That’s pretty impressive to be able to do that. Photographers from the 1950s (or earlier) would be envious of such capabilities. And I use movements in other work where the viewer might not be aware of it.
MC I particularly like the image of train wheels in the foreground.
TP That image has front fall and front tilt.
MC Now the pictures that seem, I don’t know if I could use the word typical, but the ones that I’ve come to know you for are these images where you embrace color. In particular view 8A 06 10 19, which looks like some sort of... I don’t know what the heck it is. But it’s got a sunset and night skies, it’s got green lights and orange lights. It’s fabulous.
TP That’s a ship loader. That thing runs back and forth and that’s the conveyer system you’re looking at there. People look at that, they ask: what is this? It looks like some sort of space ship.
MC Oh it’s wonderful. It’s so mechanical; Great composition, beautiful coloration. It’s a treat for the eyes to look at.
TP It was a fun shot to do. And I do like the mix of colors and saw it as such just before I shot it. There’s no filtration on that either.
MC Again you’re not trying to correct anything. You’re just embracing it for what it is. However, when you do color correction, are you doing it with filters or are you doing it processing or a combination?
TP Most of them are done in camera. I’m an in-camera kind of guy. It has always been my goal to get as perfect a transparency as possible to begin with. But you rarely get it right on the money. It’s almost impossible to get the last five points because you have variables such as the age and brand of the bulb, or even how dirty the light fixture is. And all that’s going to affect the coloration. So I usually get it within five or ten points. And then when I scan them, I’ll fix it with Photoshop. Take, for example View 8b-061017.
MC Okay, yeah, that’s more of a foreground piece with the ship in the background.
TP That one, for example, has CC30M magenta filter to fill out the sodium vapor green that would cast on that and I wanted to make it look natural. Well I was off by a few points and it was a little greener than I would have liked, so I added a little magenta in Photoshop when I scanned it. If I were to reshoot it, I would use a CC40M filter.
MC Do you ever use graduated filters?
TP I use those quite a bit.
MC Perhaps the foreground’s too dark, too bright, you’ll try to darken that a little bit?
TP I have 1, 2 and 3 stop neutral density filters. Two is by far the most common. I’ve had them for years. I use Lee Filter Holders most of the time. But I do have other brands because they have different densities and different characteristics that I like.
MC Do you shoot Polaroid?
TP I do one sheet of Polaroid for almost everything. I use Type 55. It helps to see glaring problems, such as forgetting to stop down, the bag bellows obstructing the view or whatever.
TP But really what I’m looking for is not the exposure per se. Instead I use it for composition or to check for critical focus with the negative.
MC Maybe something your eye couldn’t see quite well.
TP Yes. Also I can check for flare or to check for an objectionable object you did not see on the ground glass. It’s difficult to see everything on that ground glass at night.
MC You’ll look at the 55 negative itself then?
TP Exactly, I look at the negative. And then I save the print. It also gives me something to write on, such as exposure info, or any particular important data.
MC Do you throw the negative away?
TP Yes, I throw the negative away, but it served its purpose.
MC Makes sense because you’re not going to bring the sulfite bath with you.
TP Well I’ve actually done that before. But the exposure for the print is different from the negative, so you have a stop, stop and a half more exposure for the negative, which means you really have to burn two Polaroids — but if you have to do that, then you could just as easily shoot traditional film. Type 55 Polaroid is now about $5 per sheet.
MC In order to make the view, do you have a little light table that you can put this wet negative on or how do you do that?
TP I carry at least a half a dozen flashlights of all sorts. It seems you can never have enough flashlights. I have a really nice flashlight with twenty little LED bulbs in it. At the moment I’m driving an old Volvo wagon and I work out of the back. I shine an LED flashlight on a white cardboard and that’s my light box which I can use to check the focus and anything else that I want to see. I have portable light boxes too, but that’s just another item needing batteries.
MC And you’d also have to deal with clearing of the negative.
TP It’s a hassle in the field. The right way to do it is to shoot the Polaroid, and after making your exposure, release the film from the holder using the tab on the Polaroid back, pull it out and process it when you get home.
MC Process that separately, right?
TP Yes when I get home, I peel it apart and throw the print away because it’s over exposed, but now you have a good negative. I’ve done that many times. It’s a great film. If it was good enough for Ansel, it should be good enough for the rest of us.
MC Well it’s an amazingly tight negative — practically grainless.
TP It’s old Kodak Panatomic-X film.
MC ASA of 50, isn’t it?
TP Yes, I rate it at 50.
MC Accounting for reciprocity, your 160 films are likely rated lower?
TP When I shoot Fuji NPL (rated 160 ISO) for a color negative, I indeed shoot it at ISO100. Modern films have gotten so much better. It holds shadows better and gives a more colorful negative because of a bit more saturation. Reciprocity is really not as important an issue as it once was. Up to a minute or two, there really is no problem with reciprocity with the modern films. At night, I recommend Fuji Acros for black and white and Fuji Provia, and Astia or the Kodak E100 series of films for chrome. All are excellent with reciprocity.
MC Are you pulling your film in order to keep the contrast down or are you just shooting it normally?
TP I pretty much shoot it normally seventy five percent of the time and otherwise, I wind up pushing it a quarter stop.
MC Oh, pushing. Really?
TP I like to push it a quarter because I like that “snap” in the transparency. Unless I have an exposure issue, then I’ll pull it a quarter or a half or something at that time. Anything more than that, the transparency gets muddy and dead. But of course in Photoshop you can bring things back. Because of you, Michael, I now shoot a color negative almost always with each view. You taught me that. See I listen to you, too! Back in Massachusetts [at the View Camera Conference] you said: shoot a color negative because sometime in the future that’s what you’re going to be working from. So now I do shoot color negative. There are a few images that print up better with the negative than with chrome film. The View 8-060903, which is an 8x10 shot, on Fuji NPL.
MC Well I’m a big fan of color negatives. The only thing that is always a pain is you have to scan it before you can “see” it, even though I’ve learned to look at a color negative, it’s still not the same thing.
TP I find that I can look at a negative and at least see that the exposure is correct, by seeing details in the shadows and you can still check it to see if something’s out of focus. Another one is View2-060831.
MC That’s stunning.
TP I used a split neutral density filter with this shot to darken the top because I knew there would be contrast issues. I used Fuji NPL negative and I scanned then I brought up the green a little bit more on that section. I don’t know how to use layers or channels in PhotoShop, but I have people do that for me when I need it. But this one I did myself. And I like the way it came out; it’s so much better than the chrome. The foreground is way too dark in the chrome. There’s a nice latitude with Fuji NPL. As I recall, it was about 7 stops between the foreground and background in this image.
MC Well you can get nine or ten stops with a color neg.
TP Wow, that much? I figured about seven or eight stops.
MC Yeah, chromes are generally six or seven. But then, as Lance pointed out, there is no such thing as a bad exposure at night. It just looks different, that’s all.
TP Chromes are a lot less forgiving.
MC It’s not clear to me where color film is going to go. Clearly professionals are moving completely to digital because they have the clients who demand it and they have the return on investment because they shoot enough volume.
TP Digital is the future whether we like it or not.
MC So that leaves amateurs with either doing black & white which there’ll always be somebody to provide black & white materials. Then there’s that big question mark over large format color materials and it’s not clear which way we will go.
TP What’s happening is that the view camera market is moving to serious amateurs and fine art. There has been a resurgence in large format, which I find fascinating and contrary to the digital-only crowd. Your magazine and View Camera prove that the niche is thriving. I have a friend who shoots architecture commercially one hundred percent. He stopped shooting film over a year ago. He really has no passion for photography. He got into it, and makes a very good living, and has a fancy house. He’s done very well. A couple of years ago, I had a one-man show at the Long Beach Museum of Art. All the images were 30x40 inch prints from 4x5 film, beautifully framed, everything first class. My friend came to see the show with me about and said “you really like doing this, don’t you?” and I started laughing. I said it’s my passion. He said, “you are very good and you are a lot better photographer than I am”. I said, “but you make more money than I do”. He said that’s beside the point. There is a fine line between commercial and fine art photography and it is not about the subject, but how it is done and why. When you make 30x40 inch prints, if there are any flaws in that original image, it’s going to be right there. Even though it’s 30x40 inch print from a large format negative or transparency, people get right up close in a gallery or museum. In one 30x40 inch print in the exhibition, there was with a 6 inch person in the shot. You can read the name tag on his shirt. There’s a lot of information in a large format chrome or negative. People are not used to seeing that much detail; they are mesmerized.
MC Sure. I think this is why we shoot large format.
TP Commercially, it’s all about money. “Processing” is now done in-house. One person is chained to his desk and they do Photoshop all day: day in, day out. Processing all the RAW files, burning CD’s, whatever the client needs.
MC What other shots do you feel passionate about?
TP View 8-060903, a Fuji NPL color negative shot. The assignment was to shoot a dramatic 2.5:1 panorama.
MC Is your idea is to crop off the bottom?
TP Bottom quarter and the top quarter. They wanted an 8x20 FOOT print.
TP They wanted it for a presentation on stage for a board meeting with the press. I suggested shooting it 8x10 and the client did not know what it was. I told her it’s going to cost a little more for the film, but we’re only going to do three or four views. View 7 is from that same day. You can see what the crop would look like. I had a drum scan made but they had the print done locally. I never did see the large print, but I heard it was quite spectacular — that size with virtually no grain. You could read details on the ship from a half-mile away. This was shot with a normal lens, 300 mm.
MC Sweet. I hope someone noticed!
TP They told me that people came up on stage after the conference, to look at the print up close. It was actually more information than they wanted. They simply wanted something in the background. Like you see behind a talk show host, where they city skyline view in the background. But I wanted to go all out. They loved it.
MC There’s nothing like a little quality.
TP I find quality works well. This was my first assignment with 8x10 in three or four years. Nobody seems to want to do that anymore. Maybe it’s the cost.
MC How is business this year?
TP Business wise, this year started out slow for me and I got in kind of a funk. It became hard to get motivated and get out and shoot. It was probably the shoulder injury. Then things picked up and to handle it while my shoulder healed, I’ve used assistants or interns.
MC Do you like it? Are you just being practical?
TP It’s nice. You have probably heard of Julius Shulman, the architectural shooter.
MC Pretty famous.
TP He is ninety-six years old and I see his byline in the LA Times every couple of months. He’s still shooting commercially! And it is hard to believe, but I know that he has a full time person that’s glued to him that does everything. And he probably has another assistant that loads the film holders or does the schlepping.
MC Are you describing your vision of how you will retire then?
TP No, I’m not going to be shooting commercially when I’m ninety six years old, sorry.
MC You’re going to be sitting on a beach somewhere, maybe surfing, huh?
TP Yeah, right! I can’t imagine that! But, I’ve really learned about the benefits of having an assistant. I think I’ll do that more often.
MC You’ve been working a long time. Do you have many images stored digitally?
TP I have these old dental file cabinets I picked up somewhere that are full of 4x5’s, thousands of them, and I have standing metal cabinets with roll film that goes back some twenty years. I have external hard drives, that are 400GB and they are full of photos, too.
MC It’s an amazing time because everybody who’s any good at all has gigabytes of imagery and it’s not just one or two people, it’s not one or two thousand, it’s one or two hundred thousand people who have the same problem of storage and volume around the world.
TP A photographer friend and I joke that maybe some day some kind of ion rays or something will be caused by a sun flare and it’ll wipe all the hard drives and all electronics will crash. It would be very interesting what would happen then. You embraced digital right from the beginning, which I’ve always been impressed with. I had a neighbor, a young woman in her twenties. A number of years ago, she photographed a wedding for a good friend of hers. When she was downloading the images, they disappeared. They came off the card, but didn’t go into the computer. The card was empty, the computer was empty. The poor thing was in tears. I wonder if the digital images ever existed?
MC Well truth be told, in our day did you or did you not take a whole roll of film with a rangefinder with the lens cap on it?
TP But that lens was protected!
MC We’ve done the same thing before and tears came with that, as well.
TP Many years ago, I was lucky enough to have lunch with Alfred Eisenstadt when I was in college. There were just six or eight of us. He had such a droll sense of humor, even though he was a rickety old man in his 80s. I asked him “what is the biggest mistake you made in photography?” He looks at me and smiled and said there are so many of them. His favorite was during a portrait session of Queen Elizabeth for Life magazine back in the fifties, and he forgot to put film in the camera. We all burst into hysterics. We have all made these sorts of mistakes, but Eisenstadt had an open, matter-of-fact attitude. He also said you will have to make the same mistake at least three times before you really learn it. So true.
MC I myself had a similar situation. First time I used Fuji QuickLoads, I said this is great and I went out to Santa Fe to shoot. So here I am shooting QuickLoads convincing myself that I was pulling them out correctly. And I get back and literally half of them were blank. I spent the next week practicing ruining films, saying to myself: okay, you have to grab it this particular way. I guess I wasn’t prepared for it because I had been used to ReadyLoads.
TP The double sided Kodak ReadyLoads were horrible. Like you, I was losing, between a third a half. And it was driving me nuts. Do you know what I wound up doing? I had several boxes of them. I wound up going in the darkroom and taking them all apart and just loading them into normal holders.
MC Oh there you go, sure.
TP I wouldn’t buy them for years until they went to the single design like Fuji did. Now I have a Fuji back and a Kodak back. I shoot regular sheet film when I’m in town, ninety percent of the time. But when I travel, where I have to get on an airplane and go, then I will shoot QuickLoads and ReadyLoads because it’s more convenient.
MC So if you’re not going to be doing commercial photography, might you move more towards art photography?
TP I am Michael, I am. I moved towards the art scene in the last couple of years. Commercial photography is leaving me cold, but having the commercial work is a necessity. It gives me the access to the types of environments I shoot for my art.
MC We all have our crosses to bear.
TP Unfortunately what many clients are doing now is that they go out and buy a little Canon Rebel or similar, with a semi-wide lens on it, and then they give it to the secretary and say, go out and shoot such and such strip mall or office building. The secretary is happy to get out of the office. They get a couple shots of the lobby, a couple shots of the outside and the inside. They get shots back, download it and it’s finished. And the work sucks and they know it. But they don’t care.
TP That’s the part that’s so depressing. I give them beautiful, gorgeous twilight, architecturally correct, razor sharp images and they say, yeah, but you’re billing me to do this. They say it doesn’t cost us anything to use the secretary and it’s good enough for what we do.
MC Well I’ve got to say, I’ve heard this before. In the mid to late seventies, that’s when all the new 35’s were coming out like the Canon AE1. Suddenly everybody bought a 35mm camera, practically overnight. Whereas ten years earlier cameras were still a mystery to most people. By the late seventies, I remember we came to the same conclusion: that we were getting squeezed out by people who had recently bought a 35mm camera. They could stick in a roll of Kodachrome and if they were in the right spot at the right time, they could take pretty good pictures. It turned out to be false, of course, because there’s much more to photography. But there was some truth to it, too. There were some jobs that went to — I guess ‘amateurs’ is the right word. I think we’re just seeing the same thing today. The whole world is being turned upside down and the strong will survive.
TP I have this particular expertise and it has taken a long time to hone. When I assisted years ago in art school, I did it for an old timer in his late sixties. Most everything was shot with a Speed Graphic. For him his Hasselblad was a small camera. We did product shots for his regular clients, and I’d help him with the lights. Here’s a guy who would rarely used Polaroids. He rarely used a light meter. He would know his light situation by experience.
MC You were lucky to have such a teacher.
TP Once when we were outside of a building, I would take out my light meter. He asked, why do you need to meter? And he started explaining to me exposure. We’re on the shady side of the building, it’s two stops less than the other “sunny side”. It was just as simple as that. It was about thinking rather than just measuring. He was definitely “old school”, in this age of light meters that read tenths of a stop and automatic multi-matrix metering in-camera. When the Speed Graphics company went out of business in the early seventies, he went out and bought six cameras because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get them anymore.
MC Many people did the same.
TP When he retired he gave me a few things. I still have some of his photo doodads. He had a blood vessel burst in his viewing eye and it became blind.
MC That is so sad.
TP There’s little need for a blind photographer.
MC Is there another book coming from Tom Paiva?
TP I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. My work since my first book, Industrial Night, is so much more polished and of a different character. I get tired of older photos, which makes me shoot more. You get into your mid fifties and it’s time to do. I’ve done well. Financially I’m fine, but I can’t retire yet. But at the same time it’s time for me to be shooting exactly what I want more of the time. My wife Lee says, we should self publish the book again. I want the new book to be photographs shot really recently.
MC That keeps you honest too because in most businesses you’re only as good as your last project.
TP Some of this work is weeks old but nothing more than a year and a half.
MC You’ve been a busy boy.
TP A while back, I did a road trip. For example, image 1, the “Studs-Roseburg”. I went to a friend’s wedding in Portland, Oregon. I decided to drive from LA to Portland, stopping in San Francisco for a job, and my wife flew directly to Portland. I spent three days driving from San Francisco to Portland and I shot every night. Staying in little fleabag motels and exploring. At one town, I snuck into a lumber mill. I just walked over a fence that was three foot high and set up my camera in the shadows and I just started shooting. I did a lot of things like that. There are three images on my website from that road trip, so I probably need to do more things like that, but like everybody else who does commercial work, it is tough finding the time to do it.
MC For me it was difficult when I was a studio photographer. I was in the darkroom until midnight every night. And in the studio at eight in the morning. After four years of that, I just got burned out.
TP Wow. I know the head of the department in the school I just taught at, was a food shooter. She did that for about twelve years. All 4x5 and 8x10. She says, “then all of a sudden I just couldn’t do it anymore”. She started to teach instead as her livelihood and that freed her up to do more shooting for herself.
MC Where do you see yourself heading?
TP I love large format cameras and enjoy the process of film not unlike Spielberg and other similar aged cinematographers who prefer film over digital. There will be a time when you won’t be able to shoot color transparency film anymore and the work that many of us are doing now will have a different look and feel than what will be done in the future. My goal is to continue with what I am doing until I can’t do it anymore or the film or processing disappears completely. Digital has a long way to go, but it will take over even the fine art market, I predict.
MC Isn’t that cool that the same digital revolution that’s making everybody pick up a digital camera is also allowing you to self-publish!
TP Actually, I published my first book before the digital revolution, and I would be able to publish a new book regardless of digital camera technology. But the bigger point is that digital is here to stay and is having a profound impact on all of us. My brother’s a graphic artist and his profession is slowly dying for the same reason. People are learning how to use Photoshop and Illustrator in school. They are coming right out of college very proficient in using new technology. It’s taken my brother years to learn all this on his own.
MC We’ve all been there.
TP But now the kids go to college and they take a Photoshop class, a class on PowerPoint, a class on this, a class on that, and they know how to use these programs and when they finish, they’re computer savvy. That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that technology is the new photo school. The photo assistant does Photoshop work now.
MC That’s the new darkroom for sure.
TP My daughter’s twenty six. Her roommate is a photographer, of the same age, and she does studio work and RAW shooting digital, but she slaves on the computer at night because every image seems to need to be ‘fixed’ with Photoshop. She does that on her own in her room, on the computer. Between assistant work and Photoshop, she makes a living. It is all about computer now. They are not good or bad, it’s just different and it’s changing all of our lives, not just for artists.
MC I feel for all of them. My wife and I joke: we both need a wife!
TP Ain’t it the truth. But in the final analysis, no matter what the technology or the technical methods, it is about the conveying what you see in a provocative, evocative, and original way. It is about sharing your unique vision through a medium you have mastered and that you push to its limits.
Reprinted from MAGNAchrom Magazine, Vol 1, Issue 5. www.magnachrom.com
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