Shadows in My House

Everyday, as the sun lowers at the end of the day, shadows stretch into my house and move around for two or three hours. Since getting an iPad I have been able to be more spontaneous in capturing these furtive light shows. Between the iPad camera and Instagram there have been a lot of great opportunities to capture and share. It seems a lot of my social media followers like these a lot.

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When I use the iPad for these images I feel like it’s a lot like the gesture drawings I did in my life drawing classes in college. They are fast, spontaneous and move along very quickly. They are not final works of art. They are quick studies that inform formal works later.

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Sharing over social media has created some interesting interactions. I had a brief throw down of dueling shadow images with one of my Facebook friends. Something fun that combined photography and social sharing.

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Throwback Thursday – from Flambeau to Futuramic ..

the history of flash photography

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I love old magazines. Especially old photo magazines and pamphlets. “How to” and “about” pamphlets are interesting to me, even more so if the subject matter is photography. My favorites are from the 50s. Many times the content reminds me that not all that much has changed about the best way of taking good photos. Even digital technology hasn’t changed these best ways very much.

Sometime in college I obtained a lot of old photography publications. They ranged from mens magazines from the late 50s and early 60s to photo annuals and how-to pamphlets. The pamphlet from Flambeau to Futuramic .. the history of flash photography  is one of my favorites in my small collection. Besides telling the history of flash in hokey 50s jargon it also has great retro (to us now) illustrations.

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This publication came from Honeywell, an early maker of the modern flash gun. Honeywell handle flash units were a standard throughout the sixties and can often be seen on the silver screen whenever a photographer was portrayed.

The earliest flash gun was a modified flambeau. The flambeau was a giant wick with a handle and could light up a large space. It was often used to photograph large groups of people. It was very flammable and often caused fires and damage if misused. From the flambeau, the blow gun evolved. It was a handle that contained magnesium powder. Kerosene or alcohol was poured in the pan and lit. The photographer would blow into a tube which propelled the powder through the flame making a brilliant plume-like flash. This also ended up with firetrucks.

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There is more history of the evolution of flash photography, equipment-wise, in this tome which I will cover in future posts. It brings the reader up to date to the modern age of 1959.

It’s pretty amusing.

Portrait of Rachael Olson

Rachael Olson

Rachael Olson

Rachael Olson

Rachael Olson topless

Rachael Olson topless

Rachael Olson topless

 

Sometimes I think I am a very lucky guy. I chose a career, vocation, that probably would not make me rich but would allow me to meet people and go places I would otherwise have not if I had chosen differently. I have been invited into inner corporate sanctums to do portraits of bank presidents. Judges chambers to do portraits. Even farms and industrial sites.

Every one of these opportunities were terrific unique experiences.

Another way I am lucky is in who I get to meet and photograph.

Being even a semi-competent photographer allows one to ask or be asked to take portraits of a wide variety of people. It also provides a pretext for asking interesting people to sit for a portrait.

I met Rachael Olson when I was asked by City Pages to do a picture of her band – The Blue Up?, with whom she often performed shirtless. She was pretty fearless.

After that shoot we ran into each other, kept in touch and developed a friendship. At some point I asked her to sit for a portrait. She was game.

I don’t remember too much about the session except it was just her and me. She did her own make up, which was preferable because she knew her look better than anyone I would hire. I didn’t know this at the time, but in talking to her recently, this was one of her first professional photo shoots. True to her character she was fearless and generous, giving me signature Rachael Olson experience.

Rachael is now known as Ana Voog, an internet celeb and artist. From wkipedia: On 22 August 1997, Voog began a webcam project named anacam. Besides a view into Ana Voog’s personal life, anacam also incorporated performance art and visual experimentation. Daily activities such as cooking dinner, vacuuming, and hosting visitors fill out the non-interactive periods on anacam. Other activities on the webcam range from chatting with cam-watchers, playing music, and ornate performance pieces involving household items.

About the Images

There isn’t much to say about these photos except that they were shot on film and I used a black background and a medium softbox on the light coming from camera left. This simple set up allows me to not have to think about light technicalities and concentrate on my subject.

The Noire City

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I spent a lot of my youth watching Tv. Sometime when I was really young I must have come into contact with some noire films over the tube. I seemed to have a very strong affinity for this genre of film without knowing what they were called. These films felt different to me. There were also a fair amount television programs that fell into that category like Perry Mason and The Untouchables. Another show that I watched had moments of noire – 77 Sunset Strip.

Throughout my life I have enjoyed seeing photos and films that have a noire feel. I liked the strong, deep shadows and how the actors revealed themselves by emerging from or hiding in darkness. I never intentionally tried to mimic this in my own photography until recently. In the last two years I have been trying to see city scenes through a noire point of view. It’s not always an easy thing to do, living in a fairly new-looking city like Minneapolis. But I have managed to find some subject matter and times of day (even seasons) to make noire type images that conjure a “sleepless city” and an air of mystery and intrigue. I do my best to make the place I photograph not readily recognizable so that the mood of the moment is the more dominant.

 About These Images

There are two main types of noire type images I try to capture – so far. Street scenes and small, intimate spaces with deep shadows. (I plan to do a third type which will include actors).

The first photo is a street scene around dusk. The image is intentionally blurred for effect. It’s like the bustling background into which the protagonist enters. Noire films are normally B&W but I felt the color in this case made the image more interesting.

The second image was made when the sun was low and cast long shadows into the entrance of an historic old building. I put my shadow in the photo to add some mystery and tension. Being at the right place at the right time is key to getting these images when working without lighting equipment and a crew.

I just recently started shooting this way. It will be interesting to see what happens when I put more time and resources into these images.

Everyone Likes Cloud Photos

Orange billowing clouds

They are coming back. Those dramatic clouds of Spring and Summer. The ones before and after torrential weather. The ones that billow around the edges of storms.

Clouds have been a popular subject matter for as long as artists painted and since photography began. Social media has also given cloud photos a viral platform. I follow Clouds 365 Project on Facebook.

Clouds as a subject caught my interest from the time when I bought my first 35mm SLR. Sunsets, moon-lit clouds, stormy clouds were the first obvious attractions. But they were always the background to something else in my images. Rarely a subject by themselves.

It wasn’t till I bought my first digital camera that I started to look at cloud formations alone as a subject. I started to see the formations as a form of landscape photography – with no land.

Photoshop was available to me long before I got my first digital camera but now the combination of the two tools opened new doors for creativity and ability to work with cloud images.

The great thing about photographing clouds is you don’t have to travel anywhere exotic to find interesting opportunities. Anyone can photograph clouds from their back yard.

About this Image

This formation happened where I live and was on the periphery of a storm happening North of my location. The sun was setting and hit the atmosphere and clouds with a brilliant orange. This image required very little photoshop work.

 

Throwback Thursdays – Photos from Goofy’s Upper Deck

Crowd at Goofy's Upper Deck Husker Du, Bob Mould Slam Dancing

In the early 1980s I had a photo studio on Glenwood Ave in downtown Minneapolis. My studio was situated halfway between First Avenue (the street and night club) and the Punk Rock night club Goofy’s Upper Deck (2nd floor above the Market BBQ). Being so close to Goofy’s and the Market BBQ I went to a lot of shows and ate a lot of BBQ.

I never considered myself a rock band photographer. Never the less, I frequently brought my camera  to shows at Goofy’s. I enjoyed photographing the attending crowd more than shooting the band. Most of the time I had no idea who was in front of my camera. It’s all kind of fuzzy. And shooting slam dancing was a real combat situation sometimes! I wouldn’t know who I got until I developed the film.

Follow up with people I photographed was dicey. No social media or websites meant getting images to people depended on if I ever saw them again. Sometimes people would block the camera with their hand, so I would not take their photo. I respected that gesture. I did not need that kind of problem. Most of the time people I pointed my camera at during these shows were happy to be photographed.

These images are from a Husker Du show … I don’t know what year. It must have been before or after 1983. Again, it’s all kind of fuzzy. And, of course, no meta data on film.

I have more from Goofy’s and other clubs. I plan to post them in the future.

If anyone recognizes who is in any photos I post, feel free to let me know who they are.

Portrait of Sonya

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I met Sonya when she was a young dancer at Minnesota Dance Theater.

Sonya is one of the most beautiful women I have ever met, inside and out. She has a very free spirit and is very challenging at the same time. I was happy for her when she moved to L.A. but bittersweet about the end of our artist/model relationship.

We began our artist/model relationship in the waning days of film photography. Money was a little tight for me at that time and restricted how much we could shoot together. This was our first digital photo shoot. The experience was not much different from shooting film. However I felt freer to shoot as long as I felt was needed – no restrictions on counting rolls of film. I still lit my set as if I were shooting film using a hand held meter.

This image has the essential look from Sonya that inspires me so much. It’s restful, pensive and piercing all at the same time. She really knew how to deliver to me on set. A rare thing to find that in a subject. That is why she is one of my favorites.

A Reflective Cityscape Moment via iPad

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I wrote a recent post about my conflicting feelings about Instagram. About how the camera and filters are limiting. About the ability to manipulate the image on the spot and share immediately.

All of this contributes to a satisfying user experience because the user gets instant gratification through taking the picture, using the filters to personalize it and get instant feedback from anyone who happens to be online and seeing the post. With some of my urban images, I shared and got instant “Likes” from people I know in Europe. That is quite a long reach! It goes a long way to making one feel connected and a little powerful.

I use an iPad mini. I have found the iPad camera experience to be similar to Instagram in that I can, through a third party app, manipulate the image on the spot. In that way I capture more of the mood I am feeling at that moment. The photo app I use is PhotoForge.

Without a data plan I depend on access to wifi for sharing the image. Sometimes there are places in a dense urban area where it is available but often it’s not. Sharing has to wait till later. But at least the mood of the moment is preserved till it can be shared over social media, including Instagram.

I am getting more comfortable shooting in public using a tablet. I guess I blend in more with all the smart gadgets that are so ubiquitous. I suppose carrying and using a regular DSLR camera will make a photographer stand out more.

 

About this Image

It was late afternoon and very hot downtown. The light from the lowering sun bounced off one building and reflected it’s grid-like window pattern onto the one across the street. This happens everyday and creates countless photo opportunities. The iPad camera and PhotoForge app allowed me to capture the mood of the moment and process the image to preserve it for posting later.

 

Instagram – From Coping to Mildly Liking It

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Trying to Coexist With Instagram

Since starting this blog my feelings toward Instagram have evolved. I don’t want to say they have transformed because I still have some misgivings about the photo/video sharing platform. But since acquiring access to it, via an iPad, I have found the immediacy and spontaneousness of the experience offered me something I did not expect to like.

In the beginning I succumbed because so many of my friends use Instagram to give me and their followers a glimpse into their lives and activities in real time. This kind of immediacy creates a  transparency that can be disturbing and interesting at the same time. However, it also offers the possibility to artistically express a moment of time without divulging too much about one’s private thoughts. This is what I did not expect to like.

The Instagram camera, filters and controls are blunt tools for someone who has used conventional photography gear and software most of their life. There are enough tools to yield a variety of visual effects which can differentiate one person’s image making from others. Even so, a lot of the images I see posted via Instagram seem pretty similar.

The way a photographer can distinguish themselves from the rest of the Instagramers is in the choice of subject matter. For instance my choice of subject matter and eye for light differentiates me from many users who chronicle their daily lives and travels. I try to point the camera inwards to express a personal feeling even in the most unglamorous places, such as a corner in my home where light and shadow create a mood in abstract space. Or the odd place in the outside world where I find connectivity and can share on the spot. It is a phenomenon to me that I could be in a public space, pick up a wifi signal from somewhere and be able to transmit a personal, visual expression to people I know who live all over the world.

I am finding a way to use the platform to express myself and share my life without compromising my artistic principals.

As always, evolve and find a way to coexist.