Old Negatives

•December 21, 2021 • Leave a Comment

In other of my posts I’ve told about going through old photographs and negatives, organizing them, and looking for a few gems among the tens of thousands. That is no exaggeration, and I may be understating the number. However, I’m optimistic that I can save my family from getting frustrated by it all when I pass on, getting irritated at me, and just tossing them in a landfill for the archeologists to find.

Gosh! How many do I have? What I have in boxes, binders, and cardboard mounts is a life in photographs: Discovery. Wow! I don’t remember that event. Laughter. Edit. Trash. No, wait! No… It’s trash. Hold it. Sit. Remember.

I have found so many boxes of photographs and negatives, I wonder if I have any real memories at all, or just facsimiles. Some things I recall vividly. Strange, like my daughter’s hair in braids. Why do I remember that? Others, I struggle to remember anything.

I’ll tell you this as plainly as I can: The treasure you seek is not behind the lens but in front of it. Invest there before you spend on a camera.

In one of the boxes of photographs I came across a 11×14 original black and white (sepia toned) photograph of my wife’s mom. I never got to meet her. She died when my wife was just a little girl. Everyone I have talked to remembers her as beautiful, kind, and gentle. I met my wife’s grandparents on her mom’s side. I can understand the source of her gentleness.

So as a Christmas gift I decided to colorize the photo and give it to my children and my wife’s niece and nephew. (As an aside, I used Photoshop’s Neural Filters to colorize the black and white.) The photo is an early gift.

Said all that to say… The photograph was taken in 1939 or 1940. I know this from clues in the photograph and from my wife’s telling of her family history.

It is interesting to me how we are all connected by history to the invisible context in which all photographs are captured. Like here. My wife’s mom was crowned a beauty pageant winner just a couple years before this photograph. She was a lovely woman. Here she is, having recently married, and just before her first pregnancy. He died as an infant. My own father was near to his first marriage. I would have my half-brother as a result. My mom was a teenager when this photograph was made. She did not know my dad then. She was another beauty pageant winner. In Europe, Germany and Hitler were taking country after country in their collective megalomaniacal lust for a Third Reich. Thousands had already died, millions more would. The United States was still neutral. Pearl Harbor had not yet occurred. Different photographs were taken.

All of it occurred beyond the borders of this photograph, in a land of three dimensional color which even then, emphatically contradicted the two dimensional sepia tones. It is a happy artifact of life that the unknown photographer perhaps inadvertently included within the darker historical context surrounding it. Photographs can be hopeful. But I hold it in my hands. It’s a thing, but an abstraction. I view it on my monitor. I think too much.

You know, I am not certain whether the color adds or detracts from it. My kids and my wife’s family love both photos. That’s really all that matters now. Hold onto your family.

Selah

It’s So Simple, Right?

•November 19, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Another family portrait from my “AA” days… “Ansel Adams” days that is: 4×5 view camera, Tri-X film, and Zone System. Need I say more?

The technique and the rather tedious process underscored my feeling on the subject of photography and especially regarding the subject seated the chair, my son.

It was important to me at the time, and especially now, that I have family records to pass down.

Jesse

It’s been interesting as friends have migrated from the North to Atlanta, and we have shared family and photos, that my Northern friends even from rural areas had many more family photographs and those of much higher quality than ours.

Maybe it was a cultural thing. I don’t know, but I have very, very few original photographs of my family on either side. My dad’s family lived in the country, and my mom’s lived in the city.

Perhaps cameras and photographs were considered a luxury. Maybe there were no drugstores conveniently located to process film. Maybe photography was just for wealthy city folks.

Whatever. It just seems family pix were not as important to the average Southerner, rural or urban, as they appear to have been to the average Northerner. Even my wife’s family, who were wealthy and lived in Wilmington, North Carolina did not have many family photographs.

Consider Roy Stryker and the Farm Securities Administration photo projects during the Depression of the 1930’s. The images his army of photographers captured, artists such as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, created stereotypes about the South and Southwest that persist to the present day… up North.


I have a copy of a photograph of my grandmother, taken about 1912 I think, with three of my aunts by her side and one of my uncles, an infant, in her arms.

It was rural, farming Georgia, Union City south of Atlanta, but it was not the stereotypical “O Brother, Where Art Thou”, Coen brothers concept, or even the FSA Roy Stryker/Dorothea Lange, “Migrant Mother” idea of the rural South. My family all wore shoes even through the Depression! Both sides.


As the story goes, the old photograph was taken by an itinerate photographer. He came by the house. My grandfather, his brother, and my other uncle were in the fields. (My dad was born quite a few years later, the youngest son.)

The photographer asked my grandmother, who was actually quite a beauty and very photogenic, if he could photograph her family. She told him to wait a few minutes while she made the kids presentable.

The children stood on the front porch in a row, unsmiling, but curious at the attention they had received. My grandmother had the bare hint of a smile on her lips, and an amused look in her eyes. One of my aunts standing there died of some scourge just a few years later. Such were the times.

Such are times now. I feel an urgency about this work. Maybe you do, too. We go about it, cameras in hand, trying to grasp a moment and hold onto it. The photograph becomes a tangible memory and evidence that THIS was important.

So, I said all that to say, that in all this visual therapy we do among ourselves, for me, the family photographs which I seldom post, the “dreaded group shot” as my kids and in-laws call it, and the single portrait like this one of my son, age four at the time, endured by them as I fiddle with the camera, are the ones most important to me, the ones I can physically hold in wonder.

All the rest are faded glories.

Selah

Mediocrity Democracy

•November 16, 2021 • Leave a Comment

The Who’s Roger Daltrey called The Rolling Stones a “mediocre pub band.” The guy must just need some love, which I am certain his comment will evoke. This brings me to my point. Those who follow the leader think it’s not so hard because the road is so well paved.

Let’s talk photography.

I really do not like the political posturing, virtue signaling, AI censoring, situational truth mongering Facebook. We could yammer about that all day, both sides, and never get anywhere. However, I do appreciate the best parts of Facebook; the social connections and interest groups.

I joined a Facebook group, Street Photography Cartier-Bresson Inspired. I belong to several such groups. I learn a lot. Some groups are better than others. This one is administered by Peter Pickering, a professional photographer in Bentley, Western Australia. I like the purpose of his group. It is devoted to the photographic genre of “Street Photography” as inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson. If you are not familiar with Cartier-Bresson’s work, try to find an exhibit somewhere. The internet is fine, but there is nothing that compares to seeing original photographs that the artist printed or directed. Check this link.

Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer, the inspiration to all others who follow his style. Certainly there were other photographers who made historic and socially important photographs; for example Lewis Hine, whose photographs of children working in unsafe conditions in factories, helped bring about our child labor laws. You have Roy Stryker and the Farm Security Administration photographers who went about documenting the Great Depression in the 1930’s. FSA employed photographers from all over America, even Ansel Adams. This was groundbreaking. Nothing like that had ever been done before. There is even a legacy organization you can join if you are interested: Go out and photograph America!

Cartier-Bresson is the same; that is, he is historic, ground breaking, seminal, one of a kind, leader of the pack who defines all who follow. When I began studying photography as an art, and going beyond technique and gear to vision and ideas, I studied the recognized masters, the ones who appeared and gave us something new. Cartier-Bresson is one of those I studied. He defined the term “the decisive moment” and created “candid photography”, as something more than snapshots of events and family. He was one of the founding members of Magnum. You can argue with its politics if you like but you cannot deny its importance. It changed news reporting.

Photographers are an arrogant bunch. Many of the artist ones, at least. Some put on airs. Some become real jerks. I’ve run into a enough of them that I recognize the jerk factor in myself and try not, because, as good a photographer as I am or that I might become, I have not invented a thing except a personal opinion that finds its way into my camera every so often. Others are generous with their time and in sharing their talents. I aspire to that.

What vexes me about social media in general, especially the photography groups, is the mediocrity that gets posted, my own included. Social media is a democracy of the mediocre. There are some who manage to excel, but not so many. Facebook, Instagram and others only make everyone appear to be equal. We can do better, especially if we are being inspired by Bresson, or Adams, or Weston, or Cunningham, or Lange, or Smith or…

Keith Richards. Yeah. Back to Keith. Keith’s famous guitar style is based on playing “open G tuning” on a Fender Telecaster. You can hear it clearly in songs such as Brown Sugar. It’s a classic open-G tuning riff. About 1:50 in the vid you can him play it. Yep easy. Websites, blogs, videos, are devoted to playing like him. It’s a nice paved road, Roger. I’m a mediocre guitarist. I can play riffs like “Keef” but I ain’t him, thankfully. I can post photos that borrow from Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”, but I ain’t him either.

One thing we can do is seriously work toward excellence.

Here’s my offering of “the decisive moment”. Best I can do. I’m not Cartier-Bresson.

Clown in Flight

Selah

I Look At It This Way

•November 12, 2021 • Leave a Comment

No photograph presents reality.  It is an object to itself.  At the very best it conveys an idea.  Cropping, angle of view, and the moment selected say more about the photographer than the subject. 

To the right of this view, out of camera view, a couple sat on a bench.  Their point of view was better than mine, but I couldn’t very well move them out of the way or step in front of them, or creep up from behind, camera on tripod, and fire away. How rude! 

So trying not to interrupt their enjoyment, I stationed myself about 50 feet away. This image is from the view I had from the vantage point selected, because my morality prevented me from taking away the couple’s enjoyment for my visual pleasure.

If it weren’t for morality there’d be no controlling me.

I saw the color presented and already visualized something oh so far greater than what God had provided. (I’m being facetious. Okay?) I knew that to communicate the Idea of Autumn, I would have to work in my digital darkroom, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

The first rendition is out of the camera JPEG.  The second is the RAW original with minor edits.  The third is smokin’ jazzy color.

If you had to pick one that conveys your idea of autumn color which would it be?

Maybe there is something in our spirits that whispers, “I want more.” And if that idea is present at all, then somewhere the reality exists.

Pardon my metaphysical meandering. I over think things.

The phrase, “It looks just like a painting”, may actually be closer to our idea of reality than reality itself. Our imagination is more powerful than the photograph for sure.

Out of Camera JPEG
RAW + Edits
The Colors of My Mind

Selah

Almost Perfect… Almost

•November 10, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I went for a walk.  Another walk.  But a walk.  With the rain coming, this will probably be the last of the color until next year.

The challenge for me, long  burdened by performance mentality is actually stopping to enjoy the scene. I have to intend to enjoy it. or I get caught up in making photos.

Autumn Color

In Heaven I think there will be no need for cameras. It is a tool to help you see without a camera. God will be there. He is the light source. Why look at the reflection of light when I’ll be able to look upon Him?

Selah

Through a Window Darkly

•September 14, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I’ve never enjoyed digital photography as much as film.

I’ve been shooting digital since 2001 or 2002. When did the Nikon D100 get released? That is how long I’ve photographed in digital. Yeah, 2002, so almost 20 years.

I was a freelancer for Foster and Associates in Atlanta then, and Louis the owner called me. It was pretty simple. “Bill”, he said, “We’re moving to digital from film. Will you continue to shoot for us?” I responded, “Sure”, or something to that effect.

I then did a cost-benefit analysis of the Nikon D100, ignorant of all things digital, incorrectly assuming some things, not asking the right questions, like how my collection of lenses that I knew so well on my F100, would actually work on the D100. Duh! But I figured out that if I made the jump, I would break even. Of course, I was not going to tell Louis, “Hey give me a few minutes and I’ll let you know.” No, you fake it ’til you make it, and I knew I would figure it all out.

So I drove down to the main showroom of Wolf Camera on 14th Street, walked over to the Pro Counter, and asked for a new Nikon D100. Wolf Camera and Video was a large chain with stores all over the Southeast. That was before online stores took over. I see stores in North Carolina, Alabama, etc. They have one location in Atlanta now, devoted to printing, not gear.

I don’t recall the salesman’s name, but he was well known around Atlanta. We had one of those camera store friendships. That was what photographers did then. We’d gather at the camera store to talk. If things were not crowded we’d talk quite a while. Anyway, the D100 set me back $2000, U.S., and that was twenty years ago. A Nikon D6 will set you back around $6500.00 today. I purchased the D100, said “Ouch” to myself, and thanked my friend for the pain.

Then came the next joy of relearning photography, and before my next assignment. I do recall the D100 was a pain in the rear to use compared to my F100. I did not miss a shot with the F100. Lordy, it was fast! The D100 was painfully slow. Fill flash on the F100 was a breeze. Flash on the D100 gave me indigestion. But, I made it work. Maybe the early pain soured me to digital. I am good at it now, it is fast, colors are amazing, but it’s not in my soul. It is just too… digital.

Now that film has made a comeback, and I’m not on assignment except for stock photos and my family, I am doing more film photography. I have a beautiful, forty year old Nikon FM2N and three classic lenses in my beat up Domke bag; a 50mm f1.4, a 28mm f2.8, and a 105mm f2.5. It is all manual. I don’t worry about extra batteries. I carry extra rolls of film.

If I shoot color film I send it up to Memphis Film Lab to develop. I develop my own black and white.

I went out driving around yesterday and visited some familiar towns that I had not explored. I set the meter on the Nikon to 1600. I knew in advance I was going to push the Tri-X film. I was going for grain and contrast.

I found a lot of old, rundown buildings. The window frame, the oddly placed fencing and door on display inside, and the sky with clouds reflected behind me interested me. The wires hanging down inside were a nice feature.

Here’s the technical detail: Nikon FM2N, with 50mm f1.4 lens. Tri-X rated at 1600. 1/1000th f11. Developed in Ilfosol 3, diluted 1:9, for 14 minutes at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Nice tight grain, which I like. Grain is silver and it is not the same as digital noise.

Selah

The Question

•September 11, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I won’t make this excessively somber.

Today, September 11, 2021 is the 20th anniversary of that fateful day.

The question is always asked, “Where were you on that day?”

I was working for Delta Air Lines then, in their I.T. department as a senior engineer. I noticed people moving quickly past my cube headed toward the conference rooms. It was strangely quiet.

I got up and made may way there. There were a couple of directors and other technical folks crammed in the room, watching the TV and the live coverage of the first tower on fire.

There were many obvious questions: “Is it a Delta flight?” “What happened?” As we talked we all saw the second plane crash into the other tower. There was a collective scream in horror. “No!” we yelled. Shock became a terrible realization of what had just happened.

“Never Forget” seems inadequate for the 3,000 who died. That is the best we can do if it leads us higher.

Icon

•September 3, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been photographing now as long as I can remember. I have a camera with me almost all the time, and taking photograph is a reflex. It is almost unconscious, like breathing. On the other hand, publishing a photograph many times requires more reflection on my part than reflex. I don’t show everything I photograph, and it’s not because they are bad photographs. I recognize that the image may be interpreted the wrong way. I recognize that my motives in publishing an image may not be good.

So it is with this photograph. I entitled it American Icon 2021.

Obviously, she grabbed my attention. The Dallas Rules #4 states, “Fashion should be a statement not a question.” I don’t think it was a question here except in my own judgmental way. Her colors are coordinated; that is, hat to shirt, to shorts, to shopping bag, to shoes. Check her accessories such as the bag and wrist band. Even her tattoo blends well. She took time in picking out the outfit. In my mind’s eye, because I have a wife and three daughters, I can see her laying out multiple combinations of clothing and making her final selection. Not only that, but she took time in front of the mirror. So I may have been shocked by the visual blitz, but she was perfectly attired for a Saturday trip to the open market. My reaction says more about me than her clothing does about her.

That may be the key. I reacted reflexively to capture a caricature. My fault, my character flaw. What I unconsciously recorded was the passing of my generation. She is not some randomly dressed shopper. She is a representative of the new America.

Technical

Considering the most essential of photographic techniques, this image absolutely does not work in black and white. In digital photography you can decide on the fly to be colorful or not. It is best to begin your day with one or the other in mind. I usually want black and white. I’m interested in lines, light and shadow, shapes, and textures. I capture both Raw and Jpeg. I set the Picture Control (Nikon) to Monochrome. When I looked at this image in black and white, it did not communicate what I reacted to. The Raw file had all the information, including the color. So we have color here.

Selah

Busy Busy

•August 6, 2021 • Leave a Comment

I have a lot of creative energy, just not a lot of time. So I devote time to some things while neglecting others. So it is with this blog.

I self-published two books in July (2021). You can find them both on Amazon Kindle. How’d You Do That? : Gitcha Motah Runnin’ is my first one, and it is a how-to book. I take a photograph that I created and I walk the reader through the steps from image capture, also known as “taking the picture” to the final photograph, including all the editing steps in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

The photograph presented and analyzed in the book follows. You may not care, but you may also have a question or two, like why take this photograph at all? Big reveal: I discuss that. In the realm of “navel gazing” narcissism you may figure out why you respond visually to certain scenes and why the image in your mind is so much more exciting than the one your camera grabs.

Other more technical questions arise. However, I don’t go into basic photography topics of aperture f-stops and shutter speeds that much. You can find a literal ton and a virtual universe of written material on those topics. Why should I write about worn out topics?

Along with the techniques and technical discussions, I include stories. I like to tell stories.

The book is short too, about 20 pages. The price is low. So you can consume it very quickly, and try out the techniques. The target readers are novice to advanced amateur, artistic types, who have started playing around with photo editing software. I plan to make this a series, and I have just started the second book. Again, the photographs are of common subjects, but with a twist. Maybe you will like the twist. I hope to publish it in a few weeks.

It is now August and even though I am much less than an obscure writer, I’ve already had a couple sales.

My latest book is entitled Carnival. It is a collection of black and white photographs of carnivals, fairs, and circuses that photographed for decades. I wrote it more as a memoire for my kids. I have tens of thousands of photographs that they will dispose of one way or another when I die. It is not morbid, just a fact. I can count and see in my mind the important ones.

I went to The Great Southeastern Fair at Lakewood Fairgrounds in Atlanta when I was a kid. (This is in the book, so I won’t tell the story here. Get the book, please. ) We also went to pop-up carnivals and fairs, and small circuses. I had a blast.

I will share this, because I forgot to include it in the book: I was so afraid of heights and carnival rides, except for a couple, that I would rarely get on one at all. Then I would be terrified.

When I was about 12 years old, my mom took us kids to the Southeastern Fair, and the U.S. Army and Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, had a tower where they demonstrated their parachute training. It was provided by their Jump School. Any kid brave enough could climb the tower, get strapped into a harness, and then get thrown off. Talk about pending lawsuits. Talk about Judge Judy. No way anything like that would happen now.

Believe it or not, I actually climbed the tower (voluntarily) to experience in a way what kids not much older than me experienced in jump school. Little did I know that just four years later we’d be in the middle of Vietnam and jump school would become very real for many of my friends.

Anyway, the soldier strapped me in, was giving me the “Hooah“, and courage enough to get tossed off a perfectly good tower, harness or not. The whole time I was trying to tell him that one of my gonads (as in testicles) was misplaced in the harness. Nooo, he just thought I was afraid, and he would have none of that. No sir! “Shut up kid. I’m throwing you off this tower! You got others waiting in line for this.”

“Wait. Wait. WAIT!” I cried, and off the tower I went. Well, the harness did what it was supposed to do and in the process I felt the pain that only a man-boy can feel when the kinetic energy of all my 115 pounds accelerated at 32 feet per second per second and Einstein’s E = mc2 theory was applied practically to my oysters. It calculates to about 4.7 trillion mega-joules applied to my family jewels. Oh, Lord! That hurts SO BAD! I was not even allowed for it to happen in mental slow motion. Nope. Just toss and snap!

I was assisted out of the harness by another soldier, who gave me some kind of certificate, which I painfully accepted. Shook his hand. He asked me something about going to jump school. “Sure,” I groaned. Thank you, sir, may I have another? My mom had the maternal look of pride on her face. I was walking like I’d been riding a Clydesdale for a week. I grimaced for my mom, and accepted her praise. I also felt some satisfaction in the knowledge that for all those years before I had been totally correct in my fear of carnival rides even if the carny was in military uniform.

Darn! I wish I had put this story in the book. I may have to write a second edition to get this in there. But now you have read it and you will not want to buy the book. It is a pain in the rear, which is a much different type of pain than I experienced at pseudo-Jump School, to get a book formatted properly for e-Book and Kindle publishing. So I’ll think about it.

Anyway, here are a couple photographs from the book. There are other stories in the book.

Carny in Silhouette

I hope you’ll take a look the offerings on Amazon. Help a photographer-artist-writer out and maybe purchase one or both of them.

Selah

There’s A Party in the Back

•June 9, 2021 • Leave a Comment

These are just lichens on a stump. Rather, they were just lichens on a stump.

Where’d the color come from? When we see the dull, natural, gray-green, do we think there may be a party going on, hidden from our eyes. I wonder about that. Is there a “speak-easy”; a little sliding opening in a door for us to enter, a dark corridor, that opens up to an exciting back room.

It takes me a lot of effort to see beyond the obvious, or, rather it takes effort to remind myself to think: There might be something beyond the obvious, here.

All I did here was bump up saturation and contrast, save the image, open it again to edit, then bump it up again. Lo and behold, there was indeed a party going on. The camera didn’t see it; just gray-green lichens on a stump, but the color was buried in the light, which was held by the pixel. I just had to find it. The only real effort is in the wonder. The rest is just pushing HSL sliders around in Lightroom.

The Creator hides things for us to discover. He invites us into a world of wonders.

Selah