Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Technique: things nobody told you about...

Today I dropped by WHSmith to see if they could help me out with the archival process. I mean, when you shoot and shoot and shoot you end up with lots of negatives. These negatives accumulate in negative preservers (Printfile is pretty cheap and it has a useful tagging system). The negatives preservers accumulate then into ring binders, and ring binders go inside cardboard boxes. So you end up with a big mess. Well, that was a reason to go to WHSmith... they had sales as well. 75% off two ring binders, three big cardboard boxes to store them for £1 and a ring binder with a zipper to carry prints for almost nothing (£2.49). But my most amazing discovery were the tags. Damn, I hoped there was something like this. Small white sticker tags for a quid and the most amazing of all... coloured spot stickers for a quid as well! Finally I can mark all the keepers in each roll by placing a tag of the adequate colour (yellow for stuff you shouldn't forget, green for keepers, red for things that already go inside an edit). Happy times.

Next I'll post something about editing. But editing is impossible without lots of ringbinders, stickers and small prints, so it's good we go through here.

And how do you make sense of your mess?

Monday, 28 January 2008

Technique: Olympus XA-1

I wouldn't usually talk about cameras, but with time the very snapshotty and technically limited XA-1 has got to be my camera of choice. It is a normal film camera with a 35mm lens, no way to focus or change aperture. It measures the light with an old selenium cell that usually overexposes during daylight and you can only set it up for 100 or 400 ASA film. But it's terribly small, easy to carry and a no-worrier... as far as you shoot with flash. At night, things that are between about 1.2m and 2.5m will be focused and exposed. Framing is as simple as looking through the viewfinder.

I smashed mine badly yesterday and the flash stopped working and the cover opened. I have to give it to a mate one day to see if he can fix it. In the meantime I'm looking on ebay for an XA2 (more sophisticated... now you are supposed to be able to choose focus) with a larger flash. My idea was to carry two XA's, one in each pocket. One of them has a smaller flash and it's used for most situations when shooting. The other one would have a larger flash and be dedicated for shooting infrared flash and film. Finally all my needed equipment arrived. Back to ebay...

Picture by Maciej Dakowicz.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Life? John

I was surprised to hear last night in Kiwi's that John had passed away last Friday at the age of seventy nine. He was one of the regulars at the Staff Club and I hadn't seen him since they closed down the pub. It's hard to keep in touch with the people from there as now they are sparsely distributed between different venues. We had a brindis in his memory (Maciej, Holga, me). I'll always remember him like a man with much more success with women than I've ever had or could one day achieve (that comment always made him smile). It's strange that these things don't sink and one still thinks that you can bump into a person even if it's simply not going to happen.

- in the image, Stuart and John

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Life: so long and thanks for all the fish

Flickr is one of the most inbreed photographical communities that you can bump into. Some of the people there publish pictures almost daily, and these images don't have any other purpose than hanging up there for the admiration of other fellow flickerites and in a year or two they'll be history. But being a community of communities (thousands of flickr groups) some people try to make something out of it and shoot consistent things. I guess it's just a matter of time till some of the people who have been for years shooting the same 'project' end up doing something outside flickr (in the real world) with it. And so much inbreeding and selfadulation also takes a good share of time, so in a way I'm not surprised that some of the mates I admire are leaving the service. There are better ways to present images than flickr, for sure.

So this post goes for those few that have kept not only street photography but arts photography in general alive for me in flickr, and now are leaving for a better life elsewhere on the net. I know that it isn't the end of it, and I'll keep on bumping into their pictures here and there. It's more of a transition period than an abrupt ending in my head. Now that I think about it... I don't really know why I write this, as I stay in touch with some of them more now than when they were active in flickr. Ah, now I know... I'll miss see all their rubbish and feel bad about being fed with only finished edits! That might be it....

Ben Roberts, who's pretty busy with enough projects already and seems to be more committed to portraiture than street photography nowadays. As far as I know he is in good health and will not stop shooting anytimes soon. If you seen around, feed gently with beer. Ben has deeply contributed to the development of my sense of humour.

Hin Chua, pretty busy as well, but easier to fill up with beer. Not to be given lager after midnight. Nice guy to have a chat about photographic literature.

Naveen Jamal, who I have kept less in touch but whose pictures are pretty much worth checking as well.

And Raoul Gatepin with whom I discuss too much rubbish at worrying hours (mostly due to time difference).

All those guys contributed in one way or another to how I shoot now, even if I really don't shoot like them. Every so often by dropping references, comments or tips, and other times, by feeding constantly interesting images into the vast seas of flickr.

Well, now the moment everybody has been waiting for: So long and thanks for all the fish!

Sidenote: I'm an invited guest at the F Blog thanks to Joanna Kinowska.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

How to: Infrared Flash

Many people seem not to be aware of this, but there is a way to use flash without anybody seing the light. The method is simple, the light you use is out of the spectrum that humans can see and the film you use is sensible to it. Perfect for shy photographers or when nobody wants the scene to be perturbed... lets say hello to infrared flash photography!

- by Weegee

- image from The Park, by Kohei Yoshiyuki

Those are probably the two authors that right now come to my mind as taking the most bang for the buck of shooting with infrared flash: Weegee and Kohei Yoshiyuki (who was previously spotlighted here). It happens to be that the technique for producing these images is not that complicated at the end of the day, and one of the contributors to the flickr group Children of Weegee wrote a whole step by step guide to how to build an invisible infrared flash. Check it out. All you need is a film camera, a flash (powerful if possible), some infrared film (the Kodak one is going out of stock and is the best) and an infrared filter for the flash. Well, and glue, scissors and cardboard. Welcome back to primary!

Monday, 14 January 2008

Shoot like... Diane Arbus

"Oh, that little lady is giving me such a nice look... I wonder if she's up for a chat..." seems to be a bit what went the first time through the head of Diane Arbus' subjects. There are anecdotes here and there on her charm and how people just approached her to openly talk about intimate stuff. You could also tattoo in your forefront "I studied psychology" for a similar effect. Then, well, at some point pop the camera out as an extension of your interaction.

It's been said many times that the photography of Arbus shows us how no matter how much we try, we can't capture the essence of others. Nan Goldin always remarks that she made a huge effort to not show the subjects... but try to be them, even to a point of sickness. Well, no matter what happens in the images, somehow the real ugliness of reality as it is hits you in the face in those large fine grained prints. (If you read text by her, you'll be surprised on how beautiful and poetic it is in contrast.)

You need

A medium format twin lens camera, or a medium format SLR with a waist level viewfinder. This makes your subjects look at your head while you giggle and look at their faces from a point of view slightly lower (that's why they have that sort of sheepish look).

Very fine grained slow film. Remember, you really want to show things as they are. You have to be a bit obsessed about the truth of the image. No, not that obsessed, a bit more than that. Yes. Better... feel it torturing you when you don't reach it.

Inhuman charm. This takes lots of practice. The day that you enter a pub and a complete stranger buys you a beer, you're getting close. When you manage this every other day and they open their hearts to you when you open your mouth, you're on the right track.

Patience. Yes, a day shooting a single person is needed more than once. Or do you think people relax for the camera just with your charm? No way, you have to be there till they are so tired that they forgot about you, their daily job and the world. Giving them valium is considered cheating. Also, you'll need all that patience to hear the weird stories your subjects tell you.

Distaste for composition. Did I say composition? Ha! That's something that happens to others! If a subject does not work dead centre, it wasn't worth shooting.

A taste for the strange and nocturnal. Midgets, circus freaks, old men that think they are vampires, men dressed as women, Disney memorabilia. Yes, go for it. If after seeing your prints your mother throws them into the bin you are doing it right. If some chick that thinks she's the twin soul of Tim Burton thinks they rock, well, yes, whatever...

Master use of flash. Well, it's not only that it's a handy skill to have, but if there's something that can reveal the tiniest little ugly thing in a portrait, that's a good and powerful flash.


Art galleries really appreciate your stuff after some initial uneasynes.

Your subjects after some initial outfreaking learn to love their portraits... some of them.

Shooting can be easy and spontaneous, and you can have a good time meeting people while doing it.


The art galleries that appreciate you mostly do so when you're dead.

Commisions are few and far apart. If you are an old rich toothless lady, you probably didn't want anybody reminding you that.

People you meet are pretty, pretty weird. I mean, this is not a job for any average Joe (or Jane) to take.


You take ugly and misunderstood pictures that are fairly illuminatory for an artsy minory. Being dead is not really a requisite for this achievement, but it helps. In overall I wouldn't recommend to shoot like Arbus unless you're a complete copycat that fancy galleries can recognize straight on. I mean, to build up a career on a bunch of weird pictures is not going to get you money unless you stole the whole thing from the original... and acquiring all the charm and sweettalk is hard unless you were almost born with it. But after all, who's into this for the money?

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Announcement: the results of DAH's call for projects are online

A while ago David Alan Harvey asked for photographical essays to be submitted for an online project. Everything was being held on his blog. Finally there's a website in which the finalist projects are online. Mine can be found at the end of gallery 4. The site takes quite a bit to load, but it's worth leaving it loading in the background and check all the essays. Some very interesting stuff in there.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Life... First day of 2008...

I woke up with a bit of a hangover on a kitchen floor today. Everybody had left and it was about 3pm. I went for a stroll to snap some pictures in that bit of the city that limits with the countryside. Two years ago none of those buildings existed here in Fuengirola. Oh, and I played Guitar Hero with a goth chick last night as well. I only hit the right notes in Slayer when banging my head.

And now later on I went on search of a cigar but I didn't find any. They don't seem to sell them in supermarkets. Laws seem to be changing in Spain. The reason for a cigar was not only the lack of one last night, but the results of the David Alan Harvey Fund for Emerging Photographers. I managed to get my name into the list! I am looking forwards to see what it ends up looking like, and upload some shots when the pictures end up in some gallery.

Fuck, I have no funny, sarcastic, dry, cynical or very tongue in cheek words to add...