Photo Exploration: Sunset Statue at Biltmore

This entry in the Pho­to Explo­rations series will focus on a 35mm film piece from the Bilt­more Estate.

When I vis­it the Bilt­more, the embar­rass­ment of (pho­tog­ra­phy) rich­es is over­whelm­ing. After the ini­tial “pho­to­graph every­thing!!!” ses­sions, I real­ized I would have to focus my vis­its with lim­its on the medi­um, sub­ject mat­ter, etc. This pho­to­graph was tak­en dur­ing a late-after­noon film ses­sion in Jan­u­ary 2011. I enjoy the way black and white film can enhance stone, and when that is com­bined with sculp­ture the results can be fantastic.

This was Kodak 400cn, which is an inter­est­ing black and white film as it is devel­oped via the same process as col­or neg­a­tives (C‑41) as opposed to tra­di­tion­al devel­op­ment of black and white film (think Tri‑X, T‑MAX, etc). There are many ben­e­fits to this film — smooth grain, incred­i­ble scan­ning fideli­ty, ease of devel­op­ment and so on. Although it won’t ever give you the grain and feel of a Tri‑X or HP5 (and def­i­nite­ly don’t try push­ing or pulling it and then expect most labs to be able to fol­low those direc­tions), it is an excel­lent choice for start­ing in black and white and giv­ing the pho­tog­ra­ph­er the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­cen­trate on tonal val­ues and shape with­out the dis­trac­tion of col­or reproduction.

Meter­ing was prob­a­bly done by hand. When there is a dif­fi­cult light­ing sit­u­a­tion, a cam­er­a’s built-in meter can be thrown off by the dif­fer­ence in ambi­ent light and what is being reflect­ed from the sub­ject. In this case, the stat­ue was offer­ing very bright and very dark spots and I was wor­ried about over/under expo­sure. With an inci­dent meter, I was able to con­cen­trate only on the light of the scene and not the dis­parate light read­ings com­ing from the statue.

I want­ed to tell a sto­ry with this piece and not so much doc­u­ment the art­work. By going around the stat­ue, I found angles that lost the stat­ue’s face but gained van­tage points for a more engag­ing point of view. I like to think that this flautist is giv­ing a bit of a salute to the set­ting sun and is per­haps call­ing friends togeth­er for a night­time celebration.

Photo Exploration: Navy Pier, Chicago, September 2012

Con­tin­u­ing the series start­ed here, I’d like to select anoth­er image that I just fin­ished work­ing this week.

This was a dig­i­tal expo­sure, with a Canon 5Dmk2 and the 24–70mm f/2.8L lens. 35mm focal length, f/13 @ 30 sec­onds, ISO 200. It is an exam­ple of the cre­ativ­i­ty one can encounter with long expo­sures at night.

This par­tic­u­lar place was a bit out of the way from the main traf­fic towards the end of the Pier. My wife was fond of the Juli­et (of Romeo and) stat­ue and I’d been look­ing for a way to frame a mix of still and motion, so this loca­tion was a stel­lar point to explore. Find­ing a loca­tion in such a busy area where I could set­up for a long expo­sure was cru­cial to reduce vibra­tion and also to be con­sid­er­ate of those around us. With the stat­ue very still but the Fer­ris Wheel in motion it was a shot that near­ly framed itself.

The only main deci­sion I had to make besides fram­ing was aper­ture selec­tion. My first require­ment was get­ting the entire scene in focus via a large depth of field. By uti­liz­ing a hyper­fo­cus tech­nique, I was able to get the entire field of view in focus with an aper­ture of f/8. How­ev­er, that was­n’t pro­vid­ing a long enough expo­sure. By stop­ping down to f/13 I was able to get a longer expo­sure with­out get­ting too far into DLA-land.

Then it was recheck­ing my fram­ing, recheck­ing my set­tings and trig­ger­ing the shut­ter. I did use the cam­er­a’s self-timer to reduce shut­ter shake. A bet­ter prac­tice would have been a remote shut­ter, which I cer­tain­ly would have used if I’d had mine with me.

My long-term per­cep­tion of this piece is still being formed, but my imme­di­ate reac­tion is one of struc­ture, cre­ation and time­less­ness. I almost feel like that wheel has been spin­ning around for as long as that Juli­et stat­ue has been there — with both of them placed at the dawn of Chica­go and will always be there. I think that long expo­sures con­tribute to that feel­ing of time­less­ness. By extend­ing the time cap­tured in the pho­to, we extend the per­ceived time that the sub­ject will con­tin­ue to exist. On some lev­el, isn’t that what pho­tog­ra­phy is all about?

still life with a ghost

Col­lab­o­ra­tion with Laila Alamiri. Fuji FP-100c in Mamiya RB67, 137mm lens.

Photo Exploration: Valle Crucis Apple Barn, March 2012

I’m going to try and dis­cuss, at least once a week, a pho­to select­ed at ran­dom. This time is a pho­to from March 2012 of the Apple Barn at Valle Cru­cis Con­fer­ence Center.

This was with Neopan 100 in the Fuji GA645. Prob­a­bly ear­ly morn­ing, around 7–7:30am. I like to get up in time to catch some mist and ear­ly light when I am for­tu­nate enough to spend time at VCCC. For­tu­nate­ly, it is easy to do since the scenery is beau­ti­ful and plentiful.

This build­ing is one of the most rec­og­niz­able bits of archi­tec­ture in the val­ley. A beau­ti­ful red in real life with a met­al roof, it is easy to get caught admir­ing the col­or of the build­ing. But this vis­it to VCCC, I want­ed to shoot black and white to delve into the space and form of what I could see. By lim­it­ing myself I was, as is the usu­al case, able to see a wider dimen­sion of sub­jects than oth­er­wise possible.

Engag­ing a well-known sub­ject can bring up feel­ings of inad­e­qua­cy, par­a­lyz­ing the pho­tog­ra­ph­er who wor­ries that every­one has seen every­thing before. While that can be true, it is also true that no one has been where you are at that moment with that vision and equip­ment before. So walk­ing around and con­sid­er­ing how your gear com­ple­ments the sub­ject in that moment can loose a moment of joy and per­cep­tion when a frame starts to come togeth­er. In this case, it was my walk­ing around the long side of the build­ing and view­ing the wall as a sin­gle plane with­out cor­ners or sides. Pat­terns start­ed to emerge — the win­dows, the stone, the lines of the roof and the lines of the bot­tom open­ings. Of course, it was also appar­ent that the struc­ture was old, weath­ered, man-made and imper­fect. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of pat­tern, mate­r­i­al and the impo­si­tion of time upon this struc­ture drew me to start set­ting up a photo.

Even though the GA645 is a fair­ly sim­ple and com­pact rangerfind­er, there is still the same process to work as if it was a larg­er for­mat SLR. Meter the shot, pre­pare the cam­era, check the meter again. Check the fram­ing again and then take the pho­to. Grant­ed, this can be done in a mat­ter of a sec­ond or two if one is in a hur­ry, but since the build­ing was­n’t going any­where I was able to take my time. The sat­is­fac­tion of the work cul­mi­nates when the shut­ter is final­ly released.

By pre­sent­ing the Apple Barn with­out dis­trac­tion of oth­er build­ings, peo­ple or col­or I think I have been able to dis­till the oft-repro­duced view into some­thing that is tan­gi­bly mine and my vision. I found with this piece a sim­ple view of a space where I have spent count­less hours reflect­ing on my own journey.