Jimmy Page and me

Does a person choose their instrument or does the instrument choose the person?

Just watched “It Might Get Loud” a cool documentary about musicians and their guitars with Jimmy Page, Edge and Jack White – three top guitarists spanning three generations with three different stories.

It seems that the guitar sort of found them rather than the other way around. Their first encounters were somewhat random occurrences or serendipitous situations that shaped their lives from then forward. Jimmy Page found an abandoned guitar in a house where his family moved. The Edge, generally curious about electronic gadgets, built his first guitar. Jack White received his first guitar as payment for helping his brother move a fridge to his brother’s thrift shop.

One message I took from the film was that we must always be open to the possibilities, to embrace and explore opportunities when they present themselves. None of the musicians set out to be guitarists; it just kind of happened and they took advantage of the opportunity.

In my case, it was not my first camera (my Mom’s Ansco Reflex II) that found me, per se, but rather the darkroom. The first time I helped my neighbor develop an image in his makeshift under-the-staircase darkroom was magical; the hook was set. Shortly afterwards, I received a very basic Sears darkroom kit and have loved the smell of fixer ever since. My neighbor – six years my senior at least (I was 10 at the time) – inviting me to help him develop some images changed my life.

I’d like to know something that came into your life unexpectedly that you embraced and how it has shaped your life. Please post a comment and share your experience.

(Oh, and my connection with Jimmy Page? I was at the MTV European Music Awards in Frankfurt in 2001. Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit) was performing “Thank You” by Led Zepplin. As he introduced the guitar soloist, Jimmy Page strolled onto stage playing the solo as only he can. I jumped out of my seat in the 17,000+ person venue and roared my approval. To myself. It was a rude awakening that I was probably the oldest person at the show as no one else seemed to know who he was…)

 

The joy of rediscovery

I miss my darkroom.

Unlike many friends and colleagues, I still have it, although it’s been in boxes in storage for nearly 10 years. I saw it this summer when I moved my stuff from one storage unit to another – the Omega B22 enlarger, Gralab timer – it’s all there, just missing chemistry and paper. Well, and a dark space of some kind…

But enough pining for what’s not readily available; let’s talk about what is.

When I was digging through the darkroom boxes I ran across something I’ve been looking for, for years – a box of high-contrast Litho negatives. I haven’t printed these negatives since at least 1981. A long time.

These were the outcome of a project/lesson I had with my mentor Howard Stephens, whom I’ve written about previously. Still in their protective sleeves, the negatives were begging to be looked at, to be played with, even printed. Thanks to great scanners in this darkroom-less age we live in these negatives have a new life, and with that new life, new possibilities. The initial scans look great; the images look as they did when they were originally printed.

This rediscovery opens the box again for these images. Printing, toning, using unique papers, adding watercolor, colored overlays, hand tinting and on and on – not even counting manipulation in Photoshop!

Rediscovery is providing the opportunity to do something meaningful with the images – yet again.

 

On digital

My leap to digital was actually more of a saunter. I’m
sentimental by nature and switching from film – which had been my close friend
my entire life – to digital felt like betrayal. I loved (and still love despite
many years of not hanging out in a darkroom) the magic of watching an image
materialize beneath the safelight; the truth appearing before my eyes.

Yet the world had gone digital and it was time I became
current. When I made my entry some five years ago, it felt strange. Here were
these images in color, when I had always worked in black and white. The images instantly
appearing on the little screen on the back of the camera felt like I was
cheating as I was seeing them before I had done any work in the darkroom.
Sitting at a computer “working” on the images with a mouse instead of standing
in the dark with tongs was just plain weird.

But I’ve grown to appreciate the benefits of digital. One
key one is when taking photos of people – and I’m not working with models –
nothing opens them up more than seeing their image on that little screen. Once
they see what I’m shooting they become so much more receptive, enhancing our
connection as we work together. It is an absolute game-changer that was
unavailable with film – unless one had the luxury of sharing Polaroid images.

I still have my negatives and it’s amazing to see how many
times I had one – just one – image of
a subject to work with. It was a result of being conservative with my film due
to cost considerations from when I was first learning. Even in later years, I
took only a few images of a subject maximum. There’s a certain beauty in that;
a certain discipline in trying to get the exact image one time. Most of the
time it worked but there were many times that one image didn’t work and I was
left with nothing.

But then I sometimes question my craft with digital – am I less
precise with digital than I was with film? Because there is no cost of shooting
hundreds of images versus a few, I find myself shooting many, many more of a
given subject than I ever would have with film. Does the nearly unlimited space
for images make me a sloppier photographer than I used to be? I actually
believe the answer is no, however the jury is still out as I have too many
images that need attention for me to fully ponder that one for now…

I’m now accustomed to working on images in Photoshop or
Lightroom, making the same adjustments that I would have done in the
darkroom – working the contrast, dodging, burning, cropping. The only thing I’m
missing is a fixer-scented candle to light while I’m sitting at my
computer…

The allure of various media, Part III

I finally went digital a few years back and color imaging was thrust upon me through the instant gratification window on the back of the camera. And to be honest, I like shooting in color, although I still convert a lot of my digital images to black and white as that’s how I saw them when I took the original image. While I miss playing with film, I’m finding that the digital images are overall OK. They at times seem to lack the depth of film, but perhaps that’s just me being nostalgic.

 

Despite being digital, my images are as I found them, beyond the normal adjustments of contrast and brightness – no different from what I would do in a darkroom. Years back I experimented with high contrast or Ortho images in the darkroom. I enjoyed the manipulation although today I’ve resisted the temptation to “Shop” images as digital manipulation has been called. I’m seeing some great stuff out there that doesn’t need altering. Perhaps one day I’ll expand into digital manipulation, but for now I’m enjoying capturing images from the world around me.

 

I have to say, though, that while I’m getting accustomed to finishing my images on a PC, I miss the smell of fixer. I’ve been looking for a candle that smells like fixer to light when I work on images at my worktable. My darkroom has been in storage in the States for the past seven years. I’m curious if and when I’ll ever unpack it…

 

Regardless, my mission is clear with whatever medium I choose to work in. In the words of Andre Kertesz, “You have to learn the limits of the medium, and then learn to work on the edges of those boundaries.”

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