Friday, July 4, 2014

Analog Interlude: Blast from the Past

For this weeks Analog Interlude, I'm taking you all on a forced march down amnesia lane. What we'll be tiptoeing through won't be tulips, however. I'm going to lead you on a stroll through some of my favorite photos from my past.

And, I just have to say it: I love this photograph.

This was taken in the late 1980s, probably about 1987, while I was studying photojournalism and fine art photography at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. There was a campus-wide spring fling type celebration and music festival going on, which I attended with my then-trusty Canon T90, one of the best cameras of its day, shooting Kodak Tri-X.

Like many of us back in the day, Tri-X was the go-to film. Versatile, wide latitude, push-able and pull-able, you could shoot just about anything with Tri-X.

Back to the image, I honestly don't what these people were doing, but something in the back of my mind tells me I knew one or more of them, which is why I made this photo. I do remember they were dancing. I believe it was a traditional folk dance demonstration, perhaps eastern European folk dancing, given how close Iowa City is to the Amana Colonies, a historic German settlement.

But what I really love about this image is the woman in the background on the right. You see her, right? She's the one with the shopping bag and the "What the Hell?" expression on her face.

Looking through old photographs in connection with The Analog Project, I'm finding the roots of subject matter I'm still pursuing today.

Cemeteries, for example. I've talked before about my fascination with cemeteries. There's so much history and acres of amazing architecture and design in cemeteries, I try to visit them where ever I go.

Take this marker, for example, in one of the old German cemeteries which dot the landscape around the Amana Colonies in eastern Iowa. It marks the grave of two children, brothers aged 3 and 10 years, who died less than a year apart more than 150 years ago.

I can't help but wonder about the stories behind this grave. How did they die? More importantly, how did they live? Did they have siblings, are their descendants still around, those and dozens more questions.

The next image isn't an old photograph. It was taken today (July 4, 2014) at the Old North cemetery in Nacogdoches. I'm just throwing it in here to show that, almost 30 years later, I'm still photographing cemeteries.

I've called this one "Fallen Tombstone." Clever with titles, aren't I? With this image, I like the juxtaposition of the foreground stone which has surrendered to time or vandalism (don't get me started) with the still standing stones in the background.

Just a little bit of an inter-interlude-interlude.

Huh? Yeah, that got away from me.

But just so you don't think I spent all my spare time in cemeteries, cause that would just be slightly creepy, I'm going to share a few more images from my archive. Here's another one from my college days when AT (alternate transportation) was the rule of the day.

Some days it was my bicycle, whizzing through traffic and around coeds, fighting to get across campus between classes. Other days, when I was tired or just plain lazy and didn't feel like looking for a place to lock up my bike, it was Da' Bus.

Seriously, that's what they were called back then.

I didn't really love the bus, for much the same reason I don't like public laundromats, which I won't go in to here. It should be obvious to anyone who's ever used either public establishment just what I'm talking about.

But public transportation does have one redeeming feature: Fascinating photographic opportunities, particularly if you're sneaky.

There's nothing really controversial or earth-shattering about this particular shot made from the back of the bus. It's just kinda cool, to me, with everyone in his or her own little world yet sharing a tiny slice of my world.

That may be a decent description of photography: Sharing a minute slice of other people's world, sometimes without them knowing about it.

The last couple of images are post-education photographs I actually was paid to make early in my career. The first is pretty self explanatory:

Yeah, that's who you think it is: Mick Jagger. I was fortunate to cover US tours by both Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones at Cyclone Stadium on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Iowa, in 1994. Being a photojournalist is kinda cool, sometimes.

For this image, I deviated from my stand-by film to shot Fuji Neopan 400, pushed two stops, and developed probably in HC-110. That's what we were using at the newspaper at the time, so that's what I shot. It was probably my first real exposure to film stock other than Kodak Tri-X and, later, T-Max 400, a film I never really fell in love with.

This image was made with a Nikon FE2, which I still have, and still shoot with. And that's part of the beauty of analog cameras. Even the FE2, which did have an automatic exposure option, is basically a mechanical camera.

I bought my FE2 used almost 25 years ago and, gasp, it's only been in the shop once since I've owned it. I'm not knocking modern digital cameras, but I very much doubt there are too many folks out there who can say the same thing about today's cameras which are half that age.

This last image is relatively modern, compared to the other photos I've shared.

This is Carhenge, near Alliance in western Nebraska. I made this photograph in probably 1999, on Tri-X 120 film, using a Yashica Mat 124G I appropriated received from my father.

It's a very cool camera, a twin-lens reflex model. It's that tall camera with the two lenses on the front you see in movies sometimes. You look downward, through the top, focusing through the top lens using a built-in magnifying lens, but you use the bottom lens to make your image.

And the negatives are huge, compared to 35mm film. That means your photos appear much sharper with less film grain than the smaller 35mm.

Looking back through all these negatives for the project has definitely been a teachable moment, as they say. I've really learned a few things, which was sort of why I started on this journey in the first place.

I think my photographic skills have improved over the years. I've noticed I don't seem to make some of the stupid mistakes I used to make regularly when I was just starting out.

But, I've also noticed, I tended to take a few more chances back then. I don't know if I was more willing to experiment early in my career, or if everything was still new to me, so I didn't necessarily know what I was doing was pushing the envelope as much as it was.

(If I bring that last sentence in for a fitting, can I get it shortened by Tuesday? But you know what I mean, right?)

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