Film Photography reality Check

Noticed my Horseman VHR system in the corner. Again. It’s the last big film rig that I own. The Horseman VHR is a mini press camera (think press photographers from the 30s and 40s) that has interchangeable lenses and removable backs. It also has a rangefinder and framing window, so it works kind of like a really, really big Leica.

Horseman VHR

Anyway, I’ve got it, three lenses (all set up properly for the system), 5 backs, and seemingly every accessory ever made for it. That includes the custom hard case and another soft case. I originally bought it with the idea of taking it to Yemen. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons but I’ve had it ever since.

I’ve been meaning to sell it for years. Just haven’t gotten around to it. Looking at it last night I shook my head and realized that I should have sold it years ago. I’m not likely to get much for the system these days. Sigh.

Then a little thought popped into my head. “Why don’t you use it? If you won’t get much money for it, why not? That’s why you bought it in the first place Isaac…”

That had a lot of appeal. I bought the camera system because I really liked it. I loved shooting with film, did it for years. I found a light meter app for the phone and downloaded it for free. Ilford is still going strong making film for the camera. Plus, the lab I liked using is still around and is now doing scanning too. This was starting to look good…

OK, time to get serious. How much would this cost? Added it up and it came to almost $800. Wow. Er, maybe I don’t need the super fancy processing. I’ll do negatives instead of positives. OK, 18 rolls of film (they are done in batches of 6) came up to just over $500.

Five. Hundred. Dollars. Keep in mind that there is no guaranty that I’d get anything I liked, or possibly anything at all. Never mind that this is how we used to do photography. You’d pay lots of money and see if you got anything useful. Digital photography has totally eliminated all of the guesswork, the time, and reduced shooting to a costless activity. Actually considering spending money to take pictures seems a bit crazy these days since the normal thing to do is free.

So I was left wondering what I’d gain by spending the money. It isn’t clear to me what the benefit would be beyond some (expensive) nostalgia. I could imagine the possibility that the negatives could be enlarged more than what my current camera offers but that doesn’t seem like a likely limitation. I don’t have any real complaints about my current camera and lenses. I’m pretty sure whatever I could do with the Horseman I could do digitally. $500 would almost buy me the newer version of the camera I have now or go a long ways towards a really sweet lens. Or something else, anything else.

Yeah, I can’t justify that kind of money on taking pictures. I was happy paying for and shooting film when that was what photography was. I have some ideas of what I’d like to shoot. I’m going to try with the digital camera. I reserve the right to go back to film if I think it’ll help but I think the Horseman is destined for eBay. Eventually. One day…

Life as I See it podcast episode #10 Can Video Games be Art?

 

Can video games be art? Roger Ebert had declared that they couldn’t a fair number of years ago. Jeff Vogel weighed in on this topic and that lead to some discussion in my app.net stream about it. I think the answer to the question revolves around the relationship of the creator to an artwork in relation to the consumer of the artwork. In some ways, artists are unable to experience their own art because they have a very different motivation and experience. I think that playing a game, video or not, is much more akin to participating in the creation of art than it is to be the audience for it. 

 

Ebert on games not being art. He seems to rely mostly on the merits of games instead of making any sort of philosophical argument.

Jeff Vogel on video games and art. If you like old school role playing games make sure to check out his company Spiderweb Software.

Kelle Santiago’s TED talk about how video games are art. Gotta say I’m with Roger Ebert on this, I don’t find her argument compelling.

 

You can see all of my podcasts at bli.ms/u/eyes. You can subscribe using the RSS feed bli.ms/u/eyes/rss

 

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Photography? (Maybe)

I’ve been following the Facebook page dedicated to former employees of Penn Camera and participating in the nostalgia. People are digging out old pictures and we’re all remembering what it used to be like.

It got me thinking about photography again. I haven’t been shooting much in years. I brought back a smattering of old pictures from mom’s place, mostly stuff I did in school and decided to share some of them on Facebook. Looking at, and holding these things brought back a lot of memories.

Digital photography has never done much for me. I just can’t get excited about it. When I looked at the prints and polaroids I made in school, I remember shooting it, but I also remember making that object. THe process of developing the negatives, cutting them up, making the prints in the darkroom, even matting and framing them are all part of the interest for me. There is a difference between capturing an image and taking a step in making an object. The film I develop was what received the light, and the chemicals I chose determined how that light would look on the film.

I know, it all sounds silly, but it does make a difference. Digital photography to me puts almost all of the emphasis on getting the shot. Yes, there is post processing, but I always feel like I’m doing a spreadsheet or something when I’m manipulating data.

I have been thinking that I should get a “real” digital camera soon. They really are remarkable these days, far far better than when I was selling them. No matter what comes out, I just can’t get excited about the gear, or the process. Certainly not excited enough to spend what it will take to get one of the cameras that interest me.

Then it struck me. All of the most recent pictures that I have a connection to were taken with cameras I still own. My best pictures in Yemen were taken with a Chinese folding camera from the mid sixties and a pinhole camera. Here was my rather radical idea; why not shoot film?

I immediately liked the idea. I figured I’d do a “last hurrah” with the cameras I own. Thought maybe I’d use the B&W slide service I’ve used in the past. The slides you get back from them are just gorgeous. Shooting film in the quantities I have in mind isn’t all that expensive, or at least it wasn’t until I looked at those slides. It would almost $20 a roll in processing, etc. Way too much, no matter how beautiful.

The second thought that struck me was why don’t I develop it myself? Film processing is dead simple, and incredibly cheap. Now we’re talking…

I’ll need to buy a few more things like a light meter, processing equipment, and the chemicals. The big expense will be the scanner. Yes, I could buy a passable digital camera for that kind of money, but I wouldn’t use it. I may have finally grown up, the thought of owning the niftiest camera doesn’t really excite me any more. The few things I have to buy are less expensive enow than they were when I sold them.

Here’s my plan. I am going to primarily shoot with medium format film with small cameras. I’ll develop the film myself and scan it myself. I’m going to try to use a single film type but probably use two different developers. This all sounds really exciting to me now, with any luck I’ll be ready (and still excited) when spring comes around. It’ll be good to flex my creative muscles again.

The only actress I’ve ever dreamed of

I saw “Pandora’s Box” in film school. It was the longest silent film I had ever seen, and it was amazing. The thing that made that film, the thing that absolutely cemented it in film history was Louise Brooks. I don’t think that there has been another actress so striking, so unforgettable, and so heart breaking since.

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“Pandora’s Box” was shocking, even to a college student, especially when we thought that all movies from back then were staid and rather conservative. Sex was front and center, as was violence. She managed to combine desirability, innocence, and danger all in one character. She ensnared every man and woman she came in contact with and destroyed them.

 

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It turns out that one of the reasons that Louise Brooks could play the part so well was that she was essentially playing herself. Her hedonism made her notorious back then. In her later years she talked about the many lovers she had and her love of going to lesbian bars in Berlin. She left  lovers and husbands with broken hearts in her wake. Luckily for her, life did not imitate art, her character of Lulu in Pandora’s box ended up being killed by a sexual predator while Louise Brooks lived to her 70’s and reinvented herself as a writer. The rap on her when she was in films was that she couldn’t act, that she didn’t “do” anything. Film acting was still developing, actors still a tendency to use really big, stage inspired actions. Brooks was quite a bit more restrained, and her style led the way to modern film acting.

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If you ever get a chance, please check out “Pandora’s Box.” It will change your attitude towards silent films and what was possible. Louise Brooks’s career was cut short by her self destructive habits and her constant diva antics, but she has become the icon of the 20’s and 30’s. They don’t make them like that anymore…

 

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"The film major that didn’t like films"

That’s what I become known as back in college. It’s mostly true, I don’t particularly like the idea of watching films in general anymore. The thing is, I wasn’t always that way. I did, after all, pursue a film degree. I started thinking about this again after a co-worker and I chatted about films. Her reaction brought up my curiosity about my dislike of films again.

I let it go and didn’t think of it much until yesterday. While reading a book that was set in Nazi Germany, one of my most shocking and indelible film-related memories came back to me in a flash. I think it was during freshman year, in the film theory 101 class (whatever it was called). We watched part of “Triumph of the Will.” For those of you not familiar with it, it is a “documentary” of the 1934 Nuremberg congress/rally for the Nazi party. Why were we watching it? Leni Riefenstahl had created a masterpiece, that’s why. Triumph of the Will is generally seen as one of the most influential films ever made. Hitler was the official producer and it is as emotionally manipulative as he was.

I have to tell you, seeing all of those people being whipped into a frenzy over Hitler was soul destroying. Thank God that sound design wasn’t all that advanced back then, the recording of those thousands of people yelling “SEIG HEIL! SEIG HEIL! SEIG HEIL!” was chilling enough as it was. I think I may have shed a tear watching it, it was that horrific.

We then spent the rest of the class discussing the effective techniques used in the film and all of the films it had inspired. The one that stands out in my mind was the professor’s off hand comment, “Does anyone remember the award scene from Star Wars?” It was a pretty good appropriation of the techniques in Triumph of the Will.

Looking back, I think that sunk in over the following weeks and months and it colored my perceptions of films. That whole semester was really about film techniques, about viewer manipulation. I don’t view films in general as Nazi propaganda films, but I do think an association was made in my mind. I remember recoiling against the emotional manipulation in that film and I think I become hypersensitive to other films doing the same thing.

Thinking about this, it is now hardly surprising that I find the idea of sitting down to watch a film distasteful. I think I’ve actually mellowed a bit since my college days, but I still prefer a good book or even audio to films.

"But what does my picture really look like?"

That’s a question I got a lot when I sold photo gear and I’m still getting it now. Last night, a lady was comparing the regular glossy screen to the anti-glare one on the laptops. They do look different but she was distressed because she didn’t know which one was “right.”

*PISH* Give me a color slide any day:-) Seriously, there is something satisfying about making a physical object that actually exists. Making a string of numbers whose appearance varies considerably depending on how it is rendered just doesn’t feel the same. Or maybe I’m just old fashioned.

I do think that the analog still has a place in this world, even if it’s only in the way people think about stuff. Are we hard wired to think in an analog fashion about certain things or is it just the way we were taught?

I don’t read fiction… um… well…

For the longest time, I’ve been telling people that I’ve essentially given up on fiction. And it’s mostly true, the vast majority of movies do not interest me in the slightest, and the idea of picking up a novel rarely seems like a worthwhile thing. It has been nonfiction for me for quite a while. Econ, language, audio, computers, photography, optics, etc. have captured my attention for quite a while.

I do have favorite novels, and they are all of the highest pedigree of course. Orwell, Borges, Heller, Vonnegut, Dickens, Rand, Nabakov, Salanger, etc. all line my shelves. So why is it that my one weakness for fiction involves Dr. Who?

It’s true, I continue to devour all things in the Who universe. I’ve seen all of the TV shows save the second doctor. That spans from about 1965 (I think) to this past summer. That’s a lot of shows. A lot of them are pretty bad too, but I watched them. I have found the audio plays from Big Finish to actually be of a more consistent quality. There are a ton of those too. I have listened to 107 of those now.

Today, I learned that the BBC has some ebook versions of some Doctor Who novels on it’s site. I read one tonight. Sigh, it looks like I’ll be reading more of them in the future…

I plan on continuing to acquire more Big Finish Doctor Who plays (and related audio plays like the Bernice Summerfield stories, the companion Chronicles, and the Galifrey stories) and now it looks like I’ll be adding various books to the collection too. God help me.

So what is it that appeals to me so much? I wish I knew. It is fun, but I don’t know why I am able to throw myself into these and not be able to tolerate most other fiction. This is hardly great literature, but I can’t get enough. Luckily for me, the is a vast quantity of stuff out there, I’ll never run out.

I noticed how incongruous this is for me just tonight. I’ll be puzzling over this for a little while, probably while listening to “Assassin in the Limelight,” my newest audio drama….

A great picture

This came from the website of the Yemen Observer, one of the English language newspapers in Yemen.

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Her name is Boushra Almutawakel and she is a photographer in Yemen. Needless to say, a female photographer in Yemen is a rather unusual thing. You can read the article via the link above to read more about her. I want to say a few things about this picture.

There’s no way to know what she meant by it but I find it quite powerful. Many people in the US and Europe see the hijab as a repressive aspect of Arab culture. Of course those people have probably never asked one of those women why they cover up. Part of it is simply dressing appropriately in that culture. A woman here in the US might have a reason to go topless, but she would have to think about it long and hard before she did so. It just isn’t done for the most part.

A more important part of the hijab is its religious importance for those women. By wearing the hijab, they reaffirm what they believe. Here in the US and in Europe, it is also a marker of her faith. Women who wear hijab here know that they are in some senses representing Islam so they better act accordingly. I wish more people that wore a cross would remember that as well.

The hijab is very powerful symbolism when taken in context of faith. Women are quite literally taking refuge under it and by extension Islam. That is why, in my opinion, wearing the American flag as hijab is so powerful. It is not just a religious statement, it is political.

Of course, it is the kind of politics that I like. She is free to do this, the US constitution guarantees her freedom to not only make this statement but to be a Muslim as well. It is everything that makes this nation great.

She may have been making an “in your face” statement to Americans with it. She might have targeted those people that conflate Christianity and being American or it may have been some sort of statement about the so called War on Terror. I have no idea, but that’s one of the great things about art, the artist does their thing and we are left to makes sense of it. What I love about it is going to piss some others off. How an American acts will probably be different than someone living in the middle east. The many different responses that can come from this is what makes it a great work in my opinion.

You go girl!

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