Monday, July 12, 2010

The Boy in the Woods: Human Form

During one of my many shooting trips to Harpswell, I met this boy. He seemed interested in what I was doing and hung around while I aimed my camera at all sorts of weird things. After I tried to explain why someone would want to take pictures of old tires and dead trees, he agreed to take part in the madness.

I would love to find this person, now in his forties. He was a charming child, and perhaps still lives in Harpswell. Will this blog find him? The Boy in the Woods?

The Lost Boy will be our segue into another emerging theme: the human form.

At first it was noticing the shapes my child made in the sunshine.

Lorel also did some modeling, the beginning of a long project with the classic nude. 

These images are all new to my eyes. Of course I can remember the time and place, but these negatives have remained unseen for forty-five years. Thanks to digital editing, it is now possible to restore them and bring them into the light.

Multiples Multiply

Working with the Bronica, which had a means to recock the shutter without advancing the film, I expanded the potential of image combinations. 

Sometimes I would carefully position the elements in the style of Jerry Uelessman. This particular image is not a new discovery, as a print does exist in my collection. But the next three are new to my eyes, fresh visions from a young man in the 1960s.

Sometimes the images would dance together in the manner of Harry Callahan.

And then different things would happen.

The elm tree is a "known" image, from the yard at McKeen Street.

This is one of my first images using masking (my hand) to make a strong spatial shift. "Unknown" image, one of the the many reasons I'm making this journey, as are all the following.

I remain fascinated at the way some images combine to make a new thing.

A wave goodbye until the next post.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Multiple Exposure

It must have been Harry Callahan who inspired me to attempt making more than one exposure on the same piece of film. I wasn't aware of anyone else who was using this method so boldly. Man Ray's photograms were created in the darkroom, not the camera. Whatever the reason, I began to layer images in the camera. 

Please refer back to the post "State Hotel" for the story on how I met Al Everett. We did a number of photo sessions together, the majority of it PR photos for Al's performing career. I had forgotten the other images. This striking image has been lost for more than forty years. It represents a fitting segue into the new world of multiple images. At this time I had taken no drugs, which when they later came along helped to propel and further the surrealistic visions.

Today, this image might be seen as a metaphor of what the Drug War has done to people of color. Prohibition has returned them to slavery, with more black man now in jail than were in chains at the time Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.

This too is a new discovery, as are most of these early multiple exposures. I was working hard and fast on dozens of things, and had little time to do more than shoot and process these images, now seeing the light of day for the first time in a new century.

The hand of the artist in a scene probably somewhere in Harpswell.

This image looks like a Callahan, letting the images play together in a random-seeming way. That was his gift. My tendency was more to arrange and control the elements.

This sort of arrangement is more in the style of Jerry Uelessman, who combined images from several negatives through a complex printing process involving up to six enlargers. I met Jerry at the George Eastman House during a seminar. When he invited students to learn the intricate details of his process, he got no takers that day. From my viewpoint, it was much more direct to do it in the camera. With careful masking and pre-visualizing, one could do quite precise arrangements, working in the light of day.

The earliest multiple exposures were made on the 120 camera, which had a resettable shutter for easy multiples. It took a while longer to reset the 35mm Pentax shutter, which required overriding the film advance by holding the film rewind knob and pressing the clutch button while moving the film advance lever. This manual feat took a while to master.

I remain fascinated with the magic that happens when images mingle. Something new and unexpected often emerges from the chaos. I quickly found a friend in contrast, which in the above case allowed  a low enough exposure to nearly blacken the lawn surrounding the deflated child's pool. When combined with a nearby lily pond, the textures became a new, third thing never before seen.

I know I start to lose some people with this sort of texture merging, too chaotic for some, but the mood overtakes the image and I can lose myself in the ripples.

Every image was a discovery as I roamed the landscape for characters to place in my little square dramas.

Another in the Callahan style, two angles on the same image. Perhaps it was the cubists who inspired Callahan.

This is something Harry Callahan would not do, but I am drawn to a formal arrangement, again taking advantage of the white car to suppress the background. The Zone System helped me control the areas of exposure, so the additives would add up correctly. The 1965 Volvo carried us through the sixties, here fairly new and dent-free.

The last is a single image, the shadow of time as I peer into the viewfinder seeking revelation.

Becoming a Fine Art Photographer

Driving down to Bicknell Photo, right in the middle of the dangerous, derelict Old Port area, I equipped myself with a Pentax 35mm and a Mamiya 2 1/4 x 3 1/4. Enchantment with Edward Weston led to me buy an old Maine State Police Grover 8 x 10 Field Camera, complete with carrying case and a bunch of film holders. The loaded, single-handled case weighed almost fifty pounds, plus the huge tripod over the shoulder, but I was young, crazy and master of the world.

Later on, I got  Bronica, as close as I would come to the mighty Hasselblad.
My calling was now clear. I was the second coming of Weston, and would assume my place in photographic history. Call me a megalomaniac. I was one. But it drove me. No longer a radio rocker, I spent long nights in the darkroom. The first task was to gain control of the medium. I found teachers in books. Ansel Adams’ classic series showed me the Zone System, but Minor White’s compact yellow paperback taught it to me. In a series of simple experiments, I calibrated my system from exposure meter, its dial marked with the nine shaded zones, through time/temperature development to a final print on the enlarger using “machine settings,” not the old test strip or guesstimate. The method was a revelation which I have since applied in other ways. Test and calibrate. 

Minor White, through his book, was truly my first artist teacher in photography. Bob Duncan was all practical experience, no theory at all. Minor, Ansel, Edward, soon joined by Steiglitz, Strand, Cartier-Bresson, Atget, Abbott and more, became my teachers and led me further down the path of photography. I made pilgrimages to the print room MOMA, reverently handling original platinum prints touched by Weston’s hands.

Don Hinckley was an affable, no-nonsense workman who faithfully shot all the accidents, basketball games, meetings, groups, and grip-and-grins that comprise the meat in a small town lensman’s loaf. He was no creative artist, but a dedicated man making a living. I, a snotty little college kid, married though I was, mocked Don’s conventional style and lack of creativity. 
Years later, when I wore the business suit and did no more art photography, I ran into Don. When I told him I’d moved into selling printing, he said, “Never abandon your eye!” Humbling though it was to be creatively challenged from such a source, I still waited twenty more years before I came finally back to my eye.

Tom Cornell reminded me that I couldn’t go on being the bright young man forever. I had to zero in on something. Press clippings were not enough. Then he left on sabbatical and Don Lent took over my case. He was a young prof then and later became head of the Bates Art Dept. A friendly, cheery man with a formalistic, high-minded attitude to his semi-abstract art, Don was a regular guy who got tipsy with us at parties. He let me have the freedom I needed.

The Adams basement was increasingly inadequate for the growing photographic interest on campus. Tom Brown was right next to me with the latest cameras and tips. He did well enough until the night he put six rolls into the fix instead of the developer, creating perfectly clear film. Those are the learning moments. Tom was my closest campus buddy, whose Greenwich, Connecticut mansion I visited a couple of times, He had wealth, but it just made him a bigger target in the divorce wars of the 70s and 80s.

Tom helped make alumni contacts who funded the construction of a darkroom on the second floor of the Union, next to the radio station. It was a beautiful space, with custom sinks and the latest equipment, a monument to the revival of photography at Bowdoin, in which I played a role along with John McKee, a French professor whose environmental exhibit, “As Maine Goes” was getting worldwide acclaim. When I came to Bowdoin, there was no darkroom, no club, nothing. Now there was a shiny new darkroom at the center of campus which I had helped create. I never used the place, joke-named "The Dave Wilkinson Memorial Darkroom."