Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Friend Jack Comes Through

Jack came through big time. He sent me 2 large boxes of darkroom gear from Prince Edward Island, I picked it up at my friend Larry's shop today. I have a ton of extra lens (more than 10), 3 grain focuser's (two are the expensive high end ones).  I got a bunch of condensers for the Durst 1200 along with diffusion boxes (femobox) and 2 carriers! I even got anti newton glass for the carriers. To bad I am bidding on some glass now and bought another piece for $90 USD recently. I also bought a Durst 1200 carrier for $74 USD. To bad I bought those things Jack came thou and sent me everything I was lacking. I now have 3 carriers and enough glass to make 2 1/2 glass carriers (if I win an auction currently on Ebay).

There were also all kinds of odds and ends in the boxes that will be useful.

- Scissors
- Exacto knife
- Photo paper
- Thermometer
- Safelight filters
- 6x9 neg carrier
- Lens tissue
- Patterson printing texture screen
- 2 plastic loupes
- Extra bulbs
- Old style timer and 2 foot switches
- Various cords
- Enlarger lens boards (6 or 7)
- 1 triple enlarger lens board rotating style
- Couple of 4x5 sheet hangers
- Cleaning clothes

One of my favourite items is a big end grain focuser with an extended neck. I will not have to bend down as much and use my monkey arms to focus my new now. Another highlight item is a 240mm Rodenstock enlarger lens with board I can use with the 8x10 enlarger. I also got 2-210mm lens.

I am going to try to set up the condenser head for the Durst 1200 tonight. If that does not work I will revert to the colour head which I know will work.

I have everything I need times 2 or 3. Now its time to use maybe the best equipped darkroom in Edmonton (Alberta?) to do some high end quality printing for the coming group show. I got the negs, I got the darkroom, I got the gear, and I got the photo paper. No excuses lets dive in and print.


Monday, September 15, 2014

First Dad With Ring Light

Here is my first head shot attempt with the ring flash and the Mark II. Dad looks kind in this photo. My whole life whenever I needed him for anything he was always there for me. You can kind of see that softness in his eyes, the soft heart he had inside to cover a sometimes gruff exterior outside. With dad it was always the kids first and himself second. It is one the reasons I want to do a book of 5x7 camera portraits of children living in poverty, dad always worries about the children, and helping them. Whenever we watched a documentary or news stories with suffering children in it dad would say "Why do they make the kids if they can't take care of them?" Must have heard him say that more than a dozen times through the years. I might put that quote in the forward of the book, where I give dad his dedication. Dad always felt it was so important to take care of his/your kids, to be there for them whenever and help them with whatever they needed.

I added some contrast, clarity and vibrancy in photo shop elements. I also played around a bit with the colour curves. The background was a nice red that went dark after my manipulations, I think if I was printing this photo seriously I would keep the red tones in. I also have the option of shooting at different light ratios with this flash unit. The flash is not a true ring flash it is actually two separate flash units placed side by side. I might try different light ratios in the coming day to see what that looks like. This photo was made with straight on flat even ring type light. I shot it at about 40mm up close to try and create a bit of distortion for visual effect.

Dad September 14 2014, ring light and Mark II

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quotes: Frank Hurley (Photographer)

 Hurley was always searching to make the perfect photograph, he would go to any length to achieve that perfection. The first quote below was written by Hurley on his Antarctic darkroom wall.

"Near enough is not good enough."

 Hurley made photographs his whole life and died at 76, this is what he said near the end.

"I've eaten raw seal meat and caviar. I've drunken melted and ice and champagne. I've lived the life that suited me took risks and did not complain. If I could live my life over again I would do it all exactly the same."

Photo Story: Inside Klong Toey Slum Home

This photo was included in my "The Train Is Coming" solo show at the Kaasa Gallery in 2012.

"The Train Is Coming" Opening Night Video At The Kaasa Gallery

This picture was made in Bangkok's Klong Toey slum, in the home of one of the slums richer residents. I photographed the inside of the owners home and the owner as well as he watched TV. The home was owned by an older man and his wife who was sleeping as I visited. The thing I remember most is that I had a conversation with the man about the corrupt Thai police in the area. The owner (forget his name now, it is on the blog somewhere) told me that the police had arrested his son for drug use and that if he had enough money to pay them a bribe the young man would have gotten off but he did not have the money so his son went to jail. I guess the way it works is the taller the arrested person is the more the bribe cost (taller means they are older). I  also photographed the owner in front of his home (picture int he Kaasa show as well), he made a living by collecting bottles on his motorbike. He was a very nice and friendly fellow to me. The kings picture is very common in Thai homes, you can see him in the calendar on the wall next to the fridge. Thais love their king with good reason he does lots to help the ordinary people of Thailand. This view is rather typical of what you will find in most Thai homes, a TV, rice cooker, photo of the king and beat up old fridge. The house was kept in pretty decent order, very clean, I made sure I took off my shoes on entering. I was welcomed in with open arms and a smile by a man who did not even know me, try doing that in the West!

I want to do more household interiors in the future, they are visually compelling and important documentary images. On a tech note the pic was made with a Fuji 6x9 camera and Tri-x 120 with a bit of direct flash.

Update: Here is the original story from 2010, this blog was written just after I made this picture. I did not include the mans whole name in this blog entry to protect him in case the police or someone else read the story and was angry about what he had told me regarding bribery. The link gives much more information than I remembered, thank goodness for the blog, everything you write is stored for future reference. A good learning tool and fun to do besides.

Original Blog Entry

Klong Toey slum home interior, 2010

Photo Story: Bangkok Security Guard

I made this picture back during my 10 month trip to Thailand in 1999. The photo was made on Sukhumvit road in Bangkok during my nightly prowling. I used to walk the streets with 2 Mamiya 6 cameras and flash doing photos of sex workers and other night time workers and groups. Everything was shot on Tri-x, unfortunately I got some kind of reticulation from the Bangkok water when I developed the many of the films I had a small darkroom set up in my Bangkok apartment and much of the film was damaged during the development process maybe during the initial pre-soak which I extended to long at times. 

This man was a security guard at one of the the smaller hotels on the road. I love the blase, bemused, tired expression and the off kilter tie. I have never tried printing this photograph but might give it an attempt in my later years. I work security so have an affinity to photographing other guards (lots of weird looking uniforms), maybe a future series subject, series idea 999! Maybe shot with the new Mark II 5D and ring flash at night in colour.

Security guard on Sukhumvit road 1999, Bangkok Thailand

Frank Hurley Photographer

Frank Hurley was the photographer on the ill fated Shackleton expedition. At one point before the expeditions ship the Endurence sank he risked his life diving into freezing Antarctic water to get his glass negatives. You got to love that! The survivors would say later that he went to any length to make his photographs and films. Here is a link to a bit of his life's story. He became a war photographer in 1917 after his escape from Antarctica. The high quality work he created using the very primitive photographic tools he had is rather amazing, His extreme determination and hard work is an inspiration to us all. He didn't make excuses he just made photographs.


Photographer Frank Hurley
Elephant island party Shackleton expedition members around 1916 by Frank Hurley
Chateau Wood Ypres 1917 WWI by Frank Hurley

Quote-Links: "Shackleton" Film

"Find a way or make one."

From the script of the TV movie "Shackleton". The quote refers to the men's determination to survive their doomed Antarctic crossing in 1914. I think the quote fits much of life's difficulties (at least in the Western countries), no excuses, none of the I cannot do this or that BS. "Find a way to do it or make a way to do it." If your determined enough and work hard enough you can accomplish most anything, it usually comes down to desire and not giving up when things are stacked against you.

Here is a link to the 2 part A&E movie if your interested. Shackleton was made in 2002 with a wonderful performance by Kenneth Branagh and others. I love how the expeditions photographer Frank Hurley plays a central roll and is a bit of a hero in it all. It is because of his great work that much of the Shackleton Expedition is remembered, the power of photographs and film.


A Link to some of Hurley's photographs.


A documentary on the Shackleton expedition using much of Hurley's footage.


The expedition ship Endurance stuck in crushing Antarctic ice by Frank Hurley 1914

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Hardest Part

The hardest part of the "Lost Innocence" series is not all the tech stuff I have been discussing over the  last few days. The thing that is most difficult is entering the brothel world again. I did this in 1999 two times and 2003 a few times and those memories still haunt me. I can still see those lost souls when I close my eyes, the desperation, the waste, the destroyed lives. Going back and living that again is not something I look forward to doing, but if I do not do that then how are the photos made? If I do not enter those worlds the photos are probably not made and the stories are probably not told. The people that would have had been remembered at least a little through the pictures might never be recognized, the workers would most likely be used up and quickly forgotten then replaced by the next generations. It is a never ending cycle of abuse.

This first picture below is of a girl working a brothel in Poi Pet Cambodia shot in 2003. I forget the workers name, I will have to look it up in my records. I remember I photographed her 2 times and both times she seemed drugged. She had this vacant stare that said all you needed to know about the brothel, she was there but totally gone, totally used up, so young but so old. In front of the brothel where she worked maybe 10 women/girls were sitting in the dark under the pink brothel lights their faces painted white and red waiting for Cambodian  customers. All the workers were so worn out, beat down many used drugs probably to dull their pain. Cambodian males paid $2-4USD for service often arriving 2 at a time on motorbikes. Cambodian slang for going to a brothel was "Lets go invade Vietnam!" (many brothel workers are illegal Vietnamese people).

Vietnamese brothel working Poi Pet Cambodia 2003
One night I visited and was sitting behind the seated workers looking for customers. I sat with the mama and papason and other family members nursing a can of coke I paid $5 USD for. I was trying not to get kicked out of the place. I practiced some Khmer language skills with them and wrote stuff down in my little Khmer dictionary. The brothel owners (husband and wife) whole family lived together with the workers, they also had a young daughter and grandchild. I do not think their daughter went with customers. The Vietnamese and Cambodian workers were not much older than than the owners daughter. I kept on thinking "How can you sell these girls? You would not do that to your own daughter, why can you do it with these others??"  One kind girl from the brothel showed me marks on her body where the mamason had beaten her with a bamboo stick or hanger. She had 3 or 4 huge long welts on her upper legs.

What happened to them all after I left in 2003? How many are still alive? This Poipet brothel is the saddest place I ever made photographs, I am not looking forward to going back to those type worlds again.

The second photo is of Tan I still can remember the day I photographed her clearly even thou it was around 14 years ago back in 1999. I was very nervous and uncomfortable in that brothel area, Tan saw that  as I was walking by and took my hand, she walked me to a local area where they had rooster fighting stalls, a place they held those matches for gambling. I took her photo later on in the same day and visited her another time after that. On the second visit I remember just sitting with the girls from Tan's brothel outside next door to where they worked, we ate something and there was a small pet bird they had, a a beautiful thing that just flipped about outside its cage, the girls played with it. I think I photographed that bird with the girls or beside the girls, have to check back into my old negative binders.

Tan Vietnamese brothel worker in Svay Pak Cambodia 1999
Both these woman are probably gone now. With little or no protection from HIV and other diseases, with little or no medical care when they get sick, they are probably both gone. These two girls whose lives were destroyed by the brothels is the reason I must force myself to go back into that ugly and dangerous world. Stories like theirs happen daily all over South East Asia to thousands, tens of thousands maybe hundreds of thousands of lives, someone needs to record their lives, to tell their stories, to remember them.

It seems so much easier to be a photographer who takes pictures of rocks and trees like most folks I know. You don't get nightmares from taking pretty and pleasant landscapes. The thing is I do not want to do the same same photography everyone else does so I guess being haunted is part of that bargain. Maybe having the memories of the workers in the brothels is a good thing, those memories are pushing me to continue telling their stories.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"Lost Innocence" Thought, Dreams?

As I was walking my security rounds I thinking through the project. I need to humanize the workers more, photos are not enough. I need to learn personal information to connect the viewer with the subject more. If I can make the viewer think of the person in terms of their own lives, their own girlfriends, sisters, wives, daughters then the project would have greater impact. I need to find out personal info on each of the workers I photograph. How many sisters, brothers they have, their hometown, age (they sometime lie about this), their hopes, their thoughts, maybe a quote and of course their names. The quote might be the most powerful extra I could add.

The problem is of course language. If they speak English Thai or Laotian (similar to Thai) I will not have to much of a problem but I only know a few words of Burmese and Khmer and no Vietnamese or hill tribe dialects. Maybe a translator is the answer thou working with others always brings about extra baggage. I am used to doing 100% of everything myself, its been me, myself, and I on all my photo projects through the years, to bring others in would be difficult for me and problematic.

If I title a photograph "Brothel Worker #1" that's not enough, I can call the photograph brothel worker but I then need to hit the viewer with more personal information, I need them to relate and feel for the subject more. Maybe I can ask the worker what her dreams are, what she would wish for if she could.

The combination of the close powerful portrait and that persons name, age and dream quote could really work well. Imagine 10-36 inch on the vertical colourful  head shots on a wall. They would be framed in 4 or 5 foot white wood with the personal info and dreams of the subject written large directly on the print . It could all be be very powerful.

I might even be able to have a GoPro video of the making of the pictures at the exhibition so the viewer could hear the subjects own voice, that would really humanize and personalize this work. This could be the most important project I ever create. I wish I could start tomorrow but I first I need to earn the money to pay for everything. No public art folks are going to give me a grant for these photographs, its all up to me, today I work security tomorrow I will create.

"Lost Innocence" Two Visual Options

Tonight I have been thinking of two different ways of shooting the Lost Innocence" series of images. Both series would be ring flash variations on tight close head shots or head and shoulder shots. Am not sure which options works best will have to experiment.

1) Hasselblad ring flash Tri-x, square format images. I would print them onto large tintypes in the wet plate process. I would have to convert the negatives to positives first then use an enlarger to expose the plates. These images would have a unique strong old fashioned type feel to them. I would use larger size tintypes probably 8x10, 11x14 or maybe even 16x20.

2) Canon Mark II colour shots with ring flash, vertical images. I would print these images large, probably 20x24 or maybe even larger (30"+ vertical?) depending on what the image quality can handle. I would go heavy on colour saturation, vibrancy etc in photo shop and print on a glossy sheen type printer paper. Maybe high contrast as well, would have to play with the look.

Hmm do not have the money for it but large white wooden frames and maybe a bright white over mat would also give a nice finishing look to these high gloss colour saturated photos.

Note* Also thinking of taking some black cloth with me when I shoot.  I could tape the cloth to a wall behind the subject to get a uniform neutral background colour for the ring flash light.

Update* Scratch the name and age of the subject into the collodion of the tintype? Or write the name and age of the subject on the colour print with some kind of black or silver permanent felt pen. Do it digitally?