2009 in Review

December 28, 2009

I usually don’t like year-end review blog posts but I was inspired by Dalton Rooney’s post to do just that, except that I’m going to start in 2008, with this photo:

Ally, October 2008

In October of 2008 I started shooting large format again. I say again because I’d actually acquired an 8×10 and a 4×5  view camera all the way back in 2002.  I used them occasionally until I moved into a tiny apartment in Manhattan and focused my life elsewhere.

I wanted to take portraits. Back in 2001 and 2002 I’d shot portraits in my apartment in Brooklyn. Here’s my dad in 2002, for instance:

My dad, 2002

Right away I liked the results with the large format camera [a Busch Pressman 4×5 outfitted with a modern 210mm lens]. I like looking at pictures of other people. If they’re people that I know, even better. I like taking pictures of friends and family because even if they’re never going to be interesting to other people, they’ll still be interesting to me.

Not too long after that I got a used Mamiya 7 on ebay for a good price. It’s a great camera for walking around the city. It’s about the same size as my dSLR but was actually cheaper and gives me a 6x7cm negative. I went and revisited chalet-style houses that I’d featured on my other blog with the idea of doing a series/typology. I figured it would, at least, be a good excercise.

Chalet Style House in Buenos Aires, January 2009

I was interested in Chalet style houses because they’re everywhere in Buenos Aires and yet I’d never seen them in any images I’d seen of the place. People here  view them as an imported style [which, originally, they are]. But like ranch homes or McMansions, they’ve become a local style. There’s some really fantastic ones like this mega-Chalet in Flores near Rivadavia and Nazca:

Mega-Chalet in Flores, January 2009

I spent a lot of the southern hemisphere winter walking around Flores, Caballito, Villa del Parque and other outlying neighborhoods taking pictures of Chalet style houses. The series, as it stands now, is here on my website.

I would usually only go out and take pictures on cloudy days since it made the details of the architecture easier to see. This meant that on sunny days I’d mope around, depressed because I had nothing to take pictures of. I started taking taking pictures of corner vegetable stands. They’re usually in the shade so sun wasn’t an issue. Here’s one I liked:

Verduleria on Avenida Medrano in Almagro

I shot a few rolls with an old Mamiya C220 that I also own. I thought the 6×6 format would give the series a more formal look. Eventually, though, I didn’t like the photos enough. I’ve put the series on hold and I still mope around on sunny days.

In April I returned to California to visit my family. Since I really liked the portraits I was taking with the 4×5 camera, I took out my 8×10 camera from storage and brought it back down with me to Buenos Aires. The camera is a Calumet C-2, affectionately known as the Green Monster for its size and weight. The camera had been in storage for six years. Before storing it I don’t think I had taken more than half a dozen photos of which only one was actually in focus. The first picture I took with the camera upon returning was of my boyfriend Vagner:

Vagner, May 2009

I was overjoyed that the photo was in focus and properly exposed. Working with an 8×10 camera is a pain in the ass. It’s big, heavy, tedious and expensive. The only plus is the photos. Oh, the photos… Still, I think I had to make every possible mistake at least once.

Graciela, June 2009

It didn’t help that the camera was a piece of junk. I ruined a bunch of photos because the rear standard didn’t hold the film holder tightly in place, leading to light leaks like those in the photo above. I kept thinking it was the film holders that were the culprit. Eventually I realized I needed to hold the glass and the holder tightly together while pulling out and inserting the dark slide. That solved the problem but of course, I made lots of other mistakes too:

Pablo, July 2009

I usually shoot in natural light. My apartment gets this great direct sunlight in the afternoon. I put a bedsheet over my living room windows and I’ve got this giant softbox. Unfortunately in winter the sun goes down at 5pm, which is breakfast time for most Argentines on weekends. Pablo showed up two hours late and so I decided to use a flash and umbrella. To save battery power I made test shots  on my digital camera at 1/8th power with the intention of increasing to full power for the 8×10 shot. I forgot to up the power so the photo came out 3-stops under exposed. I’ll admit, the result has kind of an interesting effect to it, but it sure wasn’t my intention.

Eventually I worked out most of the kinks and now most of my pictures are coming out in-focus and correctly exposed. Now, however, I’ve started to run out of friends and family to photograph. I’ve started recruiting people for portraits:

Emmanuel, November 2009

I’ve started on a couple of series but it’s slow going. The portraits on my home page are actually a mixture of friends and people I’ve met for the purpose of photographing them.

Meanwhile I’ve continued to wander around the city when I can with my Mamiya 7. I still photograph Chalets when I find a particularly good one but I’m also interested in other stuff too:

Apartment building garden on Paraguay & Ravignani

LaFerrere & Espartaco in Flores

Building on Martin Pescador in Villa del Parque

In October I decided I needed to cross the city limits and take more pictures in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The conurbano, as it’s known, has a bad reputation for crime and I do think about the sanity of what I’m doing [most of my local friends tell me I’m crazy]. Basically I’d pick a train line, ride out to some random stop and, if the area didn’t look too pesado, I’d walk 5 or 10 blocks into the neighborhood. Here’s a few pictures:


Car and house in Santos Lugares

Taxi agency in Burzaco

I used the Mamiya C220 because it’s older and cheaper and I’d miss it less if it got stolen. I’m not crazy about the square format however and I now regret not having shot these with the Mamiya 7. These photos are part of my Buenos Aires Hybrids series on my website. Really, though, I think these photos are part of a much larger project documenting the greater Buenos Aires area. Each of these photos is the beginning of a series in and of itself. This will be a focus for me in 2010.

Now what really excites me is shooting 8×10 in color. Back in July I packed up the green monster and the tripod and took the 55 bus to Caballito to take this photograph of Graciela, the mother of a friend of mine. It was the first color photo I took with the 8×10 and also the first time I took it outside of my apartment:

Graciela, July 2009

Looking at the contact print was really seductive, even more so than black and white. As I like to tell people, it’s like a drug only more expensive. Between film and processing each photo costs me about $20. Also, the film isn’t available in Argentina so I have to rely on a network of friends to bring me film from the US. Also, the Calumet C2 is really more of a car camera. It’s just too big and heavy to lug around the city in a backpack. I returned to the US again in September and bought a Wehman 8×10, a light weight field camera that weighs about half of what the Calumet does.

And so now I’m actively looking for people and places to photograph. Here’s a couple of my friend Andres just recently:

Andres on his balcony in Villa Crespo, December 2009

Andres' consultorio (he's a psychologist)

I also want to do more more portraits on the street:

Carlos, November 2009

Meanwhile during 2009 I shot stories for The Argentimes, learned about photojournalism (amongst other classes that I took), helped out with a friend’s fashion production, started shooting small commercial jobs, and totally redesigned my website (the biggest part of which was getting my negatives scanned, for which I have to thank Diego at Luxel).

I’m excited about the coming year I think my goals for 2010 are pretty clear; more conurbano, more 8×10 in color.

3 Responses to “2009 in Review”

  1. That was fun to read and also probably good practice for your future speaking engagements. I came across your work last week somehow and was instantly brought back to BsAs. I lived in La Plata for a while and so many of your photos look they could be there too. Bests _ W

  2. Jim T. Says:

    Been checking your site for four or five years now. Always good photos and interesting things. Hope your 2010 is great.

  3. Dalton Says:

    Your urban work is inspiring, and I love the color 8×10 portraits. The one of Graciella is especially beautiful. Best wishes for 2010!

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