Archive for December, 2010

2010 in Review

December 27, 2010

I felt like 2010 was a year when a lot of things clicked for me photographically. I started off the year going to California for two months. In part it was an excuse to escape the unbearable summer heat of Buenos Aires [in Jan. & Feb.] My aunt & uncle were selling the small town newspaper that had belonged to my grandparents and great grandparents. I decided it would be a cool project to go there and document the newspaper, their lives and the town.

Patty in the mailroom at the Dinuba Sentinel

At the newspaper my attention kept getting drawn to this massive copy camera. It got into my head to try to use the camera to make portraits of the newspaper’s staff.

Betty from series 'Dinuba Sentinel Portraits'

It worked altho it was an exhausting experience [go check out my long post detailing all the technical nitty gritty]. I really pushed myself, learned a ton and did something I totally wasn’t expecting to do at the start. It was a great experience all around.

I returned to Buenos Aires in March and started up with two workshops one run by Eduardo Gil and the other by Nacho Iasparra. Whereas in previous years I had taken more technical courses I decided I wanted more free time to work on projects. I’m not saying my technical education is complete but I was looking for advice that was more aesthetic than technical.

In March that I started my Lungs | Pulmones series. I was frustrated with how flat the city is and how you can never get any perspectives or vistas. I had also long been fascinated with the interior spaces of city blocks, which tend to be left open [hence the name ‘pulmon’ or ‘lung’]. I was interested in these spaces which are neither private nor public but this kind of shared secret amongst the residents of each particular block.

from the series 'Lungs | Pulmones'

I spent a lot of time [and I still do] networking friends and friends of friends for access into these apartments. Very often, even after seeing my photos, people are unsure if their view is right for me. They’ll say things like ‘but my view is very ugly, you should really go all the way up to the roof.’ It’s then that my ears prick up because usually it’s a very good view for this project.

In May I started Ochava Solstice. The idea had been kind of kicking around in my head for a couple of years. I’d done various test shots with my digital camera and slowly noted street corners around the city which had these triangular shadows. I knew I wanted to do it well with a large format camera and perspective correction. It was just a matter of waiting for a sunny day and going out and shooting it.

from 'Ochava Solstice'

I quickly discovered that about half the street corners I had identified weren’t quite what I was looking for. Often, however, I discovered more corners in the vicinity and thus I was able to keep working on the project. I walk around Buenos Aires a lot but this project really had me walking around in circles, obsessively through the same few neighborhoods over and over again.

I also really ramped up my portrait taking that I had started in 2009. At first I was taking these black & white portraits in my apartment with a neutral background. I decided I wanted to work in color and use backgrounds of the city. I wanted to keep the tight cropping of a portrait but also have their be some sense that you’re seeing a photo from Buenos Aires. I tried to pick out walls that, for me, represented the typical color palate of the city and also worked with the model.

Bryan from series 'Some Guys'

In August I participated in the portfolio review of Festival de la Luz. It was the first time I participated in such an event. I spent a lot of money to get pictures printed up in 40x50cm [16×20″] and a really nice archival box to go with it. It was cool, finally, to see my photos larger than contact prints. The feedback from the reviews was mixed. I think I made just a single good contact and there was one criticism that really sent my head spinning [in a good way], so I suppose it was worth it just for that.

Buenos Aires has a way of getting kind of suffocating. I wanted to go somewhere else in Argentina. I chose Comodoro Rivadavia, this oil town in Patagonia that no tourist ever stops in. I had passed through there on a bus a long time ago. I remember the city had no trees and wasn’t flat. It was perfect for what I was looking for; perspectives and architecture.

House in Comodoro Rivadavia

The pictures look really great. I’m not sure where to take this, however. It’s too far from Buenos Aires and too expensive for me to go there frequently. I’m also not sure what the story or idea is I would be getting at.

These last months of the year I have basically been at cruising altitude, busy working on the Pulmones, Ochava and Portraits series. I actually have a ton of new stuff that I haven’t scanned yet.

Recently I’ve been trying to put my work out there a bit more. I emailed Aline Smithson of Lenscratch. She liked my work and published a long post featuring my work. More recently Emiliano Granado interviewed me for the site Too Much Chocolate. It was a really good experience to write down all the things I was thinking about in terms of my approach and concerns.

In terms of my personal life, this year I also broke up with my boyfriend of two years. We had moved to Argentina together for visa reasons. While I like the photographs I am now taking in Buenos Aires, I’m not sure that I can justify living here just for that. I’m not done with my Ochava project so I will be spending more time here in 2011 but I’m also planning on doing a lot more travel, in a sort of non-directional sort of way, and try to figure out what’s next.

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Chalet 2010

December 23, 2010

My Chalet Houses project was the first thing I pursued with any degree of seriousness here in Buenos Aires. I started in late 2008 and spent a good portion of the winter of 2009 wandering around different neighborhoods looking for these odd implants from another continent.

This past winter [I’m talking about June & July] I had a few cloudy days here and there to go out and continue the series. One day while walking in a borderline sketchy neighborhood of Avellaneda, I found this glorious house:

"Birth of a Chalet" in Avellaneda

I felt like I was witnessing the birth of a chalet. Finally I could understand where these rare creatures were born. I once had an astronomy professor say that if you took a complete image of all human activities in a single moment you could, if you were a space alien, lets say, piece together the entire cycle of life and death. He was making an analogy for our own observation of the skies, so fleeting on the scale of astronomical time. I remembered this as I saw this house and thought that perhaps my endless walks around the city and suburbs were, perhaps, leading to some gestalt view of the city that transcended time.

I’m maybe getting a little deep here. The reality is both more mundane and more telling. As it turned out a neighbor was sweeping the sidewalk and asked me what I was up to [this happens a lot]. I got to talking to her and she explained that the house belonged to a couple that had a nasty fight and broke up. The title to the house has been tied up in courts for years and así quedó.

Bicentennial Chalet

2010 was also Argentina’s bicentennial. People always put out flags around May 25th [the date of their first rebellion against Spanish rule] but this year was much more than usual. What I like about the Chalet-style houses in Buenos Aires is their sense of placelessness, despite them being ulta-porteño. I love the little flags as indicators of time and place.

Chalet 'in situ'

In showing my Chalets around to people, one of the things that people responded to was the context of the site and the absurdity of these little mountain cottages being sandwiched into the urban fabric of flat Buenos Aires. When I first began the series I was really just fascinated with the aesthetics of chalet-style architecture. This year I really focused more on the context. I found myself walking over and over again in dense neighborhoods closer to the city center where I was more likely to find houses like this one. Chalet houses in Argentina are like ranch homes in California. They’re everywhere. The challenge is finding one with no cars parked in front of it.

Chalet in Burzaco, Zona Sur, 2009

I also spent a lot of this year taking the train out to random places in the conurbano of Buenos Aires, as its suburbs are known and just taking pictures of stuff. Of course I found lots of Chalets. The one above is from one of my first soujourns to the edge of the city last year. In these cases it becomes less about the context of the site and more about the particularities of the house itself [and what it implies about the tastes and economic status of its occupants]. Here’s one from this year:

Chalet top in Lanus

Layers of taste in residential construction are, literally, laid one on top of another. If the first photo is the “birth of a chalet,” this one is a sort of mutation, a compromise. It represents perfectly the competition between status and efficiency.

Dinuba 8×10

December 21, 2010

Palm Drive in Dinuba, CA, in the Tule fog

Today is the summer solstice for the southern hemisphere. In Buenos Aires it’s humid and almost 97 degrees F. I hate it. I guess it’s part of my anti-social personality that I dislike the heat and would rather be someplace cool [Northern California cool, not Canada cold]. Back in January I left Buenos Aires and went to Dinuba, California, this small town near Fresno where my mom grew up. My aunt & uncle were selling the town’s newspaper and I wanted to document this business that had been in the family almost 100 years before it went away [and also to escape the heat of Argentina’s summer].

I had this vague idea of driving around the town and taking lots of pictures with an 8×10 camera, pretending I was Joel Sternfeld or something. In the end I got sucked into this idea of making portraits of the newspaper’s staff with this massive copy camera, which I did [see my post on all the technical aspects].

That said, I did spend a decent amount of time waking up a dawn and driving in circles around the town looking for stuff to take pictures of. Since it’s too hot in Argentina for me to enjoy much being outside I’ve been sitting in my apartment today and going through old photos and scanning them. I know this sounds crazy but 55 degrees F and buried in winter Tule fog in the California Central Valley seems really appealing right now.

Here’s a few scans of contact sheets from said soujourns:

Flooded dog park on the northern edge of town

98 Cent Mostly store and mural on the corner of Tulare & K streets

Suspended tract house development

And here are a few pictures from the Dinuba Sentinel itself:

Patty in the mailroom

Graphic film negatives of page layouts from the 1990s

1919 edition of the Dinuba Sentinel

Federico Condado’s Videos

December 18, 2010

One of the participants in the Mesa de Luz I blogged about in the last post is Federico Condado. In addition to his photography, Condado makes these really interesting videos where he slices pixels from a sequence of frames to generate these odd but fascinating videos of street scenes in Buenos Aires.

I asked Federico to comment on how he makes these videos and he had the following to say [the translation is mine]:

I set up a tripod and shoot a 2 or 3 minute video. This is the original video. Then, with a program that I made [I’m a programmer by profession], I create the final video. Each frame in the final video contains different parts of the original video. So, for example, what’s happening at the bottom of the screen happened after what’s shown above… The deformations depend on the speed of the object. Generally what isn’t moving looks normal.

Seriously, there’s are really cool. Go check out his webpage which has several of these videos, bring up comfortable chair and spend a few minutes tripping out to their beautiful weirdness.

Mesa de Luz

December 16, 2010

Last Saturday I participated in a Mesa de Luz [light table] where the participants of Nacho Iasparra’s workshops [myself included] put out prints on a table, rented two kegs of good beer, and invited a bunch of people to come over and look at them.

Two pictures from my Pulmones series on the wall

pile of photos by Matías Sinigoi

pile of photos by Fernando Araldi

Nacho Iasparra

pile of photos by Darío Schvarzstein

pile of photos by Andrés Kuzmanich

viewers checking out participants´photo books

My piles of photos

I figured I’d use it as an opportunity to show new stuff I haven’t put up on the web yet. I had two piles, one a series of portraits of guys [in 6×6!!] and the other photos of a certain type of landscape in Buenos Aires. I’m not ready to pull back the curtain on either of these yet so I’ll say no more but here’s a couple of images from each group.

Pablo

Avenida General Paz

Here’s a list of all the participants with a link to their website or flickr if I could find one.

Arte x Arte Biennial – Stuff I liked

December 12, 2010

Arte x Arte [that’s Spanish for “Art for Art”] is a photography gallery that is currently showing their biennial of contemporary Argentine photography. It’s a huge survey with several dozen, mostly young photographers represented. Their website is down at the moment but they’re located at Lavalleja 1062 and I think they open at 1pm. I’m guessing the show should be up this whole month and perhaps in January too.

Here’s some stuff that I liked. It’s obviously my own tastes and not representative at all of the overall selection:

Denise Giovaneli

A gorgeous twilight building by Denise Giovaneli. It makes me want to throw out my big cameras and just shoot 35mm.

Eloy Vallejo

Eloy Vallejo does staged photographs. This one is called “Winter Vacation” and features a rather depressing suburban scene.

Fabian Ramos

This self-portrait by Fabian Ramos reminded me a little of the Maske series by Phyllis Galembo currently making its away around the blogosphere.

German Ruiz

One of German Ruiz’s cute dogs I blogged about a couple of weeks ago. I liked how the print was hung on two little pins inside the glass frame. It’s a whimsical gesture that goes well with the subject matter.

German Ruiz

Ivo Aichenbaum

Ivo Aichenbaum shoots McMansions in Patagonia.

Juan Guillermo Peña

There wasn’t a whole lot of un-staged social scenes present. This photo by Juan Guillermo Peña was one exception.

Julian Rodriguez

This really cool, long exposure, nightscape by Julian Rodriguez was the only traditional black & white fiber print in the whole show.

Lena Szankay

Lena Szankay took home the big prize with this photo of the interior of an old photo studio in a small town.

Oliver Kornblihtt

I like Oliver Kornblihtt’s series of big box retail stores. I was accused of only featuring photographers who use film on this blog. I pointed to this photo to defend myself. I’m not so much against digital as I am against bad Photoshopping.

I’ve tried to link to each photographer’s website but sometimes they can be hard to find. Feel free to leave a link in the comments.

My photos scare dogs

December 7, 2010

My friend Eric sent me the following video. Eric is a friend of mine in Fresno who did me the huge favor of taking down my Dinuba Sentinel Portraits and is currently storing them at his apartment. Unfortunately they are freaking out his pet chihuahua Ziggy:

These portraits are exactly life-size and incredibly detailed due to the fact that they are contact prints from very large negatives [12×20″ to be exact]. You can read more about the series in this post. I can understand how a flat, colorless, odorless person could be disturbing to a dog. I love the fact that my portraits provoke reaction in dogs even.

Dinuba Sentinel Portraits

Ultimate Camera Porn

December 1, 2010

I know it’s not cool to obsess over equipment but scratch lightly and any photographer quickly turns into a camera geek. I taught myself how to use large format cameras by reading threads on LFphoto.info.  Although, the site is  dominated by heterosexual, white, male landscape photographers, I don’t care. It’s an incredible resource. I remember when I first started to research big cameras the array of formats, names, accessories and lens types was bewildering.

I recently discovered the epic thread from several years ago that has broken all records and remains active. The title, Show off your camera, invites users to post pictures of their gear in the wild. Besides the sheer erotic thrill of seeing so much gear, the thread is actually extremely useful for seeing various types of brands and formats in use, in context. Here are a few sample images I can’t resist posting:

"Stupid Cartoon" by Mark Sawyer

ULF Camera guru Richard Ritter shows off 76 inches of bellows draw. How many centimeters is that?

Joel Brown takes the term "Camera Porn" literally. Kinda reminds me of the famous tennis poster.

The "male gaze" in photography

Monty McCutchen shows off his G-rated 20x24" Ebony

Andrew Vincent shows off a sleek 4x5" Technika with full movements. Sort of looks like a Terminator robot on the prow.

Jeremy Moore demonstrates how to achieve "front rise" using a medium format camera. Note the sandals. I'm always denting the roofs of my rental cars (fortunately the companies rarely check the roofs)

Here’s my own contribution to the thread:

My Wehman 8x10 balanced precariously over a model