Posts Tagged ‘dinuba’

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

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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

Sentinel Portraits on view at the Alta Historical Society

October 26, 2010

Mike, from the Dinuba Sentinel Portraits

My Dinuba Sentinel Portraits are currently on view at the Alta Historical Society in sunny Dinuba, CA. If you are anywhere in the San Joaquin Valley, you should come check these out. These little jpegs on my website don’t do justice to the 12×20″ contact prints.

The Alta Historical Society is located at 289 South K St. in Dinuba, CA. Their hours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9am to noon and 1-3pm, or by appointment.

Dinuba Sentinel Portraits

October 11, 2010

 

Bob Raison, from Dinuba Sentinel Portraits

 

I recently added a new series to my website, Dinuba Sentinel Portraits. It’s a series of portraits of the employees of the Dinuba Sentinel, a small town newspaper in California that was owned by my aunt & uncle. The portraits were taken with a reproduction camera with 12×20″ negatives and contact printed. Using a camera the size of a truck presented some technical challenges, which I’d like to write a about here.

First a bit of background. Dinuba is a town of about 20,000 people in the San Joaquin Valley, near Fresno. My mom grew up there and while I had never spent a long period of time there, I remembered the place well from childhood visits to my grandmother. My aunt & uncle ran the town’s newspaper. They had inherited it from my grandfather who in turn had inherited it from my great grandfather who had purchased it in 1914. Although this wasn’t public at the time, they wanted to sell the paper. They were both 80 and working full-time. The economic difficulties of the newspaper business weighed on them. I came to Dinuba with the idea to record some of this family history before it disappeared.

 

Photographing the Dinuba Sentinel's archives with my 8x10 camera

 

I started out just photographing the interior of the Sentinel’s offices and printing areas. One of the first things I noticed was this massively huge copy camera that made my 8×10 look like a toy. I wasn’t familiar with these machines. Prior to digital technology they were used to photograph page layouts for the preparation of the offset plates used to print the newspaper. Since it’s a contact printing process, the camera had to be as large as the page.

 

Copy Camera at Dinuba Sentinel

 

The camera has a rail in front of it upon which rests a large copy stand for shooting layouts. The camera was focused to shoot 100% reproductions. A wall bisected the camera and the rear of the camera sat in its own dark room. Sheets of lithographic film would be loaded onto a vacuum plate and exposed and developed right there in the room by Henry, the printer.

 

Vacuum plate back of the copy camera

 

 

Image of page layout on ground glass of copy camera

 

 

Henry, the printer, holding a finished offset plate with full-page pro-life advertisement

 

The most amazing thing was that the camera was still being used to shoot the layouts. “It’s bought and paid for,” my uncle said. Of course I was dying to use the camera. I thought it would be interesting to make portraits of the employees of the newspaper. The idea seemed to contain a reflexive elegance, that is, to use the tools of the production process to make portraits of those who produce the paper itself. I was also just excited to use a really, really big camera. Given that it was still in use, my uncle was reluctant to let me use it for my little project. He finally relented on two conditions: 1) that I didn’t break the camera and 2) nobody got hurt.

My first thought was to use the same lithographic film used to shoot the layouts. It was cheap and available right there. I cut up some sheets to fit inside the holders of my 8×10 camera and did a few tests. Here’s one:

 

8x10 portrait of Kathy, the office manager, with lithographic film

 

The film is very slow. This was rated about ISO 3. The other problem is that the film is binary. There are no gray tones. I think the portrait of Kathy works because the pattern of her sweater approximates the dots of a half-tone screen. The latitude is extremely narrow. Here is a test I did of two 4×5 sheets of John, the sales guy. The difference in exposure is just a single stop.

 

Lthographic film test

 

Notice that white spot behind the subjects head in the photo on the left? It turns totally black in the second photo. Let me repeat this, there is just one stop difference in the exposure of these two pictures. Because of the lack of speed and the narrow latitude I decided to try to shoot these portraits with regular black & white film.

Now the challenge was finding ultra-large format sheet film. Ilford makes all kinds of odd, ultra-large format sizes but you usually have to order 6 months in advance. My flight back to Buenos Aires was just over a month away when I got the idea to do this. I lucked out in that Glazers Camera in Seattle had leftover box of 12×20″ sheets of FP4 in stock. $300 got me a box of 25 sheets. I chose that size because it’s just slightly smaller than the pages of the newspaper itself. Eventually I would like to run a set of these portraits on newsprint.

I figured I needed to do some testing first so one of my trips to LA I stopped by Freestyle and bought cheap 4×5″ film, a developing tank and chemicals. The closest professional lab was 3 hours away by car so I wanted to be able to shoot and develop the tests myself to save time. Plus, the newspaper had its own darkroom which had been sitting unused for nearly ten years. I had never developed my own film before. The slightly exasperated sales clerk helpfully answered all my stupid questions. Here’s an early 4×5 picture which I made just to test the developing tank.

 

Developing guides from the Dinuba Sentinel darkroom

 

The photo shows all these old developing guides pasted on the walls of the darkroom. For this negative I didn’t fill up the tank all the way. It’s good to practice.

Next up was to do an actual test with the copy camera using the black and white film. I went to a thrift store and bought a teddy bear and a scarf, looking for something that had a lot of texture and a range of tones. I set-up him up on a tripod in front of the camera, lit by a couple of halogen work lamps and did a 20 second exposure with a fairly small aperture.

 

Teddy bear portrait

 

Oh yeah, and the bellows on the camera were full of holes. It was easier to just cover the whole thing with some trash bags instead of trying to fix each one. I slid the copy stand all the way back and put up a white sheet as a background. Here’s the result:

 

Teddy Bear Test Shot

 

This photo above is a grid of twelve 4×5″ sheets of film. Using regular black and white film meant I had to work in total darkness. The film is held in place by a vacuum powered back. I laid down gaffer tape on the plate to guide me in the darkness. Still, the vacuum was old and didn’t work well over the entire surface so it was hard to lay down the sheets in an even grid. But this was just a test. It wouldn’t be a problem once I was using the full sized 12×20″ sheets. Once I had these all developed, I laid them out on a light table and shot it with my dSLR, which is how I got the image above. Now it was time to experiment with live models.

 

Modeling for the copy camera

 

Nothing better than being a guinea pig for your own experiments. Notice that I hung string on both sides. This was the plane of focus. Rather than individually focus the camera for each portrait, I left the focus fixed at the 100% reproduction ratio and “focused” my subjects, having them move forwards or backwards so that their eyes lined up with the dangling strings. In a couple of the final photos, static electricity in the subjects’ hair caused the string to enter the frame. It’s hard to anticipate all the things that might go wrong.

I also decided to use strobe lights. I didn’t want to force people to hold still for the time it would take to use hot lights. I didn’t want these to look like 19th century portraits. Here’s what this test looked like:

 

Early test portrait with the copy camera

 

The fractured effect of using multiple sheets of film is interesting but I’m not Chuck Close. I’m happy I scored a box of the big film. You’ll also notice that I messed up the focus on this shot. The depth of field on this lens is razor thin. The camera uses a 19″ lens which is about 500mm. Additionally, the focus is set to do 1-to-1 reproductions so it’s twice its focal length or almost a full meter from the film plane. This makes the depth of field even thinner. I think I shot the above photo at f22 and it looks like the depth of field is only about a centimeter. I decided I needed to shoot these portraits at f64 which meant I needed to rent some really powerful strobe lights.

Actually, I’m leaving something out. With a view camera like this, the closer you focus, the farther away the lens is the from the film and the more you need to adjust the exposure. This is called bellows factor. [Embarrassing personal disclosure: I shot closely focused, large format portraits for nearly a year in total ignorance of bellows factor].  In this case I had to add two stops which meant that, effectively, I needed enough light to shoot at f128. I wasn’t even sure if this was possible with commercially available lights.

I drove to San Francisco and rented a 2400 watt-second system from Pro Camera Rental. They assured me it would be enough light for whatever my needs might be. The must have wondered what I was smoking when I said I needed to shoot at f128. The girl who gave me the equipment seemed annoyed and answered my newbie questions with a slight air of condescension, impatient at having to deal with this hobbyist.

I returned to Dinuba, set up the lights, set-up a jerry-rigged bench and a background. Here’s a behind the scenes video I made of the whole set-up

As you can see in the video, it’s two flash heads with nothing more than a sheet of tissue for diffusion, placed just a couple of feet from where the people were sitting. I did a test shot on my uncle. The flash was so bright that he became concerned the light would cause permanent eye damage. We ended up consulting the town’s ophthalmologist at the weekly Rotary Club lunch. He assured us that there was no danger. I found it helped to leave the modeling lights on full power. It constricted the models’ pupils prior to the flash and thus blinded them less.

Now it was time to take the photos for real. I took just one shot of each person. I got lucky in that nobody blinked. The shutter of the camera was connected to the lights on the copy-stand so I actually had to manually open the shutter, pop the flash and then close the shutter in discrete steps. Actually, all the steps for taking the photo were a little complex, so I wrote down a list. It read:

  • Seat the model and explain process [esp. vacuum noise]
  • Practice “focusing” model [ie. aligning them with focus strings]
  • Enter darkroom, close door, turn off lights
  • Open box of film
  • Place sheet of film on camera vacuum plate
  • Close box of film
  • Turn on vacuum engine
  • Close camera back
  • Leave darkroom
  • Align subject with focus points
  • Tell them to hold still
  • Open shutter
  • Pop flash
  • Close shutter
  • Help subject recover from momentary blindness
  • Enter darkroom again, close door, make sure lights are off
  • Open camera back
  • Turn off vacuum engine
  • Store exposed film in box, below envelop containing unexposed film
  • Close box
  • Double-check that box is closed
  • Turn on lights, take a breath, relax

This sounds like a lot but the whole process didn’t take more than 5 minutes. I took all the portraits over the course of just two days as various employees came and went and had free time to sit. I didn’t give too much direction to people in terms of what to wear. Some employees were very casual, while others clearly dressed up for the occasion. I let them decide for themselves how to appear.

Now I had to develop the negatives. Did I mention that prior to this project I had never developed film? Actually, I had everything I needed right there in the darkroom; big trays and chemicals. I stayed late that first night and developed one negative in the darkness. It came out fine. Still, I didn’t have any place for it to dry properly. I figured this wasn’t a step to be cheap on. I posted on the Large Format Photography Forum [a great resource] and someone recommended Gamma, a specialized black & white lab in San Francisco. Their home page features a big picture of Ansel Adams, so I figured it must be the right place.

The following Monday I drove back to SF, returned the strobe lights and went to Gamma. I spent a full day with Javier Manrique, their lab technician [and artist], in the darkroom, developing the negatives.The next day I rented a private darkroom at RayKo and made two sets of prints, one for the employees and one for myself. Making nearly 40 contact prints took all day and I was there until closing time, hurriedly drying the last drops with a hair dryer.

And that’s pretty much it.

I had another week in Dinuba and I did do some more experimentation. Eventually I would like to run an edition of the portraits on newsprint, in the same size as the Dinuba Sentinel, perhaps with their masthead. I would like to exhibit the portraits as well as the offset plates with the ink still on them. I played around with photographing the finished portraits with the copy-camera, using some of the long-unused half-tone screens at the paper. Unfortunately none were big enough to cover the full size of the image. The largest one was 14×17″ and I did a test run of the portrait of my aunt Diane.

 

Offset plate going through printer

 

The screen was rough, with only 80 or 100 dots per inch. The plates, warped from being on the printer’s cylinder and heavy with black ink, have a physical presence that compliments the smooth tonality and crazy detail of the photographic prints. I think they could go well together hung in a gallery. Such, anyway, is my hope.

The paper was sold in June to a local business group that owns the newspapers in nearby towns like Sanger, Reedley and Selma. They have their own presses and print their offset plates directly from digital files, as all newspapers do these days, so the camera now sits unused.

Ironically small local papers have suffered less than the big metro dailies. There is no Craigslist for Dinuba (yet) and the newspaper is still pretty much the only game in town for local businesses that want to advertise. The San Joaquin Valley saw one of the biggest booms and biggest busts in the mortgage crisis and Dinuba, like it’s larger neighbors of Fresno, Bakersfield and Stockton, sits ringed by unfinished suburban developments. The legal notices that banks are required by law to publish prior to foreclosing on a property have been an important counter-cyclical source of revenue for small papers up and down the valley. The same was true in the 1930s when my grandfather scraped by on barter deals with local businesses to stay afloat.

I’m grateful to all the employees who sat for the portraits and to my aunt & uncle to let me spend two months poking around their business. I’m proud of these portraits and see them as a way of honoring my mom’s family, the town she grew up in and the business that sustained three generations of the family. In the end I wish I had had more time. I could have done a second iteration and refined the process. But, like the newspaper itself, I had a deadline to meet.

Foreclosure, USA by Kirk Crippens and the fractal nature of San Joaquin Valley towns

March 5, 2010

I was at RayKo in San Francisco this week renting a darkroom and came across the book Foreclosure, USA by Kirk Crippens.

Cover image of Foreclosure, USA by Kirk Crippens

End by Kirk Crippens, image courtesy of the artist

Duplex by Kirk Crippens, image courtesy of the artist

Green Pool by Kirk Crippens, image courtesy of the artist

The images are from Stockton, California, a town in the San Joaquin Valley due east of San Francisco. In the boom years it became a bedroom community for commuters priced out of the Bay Area. Construction boomed with population growth and cheap mortgages, coming to a sudden stop in 2008, leaving many areas unfinished.

The whole of the Central Valley boomed during these years and all the towns lining highway 99 contain subdivisions of similar vintages and in similar states, be it large cities like Sacramento and Fresno or small towns like Selma or Dinuba. There’s a fractal nature to the towns because large or small, they all contain the same urban and suburban features [empty downtowns, Chevron stations, Rabobanks,  Save-Marts, Wal-Marts, craftsman bungalows, post-war schools, dense new subdivisions, etc]. The flatness of the Valley allows the development model of the moment to reproduce itself in a grid-like fashion upon the land in a way that is invariant to scale.

Dinuba has two such unfinished subdivisions each undertaken by mega-home constructors at the peak of the market; Muirfield on the south side of town built by Wathen Castanos and on the west side, Las Casas at Viscaya built by K. Hovnian [HOV, you’ll see their stock is down 94% from its all-time high at the time of this writing, altho it’s up 5x from its crisis low of 85 cents]. The names of the subdivisions are wonderful, too, for capturing the contemporary tastes and aspirations of local home buyers. Though I try, I can’t resist poetic images of decay. Here’s a sampling of my own snapshots from Dinuba:

Muirfield development © Thomas Locke Hobbs

Las Casas at Viscaya at night © Thomas Locke Hobbs

Muirfield in the Tule Fog © Thomas Locke Hobbs

The images in Crippens’ work offer a of west coast, stucco-version of the Detroit-style ruin porn that’s all the rage these days. An exhibit of Crippens’ photographs is currently up at SFMOMA’s Artists Gallery space at Fort Mason in San Francisco until March 12th, 2010. You can also purchase the book on Blurb, altho, unfortunately, Blurb’s prices are outrageous.

The Great Central Valley

February 18, 2010

One of the most amazing photobooks I’ve ever owned is The Great Central Valley, a project by photographers Stephen Johnson and Robert Dawson, along with writer Gerald Haslam. The big, heavy book details the history and geography of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and is accompanied by immaculately printed, large format photographs.

Land Development, Lincoln © Stephen Johnson

A lot of the photos remind me of Richard Misrasch or Joel Sternfeld [early 1980s, large format, color, western landscapes modified by man, etc]. I don’t know why these guys and this book isn’t more well known. Buy it. You can get it used on Amazon for $7 which is a total steal.

Tule Fog

February 11, 2010

I’ve been waking up every day at dawn to go out and photograph. Especially exciting have been the days when the ground is shrouded in thick Tule Fog. Sometimes visibility gets down to a few feet. You feel like you’re in a zombie movie and everything just looks creepy and amazing.

The street outside my Aunt's house

Amputated orchard trees awaiting a graft

Italian Cypress on Palm Dr.

As my aunt said, at least somebody likes it.

Matthew Rangel; a transect – Due East

February 8, 2010

I had the great pleasure of meeting artist Matthew Rangel and seeing in person his stunning collection of prints entitled “a transect – Due East. The set of 12 lithographic prints documents his journey due east from Dinuba, his hometown, into the Sierra Foothills and to the summit of the highest peaks of the Great Western Divide.

Stronghold - Due East from Moro Rock, lithograph ©Matthew Rangel

The concept is a really simple one. Just a few miles east of Dinuba lie the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Usually this view is obscured by the horrible air quality but on those rare days when a winter storm clears out the air, the snowy peaks gleam in the near distance. Inspired by just such a sight, Rangel decided to simply walk east to reach those peaks. Reaching them turned out to be not so simple as it involved crossing a lot of private property. Securing the permission from the various landowners to traverse their lands required several years work.

The prints combine layers of drawings made on the journey, historical and government maps and photographs to create a work that is literally multi-layered and reflects upon this landscape and man’s ownership and modification of it. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the cult of the fine print in the photography world. This work, however, seen in person, best exemplifies the obsessive attention to detail, materials, and meaning. The prints invite and reward close scrutiny and extended viewing.

If you are lucky enough to be in Fresno this month or in March you can see Rangel’s prints on view at the San Joaquin River Parkway & Conservation Trust’s River House. The exhibit opens February 11, 2010 with a reception from 5:30-7:30pm. Also coming up on February 20, 2010, Matthew Rangel is speaking at the Three Rivers Arts Center as part of the Sequoia Speaks series [more info]

Dinuba

January 28, 2010

Dinuba is a small city in California’s San Joaquin Valley. It’s about halfway between Fresno and Visalia and is home to just over 20,000 people. My mom was born and grew up there. My aunt has lived there here entire life and owns the town’s newspaper, the Dinuba Sentinel, having inherited it from my grandfather who in turn took over from his father. The paper turned 100 last year and I’ve come to Dinuba to spend some time in the town and document the paper with my camera.

There’s a lot that’s fascinating about this town. I intned to write about it and this project of mine but I’m not sure just yet what to say. In the meantime, if you’re interested, I’m uploading some snapshots to flickr in a set I created called Dinuba 2010. Here’s a quick sample of some photos so far.

My aunt Diane writing her weekly column in her dining room

Photographing the closet that contains the Sentinel archives

Oak Tree and Canal in the Tule Fog

I’ll be back in Buenos Aires on March 14th. I can’t say I’m sad to be missing the oppressive heat and humidity of summer there.