A year away

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Sometime late in 2018 I realized, thanks to Screentime statistics on my iPhone, that I had been spending a lot of time on Instagram. An embarrasing amount of hours scrolling with an occasional post, likely when I needed some minor phtographic validation. None of this was bringing me much fulfillment and I decided to step away. My last post in 2018 was December 2nd. 49 likes, one comment.

I moved the Instagram app into a folder and off the home screen of my phone. For several months in 2019 I did not open it at all. Eventually in late summer I opened the app again, viewing in very small doses, wondering if I had missed anything of importance. Mostly some scrolling of my feed and some time with Stories. What I was immediately struck by was the incredible number of advertisements between posts by people I followed. It was easy to decide I did not miss that at all. Stories were fun but they had lost some allure as well.

That’s how things went until late in the year when I found myself scrolling too much again. Maybe it’s some of the downtime at the end of a year and during the holidays that brought this on. At one point I got the “You’re All Caught Up” notification and I knew it was time again to dial it back.

I had hoped when I stepped away from Instagram a year ago that it lead to a serious uptick in my photography. I had goals of completing photobooks, doing more projects, meeting more phtotgraphers in real life. In reality I did complete a couple of books which was very satisfying. However I probably took fewer photos in 2019 than I have in many years and I didn’t expand my interaction with other photographers much at all so the results were mixed at best. Still, whatever else I filled my time with in place of endless feed scrolling surely was better for me.

What I think I’ve come to is that Instagram wasn’t my only problem. It was a lack of clear photographic goals and then the discepline to make time for them. When I made time to complete photo books, I did. When I made time to go out and make photos, I did.

Building on that, I am going to try and be more deliberate and intentional about making time for photography in 2020. I have already identified a handful of events that I will focus on and hope to build from that. Does any of that include Instagram again? Only time will tell.

24 Hour Project Recap – 2018

The 24 Hour Project is a bit of a bucket list adventure. Once you’ve done it, it’s reasonable to question if you’d do it again, subject yourself to the sleep deprivation again, walk as far again, struggle as much again. For me, the answer was yes. Fortunately my partner in crime from last year, Jake Rhode, was up for it again too.

Our goal was to not follow the exact path we took last year. We sort of succeeded at that. Many different stops, some repeat locations, mostly dictated by the constraints of early spring outdoor activity in Milwaukee, WI. Ok, here’s the play-by-play:

Jake and I started the project at midnight with a short walk in Bay View to get our first photo and then stopped in at Sugar Maple. I remember when Sugar Maple was newly opened and they served soup in addition to beer. Always liked that and still miss the soup option to this day. It was not particularly full this night and I did not see a good photo opportunity there so we headed to Burnhearts. I got photo two and three there covering the 1-2am and 2-3am hours.

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2:10am

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3:25am

From there we headed to Ma Fischer’s for some food. This is one of just a handful of places open 24hrs in Milwaukee and the options got slim after we left. It was of course very dark but also unseasonably cold. I remember seeing “feels like 7 degrees” on my phone. I grabbed a photo of a dedicated individual in the gym at 4:29am and some people waiting in the Amtrak station at 5:43am. Like last year, these were a couple of the toughest hours of the entire project. I could see the sky begin to lighten as we left the Amtrak station and that gave me a boost.

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6:32am

From there followed several uninspired hours where I produced a number of uninspired photographs. All 24 photos form the project are in the gallery here but none were worth putting into this recap. By noon, I needed something to change and fortunately it did.

The entire afternoon I felt good about what I was getting and much happier with my choices when deciding what photo to upload each hour.

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12:54pm

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2:48pm

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3:34pm

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4:32pm

After spending several hours downtown and at the Milwaukee Art Museum, we decided to head to Brady Street. The light was really good and Brady Street did not disappoint. Lots of people out and I struck up a conversation with this guy in a bright red hat. He was carrying a camera as well and said he was just getting into photography. I asked him to step forward into the light and got his portrait.

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5:25pm

In our effort to keep moving, we decided to head back downtown. We walked quite a bit but nothing good presented itself. Eventually we ended up on Old World Third Street where thankfully there were a lot of people. That took care of the 6-7pm hour and we went back to Brady Street. Time was running out and we could not find a parking spot. I was about to stop in the street and let Jake out with my camera so he could get a shot for the hour for both us when I finally found a spot to park. With 10min to go, we hit the street and I made my favorite photo of the project with just 5 minutes to spare.

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6:50pm

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7:55pm

From there we decided to hit up Von Trier from 8-9 and a buddy of mine met us out. He got us an Uber to Wolski’s for the 9-10 hour. We finished the night in the Lincoln Warehouse where Jake and Simon had their photo studio. We had a fantastic cocktail and an excellent local beer at Enlightened Brewing Company to close out the project.

Will I do it again next year? I like to think I will. Jake and Simon and Rob are hard at work to open Vennture Brew Co very soon and running that business may make it tough for Jake. I would be open to traveling south and documenting Chicago in 2019. There have been a few participants there the past few years so maybe I’ll connect with some Chicago locals. Either way, I’ve got plenty of time before I have to make that decision.

For anyone wondering: Fuji X100T, Classic Chrome film simulation, Snapseed for editing. Jake shot with a Fuji XT-1, a mix of black and white as well as color, and I think he was using Filmborn to edit. My 2017 recap is here.

 

Prints and small run zines

It is still very much winter here in Wisconsin and while I have been taking photos over the past few months, much of it is on film and yet to be developed. I figured it might be a good time to stretch my writing muscles again and share a few prints and zines I have received from three photographers I follow on Instagram.

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First up are some prints and a zine from Nick Mayo, @nickexposed. I got the 4×6 prints from Nick last fall. These are very nicely made on a matte paper so luxurious that the blacks can’t be described other than velvety. I’ve had these in their plastic sleeve and need to get them placed about the house for viewing. My favorite of the bunch is shown in the top photo. Influenced by Winogrand, no doubt. Nick is an enthusiastic supporter of the film photographer community and has amassed a nice following on his YouTube channel as well.

Just this week I got his zine, Sketches of Light. The design is similar to a small Field Notes book. Until I read his notes on the last page, I had forgotten that these photos were taken with his iPhone. A bit of a departure for someone who shoots film so often but for him like many, our phone is now the way everyday images are captured and it is with us nearly all the time. These photos are a collection of the shapes, textures and geometries of light Nick sees. I quite like it and the size works great for what I think he intended. It would be easy to stuff this in a camera bag to share with someone or to get inspiration from. A few favorite images are below.

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Next is the first zine from Ryan Niall Miller, @ryanniallmiller. I initially met Ryan through a Milwaukee photographer meet up via Instagram in 2016. Since then our paths haven’t crossed much other than a lunch meeting last spring to talk shop and get few prints from the film shooters meet up in Chicago he attended. Ryan is very positive and supportive of the photo community.

Late last year he released his first zine titled Long Overdue. It is a short collection of storefront photos shot at night in his hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin. A pair of images that stood out to me are in the photo below. Ryan is always open to and looking for feedback and we messaged back and forth a bit about the project. It’s a great first effort and he was able to do it inexpensively while still putting out something of nice quality. I am looking forward to his next one.

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Cellblock is a bigger zine from Josh Sinn, @cadillacranchdressing. This is a collection of photos taken over a years time in Baltimore, MD. I believe I first heard about Josh when he was interviewed on Matt Day’s podcast, The Shoot. Josh is an avid film shooter and seems to be rarely without his Leica. Like Nick and Ryan, he is an active member of the Instagram community and although he shoots film regularly, the images in Cellblock are all taken with his iPhone.

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Paging through Cellblock, I was struck by the very documentary feel of the photos. It’s easy to feel like I know something intimate about the year these photos cover in a way that words alone would not convey. There are photos from his home, from the streets, from the clubs, and of family, friends and strangers.

Throughout the book I found the sequencing really delightful. Below are some facing pages where I think the pair of photos work together particularly well.

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There you have it, prints and three zines. All are sold out as far as I know but give these three photographers a follow on Instagram and get to know more of their work.

May warm weather and sunny skies arrive soon…

Mechanical Simplicity

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I’ve owned a handful of both film and digital cameras over the years. The two film cameras I still own that I’ve used the most are a Canonet QL-17 GIII and a Nikon S3.

Often called a poor man’s Leica, the Canonet is quite simple. It has a quiet leaf shutter and this version has a fast 40mm f1.7 fixed lens. You can use the surprisingly accurate meter (requires a battery) and shoot in shutter priority, or shoot manual. The focus throw is short and has an easy to use tab. I really like this camera and it has never let me down.

The Nikon S3 is fully mechanical (no meter), accepts a variety of lenses and is a noticeable step up in build quality over the Canonet. The S3 I have is a very early version. Serial numbers started at 6300000 and mine is 6300041. It has a quiet cloth shutter and a wonderful precision mechanical feel overall. The film advance is weighty and smooth. The focus throw is long, favoring accuracy over speed. The full size finder has fixed frame lines at 35, 50 and 105 and I have lenses for each.

Unlike the relentless upgrade cycle with digital cameras, the only functional upgrades these cameras have is the film. That means, my relationship with the camera itself stays strong and using them is a familiar, almost second nature exercise.

I hadn’t shot with either camera much at all for nearly two years. In the late summer of last year, I lost interest in my dslr, purchased several rolls of film and put the Canonet and Nikon back to use. I quickly realized how much I had missed using these cameras. What I really enjoyed was their mechanical simplicity. Aperture, shutter speed and focus. That’s it. No worrying about focus mode, metering mode, VR, ISO, RAW, focus point, bracketing, etc.

The simplicity has helped me enjoy the act of photographing much more again and I hadn’t realized how much I missed it. When I used to shoot only film, I was envious of my friends with digital cameras that gave them incredible amounts of adjustability and customization and immediate access to their images. Having spent a few years shooting digitally myself, I have a new appreciation for simplicity in my photography.

Digital won’t go away though. While my dslr continues to sit and gather dust, I did buy a new digital camera late last year. I believe that I can find simplicity it it too if I remember to not let the complexity get in my way. Time will tell.

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* originally published on Medium, January 2016

Update two years later: While I’ve certainly used the “new” digital camera I bought back then (Fuji X100T), I’ve continued to use and enjoy these two film cameras as well as a Mamiya 645m kit that I was lucky enough to be given by a friend. I’m also taking time to let some rolls sit before developing them. I’ll get that going soon enough.

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Port Photo Photography Show

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A quick note about this show of selected works from the photographers that participated in the Port Photo Walk on April 30th. This day was also Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day so most of the photos in the show are pinhole. For the second year in a row, the weather was lousy, cold, windy and very rainy. I shot a roll of 120 film with a borrowed Zero Image 6×9 pinhole camera. It’s a beautiful camera and since it wasn’t mine, I put it away before it was damaged and shot a roll of color film in the Mamiya M645 I had recently acquired.

The show runs until September 2 and is in the excellent little Studio 224 gallery, in the basement of the Boerner Mercantile building in downtown Port Washington, WI. It is open from 9-1 on Saturdays, 211 Franklin Street (north alley entrance). Many thanks to Martin Morante for arranging the photo walk and show.

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