Introspection

Every once in a blue moon, I record a new podcast episode. This one was inspired by reading Sergio Larraín’s photobook Valparaiso, and the strange handwritten notes the photographer put on the pages. In this episode, I try to find out why the photographer quit fame—in pursuit of yoga and solitude.

You can listen below—or click “Read more” to read the transcript.

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Film and File Lessons

This is a fairly specific read. Unless you’re interested in the ins and outs of photo file management, you might want to skip it.

I have never enjoyed post processing. It’s a real downer to come back from an exciting shoot and then having to sift through a ton of pictures to tweak colors, cropping, and framing. If you’re like me and struggle to maintain even a straight horizon, post processing is an unwelcome necessity—a way to fix errors made during the shoot. Two things made me think I should quit post-processing altogether.

The first was my experimentation with film photography. In January, after my digital camera was stolen, I decided to have my grandfather’s Leica refurbished and go back to the basics I never knew. You see, when I picked up photography, digital was already emerging—and going with the convenience and lower costs of digital immediately felt natural. I have only shot a handful rolls of film, but I am already enjoying the process immensely. There’s a magic in the not knowing, in shooting 36 pictures over the course of several weeks, and only have them revealed at the lab. It’s cumbersome and expensive, but also incredibly refreshing, since it’s yet another limitation to challenge yourself as a photographer.

Film makes you more deliberate: It forces you to consider and reconsider each shot, and you tread much more carefully when you know that errors most likely cannot be fixed. I’m finding that I value my film photos a little more than my digital ones (at least those that come out), and that I’ve taken lot of memorable pictures in the short time that I’ve been shooting on film. The pressure not to screw it up somehow helps me focus and take more well-conceived pictures. It turns out that shooting less—and doing it more with more concentration—helps take better pictures.

It’s a lesson I can bring back to my digital photos: Shoot less, actually learn the camera settings and rely less on post-processing Then there’s the second issue: Photos have become too big. The digital camera I bought earlier this year produces absolutely massive files, and the RAWs completely bog down my two year old computer. Post processing has become first and foremost a waiting game in which I deal with a slow computer crunching thousands of pixels. It makes an already inconvenient process downright unpleasant, and so I’ve been looking for ways to avoid it.

Post Post-Processing

Not only do I no longer want to put in the work and time it takes to post-process every pictures, I no longer want to be shooting that way either. A few corrections aside, I want to make the important decisions when I am holding the camera, not when I am looking back at the photos weeks later. To me, photography is very much about being in the moment, about seeing a picture-worthy moment when it appears, and to snap it right then and there, as best as I can. For that, I don’t need all the bells and whistles of Lightroom, I can do 90% of it with my camera alone. Fujifilm cameras—like my trusty X100F—already have best in class color management. At first I didn’t realize it, since I switched to Fuji’s system from an old Nikon camera, where all JPEGs more or less had to be edited in order to get the colors I wanted. To make matters worst, Lightroom can’t actually reverse-engineer the colors exactly like the camera, and getting back to them is a strenuous process. Find the right setting in the camera and going with the result isn’t 100% foolproof, but the entire point of this exercise is not to be shooting like a fool, to instead be forcing myself to push myself and my equipment to all we’re capable of.

It already happens

As I was pondering making this change, I realized I had already done it: When I am on the go, I send my photos from my camera to my phone, make minor tweaks and upload them—usually to Instagram. The reason why it’s become easily my most favorite platform to publish is precisely because of the speed and simplicity of this publishing process: It’s fun because it doesn’t feel like work. I’m now in the middle of relearning the way I shoot, edit, and publish. I have begun to emulate the mobile setup on my computer by skipping Lightroom altogether and instead use Hazel to automatically import my files straight from a memory card into date-stamped folders, separated into JPEG and RAW files, which I then quickly glance over and push out to the world. It means resisting the urge to fire off random shots whenever I see something that might work and instead concentrate, try my best, and delete whatever fails. So far, it’s been liberating.

“Then what is writing of quality? Well, what it’s always been: to know how to thrust your head into the darkness, know how to leap into the void, and to understand that literature is basically a dangerous calling.”
–Roberto Bolaño

Hyperreality

Happy to bring you a new episode of my podcast Available Light, challenging the notion that a camera doesn’t lie.

You can listen below – or click “Read more” to continue to the transcript.

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“Arriving at the poetic image is mental art, not a mechanical one.”
– Teju Cole

Many Layers of Blackpool

Blackpool — a somewhat ominous sounding name to foreign ears — is a city on the Northern English coast. Often dubbed the “archetypal British seaside resort”, it was a popular holiday destination for families from nearby cities like Manchester and Liverpool. Here’s a picture from the turn of the century, courtesy of the Library of Congress:

Vacationers regularly packed beaches and frequented the incredible amount of attractions. In fact, it seems as though Blackpool city planners made sure that every fun under the sun could be had there:

Blackpool was a booming resort with a (…) promenade complete with piers, fortune-tellers, public houses, trams, donkey rides, fish-and-chip shops and theaters.

To round things off, they constructed a replica of the upper thirds of the Eiffel tower – on top of an aquarium – as well as an amusement park. And those piers? They didn’t build just one, but three.

Getty Images has some lovely pictures of Blackpool in its prime, taken by photographer Bert Hardy around 1951:

 

 

 

 

Since I’ve been using the past tense and archival images, it won’t surprise you that those days are over. As air travel became affordable, families stopped frequenting Blackpool and the town began to decline. Judging by my British colleagues’ reactions when I mentioned my visit (“Were you filming a documentary on knife violence?”), Blackpool now evokes dread rather than “dream destination”. It has remained a place of fun (there are more attractions than ever), but seems to have become a place for drinking and stag parties, a far cry from its golden past. But that doesn’t mean it should be discounted.

During the 24 hours we spent in Blackpool, I kept repeating one sentence: “This is such a strange place.” And therein lies it’s modern-day attraction: It’s unlike anything you have ever seen. Almost defiantly, Blackpool has doubled down on the fun. The entire promenade including the historic piers are now packed with attractions: You can have your palm read by a psychic, ride around in a horse-drawn carriage, shoot water guns and eat cotton candy. It’s a year-round fun fair at city scale.

There is, of course, a lot of bad taste on display. Right off the promenade, you can get terrible tattoos displaying your Welshness or Scottishness. There is a place called the “Barvarian”, where you can dance the night away on beer-drenched benches. Or you can go to Ma Kelly’s, a pub with three locations in Blackpool, where you can stand on a thick carpet and drink cheap beers, as a live musician plays some crowd pleasers and feathered background dancers show their legs.

But Blackpool is also very true to itself. Peer behind one of the stands on the pier and you see that all the old infrastructure is still there: Intricate Victorian railings, painted over countless times, now a mere backdrop to the latest auto scooter or water park. Like inspecting the rings on a felled tree trunk, you can see all the historical layers of Blackpool out in the open. The buildings are historic, the architecture reminiscent of a glorious past. The place might seem surreal, but it also makes all the sense in the world: It’s a logical conclusion not just to the city’s history, but that of the entire country. It is out of step with what we would consider hip or contemporary, but raw in its authenticity.

El Umbral

During my recent trip to New York, I stumbled upon an anothology of Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s work, succinctly called “Photopoetry”. This image of his encapsulates both that title and my fascination. 

Preston Bus Station

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a black and white image of a starkly modernist clock somewhere on the internet. It was the central time piece of the Preston Bus Station, a terminal built in the late 1960s, and either an eyesore or a brutalist masterpiece, depending on who you ask. On the photos I found of it, the place looked like something fallen out of time, a 1960s reality somehow magically preserved until today. 

We found ourselves close to Preston the other day and decided to stop in the town to pay the bus station a visit. In homage to the original photos I took of it, I shot my pictures in stark black and white — which also emphasis its geometry.

Berlin’s Tegel airport is often praised for its hexagonal shape and the fact that you can find the hexagon in the floor tiles and column footprints. The great thing about the Preston Bus Station is that it’s also designed from the outside in: The interior matches its space-station like exterior with stark white tiles, concrete beams, and a cafeteria, which I am sure hasn’t changed it’s menu in 50 years. 

Black and White Portraits

Photos taken on my grandpa’s Leica M6 with Kodak Tri-X film. “They’re sharp and soft at the same time”, as one of my friends pointed out. I think I am starting to understand why Leica is so revered.

“I don’t take pictures, pictures take me. … I can do nothing except have Film in the camera and be alert.”
– Charles Harbutt