- Stan Banos is a photographer and former blogger based in San Francisco. He is available for gallery representation, private collections, museum retrospectives, foreign intrigue, the occasional TED Talk, and (weather permitting) a long overdue MacArthur Grant.
- Blake Andrews: Two old guys meeting digitally. How's it going?
- Stan Banos: Not good.
I mean 2 0ld guys- not good. I fucked up already! It reminds me of when I took my one and only PS workshop at Rayko- It was done on Macs, and only being a Windows guy, I was 3-4 moves behind everyone else.
OK. I thought you meant not good in general. Not good old guys we can straighten out. That brings me to the first thing I was curious about. Your messed up film. Can you just give a brief synopsis of what happened? How much film? Over what time period?
Everything got fucked to one extent or another. Fortunately, most if not all can be salvaged...
- I understand you've been cleaning it up with film cleaner? How is that working?
It's just... do I have the skills to do it (I don't)- but I've been reading up on tutorials, etc. The cleaning was the easy part, now I'm scanning- the post/restoration is gonna be HELL... I'm gonna have to get "grown up" PS and a plug in that was recommended.
- What about the scanning and cleaning? How much time does each image require?
The cleaning is relatively fast- Isopropyl alcohol, the scanning is tedious, the rubber hits the road when I attempt... restoration.
The reason it hits a nerve for me is I have a lot of film in storage too, just like many photographers out there. So, not to be cruel but your experience could serve as a real lesson in how to archive/store. Did the storage container you used come with any warning or disclaimer about what might happen?
No, no warning. The thing that doomed me was that it was watertight- but it also kept the moisture in with its rubber seals.
But surely if they're selling that product and others are using it, this isn't the first time this problem has come up. Have you told them about your issues with their product? Do you know of anyone else who had a similar problem?
No, I'm putting this on my shoulders- I shoulda known better, did know better, or at least, thought I did. I'm the kind of person who can worry a lot (like about what can happen to your negatives), so I tend to cut things off at a point. They're in a safe, they ARE secure, fireproof, waterproof- stop worrying already... And all the while- the obvious was happening.
That's the point. You're just like others who bought the same fireproof cabinet. Don't you think there are others with the same problem?
It was a relatively cheap, small safe- I'm betting anyone as concerned as I was is gonna have the bucks to do it right. I've always (usually) had to things on the cheap…i.e.- I use old film Nikons and Elements.
OK. So the safe was not made for film.
Honestly, I don't remember...It was meant to safeguard media. It's painful just talking about that episode. If my images were totally irreparable, I'd still be in a catatonic state in hospital.
I'm getting bogged down in details of the safe. But let's get to the blog, because that transition is interesting. You sort of hit the end. And the film thing was the trigger. But had the end been coming for a while?
- Ah yes- the blog...I've done it since '05 when I became unemployed (a story in itself), I never touched a computer till 2000 and all of a sudden- wow! You could have a voice, or some such approximation.
- What's the story of you becoming unemployed?
- I was untenured in San Francisco, although I had already been a Special Education teacher in NYC and Oakland (of students officially classified as "Intensely Emotionally Disturbed and Socially Maladjusted") for 15 yrs, and good enough to have been made a teacher-mentor. Long story short, I got on a certain supervisor's nerves for a number of things- like repeatedly asking for the aide I was supposed to have according to their own policy, like repeatedly writing incident reports about a certain student who had already bloodied two of his classmates and was clearly a danger to himself and others. I took it as a personal challenge whenever I got a particularly difficult student, but this guy was obviously crying out in need of more help, more therapy and "a more restrictive environment." When I wrestled him to the floor when he had half his body out on a third floor window ledge- I was then accused of "unsafe classroom management."
- I was naive enough to think that they wouldn't try to oust me since I had a long, documented trail of their own administrative negligence and malfeasance; but in the end, I was untenured and could be dismissed for no good reason, with absolutely no recourse. I had no one to present that to other than... the school admin. And let's just say they weren't avid listeners. Perhaps my one shining moment in life came when I defended myself (rather admirably, I-must-say) in front of 5 administrative interrogators. Wish I had a tape of that; and always wondered what happened to that kid...
- That was back in '05; with a little extra time on my hands, I started Reciprocity Failure.
- For readers like myself the end of Reciprocity Failure came pretty abruptly. It was like, I have a problem with my film, The End. I think I understand but it put a new twist on things. It made me see you care mostly about your photos, and that the blog is secondary. Which I hadn't quite realized before. Or at least that's how I took it.
I just pretty much said most everything and I realized to continue it was just a crutch to prevent me from what I really needed to do- make some high res files of my images- That's when I found out the thing that we shall not speak of again, ever...
So you were contemplating the end of RF even before the (sorry to speak of it) film snafu?
Yes, that's when I discovered... and immediately went into DENIAL while this voice in the back of my head was whispering- Your worst fear...
Well, let me ask you as a fellow blogger. What do or did you get out of blogging?
- Joerg Colberg initially realized the potential of this once new medium as a potent venue for photographic conversation and exposure that could help level the playing field. Like him or not, like his taste or not, he was a pioneer who paved the way. Personally, I did want Reciprocity Failure to push some buttons and mouth off on some of the things photographers and the art world in general are loathe to discuss- yeah, things like race. When I wrote about The All White Jury on PDN, it was absolute crickets- when the most honorable Benjamin Chesterton picked up on it on Duckrabbit... fireworks! The White Man saved the day, which kinda lent further credence to my point- it took his acknowledgement for it to enjoy any validation; otherwise, it would have remained under the radar- the simple, delusional rantings of a lunatic, "racist" blogger. And it's an issue I would continue to revisit, since it's an issue that continues to be relevant.
- One thing I liked about RF is that it was so nakedly political and opinionated. It felt like it was written by a person, not a company. I wouldn't call it "delusional rantings" as you did, but it felt personal and unscripted. UFOs, Tea Party politics, I never knew what I'd find there.
- As far as audience I have a similar dynamic with my blog. Most of my posts attract just a handful of readers. Maybe they're regulars or one-timers. I have no idea. But there's only a few and I'm dependent on outside links to generate any real traffic. Some of my posts here and there have hit a nerve on Twitter or PetaPixel, and then the pageviews skyrocket, but usually by the next post they're gone. If the point of blogging is to enjoy validation, that feeling is usually distant, and I feel pretty helpless to bring it any closer.
- I've always left the 'serious' photography to serious photographers; on the other hand, RF at least attempted to address some prevalent social issues, in addition to showcasing a variety of photographers, books and other photographic concerns- it also afforded an opportunity to experience the role of critic, photo editor and (come to think of it) even helped spawn that short lived venue for rapidly aging, emerging photographers called Expiration Notice (along with Mark Page of the Manchester Photography blog). I also like to think it held a laugh or two buried in there, somewhere in those ten years.
- Why did you reach an end point?
Yeah, was gonna end it anyhow- just need the time to scan, do post, etc- and now, obviously more than ever... Frankly- it was fun. I saw it as an opportunity to be heard, seen- and connect. But it is work, as you well know, especially if you do it daily, every other day...
You were pretty consistent posting almost daily for a few years. Hats off to that.
- I think there's considerably more diversity out there now amongst younger photographers, but so much of official photographydom is still so vastly... White, and guarded- remember the less than enthusiastic reception many of the gatekeepers gave Maier? She wasn't coming in through the accepted, established corridors. And that's what blogs in general have provided, an alternative voice- some of whom have themselves gone on to become some part of that official society, hopefully for the better. Art and photography have always been such top down institutions, and the price of equipment and materials alone can make it so prohibitive to so many if one chooses to get intimately involved.
- Since you quit I've seen a few recent posts on RF. Are you off the blog wagon again?
- There's gonna be times when I see something so outrageous (or good) that I'll be compelled to write about it. But for the most part, the blog is officially retired (though I can't wait to post that the majority of my work has been restored and made whole and ready to print... in 15 years or so). Meanwhile, I'm content to comment elsewhere.
- I've tried to quit my blog few times but I always resume. It's like fucking heroin. No, more like nicotine.
Yeah, I was on the verge of quitting quite a few times- but always when I ran out, I got it back. Now it's just a question of time. I've got to save what I got- and I don't even really have enough time to do that...
Time, like what? Like you've got X years to... do what? Establish some legacy? Or deal with film? And what happens to the hi-res scans?
I'm hitting that sad 60 bump. Don't know what it is, but I hate the very sound of it- won't mind 70, but 60 REALLY SUCKS! I've got some images which I think are decent, so I want to be able to print them, at least in some self published books. And right now I've got precious little to show, so if I don't do it, who will- that simple. Also, it was a mighty slow year picture taking wise- and that will always get ya to thinking...
In a sense you're facing the thing that all photographers need to deal with at some point. But maybe the film snafu has lit a fire under your butt, so maybe the film problem was a blessing. But it's basically the same issue for everyone. What did you photograph, and what do those photographs mean? How would you respond to those questions? What are your photos about? If I'm looking at them in 30 years?
I don't worry what they're about. They're just things I find amusing. I was NYC's worst assistant for a couple of years (my highlight taking that typewriter off the photographer's desk when he tried to stiff me). I knew I didn't wanna be a pro, so I just decided to go for the visual sidelines.
I sort of buy that. I like being open and not easily categorized. But on some level they need to be about something, right? Like, what motivates you to make a photo?
I find shit. If ain't there, I'm screwed. I loved traveling, always keeps ya fresh. But ya need the $ & time- obviously. Two luxuries I haven't had in a while, and SF is becoming increasingly less edgy with the techies.
SF is still full of possibilities.
Like everyone I just need to do it. It's the one thing I still consistently do over the years. Photography is still one of the things I'm passionate about- probably because I never did do "professionally." Still love seeing it, doing it, reading about it...
That's probably a blessing. Most of the memorable photos in history were not made professionally.
True, it just offers you way more possibilities... Long and short of it, I usually just try to capture something humorous or interesting in the best way possible. I leave the serious shit to the serious topic, F/T photographers, so I literally take snapshots- unrelated, disparate fragments of life at large. Over the years they begin to amass into some kind of recognizable personality (kinda like Reciprocity Failure), but the art world operates on grand themes- and are even more dismissive of humor. It must be great to have the time and wherewithal to purposely express yourself in the planned, coordinated manner a writer or painter controls their medium instead of just gathering bits and pieces along the way. I think (perhaps having just listened to a Sally Mann interview and having reviewed Mary Ellen Mark's career) that female photographers may be more adept at doing that.
- I was recently taking some vertical, studio type portraits of adult clients I work with that I was rather pleased with. I specifically wanted to present people with intellectual disabilities minus the now mandatory, stereotypical, life conquering grin plastered on their face. Portrait being such a grand and reformative change of pace —equal parts cooperative effort and minimalist undertaking. Just as things started to cook, my new supervisor killed the (already approved) project, without so much as looking at them. Don't have much luck with supervisors.
I've gotta ask since I saw it on a comment thread at The Online Photographer. What do you like about Eamonn Doyle's photos?
The pure simplicity and complete beauty. Yeah, anyone could have done it (uh-huh), yet no one did.
Take them from that angle. They're gorgeous. "Street" photography is so often about how many things you can jam in one photo —and he just stripped it down into your basic minimalism.
OK. He's the Eno of street?
- Eno, Glass- pretty much...
- I'm just curious. I can't figure those photos out. But many people seem to like them. So I want to know why. What am I missing? Do you have some photos that work like that for you?
I have a few perhaps, but nothing that approaches the genius of those images. Something has to hit me over the head usually before I see it.
- I meant photographs made by other photographers that seem popular but which you don't get. The ones which make you wonder, what am I missing?
- It's always a kick to find people with meaningful ways of looking at things anew (eg- Eamonn Doyle), or just get things right to begin with (god knows that's hard enough)- which reminds me, is there anything, anywhere John Gossage can't photograph well? That said, there are some photographers I don't ever want to get- just like I'm never gonna get into jazz or heavy metal. There's nothing better than walking into a gallery or exhibition and just being leveled, gobsmacked- humbled to the core! Doesn't happen very often. When I was younger, I never knew what the fuss was with Friedlander. Then I realized he was operating on levels I was just approaching (still needs a tighter edit though). Recently, it's been a revelation to see Alec Soth's B/W work; it contains such an inherent sense of vitality and dynamism that is absent in his color work- two different mediums, two vastly different personalities.
Do you consider yourself a street photographer, whatever that term means?
No, tried it, really did when I was in NYC. Sometimes I get something in the general area, but I suck at it. I love horizon lines, but there ain't any in NYC. Friedlander said to forget everything about how you usually photograph when you get to NYC. Big as NYC is, you're photographing in a closet wherever you go.
What does that mean?
Again no horizon lines, no space, you have to create your own, which is why true "street photographers" create their own by going into the crowd and playing people off each other to create that illusion. And the good ones, of course, make it work...
- Why do you love horizon lines?
- When you're in NYC, everywhere you turn there's pretty much a wall in front of you. When you finally experience the great wide open, it's like you're experiencing 3D for the first time- a foreground, midground, and background all in one- DUDE!!! To someone like me, the great wide open spaces of the South West are just mind blowing freedom; conversely, to pure street shooters- NYC is nirvana.
- Once you scan all these negatives and see what you've got, what's the first book?
I'm thinking one on NYC, one on SF, and another simply... Other. Maybe subsets on signs, portraits...
"Other". If I saw that in a bookstore I would probably buy it. Ron Jude had a book a few years back called "Other Nature". Great title. I almost bought it. Almost.
Yeah, coming up with the titles is enough work. I remember one year I read all the artist statements in all the Blurb photo books- good reading.
That has the makings of a great compilation. If you're an "artist" you might not even need permission to reprint.
I'm surprised there hasn't been a book on show and exhibit rejections- I got one once saying my entries had been thrown out with the recycling.
- What did you learn from the artist statements?
On the surface level, simply that self inflicted pain and hilarity could exist on some mutually parallel level. But then, a lot of artist statements from well established artists/photographers can be every bit just as painful, ego centric and thoroughly ridiculous- just better written, or rather... more aristocratically opaque. And that is, in large part, what I meant when I said that Reciprocity Failure was a chance to have a voice, to be heard.
—all photographs above by Stan Banos