Monday, November 25, 2013


More holiday treasures found at the local flea market yesterday. Old post cards, including an early aerial shot of the Pentagon:

A strange metal thingamajig. Not even the guy selling it knew what it was, but anyway it will become a Hannukah present for my mom. Maybe she can incorporate it into a sculpture.

A small leather book with eighty-eight pages of strange shorthand code. Apparently it's an old Mason's handbook, but I have no idea how to read it. This will be a gift for my dad. He's not a Mason but he loves indecipherable stuff. 

Finally, twenty old German certificates printed on both sides with exquisite care. I thought they were beer labels at first but they're actually currency. Shows what I know. 

They were printed by the Weimar Republic in the mid 1920s during a period of severe hyperinflation. As money they became worthless almost immediately after production, but someone thought to preserve them and now they are worth something (at least to me) as art. The design, detail, and variety are extraordinary. Why can't money look like this now?

It's amazing to me that a time of such desperation and depression can generate something so beautiful. It raises a lot of questions about the past five years.

Anyhoo, I'm on the road this week visiting family for Thanksgiving. Spotty blogging if any, though I have my bots programmed to post daily photos in the usual places. Happy T-Day to all. Back next weekend...

Update, 12/4/13: I've heard from a few readers with new info on the items above.

Joerg Colberg let me know that the currency above is known as notgeld (emergency money). It was produced by local municipalities in Germany curing the tough financial times following WWI. Some of it is quite collectible, but I'm not sure if that applies to my examples above.

Tim Lewis tells me that the metal thingamajig above is a hold down for a blacksmith's anvil. 

Thanks for the info, guys!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stocking Stuffers*

 Instax Photos For Sale 
Random Assortment of Ten Instax Photos. 3.25" x 4.25". Price includes shipping. 
Example shown. Actual photos will vary with each package. Every photo unique.

 Work Prints For Sale 

Random Assortment of 20 B/W Work Prints. 
Handmade silver gelatin photos on RC paper, 5 x 7 inches. Price includes shipping. 
Example shown. Actual photos will vary with each package. Every photo unique.

*Actual stocking size and stuffing ability may vary. This offer is open-ended, not merely restricted to stocking season.

Update 11/24/13: Thanks to everyone who has ordered prints so far. I'm a bit surprised at the volume of response. I can only surmise that many of you are cheap bastards who know a good deal when they see it. Or else lining the hamster cage at minimal expense?

Shipments will be filled in the order they are received, beginning next week after I return from  Thanksgiving in California. Multiple orders will be shipped together in one envelope. All of which means, don't freak if your order doesn't arrive pronto. Trust that it's coming. Thanks for your patience!

Update 4/21/14: Prices have gone up. But I think most people still find these prints very affordable. What's there to lose? Why not order a few shipments today? Give them to friends. Pass them out at parties. Use as toilet paper. The choice is yours.

Update 2/24/15: Please allow 2 to 13 weeks for delivery.

Instax Photos

B/W Workprints

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Q & A with David Lykes Keenan

David Lykes Keenan is a photographer based in New York City.

BA: What do you think separates your photos from the average street photographer?

DLK: That’s easy. Plain and simple most of what is passed off as street photography today SUCKS. Plain and simple. Take a picture of random people walking haphazardly, maybe one of them is centered on a pretty girl holding an ice cream cone, and whammo you have street photography.

I assume you're referring to the Winogrand ice-cream shot? 

I’m not referring to Winogrand. I’m alluding to what passes for good street photography nowadays. It’s another photograph that I’ve seen in various Internet locales recently and being presented as an example of goodness. Perhaps I’m all wet since it has been “approved” by more that one de facto Internet curator – but I just don’t think it’s worth a second glance.

No brag, just fact, but my photographs tell little stories. Admittedly, some better than others. These stores might be funny, they might be ironic, they might be scary, and they might be head-scratchers. There is always something going on to draw the viewer in so they can make up their own stories. 

Very importantly, a viewer can usually tell WHY one of my pictures was taken almost like it has a plot.

PAW, November 25, 2012

I like classic street shots, but I also think some photos can work because they aren't easily decoded.

Definitely. I’d classify those as “head-scratchers”. Perhaps they’re a curious combination of elements that don’t look like they belong together until you sit with it a while. Photographs that pose unanswered questions are often the best. I honestly think that street photography is the single best genre of photography posing such questions – if for no other reason than the photographer often doesn’t know the answer either.

The level playing field of the Internet that I alluded to earlier is killing classic street photography. SO much of it is terrible, some of it lauded by the pseudo-experts, that the general public is being bamboozled and the bar for what is considered to be “good” street photography has never been lower. This makes me sad and, it goes without saying, frustrated.

I’ll give you one example. I won’t name names but one of the widely seen Internet portals had a street photography issue awhile back featuring work of four photographers. I looked at each picture in this collection. There wasn’t a single photograph therein that was worthy of Photography That Doesn’t Suck. 

I don't see the connection. How does a level playing field kill classic street photography? Doesn't it allow more outlets for visibility? 

What I’m trying to say is that more outlets of visibility (and that includes my own) dilute the pool. The average Internet viewer doesn’t surf around with a particularly critical eye. It’s like the joke that alludes to if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. 

In this level playing field, not all outlets (or portals, to use my word) are created equal. This inequality is often not recognized and therefore my aforementioned ice cream cone picture appears a couple of times and thus automatically is elevated to an example of “good” street photography. How is the Internet public to know otherwise? 

Again, street photography that matters needs to be more than just photographs of people on the street. They should tell a story, create mystery or a sense of wonder. I refer the reader to Winogrand, Kalvar, Erwitt, Friedlander, etc.

Of course, this is just my opinion. But I seriously doubt that any of the wonderful photographers, all well beyond emerging status, who have taken an interest in my photography, who advise me, and who are pulling for me would give the photo in question a second glance.

How would you define emerging?

An emerging photographer is someone who hasn’t “made it”. Someone who hovers below the strata of artists who have their work regularly shown in galleries, have books published, who have their work recognized by the somewhat nebulous movers and shakers in that art world, and who tread water often working very hard waiting for their “big break”. There is nothing wrong with being in this class. Most of us will not break through but hopefully we enjoy the journey.

Tell me about Photography That Doesn't Suck. Is the title meant to be provocative? 

The title is definitely supposed to be provocative. Like I suppose most internet connected photographers are these days, I am constantly exposed to an endless flow of imagery coming through every imaginable portal. 

Photography That Doesn't Suck #251, David Bowie, by Anonymous

There are web sites, blogs, apps, Facebook groups, and the like where some people have actually made a name for themselves by creating virtual photography communities. The individuals behind these ventures very often become celebrities to the point where, for better or worse, their own community, and often the photo world at large, come to believe they know what they’re talking about. And very often these people become de facto Internet curators of what makes a good photograph. 

But isn't that the structure of your group?

Absolutely! I’m not ashamed to say I want to play in Internet curator sandbox too. In my humble, literally trained computer-programmer brain, I see some of the photography that is hyped and promoted as what’s hot and important today, and I want to gag. This always pushes hot buttons – but a lot of this stuff comes out of MFA art schools and is overly conceptual and/or overly mundane crap.

Can you give an example or two?

I’d rather not. I want to keep Photography That Doesn’t Suck as a positive contributor to Internet photography. I think the common good is better served by saying “this is worth looking at” rather than saying “this is crap”.  

The Internet is a great, level playing field. I could continue to just throw up my hands in disgust at all the photography that sucks but wait, I have opinions too, so why not declare myself to be a pseudo-expert? 

Photography That Doesn’t Suck can NEVER be abbreviated to PTDS, by the way, because it has nothing to do with post-traumatic anything.

No worries there. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is abbreviated PTSD which is different than PTDS.

Right, but it has confused some people already. To avoid any confusion I choose to never use the abbreviation and I always spell it out. Photography That Doesn’t Suck is now over 500 members. There have been over 250 photographs that definitely don’t suck posted, roughly one per day which makes the group a little bit over eight months old.

I decide what gets posted culled from the endless flow that I see daily. There's no rhyme or reason to the order in which they appear really except when I choose to feature a particular photographer for awhile. There was a week each of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Elliott Erwitt, and few shorter spurts from other lesser-known photographers.

500 members from the entirety of Facebook aren’t really very many at all. But it’s been fun. I think the members enjoy (most) of my selections, and I’m committed to keep it going until the photo world at large thinks I know what I’m talking about too.

How will you know when that's happened?

Good question. It is clearly self-serving on my part, perhaps part of my loosely formulated plan to emerge from my “emerging" status. I guess I’ll know if the group suddenly starts to grow exponentially or, perhaps, if I get invited onto the portfolio review tour as a reviewer.

So you view PTDS is a potential vehicle for joining the review circuit?

Well, possibly. Photography That Doesn’t Suck is a way to separate myself from my photography, to establish myself as a curator of sorts, as someone who has a point of view related to photography, and as someone who is not entirely about self-promotion. It’s been fun. I find myself paying closer attention to other online sources of photography, books, magazines, etc. as I look for another photograph to add to the queue. If the group continues to gather an audience and this leads to me being invited to sit on the other side of the review  table that would be a well received development. 

How do you know when a photo doesn't suck? 

The trend that is developing as I have posted photographs that don't suck is the selections tend to be older and in black & white. I just posted a classic from the 1940s by Weegee. Shortly before that I posted portraits of David Bowie and Andy Warhol from the 1970s. The proof is in the pudding here -- I clearly have a bias toward b&w and more classic photographs. This pretty clearly shows one criteria I use for choosing a photograph that doesn't suck.

Is there some trait that your selections generally share? Is there some tip-off for you, that says this photo sucks, don't include it?

For the most part, they are photographs of SOMETHING. There is something going on or there is at least a picture element that you can care about or can identify with in some way.

So much of what passes for "good" photography generally today, in my opinion, are photographs of nothing. And 95% of these are in color. And, of course, they have to be printed huge. And they bore the bejesus out of me. I made it a central core tenet of Photography That Doesn't Suck NOT to identify or mock anything that I didn't like -- why stir up trouble -- but there a blogs and other Facebook groups that serve this up on a regular basis. So often when one of these crosses by my computer screen, I gotta say "you've got to be kidding me".

Andreas Gursky, Rhein II, 1999

I will use the famous million dollar Andreas Gursky photograph of the Rhein River in Germany as perhaps the quintessential example of a photograph of nothing, that is in color, and is huge. And one that could not be more boring.

Can you tell me about the process of founding the Austin Center for Photography? What were the challenges and expectations? Did you have much help? What was the root of the idea?

Initially I was inspired by the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA. I thought wouldn’t it be cool to have something like that in Austin. With SXSW being such a huge deal then (and now), I wondered then if a photo event might fit somehow under the SXSW umbrella. I was quickly dissuaded after speaking with a friend who is very high up the SXSW hierarchy. Basically I was told it wouldn’t be a good fit for them.

I don’t remember exactly how my thinking moved to a photography center rather than a festival but a couple of very good friends supported the idea. Some meetings were arranged for me to meet with former and present leaders at the Houston Center for Photography to learn how it had gotten started. The conversations I had were cordial and very supportive. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the future was foreshadowed when someone asked me, “Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself into?” The answer turned out to be, “No, I have no idea what I am getting into.”

What were you getting into exactly that surprised you? 

The warning out of Houston dealt directly with what eventually happened at ACP before I left in not one of my more shining moments. I had no idea that people brought into an organization like ACP could have (and many did have in this case) ulterior motives, would bring personal agendas, and actually (consciously or unconsciously) work at cross-purposes to the stated goals of the organization.

There were “us” and “them” factions within the board of trustees I brought together from day one. I honestly thought that by being inclusive, inviting some people to join the board that I did not know personally at the time was the right thing to do – I mean, we all wanted the same thing, right?

Wrong. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I know exactly what I’d do differently. Anyway, what is done is done. Maybe there will be a vibrant ACP in five years. Maybe not. 

The challenges were enormous and our expectations were high. I ran the organization as president of the board of trustees and the de facto executive director for almost four years. We had no money to pay for a staff so I did this work for the dream of what ACP could be. I’ll end this by saying I left ACP, an organization that I founded, under very unpleasant circumstances. Now I have no contact with the organization nor do I attend any of their events. 

Sorry to learn of the rift with ACP. What happened between you two? 

I don’t want to air dirty laundry especially so many years after the fact. I recently noticed that some seemingly very qualified people have been added to the organization’s board of trustees so perhaps they’ll get serious about running a business-like organization. 

Why the move from Austin to NYC?

I lived in Austin for 35 years. For most of that time, I was a software engineer and ended up owning a small software business that I started in 1986. It’s still active but I handed over the day-to-day management of the business to some trusted employees. That was in 2006. I have been doing only photography since.

For all its good points, Austin is a very disjointed place. For some reason it is hard to bring people together as evidenced by some of the problems we had building a membership and financial support for ACP. There are countless points of support for photographers in NYC – not the least of which is the International Center of Photography (ICP). Back to ACP very briefly. In the happy times, I was proud to say that ACP would become known as the ICP of the southwest.

Maybe moving from ACP to ICP is like moving from AAA to MLB?

ACP compared to ICP so much more like moving from Little League to the Bigs. ICP is big time, an organization with a long track record that is very well respected not to mention funded. I’m sorry to say that even when I was leading ACP, it was neither of those and in the succeeding three years not much has been accomplished to change that. 

And photographically speaking, (Austin) is a very boring place for a classic street photographer like myself.  Don’t get me wrong, Austin is a fine place to live. But, it’s not such a good place to be an emerging artistic photographer, in my opinion. Anyway, 35 years in one place is long enough and NYC offers SO much for any artist willing to put in the work necessary. This move is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. But I have no regrets.

When you founded ACP, did you try to inject more of a street sensibility into it? 

Only in the sense that each board member’s personal taste was reflected in their individual choices of who should be invited to be a speaker at one of the four Icons of Photography events each year. These events were ACP's single largest contributions to its members and public.

My top choice was Elliott Erwitt, and I mentioned others like Bruce Gilden and Richard Kalvar as possible icons. Here my bias toward street photography had a voice.

As for Elliott, of course, someone of his stature would have been quite a coupe for our very young organization. And, I’m happy to say that with some legwork and some luck, Elliott accepted our invitation to speak and came to Austin. Unlike any other icon, Elliott actually spoke on two consecutive nights. Both were sellouts. I’m also happy to say that because of this I was able to befriend Elliott and I have had his support and encouragement ever since.

What is your relationship with photo legends Eli Reed and Elliott Erwitt? 

I owe knowing Eli and Elliott to ACP. Eli lives in Austin and our connection would probably have come about without ACP being in the picture since I knew many of his students at University of Texas and we had some contact that way.

I wanted to invite Elliott to participate in an ACP event and I set off to court him after meeting him initially at a gallery opening in Houston. It took few months but he finally agreed to come to Austin and I was his driver, lunch companion, etc. for a weekend. We became friends. How lucky am I? To befriend my hero, wow.

Did you tell him he was your hero? What was his reaction?

I don’t think I ever actually told him that in so many words. I hope that he picked up on the enormous respect that I have for him though.

There is a difference between having a hero and hero-worship. I never wanted to appear to be sucking up to him. I approached him, man to man, first to show him a good time in Austin at the ACP event, and later as I would anyone else I wanted to befriend. His reaction, I think, has been to consider me an equal and as a friend.

My FAIR WITNESS book exists primarily because Eli Reed told me at one point that it was time for me to have a book. Eli and I worked closely for months and months talking about my work, conducting editing sessions. His friendship and support was crucial.

I also had the opportunity to show boxes for work prints to Elliott very early in the book making process. In his studio, he made “A”, “B”, and “C” selections from these prints. He did this for me on a couple of occasions. To have my work edited by my hero, holy shit.

Elliott Erwitt, PAW, July 30th, 2012

What did you think of Erwitt's A, B, C choices? Did you generally agree with his ratings?

I like all of my photographs more or less equally. That is to say that I’m not emotionally invested in any single image. If Elliott was to place a photograph in the C pile that I did think was particularly good, it is only a data point. I can place it back in my personal A pile if I want to.

Mostly, it was just very interesting to see how his eye read my photographs. Sitting there in his studio watching him handle my prints was the highest honor that he could have paid me. Somewhere I have Elliott’s picks written down. I should go back sometime and see what I think now and how many of them made my final edit.

I will add that there is one photograph in the book that is ONLY there because it ended up in Elliott’s A pile. Of all the people I asked to do a similar edit from my box of prints, this particular photograph was not a “hit” with anyone else.

Do you see Erwitt's or Reed's influence in your own photos?

I definitely see Elliott’s influence in some of my best photographs. I’m thinking specifically of his whimsical stuff, not his early photojournalism. I don’t see Eli’s influence as easily mainly because he is more of photojournalist. 

I find myself at some kind of crossroad that I don’t really know how to navigate. My photography has earned the support of some of the biggest names in the business, not just Eli and Elliott, and they are all sitting up there in the strata of photography today and they are beckoning me to join them. 

But as any artist will tell you, it’s not that easy. We all have to pay our dues starting from the bottom just like my mentors did, in most cases, decades ago. Honestly, I probably don’t have enough time to catch up. For now, their support for me is heartwarming and brings encouragement, and I just keep taking pictures because I just have to.

"Because I just have to." Can you elaborate? What is it that drives you? What do you want to show with your photos?

I just can’t imagine my life now without a camera. I always have a camera with me. I am always looking for the next picture. 

I used to have one of my favorite pictures and a motto as the background on my iPhone. The motto was “Find Beauty Everyday”. That’s what I try to show with my photographs. What I find to be beautiful. This is particularly true of my LOOK At Me series.

My new iPhone motto, by the way, is “Life Begins at the End of your Comfort Zone”. Lord knows that my new life in NYC has been well outside my comfort zone so far.

How has your photography changed from when you began to now? What do you see in your old work that you're critical of? What about your current work?

Let me answer the last part of the question first. 

I find street photography now to be much harder to do then I ever did before. In some sense, I have raised my personal bar pretty high. I have some really terrific photographs, if I may be so bold, and I feel like it’s increasingly difficult to reach my own bar on a consistent basis.

I’ve been publishing a picture a week, called a PAW, on my web site since January 2007. That comes to roughly 370 pictures that I have shared with my online audience. This has been a great exercise in editing. It requires that I sit with my photographs each weekend and pick one. 

If one was to start with the first PAW picture, a photograph of my sister and her horse (in color) and then follow through all the subsequent PAWs in chronological order, my maturation as photographer would be plan to see. With each passing year, the bar was raised a bit more because I was becoming a better photographer. 

So I self-edit in camera now – meaning that if a particular scene that I could photograph isn’t better than my last PAW then I'm reluctant to click the shutter. Actually this self-imposed limitation bugs the hell out of me.

No Parking, Brooklyn, PAW, November 11, 2013

So the PAWs represent a steady progression from older to newer, each one gradually increasing in quality? That seems like a very tough standard to keep up. 

You’re absolutely right, it is tough. Raising the bar on myself for seven years definitely has its downside. This more than ever activates my thinking that I need to move beyond street photography (at least as I have practiced it for all these years) to something that maybe I’m not quite so good at. 

Remember my iPhone motto again… life begins (i.e., perhaps my next photographic life) at the end of my comfort zone. But, the universe hasn’t brought me to that yet.

As for my older work which only dates back about nine years, there are some that I really like. One picture I took in 2004 was included in FAIR WITNESS but most were taken in the past four years as my vision has solidified into something of a style. 

I’m not critical of my previous work, it was all necessary to get me wherever it is that I am today.

A question raised by your artist statement: Why must your photographs include people?

There are no absolutes and sometimes I may release a picture without a human inhabitant but it’s not very often. I do need to go a bit psychoanalytical to answer this question.

I was all about photography when I was a teenager but under firm parental direction I went to college to become an engineer. Fortunately, computer science was in the College of Engineering at Michigan State University because I discovered that I really enjoyed programming computers, so I could choose comp-sci as a major and still make my father happy.

So around 1973 until the fall of 2004 or so, photography languished as an afterthought and for that time due to some particularities of the person I am, I very often related better with machines than I did with people.

But when the camera became important again, I began to change. The camera became a passport to so much of life I had missed during the decades of being a programmer. I went to Europe for extended periods of time in 2005 and 2006 to photograph. Now it has brought me to live in NYC.

I require people to be in most of my pictures as some kind of therapy for frequently intense periods of loneliness that overcame me pre-camera. I feel some connection with the people in most of my pictures. Who are they? Could we have been friends if circumstances had allowed it?

For my LOOK At Me project, I estimate that I have approached somewhere around 1100 young men and asked if I could photograph them. As of today, ~110 have agreed. During the hour or two or three that I spend with each of these 18-24 year old guys, I feel young again. 

Most of these guys open up to me and I am able to make a connection, albeit brief, with someone who represents a person I wish I could have known, befriended, loved when I was a young man living a life that others wanted me to have. Finally now as I approach the age of 60, I feel free to live the life I want.

Do you have any old photos from your teenage years available online somewhere?

No, I don’t. I have all the negatives and slides from those days scanned and a small box of prints made in my teenage darkroom in the closet but other than a few prints from some infrared Ektachrome slides, I have never shared them publicly.

Do you have any photos of computers from that period?

I’m not a keeper of snapshots so probably not. I might have saved a few snapshots of my various old offices I inhabited during my software business days and some computer hardware may be visible. But in my recent big move, I purged a lot of this kind of stuff. 

Brian, Austin, 2009, from Look At Me
Most of your portraits are shot with subject off-center. Is there a conscious reason for that style?

Most definitely. It began with the realization that most photographs are now viewed, at least at first, on a computer screen. Without question vertical (or portrait) orientation just looks terrible on most computer screens compared to how a horizontal (or landscape) orientation fills the screen.

Some years ago, I made the decision to not ever take another vertical. If one was to look back through the history of my PAW (Picture A Week) galleries, they’d see that all of a sudden there were no more verticals. 

Now, when photographing, I have all but forgotten that I can hold my camera another way. 

When my LOOK At Me project rolled into my life, I had to figure out a way to make portraiture work in a landscape world. Combining a portrait with my love of very narrow depth of field has been the perfect solution by balancing a face with a seriously out-of-focus background.

Did you ever consider square format as a possibility?

Yes, I have. I actually did a series a few years ago (in color, no less) using 120 film in a Diana camera. Some of these photographs can be seen in the Sweet Spots gallery on my web site. 

I still have a couple of Dianas and also own a vintage Rolleiflex for whenever the square format bug my return.

Pirate, from Sweet Spots

What's your proudest moment as a photographer?

That’s a tough one. I think it was probably when my photograph that I call “Bike Boy” was printed in Shutterbug Magazine. It was my first published photograph and this awakened me to the idea that maybe I was a pretty good photographer.  Another proud moment was when I saw the first copy of my FAIR WITNESS book in print.

Your work has won numerous awards and been in many publications. Do the choices of outside judges often differ from your own judgment of your photos? In other words, would you pick the same photos they did for certain awards? Or do you often find yourself second-guessing them?

I honestly don’t pay much attention to who the judges are for the various competitions, etc. that I may submit my work to. 

Eli Reed was one of three judges for one of the competitions recently so I figured I had a good chance in that one. I did have two selected for the gallery show but neither came from the body of work that Eli and I have worked on together. That came as a bit of surprise.

But the judges and jurors in any competition all operate like the internet pseudo-experts that I railed against earlier in that they all have their own likes and dislikes, biases, prejudices, and there is no accounting for taste. I expect no consistency and hold no grudges or whatever when my work is not selected. It really is just the luck of the draw. 

Because tastes vary widely, wouldn't it pay to do a little background research on judges before submitting somewhere?

I suppose in some cases, yes. When attending portfolio reviews, I am careful to request reviewers who may be more receptive to my work or who may be in a position to offer the most bang for the buck. In the case of competitions though, I really only look at the theme. If the theme fits my work, I’m more likely to submit. Researching the jurors for these kind of things, I think reaches a point of diminishing returns. My only other comment on competitions is the more valuable the prizes are the more likely the whole thing is really just a money grab and I don’t waste my time.

The secret to getting work seen, selected into various group shows, printed a publication, etc. is to submit to as many places as possible. Submit and forget. If I get an acceptance email then I allow myself some satisfaction and do some self-promotion around it for awhile. But these are fleeting moments and I simply accept that the stars just aligned for me this time. Due to the randomness of opinion and taste, I never know what pictures may end up being chosen and I never second-guess a judge.

Recently one of my photographs was selected by The Photo Review. In the acceptance email, they included this: 
“More than 1,520 photographs by 357 photographers were entered in The Photo Review Competition this year and yours was among about 4% of this number chosen.” 
I’ve seen many such statements when being notified by others of a winning entry. Sure, it makes me feel kind of special -- but in reality this usually reflects the opinion(s) of less than a handful of people, and while I’m grateful for this recognition, it doesn’t mean very much in the grand scheme of things.

Another way of describing 4% is you're in the 96th percentile.

So that’s how that works. It sounds better that way! To steal the basketball saying, you miss out on 100% of the competitions, etc. that you don’t submit to.  The benefit of submitting is long term. String together enough competition wins, shows, etc., build an impressive CV, and somewhere along the line perhaps the right eyeballs will fall on my work and a new door will open.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


There's a river in Central Oregon called the Metolius which is strangely charged and magical. Unlike most rivers which build themselves gradually from tributaries, the Metolius erupts full-sized from the base an ancient cindercone volcano called Black Butte. Then it wanders for just a few miles and feeds into a lake.

The beginning of the roll can also be a strangely charged and magical place. When film is shot with certain cameras the photo river comes charging out of the blackness fully formed and ready to take on the world, but with one foot still in the void.

This effect only occurs with older manual cameras. The motor drives of the 1990s and 2000s were programmed to advance film automatically past the blackness. With those cameras the first frame is safely ensconced in a blank womb.

But I like coming out of blackness better, or perhaps I'm just more used to it. The photos hit the ground running with no warm up. And usually that first frame shows it, twisted and ugly and half cocked, and half buried in a lightleak. Sometimes strange interactions occur between the black and the subject matter. Usually not, but sometimes. And even when it amounts to nothing, that first frame is a constant reminder that some things are beyond control. Maybe the most important things.

I think Jason Eskenazi must be a fan too. He's collected a series of his interrupted first frames into a video, with interesting results. 

Watching this video, one wonders why more photographers don't scan their mangled half frames and present them in a video accompanied by Wagner.

Maybe it's catching on. Nick DeWolf archivist Steve Lundeen has created an entire category called endofroll. Wayne Bremser's recent essay on these photos (for LPV 7) is worth reading. He calls them "misfires" and I suppose in a technical sense that's accurate. But there's something to them, especially when viewed as a series. They look more like bonfires to me.

Endofroll is the key word here. At first I couldn't wrap my head around the mechanics of  a lightleak occurring at the end of a roll. With 35 mm film it would be almost impossible. But with medium format film, lightleaks like the ones above are not only possible but quite common. In fact some photographers impose on purpose by loosening up the exposed spool. Playing with fire there, or misfire.

Jean Christophe Bechet addresses the misfire issue head on, calling his series of lightleaked film frames Accidents. "The leak of light fixes the images in another documentary dimension," says Bechet. "The accident reveals a specifically photographic blend of narrative and documents, poetry and the truth of the moment..." I don't know about all of that but some of his juxtapositions are definitely poetic, and definitely from the beginning of the roll and not the end.

"The accident happens when one is totally open to those happy flukes that arise from disorder," says Bechet. "It thwarts any sense of security, repetition, or control. And it is particularly necessary in real-life photography." Amen.

Photographers, listen up. Control is not your friend. Control is sometimes the enemy. Own your accidents. Take some pride in them.

Bechet's photos are very good specimens for describing the intersection of lightleak and image (Eskenazi's photos also show it well). The intersection rarely manifests as a straight line. Instead it's a fuzzy strip of mottled light which looks almost painterly.

This effect is created by the thin fur lining on 35 mm cartridges. Here's what it looks like from the inside after dissection.

Just as with animals and rivers, film does not enter the world through a clean doorway. It comes instead through the strip of artificial fur shown above, a bizarre but effective solution to the quandary of keeping film dark while allowing it to escape unscratched. Until now that fur has received scant attention, but what Bechet knows better than most is that fur is just another tool in the photographer's toolbox, a paintbrush of light ready to be applied to every first OO frame. 

Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think that fur inside the cartridge has a name yet. At this point it's just called fur inside the cartridge. Well, as Dan Savage knows, there aren't many opportunities in this world to name new objects, especially when it comes to photography tools. You've got to grab that chance whenever it comes along. And since I've lingered this long on the topic, I'm going to name that fur inside the cartridge. 

I hereby christen it Metolius. Plural: MetoliaMaybe my neologism will catch on or maybe it won't. That's up to you Metolius users to decide. No need to go out of your way, but it would be helpful to me if you could introduce it here and there in casual conversation. Did you see the metolius on that Tri-X 400? or That beautiful sunset over there reminds me of my last metolius. Nothing fancy. Just use it when it applies here and there, and with practice the word can be expanded into metaphorical territory. I'm going to get my metolius waxed today. Don't look now but I think that person's metolius is sho