The Reader

The facet of film photography that hooked me was the aspect of full commitment.  By full commitment I’m referring to all aspects of photography that a digital shooter will waste time checking or changing or adjusting rather than shooting and trusting their instincts.  When I load a roll, I’m committing to black and white fully.  Depending on where I set the roll I’m also committing to certain contrast ratios in anticipation of certain lighting conditions.  I’m releasing full control of my composition to my minds eye rather than just what I see in the viewfinder since I shoot rangefinders.  I have no screen on the back to double check any of this.  I just know it’s either right or that it’s wrong and I have to believe that I really know the difference.  I’m not using my meter as often as I used to if at all.  I can look down the street and usually be within half-a-stop.  Just as often I’m not checking my focus until after the shot or before the next.  I know my lens enough to know where it’s focused without looking down.

When I get my negatives back there are never really big surprises.  I look down at the light table and and the negs are right around where I thought they were when I shot them for better or for worse.  My scanning goes on a single light and my post-processing is the same preset (with sharpening, a little dehaze, contrast and black-point) to bring the raw scans back to where the contact sheet is sitting.  From there I’ll add a little curves to increase contrast or a little exposure to lighten up a bit but more often than not the choices I made when I loaded the roll combined with the choices I made when I exposed the image have given me what I hoped to see.   Full disclosure though, I would be straight up lying if I didn’t mention that I have to dust-bust my scans.  Black and white doesn’t work with IR so I’m left manually painting away all that crap and no matter how much compressed air, purosol and lintless gloves I use, my scans always have shit on them.  C’est la vie.

I’ve worked at all of this for many years now but I think my reasons have changed over the years.  Initially I just wanted to understand the process.  Now I do it because I want to be a master of my craft.  I do it because after I’m dead, I want there to be a physical record of what I made–not just a bunch of disposable data out in the ether, transient on hard drives and cards that won’t have readers or cables in 10 years.  I want the images to stand on their own with no help from masks or layers or post.  No versions.  No raw files or jpegs or retouched versions.  I want someone to find my negs after I die, throw them up on a light board and say “this fucking Noellert guy knew what he was doing–he actually got it in camera.”  

Full disclosure, sometimes that fantasy includes a couple of my images wandering into the MET’s permanent collection after the release of a 90 minute documentary chronicling my prolific and masterful later-years (before a regrettable but inevitable break with reality and disappearance from all public life).  At the end of the film you’ll think you know me. You realize you want, no, need to take up photography and be amazing at it.  You’ll be inspired by my determination, dedication and utter love of film and the photographic process and wonder how it can fill the gaping hole in your soul as completely as it did for me.   

Well, we all can dream, can’t we?

“The Reader” shot on my Mamiya 6MF at 50mm on Kodak Trip-X 400 film pushed to 800 at the Icon.

At a loss

I’m at a loss.  

I don’t remember making this image.  And while I don’t recall making this image, I am 100% certain that I was the one who made it.  That may sound ridiculous but when you are married to a photographer and have a few kids, suspicious frames can sometimes just appear on rolls that aren’t of your making.  But not this one.  It’s indubitably “me” in composition and subject and contrast, yet I have no memory of it prior to seeing it on the light table.  It’s not accidental because It’s too deliberate.  I don’t drink and shoot so I was definitely conscious when I made it, but I’m drawing a blank.  

The frame before it I remember, fully. It was on the way back to the car in Manhattan Beach, right after the Santa picture.  There was this kid reading a book at a coffee shop, all sprawled out, not caring that his feet were sticking-out from between two bars of the fence his legs were crammed up against.  I remember seeing the frame, before I took it, stopping-down, pre-focusing the camera to 1.5 meters and crouching slightly to get the frame perfect–I wanted the kid’s shoes in the frame as well as his book.  I wanted it to be dark dark dark hence the stopping down.  It was as intentional as this frame in every way.  

Likewise the frame after I fully remember.  I was on my way back to the car when I saw an empty store with a guard sitting in the middle of the emptiness talking on a phone.  The walls were stark white and bare and there was a vinyl sign hanging across the font.  I turned on the spot, opening up to what felt right shutter-wise… maybe 30 and focused as the guard was getting up out of the chair.  I figured the shot would be motioned blurred and it was, slightly, but the exposure was 100.  The framing was perfect.  

So I have my bookends, but the mystery persists.  I’m sure I’ll remember eventually, but nothing’s coming to me.  I do know it was shot on my Mamiya 6MF on Kodak Tri-X film pushed to 800.  I do know it was processed at the Icon.  Maybe I need a new multi-vitamin.  

And to all a good night

Happy holidays to you.  I may not have sent you a text or an email or a card, but I if you’re reading this, I truly hope you have a lovely holiday and a peaceful end to 2017.  I sincerely hope it’s filled with good food, good friends and loving family.  I hope that the ham is juicy, the meatballs are round and plentiful and that you discover a super-secret, thrid-tier to your Aladdin chocolate box. 

People need to be with other people and especially during the holidays so everybody find your Del Griffith–or if you’re the Del, find your Neil.  Find someone to keep you warm in a way that matters to you and matters to them.    Be a little less angry.  Be a little less frustrated.  Be a little less jaded.  Love a bit more if you can.  Help a bit more if you can.  

Tis the season after all and if there ever was a point in history where we needed to be genuinely good, loving human beings, it’s right now.     

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