Over the break I’ve taken some time to edit.  I’ve tried to be brutally honest with myself and the result has left me feeling a little conflicted.  Of my last 250-300 or so pictures I had pulled perhaps 20-30 selects.  That puts my hit rate in the 10:1 range which is fine.   

After the purge that ratio is definitely down to 15-20 to 1.  There were whole rolls of 120 where there was only one image that was worth keeping.  On others there were none, if I was blatantly honest with myself.  On the 35 side the last roll I scanned has 2 pictures that didn’t hit the edit room floor.  Just two.  There might have been aspects of certain images that I liked–great shadows or great comp or a great subject–but when I take a step back, they aren’t as good as I initially thought.

Brutal honesty when it comes to your own work is tough.  After the purge, I was having a pretty hard time feeling positive about my work.  I looked at the carved-out shell of selects and tried to remember why the hell I keep shooting.  And I don’t mean that in that in some vague, fleeting sense, but more in in terms of a truly panicked and self-deprecating fury.  It’s gut wrenching to feel like you’re standing still in your personal work but t’s devastating to realize that you may be going backwards and ultimately it’s somewhere west of the genus hysteria when you don’t have a single notion of how to fix it.   

So instead of hyperventilating I sat on my hands and did nothing photographic for a few days.  Instead I decided to bury myself in books, mainly fixating on Gruyeart, Kertesz and Cartier-Bresson.  While languidly perusing through “Europeans” for the eighteen-billionth time, I had something of an epiphany.  I was suddenly struck with the realization that there were actually images in that book that left me feeling blank–images that, had I been the editor, I would have removed.  Technically, they were fine for the most part.  The problem was that they lacked something, the same sort of something  that made me edit out so many of my own images.  It’s a difficult sensation to describe, but the closest emotion I can pin it to is a feeling of detachment–that while a particular picture is indeed interesting and technically well-executed that it’s not really engaging.  In short, there are images by Cartier-Bresson that I simply do not find captivating.    

Now, let me impress upon you, dear reader, what a sense of relief it was to have this moment of realization.  You may be asking, “but who are you Chris?’ and that’s a fair question.  I’m not a photo-editor or a gallery owner or a curator.  I’ve never published nor have I ever shown.  What I am is a human with eyes and a heart and a soul who wants to be engaged by images and (here’s the nitty-gritty of it) if I would be willing to sacrifice an image crafted by the grand-master-extraordinaire-de-street-photography, then I’m am holding myself to the highest possible standards.  In culling so much of my own work I am in fact doing exactly what I should be doing: being brutally honest, pushing myself beyond what feels comfortable and ultimately holding my work to the highest possible standard.

Now, if only I could make something that I could hold to that standard–I’m still a little behind in that fucking department.  

Shot on my Leica M7 on the 35mm Cron on Kodak Tri-X film pushed +1 at the Icon.   

Call Eli

This store was someone’s dream… I’m going to say that it was Eli’s store and ergo Eli’s dream of how he was going to make it big in the world.  He had a dream of how he was going to leave his mark on Los Angeles and it started with buying this tiny downtown location and then people were going to know his name. 

He must have been so excited when he got the loan from the bank and the deed to the property.  He must have felt the pride swelling in his chest, an ever expanding mass, inflating beyond anything he had ever felt before as he hastily scribbled his signature in triplicate, initialing here, here and here and dating there.  I imagine him driving by the storefront on his way home from the bank, creeping slowly by while road-raging Angelinos furiously leaned on their horns behind him, showing their contempt for his pace the only way we know how. 

And so Eli set-up shop and although now it’s hard to tell now what he was selling or what services he was providing, he must have thought he had found some small niche that he could fill–a hairline fracture he could squeeze through that everyone else had somehow missed.  Once he had seen his chance I bet it consumed him.  I wonder if he slept the first few nights or if he was up till the wee hours planning and scheming on how he would set up the display cases or the shelves on the walls or the logo design for the sign.  

Maybe business was good in the beginning and then started to drop-off, slowly.  Maybe Eli’s failed from day one.  Maybe Eli had over extended himself, bought to much inventory and couldn’t make his loan payments.  Maybe the mortgage was too high or the margins were too low.  Maybe people didn’t need what he was selling.  Maybe I’ll never know why, but Eli had to close his doors and everything had to go.  He got rid of the inventory, sold off the furniture and forgot the future that was Eli’s dream.  

All that’s left for Eli now is to lease out that little downtown storefront for other people’s dreams.  Call him.  His number is 310-266-7700 and his name is Eli.  Lease his dream for a while. 

Shot on my Mamiya 6MF at 50mm on Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed +1 at the Icon.   

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.

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