I’ve never dined at The Checkerboard Café, but I always liked the sign. Billed on its website as “Tucson’s Friendliest Diner,” I suppose I will make this my first destination upon my return. Of course, the home page possesses a few typos, including listing at as “Located a Grand and Oracle Road,” when I’m pretty sure they meant Grant Avenue, I supposed I’ll give ’em a pass. Seeing as how the website also lists its copyright as 2012, I suppose I’d have to dig a little deeper just to confirm that it’s even still there.
The Rillito River no longer runs twelve months a year, although it is credited with Tucson’s early growth. During a brief period of time, I lived along the wash and rode my bike along the hiking path whenever I could. During the monsoon season, the stretch of the river wash near my apartment would erupt with the sound of chirping frogs, and sometimes at night I would hear packs of coyotes howling.
Beneath the Swan Road bridge, I made several studies of the steel beams. It’s a simplistic composition, but I always thought it looked interesting through the viewfinder of my Fujica Half vintage camera. This is one of the many pictures I made during that time.
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This is my meditation spot, and this is certainly not the only photograph I’ve made of it. Up on the hill overlooking the San Xavier Mission outside of Tucson is a shrine to the Guadalupe Virgin and a large white cross. You can hear the faint whisper of the highway off in the distance, and you can see a cluster of Downtown Tucson buildings on the horizon.
This is the place to watch the sunset. This is the place to find one’s center. Just thinking about it, looking on the pictures I’ve made there with my Yashica TLR camera, I feel a calm washing over me. I look forward to going out there again. Soon.
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction. As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
~Henry David Thoreau
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“Pictures, abstract symbols, materials, and colors are among the ingredients with which a designer or engineer works. To design is to discover relationships and to make arrangements and rearrangements among these ingredients.”
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No flowery words today. Film February marches on with this very basic composition, taken with my first real camera, the Nikon N80 that my parents got me. Up until that point, I was using an old Canon with a broken manual rewind lever – it would take about five minutes to wind the film after finishing a roll.
This picture was made using my favorite film stock, a color-reversal stock from Fujifilm called Velvia. It was pretty expensive film, so I never used it much, but it produced these rich colors that always seemed to take the most basic, common, mundane, and forgettable subject matter leap up at you.
A faded practice, film photography, for the faded paint lettering on an old building.
Seems appropriate enough.
Experimentation sometimes leads to the break-through. It certainly leads to some failure. Sometimes you hit an in-between result; this one lives somewhere in the middle. Today’s image wasn’t made with film, nor was it made with a camera. It was made with black-and-white photo paper, an incandescent light, some old print developer (Kodak Dektol multigrade), and a bottle of india ink.
An entire box of my photo paper was accidentally exposed to light; the material isn’t cheap, and I wasn’t amused by the loss. For those of you who don’t know what film and photo paper is, it’s a light-sensative material that’s coated in silver halide (a crystallized salt form of the metal). When light hits this material, the areas that were exposed to the greatest amount of light turn correspondingly dark. With the assistance of corrosive chemicals, you can accelerate the process of darkening the tones and then you can use another set of chemicals to fix the image permanently.
When a box of photo paper is accidentally exposed, it becomes useless for traditional printing – all prints will be slightly flat-toned or “fogged” when you go to draw a print in the darkroom. Rather than snap my fingers in defeat and pitch the useless pages into the trash, I decided to try and have some fun. The paper was already ruined, so what could I lose?
I started taking these pieces of partially-exposed paper out. I threw them into the developing bath and sprayed india ink over the prints before snapping on the overhead light. Since some of the paper was protected from the light by the dark, floating plumes of ink, strange patters begin to emerge on the paper. I’d then lift the prints before they turned completely black and put them in the fixing chemicals. The result is what you see above – atmospheric swirls and bubbles that, to my eye, are reminiscent of astral photography. I’d stumbled on a new, slightly messier form photogram, and I spent the entire afternoon experimenting, saving the best results to be toned, hand-colored, or scanned into digital files later.
Sometimes it pays just to goof off for a bit and forget that there are any rules.
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Film February continues with yet another recurring theme in the pantheon of old subject matter. Some people miss out on what’s going on around them because they stare at their shoes rather than look around. There’s nothing wrong with staring at the ground, if you ask me – there’s a lot going on there.
As I’ve mentioned in previous entries to this project, street photographer Aaron Siskind played a major role in inspiring a younger version of myself. Seeking out interesting compositions in mundane places became something of a game. While interning at The Center For Creative Photography in Tucson, I also became deeply fascinated by a photographer named Minor White, who also had a tendency to isolate seemingly normal, everyday objects and somehow manage to make them alien, interesting, unique.
There is definitely something magical about working in black-and-white film.
Today’s photograph for the continuation of ‘Film February’ corresponds to a time when I was first exposed to a different, more literary side of photography. After reading “Subculture: The Meaning of Style” by Dick Hebdige, the door to semiotics was opened. It was nauseatingly confusing to me, this new philosophy of graphic language, but it was also intriguing. I fell down the rabbit hole and found myself thinking about my photographs in a completely different way. I’m reminded of one of photography’s seminal publications, “Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography,” and a particular passage by author Roland Barthes which summarizes my feelings perfectly:
“For me the noise of Time is not sad: I love bells, clocks, watches — and I recall that at first photographic implements were related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision: cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing, and perhaps in me someone very old still hears in the photographic mechanism the living sound of the wood.”
From the moment I began these new studies I started looking through the viewfinder differently. This is when I became interested in macro photography, and it’s when I became much more deliberate with my compositions. When I take the time to really investigate, I discover that there are interesting things all around, that there is always something interesting to investigate with my photographers’ tools. With camera in hand, I’m a kid looking under rocks and discovering whole worlds that I never knew were there before.