About a month ago I wrote an entry called Time Flies in which I discussed getting caught up in things that really didn’t matter, which takes precious time away from things that do matter, and how this is counterproductive to creative wellbeing. I further said that there’s only so much time we have, so in my case I want make more time for meaningful photographs. How to do that? Clear away all the non-worthwhile activity and focus on what is important to me. Of course this is easier said then done, but I was determined not to wait to 2018 and I have already started to take my action steps.

I think the most important thing to do besides clearing the decks of all the timewasters is to set some goals you really want to accomplish and have a likelihood of being met. I have done this and so should you. Of course many find it hard to meet any goals at all, but endeavoring to clear away the worthless nonsense in our lives enables us to take a major first step in what is necessary to meet goals we wish to realistically achieve. At least that’s what I think, so I am sticking to it!

There are a couple of projects I have wanted to do that I never get around to starting, or sometimes I find my focus seems to wander. Then there are certain prints I want to make that I haven’t gotten around to. But I am clearing out the underbrush and know what I am going to do! I’m not worrying about trying to satisfy others. Instead I plan to accomplish things that fulfill me.

I think 2018 will be a pretty good year.

Happy holidays and best wishes for your 2018!


Printing with Michael A. Smith

Have you ever got up and started printing shortly after the crack of dawn and pretty much gone straight through the day until late at night? I did … once. It was a true experience and something I’m not sure I would repeat. Nothing against Michael Smith or by extension his charming wife and similarly wonderful photographer, Paula Chamlee … but it was a lot!

A number of years ago I had taken Michael and Paula’s weekend workshop in Ottsville, Pennsylvania, not far from where I now live. We hit it off and stayed in contact after I returned home. I was asking some follow-on questions and one thing led to another … Michael asked me if I would like to assist him for a weekend. The objective: to print 100 photographs of Chicago for book publication and exhibition.  I obviously accepted and made plans to take him up on his offer. I’m not sure whether I would call it fun … however, it was certainly worthwhile for me to assist a master and I came away with more knowledge and insight than when I arrived!

Both Michael and Paula make contact prints from large format negatives – 8×10 and larger, using long discontinued and beautiful Kodak Azo silver chloride photographic paper. That’s it. No enlarging at all! At the time we got together they had enough stored in their freezers to probably last them until they can print no longer. They also market their own popular Lodima paper, designed after Azo. Both papers are beautiful and have a very long scale. Both Smith and Chamlee use Amidol developer with it (Lodima is Amidol spelled backwards!). In short it harkens back to simpler time and those famous images made by Edward Weston and other greats during the Forties and Fifties.

We had to work in an efficient manor and Smith was very strict about this. But efficient does not equate to sloppy, or printing without giving each print everything you had. Fact is that Smith is so good and it turns out that contact printing using these papers requires comparitively little manipulation!

I tried my hand at 8×10 for a while, but not long after my marathon experience I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t best for the way I work and landscape really wasn’t an area I was going to focus on. Nevertheless, one of my most beautiful pictures is a contact print made from an 8×10 negative shot in Vermont. I still remember the experience vividly. I was staying at a friend’s. Woke up and looked out the back window. The light was beautiful and I quickly gathered up the gear, ran outside in the snow, set up and made the photograph. And yes, printing it was pretty easy just as it was with most of Smith’s images. Interestingly, I liked the look of it best on paper designed to be use with enlargers. In this case the long discontinued but never forgotten Forte Elegance VC paper.

No, I don’t think I will ever participate a printing marathon like that again … and certainly never alone. But I came away with something very important from the experience. You can do great work in the darkroom if you have done your best to do great work in the field. That means a well-seen image that is properly exposed. Slowing down is the key, whether you are using a very large view camera like Smith does and making contact prints, or using a 35mm camera for enlargement. The contact print is certainly a jewel-like piece of art, but so too can be your enlarged photographs, even ones made with 35mm … if made with real care and appropriately sized.

It really is all about craft, and yes being as deliberate as possible in the darkroom. That means don’t waste time. Focus on the task at hand so you can get to the finish line efficiently. Do not sit. Do not listen to music. Do not take phone calls. Do work in the same manner every time you print. Write down your steps and make a print recipe. Take your time to adequately determine the proper print contrast using VC or graded paper. That is being efficient. Do not make an “educated guess” concerning which contrast to use. You may be wrong and that’s an inefficient use of time for sure.

Smith works fast, not because he is rushing to get done. He has honed his skills and applies them methodically, both in the field and in the darkroom in order to reach his goal … to create an expressive image! We can all learn from that.

The Uncluttered Viewfinder

I’ve been enjoying my modified Leica SL … FrankenLeica … or Frank for short (see a previous and entertaining entry on this) … and my Leica M2 and M3 cameras this year quite a bit. There really is something special about using these wonderful machines built in a time when … well … things were really built. The form factor, the metal construction, the weight, the tactile pleasure! I know, you have heard if all before. In my opinion it’s all true, but for me the critical feature common to these old rangefinders and SLRs are their viewfinders. When I look through them I see a clear, bright and mostly uncluttered view of the world.

Yes, you might say that the Leica SL has a needle (f stops) and a “lollipop” thingy (shutter speeds) that move, and when they intersect indicate correct exposure. And shutter speed information is visible at the bottom of the viewfinder. All true, but since my newer ROM lenses are not coupled (again, many thanks to Don Goldberg for solving this problem!) and I don’t use a battery, the meter is therefore fully inoperative. Only the lollipop is visible and how much I see of it is based on the shutter speed selected. If you don’t want to go the Leica route there are similar vintage and beautifully made SLRs that don’t have a meter at all, such as the wonderful Asahi Pentax SV. And many of the screw mount lenses made when that camera and the follow-on Spotmatic (with built in meter) was produced are outstanding.

The bottom line is that I’m hardly aware of what little there is in the viewfinder.

Then there are the M cameras without built in meters – M2, M3 and the M4 and its variants. No metering distractions to be concerned with. And with the M2 and M3 you only see the frame lines for the specific lens mounted on the camera. So no distractions at all!

I have always been attracted to cameras that exhibit as little information as possible in the viewfinder and especially don’t like blinking lights or other lit data found in more modern cameras. I only want to see is the scene in front of me I wish to photograph and these viewfinders allow me to do that. I think using these simple tools help me concentrate more on composition and make better pictures.

I work very simply; in most situations I merely take a meter reading of the palm of my hand (making sure I’m not in a shadowed area) using a handheld meter, then open up one stop. When I’m walking around on the street, one reading is all I need unless the light changes. For pictures of objects, buildings, or a landscape containing white clouds, etc., I take a reading of the brightest part of the scene and open up three stops. That’s it. This works for me and may well work for you.

Plenty of people use “sunny sixteen” and don’t need a meter at all. Then there are those so good that they just intuitively know the right exposure. Henri Cartier-Bresson comes to mind.

An ancillary benefit of my approach is that I don’t worry about batteries anymore or the reliability of camera electronics. Ok, my Pentax 1 degree spot meters use a battery, but I never have had a dead one in thirty plus years of use. Every couple of years I change them. On the other hand, I cannot tell you how many times I accidently left my Leica R9 switched on only to find out I had a useless paperweight when I was ready to go photograph. As much as I loved the R9, I have flushed electronic cameras out of my system.

So does using a camera with an uncluttered meter-less viewfinder, no batteries and electricity make me a photographic Luddite? Perhaps. Do I make better photographs than I might otherwise? I think so. Does it matter? Definitely.

Unforeseen Results

It’s that time again at the end of the semester when my Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR) students have to present their theme based project of ten 8×10 photographs and accompanying written essay. There’s no grade so people sometimes skip the essay, but always talk about what they did, and of course discuss each of their photographs during their presentations.

Some of my students have hung in with me for the three semesters I have been teaching and are threating to return in the spring. It’s very gratifying for me so see how they have grown over the last year and a half and I’m most appreciative of the friendships I have made during this time.

For those that follow my weekly entries and are familiar with my love of black and white film photography, it may come as a surprise that I was absolutely blown away by a particular project done completely in color with a digital camera.

My objective is not to push the use of film cameras or the production of black and white images made in a darkroom. Well, maybe someday! What I really want to accomplish is to get them to become more open to their surroundings, to look beyond their normal field of view for new and exciting possibilities. Maybe even get outside their comfort zones. Hence the concept of the project!

My student accomplished all the above and produced a truly sensitive, beautiful and thought-provoking series of abstracts made where she lives and in the locations she traveled to during the course of the semester.

The work was outstanding and worthy of exhibition; but just as important, she discovered a brand new avenue of inquiry for her photography that she will continue to pursue.

Perhaps an unforeseen result … but a welcome one that comes from a willingness to try something different and giving it your best shot.

She pushed herself to do something new and creative, and succeeded in meeting her goals. In other words, she is a photographer.

William Clift, Certain Places

I had a great Thanksgiving and I hope those who celebrate it had one as well. One of the things I am thankful for is to have a wonderful photographic library that contains Certain Places, by the great photographer William Clift.

I won’t waste any time and get right to the point. This slender and not overly large book containing only 22 black and white photographs is perhaps one of the finest I own. The subjects include the New Mexico landscape, Mont Saint Michel, public buildings, sculptures and a few other assorted images. A particularly memorable photograph is Swing, Tesuque, New Mexico, 1973. It’s a picture of swing made of woven rope blowing in the New Mexico breeze with what looks like storm clouds in the distance. The light is amazing the scene is breathtaking. In short, it is one of the most beautiful photographs I have ever seen. I can only imagine what it would look like in front of me!

I found an interesting interview of Clift. He states that he is not a traditionalist and uses a range of cameras including 8×10, 5×7, 4×5, medium format and 35mm. Sounds like using the right tool for the job, or perhaps he just makes great pictures with whatever camera he chooses. That wouldn’t surprise me at all! What was most interesting was his statement that he makes very few pictures.  In other words only what is meaningful to him. In a video interview he discusses the mistake of attempting to make photographs that will appeal to others. No doubt his approach to seeing and making photographs that move him contributes to a very high rate of successful images and is something we should all think about!

His philosophy and working methods shine through in this most beautiful of books and I never tire of looking at it.

Yes, only 22 photographs, but a truly remarkable book that belongs in everyone’s photography library!

Time Flies

Just renewed my inLiquid membership and realized that a year had come and gone since I was first juried and accepted as an inLiquid artist. It made me think about all that has happened since that time … I had a couple of shows and prepared for an upcoming one in Lisbon, taught my darkroom workshop and my two courses at the Center for Learning in Retirement for two semesters, met with my Photo Chat group during our monthly Sunday get-togethers over coffee, led a number of photo walks, visited a number of great museum exhibits, and even made some good photographs.

Now that I think about it, that’s a lot, given everything else I have going on in my life. Fact is, that even though I got all of this done there’s so much I more wanted to accomplish that I didn’t. Why? Because I got caught up in a lot of time and brain wasters outside of photography and at its edges that just didn’t matter … taking precious time away from creative opportunities that do matter.

Sound familiar? Have you fallen into this trap? When it comes right down to it, wasting time … and mental energy … on non-essential things that don’t matter and are counterproductive to your overall and creative wellbeing is not a good thing. I know this now because in retrospect I’ve done a lot of it!

In the end there’s only so much time we have, so I want to do something really creative … make more time for meaningful photographs. And I’m not waiting to January 1st! No! I’ve decided to take stock of all this right now, and work to clear away all the non-worthwhile activity and focus on what is important to me. So should you.

A New Show

My one-person show opened at the Bodhi Coffee, located in the lovely and historic Society Hill neighborhood in Center City Philadelphia. It will run for approximately eight weeks. While it’s a small exhibit it focuses on some of my favorite photographs of people.

So if you find yourself in Philadelphia and have a spare moment, please stop by, have a cup of coffee and take a look at my photographs. Send me a note and maybe we can get together to discuss photography over something hot!

Bodhi Coffee is located at 410 S 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147.

Forth Photo Walk Meet Up on November 12th

We are going to take another break from doing our periodic Photo Chat Get-Togethers and instead get together for another Photo Walk Meet Up!

Yes, how about getting together to make some photographs of statues and other fascinating art forms around the Michener and Mercer Museums in historic Doylestown, PA. There are plenty of photographic opportunities from the straight forward to creative surrounding the two buildings that happen to be right across the street from one and other!

Well, if this sounds interesting and fun, how about joining me on Sunday, November 12th, at 10am. We will meet in the parking lot of the Doylestown Public Library, located at 150 S Pine St, Doylestown, PA 18901.

Photographers of all levels are welcome.

Email at info@michaelmarksphoto.com or call me at 215-348-9171 if you are interested.

I look forward to meeting you!