Friday, August 01, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake: Cesarean Art

I've been working for the past few years at finding a way to express my feelings about my daughter's birth via unplanned, emergency C-section. I went through many different experiments that just haven't worked and aren't worth showing or talking about. But then one night, I was watching Ace of Cakes and Duff said this:
"Making a cake for someone is a very intimate thing to do. You're taking their joy and making it into a tangible object."
I scrambled to find a pen and paper to write it down. It just struck me... if you're taking joy and making into a tangible object, can't you take pain and do the same? The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. Commemorate the "birth day" with a cake. You can't have your cake and eat it too. Pain, if not expressed, is a kind of poison; better to get it out, to air it as one would a celebration. So the cake series began.

The plans for the cakes I've created so far were days and weeks in the making, followed by dozens of hours making cakes from scratch from a yellow cake recipe I found in the Joy of Cooking. I've spent even more hours icing them first with buttercream frosting, then kneading and rolling out and carefully smoothing fondant, purchased in 15-lb. tubs, over the tops.

Many people have suggested that I simplify my process and decorate a styrofoam box or at least make the cakes from a mix. I feel the need to make them from scratch. Something about holding on to that womanly tradition of baking, of creating for the family, of putting love and time and effort into this cake for celebration. I mean, isn't that a major part of the Cesarean issue? There isn't time to do it naturally, it's too difficult to do it naturally, so let's cut corners, let's speed things up, let's make it from a box. So I make them from scratch, carefully dividing the yolks from the whites, carefully separating the pain and disappointment and dishonesty of the process of that brought my daughter into the world from the beautiful person that came out of that experience.

In the process, I have become as intimately involved with my cakes, and what they express, as I could ever hope to be, as a necessary part of my production process. I experimented with freezing the cakes, both in uniced and in fully decorated forms, to "batch" them for shooting sessions; learned how the studio lights turned their matte finish into a sweating surface that was warm to the touch in a matter of hours; how long they'd last before they decayed, like a mummifying body, gently caving in on themselves under a thick exterior. I tend to them, baby them, replicate and refine them in the hope that, in the end, the photographs of these cakes will speak for themselves, and that they will speak for me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ambrotype How-To: Converting a 4x5 Film Back

I've been slowly gathering the supplies that I need to make ambrotypes. I have a nice little view camera but had to modify this 4x5 back to fit the glass plates. It's harder than you think.

I pulled both dark slides out and then marked up lines for making a hole in the septum. I had to drill the holes on the corners there so I had a place to get the coping saw started. The middle hole was just a test hole to see how hard it was to drill.

We used some clamps to hold it to a piece of wood to make the sawing easier. You can see that it isn't cut very straight. We used a file to smooth the metal edges.

These holes are for the silver wire that will hold the glass plate in place. It was impossible to find sterling silver wire locally and I ended up with some super thin stuff that didn't work. I've got to order some thicker gauge wire to make my corners here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My 4x5 view camera

Purchased on eBay for around $150. Now I'm looking (patiently) for an 8x10 at the right price.

More on ambrotypes to come.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New Thoughts on Creative Space

I spent a recent weekend in Houston working on ambrotypes with friends of mine and learned that my alma mater (the San Francisco Art Institute) has all but shut down their color darkrooms. At Fotofest this year, I found out that the Photographic Center Northwest is planning on or has already shut down their color darkroom as well. I think there's still a place in NYC that I can print but the issue of having a color darkroom of my own is suddenly much more pressing.

Time and again, people ask me why I don't just print digitally.... "it's so much easier," "you can't tell the difference," "you can scan your negatives and then print them digitally," "you wouldn't have to wait a year between printing sessions," etc. And I get it, I really do. It would be so much easier for me to print digitally. I could ditch the Hasselblad and film all together, buy a digital camera and start zipping out prints. I wouldn't have to travel to print, I wouldn't have to spend hours away from my family, I wouldn't have to ship film back and forth for processing, and I wouldn't have to scan all my negatives in when I wanted to update my website.

But for me, I would have lost so much of what I love about photography (the feel of the weight of the Hasselblad in my hand, that satisfying shutter click, the anticipation of seeing the negative, the time I get to spend alone, in the dark, headphones on turning nothing into something beautiful) that it almost wouldn't be worth it to continue. Though I suppose, if I'm forced to, I may print digitally one day but for now, I'm headed in the opposite direction - the direction of view cameras and collodion and glass.

My Houston collaborators took me to a fabulous little darkroom and I was reminded what exactly a darkroom is. It's small, it's gray, it's crowded, it's often jammed with beakers and trays and art and most of the time something is coming apart somewhere, but it feels like home. It made me stop and think about what it exactly I have been looking for in this color darkroom that I'm trying to build. For some reason, I've been trying to make it perfect - big enough to accommodate any potential future desires, roomy enough to not feel crowded and beautiful enough to be a part of my home. Really, I've never seen a darkroom like that and honestly, it's I'm not sure it actually exists. So I've revised my ambitions and I think that I can scale it down. I think I can jam stuff in corners and make my trays a little closer together and step around things and reach up high and occasionally find something coming apart somewhere - but at least I'll be printing.

The plan is this:
  • Close off our carport and have that space be for 2 enlargers and a sink
  • Close off our porch and use that space for the processor and chemical storage
Neither space is quite big enough to house 2 enlargers and a processor and with both spaces, it'll be a little roomy, although not big enough to add in other things, and I think it will work. It'll mean about five new walls, one door, some windows, two air conditioner units, some sort of ventilation and a lot of hard work. Curtains may actually offer an alternative to some interior walls. Regardless of the details, the point is, for the first time in a while I think this is doable - it's just a question of priorities.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Status of Our Darkroom

I've been avoiding writing this post since I got a comment from Nathan at the University of Washington a few days ago. I've made zero progress on my darkroom. My processor sits, still, taunting me on my porch. Rental darkrooms close their doors and further limit my options.

I got discouraged when we sat down with my brother-in-law and his wife, both trained as architects, to figure out the estimated cost of building the darkroom. Jeremiah and I were under the misguided notion that we could do it for somewhere in the range of $20,000. Even with the cost of the building being only $9,000 our "real" estimates ended up in the $50,000 - $60,000 range. It just seems like an unreachable goal. There is no easy place on our house to turn into a darkroom - especially with a three-year-old who is already susceptible to asthma. So we are left with building a building.

Since our last post (over a year and a half ago), I was also injured in an accident and have spent thousands of dollars on medical bills that I would have been able to save for the darkroom. We're still dealing with the effects of that accident (financially, physically, and emotionally) so progress has been minute.

I do plan to build a color darkroom and I have created a newer, stricter budget to allow for greater savings to pour into this project. I have a greater sense of urgency now as I hear professionals proclaim the irrelevance of learning darkroom techniques.

I am not sold on this digital revolution - and no, the irony of expressing this on a blog is not lost on me. I mourn the loss of Polariod. I mourn the loss of the latent image. I feel sad for those who will know photography as an image flashing on the screen on the back of an image and who will not discover the magic of the image slowly emerging from a canvas that was blank seconds before. I feel my grasp on analog photography grow tighter. I want my daughter to experience this wonder of creation, to experience that moment when an image - even a test strip - appears. Something from nothing. Something she created.

And so for the time being, a name change is in order for this blog. "Darkroomers: Building An Analog Color Darkroom" will be just "Darkroomers." I'll update it with links I find interesting, news on the analog photographic world, thoughts about my work, and hopefully, progress on the building of my color darkroom. I hope you stick around for a while.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Pinhole Camera

Book Camera / Back inside, originally uploaded by Sreiny.

A Flickr photoset detailing a great pinhole camera project.