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Archive for September, 2012

Harry Callahan: The Photographer at Work (Book Review)

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The Photographer at Work - book cover

Harry Callahan (1912-1999) was an American master photographer influenced into taking his work seriously as an artistic practice by an encounter with Ansel Adams. From that point forward, having no formal arts training, he became aware from Ansel Adams’ less known photographs that the small pieces of life can make beautiful photographs in their own right. Callahan’s work evolved over half a century as subjects were taken on board and left behind – nature, the city, then people and a five year series of photographs of his wife Eleanor. In many photographs the person is a diminutive figure barely impacting on the scene; in others, expressive faces show deep contemplation. He often went back to earlier subjects years later and dropped subjects for years at a time. Callahan was also an early photographer of colour, although it would be three and a half decades before they were exhibited.

Turning the pages of Harry Callahan: Photographer at Work is to see a slice of the lifelong work ethic that was Harry Callahan the man. Grasses, trees, portraits and exploration and experimentation across an entire professional career spanning from the young man to the older man.

In 1981 Harry Callahan told Barbaralee Diamonstein on her Visions and Images television series “I could never do the technical things. I’m not technical at all.” Yet in the early 1940s László Moholy-Nagy got Callahan a position at the Institute of Design in Chicago where Callahan became head of the photography department. He later worked as a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. That is the enigma of Callahan. He was an obsessive photographer who believed creativity could not be taught and confessed to lacking technical ability; and yet the man spent a career teaching photography and was widely recognised as a master of photography. He left an exemplary account of himself across film formats from 8 x 10 down to 35mm. He would work on a subject or in a medium until he felt stifled then break out into the perpetual next thing, rather than go stale.

The foreward to this beautifully made book is by John Szarkowski and covers a large amount of information about Harry Callahan’s photographic life. If you do get hold of a copy then I’d highly recommend reading it closely and in brief portions. I have to admit that I wasn’t really that much of a Callahan appreciator until I read it, too. It’s easy to look at the sticks and ordinary things that make many of his subjects and to draw conclusions about their value. When their value lays within the context of the man’s life-work as a serious photographer who made pictures almost every day and processed film and printed daily.

In a very true sense Harry Callahan was a very ordinary man who left a photographic legacy that is quite extraordinary.

Kittel Johannes Jurgenson (Joe) Tronerud

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Kittel Tronerud

My journey into film photography has been heavily influenced by my maternal grandfather Kittles Tronerud (1870-1938).

Although he died in hospital after an operation when my mother was a little girl I have always wondered about the man and his large format photography.

While I haven’t quite made it to a full darkroom process (currently scanning negatives as a hybrid workflow), and I haven’t yet shot large format, there has been quite a journey to reach this point.

Hopefully the money situation will improve and I can get my act together on this project. But these are hard times in Tasmania. I may not be as dirt poor as Kittles with as many mouths to feed but the cost of making journeys onto King Island is currently out of my reach.

On that note, if there is a large format photographer in the Hobart area who would be interested in gently introducing me to large format photography I would be extremely grateful. Ideally it would be good to reach a skill level where I could shoot and process large format on King Island.

Plastic Cameras Dream of Photon Diaramas

Friday, September 21st, 2012

This morning a camera woke up before sunrise and wiped sleepy camera soot from its tired little lens. Wow, another exciting day of making pictures. It rolled over and looked at the other cameras who were all equally motivated to capture photons.

This camera had a plastic lens so it was an unusual camera. That’s if you can say being “one of gazumpteen million almost identical cameras” is unusual.

Cameras don’t need breakfast so it quietly unpacked itself from the drawer where the householders store their plastic cameras. It lowered itself to the floor using the simple plastic camera neck strap and loaded a 120 roll of Ilford Delta 400 (because it wasn’t going to be a sunny day). And it nearly forgot… but then quickly grabbed the scissors with invisible nimble fingers & snipped off gaffer tape to seal the camera seams so there were no light leaks.

The plastic camera didn’t want to wake the householders because they were irrelevant. What do “unexceptional people” know about capturing photons through a plastic lens? So it crept out of the house and waited at the bus stop with all the other disaffected cheap plastic cameras that had autonomous independent lives. Of course, everybody avoided Chucky because he wasn’t a camera… he was a psychopath doll possessed by the spirit of a criminal. But that’s another story.

After twenty minutes the plastic camera’s bus arrived and the adventure began. It took its lens cap off and stared eagerly out into the streets of the city through its plastic rangefinder (being aware of the parallax effect). It wanted to capture photons bouncing off people and buildings in unpredictable ways by taking advantage of its unique lens aberrations. This was a secret location only known to plastic cameras.

It saw a young woman drinking a coffee; it chose what to include in the frame and what to exclude from the frame. It chose the story the picture would tell. It chose the context. Because plastic cameras are good at making photographs. And it clicked the plastic thing that released the pseudo-unpredictable shutter at approximately f11 at 1/100(ish).

After rolling onto the next frame the plastic camera found a bank kiosk with a distinctive high contrast shadow effect that it thought would be very cool to share on Facebook. Framed. Clicked. Rolled to the next frame. It saw a beggar picking up a pamphlet. Framed. Clicked. Rolled to the next frame. And then another and another until the roll was finished.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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