Saturday, August 17, 2019

Photography in Museums

Photo by Margaret

One of the highlights for me during visits to Phoenix, even in mid-summer, is to pay a visit to the photography exhibit in an upper tier gallery at the Phoenix Art Museum.  The pictures shown there are drawn from the vast archives of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson.  The selection of pictures on this occasion  was entitled Mexican Photographers, Mexican Views, which "features more than 60 photographs created solely by Mexican artists that offer an intimate view into 20th-century Mexico and the country’s shifting national identity."

by Lola Alvarez Bravo

At least half the photographs were made by Mexican women photographers.  I was familiar with the work of most, but it was a real treat to see prints on paper and I also enjoyed making the acquaintance of some artists whose work was new to me.

by Graciela Iturbide

Much of the work on display dates back to the first half of the Twentieth Century.  Several of the photographers started their careers as assistants to Manuel Alvarez Bravo, including his wife Lola.  Like their mentor, the women often focused on recording Mexico's astoundingly beautiful indigenous people and their cultures.

New to me was the work of Mariana Yampolsky.  Her pictures reflect an extraordinary life journey.  She went to Mexico from Chicago in 1945 shortly after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree to do print making at the Taller de Grafica Popular.  Three years later she took up photography under the guidance of Lola Alvarez Bravo, and in 1954 she became a Mexican citizen.

by Mariana Yampolsky

As is evident in Margaret's picture of the gallery, most of the prints are small compared to today's standards, and they are often more darkly toned than we are accustomed to seeing now.  The result is that many cannot be fully appreciated as reproductions in books or on line.  At the gallery you really have to stand close to the prints and even lean in a bit to grasp the delicate subtleties of tonality and the compositional innovativeness.

Discovering what is possible through photography has always been one of the major rewards of the art for me.  While I have mostly focused on showing scanned images of my film negatives on line, I enjoyed making some prints for an exhibit recently, and that along with the Phoenix exhibition reminded me how important it is to be able to see prints which fully reveal an artist's intentions.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Salt River Crossing

In our past visits to family in Phoenix we have always opted to take the quickest route from Albuquerque, passing through Flagstaff and then south on Highway 17.  This time we decided to take a more leisurely path, striking south from Holbrook and heading down along Arizona's east side through Show Low and Globe.

The spectacular Salt River Canyon is located mid-way between Show Low and Globe.  Two bridges span the river there; the single lane steel bridge built in 1933 is now just for pedestrian traffic

We retraced the same path on the way home and enjoyed an escape from the summer heat of Phoenix in the higher elevations north of Globe.  We stayed on Highway 60 through Show Low which ultimately got us to Socorro, New Mexico, just an hour from Albuquerque.  Rain followed us much of the way, and the temperature dropped to a low of 59 degrees as we passed the Very Large Array.

The Highway 60 two-lane road traverses a great variety of terrain including pine forested mountain slopes and arid grasslands.  The trip was a little longer than going through Flagstaff, but the added time seemed insignificant because of the sparse traffic and the great scenery.

Monday, July 29, 2019


I found this Kodak Retina IIa at the Fairgrounds Flea Market.  It is identical to one I already had in regard to both function and appearance.  The shutter, lens, rf, film advance and counter all seemed fine.  There was no way I could leave it stranded there on the table among a pile of junkers given the $10 price.

I loaded a roll of Kentmere 100 in the camera and shot it on visits to the river and to Old Town.  The last shot of my cat at home was wide open at f2.  I developed semi-stand in HC-110.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Albuquerque Annotated

I picked up some 1.4 volt batteries on eBay recently to see if that would give a bit of a boost to my exposures from the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s.  The slight decrease in voltage did not seem to have any noticeable effect on the camera's performance.  Still, the full-auto exposure works pretty consistently, and setting the ASA to a lower value seems like it will improve results.  I shot a roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200 in the camera over period of a couple weeks.

This customized Honda at the back entrance to Old Town had an appealing rough-and-ready look.  Such sightings start me thinking about getting another bike.  My vision may be up to the challenge since I had the cataracts excised, but my reflexes probably don't support the idea.

I understand the appeal of the electric scooters which are all over Albuquerque, but I'm even less likely to get on one of these than I am on a motorcycle.  The city's transportation infrastructure is already in desperate shape, and the town clearly is not ready for an army of scooter riders.  An illustration of that was provided for me at the risky intersection near our house early yesterday.
    I heard a loud bang signaling a crash and looked out the window to see an SUV stopped in the middle of the street.  There was a scooter on its side about 30 feet north of the impact point. The rider was crumpled against the curb and moaning.  No helmet.  No regard for road rules.  Predictable.

I have an odd connection to a photographer who shows his work on Flickr, Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga.   He and I often post pictures taken at the same places in Old Town at the same time of day, but I've never seen him.  He has a good eye for architectural subjects, rather better than mine.

I often pick up a copy of the city's alternative newspaper, The Alibi, during my walks through Old Town.  The quality of writing in the free publication varies widely, but the staff gets to stories which you won't see in the lumbering Albuquerque Journal.  These two boxes look to me like cartoon characters that might scamper around the plaza in the early morning when no one is looking.

The Rio Grande has retreated to its bed after a season of heavy flooding.  There is quite a bit of debris left on the trails through the bosque, but the summer heat is rapidly drying the ground.

Albuquerque has a vast flood control system which includes this strange dam face on the city's east side, a favorite subject of 'burque photographers.  Between the flash flooding from the Sandias and the river's high waters, there would not be a city here without these kinds of structures.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

What makes a good photograph?

Our local film photography group is preparing to mount an exhibit at one of Albuquerque's branch libraries.  Participation in the event is quite a departure for me as I haven't made more than a few prints in the past fifteen years.  It turns out to be a useful exercise because it prompted me to look at my work and develop some ideas about how I wanted it to be represented publicly.

My criteria for selecting images for the exhibit are not fundamentally different from those I use to choose what I put on my blog.  A basic tenant of my photo philosophy has always been to show that virtually any camera - no matter how simple - is capable of making fine photos.  I like that first shot of the winter trees partly because it was made with my little Ansco Panda box camera.  In other instances I have been pleased when an image reflects the quality which derives from excellence of lens and camera design as in the case of the balloon captured by the Mamiya C330.  Beyond the instrumentation, of course, there are issues of composition, tonal range, emotional content, timing and many other aesthetic considerations.

I will probably select a couple images from that first group of six for the exhibit.  The second group of five images below was shared with group members to encourage them to include some pictures of people among their submissions.  That met with some success as two people promptly submitted a half dozen shots each, only of people.

Moving beyond the immediate goals of the New Mexico Film Photographers show to the broader question of what makes a good photograph, the answer is fundamentally simple.  The quality and value of photographic images can and should be evaluated as are any other art works in any other medium.  So, if confronted by the question of what makes a photograph good, the easy answer is probably to respond with a question:  What makes a good painting, drawing, sculpture, etc?  That is not to say that photography does not have unique qualities compared to other visual art forms, or that there is not room for individual taste or stylistic preferences.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Taos in Color

Loading color film in one of my cameras flips a switch in my brain which produces compositions that are quite different from what I see when I am using black and white film.  The process gets me looking at blocks of color and their interrelationships, and expectations come into play about how the colors will be rendered in the final image.

Ansel Adams did a Kodachrome of the San Francisco de Asis church in 1948.  He did quite a lot of color, but mostly under duress which was likely associated with commercial work.  Ansel said that the picture was only half done when the image was consigned to film; the other half came in the processing and printing.  The complexity of Kodachrome development simply was not amenable to someone with Adams' need to oversee the entire picture making process.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The Church of Ansel

We spent a couple days in Taos.  I've been there several times over the years we have lived in New Mexico, but I've never taken the time before to explore the place with my cameras.  I decided on this occasion that I would devote a chunk of time to one subject, the San Francisco de Asis church south of town.  Ansel Adams and Paul Strand immortalized the place early in the last century.  It seemed a nice opportunity to see what they saw and to develop some appreciation of how they approached the subject and how they interpreted it.

The first thing that struck me was that the church is a lot smaller than it appears in the pictures made by Adams and Strand.  They both used large format cameras that allowed them a lot of control over surface textures, depth of focus and perspective.  Their results may seem deceptive today, but it is also possible to argue that emphasizing a kind of monumentality in their portrayals was true to the impression people would have had of the structure when it was built two centuries ago.  My own pictures of the place were made with a relatively simple box camera with few controls, and partly for that reason they reflect a more contemporary and ephemeral view of the site.

I started taking pictures of the church at 6:00 AM when the sun was low and not yet too bright.  That favored the estimated focus, the two apertures, and the shutter that is limited to 1/25 or 1/50 sec. in the Vredeborch Felica box camera.

After I exposed the twelve frames available on the roll of 120 Fuji Acros rollfilm in the Felica I switched to shooting Arista Ultra Edu 100 in my Pentax ME, mostly using the 28mm f2.8 SMC Pentax M.  The final portion of the two hours I spent at the church were given over to shooting Kodak ColorPlus 200 in my Olympus Infinity Stylus.  It will be interesting to compare the results from those two cameras to what came from the Felica box.  Of course, the light later in the morning was very different, and there were some additional characters on the set including several cats and one devout parishioner.

Coincidentally, the day after we got home, the Albuquerque Art Museum offered a morning screening of the PBS biography of Ansel Adams made some years ago, I think.  It was worth watching, mostly because of the brilliant commentary by John Szarkowski.  Photographers watching the film will grit their teeth during the constant zooming and panning of Ansel's images by the cinematographers.