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New Year Updates

New Year Updates

I meant to get this post out sooner, but with the start of the new year and some new projects I've already been grabbed by the snowball of momentum that is 2017!

First, let's recap... 

2016 was a big year for me in photography, beginning with the launch of this website and my first ever gallery exhibit at RAW:Hollywood Presents FUTURES. This gallery appearance marked what would turn out to be the first of many, and I was soon introduced to UCLA's Exchange Room Gallery with the "I AM" Group Art Show later that year. The year also brought a few meaningful collaborations with models I had worked with in the past, including the beautiful and talented Brianna and the soon to be muse for my Basquiat series, Renae.  

It was that very collaboration with Renae that lead to my first ever solo photography exhibit, Obnoxious Liberals: A Bodypaint Tribute to Jean-Michel Basquiat which opened at the Exchange Room Gallery in LA to a packed audience.  And as if the year couldn't get any better, during the development of this Basquiat series I was contacted by TXTURE Magazine and invited to showcase selections from the series at their annual Miami Art Basel exhibit!  This was my first time ever even going to Art Basel, let alone exhibiting there, so to think all of this could happen within a year of printing my work for the first time was just incredible, and it left me very excited for what the future may hold.

 In front of my Art Basel showcase with TXTURE Magazine founder Monifa Coffee

In front of my Art Basel showcase with TXTURE Magazine founder Monifa Coffee

Things to look forward to...

My solo exhibit at the Exchange Room Gallery will be closing soon, so if you haven't seen it yet now is the time! (Click Here for instructions on how to get there, and how to find it on UCLA's campus).  So what next?  Things continue to get better, as the next stop for a few of these pieces will be at the headquarters of Arsenic Magazine and at the Los Angeles Chocolate and Art Show! More details about those will be coming in the near future.

I'll have some more announcements coming very soon, including a new long-delayed music project that I'll be releasing within the next few weeks.  For those that don't know, though I don't highlight it on this site much I do from time to time produce music as well, for no reason other than "why not?"  You can check out some of my past instrumental albums on Bandcamp or stream the more recent stuff on Soundcloud. I've had a new project in development since early 2014 that I'll finally be pushing out, so be on the lookout for that.

I should also have some big film-related announcements in the near future as well. This is definitely looking like a good year, so keep your heads up and don't let any bright orange man-children ruin it for you!

So I've Decided To Take Printing Into My Own Hands

So I've Decided To Take Printing Into My Own Hands

Because Why Not Print More While Spending Less?

A typical development & low-res scan package from a photo lab ranges anywhere from about $10 to $25 per roll depending on where you go.  I'd typically spend about $13 at my lab.  Add that to the cost of a roll of film, like my personal favorite Portra 800, and it's safe to say it cost me roughly $25 every time I wanted to shoot a roll of film to share with the world.  Now mind you, the scans included in this cost only provided enough resolution to display on the web.  For a truly high resolution scan needed for printing large formats, I'd be looking at anywhere between $5 to $25 PER NEGATIVE depending on just how much enlarging I'd need.  

All that covers is just getting my photos ready to make prints, never mind the printing itself.  At a fine art photo lab I'd be looking at anywhere from $50 to $100 per final print, never mind the costs of testing color profiles and paper stocks.  When it's all said and done I'd easily be looking at a few thousand in expenses to print enough work for my upcoming solo exhibit.  Now don't get me wrong, quality prints from a fine art lab are certainly worth it, but until people start shelling out thousands of dollars for my prints (give it time), these costs just weren't gonna cut it.  I am a starving artist after all, I barely clear a few thousand in annual income... 

So as I've moved into the printing era of my photographic endeavors, and now working on my third (and possibly also forth) gallery exhibit of the year, it became clear that it was time I took printing into my own hands.  And with the successful test run of my digital printing method and print sale, I've decided to do just that.  Thanks to an impeccably-timed rebate, I've recently invested in a large format digital printer from Canon (full review coming soon).

This seemed to make the most sense from a business perspective as well.  As much as people tell me they like my photos, it's hard to like something enough to spend upwards of $200 a piece on it (lookin' at you, Tinder dates, hope you like Ramen), so I'll be the first to admit that the darkroom pricing options currently in my Print Store just aren't for everybody. And since I've officially reached the limit of how many pieces of furniture and/or photographic equipment I can reasonably fit into a studio apartment, my home darkroom project is going to have to wait a few years.  

NowPrinting!

Still, it makes sense to offer a more economical solution for people who truly enjoy my work and would like to own a piece of it.  Especially considering that the majority of my audience are other film photographers, and we all know how broke we are.   But with that out of the way, there's still the other elephant in the room, in that scanning high res is fcking expensive.  How do we solve this problem?  Well, that's a good question for another time.  (Hint: I'm bought a scanner too).  For now, I've got some learning to do, as digital printing opens up a whole new science of photography that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of.

I Guess It's Time To Switch To Instax

I Guess It's Time To Switch To Instax

You may or may not have noticed I happen to be particularly fond of film.  The whole civil rights thing aside, I think I would have really enjoyed growing up in the golden years of film photography rather than trying to play catch up to the past like I am today.  With the recent discontinuation of Fuji Pack Film, another piece of the art form seems to be meeting its extinction.  Unless Impossible Project picks it up, this will soon mean the end of the line for Polaroid Type 100 cameras altogether.  

It reminds me of when I was first getting into film photography myself, only to come to the realization that I had missed the opportunity to ever use Kodachrome by several years.  For me, the film vs. digital argument was never one about which was better or more cost effective.  It's always been a creative choice.  If film disappears, you're not just losing a less convenient way of doing the same thing a digital camera can do much quicker and easier, you're losing an entire medium of artistic expression.  "Why shoot film when you can just use VSCO?" is like saying, "Why bother with oil paints when you've got Adobe Illustrator and 3D printers?"  One medium of art doesn't simply replace the other just because the end product of each might be similar or one more cost effective in the long run.  They are two completely different types of artistic expression.

However, this doesn't mean that any new or similar innovations that take the place of dying technologies are any less of an art form, or should be viewed with any lesser regard than what came before them.  Which brings me to Fuji Instax.  Anytime you hear somebody say they're shooting "Polaroid cameras" today, what they're probably talking about is Fujifilm's line of Instax cameras.  While they're not actually Polaroid cameras (Polaroid was a brand, not a technology, think Kleenex), they are the most consistent, reliable, and cost-effective method of shooting instant film today.

Developed in the early 90s under an agreement with Polaroid, they took over the instant film market share when Kodak ceased production on instant film cameras and Polaroid went under.  Today, they're one of two companies (along with Impossible) still producing and innovating instant cameras and film.  When I started shooting instant film, I went with early Polaroid 100 series cameras (and FP-100C / 3000B film) and a Polaroid SX-70, mainly because I really wanted to experience the classic technology the way someone would have if they were growing up in the film era.  Now, with the rising costs and eventual extinction of the leftover pack film due to its discontinuation, it's finally time for me to switch to Instax.  

Truthfully, I'm kind of excited about it.  I've had my eye on some Instax cameras for quite some time, and have been eager for a more reliable and sustainable instant film solution when shooting in various lighting conditions.  So for me, it's time to embrace this evolved art form, and likely confuse the hell out of everyone when I insist on calling the cameras Instax and not Polaroid.  After all, if you wipe your nose on a paper towel, you may have accomplished the same goal, but you haven't used a Kleenex.  So I'll be happily joining the ranks of Instax users in the near future once I, you know, get a job... 

Speaking of, have you visited the Print Store lately?

How Ideas Are Born

How Ideas Are Born

or... The Unexpected Virtue of Ignoring Your Bank Account

(Note: This is a continuation of yesterday's blog post, So Now What. Be sure to read that one first, and subscribe for more!)

So having said that, I also understand that sometimes you just need to suck it up and shoot something.  I mean, you're a photographer aren't you?  So shoot something.  Luckily for me, two models who I had previously worked with in 2014 and 2015 (Brianna and Renae respectively) reached out to collaborate again this year, which certainly helped get the creative juices flowing since my inspiration for street photography seemingly took a vacation. 

With Brianna, we came up with a dream-sequence concept based on the ideas I'd explore thematically in my screenplays, and combined them with a lingerie shoot.  Because, why not?  And we absolutely loved the result.  This didn't solve the whole financial issue however, but luckily I was able to book a few timely shoots in Tampa right after, so proceeds from those went directly into getting this shoot developed.  But sometimes such a lucky break doesn't come in time, and you're stuck going into yet more debt to feed that insatiable film habit.  So then what happens when the next opportunity of creative expression comes around?  Well, that's when you suck it up and shoot, because you never know what you might get out of it.

The Birth of the Basquiat Bodyscape Series

If you'll remember my shoot with Renae last year, we ended up doing a body paint series since she herself was a painter.  (Whenever I shoot portraits, I try to find subtle ways of incorporating some aspect of the subject's personality into the environment or mood of the photos.  And sometimes they aren't that subtle).  That was my first time using paint for a photoshoot, and the results were incredible.  We were both really happy with the shoot and had already begun brainstorming for our next collaboration.  

The conversation carried over into this year, naturally after I had decided to take a hiatus, and we again settled on something using paint, but this time we'd shoot the concept in a pool (read: bathtub) of colored water.  Which to me, sounded like the perfect way to end our last shoot.  Imagine seeing the paint spatter dissolving off of Renae and becoming part of a deep blue pool of water.  But I didn't want to do (read: pay for) exactly the same thing twice.  Film costs add up pretty quickly for us starving artists, so if I was going to shoot again I'd definitely need to get something entirely new out of it.

Then, I had an epiphany, or maybe I just heard the right Jay-Z song at the right time, but for some reason I thought of Basquiat's Obnoxious Liberals... 

The name, the color combination, the theme and the social message combined with the state our society is in currently, Renae's personality, all of it just seemed to click.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that was it, that was our shoot.  And so we began...  Because why not?

I reinterpreted Basquiat's work as a portrait-orientation body painting on Renae.  And while I don't consider myself a painter, what I may lack in technical prowess of the medium, I certainly make up for in pattern recognition and hand-eye coordination.  The result, well, you tell me...

(Photos of the full shoot coming soon!)

But it didn't stop there.  Upon shooting this series, once Renae got into the water and the painting began to dissolve, I had yet another epiphany.  There was something else hidden in these photos, a style and composition technique I've yet to experiment with at all as a photographer: the bodyscape.  Bodyscape photography typically involves photographing the human body as if it were a landscape, or focusing on the contours of the human figure or one particular body part.  So the more I shot the more I started to look at composition much differently, and it was in this process that the true purpose of this shoot began to take shape.

But it didn't stop there.  It was only the above two compositions that lead me to the true revelation of style made here.  I'll save those photos for another time, because what's important is what happened next.  Now, this is where the "just suck it up and shoot it" came into play, because one week after I shoot this with Renae, I had my second exhibit opening at the Exchange Room Gallery at UCLA.  It was through this show that the potential of a solo gallery for my work became clear, so when I pitched the idea of "blending Basquiat-inspired abstract body painting with bodyscape-style portraiture, creating photos where skin, water, and paint become indistinguishable from one another," lets just say it was received with more than subtle enthusiasm.

The moral of the story is, some investments are worth it.  Never forget that one of the most positively influential and life-changing things you can do while on this planet is invest in yourself.  Remember the analogy of the guy pulled over on the side of the road?  It wasn't until he got out and started pushing his own car that other people stopped to help.  Now if anybody needs me, I've got a gallery exhibit to design.

So Now What?

So Now What?

Finding New Motivation

If you haven't noticed, I really haven't been shooting much this year.  Even everything I've posted on Instagram so far was work I completed last year, save for a few previews and tests.  Call it a lack of inspiration, lack of funds, lack of motivation, or all of the above.  On Instagram, I like to switch back and forth between posting street and portraiture, colour and black & white, 35mm and medium format, etc. as a way of keeping the curated gallery aesthetic of the page intact.  So after finishing my medium format color portrait series, the next logical step in the progression was to go back to black & white street.  Only I didn't have any black & white street left to post, meaning I'd need to go out and shoot some more.  Yet for whatever reason, I just didn't.  In retrospect, I guess I don't find Los Angeles to be that inspiring of a place for street photography, but it was more than just that.

At the beginning of the year I knew I wanted to get something different out of my work in 2016.  Shooting is a lot of fun, but is that it?  I've been dreading the day I actually sit down to add up all of film-photography related expenses from 2014 and 2015 only to come to find I'm several thousand dollars invested in a hobby that at the end of the day is just that, a hobby. (Hopefully it's not that bad, but I ain't lying when I say #StayBrokeShootFilm).  At the end of the day, I do go through an unnecessarily large amount of trouble and expense to manually expose film, lab develop and scan negatives, transfer everything to a computer, color-correct often mediocre lab scans (a result of unsupervised batch-scanning), sort them, and finally transfer them to my phone, all so that my photos can find their final resting place on Instagram amongst memes, selfies, what people are eating for breakfast, and the small and dedicated niche of other film photographers who typically reside in Europe and Asia.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Instagram for being the sole reason for my gallery debut in January, but I just don't think it's truly the best place for the kind of work I want to make (ridiculous censorship included).  And I do love displaying my work at these gallery shows, but let's be honest, people go to group art shows to support their friends and have fun, not to buy art.  I get the feeling this isn't a sustainable business model.

So this year I decided, you know what, I'm gonna scale back.  I don't want to have ten rolls of film to develop at the end of every month, and I don't want to crowd-fund anytime I need to print anything because I'd have no money left to create display pieces otherwise.  I was going to simplify, shoot exclusively black & film street photography using a single camera and lens combo for the rest of the year, and continue working to build my audience of fellow film photographers on Instagram by providing quality content of my own and engaging with theirs.  Meanwhile, as if on cue, the Facebook-owned Instagram adopted the Facebook model of aggregated news feed posts, meaning people would no longer be able to log into Instagram and see all the photos I posted in chronological order by just scrolling down their timelines.  Instead, now some mysterious Facebook-esque "news feed optimization algorithm" will determine which of my updates my followers get to see and when.  What that meant for me was, now a significantly smaller percentage of my followers would ever even see my work, and if they did, they'd see it in the manner, time, and order (if at all) that Instagram dictated.  And that's, for lack of better terms, fckin stupid.

If you know anything about me as a filmmaker, you'll know the Kubrick in me has a real problem giving up control over the presentation and viewing conditions and of my work.  It's for this exact reason that my short film To Police probably won't ever be released in full online.  If you wanted to see it, you needed to come to the theater to see it.  The second I put it on Youtube, the second people are watching it on their iPhones from the toilet, and I just don't think that's how a film about the shooting of a teenager by a police officer should be viewed.  But I digress...

So now what?  I even tested this new Instagram algorithm, and found that if I posted the exact same (crowd favorite) photograph now that I did a year ago I should expect about 200 less Likes.  Which doesn't sound like much, until you consider that a year ago I had roughly 5,000 less followers that I do now.  I had to more than double my follower count just to be able to reach only 200 less people.  And for me, Likes aren't so much about social validation as they are about engaging with a core audience of fellow photographers, filmmakers, and enthusiasts who actually do appreciate my work, so I do find visibility to be very important.  Particularly when this is the very same audience I intended to reach with the launch of this website in order to convert Instagram followers to Subscribers and Subscribers to Print Owners.  Because at the end of the day, the only way I was going to be able to keep shooting at the rate that I was would be if print sales could cover my expenses.  Now, with a significantly smaller percentage of people even aware that I have a website where I sell printsI get the feeling this isn't a sustainable business model.  

(I also found that charging darkroom prices might not be the best way to start out, so you'll be happy to know I am currently researching alternative, affordable print methods without compromising quality.  More on that next week).

Which brings me to today.  I'm now two group art exhibits in when it dawns on me that, like everything else in life, skill and merit are absolutely trumped by proximity and relationships.  Whether or not my photography is good enough to be hanging on the walls of true art galleries actually has absolutely nothing to do with who I know that could actually get my work into true art galleries.  And this is an important distinction for any up and coming photographer to make nowadays.  Sometimes your success as a photographer has absolutely nothing to do with what your photos look like.  So, let's just say I've found my next door, and have given my foot its next target.  I may not be shooting much at the moment, but what I am doing is laying the foundation for my first ever solo photography exhibit.  I've found some interested parties as a direct result of networking at the I AM Group Show, so hopefully I'll be able to make a fortuitous announcement in the very near future.  From there, it'll be time to move into permanent galleries.  

All in due time, all in due time...

"Burn it Down"

"Burn it Down"

Yesterday, a friend of mine posed an interesting question on Facebook in reference to the current state of America, and not so far removed from the events in Ferguson. He asked, "If I was a face or leader with what's going on would I ever say 'burn it down?'" This got me thinking...

I absolutely, without hesitation, would say "burn it down." But the "burn it down" solution comes with one key problem, its successful execution. Because how do we get it to all come down at once? Burning little by little, bit by relative bit is a very easy problem to solve overnight and ignore over decades. If it's gonna come down, it's gotta all come down. That's the only way it'll stay down. But we've been asking for it to come down for a while haven't we? Right? When we get on Facebook and tell everybody else on Facebook that when they're faced with injustice they need to stop "saying things" and start "doing things." I'll ignore for a moment that this advice has a usefulness equivalence of telling homeless people to "stop being homeless if you don't wanna be homeless," and reiterate that yes, yes we have been asking for it to come down for a while now. It's that change we've all been talking about since uh... if I had to pick a year... oh, I don't know, 2008? But why hasn't it happened? Why haven't we "burned it down?"

Well, we simply haven't lost enough yet, that's why. In fact, you in particular, yeah you, you haven't lost anything at all. Your life's pretty good. It's still too easy to be comfortable. There are too many alternatives, and we have too many freedoms. It's too easy to just exist. You don't want your rights being taken away? Vote for the other guy. You don't want to get shot by police? Stay home. Problem solved, revolution averted. Existence remains simple. A quick sidebar, I find it pretty funny that we're still fighting for these so called rights, as if preserving them - or achieving them - actually entitles us to a different state of existence.  You wanna know what your country really has to say about your rights? Google "Japanese Americans 1942," and see what your country has to say about your rights. About the existence that you are and always will be entitled to. Ha. But I digress...

We simply haven't lost enough yet. It's just too easy to exist. For "burn it down" to work, it has to all come down. For it all coming down to be what we resort to, we'll need to lose more than we ever thought we could. Loss unlike anything our generation has ever seen. Our simple existence in itself, not our imaginary rights, must be what's at stake. Then, we'll be faced with a problem harder to ignore than it will be to fight. Our backs will be to the oceans where we can only push back or drown. Then, "burn it down" becomes a solution worth pursuing. Then, "burn it down" becomes a fire sale where everything must go. Why? Because we won't have any alternatives; we won't have any freedoms. There will be nowhere left to go but up. It has to come down, or we don't survive it.

The evolution, civilization, and industrialization of the human race has earned us, for better or worse, a much longer wait from inception to destruction. We've been conditioned to survive, and for that we are many, many, many years and many, many, many atrocities away from the final solution. But history does and always will repeat itself. And if history has taught us anything, it's that the one thing all governments have in common is that they can and will absolutely fail. Just look at every single government in the history of the world prior to present day. Every government fails, it's just a matter of time.

Which brings us back to today, and what we're supposed to do in the meantime when we're trapped in a system we've outgrown and in whose very essence makes it physically impossible to repair. Well, you might not like the answer, but we wait. After all, it's still pretty easy to just exist isn't it? And kind of pleasant when you think about it. So we wait, and we see how this plays out.

Random thoughts of the day...