Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: film

Ed Brommer & Bradley Beach in Film

This year I decided that I wanted to continue my work photographing Day of the Dead in Mexico. I had first visited and photographed the holiday in 2013. I used the Fujifilm Xpro1 and have a blog post of the work you can find here. I was quite pleased with the work, but had been recently influenced by Rodney Smith and Paul Caponigro to shoot film. I hadn’t shot with my Hasselblad 501 in years, so I thought this would be a good reemergence as such.

I decided to test it out and see about how I would pack it. I’m extremely retentive when it comes to packing for travel. It’s the back packer in me. I first grabbed the Think Tank Speed Racer bag that is preferred by National Geographic field photographers. They know something about travel right?

I packed a Hassy 501 with 50 f4, 80 2.8, 150 F 4 Zeiss glass. One 120 back and a roll of Tri-X to photograph two subjects, my Father and Bradley Beach.

My father is 91 and is a survivor. He outlived all his friends, co-workers, siblings (and their husbands) and one wife. Ed loves his cars. He picks them out carefully, and all through my life, he had cool cars. I asked him to stand in beautiful light in his garage, with his latest prize, a loaded Buick LaCrosse. He had the vanity plate since the 80’s. I gave him the Seahawks sweat shirt back in ’94. He still wears it.

edbrommer

Ed Brommer in his garage, fall 2016 New Jersey

I used the 80 mm 2.8 Distagon with Tri-X rated at 320. Meter reading was taken below Dad’s chin. 250th of a second f 4.0. Cha-Click-Unk.

I spent my summers in Bradley Beach as little kid in the 1970’s. It had a great influence on me, and when i return to Bradley I always get a tear or two in my eye from the sweet memories. This snapshot is the fountain on the board walk at LaReine and Ocean Avenue. All my life, I have seen this classic Jersey Shore fountain.

bradleybeach

Fountain, Bradley Beach, New Jersey.

I enjoyed making these images but what I learned was that the kit would be way too heavy. The Speed Racer bag is made for DSLR with a long zoom lens, while I could pack it nicely, the weight of that glass, especially the 50 and 150 was just prohibitive. The second problem I had with the film workflow, was the cost. I dropped off the roll of film to CRC on 22nd Street. They offer three levels of scans, 2.5 mb scans + processing would be $16.00. I know from experience, never ever get the low grade scan. The next was 15 mb for $30.00 per roll. Whoa, way to costly for me.

 

So I decided to pack my Fujifilm Xpro 1 and a few lightweight easy lenses and roll with that in Mexico. At least I got to make these two cool shots and dust off the Hassy. I still love that sound and dig the grain from the Tri-X.

Work from Day of the Dead 2016 will be posted soon. I took a year off the blog to see if it would change anything. The only thing it did was keep me off the screen and outside more.

~David

 

 

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The Summer Project: Back to the Analog 1950’s

NikonGear

 

Every summer I self assign myself a photo project for my August Tuscan vacation. Sometime in May or June I start to think about what I’m going to do and since I have been going to the same spot for 12 years straight now, in the past I have shot 8×10 landscapes (twice), 4×5 landscapes (and made 4×5 cyanotypes under the Tuscan sun), a study of the Terontola house with a Hassalblad (for a handsome book), Instant Italy (all shot with Fujifilm Instax), Olympus Pen FT half frame, and many digital photographs including Italy Looking Up (shot with the Leica M8.2). The past two years I have enjoyed using the Fujifilm Xpro1 extensively and showed them in this blog.

This year I was in a quandary. I considered doing portraits, but truth be told, the effort to work my Italian subjects is too daunting for a vacation, I enjoy the summer work because it shouldn’t be hard, it should be completely relaxing. Over the years I have set up a primitive darkroom in the back of the house. Primarily for developing film and lately doing contact printing. I always dreamed of having a full force darkroom back there, since I have been darkroom-less in NYC since I arrived.

This week I have read two interesting web pieces about film photography. One about an Indian Photo Club dedicated analog film and the other from an old buddy of mine who has relocated Japan and makes a strong case for shooting film with personal reasons. Both of these musings have these influenced me, they got me thinking. I am not going to drone on and on about the film vs. digital argument. That’s moot, and I have done that already in my article “The Merits of Shooting Film in the Digital World” for F295. What got me was the simple joy of hearing a shutter click, and the feel of advancing film with a lever. Loading film, unloading film, and then loading film onto a reel and putting it into a light proof tank. Mixing chemicals, timing it all, reviewing the exposed negative up to a light, cutting the negative, and then lastly, printing the negative. Working in the dark, holding that finished print in your hands after it has dried. Showing the print off, examining the print and noting how you could have printed it just a little bit better.

It’s simply sublime. There is no substitute for this process. It is the essence of photography; skill, vision, craftsmanship, and art. It’s black and white, it’s subtle, and it’s shadows and highlights dancing on fiber paper. Even as I write this, I’m contemplating bringing the last of my marshals oils and perhaps, doing a little hand coloring!

I fired off an email to my friend Nicola, one member of the triumvirate that is behind Cortona On The Move, a photo festival that occurs in the summer months in Cortona, if he could source me an enlarger. He replied he had a cold light Kodak sitting in storage! Perfect, I love a cold light source, and better yet since the back room of the Terontola house is dusty as the days are long.

So this leads me to the choice of cameras. I have a nice collection, actually I pride myself on my camera collection. Since I’m going back to roots here, I think I’d like to keep it simple and that means lets forego large format. I’m thinking 35mm. And my favorite 35mm camera system I have is my vintage Nikon S2 rangefinder. She’s a beauty right out of 1953. Sexier than a Leica, made like a tank, and unlike the more popular Nikon F system cameras, the S2 is a rangefinder. For lenses I’ll bring the entire collection, which includes; a super duper sharp 50 mm 1.4, a great semi wide 35 mm f 2.5, a sweet portrait shooter 105 mm f 2.0 and then just for fun, a 135mm.

I can’t wait to shoot all day and print all night. So keep Suspect Photography bookmarked and I’ll be posting some classic photography during the rest of August.

~David

 

Veteran’s Day Post – A Photographic Salute

BeachesTryptich

The three landing sites of the American forces, Omaha Beach, Point Du Hoc, Utah Beach. Platinum Palladium print presented in triptych.

The heroic deeds of the landings at Normandy and the Allied triumphs of WW2 are the defining moment of a dying generation. I have a keen interest in what remains of these sacred locations, both in images & words. In April of 2011 I began the project “Battlefield Cant” and visited the Normandy D-Day landing beaches and battlefields photographing with my trusty wooden 8×10 Deardorff camera. Being deeply affected by reading the accounts of our soldiers, I was motivated to start a collection of quotations from American veterans who fought in these locations.

Bunkers

German Bunker overlooking Point Du Hoc

The project is called, “Battlefield Cant”. The project title was made from the following:

Battlefield n. the field or ground on which a battle is fought.

Cant n. the phraseology peculiar to a particular class, party, profession

“Battlefield Cant” is a series of photographs from the European battlefields of WW2 and prose from the soldiers who fought there.

 

Omaha Beach, Dog Green Sector

Omaha Beach, Dog Green Sector

Omaha Beach – Dog Green Sector

“I started out to cross the beach with 35 men,

and only 6 got to the top, that’s all”.

  ~Lt. Bob Edlin

 

This is the beach made famous in Saving Private Ryan. It is estimated that on D- Day, 3,000 American Forces were killed in action at or near this location. The honor of photographing on this hollowed ground is one of the finest moments I have ever spent behind a camera.

 

Point Du Hoc. Site of the Rangers assault on the cliffs.

Point Du Hoc. Site of the Rangers assault on the cliffs.

Pointe Du Hoc

“The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers, at the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, 90 could still bear arms.”

~President Ronald Reagan at the memorial dedication.

 

A brutal assault that was needed to silence the big guns that could range both Omaha and Utah beach, this was an essential target to nullify at the start of the battle. The Rangers were elite and were up to the job, but at a terrible loss.

 

Utah Beach was taken with minimal losses. Thankfully.

Utah Beach was taken with minimal losses. Thankfully.

Utah Beach

 “We’ll start the war from here”

~Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt

 

When I went to photograph at Utah, I was greeted by a festive scene, horses on the beach, children playing. This site was now a recreation area and I could have been on Long Island for all it appeared. However, on D-Day this was an essential landing beach that saw artillery bombardment and the blood of Americans being spilled to secure it. I had to work to find these dunes to photograph, Utah was challenging to find the spirit of the place.

 

Bullet Hole from Paratroopers battle in a church in Sainte-Mère-Église

Bullet Hole from Paratroopers battle in a church in Sainte-Mère-Église

Excerpt from “A Paratroopers Prayer”

All mighty God, Our heavenly Father, who art above us, and beneath us, drive from the minds of our paratroopers any fear of space in which thou art ever present. Give them confidence in the strength of thine everlasting arms to uphold them. Endure them with clean minds and hearts that they may participate worthily in the victory which this nation must achieve. George B’Wood, Major Chaplain 82nd Airborne.

 

While I was scouting for locations in the middle of the day I entered the main church in the center of Sainte-Mere-Englise to find some respite from the hot June heat. At the entrance there was a info point telling the story of how a few Germans asked the priest of the church to hide them from the American Paratroopers that were scouring the area. The priest told them, “hide in the vestry, but don’t drink the wine”. The germans hid, and the priest went out side, found some Paratroopers and told them there were Germans hiding in the church. After a fast battle, the Americans cleared the church and killed the hiding germans. When I scouted the location I found evidence of the battle in the form of a hole in the glass that contained a Mary. This was left over from the fight, and the locals were putting their prayers on paper and inserting them in the bullet hole.

I was alone in the church, and proceeded to set up the Deardorff and make an exposure. It was very dark, and the exposure long. About 7 minutes factoring in reciprocity and bellows extension. I was proud I nailed the exposure, and during the long time, next to the statue was a prayer book where I found the Cant for this image.

Here are a few more images from the Project Battle Field Cant.

German Batteries.

German Batteries.

 

Memorial at Point Du Hoc

Memorial at Point Du Hoc

 

Sherman Treads

Sherman Treads

 

I launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund this project and help send me to the next two locations to complete the project. I need to travel to Belgium and shoot in the snow for the Battle of the Bulge and then to go to Holland to photograph the battlefields of Operation Market Garden.

My choice of gear to shoot this project is very specific. I don’t feel comfortable shooting with a digital camera, these locations and the deeds that were done by the finest men of the United States of American deserves more than zero’s and ones, they deserve large format photography! All the images were shot on Ilford FP4 that was donated by Ilford for the project. The primary lens was a Dagor 8 1/4″.

I look forward to completing this project and printing the work all on Platinum Palladium.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the Veterans who fought in WW2. For them we owe all our thanks.

 

Brecourt Manor

Brecourt Manor, the baptism for Easy Company 516 PIR 101st Infantry.

 

~David

 

Film Based Cameras Mean Sh*t. Yea Right.

Louis Mendes outside of B&H Photo NYC 34th Street.

Louis Mendes outside of B&H Photo NYC 34th Street.

Shooting film is rare these days. That is not to say the film-based camera is irrelevant. Quite the opposite actually. The discipline of film has its merits, mostly in the form of personal choice of process than a distinct quality factor. Digital is as good as film, if not better. Film however is tactile and extremely deliberate. The tactile essence plays the human’s desire to make something solid, visible and touchable, because zeroes and ones that make up a digital file are abstract as they reside on a hard drive invisibly to your 5 senses. The negative, for all its flaws can be beheld with out the use of any other technology. Its existence is physically a substantial object and while the negative is not the end, it has a promises that it can create something very special in the form of the print. Holding a gorgeous hand printed image on an exotic paper where texture and the light of day expresses the latent image is a much different feeling than holding an iPad or viewing on a display. I won’t diminish the digital file, I’ll just say it’s an altogether alternate way of viewing the photograph. Certainly the digital file can be printed on a vast amount of papers and styles, so in the end, the way we create our photograph is moot.

Destined to view on a screen or as a print, film and digital are interchangeable. Negatives can be scanned, and digital negatives made as well. How we arrive at the finished photograph and the style of the work is paramount in the pursuit of finding photographic style. Take for instance the NY Photographer Louis Mendes. He excretes photographic style in his choice of camera and the way the image is delivered, (as a 4×5 instant print).

“Louis Mendes is a quintessential street photographer best known for his Speed Graphic camera, blocked hat and consistent suave style dubbed “Shaft with a camera.” Mendes is a staple in New York City to tourists and natives alike. He’s been photographed thousands of times cradling his Speed Graphic as if he were the Statue of Liberty holding her tabula ansata. Portraits of Louis Mendes have won awards internationally and grace the walls of galleries world-wide.”

Louis shoots in a jacket, fedora and with an old skool effeincecny that belies a true professional. Louis is a can do guy, and his smile is wonderful to behold. Read more about Louis and his Speed Graphic here, but his facebook info sums him up nicely:

Now thats photographic style. Cheers Louis.

The Suspect Story: Part 1, A Un-Published Suspect Photography interview with Chris Gampat of the Phoblographer

Io Electro from the Seattle Suspects series Contax RX 60 2.8 Macro Planar 1/60 sec f 11 Kodak Techpan 25 iso

A couple of years ago, Chris Gampat, chief editor of the Phoblographer asked me a few questions about my Seattle Suspects project. For some reason, the questions and answers were never published, and recently while cleaning up some hard drives, I found the piece. This will be the first part in a three  part series about my most photographically productive time, the Seattle years.

Tell us about how you came up with the name, “Seattle Suspects.”

Suspect Photography was the name of my gallery/studio in Seattle. We filled a niche in the photography community of Seattle by showcasing emerging and mid-career photographers that had an edge, but couldn’t find a home in the more established galleries such as Benham and Gail Gibson gallery. We had a great location, in Pioneer Square and I coined a term, Maverick Gallery. These were artist owned galleries that were prevalent in the bohemian inhabited old industrial and manufacturing buildings that made up Pioneer Square.

Suspect Photography was named after an experience I had where I “suspected” anything could exist in an instance of chance. When you look at an uncertain future, you can “suspect” anything, because anything is possible. Suspect Photography is both pragmatic and optimistic with a dash of fanciful promise.

Since the subjects were a selection of Goths, Fetish heads, Drag Queens, Artists, Poets, Musicians, and other assorted wayward souls I had a small difficulty in coming up with a name for the project. So I looked for the common denominator, which was they all came to Suspect Photography to be photographed, and Suspect Photography was in Seattle, hence the name Seattle Suspects. On a side note, everyone I ran the name by loved the title, but Joyce Tenneson. She is the undisputed queen of photography books and she absolutely detested it! I had to go with my gut, and keep the name in spite of Joyce’s opinion.

Nearly Naked Man from the Seattle Suspects. Contax RX 60mm 2.8 1/60 sec F11 Kodak Tech Pan 25 iso

 What was working with these people like for you?

Like hanging out with friends that I wanted to become closer to. I love people who are on the edge, I love freaks. I love people who take being called a freak as a compliment.

Susan from Club F*uck Seattle Suspect Series Contax RX 60 2.8 Macro Planar 1/60 sec F 11

 How did you get your subjects to pose the way that they did?

I encourage them to take over the studio sounds system. If you didn’t bring a cd over, I’d drop in one of mine, something that local clubs would be playing. It was the mid 90’s so NIN, Skinny Puppy, Dead Can Dance would suffice fine. I’d let them dance for me and coach them to stop when they got into an interesting pose. I would look for positions that were demonstrative of the subject, ones that encouraged positive and negative space with expressive reaching of the arms or straddled legs.

Sparks from the Seattle Suspects series Contax RX 35-70 vario-sonnar 1/60 sec F 11 Kodak Techpan 25 iso

Do you feel that chemistry between a photographer and the subject is vital to creating great photos? If so, why?

Absolutely. Emotions will be caught on film, so if they don’t trust you, then your images will reflect that. They wont give you their all. I likened the underground of Seattle to a court, and I was the court photographer. I photographed the kings and queens of the scene and they trusted my eye to capture this moment in their life. This gave me access to the rest of the courtesans. I have to also say at this point that I was one of them. I wasn’t an outsider looking in, I was an insider of the scene. I partied at the after hour speakeasies where I recruited the Suspects, I promoted at the clubs (Catwalk and Chapel Periolous) and I ran a gallery that featured edgy art. I also shot Fantasy Unlimited ad campaigns that gave me street cred. The Suspect’s trusted me with themselves, and I respected them.

Dalia from the Seattle Suspects series. Contax RX 60 2.8 Macro Planar 1/60 sec f 11 Kodak Techpan 25 iso

How did you inspire yourself?

How could I not? Look closely at the suspects, they are so complicated and strangely beautiful, a blend of darkly serious and deathly whimsical that I always was honored these subjects would pose before my lenses. What we photograph will echo in eternity, I was inspired to ensure their voices and style would not fade into obscurity. The suspects of mid 1990’s Seattle are fully documented and that is inspiration incarnate.

Malinda from the Seattle Suspects series Contax RX 60 2.8 Macro Planar 1/60 sec f 11 Kodak Techpan 25 iso

Tell us about how you lit your subjects to get the look that you wanted.

I approach studio lighting like two puzzles to solve. First, you must light the background. I would hit the background with two While Lighting “oil cans” fitted with barn doors to keep the spill from hitting the subject in the foreground. I would try to even the light out so the flash would give F11 across the entire backdrop. To light the subject I would use a White Lighting Ultra 1800 in a large Photoflex soft box as a main light, pretty much hitting the subject’s torso at f 11 but the trick was to mount the light on a Bogen Super Boom. Booming the box lets me use the light like a great soft skylight to bathe the subject that I can tweak and aim just so. For fill light I would use an Ultra 600 in Photoflex Stripdome to achieve F 8 1/2 output. I recommend playing with your lights and testing them so you can find the look that matches the subjects and the process your using.

Thank you Chris for asking me those questions, and thank you to all the fabulous freaks of mid 90’s Seattle. You set me free to find myself.

Seattle Suspects book published in 2009 with Blurb and available on the Blurb market place or with a print on the Seattle Suspects site.

Please visit the Seattle Suspects main site to view the book and more suspects, and whilst your at it, give a “like” to the Suspects fan page.

~David

Film Simulation Modes on Fuji X Pro 1

18mm 1/30th at f/2.0 B&W r ISO 800 B&W- Y JPG

So I’m old, I cut my photo teeth on film, I predate digital photography. Back in the halcyon days of film the choices were plenty and you could match a film to your style or the subject. Kodak was king, but then in the late 80’s Fuji Film came out with a highly saturated slide film (e6) called Velvia and the game changed. Fuji roared into the market and just kept coming up with innovative professional emulsions that defined the film mindset and challenged Kodaks hold on film. These Fuji films all had a certain look to them, some subtle and some bold. Velvia possesses a super saturated slightly contrasty look that became the darling of nature shooters. Provia was the “go-to” film for product, commercial and general use, while Astia and its lower contrast smoothness hinting with a touch of warmness was perfect for portrait and fashion work. These were just the slide films, in the print world of negatives (c41) you also had a bevy of specialized films such as Reala for portraits, Press film for journalists (very pushable to higher iso’s), and some great b&w choices. Neopan 1600 was a wonderful high speed fine grain film, and I still shoot with Across 100, a smooth and fine grain emulsion that produces lovely prints.

Digital Photography is very versatile, in post  you can easily adjust the look of your image to match the attributes of these films. In many ways, the art of matching a film emulsion to your subject is lost these days but was crucial back in the day. The X Pro 1 however has something very cool that us old shooters dig, it’s called “Film Simulation Modes” and in the menu we can bias the camera to shoot like a particular film. I teach a class called, “finding photographic style” and I encourage people to work with in-camera digital styles to fine tune their vision. Shooting this way forces you match subject, genre, and style to a look, easily achievable with a film sim mode. The X Pro 1 takes it even further and offers a film sim bracket mode. You can assign three films and take one shot and the camera gives your three images each with a different film simulation. It’s a bit slower to work this way, as the process time takes few seconds. But the results are fun and shows you the comparison between three types of classic Fuji emulsions.

Barbara models for me at Central Park trying out different film sim modes.

The X Pro 1 offers you a choice of Provia (standard), Velvia (punchy & saturated), Astia (soft), Pro Neg Hi (contrasty), Pro Neg Standard (great range of tones), Monochrome (b&w), Monochrome Y (Yellow filter for contrast), Monochrome R (Red filter for higher contrast, great for clouds), Monochrome G (green filter for smooth skin tones), and Sepia tone (warm old feel).

35 mm lens 1/4000th at f/1.4 Provia ISO 200 JPG

I have been shooting Jpegs with the X 1 Pro on account of no RAW support from Fuji yet, so I haven’t been able to test how a RAW image would work under a film sim mode. The merits of this feature are certainly debatable, but I stand by my statement that it allows you to instantly “own” your image in a unique way. I would advise you to explore these settings both in color and b&w. You just may be surprised at the path this film simulation takes you, or at least get a warm fuzzy feeling now that you can shoot with Velvia again… sort of.

~David

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