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Photographic education goes beyond the camera – by Shaun La

Teaching and learning are not bounded by institutions with classrooms. But the classroom should not be underestimated, either.

With photography, we are in an unfamiliar space. The camera can be in a device that can accept and make out phone calls, write e-mails, or layer out digital maps for us who are new to an area. It can be more about the device’s gadgets; whereas, the camera is an option, not the complete instrument.

Photographed on medium-format film (Kodak Portra 400). A Braun camera flash was used for this frame. The organization of the instruments (cameras) and the rolls of film are a mirror in a symbolic way, because film was used to photograph film. Also, the literary works serving as the backdrop are a pre-meditated sign of showing how important the articulation and dialogue of photography has to be a part of the future, if this medium want to be culturally preserved.

photographed on medium-format film (Kodak Portra 400). A Braun camera flash was used for this frame. The organization of the instruments (cameras) and the rolls of film are a mirror in a symbolic way, because film was used to photograph film. Also, the literary works serving as the backdrop are a pre-meditated sign of showing how important the articulation and dialogue of photography has to be a part of the future, if this medium want to be culturally preserved.

Alongside this unfamiliar space in photography, there is the marketing that anyone can teach photography. You could turn right or left while surfing the Internet and visually walk into workshops or programs that stimulate the notion that they can teach any student all about photography with a technical pill.

If you were new to photography and did not know any better, you would be all too willing to fathom the technical way as the sure way to become a photographer. An aperture setting, shutter speeds, ISO, composition, the ability to know your lighting are all significant in learning about photography–but the photographic education does not stop here.

This photographic frame has the painter Rosa Russo in the middle of its composition. Photographed on Ilford FP4+, Medium-format film. Braun on the camera flash was used for this frame. I wanted to light her, & her painting with a tide of light that covered her, her painting & her beautiful hair. What is a continuity compliment to Ilford film’s photographic sciences is that they built their visual signature off of the B&W serious to details, structure (all of which comes through, visually & successfully with the tide of light that I used for this frame). From the ingredients on how they chemically produce their film to the process and development chemistry, down to the paper that they create–it is about fulfilling a B&W visual that belongs to their vision. This is the benefit that arrives with B&W film photography, overall. No film manufacturer desire to have their B&W film look like their competitors.

This photographic frame has the painter Rosa Russo in the middle of its composition. Photographed on Ilford FP4+, Medium-format film. Braun on the camera flash was used for this frame. I wanted to light her, & her painting with a tide of light that covered her, her painting & her beautiful hair. What is a continuity compliment to Ilford film’s photographic sciences is that they built their visual signature off of the B&W serious to details, structure (all of which comes through, visually & successfully with the tide of light that I used for this frame). From the ingredients on how they chemically produce their film to the process and development chemistry, down to the paper that they create–it is about fulfilling a B&W visual that belongs to their vision. This is the benefit that arrives with B&W film photography, overall. No film manufacturer desire to have their B&W film look like their competitors.

ILFORD films have strong tones with their greys and blacks. Kodak T-MAX has a neutrality that is sharp and this is why it can be a back and forth film for photographers who deal with ILFORD’s HP5+. Both, T-Max and HP5+ have special and separate ways of treating their grain. HP5+ has this merging of grain, where tones and depth can be one; whereas, Kodak’s T-MAX places an emphasis on bringing out the lines of light more than the tones, and this is why the 100 or 400 speed are so excellent with being a part of their B&W photography team.

There is the other option in Kodak, for B&W photography, Tri-X. When it comes to Tri-X, the cubic grain can really give photography a grain that is not extra smooth, but is aesthetically strong in the feeling/texture look of a photograph. Tri-X has magnificent tones; whereas, T-MAX accepts bright tones with a polished outcome that is pleasing.

This frame was photographed on a 200 speed film, natural light, and with my Minolta Hi-Matic rangefinder camera. This was for an editorial campaign. What is terrific about film photography, would be the emulsion aspect that can contribute to how well you use the light source. Film can truly be taken to its highest level, when you have natural light for your frames. The tonal ranges in this photograph is mild, but the lady here, presents a visual directness, which furnishes moments becoming a personal connection. The lady sitting on the stairs, on a rooftop, gloves on, tattoos on her arms, and her eye contact, along with her fashion are all a part of the outdoor element. No flash was used in either one of these frames.

This frame was photographed on a 200 speed film, natural light, and with my Minolta Hi-Matic rangefinder camera. This was for an editorial campaign. What is terrific about film photography, would be the emulsion aspect that can contribute to how well you use the light source. Film can truly be taken to its highest level, when you have natural light for your frames. The tonal ranges in this photograph is mild, but the lady here, presents a visual directness, which furnishes moments becoming a personal connection. The lady sitting on the stairs, on a rooftop, gloves on, tattoos on her arms, and her eye contact, along with her fashion are all a part of the outdoor element. No flash was used in either one of these frames.

Fuji’s NEOPAN/NEOPAN Acros will offer a pearly blend to rich tones, giving your B&W work, a merging. Even Kentmere (which is under the same umbrella of business ownership as ILFORD) has this super grain construction that is so different to ILFORD’s graceful grain.

Rollei’s B&W films come with a visual strength that has a very smooth grain to them. From their 400 speed to their 25 speed films, their grainy ingredients, will find a way to situate themselves under various lighting conditions.

Bergger film is tonal strong with its contrast, you can push this film and it may not even look like you pushed it to balance out an incorrect aperture setting or shutter speed, or simply pushed it for the sake of it.

Even Arista’s EDU (Fomapan), can be a sharp B&W film to work with, in 400 or 100 speeds. Fomapan can catch light evenly, which makes working with a lens filter a possibility to offset the tonal range not coming through.

 

 

Our visual society of today

We are a high-tech society. Tomorrow can be ancient history. Our society places the 20th century as if it should have 1987 B.I. (Before the Internet) added somewhere, and what high-tech success has done to a medium under 200 years old (photography) would be to make it as concise as possible. Digital photography is currently helping us understand the quickest and easiest way to learn how to take a fast photograph.

The reading of photographs may seem time consuming, so we scan and we let our eyes find little visual scents that are familiar to our smell test. We love to sniff out shock-value, celebrities hanging with other celebrities, selfies, photographs with collecting massive amounts of Likes. We want hand-me-down photographs; whereas, social-media leaders instruct us as to what is good or great photography.

 

 

An impact on the learning of photography

As it takes time to learn a language–the alphabet, words, sentences–how to articulate and enunciate a language consists of learning the fundamentals. The fundamentals of photography go into knowing the Eye and the Moment (the alphabet and the expression).

You do not need to be a photographer in order to have an Eye!

A major asset to the greatly diverse photography of the 20th century and its full 100 years, has to be given to the editors, curators, print collectors, writers, professors and teachers who advocated for photography to be a serious counter, a modern medium for society to grow into, intellectually, entertainingly, philosophically and artistically.

The most popular medium in our high-tech society–the commercialism of photography–has become the gateway for photographers with all kinds of success to stand at podiums and declare that they know how to deliver to you, the Moment, the formula, the marketing skills, to become any kind of photographer you want to become—just as they are.

Photographed on small-format film, Kodak's Gold ULTRAMAX, 400 speed. I realized an individual sleep on a church's front steps in Manhattan, across from Central Park. The red doors came after noticing his sleep or resting at this particular location. The light look like wings to me and the distance allowed me to use a big aperture setting without going to a small aperture setting just for clear details. The gritty film texture of the door, natural light and 400 speed came into together very well, visually.

Photographed on small-format film, Kodak’s Gold ULTRAMAX, 400 speed. I realized an individual sleep on a church’s front steps in Manhattan, across from Central Park. The red doors came after noticing his sleep or resting at this particular location. The light look like wings to me and the distance allowed me to use a big aperture setting without going to a small aperture setting just for clear details. The gritty film texture of the door, natural light and 400 speed came into together very well, visually.

We as a society have confused teaching with a technical pupil and mentoring with marketing—photography wise.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with someone taking the time out to show a group of people how to hold their camera, adjust their lens, set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO on day one and on day two, that same someone, showing the same group of people how to gain followers on social-media.

But where do we as a very visual society address the difference between picking up a book about the history of photography, reading it, going over it with a teacher, while learning about photography, even if you do not end up evolving into a photographer?

 

Small-format film was used for this particular frame. 200 speed Agfa film. I had one soft-light above her (she is the filmmaker R. Shanea Williams) and a white wall to serve as the backdrop. The texture in her sweater and her wristwatch are merged as a visual wholeness. Her hands and hair are connected through her touch. I think that I used an aperture setting of f/5.6 and at a shutter speed of 1/60.

Small-format film was used for this particular frame. 200 speed Agfa film. I had one soft-light above her (she is the filmmaker R. Shanea Williams) and a white wall to serve as the backdrop. The texture in her sweater and her wristwatch are merged as a visual wholeness. Her hands and hair are connected through her touch. I think that I used an aperture setting of f/5.6 and at a shutter speed of 1/60.

Our rush to photograph any and everything has put the student into a crash course, neglecting any form of wanting to know more about the foundation of photography. It is no wonder to why we, as a very visual society, can become so self-indulgent and forget about photographers who paved the way for us.

There are veteran photographers, 70, 80, 90 years old, who have profound knowledge and experience about this medium and often they are swept to the side, because this modern area of photography loves the advancement of speed, ascending to a higher level, and not reflection on who and what originally made those levels.

 

What could happen when we ascend over a medium’s core?

Relatively recently, Souvid Datta acknowledged that he plagiarized the photographic work of a very well-respected photographer Mary Ellen Mark (March 20th, 1945 – May 25th, 2015).

It is my guess that this sort of plagiarized momentum goes back to the lack of teaching photography outside of the technical side of learning about this medium. If you swim into a deeper pond than Souvid’s plagiarizing of Mary’s photographic work, and channel over to the painter Richard Prince, who boldly swindled photographs that he did not originally photograph from Instagram, you would see a devastating view of no checks and no balances when mediums are measured right next to each other.

Photographed on 100 speed, Kodak film with my Hi-Matic rangefinder camera. As we know, 100 speed film can be a fine grain film & it can require a lot of light or a long exposure time with a precise aperture setting. In this frame, the platform's light from the subway station helped out immensely with a decent frame here. I did not use a flash with this frame. It was captured instinctively, as I viewed this gentleman asleep or closing his eyes as I was walking. The LAST STOP from the E train's sign, the American flag, the map next to him, the entire image of a frame within a frame (looking through the train's window) serves such a New York vibe. Long days for a City that does not sleep, so the LAST STOP can be a sign of relief or refuelling.

Photographed on 100 speed, Kodak film with my Hi-Matic rangefinder camera. As we know, 100 speed film can be a fine grain film & it can require a lot of light or a long exposure time with a precise aperture setting. In this frame, the platform’s light from the subway station helped out immensely with a decent frame here. I did not use a flash with this frame. It was captured instinctively, as I viewed this gentleman asleep or closing his eyes as I was walking. The LAST STOP from the E train’s sign, the American flag, the map next to him, the entire image of a frame within a frame (looking through the train’s window) serves such a New York vibe. Long days for a City that does not sleep, so the LAST STOP can be a sign of relief or refuelling.

Had Prince tried this with traced paintings from Dutch Masters, the Pop-Art comedy from such an antic would not ever be taken seriously enough to gain an original provenance or cultural value when boiled down to an imitation or tracing being worth more than the original masterpiece.

Richard’s rephotographed photography of Sam Abell’s original Marlboro Man advert photography sold for millions–there are some original photographs from proven photographic eyes of the 19th and 20th centuries whose photographic prints are not valued for millions of dollars.

Photography once laced up its boxing boots during the late 19th century and fought for this medium to be separated from or connected to the older and more culturally established medium, painting. It could have been Henry Peach Robinson (Pure or Straight photography) and Peter Henry Emerson (Pictorialism) disagreeing with what makes a photograph; however, their agreement on photography having the possibility to be a visual art did not entertain a clash.

 

 

20th Century Meanings

There used to be a definitive answer to what was photography. The 20th century opened up the realms of a professional photographer being able to do commercial work with publications such as magazines and newspapers, as well as neighborhood photographers who made a living with a studio, photographing the community who wore their best clothing with the anticipation of well-framed photography inside of their homes or offices, even their wallets or purses, as well as under the plastic covers that are the interiors of family photo-albums.

Photographed on small-format Agfa film, speed 200. The f/stop was 22 and the shutter speed was 1/60. The strong ground and rocks made this bird the center of attention, while the sidewalk of Central Park was a place for this bird to land. The spot of light behind the bird (upper left hand corner) lines right up with their landing---it was light coming through the leaves of a tree.

photographed on small-format Agfa film, speed 200. The f/stop was 22 and the shutter speed was 1/60. The strong ground and rocks made this bird the center of attention, while the sidewalk of Central Park was a place for this bird to land. The spot of light behind the bird (upper left hand corner) lines right up with their landing—it was light coming through the leaves of a tree.

On the gallery walls, the amateur photographer roamed with their work. Some of these photographers had careers or jobs outside of photography. Being that the sales of photographic prints could not be a gold mine, professional photographers did not always look at the gallery walls as a way to make consistent, decent income.

The hobbyists or amateur found the same satisfaction the professional photographer found with making dollars and cents with their camera, but their reward was up on the walls. Just to know that people would view the works of amateurs, hobbyists or the photographer with a trained eye who refused to sell out to editors telling them how to photograph, was a balancing beam in photography—it stipulated what was commercial, what was art and what was candid.

Just to put the gallery scene in the 20th century into a financial perspective. Helen Gee, who partly owned the Limelight Gallery in New York during the 1950’s/60’s had original photographic prints from Gordon Parks and Henri Cartier-Bresson for under 50 dollars.

Today, the term “famous photographer” has engulfed the brand of being a photographer; therefore, a social-media following (if a gigantic one) could lead a photographer to being booked by publications who want to use their huge collection of followers as a base to merge into their following–cross-promotion–and from there, galleries are looking for the next famous photographer as well.

 

 

I just want to be a technical photographer, if I wanted to know art history, I would have became a Painter

The lack of education for the modern photographer could have a proliferation of ramifications on the future of photography being unconcerned and ignorant of its founding past.

Gaining an education about photography (historically and technically) can be self-taught (such as myself), mentored or taught in a classroom or workshop that has a full circle about this medium.

It is not uncommon to find photographers teaching about this medium who do not have “book-work” outside of their coffee-table books or some other works  filled with poetry and photographs. The absence of knowing their history has become non-existing, because photography on a societal level refuses to bridge the small steps from the 20th century and the little-older steps from the 19th century–establishing a photographic ancestry for this 21st century.

Photographed on medium-format film, Kodak Portra, 160. I enjoy using reflection at times, without it being obvious and during other times, making it very obvious but subtle in both of these aspects of utilizing the visual power of reflection. Here the reflection is obvious. The cookie being half-eaten gives off the reality of it being a snack, just as the bananas became a replacement food for the cookie jar. These colorful plastic Metro Cards that New Yorkers have to swipe to get through a turnstile in order to travel are vivid in their own advertising manner. I used one floodlight for this frame. Also, the plastic material used to make these Metro Cards, symbolizes photography's travel into the realm of being considered a Plastic Art, which is a visual arts placement for this medium that is much younger than its fellow Plastic arts, Sculpture and Painting.

photographed on medium-format film, Kodak Portra, 160. I enjoy using reflection at times, without it being obvious and during other times, making it very obvious but subtle in both of these aspects of utilizing the visual power of reflection. Here the reflection is obvious. The cookie being half-eaten gives off the reality of it being a snack, just as the bananas became a replacement food for the cookie jar. These colorful plastic Metro Cards that New Yorkers have to swipe to get through a turnstile in order to travel are vivid in their own advertising manner. I used one floodlight for this frame. Also, the plastic material used to make these Metro Cards, symbolizes photography’s travel into the realm of being considered a Plastic Art, which is a visual arts placement for this medium that is much younger than its fellow Plastic arts, Sculpture and Painting.

To have photographers who are able to articulate or enunciate this medium’s historical significance, modern advancements and an optimistically, academically, artistically future would extend this medium’s potential into a cultural prosperity commending its preparation to display a classical period of its own…because, there are no classical periods in photography.

The work that has been done (70 plus years in the 19th century and a full 100 years from the 20th century), and what we are doing right now will be a huge decider in photography welcoming or rejecting its own Renaissance.

But, if you are just about aperture settings, shutter speeds, copying your photographic lighting from the next popular photographer, then you likely never wanted to learn about this medium called photography, you simply wanted the medium to loan you some of its attention.

Enjoy photography.

~ Shaun La

 

 

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About The Author

Shaun La

Shaun La is a photographer & writer. Starting off with the medium of photography at the age of 18 (20 years ago) with a Minolta Hi-Matic & 135 film, the desire to see the moment became a way to envision the possibilities in wanting to be a timer awaiting to see if he could photograph more moments.

His photography extends into fashion, street, photojournalism, landscape, still-life & candid realities — still utilizing film cameras only, 135 & medium-format film. As a writer, he has penned numerous essays on various topics, which has been published by the Amsterdam News, the Baltimore Sun, Afro-Punk, Camera Obscura & other media outlets. Currently he is working on his book, “The Perpetual Intellectual View Called Photography: Essays,” & putting together the building blocks for an upcoming exhibition on his Photography.

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  1. Good day & you are welcome Alan. Thank you for your reading time. I was impressed to read your comment. Mainly, because you stayed with Photography, despite your cameras not fitting into this high-tech, gadget driven market that has overwhelmed Photography. The progress that you had with each camera, shows a dedication to working with what you had. I am one who believes that the camera is a very pragmatic instrument. However, it (the camera) has a power that can travel into another world, when the Eye photographs the Moment.

    Your mentor offered you some wise advice. The camera & photography are a united definition forthcoming with an expansively unique possibility of showing the visions of Life, the Photographer defines what they see.

    Reply
  2. Good day Stephen. Thank you for reading my essay & for your response. You did present a universal, general point in reference to the ignorance & ignoring of the history of the Arts, entertainment & overall, cultures. However, picking a media or topic, let us say, Painting, has a history that is ignored in a popular culture sense; however, the long history behind it, serves as an awareness or cultural education to those who promote such a medium for its uniqueness. We are so drenched in photographs being given to us at a super-speed, that ignorance that you write of, has even more of a reason to keep its momentum going strong. With the Internet being a universal tool, such an ignorance of not respecting or wanting to learn the history of Photography might not just be a U.S. way of education. Being that Photography is under 200 years old, this endemic that you mentioned could really sway Photography away from being a medium, but a complete Popular Art.

    Reply
  3. The willful ignorance of history is not limited to photography. It is endemic in US culture; pick your media.

    Reply
  4. I enjoyed reading this. I’ve enjoyed using cameras and film since I was a child. I learned more and more about photography to get the tools out of the way so I could get the pictures the way I wanted them. None of my early cameras had any capability to accept any cool accessories. And for a long time I could only afford one camera at a time. If I wanted a different one I had to sell the one I had.
    I was fortunate to have a mentor. If he talked about the hardware, it was only in passing. You can’t do a good job of teaching carpentry by always talking about the hammer.
    Thanks for sharing this. I hope it is widely read.

    Reply
  5. A great article! I’d like to read more like this.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I have to …

    I wonder if the ignorance of history and culture of the medium is also to blame for the many wrong priorities in today’s world of photography.

    People pour over lens aberration charts of the latest version of a lens they already own, while at the same time never having practiced to edit or having created a single print of their work.

    The process of photography many perform today is centered on the camera and ends in data masses on their computer and is thus truncated.
    At the same time many miss meaning and purpose in their hobby, which is dominated by material desires.

    I do not mind which way you take your photos, but so many conversations with other photographers end in “gear talk”.
    Film still offers one way of experiencing the whole process of photography, from light in the real world to processing to print (and sure why not also into the web). The discipline required in the analog process, seems to me, is incredibly hard to find for people who only know digital.

    Thanks again for the article.

    Reply
    • Good day Daniel, I hope that all is well. Thank you for reading my essay. You do not have to apologize for the long response. If a reader take their own time & apply it to my writings & photography—the least that I can do, would be to read their response, concise or long.

      I do think that the ignorance of fully appreciating photography does have a connection to the ignoring of its historical significance. It (the ignorance) has become a modern mode of education. There is an acceptance of a photographer saying, “I do not need to know or care about the history of Photography,” while putting a visual search on Google for “inspiration” of past photography. LoL.

      This is where that reliance on the high-tech comes back into play. (Which you mentioned with the process part of your response.) Photography has become more about the technology & not the technique. Around 30 or 35 years ago, there was a balance between these two parameters in Photography. The Photographer treated any new invention with film or a film camera as an extension that was about a longevity in their previous, overall film education. Therefore, the technology was only a profit to the technique.

      Today, technique, originality, having an Eye, knowing your history with Photography are all minimized or ignored with a flat out rejection, in order for it to be all about the discussion of the highest of the high-technological new camera or camera feature(s).

      This society is going in the wind direction of the Artificial Intelligence kind of agenda. We might end up having computers explain to us, what is the Eye & what is the Moment? The photographer will either become an art-director, editor or creator-director.

      I am biased when it comes to film, because I work only on film. However, I do agree with your sentiments on film offering the experiences that has a chief dedication to the process. A photographic process that helps, as well as articulate to the photographer, a true photograph.

      There are some good digital photography being going on out here. From an advocate of Photography perspective, this medium has another voice with digital. My issue, would be about digital overcrowding & drowning out film, to the point, the new photographer coming into this medium, some 40 years from now, might actually think that the digital camera was the original invention of Photography.

      Photography would be about 230 years old, very youthful as a medium & such a belief would be very depressing for the progressiveness of this medium.

      This is why film & the history of photography has to be the educational heartbeat of this medium.

      Thank you for your great response, Daniel.
      Success to your day & week.
      Shaun.

      Reply
  6. Fantastic words, very engaging and thought provoking.

    Reply
    • Good day & thank you. It was great to read your commentary.

      Reply
    • Thank you for your reading time & the commentary. Enjoy your day & week.

      Reply
  7. Thank you for the publishing, EMULSIVE – film.photography. Keep that knowledge Light on Film Photography with your outlet of articles & insights.

    Reply

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