A Circumscribed Life
During COVID, getting out for long walks with a film camera in hand has been my way of refreshing my body and mind. Most times I walk the trails in our neighborhood. Sometimes I walk in the woods. Other times I walk in Minneapolis. And on the coldest of days, I walk the mall. Wherever I'm walking, I have my camera in hand. The images I make on my walks reflect a circumscribed life...the constrained lives we've all experienced during COVID.
Film photography is my photographic journal. As this body of work has grown and evolved, I get a sense that these are lonely images. There is only one person in all these photographs...a solitary photographer out walking. When I make a photograph, more than anything I'm hoping it evokes an emotion...any emotion. It's not that I'm seeking the emotion I was feeling at the time I made the photograph. Those are mine. I'm hoping they evoke an emotional response in the viewer.
I've told you what emotion I sense in these photographs. I'd love to read what emotions you sense when viewing these photographs in the comments below.
Paris, A Moveable Feast...For The Eyes
Paris is an amazing city. Hemingway called it a moveable feast. It is that for certain. Paris is especially a feast for the eyes. It seems that around every corner and down every out of the way street there is something interesting to see. From fascinating storefronts to intriguing wall art to seemingly throwaway objets d'art, such sights are on practically every street here.
This makes Paris a fabulous place for a photographer to just wander with camera in hand. I've done plenty of that. I suppose the locals think nothing of these scenes that, to me, are fascinating. Just why is this bicycle tire ringed with brightly colored tennis balls resting against a building, covered up by a bunch of other nondescript objects?
Sometimes wall art is framed by the elements of the building and other times it just floats on top, as if in thin air. And sometimes the wall materials alone make art.
We've been blessed with a string of cool, crisp, and dry fall days here in recent weeks. I've been getting out for walks every opportunity I have. Today Priscilla and I took the Metro up to our favorite coffeeshop, Beans on Fire. We were hoping to get brunch, but unfortunately they've quit serving food...just hot drinks and pastries. After cappuccinos and pastries, we walked the mile back to our flat on Rue Charles Baudelaire.
On our way back to our apartment we lunched at a Vietnamese restaurant in our neighborhood we've been wanting to try (it was yummy) and then grabbed some goodies at one of our boulangeries for an afternoon treat with our coffees.
It's hard to believe that in a week we will be on our way back home. We're at that point in the trip when I look back at photos from the early days and think to myself how long ago that seems. I leave you with a typical Parisian scene that will linger in my memory, a sidewalk cafe on a cool, clear, crisp fall day.
A Walk In The Park
After seeing our travelers off to their various destinations, yesterday was supposed to be an R&R day for Priscilla and me, but if you know me well you'll know that I don't sit well. So, on a whim, I decided to check out the massive Bois de Vincennes (woods of Vincennes) park that is close to the eastern terminus of the #1 Metro line, the Chateau de Vincennes stop.
As I told Priscilla when I set out, I didn't have high expectations for this park, since you don't tend to read of it in any of the guidebooks, and the reference I found in Wikipedia said the park was known for prostitution after dark. But since I had nothing else planned for the day and was eager to see some fall color in this huge wooded park not too far from us, I set out after lunch. After getting off the #1 Metro at the Chateau de Vincennes station, I walked about half a mile or so through a not so promising looking area that was bounded by the long-of-tooth and walled-off Chateau de Vincennes on one side and the forbidding looking Fort Neuf military base on the other. Eventually I came upon the large Parc Floral de Paris sign at the entrance. The Parc Floral de Paris is located within the Bois de Vincennes. At this point, my expectations were still measured.
Well, I'll get straight to the punch line. My expectations were utterly and completely blown out of the water by the Parc Floral de Paris. Once I got further into the park, I realized that this was not your garden variety floral park (pun intended). Initially I came upon a large wooded area filled with all manner of playground equipment with children playing on them. It seemed around every corner in the woods you'd come upon another set of playground equipment, for all different age groups. Then I found an extensive high-ropes course where a group of young adults were zip-lining across the forest canopy and stair-stepping through the forest in midair. As if that weren't enough, there is a beautiful, glass-walled art gallery on the grounds.
But nothing prepared me for the dahlia gardens. I followed a sign pointing me in that direction, knowing that Priscilla would want reports, I soon came to learn how this park got its name. I entered into one of the largest flower gardens I've ever seen, dedicated strictly to dahlias. Actually there were multiple gardens strung together. The dahlias were in full bloom, with a riot of color everywhere you looked. I knew in an instant that Priscilla and I had to come back while these dahlias are still in bloom.
Originally I went to the Bois de Vincennes in search of fall color. Yes, I saw some fall color, but I was treated to a whole lot more than that in the Parc Floral de Paris. This park is like a giant wooded playground for young and old alike. It just goes to show that you can make the most amazing discoveries when you get off the well-worn tourist path.
P.S. Later in the day, our friend Claudia told us that there is a special area in the Bois de Vincennes where people walk around in the nude. The signage directing you to that area refers to "Naturists". It's a good thing I didn't come upon that sign, because I surely would have followed it, thinking of myself as one who enjoys nature.
A Fun Few Days
We've had a busy few days here since we last checked in. On Saturday, while Roberta and Maddie were off and about, we spent time with Anna just bumming around our neighborhood and lazing at the flat. She got to meet our friend Claudia at her food stall. We also introduced Anna to the Coulée Verte, which she loved. Later that night, Anna and Maddie attended a 70s/80s themed costume birthday party at Maddie's friend's flat in the 11th, not too far from here. We oldsters didn't wait up for them.
Sunday was a lazy day for the Northenscolds. Roberta and Maddie meanwhile went to see Saint Chapelle, which they came back from with glowing reports. I helped get Anna and Maddie off to the Montparnasse rail station for their train to Nantes. Roberta took in the Louvre in the morning and then met Priscilla and me at the Pompidou Centre for the fabulous Georgia O'Keefe special exhibit.
This was our first time to the Pompidou. We both loved it...the permanent exhibits and the special O'Keefe exhibit. As usual, we didn't have enough time to take it all in. But what we saw we were impressed with. We will definitely come back. I'd like to see the photography exhibits. Plus, the view of Paris from the sixth level is stunning. We made it back from the Pompidou in time for some late afternoon snacks and a dinner cooked up by Priscilla that we lovingly call garbage pail pasta. Ask Priscilla to explain it to you sometime.
Today we started with a visit to the amazing Jacques Genin chocolate shop in the Marais so Roberta could pick up some treats to bring home. Next we made our way to our favorite Paris restaurant, Mokonuts, for a wonderful and relaxing lunch at Roberta's treating. Mokonuts is less than half a mile from our flat, so it's an easy walk. After our leisurely lunch, Roberta and Priscilla headed back over to Place des Vosges in the Marais to visit Priscilla's favorite scarf shop, Sous Le Sable.
Later tonight I'll be meeting Maddie at her train at Montparnasse, as she returns from her trek to western France. She heads off to Switzerland tomorrow to visit another good friend from her study abroad. We will also bid a fond farewell to Roberta, who makes her return flight to Minnesota tomorrow. It has been so much fun having guests this week. It will sure seem mighty quiet around here after everyone leaves.
One of the commonly mentioned dings against 35mm is that you can't or shouldn't attempt to make large prints with it. Well, I'm hoping to debunk that myth in this blog post. What I will provide for you is my workflow from beginning to end for getting beautiful, 13" x 19" archival inkjet black & white prints from 35mm negatives. First, a list of the gear and software I will use along the way.
The first step is to place the negative in the scanning tray and get it cleaned. I find it helps me to see the borders clearly by putting the tray and negative on an LED light table (these are super affordable). Once I get the negative placed and locked in, I give it a good blowing with a Rocket Blower front and back.
Next I'll walk through the settings in SilverFast. The first thing I do when I open SilverFast is conduct a Prescan. Once I have that, I make sure that the red selection box is sized properly. All of the settings are shown on the left panel. I won't go over all of those, but a couple are of special importance. First, I select 16 Bit HDR RAW for my scan type. I only use this scan type when I'm planning on making a large print. This will create a digital negative of the image. I select DNG for file type. You could probably use TIFF as well.
This next setting is the one where I go outside accepted bounds. I set the scan resolution to the greatest allowed by the 8200i, which is 7200 ppi. Reviews will tell you that the effective resolution of this scanner is closer to half that, so the argument is that you shouldn't scan at a resolution greater than 3600 ppi because all you're getting is a bigger file with no more detail. I've tried up-sizing files scanned at 3600 ppi to the print size needed, and the results aren't nearly as good. What I found is that the shadows get super dirty, for lack of a better term. So believe me, while you are not gaining effective resolution scanning at 7200, you are getting a cleaner file to work with downstream.
I use SilverFast's NegaFix option on all my scans. I find it does a fabulous job rendering the negatives. I don't use any of the auto color correction options. Once I've named my file and told SilverFast where to store it I hit the Scan button and let the Plustek do its thing.
Once you import the file into Lightroom (I'm using CC) you will see a digital negative on the screen. At this point I don't do anything with the image other than choose Edit in Photoshop.
When the file opens in Photoshop it will still look like a negative. At this point I use Photoshop for just two processes. First I choose Image>>Adjustments>>Invert. Now the image looks like an extremely flat positive. Don't worry about that. We'll fix that in Lightroom. The next step I do in Photoshop is to resize the image by choosing Image>>Image Size and then make the settings shown below.
To get a 13" x 19" print at 360 ppi, which is optimal for my Epson, I need to downsize the file to 6840 pixels on the long side. For the resampling choice, I use Bicubic Sharper (reduction). To be honest, I haven't tried the other options. This one just works for me. Once I execute the image size command I'm all done with Photoshop. I save the file in Photoshop and then quit Photoshop to go back to Lightroom.
Now I am back in Lightroom, and here is where we start to bring the image to life. The first thing I do is set the white and black points to taste. This alone makes a huge difference in the tonalities. Next I adjust the tone curve. I added a bit of an S-curve to this image. I also added a bit of Clarity.
Finally, I set sharpening to the Lightroom default level of 40. Other than some minor use of the healing brush, this image is ready to print. Because I'm using Lightroom CC, and because Adobe for some unknown reason didn't think printing was important enough to include in CC yet, I have to go back into Photoshop to print. Annoying, yes, but it is doable.
Now I am back in Photoshop in the Print dialog. The settings here are super critical. Besides selecting my printer, I tell Photoshop that it should manage colors and I select the proper icc printer profile. I select 16-bit data and black-point compensation. In the Layout section I choose landscape orientation. Down in the Position and Size section I input the width and let Photoshop auto calculate everything else. You'll see that the image isn't exactly 360 ppi because I did a wee bit of a crop. I'm not going to worry about that. In Rendering Intent, I've found Relative Colorimetric to be my preferred method, so I just leave it at that. I doubt that has much impact on a black and white image anyway. And then all that's left is to hit the Print button.
I've shown the resulting print at the beginning of the blog post, so I won't repeat that here, but what I will do is include a slideshow of a series of closeup photos from the print made on my iPhone 12 Pro.
Now I'll be the first to admit that I am not a pixel peeper. When I'm making a large print, I keep in mind the typical viewing distance. To be honest, I could probably be printing at a resolution much lower than 360 ppi for such a large print as 13" x 19", but 360 ppi is what makes my Epson happiest, so that's what I stick with. Certainly looked at close up you're going to see the film grain, especially on a 400 speed classic grain film like Tri-X. But frankly, I like grain. Maybe not big chunks of it, but salt and peppery grain I'm more than happy with. And that's the way the grain looks to me on this print.
A caveat...the scanner is the critical element of this workflow. I don't think you'd get nearly as good of results with a flatbed scanner. This is where a dedicated film scanner really comes in handy. The Plustek film scanners are a terrific value and a great choice if you're looking for a dedicated 35mm film scanner.
I hope this has been helpful. As always, if you've got a question just send me a note or post a comment.
Six years ago I made one of my favorite photos in the Big Woods at Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area. The colors and draping of the branches caught my eye. My recollection is that it was a wettish day when I made this photo back in October of 2014.
I've been back to Wood-Rill more times than I can count since that day in early October 2014. I've often tried to find these trees to make a new image, but I'll be darned if I could find them. I traipsed all over the edge of that tamarack bog trying to find them, but I always struck out. That is until this year. Priscilla and I went out to Wood-Rill for a late afternoon hike recently and I had my Olympus OM-2n with me loaded with Ilford HP5+ black & white film, rated at an ISO of 400. As I was rooting around at the edge of the bog, all of a sudden these trees presented themselves right in front of me. I couldn't believe it. Wouldn't you know the one time when I wasn't looking for them at all, there they'd be, right in front of me.
Because I was shooting with a 50mm lens this time rather than the 28mm lens I was using back in 2014, the perspective in these two photos is different, but they are unmistakably the same trees, with pretty much the same composition. I actually think I prefer the perspective in the black & white shot over the color shot. Losing the sky at the top tightens things up a bit in my estimation. Neither of these photos has been cropped. They are as shot. One thing I love about the black & white version is how the tamarack trees in the background seem to light up.
I think now that I've made it back to the same spot a second time, I'll be able to find it again. There are a few scenes out at Wood-Rill that I like making photographs of at different times of the year. I'll be adding these trees to my revisit list.
I had to go. I didn't know what I would do or think when I got to the site where George Floyd was murdered, but I knew I had to go. When I arrived outside Cup Foods I stood for the longest time taking in the scene, breathing deep and slow, recognizing that this was the place where George Floyd's breath was taken from him. This was sacred ground. The tears welled up in my eyes, as they are now. I then did something that seemed to come out of nowhere and yet seemed the most natural and right thing to do...I asked George Floyd for his forgiveness. I asked him to forgive me for all the wrongs committed against people of color by systemic racism. I asked for forgiveness and I cried.
Finally, I got down on a knee and made one photo. The significance of taking a knee was not lost on me. I debated whether or not to do it, but I knew that the perspective I was seeking in the photograph required me to take a knee. The image of George Floyd needed to be above me, not at my eye level. I needed to be at street level when making this photograph. He needed to be looking down on me. I needed his forgiveness. I still need his forgiveness.
Museums and Miscellanea
In the past two days we’ve taken in two fine museums within walking distance from our flat, the Picasso Museum yesterday and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Museum today. The Picasso Museum is housed in what used to be a hotel. It had been closed for five years for a major renovation project, reopening in 2014. The first time we tried to visit the museum in 2009, the line was all the way down the street and it was raining, so we opted out. In 2011 we couldn’t visit due to the renovation. The third time was a charm. The crowds were light and the weather beautiful. The exhibits at the Picasso Museum are incredibly extensive. In total there are 38 rooms with work displayed. The first two floors house a joint Calder/Picasso exhibit, Calder was an American artist (primarily sculptor) who also worked in an abstract style. The upper floors of the museum are dedicated to Picasso’s works. The curation and display of the work were top notch. Priscilla and I agree that this is one of the most impressive museums we have ever visited.
While I doubt Picasso needs any introduction, Cartier-Bresson might. Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the great photographers in the reportage style. He was a founding member of the famous Magnum photography agency. Before his death, Cartier-Bresson and his wife and photographer, Martine Franck, set up a foundation with the mission to preserve and share his work. Today we saw the photographs of Guy Tillim, in a body of work entitled “Museum of the Revolution,” and the work of Cartier-Bresson from France during 1926 - 1938. All of the work was fabulous. I could look at Cartier-Bresson’s beautiful black and white prints all day. Tillim’s huge panoramic street scenes from several post-independence African countries were amazing. I picked up a copy of Cartier-Bresson’s seminal book, “The Decisive Moment.” I’ve not been able to find this book in the States.
On our way back to our flat we stopped at a French burger joint—yes they do exist—in the Marché Enfant Rouge. That burger and beer tasted mighty darned good. As we continued on our way home, I split off to get some groceries while Priscilla lugged my Cartier-Bresson book back to the flat. I’ve gotten pretty good with my grocery-store French. I’ve also gotten to a pretty good place with the guy that runs the boutique coffee shop near us where we get our ground coffee. He professes to not having much English, but between my awful French and his slightly less awful English, we get it worked out. The ground coffee you get in the grocery stores is ground super fine for making espresso. It doesn’t work well if you’re making pour-over coffee as we are. By acting it out, I was able to communicate to our coffee guy that I wanted a coarser grind of coffee. He breaks out in a big smile now every time he sees me.
At this point I probably owe you all an explanation for why I’m shooting film on this trip. Those of you of a certain age may remember the introduction to the animated series “The Jetsons” in which George Jetson is stuck on an out-of-control treadmill, screaming “Help Jane! How do you stop this thing?” Well, that’s a bit how I was feeling with the social media treadmill. I was feeling pressure to get images shared out quickly and I was finding myself craving those likes and follows. Shooting film on this trip is my way of opting out. This ties in a bit to our decision to not post about our trip on Facebook. We didn’t want Facebook owning these memories.
The night of the Notre Dame fire, I had two cameras with me, one digital (iPhone X) and one film (Olympus OM-2s, loaded with black and white film). As I was photographing and filming the fire on my iPhone X, the thought occurred to me that I should share something about this, as it was terribly important news. So I shared one photo to Facebook just after seven o’clock local time. Then I went back to photographing and filming. I decided that it was more important that I be in the moment. The thought occurred to me that it would have been better if I’d have had my big Nikon digital camera with me that night, but it was too late for that. I was there and the fire was raging, so I shot with what I had.
Seeing the man in the photo below taking a selfie with Notre Dame burning in the background is a sign to me that things have gotten out of whack. Certainly lots of us were making photographs, but why that one man felt the need to place himself in the scene is beyond me. Just to be clear, his reaction was way outside the norm for how the French reacted that night to the tragic Notre Dame Fire. The overwhelming reaction was shock, disbelief, and deep sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a diatribe against all things digital. I’m as digitally connected as the next person, and probably more so. What we are trying to do, though, is to find a happy medium, where the digital world enhances our lives rather than consuming them. Pulling away from that instant feedback loop is one key way of jumping the treadmill.
Believe it or not, we’re finally caught up with the goings on here at 24 rue Saint-Paul. I’ll try not to get so far backed up in the future. The next post will be covering Easter Sunday. We have ambitious plans to attend the sunrise service at the American Church in Paris. Priscilla doesn’t quite know how we’re going to pull that off, since we can’t seem to manage to get out of the flat before 11:30 a.m. most days.
One thing is for sure, Parisians do love their art! That holds true for the random street art that is all over the place to the more formal presentations of art at the many museums and galleries. The street art is practically at every turn. If there is a blank wall somewhere, chances are it has art on it. Rather than feeling like vandalism, this street art enlivens the city and brings a sense of humor and joy to an otherwise blank wall on an otherwise nondescript building. In our walks about the city I've taken to capturing photos of the street art. Some of it is quite inventive, and often it is humorous.
This past Wednesday was our day for art of a more structured variety. Since it was a rainy day, we figured this would be the perfect day to hit the museums. Wrong! Everyone else in Paris had the same idea. We started the day at the Jeu de Paume, checking out the more modern photography exhibits. Generally, I'd say they left us a bit underwhelmed. Then we walked on to l'Orangerie to take in Monet's Water Lillies and other impressionist works. This is where all of Paris decided to go on this rainy day. The first time we visited l'Orangerie in 2011, we went the day following the once-a-month free day, so we practically had the place to ourselves. This year our timing was not so good, we came two days following the free day and one day after a closed day. We didn't spend a lot of time there, since the crowds made enjoying the art a bit difficult.
The last museum we planned to visit that day was the Rodin Museum. We'd heard from several sources that it was a wonderful museum, and we were not disappointed. The sculpture garden and interior spaces of this museum are absolutely gorgeous. The garden area is simply stunning. The main building had been a hotel that Rodin lived and worked in, eventually coming to pretty much take over the place. There were many groups of art students inside the museum sketching Rodin's sculptures. They made good, unwitting subjects for my photos.
There are a good number of other photography galleries and museums that we plan to take in while we're here. The larger Maison Européenne de la Photographie is practically right in our backyard (that is if we had one here). France being pretty much the birthplace of photography, the French seem to have a real love for it. There are many more photography and camera stores here than I would have expected, including stores that still offer one-hour film development. The Artazart store along the Canal Saint-Martin has a display case of Polaroid cameras when you enter and a large selection of photography books prominently displayed in the center of the store. Sometimes as a photographer, you can feel a bit like a second-class citizen in arts circles, but not in Paris. Yet another reason to love this city.
By the way, if you'd like to see photos as I post them to Instagram, you can follow me there at @tomnorth.