Sunday, June 23, 2019

Applied Blur

Farmhouse in Golden, NM

I know a lot of photographers who explore new treatments and are always learning new tricks. I, on the other hand, keep on doing the basic processing steps that I used in the wet darkroom for more than thirty years and in digital one for almost twenty. I’m not much of a student nor am I particularly adventurous when it come to photography. I still favor classic midcentury black and white imagery. There’s nothing like a perfectly processed monochrome image. Others might disagree. But I’m right.

While I have some goals in mind, I don’t seem to have the discipline to plow through an instruction book or a how-to video or to do the step by step work that teaches a new skill.  Peggy tells me, “Take a class.” I know she’s right but that would mean choosing a course and that sounds too much like planning. And I’d have to give up my absolute freedom to do whatever the hell I want every day.

Cloud patterns at the Trading Post

But sometimes a guy trips over something that grabs him. The happy accident. Such was the case on two recent occasions. In one instance Peggy and I were having lunch on the patio of the venerable Trading Post restaurant in Ranchos de Taos. As we talked, I glanced up at the blotchy sky and began to photograph the clouds, an obsession of mine. I framed the skyscape with a snippet of the restaurant's coyote fence to give the sky context. When I processed the image in Snapseed (the app I favor) I had a moody shot that, to my mind, was artful and something apart from straight photography. There was a softish plastic camera sensibility to the photograph that really appealed. When I posted the image to Instagram (the place to go for great photographs) the response was heartening. Some big guns gave me two thumbs up.

Lately, I've been musing about alternative processes and have even been thinking about going back to film to engineer a result that is more than straight photography. I’m a guy who does not subscribe to the degree of difficulty ethos which is says. “The harder it is the better it must be.” Easy is just fine. Thank you very much. Shooting with an iphone is easy and your darkroom travels with you. 

Anyway, the lonely little image up top made me think that I was on to something. And, yes children, it was taken with an iphone. And, lest you blanch, more than half of last year’s so-called Best of photographs were made with the handy camera in the right front pocket of my jeans next to the loose change.

Then on Monday last week after an Albuquerque meeting ended early I drove the Turquoise Trail from the Duke City rather than taking the direct but oh so boring interstate home. The skies were promising and I had a subject in mind, the San Francisco de Asis church in Golden, NM. Until that day I hadn’t computed that it has the exact name of our more famous Saint Francis church in Ranchos de Taos. Ours was completed in 1816 and Golden’s iteration in 1839. 

Turns out that Golden was gold mining town of some prominence for about twelve seconds. Its life of prosperity began in 1825 and faltered by 1884. Small scale mining continued to 1892 and by 1928 Golden was officially a ghost town.

As I left I-40 eastbound and turned north onto the Turquoise Trail to toward Golden, Madrid, Cerrillos and Santa Fe the skies darkened and a light rain began to fall. My visions of puffy cumulus clouds against a deep blue sky were dashed. But when I entered Golden and before I turned up the hill to the church, I spied a proud farmhouse that would have been at home on the Nebraska prairie. I’d like to know how a midwestern farmhouse found itself in the high desert. Suddenly, the church shed its importance so I did some obligatory shots with my real camera before returning to the treasure I’d seen on the eastside of the highway. I pulled onto the shoulder and walked back to the aging abode where a No Trespassing sign suggested that I keep my distance.

It was a handsome edifice in its declining years but the peeling paint and clapboard siding lent texture. The brooding sky was a worthy backdrop. That was made clear when I processed the file. When I applied lens blur at the edges the photograph became something more. And you said an old dog can’t learn new tricks.


Blacks Crossing said...

This is a great blog about potential, possibilities, and differing photographic tools, that probably holds plentiful appeal to many professionals. Photography has evolved massively since the first photographs taken in the early third of the 19th century. Now people like you, Steve, are producing stunning images with iPhones and Snapseed. But you have brought years of experience and eye training to the lens in your phone. Why would you not be able to take a photograph of strength and awe? It is all about the photographer's eye and skill, and willingness to explore. I, like you, Steve, always say "I have to begin with a good photograph. If you don't have that, no piece of equipment or software will make it better", which holds true, regardless of the tool. It is a terrific thing that you continue to discover, shoot, and share the results with the world. Go west (or wherever) young man!

Juan Viejo said...

Nice work, Old Dog!

Steve Immel said...

Thanks you two.