Photo Aside: EZ Photo Challenge in Easton, PA

If you follow along with me on the social media channels I give more love to than this oft-forsaken blog, you might know that a few weeks ago I drove up to Easton, PA to shoot with two other photographers in a photography challenge. It was NOT a contest of any sort, but rather a chance to work with two other artists, see how they approach settings and subjects, hang out, chat, make connections, and so forth. Everything was organized by Elaine Zelker–EZ!–a headshot and portrait photographer in Easton, and it was filmed by her husband for educational and entertainment purposes. Scroll down to the bottom to see the video.

But let’s talk about what I shot and how and why.

First off, remember that I photograph the vast bulk of personal work on film, and I saw no reason to deviate for this shoot. A bit of a curveball for the logistics of the day, but Elaine was cool with it and it was fun to have a camera involved that was not a dSLR. One of the rules was that each photographer was allowed one camera and two lenses, so I had to make a hard choice between being a real punk by shooting with my Holga 120N, and just being a mild punk and shooting with my Mamiya C330. I chose the latter because I knew that I wanted to make at least one technically exacting image that would be next to impossible on the Holga, while I also knew that I could still use the Mamiya to take some more abnormal images that I wanted to contribute to the conversation.

The other big restriction was that each photographer only had three minutes at each location. Time was kept strictly. Very strictly.

Here’s the technical photo: I think it’s nice:

Mamiya C330. 80mm f/2.8. Tri-X. 1/250 @ f/11.

By the way, I knitted that scarf.

But that’s not really the photograph I want to talk about.

These are ones I really want to talk about:

Mamiya C330. 80mm f/2.8. Portra 100T. 8-10 handheld long exposures on one frame.


Mamiya C330. 80mm f/2.8. Portra 100T. 8-10 handheld long exposures on one frame.

One thing I worry about in photography, and especially in the film photography community, is how the act of photographing women as a demonstration of skill reinforces tendencies toward creating a visual vocabulary centered on normalizing the male gaze. Sooooooo much photography I see features an inert, unacting, context-free female being attractive and being looked at. And I just don’t think that’s a great way to approach depicting women, and it doesn’t make for the most interesting photography, either. I could elaborate on this, but maybe now is not the time.

Now, I knew going into the challenge that the task was going to be to work with a model, so the challenge for me was how to photograph a person without really photographing a person. In other words, how to take the task of working with a model and convert it from an exercising in presenting a beautiful person as someone[thing] beautiful to look at, to an exercise in form and abstraction while still not making it about the body. Color is color, surface is surface, and all that jazz. How do I make it NOT about the model,, and maybe not even about the human?

And the above two images are what I got. Both came out pretty much just as expected, which is good. It’s not a huge take from the shoot, but then again, I was only given three minutes at each location, and since each exposure takes about a minute to build, getting one good frame is fine for me. I might finally have a handle on this technique, and I am finding more hits than misses as I continue working like this.

And can we talk about failure for a minute?

I’m not even going to go into the specs because this image blows.

I was talking earlier about deciding between cameras, and this image proves that I was wrong on both accounts, and I should have brought my Bronica ETR-Si and put a wide lens like the 40mm in the bag. This whole thing is just a total miss. The camera was not capable of shooting the DOF I needed, the twin-lens set-up made the framing of this a total guess. It’s just a hot mess through and through.

Which is fine. The whole point of the challenge was to go out and shoot in uncomfortable strictures and have my normal photographic routine disrupted, but still produce something usable. I knew this was going to be a difficult image to make, and the result is a big swing-and-a-miss. Which is fine. When you mess up in a friendly meet-up photo shoot-out, what really have you lost? Nothing. So I made a bad frame. So what. I tried and the result is terrible. Moving on.

Thanks again to Elaine for organizing, to Marshall and Ed for being great to work with, and to Emily Banks for being a wonderful model to work with (I especially admire her for just going along with directions, as odd as they were…with only three minutes to work, none of us had time to build the rapport with her that usually goes with a photography session.

The video: