Depths of Winter

Outside my window a blizzard rages. Literally. Expectation is for almost a foot of snow, winds in 25-40mph range, and currently the temperature is 4F and falling. After that a brutal cold spell that will bring the coldest weather in several years for the next 5 days. For someone that likes to take photographs outside, this is tough. I am trying to be patient and operate with the knowledge that it’ll pass soon enough and there will be days coming soon when it’ll be fun for getting images.

Last week, I was digging through my small storage closet (to find the darkroom equipment) and put together a box of books to exchange at the used book store. I love used book stores. Often interesting photo books can be found. In this case, I ended up trading an entire box of random books for a small book of Stieglitz images. Seemed more than fair.

In the essay at the front, there was a quote by Stieglitz: I believe firmly that one’s way of seeing lies in one’s way of action. This ties into some feelings I’ve had lately about being patient, calm, and letting images happen and compositions reveal themselves. A lot of my images are peaceful - kind of conveying ‘the still of the night’. I’m not trying to create anxiety with my photographs. So I think what happens is that if I am calm and patient that will be reflected in my images. I don’t want to go out and force the world to give images, I want to *discover* them.

So I tell myself, in these dark, cold winter months, not to worry too much about not trying to make images in a blizzard.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve successfully ran the first rolls of film through the Holga. After getting all the processing stuff organized it was a hell of a lot of fun to develop film again. It’s been a really long time. I think the results are promising, but as with using any new camera or technique it takes time to get a handle on what you’re doing. But all the steps, everything from loading and winding film to mixing all the chemicals and developing the film and finally scanning the negatives makes me feel more connected and invested in the images. I really like the physical things - the negatives - that I have at the end of all of this. I’m not going to get all mushy about film versus digital here, but what I am looking for is the addition of some human quality to the images, and I think this kind of process does that.

We had one really great weekend where it warmed up above freezing and created a ton of fog. I took that opportunity both in temperature and atmosphere to get up before dawn and run a roll in the Holga as well as take a bunch with the Fuji. After it became daylight I walked out into the middle of Bde Maka Ska (fka Lake Calhoun) here in the city and took minimalistic icescapes that had no real horizon. I just didn’t want to squander the conditions, even though I was exhausted by the end of it having been awake since 3am.

Now we have returned to more typical winter conditions with single digit (F) temperatures and more snow. I have learned through a lot of winter activities that trying to do the kind of photography I like is extremely difficult below about 15F. It’s hard on your body and hard on your gear - though I know from some extreme winter traveling how to deal with digital gear at temperatures a lot lower than this (Mongolia, for example, was about 0F at night when shooting the starscapes, and I’ve shot in colder). The holga, however, would be a disaster in that kind of cold.

During the weeks like this I just try to be patient, study other photographers, look back at some of my previous work and let my brain generate new ideas. Also this year I’m fortunate that I have another class at MCAD that started this past week, Personal Voice and Vision. This will be excellent and I’m really looking forward to it. While there are assignments each week, not all of them are “go out and shoot stuff” type. What we are talking about is the meta of someone’s (and our own) work. What defines a style and makes a photographer recognizable just by seeing one of their photos? How do we do this in our own work to start to create a cohesive body of photography? Is it possible to rise above the noise of social media? These are the kinds of topics we’ll be exploring.

And soon enough it will be spring and a lot more imaging will be happening.