Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Blogger: Lea Alexander

Today's guest post comes from photographer Lea Alexander. Lea is another fantastic artist I met when she and some friends moved into our Memphis bungalow. Her housemate, Kathleen Murray, guest posted for me in February. You can check out her post here. You can follow Lea on Instagram at Photoyo.

When I was first asked to do this blog post I wondered what I would write about. This post actually comes at a perfect time because just a few weeks ago I was in Atlanta attending the Society for Photographic Education conference. I felt that this conference was just what I needed. I have been out of graduate school for a few years now and I have found myself in some sort of slump ever since. These conferences are full of many different lectures. Some are fantastic. Some not so much. But the keynote speaker for this conference was Abelardo Morell. I adore his work so I knew that was totally worth the trip! His talk was great. He took us through his work from the beginning to what he is currently working on. I left there ready to photograph. Another great thing about this conference was that I got many ideas from each lecture I went to. Dan Burkholder, well known for his process of creating digital negatives, gave a talk on using your iPhone and the many different apps that can be used and what these apps do best. This talk was great to hear because though I say I have been in a slump, I have been using my iPhone pretty much everyday to photograph the world around me.

I have come to terms with the fact that the use of my iPhone camera is my main way of photographing right now and that it is ok to incorporate other art forms in what I am working on. I don’t believe that to be a “real” photographer you have to have the best gear or the latest technology or only stick to just photography. By using my phone, I can document everything around me and often photograph without it being obvious what I am doing. The networking of people who use their phone as a form of communication is continuing to grow and grow. I have been using the Instagram app a good bit lately and have really enjoyed it. It allows me to upload photos, which then allows everyone who is following me to view them and comment if they want to. I hear there are now Instameets where you can meet up with people in your city who use Instagram. This use of technology allows us to view photos and meet people that we may have never met otherwise! Amazing!

And I actually enjoy editing these photos with the many apps that are available. You are able to have a finished product in no time at all. So I think I have determined that I have not really been in a slump, but just quietly working and that somehow all of these photos will come together. Printing these images makes this process even better because it gives me proof that I have created something. A printed image makes all the difference in the world, even if you have to go to some drug store to print it out. 

If you ever have a chance to go to a photo conference or listen to an artist of any kind give a lecture, GO. Even if you don’t think that it influences you, there may be one word that changes everything about your art. And who cares if you use the camera on your phone to create images?  The main thing is the fact that you are creating. And that can lead to anything…

Abelardo Morell’s website:
Dan Burkholder’s website:

Fallen by Lea Alexander
Metal Curtain by Lea Alexander

Monday, March 21, 2011

From Homelessness to Home: The Wright Family

My newest social issue project involves photographing families who were once homeless and who now have a home. The families I plan to photograph have gone through Family Promise, a local non-profit organization that offers help to families with children who are experiencing homelessness. Their website states that they have an 80% success rate of "homeless to home transition". The purpose of the organization as stated on their website is: "Our interfaith, nonsectarian network brings the faith community together to help our community’s families regain housing, independence and dignity in a time of need." While in the program, the families stay at local churches who cooperate with Family Promise. Volunteers from each church spend time hanging out with and feeding the family in the evenings during their stay. In the daytime, the families search for jobs, attend school, or spend time at the Family Promise "day house" doing tasks such as laundry or using the computer.

I had the pleasure to meet and photograph the Wright family this past Friday in the home they've had for just a couple of months. During my interview with them, they both discussed the benefits of the program as well as the difficult times. After their move from Wyoming, the couple spoke of the love and friendliness they experienced from Bozeman residents, particularly the volunteers they met through Family Promise. Heather told me of countless times she was moved to tears at the unconditional love they felt from volunteers during the program.

Meet Jason, Heather, & Hailey Wright: 

Click below to hear from Heather on why they chose enter the Family Promise program to help them get back on their feet (this is a very short raw & unedited clip from the interview I conducted last Friday):

Of the two family portraits, which do you like better and why?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reconsidering Your Cell Phone's Camera

One of the things that bothers me the most about the photography business is this constant chatter about which particular camera we all use. When I'm out on a job, I can always spot the ones that will ask. You know who they are. They're the ones lingering around, twisting their head back and forth, trying to see the brand of camera you're using. If they can't tell, they'll ask. If they can tell, they'll immediately launch into their own opinions about your choice or explain why they've either chosen the same brand or gone with the other. Yes, I realize there are more brands of cameras out there than the big two, but to everyone who has ever wanted to engage me in this conversation, there are only two. I'm not trying to alienate anyone who uses brand x or y, and if this is you, this conversation probably irritates you for a whole different reason. I've had this exhausting conversation with both consumers and pros. My humble opinion is that it doesn't matter. When someone asks me for a recommendation for which to buy, I simply say go with your budget, then pick the one that feels better in your hands or has a specific feature that you really like. Beyond that, just read the manual and learn how to use every part of it.

I'm sure that most of you have heard the phrase "The best camera is the one that's with you." Most of you have cameras on your cell phones, and if you do, you probably already use it regularly. But do you consider it a tool to create images that are just as beautiful as your "big" camera? When using your cell phone's camera, you can still control two very important things to make a beautiful image: lighting and composition. There are many professional photographers now who are creating whole portfolios of work from their cell phone. Two you should check out are Jeremy Cowart and Chase Jarvis.

I'll leave you with one image I recently created with my cell phone's camera, which is 5 megapixels...more than my first digital point and shoot camera! You may recognize this owl from my Polaroid post.

(Processed with Old Photo Pro)
Do you know of other photographers purposefully using their cell phones to create new bodies of work? Leave a comment with a link to their gallery. I'd love to check it out!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Long Live Polaroid!

It's kind of funny to me that in today's world of instant everything, Polaroid is a thing of the past. I know, I'm completely ignoring the whole digital photography thing that allows us to see our photographs instantly on the back of our cameras (or phones). However, I still love film and I still love having a physical photograph in my hands. Polaroid pictures satisfy both my desire to see my pictures instantly AND my desire to hold a physical object. 

My first Polaroid camera was given to me by my sister, just about three years ago, not long after Polaroid announced they would cease production of their film. At the same time, she gave me several packs of the Polaroid film (600 & 779) that work in that camera.

In the past year alone, my Polaroid camera collection has quadrupled. It started when my grandmother sent me her old Polaroid SX-70 Sonar OneStep camera. Then, in just the past month, an awesome friend sent me two Polaroid cameras she found while helping a friend clean out her grandfather's house (with her friend's permission of course!). New to my collection are the SX-70 Alpha 1 and the 440 Land Camera. I was most excited to have the SX-70 Alpha 1 because although it's not the original SX-70 (which was produced from 1972-1977), it was the second in the SX-70 series (production beginning in 1977) and from what I've read, it's superior to the Sonar OneStep (production beginning in 1978) I received from my grandmother (dates from The Land List). Here are my two new lovelies:

The SX-70 Alpha 1 is in amazing shape! The leather cover and strap look like it was hardly used. With a couple of minor modifications to the camera, I can use Polaroid 600 or 779 film with this camera. Yup, I still have a couple of packs left from the supply my sister bought a few years ago. The film is expired now, but here are a few images I've taken with the SX-70:

 This one was a total mistake but I love the abstract photograph the mistake created!

This is an alabaster owl figurine I recently asked my mom if I could have. I'm not into figurines at all, and as kitschy as it may be, I love this owl since I remember always seeing it as a kid, sitting on a shelf in my mom's bedroom.

 This is a sculpture I made when it was only partially finished.

This one didn't develop correctly because it was way too cold outside. Oops.

I still need to make a modification to the battery of the 440 camera to make it functional so I have yet to try it out. My Polaroid camera collection now sits at four:

(From left to right: Polaroid One600, SX-70 Alpha 1, SX-70 Sonar OneStep, 440 Land Camera)

Thankfully, after Polaroid ceased production of their film, a few former Polaroid employees began The Impossible Project to produce Polaroid-like film. Long live Polaroid!

What do you think about Polaroid? A thing of the past that produced horrible pictures that you relate to the 70s? Something you look upon with kindness and a sense of nostalgia?