This summer was my first summer outside of Japan in many, many years. Europe seems to have this image of people setting work aside each summer and taking weeks and months of holidays. Luckily, I found this to be true! Having been out of Europe for so long, I decided to travel around my backyard for a bit and went to Italy, Vienna and Munich.
The main part of my trip was in Italy, going down South from Milano to Genova, spending some time in the beautiful Cinque Terre, a passing obligatory glance at the tower of Pisa on the way to Firenze/Florence, and then on by car exploring the infamous landscapes, wine hills and villages of Tuscany and just chilling out. Before flying to Vienna, I spent a day and night at the ocean in Civitavecchia.
Taking photographs was not a main focus of this trip. Whereas when I travel usually I try to bring home the best photos possible, this time I just tried to relax and take photos only when I felt like it – and not when I didn’t. Sounds like common sense, really, but I believe some of you will understand the urge of having to take photographs of something, even if you don’t really “feel it”.
Letting go of this compulsion led me to
1) take mostly photos with my iPhone instead of my “real” camera, the Fujifilm X-Pro1, and
2) take a lot of very unimportant photographs, at least from a travel/tourist perspective. This is because often I saw something that I liked much more than the obligatory shot of chapel XYZ: What attracted me was the quality of light rather than the subject.
An old-fashioned photo album
Last week I finished binding a big leporello style photo album, into which I glued a selection of photographs from this trip. I can fold that one out to as big as my apartment is and beyond, if I wanted, to see all the photos lined up in a nice timeline of my trip – but to be honest, the book is too damn huge and next year I will make an album half the size…
So, where are the photos?
I have uploaded some of the photographs from my trip to an album on this site – below is the summary. Enjoy!
During the last couple of months I have gathered everything necessary to set up a small darkroom in my new house. Let me share my approach and thoughts about darkroom printing. What I will not tell you, though, is how many times you should shake your developing tank or how to make contact sheets, and there won’t be a guide to exposure test strips. There are dozens of websites and blogs that describe in detail how to develop film and enlarge prints in your own little home darkroom. You will find all that technical information and more there.
Back in Japan I had a darkroom I could use – but it was located inconveniently and equipped poorly. The best I could do was what I would optimistically describe as “experimental” prints. That is cool with me, though, and my Lifelines series is one of the results (e.g. the hand picture above). Same as with film photography (which, believe it or not, is dead), my approach to darkroom printing is a very private one. Unlike photographs I take on my digital camera or iPhone, which inevitably end up on my website, Ello, Instagram or facebook for everyone to be scrutinized (or worse: ignored), no-one sees my film photographs or my darkroom prints. That is, until much later – maybe. I don’t think about sharing the photos while taking or printing them. This way, it is like a personal journal in which you write without intention of showing it to anyone. It frees me up, and takes the pressure of being judged off my shoulders. Even if I don’t really feel the pressure, well, it is still kind of there.
Now, does this mean I won’t show the occasional print that I like? No. However, the many physical barriers from taking a photograph to developing the film to printing it in the darkroom to digitizing it and putting it out there automatically creates quite a comfortable distance between making my photos – and showing the photos. This distance also means time: time to physically spend with what I created. During this time I sometimes start getting bored with what I thought originally to be a good photograph. Or, on the contrary, something I had not noticed before becomes clear and interesting upon looking a second and third time. The accidents that happen when working freely in the darkroom, such as wrong exposures or screwed up dodging and burning play a big role in that. There is an inherent unpredictability which I embrace (and which technical perfectionists of course try to eliminate by keeping strict temperature and workflow protocols – the “correct” way of doing it, really).
In any case, this is a very different and much more messy experience than taking a photograph digitally, uploading it with a click of your mouse and being done with it.
Does darkroom work make you a better photographer?
No. Most photographs I shoot and print “the old way” are just as bad as my others. Shooting film does make me a lot poorer, but it does not make me become a better photographer. It is just a different medium. Just another medium to take the same old photos on. If anything, digital is the way to go if what you want is to improve as a photographer, because you can truly focus on the photograph itself. Film costs, developing costs, paper costs, time you have to invest to print – these all are no limitations in digital. I recommend getting an inkjet printer and printing your photographs: being able to do it with one click makes you look at the photograph itself, and no laborious process clouds your judgement (324626 hours spent in Photoshop not counting). We tend to attach more value to things that we have invested lots of time and money in, for that reason alone. Don’t forget that others will not see that time and money, only whether they are looking at a good photograph or not.
That being said, there is something about the way of working in the darkroom – the physicality of the process and the fact that you are forced to slow down – that beautifully balances out my way of working digitally. And it is just a lot more satisfying to print with light and chemicals.
If – on rare occasion – I do manage to pull a silver gelatin print that I like out of the chemistry, then I’m all the happier. Because I did not just have to press a button to get an inkjet print in endless copies, but actually had to use my hands. (And the shadow tones are just so beautiful).
Even if others don’t appreciate it, it makes me feel good. And don’t you agree that this is reason enough for me to continue locking myself into this crammed and tiny, dark room?
Finally, a few words about the set-up of my little darkroom.
This is what it looks like:
Basically, everything is crammed into my tiny bathroom, which luckily does not have any windows (and unfortunately no working ventilation either). I stack the chemical trays on a plastic shelf in the shower – can’t stress how great that setup is, because it does not matter if I spill anything and in the end I simply hose everything down.
The heart of my darkroom is a Durst M605 enlarger with Rodenstock Rodagon 80mm and one of Schneider-Kreuznach’s 50mm lenses (not the expensive one).
Lastly, developing black and white film looks like in this picture below. My developer of choice is HC-110 because of its shelf life, bang for the buck and because it is easier and healthier to dilute liquids than powders.
And that’s it. More than sufficient to be independent when it comes to black and white film photography and printing/enlarging. If you have any questions, feel free to write me a message or a comment right here.
A while ago my friend taka waka told me about this event named “Sexy Dance Night” at a place called Shisui deux here in Tokyo. It included pole dancing, he said, and well – that’s really all it took to get me hooked. A bit more than a week ago the chance to attend this show finally came around, and taka waka, being the good guy he is, made sure I was seated on the stage, 3 meters from the pole. Now, boy, that show was good.
I’m ashamed to admit that until then I had never seen any pole dancing show, but this was not at all as I had imagined it. And I’m pretty sure this is not what your off the shelf “pole dancing show” is supposed to be like. Nothing sleazy at all, just pure beauty. It was spectacular and miraculous to see the performers defy gravity.
My seating on stage and a fixed lens gave me little options for variation when taking photographs, especially since I wanted to absorb as much of the show as possible and not get caught up too much in my viewfinder. I’ll certainly go again, and might leave the camera at home. For now, though, here are some photographs I took:
I’m happy to announce my BLACK ICE exhibition in Tokyo from 2014 Oct. 17th to Nov 1st and the reception party on Oct. 18th
It is my first exhibition after 2 years and going to be themed around my recently released book “White Snow on Black Ice”. Of course, the book itself will be on display, as well, so everyone will have a chance to experience it without the need to commit to buying one, if it’s not sold out by then anyway.
BLACK ICE photo+book exhibition
by Holger Feroudj
Duration: Oct. 17th to Nov. 1st
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat. 19:00 – 3:00
Venue: OFFICE Gaienmae
BLACK ICE展示で最近手作りの自分で出版した「White Snow on Black Ice」という写真集／アーツブックの上、本から取られた画像が違った風に大きいプリントとして展示されます。
This exhibition is based on my recently released handmade art- and photobook “White Snow on Black Ice,” and will show both the book as well as abstract large format black and white photographs taken from the images in the book.
Synopsis of the book:
“‘White Snow on Black Ice’ is the result of using photography and book design to capture the invisible bond of memories connected to places of my past I have rich memories tied to. Places that make me re-live certain events, painful and happy alike; however, memory does not work like a video recorder. Memory changes upon re-living it. The harder you try to see and remember, the deeper you go, layer by layer, the more likely you are to re-write your past without even realizing it. Until you feel that you really experienced it.
Using a multilayered design with a special kind of reflective printing on black paper, the process of browsing and looking at these photographs of the frozen ground I experienced so much on supports the feeling of how memory works.”
Both the exhibited photographs, as well as the book, give a deep impression on the fallibility and bias of our memory.
The story of the Fox
Not a part of the BLACK ICE series, I depended on it to keep the series together when on a wall instead of in the book. The fox is a print of mine that I come to love more and more as the years pass – I already shot it like 7 years or so ago. It’s like only now I get to know the little fella with his glance straight into my soul better. This is also the reason why so far it is the only print that I explicably offer as fine art print on my little store: holgerferoudj.com/store/shop/prints/fox/
Some of the other prints I have have to stand the (emotional) test of time first.
This is why film photography sucks.
… no, just kidding… or am I? 😉
Some spontaneous mood drove me to bring a film camera with long expired ISO100 slide film to a party – no idea which evil fairy put this idea in my head. I tested my flash on my digital camera to get an idea of how strong it would need to be for a proper exposure, but when I actually used it at the venue it blasted everything away and I chickened out and against logic turned it down as much as possible – now half the roll is wildly underexposed.
And because the film was expired, it’s heavily magenta shifted PLUS the tungsten interior light with the daylight balanced film makes everything super-red, and and and… all other kind of other ugly troubles that are so much easier to avoid on digital.
But I still like it. This time was really the last, though.
Two weeks ago I ran into trouble: A very experienced and successful photographer asked me to send him my 50 best photographs by the morning of the following day. Not 10 good photographs, but my 50 best photographs. Now, I would already be a very happy man if I had even 50 good photographs… and besides, I have been shooting a lot of different things over the past 10 years, how could I possibly make a good selection without any restriction other than “best”? Worse yet: I only had half a day to make the selection.
Needless to say it was a long night. When it was already getting bright outside, I was exhausted, sleepy, tired. I wasn’t satisfied with my selection. Once again I realized there’s so much more work to do, so many photos I didn’t take yet, but have to. And it was really hard to decide which ones to keep and which ones to delete. I decided to let it be, sent the 50 photos in, and went to bed in a rather ill mood.
This is the selection I came up with, my 50 best photographs as of July 2014: holgerferoudj.com/album/50-best-photographs/
Show me YOUR 50 best photographs!
I am asking you now to do the same. I am challenging you: Which photographs would you choose if you had to send me your 50 best photographs by tomorrow morning? I promise, it is going to be an eye opening experience. One that is worth it.
(e.g. share it on your website, flickr, some other social media thing where you can share albums, dropbox, etc!)
When I went to Germany last winter, for the first time after more than 3 years, it was only natural to take my camera and use photography to connect to what I was feeling when re-visiting all these places I had rich memories tied to.
Acting out of intuition at first, I pretty soon knew what I wanted to say – my vision was clear and I worked every day on this Germany project I had on mind.
This book here is an initially unplanned side project, a sub chapter of this larger Germany project.
At the core, I was looking to capture the invisible bond of memories connected to these places of my past. Places that make me re-live certain events, painful and happy alike; and yet, memory doesn’t work like a video recorder. Memory changes upon re-living it. The harder you try to see and remember, the deeper you go, layer by layer, the more likely you are to re-write and change your past without even realizing it. Until you become convinced of it. Until you feel that you really experienced it. Crazy huh?
With this in mind, not articulated yet, though, I set out to take photos…
Back in Japan, I then spent a long time with these photographs, putting them on my wall, living with them while focusing on other things. I went into the incubation phase I mentioned before in “The Yin and Yang of Creativity.”
One of those other things I was focusing on is learning how to make proper books with my own hands. Materials, techniques, binding, gluing, folding… Using ancient manuscripts and modern textbooks as a guide. Fascinating stuff, and powerful. (And fun!) Sure, you could merely have your photos printed in a book and that’s it – as many people do -, and that’s fine, but a book can be so much more than that.
This is an excerpt taken from my last LETTER – my monthly newsletter about visual arts, photography and Japan. If you’ve already subscribed to it you’ll know this, but still feel free to discuss in the comments 🙂
Did you ever think about what the difference between Art and Craft is? Can craft be art? Does art require craft? And where does photography fit into this? I’ve been thinking about that after listening to a conversation on On Taking Pictures that contained more thoughts than fit easily into my brain. I’m rather slow at “getting” things.
Emotion – one key element?
Photography arguably is a craft, as in you have to use the camera’s settings skilfully to get a decent picture. But then, it also isn’t because many cameras allow you to merely press a button to get a picture, and I don’t see any craft in that. One can carefully craft a picture by taking all the settings in their own hands, and by crafting the composition etc. – or, on the other hand, one can come up with a wonderful photograph with a point and shoot camera, without crafting anything. And we’re not even including printing in the discussion here.
So, what is the difference between craft and art? Both, a well-crafted as well as a point-and-shoot’ed photograph, can be art, and both can not be art. A well crafted photograph, tack-sharp, perfectly exposed and composed, maybe using the latest gear, but that I still would never consider “art” is what I see more as a rule than an exception these days. It satisfies gear affectionados, but doesn’t really stir any emotions. “Emotion” – one key element of art?
Another element I thought important for some time might be “intent,” “vision,” or some kind of concept: “What do you want to say?”
But then, I know many renowned art photographers – especially Japanese – just shoot and do that thinking/intentional part much later. And many others come up with meticulously planned concepts for a photograph and go through greatest efforts to produce an image that often seems way too planned out, way too conceptional, and rather tedious.
And then there are big artists like Magnum photographer Antoine d’Agata, who is very conscious about wanting to eliminate every single bit of consciousness when creating his photographs, numbs all thinking with drugs, gives his middle finger to all technical aspects of photography and acts from a very primal, unconscious place.
Antoine’s exhibition is on in Tokyo right now, by the way, and I admit that if I hadn’t kind of “befriended” him over the course of the last year, and as a consequence hadn’t learnt about his backstory as well as hear him talk about his work, I would have easily disregarded his photography as artsy-fartsy merely controversial “stuff” without much to it. I still don’t get my head around his photographs, but I know now that I don’t have to – and that they aren’t digested easily, but instead encapsulate something rooted very deeply.
Being called an “artist”
So, you see, I still can’t get my head around this whole arts thingy, and that is probably also the reason why I feel very uncomfortable with people calling me an artist – which sometimes happens – God knows why – and which always makes me feel pretty phoney.
Being called a craftsman is nice, because it implies you do something very well. What does being called an artist imply?
Tell me, will I ever have to understand all that artsy stuff to be able to create something that can be called “art” by someone some time and NOT make me feel pretentious? I guess you’ll only know after the act. Or what do you think?
Addition (July 3rd): Beautiful follow-up/write-up on this ongoing conversation by Kristopher Matheson. Well, I think we arrived more or less at the conclusion that it does not matter what is art when making your works, but that conclusion comes with a big chunk of content hiding under the surface, iceberg like.