7.14.2009

Tired of thinking about digital. I just want to look at a few photographs.





I've been evaluating various lenses in my new system. Ordering new flashes and then working the rest of the time on a website for my master's swim team. I'd been looking at images all day long. At the end of the day I just wanted to rest my eyes and when I cleared the clutter off my desk I found a small box of prints. These were images I'd done in a printing plant in New York City a number of years ago. I know what cameras I used but I don't want to say which ones because then the discussion turns from "look at the composition", "look at the tones" into "wow, I had one of those and they're really sharp.

I remember this job so well. I'd been asked by an art director who knew my work to come up to New York and shoot images for a company called Primary Packaging. They printed exquisite packages for the cosmetic industry (among other clients). They did the little black boxes with gold foil stamp for Chanel and the lovely white boxes for Lancombe. I remember one room at the plant that was filed with gold foil for embossing. Just rolls of the stuff.

But what I really remember best is that the plant was filled with craftspeople who knew their jobs the way we know how to put on our pants or drive a car. They ran the presses with an eagle eye and a nose for ink density. There wasn't a digital indicator or device anywhere.

The whole process of shooting this de-mystified the New York Shooting experience for me. I called Michael O'Brien who owned a studio for years in the city to ask for a reference to an assistant. He put me in touch with a New York hot shot. I know he was disappointed when we met up to head over to the shooting location. I had one camera bag. A stand bag with my scarred Gitzo tripod and two old light stands. I brought along a couple of monolights and an old orange extension cord. I figured we were going to a printing plant, I could pick up a sheet of white board to use as a reflector once we got there.

My "entourage" was totally lame. It consisted of me, my very cool and highly talented New York assistant and the art director. Assist was shocked that we might be shooting people without hair, make-up or wardrobe people in tow. Just not done. He was also shocked to be not only the "first assistant" but also the second and third assistant. He was even more shocked when I decided that the plant had pretty good natural light from the hundreds of feet of frosted glass windows that ran down the length of the building. In the end I didn't even need someone to hold a white card as the light was perfect all day long.

The art director introduced me to the client. We went over the shots they were interested in and then.......the art director left. And then.......the client told me to go wherever I wanted and to shoot whatever I liked....and he went back into his office. The assistant was stunned. I felt a bit inadequate as I really didn't have much for him to do except carry the bag.

The cameras didn't have meters so eventually I let him do all the metering. And he also kept track of all the Polaroid trash we generated. Lunch was exciting. We walked two blocks to a sandwich shop. It was filled with factory workers. They all ordered two sandwiches.

I spent my day walking up to people and asking them, "What do you do?" They were all happy to tell me and then show me. If I liked it I set up the camera and took photographs. I always use a tripod. I still do.

At the end of the day I had about 40 rolls of 12 exposure black and white film rattling around in the bag. The assistant kept trying to write things on the paper but I stopped him. He wanted to keep notes so that I could "hold back" some of the film and test some of the film. The notes, presumably, would tell us how to proceed with the film not destroyed in the first run.

He was quiet when I told him that I was going to have all the film run at the same time. I asked him about good labs in the city. He had some suggestions and I asked him to get on the phone and find out what it would cost to develop and contact print the 40 rolls in the next 48 hours. He seemed excited that we could get it done for "only" $30 per roll. I laughed and we headed to a Fed Ex office to dump all the exposed film into a box and send it back to Austin Prints for Publicaton.

Jeff souped and contacted the film in one long night and had it all back to me with dispatch. It all looked great. It cost ten dollars a roll, plus shipping. I handed the art director the stack of contact sheets and he mused that he hadn't seen contact sheets that nice in years. The images were eventually used 12 feet tall at a trade show at the Jacob Javitts Center. They looked incredible.

Now when I look at the test prints I made in my old darkroom I remember being on the factory floor and marveling at how all the printing flowed through. It was such a mature process.

I don't know if the plant is still there. I'm pretty sure all of the people I photographed have retired. No one asked me about my camera. No one asked me about my film. Occasionally someone would look at a Polaroid and make a polite remark.

It was really a wonderful shoot. Just wanted to share it. Wish there were more like that.

22 comments:

kirk tuck said...

One point of clarification. The African American man does not work at the New York plant. He works at a Bakery in Austin. The print was in with the others and I liked it so I included it. Thanks.

Jenn said...

Love the shots and the sentiment. Thanks for sharing.

Robert Teague said...

These are all great Kirk. The tones are wonderful; one of the things I love most about B&W film. I love good photographs of people, although I'm not good at it myself. I'm thankful you shared these with us.

kirk tuck said...

Thank you for the kind words. And thank you for reading.

John said...

Love these shots Kirk, and your description of the shoot is wonderful. I've really enjoyed your recent posts.

Victor said...

Love to read this. I see through the reason why many of us are in photography: telling what we see/think/feel with rich images.

So much concern about the equipment nowadays is absolutely pointless when you do not know photography technique and, even less when you have no story to tell with those superb cameras :-)

Thanks for sharing. Cheers

fingerprinz said...

Beautiful b&w film work. The kind that beautifully complements digital photography.

Saad said...

So much character. Inspired to take out my yachisca, find some film and shoot some natural light stuff..

Failing that the F100 with C41 black and white will do.

But maybe the character is more to do with the subject matter rather than the camera. I need to find somethign worthwhile shooting

Saad

Steven Scherbinski said...

Those are wonderful images. Thanks for posting them.

Chris said...

Fantastic photos. I really like them. What makes them for me - besides the photos themselves - is the story behind them. Thanks for sharing it. It is refreshing to read about the photos and forget about the gear behind them. Good pictures don't need "gear justification".

Alfred said...

Yes Kirk, the good old times :)
Great pictures!
Alfred

Bill Beebe said...

These are all beautiful. I wish I could see them as prints. They remind me of the time I owned a Mamiya C-330 in the mid-70's. Plus-X and Tri-X 120 and 220 rolled through that camera on a regular basis. In the end I sold it thinking it was too "old fashioned". What a fool I was.

Daniel Cormier said...

I enjoyed this. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

They are only the "good old times" because we & others listen and pay far too much creedence to the marketing men instead of listening to our own eyes and mind. I know personally I get far much more joy from using my array of film cameras than I do from shooting digital and surely the "joy of photography" is what *really* counts no?

I get fed up of the film v digital debates on so many forums and in so many magazines, both have their purposes and excel in their own ways and there is no real, valid reason why they cannot coexist together - why does it have to be either or? That's what the camera makers want though, they can't make any money from people using film cameras so the greatest camera is whatever they are trying to knock out this month and then next month it's the next latest model. I fell into the trap once, now I've climbed back out of it and enjoy using both formats for what they are suited for. :-)

Anonymous said...

So very sorry Kirk ... forgot to add:- Great recall of a memorable event there and some truly great shots that capture so much in their faces, they truly speak without any words.

Rick Cogley said...

Those are wonderful and warm shots. They just ooze humanity!

MyVintageCameras said...

Lovely B&W, nothing more needs to be said.....

James Bland said...

I have my 4x5 out and I'm shooting outdoors until I feel finished... whatever I want on Iford FP4 sheet film. Doesn't that sound great.

Thanks for the walk-about. Just goes to show you that simple is best and being trusted to do the job is priceless.

James Bland

Ron said...

Kirk,

A wonderful entry. Write more posts like this one, stack them up and make it your next book!

Michael Clay said...

Kirk,

I used to be in the print prepress industry. We would get the opportunity to see these guys work all the time. They knew things we "digital" guys only dreamt about. They had a knack for getting us out of trouble (their use of "cut and paste" was inspiring) when our "new fangled computer thingies" didn't want to act right. One thing is for sure, the printed product always looked WAY better than it did on the computer screen! Sadly, they do alot of the printing now on what amounts to be giant, expensive inkjet printers and much of the artistry of working with film (just like in photography) has gone the way of analog television. Sometimes it seems that "advancement" and "progress" means "measured" and "souless". What happened to "mistakes", followed by "that is a new technique we are trying" or the ever popular "I meant to do that"? In this new digital age, we can do amazing things. Amazingly sterile, amazingly boring. Push the button, run these three filters, repeat, ad infinum. Churn out 1000 more. I am grateful for the conviences, but does it have to be so mechanical?

I'm just sayin'...

Michael Clay

commonvee said...

These are beautiful - really great to hear about how it's not always about the "magic" of creating a moment - sometimes, you just have to be there and record the moments through your own eyes.

kirk tuck said...

Ron, Thank you for the very good idea. I'd love to spend a couple years writing down my favorite photo stories and doing them as double truck spreads in a book. Photo at the top and the rest a story. You started the wheels turning.

Kirk