We're back. Both of us. Now. Howdy.

Thanks for your patience.  I needed some time away from the VSL blog and from all the noise on the web in order to really assess where I am and where I want to be....as an artist.  When I look back over the last ten years I regret that I focused only on the nuts and bolts of getting the jobs done.  At times I was too conscientious about a client's time. I presumed they only had time to get done what we had in the contract.  But I come into contact with so many interesting people that by doing "just what the job required" I missed the opportunity to supplement each project with my own "take" and my own point of view.  I became really good at following the "instruction manual" of image making without giving enough thought to stepping outside the boundaries of our proscribed relationships and asking, "Can I take a really cool photo just for us?"

The image above is of Austin actor, Martin Burke.  He's an amazing actor.  He's capable of performing comedy with impeccable timing and flair.  He's equally capable of moving an audience to tears.  And we work together frequently to make photographs of all the shows he performs in for Zach Scott.  We shoot all of those show ads in bright color.  We work to a layout. And when we've got a shoot nailed down and done according to the "blueprint" from marketing we shake hands and go our separate ways.

But not this time.  I was shooting a promotion for the new theater building.  As part of the fund raising for the new building the theater is "selling" seats.  That basically means that you can donate a certain amount of money and a plaque will be riveted to the seat to tell everyone that you did a generous thing.  The ad for the seat sales called for Martin to camp it up with one of the new seats as his "prop".  We shot the whole thing on a white background.  You'll see those images later this week.  Martin was fabulous.  He did an great range of "faces."  He put a lot of energy into every pose.  He was comedic. He was sparkle personified. I did my part and captured the wonderful faces and gestures he was giving me.  The art director and the marketing director were beyond happy.  But when the regular photography was done I walked over to Martin and asked him if he had time to let me shoot one 12 exposure roll of black and white film.  Would he be able to lower the energy level and let me shoot something serious with the old Hasselbad 500CM I'd dragged along?  He readily agreed and I somewhat nervously loaded a roll of 100 speed Fuji Acros black and white film into the camera.  I'd only brought along the 80mm lens but I was fine with that.

I knew the exposure because I'd been shooting the Sony digital camera I used for the ad material at the same ISO.  I set the lens at f5.6 and the shutter speed at 1/125th of a second.  I asked him to look away from the camera which is something I rarely do in a portrait sitting.  But I loved the way it focused Martin.  I shot 11 frames I really liked and then we both, in unison, cracked up laughing for no apparent reason.  He struck the pose below and I snapped one more image.  I thanked him and he left the set.

I felt different as I packed up my lights and scrunched the white, fabric background back into its storage bag.  I hadn't let inertia to finish up quick keep me from shooting a coda that I really wanted. 

I drove from the theater straight to the lab and I dropped off the film.  It was one of eight rolls of medium format black and white film I shot last week. I didn't want to delay getting to the lab. I didn't want resistance, or the thought of spending my own $100 to process and contact print the eight rolls of film, to stop me from following through.  It would have been easy to rationalize that I could just use a frame from the regular color shoot and run it through something like SilverFX to get a similar black and white image. But the energy would have been all wrong.  At odds with my intentions.  When I left the lab I felt as though I'd re-confirmed my membership not with the merchant class but with the artist class.

Yesterday afternoon (friday) I fought my way through rush hour traffic so I could get to the lab before they closed for the long Easter weekend.  I was anxious to get my film.  I wanted to share this new commitment to my own process with you on Tues. morning.  Today.  And I wanted to tell you what I had in mind for the Visual Science Lab, going forward.

Well.  Here it is.  I'm trying to always pack a Hasselblad and a lens and some black and white film every time I go out on a job.  And on every job, if it's at all possible, I'm going to find someone interesting and I'm going to work my hardest to take their portrait.  It may only be twelve frames. One roll of film.  One load.  But I'm going to reach out and ask.  And I'm going to keep doing photography in a way that makes me smile.  In a way that gives me something worthwhile to share with you and my friends and the people who are kind enough to sit for me and participate in a collaboration.  In a sharing. And I want to tell stories about the energy and the process.  And if I can follow through I'll build a new body of work that reflects my own continuing vision.  My own take on photography.  And it starts today.  Welcome back.  I'm glad you're here.

Some notes about the VSL going forward:  I'm not here to argue with anyone. I'm here to show my work and talk about the process and the art.  You might not always agree.  That's okay.  If you decide you don't like the art or the words you can always go away.  You haven't paid to be here. You don't get a refund. You aren't being asked to invest anything other than your time and a commitment to be open minded.  

I haven't tossed aside writing articles about the gear we use.  I have a review coming up of a camera I like and a new light I'm smitten with.  I'm just strongly committed to doing new work and talking about it above everything else.

required disclaimer: Everything we talk about (gear/equipment) is purchased by me at retail.  No manufacturers are giving me free or heavily discounted gear.  If I get lucky and they do I'll tell you about it at the top of any review or article. Promise.  If I figure out a way to get free coffee I'm keeping that a secret.

I'll try to post something cool or useful every day but I'm not promising because the work comes first.  Given a choice between photographing someone interesting or sitting down and writing a blog I'm committed to choosing the photographic opportunity.

Finally, we will have a full column about swimming or running at least once a month. Balance is good.  Grab your coffee.  Game on.


  1. Excellent!

    Kirk, you are right. Martin Burke is an amazing actor and you're a 'pretty good' Artist.;-)
    I see two completely different faces here, two completely different personae and each is real and convincing. This is the result of excellent rapport between the great model and the 'p.g.' artist.

    I, personally, don't include the 'rule' of subject staring at the camera lens in my vocabulary of do's and don'ts. I find that many times I get more of the character when they are looking elsewhere. Sometimes this introduces a 'mystery', what is he/she thinking/looking at?, whilst other times it gives an insight to mood or character.

    Please show us the remaining 10 shots..........

  2. This is interesting to me in that this isn't Tri-X - or at least doesn't 'feel' like it. The severe lack of Tri-X at Precision means that I've been playing with other films... and they each have their own personality.

  3. Welcome back! I can't wait to read your sharing of your artistic efforts and the journey you are on.

  4. Somehow the world seems a little brighter this morning. To reuse an over used phrase from a movie. "The sleeper has awakened".

  5. Nice capture!

    [removes tongue from cheek]

    Welcome back, Kirk! In all seriousness I love both of the photographs and can't wait to see what else you have to share as you head in a new direction.

  6. Welcome bank, and thanks for inviting us all on your trip to ... somewhere else.

  7. Kirk, welcome back and I am inspired to do something similar. I find myself in the same exact position daily where you are on a paid assignment and shooting it 90% the way you would like. there is almost always time and willingness to go beyond if you wanted. and my guess is that the client would also love the images, but they don't know how to ask for what they don't quite know.


  8. Welcome back! I'm not going anywhere. . . .

  9. I shot with a Mamiya C330 and three lenses a while back - mostly in the '70's. The work i did with it, mostly on a tripod, is still among the best I have done. It flowed from a unique feeling of that medium and tools that I can't describe, but I understand completely when you speak of a different energy with medium format and black and white film. If I pulled together 10 images representing those most satisfying to me over a lifetime, at least one of the images would have been taken with the Mamiya, now lying in a drawer somewhere, no doubt the lubrication congealed on all of the shutters.

    My brother and his wife lived in an old house in Virginia City, Nevada, when they had their first child. The Mamiya went along with our first visit after Sebastian was born. Here's that "one of the ten", if you are interested ... http://tonymindling.phanfare.com/2239414_2417522#imageID=33723906

    It could cost me $600 to $800 to have those three lenses refurbished. I just might do it. Thanks again for nudging my photographic life forward a bit.

  10. Thanks for coming back. I'm a new-comer to your blog and find it very interesting and refreshing all the way around.

    Would you mind outlining the process of transferring the film negative or contact print into the web images you posted above? Does the lab scan and digitize the negatives for you or did you do that yourself? Were there any other digital tweaks applied?


  11. I've recently tried to do the same thing, dragging my Pentax 645 along on shoots to photograph someone in an interesting way with black and white film. I guess great minds think alike?

    Good to have you back. I look to your blog for a regular dose of inspiration. I don't always agree with you, and on those days, I walk away realizing that not everyone shares my point of view. However, I usually come back for another dose. Keep it up!

  12. Sounds good Kirk. I just listened to Ibarionex Perello's interview with Joel Grimes on his Candid Frame podcast, and Grimes, a long-time commercial photographer, also stressed the need to keep doing "self assignments," for both personal growth and satisfaction, and for the occasional commercial opportunity.


  13. David, I throw the negatives down on a cheap desktop scanner (Epson V500 Photo) and scan them as 16 bit grayscale images. The square ones get sized at 10 by 10 inches @300 dpi. The 3:2 ones get sized at 8 by 12 @300 dpi.
    I do a little burn and dodge in PhotoShop. If I'm channeling present culture I make take the files into SnapSeed and trash them up a bit (although I find the structure tools and the grain in the black and white tools useful). Then I resize them to 1800 pixels wide on the long side and upload them to Blogger. Blogger sticks them into a Picassa album.

    The myths surrounding film scanning are as obtuse and incorrect as everything else in this digital world. You don't need ultra tech you just need to use your eyes. And curves and level in the scan software.

    I've routinely had 24 by 24 inch prints done at my lab from scans I've done on the above mentioned scanner. I scanned them at 24 by 24 @300 dpi. They are sharp and elegant. And people like the prints. There are a bunch hanging up at my local coffee shop right now.

  14. I think that when a lot of older photographers made the plunge into digital they wrongly decided to abandon their older way of seeing, hoping to find a style that might work to woo the younger generation of art directors. That's when their businesses starting falling off cliffs. If they'd just changed tools and kept the style they would have been better served. Changing a style is like trying to change your personality. It never rings true.

    It's good to know about digital. I've been investing in that since (camera-wise) since 1996. But it's okay to keep the old stuff around, too. Sometimes the comfortable haptics of the older system help to grease the wheels of good production.

  15. Hi Kirk

    i only recently started reading your blog - curtesy of Mike from TOP. Somedays it was a torrent of words gushing out and on other occasions just a picture. What's clear was your intent.

    We in Africa have our own views on Americans, (wasnt Bubba's shot wonderful? - his emotions afterwards even more refreshing, even if our own homegrown Louis was beaten, and we'r okay with that) especially with your (American's) sincerity, with you somehow it was never an issue.

    I enjoy the "daily", its making a difference, keep it up please.


  16. "I hadn't let inertia to finish up quick keep me from shooting a coda that I really wanted."

    I think that can apply right down to the level of individual frames.

    When I pressure myself to shoot fast for ANY reason I end up being sloppy.

    When I take time over each frame - when I meter it thoughtfully, compose it carefully, use a tripod, think about which filter would best suit the scene - that's when I get my favorite photographs.

  17. The first photo made me stop and do a double take. It looks so much like actor Mark Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Supernatural, Warehouse 13, Dr. Who). Excellent portrait.

    Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Sheppard

  18. Wow. This is film, and it looks wonderful. Interesting (and different) toning of the two (using the LAB curves?), and also a lighting very different from your usual one.

    I'm far from being (or even becoming) as good as you, but now I also carry my OM-2N everywhere I go. Still trying the different available B&W films.

  19. Oh, and thanks for the scanner description as well - still thinking about those while photographing my negatives again in the meantime...


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