6.24.2012

This is my style. This is my look.

6/25: Image edited this morning with a judicious square crop.

Anyone who practices a craft goes through a period wherein they feel they've lost their mojo. The magic touch that is part of their unique style. Nothing that used to work seems to work anymore and the artist goes through a period of loss that calls into question their skills, their vision and their very reason to keep going.  I know, I've been there.  And more than once.

I've been working with digital cameras for more than a decade but I was never able to duplicate the look I got when I was shooting portraits on black and white film back in the 1990's.  I've been bouncing from camera system to camera system hoping that I'd find a camera that would do the magic for me.

Recently I started shooting portraits with a Hasselblad film camera and black and white film. I kept thinking I was closing in on the old feel I used to have but at best they were glancing blows, resonance of memory imposed on technique.  But yesterday I think I got my mojo back.  An old friend came into town and I set up the kind of light I used to use when I photographer her nearly twenty years ago.  A big, soft light used in as close as I could.  A black panel to the opposite side to keep the spill light from bouncing around the room and ruining the integrity of my wonderful deep shadows.

My model was intuitive.  She seemed to sense what I was looking for, filling the missing pieces in the puzzle I had scattered in front of me. I work in an almost detached and automatic way, adjusting the light, adjusting the pose and adjusting the give and take.

When the session was over and we said, "goodbye" I sat down and started looking through the files. I ran them through as much post processing as I needed to get them back to the state that was almost automatically achieved in the days of big film (if you considered hours in a darkroom to be "automatic"). And when the file looked back at me from my monitor I knew that I could keep doing portraits. A mental block had been lifted.  I showed myself (dragged kicking and screaming) that I could do what I wanted to do with digital cameras.  I hadn't lost my chops, rather I'd submerged them in the subconscious resistance to change.

To paraphrase Frank Costanza in the Jerry Seinfeld Show, "I'm back, baby!"









26 comments:

Glenn Harris said...

wonderful portrait Kirk and a very rewarding session by the sounds of it.

Neal said...

Nice work.. but it just isn't square..

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Wonderful. And yes, that's your style. Lou is like kissed by that big light of yours...

Juznobsrvr said...

Bravo.

Zac said...

Fantastic photos. I'm new to your website and photographing people in general; your style is amazing and has given me a lot of inspiration in my own photographic journey.

Claire said...

Spot on Neal !
I've been searching and searching for what didn't feel exactly right in those, and I think the non square format does change my perception quite a bit.

Claire said...

Well, I'm undecided about this series. The model is certainly beautiful and the mutual liking is obvious, but I feel you're still searching the proper processing (as testified by the numerous subtly different versions posted, I found not two of them are strictly similar), am I wrong ?
I hate to go against the statement of the post, that you feel back home again with digital, because I love your pics, whatever medium they were done with. But I'm struggling to be awed with those, as I am constantly, and naturally, by your previous displayed shots. Maybe the (non)square has something to do with it. Maybe my reluctance is just the reflect of my own inner photographic turmoil. I have been using an excellent m4/3 camera, and been very inspired with it, for the past four months, and this week-end I got to baby-sit a D700 (my favorite camera of all times). Now I really don't know what to do, stick with m4/3 (and go E-M5), or return to DLSR (D3200 for compactness, D700 for that perfect look ??)...
Anyway, beautiful work as always, I think the subtle sepia cast BW is the one that works best for me ?

Claire said...

I think Inspiration must be Tuck's middle name...

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Claire - I think with something like "favorite camera of all times" and "perfect look" you've answered your own question already. Tho you might as well get (or keep) an additional m4/3 camera for traveling?

sey said...

"This is my look."

no, that doesn't look like you at all. she's beautiful!!! ;-)

Claire said...

I was afraid someone would say that ;)

gaianautes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mattias Jennerholm said...

Kirk, I am almost at loss with words to describe what I feel about this beautiful portrait. The best I can do, being the hobbyist that I am, is that this image makes me want to focus on portraiture. Extremely inspirational. Thank you. /Mattias

dicky said...

Welcome back.

Sam said...

Kirk,

It's good. But your film stuff is better. Why all the effort to simulate with digital? It's like those "film emulation" filters. I don't get it. If you want crisp, flat, boringly straight rendering (it is right for some things) shoot digital. If you want the juicy sumptuous look of film then shoot it. It's not like you are on a deadline, is it?

Sam

John Bour said...

Beautiful. Touching to read that you feel like 'being back', especially because I believe most of us never thought you were 'gone'. Thank you Kirk.

Sam said...

One other thing that just occurred to me. I usually struggle to have any time but the family went on holiday without me. I spent all night on a favourite portrait and had what I was sure was an epiphany regarding my processing. I was so excited I shared it right away. In the cold light of the next day my new creation was clearly far inferior to my initial effort. I had crossed the uncanny valley, giving my model a skin that looked almost dead. I was revulsed.

To be clear, I'm not directly comparing to your portrait which looks fine.

The brain is a funny thing. Keep looking back at your work. I think you will find that it is easier to get that lovely film tonality out of . . . film.

Sam

Bill Danby said...

Just lovely work. In the end it's the photographer, not the camera. Does this mean that you're closer to cutting the film cord? (BTW, I think it's George Costanza.)

Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, I like this portrait of Lou the best (of the ones you have posted in the last few days). From where I sit (in front of my monitor), except for the 3:2 aspect ratio I really could not tell that this wasn't made from your Hasselblad or other larger film cameras. It is definitely your style of lighting, posing, look in the eyes, etc., and that seems to transcend across the film/digital medium with ease.

I agree with John Bour's comments. I never thought you went anywhere, other than the top of your game.

Jan Klier said...

Very nice portrait.

But your post leaves some open questions. You set out to get portraits like you used to, and worked under the assumption that you lost your touch because of the digital transition.

Yet what brought it all back together wasn't actually anything camera related, but a superior subject/photographer connection and a specific lighting style.

So that leaves the question: is the whole digital/analog comparison you were chasing just crap, or is the question of the camera much less significant to the subject and the lighting?

Before I speculate, I'd be curious about your perspective.

kirk tuck said...

Let's wait until the film comes back and we'll see... But you're always welcome to speculate.

kirk tuck said...

Not everything in life is clinically binary. There are many impediments that can stand in the way of trying to realize a vision or a direction. If I had to conjecture in the moment I'd say, based on recent MF film+digital shoots, that black and white film is still a much better medium than the digital cameras I've used. Much better. And maybe that blocked a certain part of my resolve to get the very best results I could get with the digital cameras I had available to me at the time. The gist of my writing on this is that the confluence of a strong source of inspiration pushed me to shoot better, process better and see better than I had been able to in the past few years. Then, knowing I could get there, the realization helped move away the psychological barriers to making my ideas work in digital.

I've got my style back and that's a combination of lighting, subject AND post processing but that doesn't mean I've been totally able to replicate the quality I used to be able to get in the dark room. It does mean that I'll take a deep breath and keep pushing.

""is the whole digital/analog comparison you were chasing just crap?"" Medium format film is, to my eye, still superior in tonal structure and highlight rendition than any digital camera I have used. Was that your question or are you trying to make some other case?

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Hmmm... somehow that reminds me of Thorsten Overgaard, and his series "100,000 exposures later... A Film Shooter in a Digital Age". Especially his part 3, where he writes about dodging & burning and the use of a tiny bit color (in whites) to get something special, like P. S Krøyer did in his paintings.

Overgaard works different from you Kirk, maybe that is why he just *had to* go digital... interesting that you seem to go to the opposite direction. Isn't choice wonderful?

Jan Klier said...

"Not everything in life is clinically binary" - well, there goes the analog/digital question on a different level :-)

I think your response underlines the main point of the post: we sometimes create artificial barriers in our mind that prevent us from achieving what we can see in our head. Putting technology debate and excuses aside, we can achieve it (or get close to it) with the tools at hand.

Certainly some tools make it easier, more fun, provide extra latitude, that is welcome.

But you also clarified - that your result is now in synch with your style and vision, something you were looking for, but not necessarily at the same level of refinement as a MF analog image may be.

In general I would agree that with effort a digital capture can be adapted to fit a particular style, though it tends to take more work with what comes out of the can compared to what an analog image tends to start with.

kirk tuck said...

I'll go with that. I think that's what my brain wanted to say but my fingers didn't write.

Nicolas said...

This is a nice image and I like the article too. But to me the square crop was not judicious at all. I shot portraits with a Rolleiflex and I know how good it is, but you shot this one in 2:3 ratio first and I don't find the crop to be better. On the contrary, I feel like you put her face in a box. Before you did, she could breath, now she can't any longer. I hope that my poor english allows you to understand what I'm trying to say. Anyway, keep writing and shooting and sharing. ;)