New Year, New Challenge: The Black and White Year

Shadow – Minneapolis, MN

A while back I blogged about the challenge I set for myself in 2012. To recap, it had been simply to shoot a roll of film each week with the goal of shooting more film again, since I had slowly but surely gotten away from analog photography over the past few years. In that, it was a success. For the full recap, click the link and read the post.

Moving ahead, I want a fresh challenge. After considering some ideas (thanks to all of those who emailed or commented me with suggestions!) I have decided to undertake a challenge (with a few key differences, but building off the same essential idea that less is more) that I read about from a blogger in Switzerland. I have never met him, nor do I know him any more than superficially, but I enjoyed his blog and his journey. Since he got his idea from another blogger, and since the idea is nothing new, I don’t feel bad about copying his idea and moving ahead with it in my own way. ¬†He is simply the last straw that convinced me to simplify in order to move ahead (NOTE: he has since finished his challenge and removed his blog). There is a dedicated flickr group for this concept, and many have drawn inspiration from this post for this idea.

This is 2014, with my trusty rangefinder. This is my black and white year.

Since 2012’s challenge suffered due to a lack of rules and guidelines to keep it going and focused, I intend to ensure that this year’s effort does not suffer from a similar loss of inertia by installing firm rules. You might have guessed the rules based on the title of the challenge, but I think it is valuable to spell them out all the same and hold myself accountable. I have outlined a set of rules, and a set of goals, for this challenge. ¬†Read on for the details.

Snow – Minneapolis, MN

Here are the rules:
  1. The entire challenge will be shot: A) with a single camera; B) with the lenses I currently own (28/1.9, 40/1.4, 50/1.5); C) on black and white film (Kodak 400TX/Arista Premium 400, Fuji Acros 100 and Neopan 400, and other films; I want to experiment with some different emulsions that I have not had the chance to try yet); and D) will last one calendar year (2014).
  2. For this year, the focus is improving my photography, which is another thing I want to improve.  My street shots range wildly in quality, and I want to address this. In part, this is due to editing; it is also because I need to learn to compose images better, and learn patience in shooting the out in the streets.
  3. I will shoot no less than¬†2 rolls of film per week. I may shoot more, but this is the minimum each week. I will continue to use my phone as a digital camera for snapshots of things, during those times that I can’t have a film camera with me, and will post some to the blog from time to time.
  4. I will send the film out each month¬†(more regularly than I usually do, which is every 2-4 months) to get quicker results. At this point, I would like to do so every 2 weeks. I have decided not to process the film on my own, due in part to the fact that I will not have a dedicated space available and I simply can’t take on that task when I am gone from home. So, for consistency’s sake, and for the sake of not overwhelming myself with¬†constraints and more work, I will send it out to be processed for me.
  5. I will create sets on flickr to upload each roll in its entirety (this will serve as my contact sheet), and choose 3 images from each roll as the best. This will help keep the project transparent and
  6. From the edited images, I will, at the end of the year, choose 20-30 images which I will put into a book (via Blurb). This will also allow others to see the final set of images in book form. The final selections will also be published into a set on my personal website.
  7. I will not be buying any new photographic equipment for the duration of 2014. I want to renew my focus on my photography and get away from the incessant temptation to acquire new/better/different gear.

Wind – NYC

Here are the goals:
  1. To stop focusing on the acquisition of new photographic gear, which can be fun and interesting, but also presents pitfalls. Firstly, the constant financial output of constantly adding more gear, which while not out of control, can easily get to be so. Second, I’d like to familiarize myself with a single piece of equipment so that it becomes an extension of my hand, and of my artistic vision.
  2. I want my photography to improve, and I want to have a solid portfolio of images at the end. To date I have too much of varying quality, and I hope that this project will help me to find the motivation to get out and shoot the streets more often, as well as help me to focus on a particular genre of shooting and improve the overall quality of my images. Perhaps I will even begin to develop a personal style of shooting, which I have not yet found.
  3. By forcing myself to shoot regularly and often, I will make sure the project has a chance to show improvement in my work. There is a minimum of 2 rolls a week, but I may shoot more certain weeks (while traveling, if the weather is nice, etc), while understanding that certain weeks (bad weather, work/school/family commitments, etc) may not leave me as much time. By ensuring that I have to shoot at least 2 rolls, I always get out to shoot. This will hopefully help me to stay in the rhythm of it, and force me to think creatively.
  4. Timely results help to reinforce how things are going and keep me on track.
  5. Having to choose 3 shots from each roll means I will really have to edit carefully–I’d say that I generally get 6-10 “keepers” on a roll now, so that means that only the very best shots get picked as finalists.
  6. Creating a book and publishing the images will allow me to have a printed, bound, edited collection of images I can keep to remember this year of growth.
  7. I want my work to improve, and so this is an attempt to harness creativity by stifling options. When forced to do more with less, I’m hoping that I will respond with a new way of seeing things and a fresh drive to get me where I want to go.

This is the challenge that I have laid out for myself. I imagine there will be some challenges, but that is part of the fun. ¬†Overcoming and adapting to them is part of the fun, and what will–I envision–help me develop photographically and artistically.

Morrill Hall – East Lansing, MI

Though this is surely going to be littered with challenges, I think I’m ready. I want to get better with my photography and really devote serious time and attention to doing what I love; perhaps with the right push I can even get to the point that I begin to show things in public. Maybe I’ll take the leap and attempt this professionally. On the other hand, maybe I’ll hate it so much that this will drive me toward a new hobby! ¬†Seriously though, I think this will be fun and the blog will help me to remain consistent and hold me accountable for the project that I have laid out. That means I’m counting on you all to keep me honest!

The thought of doing this for a whole year is exciting, but also intimidating. What if I can’t keep up with my own rules? What if I quit? On a more pragmatic level, what happens if my camera breaks, or is stolen? The hurdles seem innumerable, but like I said, that’s part of the fun in the challenge. What good is a challenge if it doesn’t actually challenge you? Although my own sense of self-doubt is already greater than it should be, particularly when it comes to my photography, this is something that I can conquer. And, in doing so, perhaps I can get over some of my own doubts about my work.

I’ll need a lot of help from my readers to keep me going. I foresee dark days ahead, so keep me honest and help me to carry on when the going gets tough and life weighs me down. I’m not going to quit this.

A black and white year. I’m ready.

It’s on.

Angles – London


Fathers, Cameras, and England

For the past several years, I have traveled to England with my father.  In 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, and now 2012 we have (and will again, in a few short weeks) made the journey across the Atlantic.  Why do we make this trip?  Presumably, it is to watch football/soccer games.  In fact, it has little to do with attending matches anymore.

Dad, 2010

My father has always been an avid traveler, and growing up abroad, that was instilled in me from an early age. ¬†He took my mother traveling before I was born; he has lived all over, and we traveled frequently when I was young. ¬†My father is an incredibly intelligent guy, a university professor, successful author, a loving husband; he is well-liked and respected by colleagues and friends. He was quite the amateur photographer as well–before I was born and when I was young he took tons of photographs–but that faded at some point in life and boxes of slides are all that remain of that former hobby (incidentally, he has recently begun to rediscover that passion, with a Hasselblad 501CM he picked up earlier this year…more on that later).

For all his positive attributes, he had one great failing: he was not a very good father.

When I left home in 2002 and joined the military at 19, things were strained but not awful. ¬†My father had not been a positive force in my life for most of my years, and the most vivid memories of my father were not incredibly positive. ¬†(At this point, although the essay is not about my mother, I should mention that she was everything a little boy could have ever asked for in a mother; caring, kind, and selfless to a fault, she provided a wonderful example of self-sacrifice and positivity that I will never forget. ¬†If you’re reading this, thanks Mom; I love you.) ¬†During one of my visits home to see my parents, shortly after my son was born, something happened that brought things to a head. ¬†Without going in to the specifics, I will say that some of the less positive personality traits that my father possesses took center stage and he and I had a long conversation about a great many things. ¬†Shortly thereafter, I returned home to Texas to finish out my enlistment without having resolved anything. ¬†Raw emotion bubbled just under the surface.

As a person, I am in many ways the polar opposite of my father; I am more sensitive and caring where he can be aloof and detached; more artist than intellectual; more passive than aggressive; more disheveled than organized. ¬†This has determined the kind of father that I would become, but we are–all of us–shaped by the experiences of our youth. ¬†I would even go out on a limb and say that for all the love a mother can give, men will grow into their future selves based off of their father; they will either emulate him or reject him–sometimes a bit of both. ¬†My father rejected his father, with whom he has barely spoken since he was a boy. ¬†I would not let that happen to me and my son, no matter what.

I had decided that things would be different with my son.

Dad, 2008

To the great credit of my father, he took it upon himself to figure things out. ¬†That incident was, as the saying goes, the straw that broke the camel’s back for everyone including my father. ¬†Then in 2006, my father and I went to England for the first time. ¬†My dad has worked tirelessly in his own right to rectify the faults he has, and has dealt with his own things that he needed to–some of them are surely residue from his own explosive relationship with his father, my natural grandfather of whom I have no memory at all and have not spoken with since I was a child. ¬†I credit that trip to England as the beginning of an entirely new relationship with my dad.

Since then we have been to England three more times, with another on the horizon in a few weeks; we also traveled to Japan in 2007.  Calling these trips therapeutic might be overkill, but they have been something akin to that.  The time alone together has been great, as well as the time planning and talking about trips.  The memories have been great, and has re-launched a newer, more positive time between the two of us.  Since then, my dad has been a model father: interested, involved, positive, supportive, and caring.  As adults, we get along well, and I credit that in part for the reason for the improvement, since my dad has trouble relating to kids.  But overstating that fact would do him a great disservice, as he has put an enormous amount of effort in to ensure a more positive present with which to contrast against the gloomier past.

Dad, 2012

And so, England has taken on a role of something much greater with the two of us, and I look forward to the trip each year. ¬†England isn’t just a physical place, but a symbol of the emotional place he and I have found for a connection in adulthood. ¬†For the trip in 2006, I carried a small digital point-and-shoot camera, and put together a small collage of photos I took of the two of us against various backgrounds (Upton Park, the Globe theater, Stamford Bridge, etc). For every trip since then, I have created a photo book (from MyPublisher, Apple’s Aperture, or Blurb) of our trip. ¬†And so, our trips are memorialized and have served to chart my progress, and deepening interest, in photography. ¬†But looking through the four books on the shelf already, one can see how my work has developed and see the things we have done over the years. ¬†Those books represent steps in our relationship and, as such, are priceless.

We don’t only go to England each year. ¬†We have also gone to watch matches at a local British pub in Minneapolis together, enjoying time together and conversation all the while. ¬†We have been to a few baseball games, but as I’m not overly fond of baseball, we have begun going to more basketball games together, and are this year season ticket holders with the Minnesota Timberwolves. ¬†Photography has also made a bit of a comeback.

Since this blog is focused primarily on photography, I would be amiss not to bring this essay around to that subject somehow. ¬†As I mentioned earlier, my father was once an avid amateur photographer. ¬†Coincidentally (or not), his father was a professional photographer. ¬†As anyone who reads this blog will know, I’m quite the amateur photographer as well. ¬†My father has now become interested in Hasselblad photography, since I showed him my Hasselblad 501CM a few months ago. ¬†Shortly thereafter, he bought an identical model himself, and has since acquired more lenses and accessories as his interest has grown ever more.

Me & My Dad, 2009

This year’s England trip will see my father bring his Hasselblad along, and I am likely to do so as well. ¬†Being in England, with my dad, with each of us shooting our Hasselblad could hardly be any better in terms of our relationship. ¬†From a time when he and I seemed destined (or doomed) to repeat the history he and his father made many years before I was born, we have gone to forge a new present that involves a bond based on common interests. ¬†Football, travel, photography, and more, have served to bring us back together to a healthy, positive father-son relationship.

Finally, I have to mention the Pentax ME Super which is, by basically any standard of measure, a run-of-the-mill SLR from the early 1980s. ¬†But the particular camera that I have in my possession is far more than that. ¬†The ME Super that I have is the one that my mother gave to my father before I was born, before they were married. ¬†I had it CLA’d a few years ago, and it works as new. ¬†Although I don’t use it much, it means a great deal to me. ¬†It reminds me of another time, when my parents were young and in love. ¬†It’s a symbol of them, and helps me to remember my parents as they were all those years ago: young, as I never knew them; passionately in love, as only young people can be; and happy, traveling around with my father shooting all those boxes of slides before they were memories consigned to a box in the basement. ¬†It’s a kind of melancholy-laced happiness that I think can only exist in the life-long partnership of young lovers growing old together. ¬†I run a roll of film through it every so often to ensure it stays in good working order, but I take it out and hold it and look at it regularly, letting it take me to another time when my parents went on camping trips together, and had their whole lives in front of them–so much was still to come.

As their future unfolded, an unexpected surprise found their way to them in January 1983. That small bundle of their combined genetic material would grow up and complicate their lives immeasurably.  It would strain their patience and their finances, and even at times the burdens placed on them by that bundle would strain the very core of themselves and their relationship.  My father would grow as a man as I grew as a boy, making mistakes along the way.

Then, in 2006, he bought two tickets to England.

Me & My Father, 1983


“The Reader” – London, England


Another post, and another new book! ¬†I am excited to announce that I have self-published another book via Blurb. ¬†It is called “England” and uses photographs taken all over England from 2009-2012, and I am excited about it. ¬†I hope that you enjoy it, and I’d love to hear some feedback if you check it out!

I think that the books I have been making have gotten progressively better with each iteration, but this is perhaps down to a personal bias ūüôā ¬†What are your thoughts on the book on its own? ¬†How does it compare to the Portugal book? ¬†How does it compare with other photography books that you have read recently? ¬†If you are from England, how does this represent the country you know?

Talk to you soon!

England 2011-12: London Streets in Monochrome

"Exhibitionist" - London, England


This is the final entry from the streets of London, and this version is all in monochrome. I hope you like them, and if you do, please let me know with a comment below!


England 2011-12: Wigan 1-4 Sunderland

"Welcome to Vietnam" - Wigan, England


This match was, bar none, the worst weather I have encountered in all my football matches that I have been to. It was raining really hard, and the wind was making it swirl around the air, and was hitting everyone no matter where you were sitting.

Wigan ended up losing, though the scoreline was a bit harsh on them, and flattered Sunderland. I would go back to a game there–the stadium is new and nice, the people are great, and the tickets are cheap. All in all, very enjoyable.

England 2011-12: Wigan, Part 2

"Silhouette" - Wigan, England


Here is the second set of images from Wigan, in England. Wigan is a small town outside of Manchester, and not many tourists go there. It’s a bit run down in spots, and it’s not incredibly exciting, but I did meet the nicest people in Wigan that I ever have in England. I would definitely go back…if there were more to do. Ultimately, we went for the football, and I’ll post some images from the match tomorrow.

England 2011-12: Wigan, Part 1

"Fashion" - Wigan, England


Our last trip to England was my first to Wigan. Wigan is a small town outside of Manchester, and I can’t really think of any good reason one would end up there. Evidently, not many tourists do: this was the only time in all my trips to the UK I’ve met people that had trouble understanding my American accent. Likewise, I had trouble understanding some of the locals. So what did we go to Wigan for? Well, the football, naturally! I will post some photos from the match we saw in Wigan later this week.

Wigan was a very interesting place, though I’m not sure I’d go back. It’s a bit out of the way. The people were some of the nicest I’ve met in my time in England, however; everyone is incredibly helpful and very friendly. As most of my experiences are in and around London, it was a big change.