Serif & Silver Issue I: Polaroids – A Collection of Instant Photographic Prints 2010 – 2015

The couch is from Ikea and for whatever reason has the name Karlstad. It has a replaceable textile cover in Sivik Green, making it easy to change the look of our small home if we decide to. The tufted buttons sewn into the rear cushions are ones Jenny and I made. You can purchase a kit to produce each one; it takes some work but they look good. Yet as I lay here, if I roll around they will make popping noises when the belt loops on my jeans catch the buttons edge. The legs of the sofa were changed as well, they are now a tapered walnut. It fits in with the rest of our décor, and helps to hide the fact that this couch comes from a store known more for selling meatballs made of horse than high quality furniture.

It’s comfortable enough, and lets me rest the voice recorder nicely on my chest. I find that it’s often easier for me to just talk aloud when trying to get ideas out of my head. It is why I started Pdexposures, first via YouTube with me simply talking into a webcam. As time went on the production value of our camera reviews increased with Pdexposures.TV, and finally we launched the Pdexposures podcast, which evolved into the Pdexposures Network and now which hosts four podcasts all dedicated to film photography. Throughout this evolution I have learned to discuss photography and cameras for hours without notes or storyboards to guide me. Free form conversation is a talent I happily exploit, but when it comes to written thoughts, I tend to struggle.

So the recorder sits, moving up and down as I breathe, listening to me talk slowly. More often than not I find myself speeding through my words trying to get each out faster than the last. This way I will be able to hear what I said when it comes time to turn this audio into text and eventually, a publication.

Though it just occurred to me, why am I not using a dictation program?

As film photographers we are faced with this struggle daily. Do we choose to embrace technology, to use the dictation program to write for me and cut down on work later on? Or should I be taking pen to paper and explore the feeling of putting my thoughts down by hand? The pendulum constantly swings back and forth as we continue to not only use a medium that should have seen its final days, but regularly pump money into it as a crutch to ensure our lifestyle does not vanish. The great irony exists with how we incorporate these very recent and modern advancements into a photographic format that has not seen much change or growth in the past 100 years.

There is a phenomenon known to many as a shifting baseline. This theory describes our inability to understand quantifiable notions that existed before our time, it is often used for conservationists to help us realize our impact on the planet. Jon Mooallem in his book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, tells the story of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean Sea in 1492. At that time there were almost one billion sea turtles in that area of the ocean. Columbus’ men wrote about being unable to sleep as turtle after turtle would hit the hull of the ship. So many of these creatures were living in the ocean they became a hassle, an obstacle to overcome as we moved west. Nowadays, of course, such creatures are rare, to the extent that people gather to take photos of them on beaches in Hawaii, and strict fines are imposed to ensure you don’t get too close. We will never know what an ocean is like filled with turtles, and placed into context, we will never again see a film marketplace with the variety that once was. No other niche exemplifies this better than instant photography.

In 2006, high level executives at Polaroid held a meeting in secret. With a handful of engineers, number crunchers, and surely at least one executive who’s title would have begun with the letter “C” and ended with the letter “O” in attendance. The meeting was to discuss the future of Polaroid film. With the advent of digital photography, the razor blade method that both Kodak and Polaroid relied on so heavily had started to crumble beneath their feet. Consumers to longer required purchasing a medium that would only hold so many photographs prior to needing to be replaced. With a simple memory card they could take more photos than a roll of film, and simply reuse it once they were done. This lead to a steep decline in the sales of film, but even more so for the company whose practice relied on the ability of a photographer to be able to immediately see the photograph once it had been captured.

It was decided in this single room that as of that year, Polaroid would no longer order any more chemicals to produce instant film. By all estimates and sales projections, the company would be able to continue manufacturing until 2010, however a strange phenomenon occurred, and sales started to rebound. By 2008 Polaroid knew they wouldn’t make it through the first decade of this new millennia with production, and the last packs rolled off the assembly line in spring of 2009.

Not long after,three men came together to purchase the last remaining Polaroid factory in Enschede. This company had a single goal of bringing back instant integral film for Polaroid cameras, and by now we are all familiar with The Impossible Project as well as their trials and accomplishments. Around the same time a much smaller group wanted to do something similar with a far more unique material known as Type55. Arguably it was an easier process to replicate, they did not require color film, nor did it need to contain a battery inside the film pack. Despite this it has still taken over four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get close to a production ready product.

It is within these two companies that we see the current state of film better than anywhere else. It has been abandoned by Fuji and Kodak, leaving start ups to handle a task that was once served primarily by 3 companies to the entire world. And through that journey the uprising of the film community to come to the aid through donations of time and money given on the assumption that a final product will be delivered at some point in the future. Through this evolution, the shifting baseline has stayed with us and brought new photographers into a world that is struggling to bring us back to a point we were at less than a decade ago.

Around that same time I started treating photographs and the art of photography seriously; like most the spark was ignited through a high school arts credit that I was required to take. Mr. Abahazy, Otto, was our resident photography teacher. As you would imagine any arts teacher to be he would tend to ramble and get us swept up in social causes. I watched President Bush get re-elected in this classroom, and subsequently would see Mr. Abahazy mumble about the room visibly upset. He is Native American, and drives a beat up Toyota pickup truck with many bumper stickers declaring him as such. A proud man, he was the teacher you wanted at a time when you are so easily influenced. He is well known in our area as well, having painted a mural on a wall at the Chinese Restaurant I worked at in High School reminiscent of those seen in the Tang Dynasty.

I still have most of the prints I created in the small darkroom in his class. The exposure is off on many, no doubt due to the faulty meter in the Minolta Maxxum 7000 I was using. The composition leaves a lot to be desired as well, though that is a fault I cannot blame on the camera. But beyond traditional prints it was encouraging to explore what a wet darkroom will allow creatively.

Towards the end of the first semester I had become bored with traditional prints. As there were more than twenty of us in the class individual time could not be spent showing us how to craft a print beyond the standard test strip, expose, dev, stop, fix, rinse. Because of this I explored what else could be done with nothing more than chemicals and photographic paper. Solarization, an easy gimmick back then was welcomed, and when I splashed the exposed paper with developer rather than dunking it to create patterns of an image, Mr. Abahazy asked me what it meant, how it benefited the photo rather than dismiss the idea. To his dismay most of the class would turn in their next assignment using the same technique.

But it is within this period that I have seen the hours I put into crafting images grow.

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell proposed the idea of a 10,000 hour rule in his third book “Outliers”. This theory states that before you can truly become an expert in any given task you must first dedicate a specific amount of time improving yourself. Put into perspective if you were to quit your job tomorrow and dedicate those 8 hours each day to becoming a better photographer, you wouldn’t hit that mark for five years.

As most reading this will know, dedicating that much time is impossible if you’re not making money through your images. Because of this my hours grew slower; with each photograph taken I added more time.

“Your first ten thousand photos are your worst.”

The above quote from Henri-Cartier Bresson is very well known and has been contested many times. More often than not from bloggers who deem it a better use of their time to justify why their early images are good rather than working towards making their images better. Cynicism aside I find that both Bresson and Gladwell, despite counting in different mediums speak very much to the same goal. Earlier in the week I sat down and did some rough estimations for how long it takes me to produce a single image. Including all aspects of travel, composition and exposure, firing the shutter, development, scanning or printing and finally publishing providing one hour per image is a generous estimate. But assuming that it will average out, each of those 10,000 photographs, one per hour, will not only be your worst but will provide you with the stepping stones to become an expert photographer.

There is a larger issue though; photography, at least how we use it, is an art. Unfortunately it is because of this we quickly come to find out that expert does not inherently mean good. My knowledge on film processes, cameras, composition make me an expert but putting those into real world use are the only way I can be considered a good photographer, which is far more valuable than the title of expert. This level of expert photographer we get to is ultimately a misnomer. It describes our ability to finally start becoming a good photographer once we have removed the requirement to learn the technical information.

Two ideas, the Shifting Baseline and 10,000 Hours, give us a more relative explanation for the photographic landscape we exist in today. But they aren’t applicable without a one last key aspect.

I spend a lot of my life using technology including social media. These are brief snippets of time here or there, updating, refreshing, tweeting, sharing. This isn’t different from most others, especially as a photographer. We exist as our own brand and promote it to ensure we are not forgotten.

Coca-Cola has been one of the top ten most recognizable brands globally for decades. Despite slipping on these charges in recent years when someone asks if you would like a Coke you know exactly how it will taste, how the can will look and feel, and remember that one summer years ago. It is because we see this drink consisting of little more than sugar and water as joyous that we can quickly associate it with memories from long ago. And yet they continue to advertise, not to promote a new product but to simply remind the world that they exist, and that you might be a little thirstier than you were before their commercial came on.

We do this as well, sharing our work on countless social media outlets to raise our flag a little higher and know that we haven’t been forgotten.

Pulling on me regularly is the data behind social media. Many different websites use the API of these companies to provide metrics about how many followers you have gained or lost. Your interaction with each photo posted, and how many likes or comments you received. But it is the tracking of my followers to like ratio recently has been especially struggling.

Ten percent. That is what is considered a good ratio for each image you post on Instagram. I call out Instagram specifically as each social media outlet varies greatly. You’ll see a far higher number of people who don’t follow you but will appreciate your work on Flickr thanks to Groups. Twitter will often receive a very low interaction rate, but those who do take the time to provide feedback will do so with honest feedback. Instagram though has been able to provide real data on averages and expectations for someone using it to its full potential. To save you the easy math, if you have 100 people following you, 10 of them should like any photo you post. It won’t always be the same people, and tags can increase your audience, but for a general rule that is where you should be. Recently I have been hitting only five to six percent, and with some series I post it has fallen to three.

A publication doesn’t offer that information to the publisher. Once this issue is finished and goes up for sale I will only be able to track how many copies have been sold. You can hate all but one single photo, and that will provide me with the same feeling of accomplishment as someone who finds inspiration and meaning inside each image.

Narcissism runs rampant through our world. We are constantly sharing photographs expecting them to capture a response from our audience, despite not hitting 10,000 hours, despite not being an expert photographer, despite not being a good photographer. Within this we become so eager to share our most recent work, chasing likes around like an addict seeking drugs that the work we spend so much time trying to create only becomes a blip on our timeline.

This is intended to be different for me than any other project I have worked on. I want this quarterly publication to be candid and open about far more than my work, I want to open the discussion about modern photography and where we are taking it. The future of this art form, like any, lies on the shoulders of those who produce it. And so often we are caught up in the idea of how we should be carrying ourselves as photographers, and even more so as artists. That the art we create isn’t the product, we are.

Recently I met with a photographer who has accomplished more with his images than I ever will. He’s the Vice President of Imaging at a large company, it is one you have heard of and probably own products from. The question I wanted to know more than any other was about his life goals; he interrupted me before I could finish my question,

“I always wanted to sell out, I just never could”

Polaroids: A collection of instant photographic prints 2010 – 2015, explores our ability to produce large bodies of work when we aren’t trying. These are the photographs we all take, going out to dinner and bringing a camera only to take one quick photograph. These are the attempts we make to sell out, to create art from nothing but often give it to the world before it is ready. It is only once we step away long enough and let the images breath that we can come back and find the stories that have been pulled together inadvertently.

These photos are the images you see here. Images that conjure feelings of old memories, of experiences, and of where I am going. They tell a story together, one that highlights points during and after my 10,000, and inside that are chapters breaking the story up and challenging me to work within the time frame of a few presses of the shutter.

It is within these images that I bring you Serif & Silver.