Some news on the front…

…and a photograph or two.

I have been accepted to the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts for the spring 2010 semester.  This is quite an honor and it will be an exhilarating and difficult three months, effectively finishing my BA in style.  To celebrate this occasion, I have purchased a new film rangefinder, a Voigtlander R4M with a 35mm lens.  This is a significant upgrade from the little Canon QL17 I have been using for a while.  I leave for Greece at the beginning of March and will return at the beginning of June.

I have also set up a full darkroom in the house.  I have a large extra room with an adjoining bathroom that I have blacked out with curtains–very dark indeed.  I have great new, used Metro-shelf worktables.  My good friend Bruce has sold me his Beseler 23C Series II enlarger with two lenses (50mm and 80mm) plus some other gear for about $100.  A real deal, IMHO.  I have been developing some film, but this weekend I will have all the supplies and stuff I need to start working with paper again.  Now I do not have to drive to use the darkroom, nor sit in a cold barn, or have my good friend Carol pay for heat when she doesn’t need to.  It’s a good thing all around.

Last week there was truck fire in the nearby town of Millerton, NY.  Serendipity was on my side and I was able to capture some dramatic shots.  Here is one them.  I will post another tomorrow.  I offered them to the local papers but they declined, using there own images instead.  Oh well.  Their loss.  The editor asked for me to stay in touch with anything I might have.  Right.  Not a chance.  This is not the first time they have given me the Bum’s Rush.

I went to Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb’s opening in NYC last week.  It was a lovely show and left me wanting more.  The Ricco Maresca Gallery highlighted their new, collaborative, book (a first for them) on Cuba called “Violet Isle.”  I was able to spend the day walking the streets of Manhattan, visiting museums, and practicing the craft.  A wonderful day.


PS…Yes, I saw the Frank  and  Meyerowitz shows…Boffo!

Truck fire, Millerton, NY.  November 2009

Truck fire, Millerton, NY. November 2009


Searching for Robert Frank…

I have just returned from a visit with my sister and her husband just outside Boston.  While I was there we were all able to meet up with my father at a bookstore in Cambridge where he and his wife gave a reading of some of their new work.  I took a couple of pictures, but felt very uncomfortable doing so.  After refection I discovered it wasn’t the act, but rather the subject.  There was nothing spontaneous and the observing seemed to draw the attention of my father, something I didn’t want.  In fact, he pointed it out to the small audience at one point–very off-putting. Our relationship is difficult.  His own narcissism has progressed as he has aged and he either contradicts what I say or disregards it.  If I think of him as an old man with difficulties and not my father I have a better relationship.

The Robert Frank show is up at the Metropolitan in NYC.  I have plans to go in later this month…I think on the 21st.  I hope to spend the day looking through the viewfinder and trying not to try too hard.  I’m lucky that I am an avid walker…The soles of my shoes are well worn.  I’ll stay out of the park: too much wide open space.



Finishing tasks…

The fall is rapidly approaching here in upstate New York.  I looked out at the trees this morning and saw touches of bright paint through the steam of my coffee.  I was up early, the cat having decided to wake me, so from 4AM on I was able to write a fair amount of a paper on 20th century Yugoslavian unification. I am almost finished.  I am also finished with many of the images from those travels, especially the Roma pieces–they are relegated to the past…but did I already blog that news?

I have purchased a used Contax G2.  It is an automatic rangefinder form the mid-1990s and has been given good marks.  For me it is almost too complicated without being a digital.  The focusing is awkward, I think, but we shall see…The plus side is that it comes with a Carl Zeiss 28mm lens.  Very nice.  It’s all about the glass.  I’ll shoot on automatic exposure for a while and try it out.

Once this paper is finished, I can really get down and finish the darkroom work.  I have to go through negatives and contact sheets and find 24 images that support a consistent vision and then print them all on paper.  Damn…the phone just rang and now I have lost my train of thought after a short conversation…Oh, yes…FA-1027.

I ordered some new chemistry from Fine Arts Supply in Montana.  It is a concentrate called FA-1027 and supposedly takes care of all the problems associated with Ilford film and Ilford liquid developers, i.e. foggy negatives and so forth.  When will it arrive?  I don’t know but it has been 2 weeks since I ordered it and it is still not here…

More will be revealed.



The last photography workshop…

I returned from Woodstock last night with a head full of new ideas and a renewed sense of direction.  It will take me a week to process what I have learned this weekend, but that’s alright.  The photographers who ran the workshop were Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb.  I was very impressed–by both their work and their attitudes.  There was none of the “famous photographer” feeling about them and I understood immediately that they work very hard at their craft and love it.  It reminded me of the Lao-Tse quote about finding a job you love and never having to work a day in your life.  I felt it through these two.  Their work speaks for itself.

Through these workshops I am letting go of much I have done in the past few years.  The images of the Roma that I have been carting about for a year-and-a-half are being shelved indefinitely.  My work with them as “documentary” pieces is finished.  What a relief.  I have to find a new space in which to see the world, and by that I mean finding a new perspective.  Alex’s eye has inspired me to see with a more searching heart and Rebecca’s from a fresher sense of the poetic nature that all visual circumstances embody.  They really opened themselves up an revealed themselves as human beings in search of an explanation, a charecteristic of artists in every genre.

So I have learned to see the human body as a portrait through Tanya Marcuse; to use the photographic image as a “literary” thread from Mary Ellen Mark; and the build on this “literary” photographic story-telling by challenging my eye to see from a more immediate, layered and emotional point-of-view.  That last one is from the Webbs, who, I feel, come to their art through compassion and a need for comprehension of their own place within the experience.

It’s all about people and intimacy for me.  The document is two-dimensional, although necessary for my own exercise.  Now I will search for something about the interior, without which the external image is merely a shell.


Ambitious darkroom work…

Tomorrow I head back to Catskill and into the darkroom once again.  There is a feeling there of a lack of time, all that matters is the slowly spinning hand of the exposure clock as the image transfers through the lens, across the negative and onto the paper.  I am still using RC stock, but my real paper has finally arrived and, to my surprise, some of it is from Croatia.  I have both Grade 2 and 3.  I also have a pack of Grade 2 Ilford to compare.

I wish to make at least 4 exposures tomorrow (or five) so I can include them in the portfolio I am presenting to the Webbs this weekend in Woodstock.  These will be part of the “Wright Morris” project, a series of b/w and color pieces that have been inspired by Morris’ work during his travels through America.  They areBlue Wall an expression of sadness and light, whimsy and decay…In some cases the crumbling towers of old feed silos echo the mountain fortresses I have seen in my European travels, like ancient Byzantine strongholds plundered by warring tribes.  In others, like the image above, it is a memory of a previous rural life fast disappearing in the small New York county I live in.  In both cases the past is a reminder of the lack of permanence.  Time stands still for no one, even in the sensory deprivation tank of a darkroom.


Finding another voice and darkroom work…

I have taken two workshops this summer so far.  The first, with Tanya Marcuse was great.  It was about working with the human body, as in nude studies and served me well.  I have not worked with formal models much and the experience taught me a great deal about the interaction of photographer and subject. There were four models each day, both men and women, of different ages.  Illuminating.  I have. posted a couple of images on my photo site, in the “humans” portfolio.

The second was a workshop with the photographer Mary Ellen Mark.  She is a legend in the community and her work speaks for itself.  The only drawback was that although she is a professional with years of experience, she is not the best teacher.  She treated everyone fairly, but I found that she fawned on one workshop attendee more than others.  Granted, this person’s work was lovely and moving. They both had a great deal in common and perhaps that was another reason, but I found the undue attention to be distracting.  Also unfortunately, due to a personal situation at home, I was not able to attend the shoot the next day at the Ulster County Fair.  Mary Ellen was gracious enough to let me still contribute four contact sheets for a post-class critique.  Those I have mailed off.  They are a continuance of work I have begun as homage to Wright Morris.  My photography instructor has told me she wants me to put together a book of images and writings on the subject, much like Morris did, by the way.  I think I will.  It may take some time, but good things always do.  I am eager to hear Mary Ellen’s thoughts.

I have officially become an addict of the developing process and the darkroom.  I am spending more time over in Catskill at the darkroom and more time in my kitchen developing film.  It is a real high to produce the result from start to finish.


Back in the darkroom…

Now that I am home, now that I am settled in my routine, I have been entrenched in my photography.  I was able to develop three of the rolls of film I shot while overseas in a friend’s home the other day, but last weekend I finished up the remaining twelve here at home–pretty simple chemistry, with nuances depending on ambient situations.  

I was able to borrow another friend’s Paterson tank and some reels…I had the chemicals that I had ordered from B&H so I mixed them up…Once again, pretty easy.  I mixed them for working film ratios, so they will stay the same until I am able to get some other equipment in here to expose and enlarge.  Maybe this winter…

I am pleased with the results.  The three rolls that I accidentally pulled (as opposed to pushed) came out alright as well, but I won’t be able to tell until I can develop them further.  I found some good resources on-line concerning the saving of these images and I followed their instructions.  Essentially, for every step pulled, subtract a minute from the developing time.  The images will most likely be grainy and the contrast a little dark, but it might result in some interesting pieces.  The upshot is that I want to make contact sheets tomorrow over in Catskill and choose 10-12 images to work on for the rest of the summer as a final project.

The digital work is moving along slowly as well.  Today it is a bit cloudy out, so I will look at some of those and collate them.  Another frined, a pro from Massachusetts, is going to teach me how to make a grey background, a la Irving Penn.  My friend Kit had a small company in NYC about 20 years ago that produced and sold them, so I hope to have a similar product eventually.

Here’s a small image fro Belgrade…Although grainy, I like the textures and the subject.  The commonality of mobile phones is making these things a dying breed, a dinosaur in the tar pits of modern technology.  Juxtaposed with the museum and the seductive lingerie advertisement, it is symbolic of all we love and how we can take that for granted.

John Masters

telephone kiosk, Belgrade, 2009

telephone kiosk, Belgrade, 2009


Home…and back to work…

Roma boy from an encampment in Belgrade, Serbia 2009

Roma boy from an encampment in Belgrade, Serbia 2009

I have been home for over a week.  My trip back to the Balkans seemed quick.  I was there for a month-and-a-half but it felt like two weeks.  I was able to improve some great friendships and build some new ones, especially in Austria, where I connected with some musicians and graphic artists.

I used up 14 rolls of b/w film and am now in the developing process in a darkroom across the river.  I am there this morning and most of the day.  We shall see.  I have been slowly looking through the digital stuff.  Although I have combed through the Roma images, I still have the Breast Cancer shoot to address as well as my “tourist” images, mostly train stations, bus stations and transport of different varieties.

I am also writing my thesis on possible unification in the Balkan Peninsula.  Laugh if you will, but I think there could be a solution.  I also hope to be able to do a shoot next week with a professional model for some figure studies before I head to Woodstock for the weekend workshop on the same subject.  I have the images in my head that I want, I just need to make them happen.  I think I am using a male model, so I am going for a sense of heroism, almost like propaganda images from the Cold War, but I will also look for the vulnerability of the human spirit as well.

Here ‘s a small b/w image of a Roma boy from Belgrade.

John D.C. Masters


The Song of Sarajevo

After winding my way on the bus from the dry rocks of Herzegovina through the lush, rugged mountains of interior Bosnia-Herzegovina, I was let out at the Sarajevo Autobusni Stanica. I took a cab to my pension, the Pansion Cobanije, a quiet and family-run place off of the Old City. I dined that night with my delightful traveling companion, Femke, a graduate student from Holland–all legs and blue eyes with the brains to match…After walking her back to her hostel (she flew back to Holland this morning), I continued on and was stopped in my tracks by the
sound of raucous singing…

They were all pretty drunk, and invited me to join them..Orange juice for me, thanks. In this town of Muslim practices drinking juice is not seen as an oddity.  There were 8 or 9 of them, all about 50-60 years old.  One had an old guitar and he was playing furiously while they all sang gypsy songs as if their lives depended on it.  I was able to get some images and they were open with conversation.  They all spoke good English.  One explained that they had all been friends since childhood and that they all came from different backgrounds. ‘In the past,’ he said, ‘to ask someone what they were was considered rude.’  ‘Like where I live’, I said.   This meant that I was in an enclave of peace where Muslim, Catholic, Christian and Atheist alike all came together to pray to the God of Song – perhaps the only God they needed. Myths have been shattered.  These were Yugoslavians.

I have been sparing with my cameras.  The GIII Q17 rangefinder is fun and small, and I am anticipating the black and white prints more so than the immediacy of the digital.  I am shooting mostly 200 speed due to the bright glare of the Balkan sun, but I have been lucky so far with the times I been using 400…mostly cloudy. There have been some good moments in markets and on the street, I think, in both formats.  In Belgrade next week I will be focusing more on the Invisible People–those living on the street, Roma encampments, etc…

It feels good to unwind my eye from the American landscape.

John Masters