Two Girls in Dresses on HP5

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Want to know a secret? I hate photography. I read the absolute minimum required to function each camera and film that I buy. I hate reviews. I hate specs. I hate numbers. I hate metering. I hate directions. I hate manuals. I am, in essence, an anti-technical photographer averse to the learning process. Which is why I am consistently drawn to point and shoots like the Polaroid SX-70, Holga 120N and Canon Sure Shot.

For me, emotion is principle. Composition is principle. Being able to press click at the decisive moment is what draws me back to photography over other mediums. Tuned into my sixth sense, I rest. This is my therapy and sauna and self-care package. Where I sleep; my bed. I applaud every person and personoid out there who thrives on the camera-as-machine model, who can perfectly calibrate their instrument to catch the wings of a hummingbird. But to inhabit that process makes my skin crawl. I have one aim alone and it’s an emotional one. To capture the Thing and keep it.


I recently heard a designer say of his work, “I like the shittiness” in regard to skipping some Photoshop smoothing process that designers know about. I thought yes! We Like Shittiness Club. This roll was horribly overexposed (I forget what I did since I never write things down nor actually learn) but that ended up lending a nice nostalgic grain to them. This roll is split between walking around the grounds of our neighborhood, candid shots at home and some seated portraiture. I am drawn to untouched nature. I am experimenting with how to document our daily lives on film (likely a few rolls of HP5 on Canon Sure Shot a month?). And I’m always inspired by a formal sitting, where the subject is a contributor. Since I haven’t shot that way in a long time, I decided to try it out again.

My sweet big girl. She was excited to do this. Afterward she “took my photo” after I had already emptied the roll. “Now close your eyes,” she instructed me like I had done to her. This girl is aptly named — Vivian, full of life. Participation is her strength. We had fun making these.

Eleanor “shh”ing Eeyore. I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, but at this point it’s out of my hands. I truly adore this baby/girl in an unrelenting way. Perhaps because she is still nursing. Perhaps because she may be my last baby. Perhaps because 18 months — 2 years is a golden age of blossoming of words and identity and wearing “packpacks” and sunglasses.

I shot this roll on the Canon Elan that my mom got me at a garage sale for $10. It does the job. I was experimenting to see if I’d like to leave the world of SLR forever, and I think the answer is yes. Although after scanning I often think, “shoot. I wish I had more control here.” I never wish for the process while shooting. Point then shoot is the most intuitive possible format for me; everything else feels bulky and makes me feel like a paparazzi (mamrazzi? which is worse?) while out. These are self-scanned. Woot woot!

Can we all raise our hands in hallelujah for HP5? There’s something about this film. I think it feels a lot like the photos in my dad’s photo box, especially when contrast is low. It gives me what I’m looking for: memory felt.

A with love

Cozette On Holga

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Holga, Holga... sweet, sweet Holga. With the level of love I have for these images Holga will be the name of my third child.

I became intruiged by Holga after perusing galleries on Flickr. But just like with most films and cameras that spark an interest, I see forms that compel me, but rarely the content to match. That was how I got started on SX-70 - seeing flowers and adult portraits and thinking, "photographs of children would be incredible in this form." So also with Holga.

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For those new to this camera, it's plastic. It feels like a cloud in your hand. It makes you feel like nothing can possibly be happening when you press the shutter. Which is a loud tink before you manually advance the film. It has less heft than a disposable, if you can picture it. It's called a toy camera for a reason. 

Have you seen that documentary about rock 'n roll with The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page? The Edge is the technician; equivalent in photographer terms to the gear-head with eight lenses for photographing the bald eagle that passes over an obscure rock formation 80 miles from his house once a year. It's about the detail. He is master of form. Jimmy Page is the soulful one. Like a traditional, old-school film shooter, he feels the ins and outs in his bones. He understands the blacks and whites, dodging and burning. He is the old dog. And then there's Jack.

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Jack shares a bit about his background (coming from of a family of 10 kids) and how thrift and ingenuity were central to his self-described low-income background in Detroit. It formed in him a passion for sound made on completely elemental objects. Remember making a guitar from string and a tissue box in kindergarten? He's that dude. And as a photographer Jack White would be using old brownies (he probably does), box cameras, and definitely, absolutely a Holga.

Although it does have a few manual controls, its a point and shoot. You the artist are dependent entirely on your eye, your heart and your skill to produce a photograph. There are crude, wonderful symbols atop the lens of one person, three people, a group and a mountain. Hard to mess up. As a maker, I absolutely thrive in these conditions. I love constraint. I love the nausea (yes nausea) of shooting film, especially knowing I only have 12 frames (or 10 in this case, because I accidentally overwound it at the start). 

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I once read in an Instagram post from a mother, "I am proud of how we are raising our kids." The thought was straightforward and beautiful. Pride in her work. I have tried to live in such a way where I can say that phrase to myself at the end of the night. Like life, it waxes, it wanes. I have found the same to be true with my work. But I am aiming for that goal, to be able to say: I am proud of the work I made. I feel that way with this roll, and for that I am grateful.

I took a different approach with this set. I asked a friend if I could photograph her daughter and paid her in flowers and gummy snacks. I made a shot list, half of physical starting points (like hands up or hugging yourself) and half of emotional states (small in a big world, light and shadow). Working this way draws out an entirely different skill set than I ever developed with digital. Of course the great benefit of digital is being able to click away, being highly responsive to your environment almost as though you're shooting video. A blessing and a curse.

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With film I have a different workflow. I intend. The work is not documentary, it is not reactive. It is composed. A specific end is sought. One of my husband and my's favorite movies is Ratatouille (we love animation, okay?) in which the antagonist (a food critic) says, "If I don't love it, I don't swallow." Not only is that a good modus operandi in life generally but is also my filmic philosophy. If the composition is not perfect, I do not press the shutter. Naturally, this causes quality to rise.

I remember watching an interview with well-known wedding photographer Jonas Peterson in which the interviewer asked him, "So what do you shoot for fun?" He replied with a smile, "weddings." I loved that answer! I saw the clip during a time when I was still shooting families on digital, clawing for a justification to keep going when I found it grating at best. I would soon realize that it was because shooting families gave me access to the thing I love to photograph: children.

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During this shoot there was a moment when I saw the light coming through my subject's hair. How can I describe the feeling? If panic were a good thing. Not bliss, not inspiration. A must-move-fast elation. An electricity, a happy panic. Photographing children on film is what gives me this delight. I have been thinking about why. Because of the juxtaposition I think; the innocence of childhood with the grit of film. Their great potential and great vulnerability. And film's tactile, worldly roots. A visual diary of curse and promise.

Do you shoot Holga? As a new convert, I am on fire for it and will try to convince you if you don't. That is, if you like dream-like imagery. If you connect with imperfection, distortion and filmic vignetting. And if you use photography as a portal, not to another world but to the world we know most intimately: feeling. 

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A with love

This Desert I Call Home

When I moved to Cave Creek from New Jersey (The Garden State) in seventh grade, I remember heading east on Carefree Highway and hearing my mom say, "This is it!" When I squinted I could see houses dotted in the basin of brown mountains. Some huge, imposing mansions halfway up and near the tops. No stores. No trees as I understood the term. I had never seen a saguaro before. 

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I hated the landscape for a good long while. The smell of creosote after rain (which I now love) made my sister and I gag. It took time to acclimate to the heat. To wear the right thing. To drink the right amount of water. To not walk, not take your bike, but definitely drive during five months out of the year. Elias showed me the washes.

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Although I lived in a development, many of my friends lived on dirt roads through thickets of mesquite and palo verde and prickly pear and jumping cholla and the usual suspects. Some of the houses were model homes - unique but sterile. But some captivated me, like the adobe homes in Mexico would do years later. I came to love the chalky, porous feel of saltillo tile on my feet. The sound of a car crunching rocks on the dry gravel. The small ranches erected in the 50s - when there was TRULY nothing here - that's the kind of house Elias lived in.

His dad was the mayor of Cave Creek when I knew him. That shouldn't conjure what normally comes to mind. Vince (I was to call him this, not Mr. Francia) was a passionate conservationist; noticeably, intimidatingly, warmly smart like his son, my friend. He smoked. He wore dated glasses. He had a wife named Amelia. They didn't have a dishwasher. I loved that house and the desert around it. It taught me how to feel cozy here; how when the sharp and harsh flora grew untamed, it could encompass a property with its arms. 

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Cut through the desert landscape are a series of washes. Before moving here I didn't know what that meant. Jagged, v-shaped tunnels with no top zig-zagging everywhere, everywhere. And when the rains came they would fill with fast water. But for the rest of the year I found home in them. I would sit in them and write in my journal. Smoke cigarettes stolen from my friend's mom. Burn poems about lovers. When I got older, we would hang out there was a crew and smoke weed. No phones to distract us from that most meaningful pursuit. And when a runner or someone walking their dog would show up in the distance, we'd run. Can you visualize it? It's a long ditch.

Somewhere in those ditches and on the roof of Elias's house (where I meditated for the first time - something my blue collar family would have laughed at) I fell for this inhospitable place. It doesn't welcome you like grass; you can't sit or lie down comfortably here. It's a sojourners beauty. Best interacted with by hiking. By ascending to mountain tops and looking at the rolling mountains like waves. So much housing, perfectly gridded streets. But in the desert - silence. Peace. Quiet, perservering life.

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Vince worked to preserve this place - Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. I have hiked here as a teen cleansing myself from the battery and yelling of an alcoholic house. And it worked. Step, step, step. I have photographed here during college, using filters and modeling and having no bills but rent, food, gas and a cell phone. And now I bring my babies here to play in the creek when - against all possible odds - it sometimes fills with warm rainwater.

As I experiment further with film, I am learning how to match form and content according to my voice. When I have shot black and white 35mm of children, I have sometimes found myself wishing it were color. Polaroids befit pretty much any setting, but I try to use them strictly for artful ends instead of family documentation. There's something slightly sacrilegious to me seeing regular family happenings (like eating an ice cream cone) on SX-70. But if that same cone were being eaten in miraculous light - the $2.25 photo is miraculously justified. I tend to favor digital, consumer films and instax for memory-keeping.

These photographs were shot on Tri-X 400 using the $10 Canon Elan my mom got me from a garage sale, with the considerably more expensive Canon 24-105 L lens. The polaroids were shot on my beloved SX-70, who never fails to transform the quotidian into instantly drippy, meaningful memory. My intent is to shoot each readily-available 35mm film and as much rare, experimental and expired stock I can get my no-spare-money-for-extensive-film-hobby-but-somehow-I-press-on hands. Although people, portraits and the human story are my main photographic material, the urge to explore place is equally as strong. This is the desert I call home.

With love
A

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We Dream in Film

I shot these polaroids of my dear friends and their five children tonight. Holding them in my hands I realize something:

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Our minds see in film.

Shoot after shoot, digital feels more like an advertisement. A commercial for the life we want to be living, meant to convince and persuade. The tones and grain of film are a language our hearts already know: a poetry that hits in the gut. 

Have you seen photographs of Giverny, Monet's garden? Beautiful, but not more impressive than every stunning garden on earth. But Monet's garden painted. A glory greater than the garden itself, electric in it's depth. A veil that conceals and reveals.

Are our fantasies in film too? Our hopes and dreams and childhoods? Going with this metaphor, what of the subjective is seen in digital form? Our reflection in the mirror? The face of a tormentor as the words escaped their mouths? What we wish our bodies looked like? The searing detail of digital.

Photographing the family narrative has sometimes made me feel uncomfortable. I don't want to add to the violating onslaught of imagery in this world. Perfection and it's powerful chatter. Instead my desire is to add words to another conversation. Making images unto ends like these: self-reflection, praise, pause, humility, gratitude, wonder, covenant love.

Film, let's run away together and never come back. I'm ready.

(Last shot taken by Guinevere, the second-born of this family and my photo assistant for the evening)