My friends and I set our musical foundation in the 1990s. Post grunge, post groove metal, we looked back at the decade before us and wondered what everyone saw in the metal bands of the ’80s.
New Wave of British Heavy Metal, power metal, hair metal – these were dirty words to kids who rocked out to Pantera, Alice In Chains, and Rage Against the Machine. Sure, we dug the stuff from the ’70s, and it was easy to make the connection from grunge to classic rock. But “metal,” as we knew it, was so passé.
We made exceptions, of course. Dio, some Iron Maiden, Metallica was still doing interesting things. Everyone else could go to hell.
It’s only recently that I’ve started to dig up good material that we may have missed. We picked on bands like Anthrax, but maybe we were missing something. This is especially evident as these classic bands have kept going and releasing new material.
After thinking about my favorite type of camera – small, single lens, 35-45mm range – I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 400 and hit the streets for a just-starting-to-feel-like-spring afternoon in Ann Arbor.
From loading to dropping film off at the camera store took less than an hour. I had 24-ish chances to capture something walking around an unfamiliar neighborhood. And I had 40mm to express what I saw, with a rangefinder focusing mechanism to express it.
I also had a serious limitation: the bright, sunny afternoon was killer when the Canonet’s highest shutter speed was 1/500. That, combined with a 400 ISO film speed, meant having to pull the ISO down a bit, or else the camera refused to take a photo. Chalk it up to one big learning experience.
The point is, I took the Canonet for a spin, and blew through a 24 exposure roll of film. That old saying about potato chips, that you can’t eat just one? Same rule applied to that roll of Agfa Vista. It was easy to just keep visually snacking.
Life has been a bit hectic lately, with weeks of unending illness in our house (seems to be that way for everyone this year), the move, getting the house in order.
Oh, and a new baby on the way later this month.
So yeah, thing like unpacking boxes and making decisions about decorating? We’re putting those off.
In the meantime, we’re just trying to get through a week without a late-night sickness episode or a trip to the hospital. The kids take it all in stride, of course. They’re more concerned with where their toys are, and how much of a mess they can make. They don’t know that their parents are doing lots of planning, wondering, and worrying.
Finding a new groove takes a while when you move into a house. This time, it’s taking even longer. We’re still unpacking.
Type O Negative released Dead Again, their final album, 10 years ago.
It’s hard to overstate how important this album, and Type O Negative, were to me. I remember 2007 being a big year for me, personally, and Dead Again was there through all the tumult and strife. My roommate and I went to see Type O at Harpo’s in Detroit that year. Three years after the album, lead singer Peter Steele would drop dead. I think about him a lot, and what Type O would’ve made had he been alive.
Ten years? Man. That’s a lot of time to soak in one album.
If there’s such a thing as progressive goth (14 minutes!), “These Three Things” is it. Such a sprawling, epic track – my favorite on the album.
Last winter, off my big portrait project, I needed something to keep me entertained during these cold Michigan winter months. I needed a photo project to keep my mind and camera busy, and something that I could do inside.
When Sandhill Crane Vineyards invited me to be their featured artist for May, I felt like I needed to show some fresh work in their gallery. Wine would be fun. But what if I did more than wine still life photos? What if I made it bigger?
A few months back I was invited to speak to the Jackson Civic Art Association about the project. One of the members, Carrie Joers, dug my still life shots. More than liking them, she wanted to paint them, and figured a how-to session on setting up a still life setting would be good for her drawing and painting friends.
Here’s what I told the group in terms of restrictions and things to think about:
Look at good still life paintings and photos to get an idea of what you like. I started with the Dutch masters, and went through to good product photography. Keep an idea board (I used Pinterest).
Get yourself a theme. Doing random stuff is fun, but I found a theme (seasons, with food as the focus) easier to keep myself focused and organized. Pears go with winter, acorns go with fall, and colors matter, etc.
Look for materials and items around the house, and keep texture in mind (the more, the merrier). Figure out what you don’t have on hand, and then go bargain shopping: yard sales, thrift stores, stuff in your parents’ attic, that kind of thing. Fabrics, containers, decorations – all that stuff can be had for cheap. To get the fresh ingredients, I went grocery shopping.
Set up near a window for good light, and make your own backdrop. This was a lot of fun for me: I got to experiment with painting on a canvas, and setting a mood (here’s my simple set up at home).
Experiment and practice. Move stuff around. Try a bunch of shots. Take 50 photographs to find the one killer shot.
Challenge yourself. I went with one camera, one lens – and a 100mm macro lens at that. Set restrictions, stick to your theme, and don’t make it easy.
I’m making my slideshow (with notes) available as a download (PDF), since I can’t give my presentation to you, the reader. It should give you some background, some ideas, and some inspirational crumbs to follow.
In those “check out these photos from the 19X0s” articles, it’s often the background of the picture that’s the most interesting. The ways signs looked, the clothing people wore, the neon lights or the font on the side of a delivery truck.
What did the 1980s look like?
My wife recently shared a photo of her and her dad goofing around in the living room. People thought the photo was cute, but most of the discussion took place over the TV set in the background. Memories! Remember those old console TVs?
I think about this truism – that we’re often most interested in the background, not the subject, of photographs – every time I take photos of the kids in the living room, or the window signs in downtown Ann Arbor. In the future, we’ll look back on these photos and remember what our time looked like.
For every photo we make, we’re recording a little slice of history.