People sometimes ask me if I can shoot color photographs with Brownie In Motion. “Yes,” I tell them, “but, I don’t because of the toxicity of color chemistry. Plus, it’s really hard to get your hands on Cibrachrome these days!”
That said, my friend and fellow photographer Jeremiah Stilson recently unearthed a color photograph that he made in 2014 using Brownie In Motion while I was visiting North Carolina.
What a surprise! I’d totally forgotten about Jeremiah shooting this test photograph of me with 4×5 film pinned inside of the Brownie! For numerous health/logistical/economic reasons, I don’t intend to start shooting color photos with this camera anytime soon but it’s nice to know\show that it can be done!
Jeremiah Stilson studied Fine Art at The Ohio State University, and currently resides in New York. See his work at StilsonStudio.com .
I’m not an artist. I can’t even take a decent picture for Instagram. I am clueless about photography, but as a writer I know a great deal about setting a scene, and Stephen Takacs’ Brownie in Motion gallery is quite the scene. Upon walking into the Cultural Arts Center, the surreal images of the camera obscura evoke a sense of wonder. The camera obscura has a personality that easily caught my attention and drew me into the images; then, as I ventured further into the gallery, I was confronted with the camera obscura, and I was truly a part of this surreal exhibit. The photographs that lined the walls were those taken with the camera obscura, and I was enveloped by this world Stephen created. Compared to the vibrant and surreal digital photographs visible upon entering, the black and white photographs surrounding me then seemed grounded, as if they were bringing me back to earth. They evoke this feeling of nostalgia, despite being taken in the last couple of years. I had to periodically remind myself that I was not looking into the distant past.
The portraits in particular caught my attention more than anything else. One that I particularly enjoyed was Sue Cavanaugh: Fiber Artist. On first glance, the image feels regal, this stern woman looking down on me. But the longer I look at her the more I see in her. Through her sunglasses I can see half-closed eyes; she is not looking on with contempt, she seems exhausted, like a woman who has done what was hard and now just needs to rest. The corner of her mouth had a slight upturn, suggesting that what I first thought was a scowl were just the signs of a long life playing across her face. She is not a queen looking down on her subjects with derision, she is a mother looking on to her children, appreciating the work she has done.
The portrait Big Mike: Ropemaker really grabbed my attention as well. When I saw the photo, I was both humored and impressed by Big Mike. He is definitely large in stature, but the emotional presence he evokes is large as well. His face is stoic. From his size to his facial hair to the rope he works with, Big Mike is masculine. Not only that, but he is a particular kind of man. Big Mike represents a standard of masculinity that is disappearing. The image that men must be big, strong, and unfeeling is fading from our collective consciousness, and with it so is Big Mike.
As I left the gallery I admired once more the individuals, practices, and ideals that are disappearing from our world. I looked again into the fading world of the camera obscura before reentering the vibrant reality of the digital photographs, and I left the gallery wondering how long before my way of doing things would die out as well.
Brownie In Motion: Traveling Picture Show is on view at the Columbus Cultural Art Center until March 19th, 2016.
The Brownie has been an object of curiosity at King’s Saddlery during the past week; a multi-generational family business in Sheridan, Wyoming, King’s is known for their hand-crafted leather work and quality ropes. As an artist in residence at Jentel in Banner, Wyoming, Stephen took advantage of his close proximity to make images of saddles, leatherworkers, and ropes. Testing the newly re-released Ilford Direct Positive paper Stephen began work with a heavily tooled saddle. The saddle turned out to be the perfect subject for testing his new paper, which seems to have a slower emulsion speed rendering it useless for portraits but OK for still life, because it never moved or complained.
I stopped by to visit Stephen while he was photographing this saddle, the last saddle master craftsman and family patriarch Don King ever made. Although this was not my first visit to King’s, my current photographic project on the real and ideal landscape of Yellowstone National Park has brought me this way in the past, their focus and commitment to quality western tack always impresses me. The Don King museum is a one of a kind treasure and not to be missed if passing through town.
It took Stephen much of the first day to nail his set-up and learn the new paper, but then he was hitting his stride and making great work. King’s staff helped him select and move saddles from both shop and the museum. He had his pick of classic western saddle craft with exceptional hand tooling. Members of the staff generously posed for portraits as well. A few days into his work Stephen was able to turn the camera and make some overall views of the shop with its extensive collections of saddles, ropes, and taxidermy. Today is his last day and Stephen hopes to make a multi-generational family portrait of members of the King family. (I’m sure he’ll post photographs soon.)
Tomorrow Stephen will take the Brownie to Sheridan College and present as a visiting artist. Our time at Jentel is rapidly drawing to a close and the Brownie will be back on the road soon. We post this blog to show you a small selection of Stephen’s time in action at King’s Saddlery.
In Spring of this year, I found out that I was awarded a month-long artist residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Sheridan, WY. This opportunity seemed like it could be just what I needed – the chance to focus on my own creative work in relative isolation for an extended period of time. So often in life, I feel as though I struggle to create new work and complete projects because of life’s many responsibilities, distractions and amusements. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what I have but – like everyone else – sometimes have difficulty carving out time for creative projects.
Just as I’d hoped, attending this artist residency has been an eye opening, transformative experience. After two weeks, I can happily say that it’s been more than worth it. I’ve been able to hike in sagebrush covered hills, experiment with new techniques (like reclaiming Fuji Instant Film negatives), meet some wonderful creative people, develop new ideas and finally shot some photos that have been in my sketchbook for months.
The Jentel “complex” sits off of a dirt road about 20 miles from the small western town of Sheridan, WY. During any given time, there are a total of six artists – four visual and two writers – taking up residence at Jentel. We each have separate studios and living quarters but come together almost every night to share meals, drinks and conversation. Despite everyone coming from different parts of the country – each bringing with them different backgrounds and temperaments – we get along well and for that I’m grateful.
With only 12 days left, I’m becoming ever more aware of the temporal nature of my situation. Despite working everyday, knowing that I will have to leave in two weeks gives me an increased pressure to produce. There is still some much to see, explore and photograph here. I have a feeling that I’m going to leave Wyoming in two weeks wholly invigorated but wanting more!
If you’re tired of just seeing images of Brownie In Motion online and want to experience it in person, please come to the Columbus Arts Festival this weekend! I’ll be sharing the camera obscura with visitors from 11am – 9pm on Friday & Saturday and 11am – 5pm on Sunday.
If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d like to encourage you to come across the river to 400 West Rich for artist open studios starting on Friday from 7pm – 11pm and Saturday from 11am – 6pm. Although, I won’t be able to be able to participate in open studios this year (since I’ll be at the arts festival) I do want to encourage everyone to check out the work of some of my friends and explore the building where I spend so much of my time creating!
FYI – If you’re feeling really adventurous, the World Naked Bike Ride will be happening on Saturday evening starting from 400 West Rich around 9:30pm.
Reader of this blog may be wondering, “What happened to the Brownie In Motion team? Why did the story leave off so suddenly? Where are Micah, Steve and the world’s largest Brownie camera..?
I truly must apologize to you. I left you hanging and for that I’m very, very sorry. The journey is far from over! Please let me explain.
What happened was that I returned to Columbus. I returned to take advantage of the opportunity to teach my dream class – Alternative Camera Systems – at The Ohio State University!
It was a very busy but very rewarding semester! During this upper-level photography course, undergraduate and graduate students explored an a-typical amalgam of photographic systems, including pinhole cameras, plastic lens cameras, peel apart film and a variety of DIY tricks. Though the class officially ended in mid December, our experience will culminate in an exhibition titled, ‘The Great Camera Build Off.’
The Great Camera Build Off opens this Friday, January 9th at EASE Gallery in Columbus, Ohio and features photographs and handmade cameras created by OSU students.
Every artist participating in The Great Camera Build Off was tasked with creating a new camera using a piece of obsolete equipment that Bob Hite (the OSU photo lab manager) and I collected from dusty nooks, forgotten boxes and rarely touched cabinets at OSU and my own personal collection. The resulting exhibition features both the handmade cameras (many of which are quite sculptural) and the images produced by each.
Although all of the cameras and images were created using analog (ie. film-based) materials, the output varies and includes digital inkjet prints, as well as those made in the darkroom.
The Great Camera Build Off opens Friday, January 9th at EASE Gallery and runs until February 7th. If you’re local, please come to the opening reception tomorrow from 7-9 to say hello, meet the student artists and enjoy food and drink on us!
A few miles west of the Oregon-Idaho border, after driving through Boise and what felt like a high altitude wind tunnel on Highway 84, we happened upon a little RV campground called Catfish Junction. On a less dramatic portion of the Snake River, the grounds are nestled in golden hills. There we met the tall, scraggly-bearded groundskeeper, Daren. Wearing a dilapidated black hoody and blown out denim jeans, his demeanor was laid back as one would expect from a cat fisherman and rural RV site overseer. He kindly lent us an old taped-up fishing pole and some fresh night crawlers. Seemingly, Daren doesn’t often meet many young travelers willing to step out of their RV’s, and was happy to chat with us about our adventures with Brownie In Motion.
On the boat dock, we cast out our lines while I played guitar to the rapidly shifting sunset. Ten minutes in, Daren got a bite. Casually working his fishing pole, he effortlessly reeled in a catfish over 2 feet long. “That’s your breakfast,” Daren said as he plopped the fish into a bucket for overnight storage. While removing the hook, he muttered, “Stupid cat,” over and over….
Friday morning, we mingled with Daren while I prepared our catfish and French press coffee breakfast. He regaled us with stories about the Junction: natives raiding travelers on the Oregon Trail, an eccentric who used to farm a small island in the lake, and his own experience working heavy machinery in L.A. As we drove off, I couldn’t help thinking of this adventure as our own little salute to the Oregon Trail.
After being stranded in the Bonneville Salt Flats all day, we cruised the strip in Wendover, Utah; the nighttime streets lined with $35 motels. On the Nevada side of the border, bright Vegas-style lights advertise penny slots, $6.55 senior discounts, and all-night buffets. A weird neon glow rises up into the desert sky. A place for Vegas dropouts, and vagrant Mormons to drown their woes, Wendover was clearly not built for high rollers. Technicolor temples of debauchery are seemingly the only things West Wendover has to offer.
After scanning the strip, we decided to get some cheap grub at a casino. Inside the Red Garter, patrons sit hypnotized by machines ringing out the merry music of paychecks being tossed aside. Countless slot machines and who-knows-what-else awaits the avid gambler inside these establishments. We ate our dinner at the Prospector Lounge, a neglected section of the casino with busted-out satin chairs and dull historical paintings commemorating the old west. The food was good enough; a simple biscuits and gravy for myself, and two eggs and toast for Steve. After reflecting on our day in salty hell, we chose to move forward and immediately made tracks for Twin Falls, Idaho. Driving up an old dusty portion of 93, I stayed wired on caffeine and chewing gum.
It was 3:00 AM before we settled into a RV park, a few miles north of our intended destination. Out in the open, surrounded by rural-suburban sprawl, our choice of campground was anything but ideal. Instead of a tree-lined grotto in the woods, the desolate concrete pad was lined with water and electrical hookups. Steve was furious about my decision to camp here as we rolled up to our pseudo campground. As we drifted to sleep in the parking lot, distant footsteps shocked my dull brain with a jolt of paranoia. Exhaustion took over and, before I could peek out of my sleeping bag, I was overtaken by troubled sleep.
Thursday morning in Jerome, Idaho, the fair grounds where we camped were milling with lazy preparatory activity for an upcoming event. Having expected to be harassed by the police, or worse, twisted local bumpkins whose motives and ethical standards would be no doubt questionable, rising to the gentle murmur of friendly fair grounds employees was a relief. The clanking of tent poles and humming of diesel engines quietly emanated from surrounding lots while we slowly and crustily rose from slumber. Despite our ratty appearance, we — wild-eyed, dusty punks passed out in their parking lot — were greeted with an offer of showers, friendly conversation and use of a hose to clean off our van.
As I hosed-off the salty mud caked onto the bottom of our vehicle, I was struck by how fortunate we’ve been. All along our journey, the kindness of people we encounter continues to surprise and amaze us. From gifts of Girl Scout cookies to perfect strangers offering a place to stay, we’ve are grateful for everyone’s generosity and willingness to help two road-worn travelers.