Tuesday, September 30, 2008

making a case for film photography

So I was recently looking at some medium format negatives that I recently developed at the MJC photography lab where I've been volunteering a few hours a week every semester for the past 8 years. These rolls of black and white Ilford Delta 100 speed film had been sitting in my camera bag for the course of the past few seasons where they've been slowly accumulating. Not really having any time to make prints from them yet, I decided to scan a few negatives to see what the exposures looked like.

With the constantly evolving realm of digital photography, many disregard the 150 years of photographic technique that preceded 'digital's' recent introduction to the playing field. But black and white print out processes, were really the only way things were done up until the late '60s and early '70s when color photography made its way to the scene.

There are still film techniques such as the zone system, (a scientific photographic process designed by world renowned photographer Ansel Adams) that amaze me to this day. I use the zone system as often as I can for my film photography.
This shot was taken north of Vernalis off of Hwy 33 during a foggy/overcast day in Winter '08.
These two were taken of the McShane corp. building going up in the West Patterson Business Park.
I like to show the black border of the edges of the negative, whenever possible. It shows that I didn't crop the image at all, and that the original image that I previsualized, is exactly what you the viewer sees. Alot of documentary photographers in the 60's and 70's printed in this matter to really emphasize their credibility.
Here's a shot from the north eastern corner of California up on the Modoc Plateau.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

serving and protecting

I recently went on a 'ride-along' with a member of one of Patterson's finest... Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Eugene Day.

After brainstorming with the other guys in the office here at the Irrigator about possible photos to go along with the Patterson City Council's decision to renew the contract with the county sheriff's dept. for the next 5 years, I suggested that maybe we should just get some shots of the guys in black doing their thing on the streets... so a 'ride-along' was arranged for last Thursday September 18th.

<Here's a sequence of photos I took, one of which ended up on the cover of the newspaper when we ran the contract renewal story. I ended up taking 10 different photos when Deputy Day pulled up to provide backup for Deputy Wagner on S. Del Puerto, in front of the Total Discount store. I was really trying to incorporate the flashing lights from the vehicles and the available light from the street lights.

I really liked this photo, but Day ended up looking too much like he was from Blue Man Group, so I eliminated it from my choices.

This was my first time meeting deputy Matthew Wagner, so he naturally is looking at me and wondering what the hell it is I'm doing. I didn't normally like people looking in the camera (unless it's unavoidable, and really makes the picture), also Deputy Day is just too dark, and he kind of looks evil with that really red light, so I also nixed this one.
Again... too blue.

This was the fifth shot I took, good expressions on the face, perfect exposure of flashing light on Deputy Day, the color isn't too drastic either. I wished that Wagner's face wasn't as blown out as it was, but there's no way to predict how the flashing lights are going to react during a fraction of a second. Either way, it's easy to tell what they are both doing, it is a pretty sharp photo as well, so this was my #1 choice in photos for the story.

This was the last photo of the sequence I took. After getting the good one I decided to try something newer, a little closer.

Too close. My being closer grabbed their attention too much, causing Day to step back, and Wagner to glance at me once again.

These photos were all taken at ISO 1600, 1/15th of a second @ f4, so even the slightest movement from anyone gives the blurry out of focus effect.>

-Back to my accounts of the ride along-
I arrived to the back door of the police department (the door to go to when you really need to get helped) at around 5:00, filled out some paperwork with Sargeant Banks, and was on my way with Deputy Day patrolling the streets of Patterson in the passenger seat of his Police Interceptor. He was armed with his police issued side arm and an M-16 that was mounted in his car between the seats. I was armed with my Canon 30-D with a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a 17-40mm f/4, ready to capture anything on the camera's digital sensor that I could.
Day asked me what I wanted to see that day and I told him, "whatever it is you do out on the streets."

So he started cruising the streets, first responding to reports that somebody had been seen jumping a fence in Patterson Gardens, possibly making off with some stolen property from an unoccupied home. A vehicle was identified along with a license plate which gave an address off of Kinshire Way here in Patterson. After Day looked for the suspects vehicle in the reported neighborhood, he went to where the registerd owner's address was reported, however the suspect was not at home.

...back to patrolling the streets. Then another call, from a home owner on the 1200 block of Ganet Way who reported his home had been broken into and burglarized. When the victim's address showed up, he automatically knew who it was and told me that his home had already been broken into recently twice before.

Many times during the four hours I spent that evening with Deputy Day I found myself laughing at the jokes and criticisms he offered while driving around town looking for criminals... however this time he was very serious, and very seriously bothered that he missed the crime as it happened. Day would make many passes into Heartland Ranch and Walker Ranch by way of American Eagle (adjacent to Ganet) that day and every other day due to many of the crimes that occur there, and he was upset that this crime happened in broad daylight and he missed it. Apparently someone had broken in through the back glass sliding door, picked up a a widescreen television, and took it out through the front door. He looked for some fingerprints that could have been left behind, and after finding some possible prints, called in the crime scene technician to have the place screened.

...so back to the streets again. I'm glad that the officers on the street take the time to joke and laugh, especially with the very serious job that they have. Maybe it was because Day finally had someone to talk to in his squad car, or because of the novelty of having a photographer follow your every move... I don't know. One thing's for sure though, I definitely felt safe there in the front seat of his car... except when I would bump my elbow on the magazine cartridge of his M-16 assault rifle sitting right next to me.

A few times Deputy Day would end up providing back up for some of the other officers patrolling the streets at the time, and alot of time checking up on areas known for crime. He said that it was a pretty slow day. I wasn't complaining. Any day with less crime in Patterson is a good day.

-Here's another one of the many photos taken that did not work out. It's kind of funny too, every time I would take a shot from inside the vehicle he would ask why I wanted a picture of his big nose. Little did he knows.-

While I'm glad that the city has the sheriff's around to 'protect and serve' us, I am also glad that the city is going to be looking at ways to retain its own police department (again!) by the time the contract is up in 5 years. Right now, many county sheriff's deputies spend only two years in a community before being shipped off. Many county sheriff's look up, toward aspirations of working for the Modesto Police Department, or Turlock Police. Why can't we be the community that police officers want to serve in, instead of only seeing our community as their duty. I've met many great sheriff's deputies here in Patterson that I've gotten to know well, only to find that their time in Patterson is almost all but over. Prior to going on the 'ride-along' I realized that all the deputies on the street (beside deputy Parra) at the time, I did not know at all. While that may be a good thing for some people, I really like to get to know who is protecting and serving our community, don't you?

I really like what the city of Ripon's police department does. They have baseball type cards placed at different sponsoring businesses that showcase the different police officers, what they've done in the community, and how long they've been a part of the force. Something so simple, yet effective in integrating the faces of the police force with the local community, letting people know that these people are here to help us.

Since there is such a high turnover of sheriff's deputies here in Patterson, maybe the City Council should push to have new officers introduced at council meetings more regularly. After all, new city staff and maintenace workers are slated to be introduced at every city council meeting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

shooting agriculture, and riding a tomato harvester

A few days ago editor James Leonard asked for some photos relating to the drought relief story that would likely be featured on the cover of our newspaper. He suggested photographing anything to do with agriculture and maybe try to get some water in the shot.

I immediately thought of an image most of us Westsiders have probably witnessed driving north or south on Hwy 33 during the evening hours, sun hanging low on the horizon, just about to dip below our beautifully untouched rolling coast range hillsides, the sun backlighting row after row of sprinklers irrigating a crop, the mist from the light seems to glow as golden as the dry grass waving on the hillside just beyond.

Low directional light in the morning and evening hours of a day can create dramatic effects in a photograph. Landscape photographers almost always try to photograph during these times of day, the light is very warm, and can add saturation to photographs that you might not get if you shot the same photograph at high noon.

That being the desired effect, all I had to do was wait for the sun to get low, then find a field being irrigated with sprinklers.

After spending some time photographing the high school football team's scrimmage against Ceres High, the sun was just over the tops of the hillsides. By that time I new I only had 20 to 30 minutes of daylight left, so I drove to the elevated banks of the Delta Mendota Canal, just south of Patterson, hoping I would be able to scope out what I was hoping to see from there. I could see south to the Covanta Waste to Energy Plant, and sure enough, between there and the canal were two separate fields being irrigated by sprinklers, one was just adjacent to the canal off of Marshall Rd. I drove up, got on top of my car for an even higher point of view, and got what I needed just before the sun went down.

Being how I love to photograph and document the many different types of agriculture that reside in the central valley, I enjoyed this assignment very much. But one shot wasn't going to do it for a photo package, I would need two or three at least, so I continued to photograph agriculture but I emphasized on the tomato harvesting that happens nearly around the clock this time of year.
I had always been fascinated with the harvest, the processes that takes these plants from their natural environment and readies them for human consumption. Growing up in the country at an early age, being around farming and farm equipment, and going along with my father to the sugar beet fields in the Imperial Valley as he would take loads to 'Holly Sugar' probably attributed to my love of the earth and farming.

So when I was coming home late from Modesto earlier that same day I had to pull over and snap some shots of a tomato harvester filling up trailers full of tomatoes right off of East Las Palmas ave. After photographing a little, two farm hands noticed me and asked if I would like to get some shots while riding the harvester.

"No way," I thought at first, but he was being serious. I totally dig when I get access to or on a piece of moving farm equipment, especially one I haven't been on before like the tomato harvester. It's one thing getting shots of the production from afar, with a telephoto lens, but being right up and in the process can provide for a much more intimate wide angle shot, an image that can hopefully put the reader right there in the action with me.

I switched lenses from the f/2.8 telephoto, to the 17-40mm wide angle and attached the flash to a TTL cord that would allow me to hold the flash separately from the camera. I try to shoot available light as much as possible, even at night, but a bright flash (even though very intrusive) can illuminate so much that you wouldn't be able to get shooting available light.

So, when the machine stopped, I jumped on, and stood on a small catwalk surrounded by railing where I was able to easily see how the entire tomato plant gets scooped up, is separated from the plant, is sorted, and sent into the trailer to be shipped to the cannery. The entire process takes only a matter of seconds. The ride itself reminded me of a carnival ride, swaying back and forth, making sudden stops, my hands suspended in the air (because I was holding the camera in one hand and the off camera flash in the other). After spending 20 to 30 minutes on the harvester it was time for them to shut down. It was about 1:00 am and I was informed that all tomato harvesting has to cease at around this time because the cannery itself shuts down.

All in one day's work. Even though the photos of the harvester never made the print version of the newspaper, nor were used for the drought relief story, I'm glad I got to post them here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A few days off

Running around town on various assignments for the newspaper I see many familiar faces at the many different functions and sporting events that the city has to offer. Sometimes I run into people twice in one day at separate events and a person might say, "hey, you're everywhere!"

Well... sometimes I have to be. Especially in the case of photography. If I miss something, there's no going back. If a fire happens, I can't ask the firefighters to go back later and pose next to the building that burned. If Patterson High beats Central Catholic, I can't go back and ask the quarterback to recreate the game winning touchdown so I can take a picture. When the city maintenance workers cut down the wilted palm trees in the Save Mart parking lot, I couldn't tell them to put them back so I could get some night shots.

You've probably heard this before, but a great deal of capturing an image has to do with being in the right place at the right time (the other main aspect is knowing what to do with your equipment when you get there).

So the more places I can get to, the greater chance I have of finding myself in the right place at the right time.

Needless to say, being on call as the Irrigator's main photographer sometimes takes it's toll on my personal life, and I have to arrange a few consecutive days off to get away and take part in some of the other things that I love so much like... driving, traveling, backpacking and camping, documenting the whole experience along the way through writing and of course through photography.

Ahhhh.... to be free! There's nothing like the feel of the open road in front of you when you have no particular place to go, no particular time to get there, and nobody in particular that you have to meet.

Even during my high school years I can remember getting off of a long day of delivering pizzas at Pizza Plus. With a wad of cash from my tip earnings I would fill up the 22 gallon tank (used to be .99 a gallon) of my 1970 mach I mustang and flip some coins to see if I would be driving north, south, east, or west. Before getting tired and pulling over, I could find myself witnessing the full moon glimmering off of the sheer granite walls and waterfalls of Yosemite Valley, crossing the Golden Gate, or watching the sunrise atop Mt. Hamilton next to the gigantic telescopes of the Lick Observatory.

More recently though, I headed north and found myself in the Oregon Cascades along a fork of the Willamette River just east of Eugene where all of these photos were taken.

I had been in the area a few years back, so I was kind of familiar with the terrain. While looking for a campsite, I met some folks who asked me for a ride a couple miles up the road to where they were staying.

So after making some room in the car we were on our way. I asked them which were the better campsites in the area and they directed me to two separate campsites that bordered a nearby lake. But after giving them a ride they asked if I would rather stay with them at their lakeside campsite tucked away in the woods.

They were good friends with the host of the campsites who originally showed them what I referred to as, their little piece of heaven. Everything was there, food, shelter, beautiful waterfalls, there was even a natural undeveloped hot springs nearby.

They let me stay in their "guest room" (pictured below) which was actually quite comfortable. There I met their resident forest cat named "dice", but they all called it jungle kitty.

Later, sitting around the campfire we all shared stories. I told them about Patterson and some of the big issues going on there, while they told me about growing up on the streets of Eugene and what it was like to have been shot at when being involved around gangs.

They realized that their street life would eventually take its toll on them, so they decided to take the bus one day out of town and into the wilderness surrounding the Willamette River where they were amazed at how nice and giving the people they ran into out there were.

They had been out there for over two weeks now and didn't have any plans on leaving back to Eugene anytime soon.

After a night, I wished them well and was on my way back to Patterson. Not too shabby of a trip for just a weekend.