Connecting with People


Doing portraits is one way I’ve connected with people. Using a large, slow camera and explaining the procedure really brings the subject into the process. These images are about to resurface.

My friends Dave and Anna recently got in touch with me, asking if I’d take part in a new show about artists. Of course, I accepted. I’ve selected 6 portraits, including the one above, all done with the same wooden camera and old brass lens. Being a part of this show will, in its own way, connect me to Dave and Anna’s artist community. I’m looking forward to it.

Happy Birthday, Brother.

It’s difficult to believe my little brother turns 35 today. As we grew up together, I always did my best to answer his never-ending list of questions about how the world worked. That mentor role has brought so much joy and purpose into my life, even today. I hope his curiosity never fades.

Friends Forever,
Jason S.

Raygun Gothic Rocket

The Raygun Gothic Rocket, on its last day in San Francisco.

The Embarcadero in San Francisco is home to several large public art installations. One of my favorite has been the Rocket. When I learned that it was leaving the city, I decided to take one last photo (my first in LF).

I packed up my 8×10 camera and headed down there, to find I was the fourth person there with a camera. I composed and focused, made two exposures, and returned home. I had written the following notes:

  • 4a iso 800 f/16 1s
  • 3a iso 1600 f/32 2s

After my first exposure, of course, I wondered if I’d stopped down enough. There was a seagull perched on top of the rocket, too. Shoot. I took the back off the camera and eyed the coverage. I decided to stop down a little more, wait for the bird to get bored and fly off, wait for passers-by to get out of my camera’s view, then took one last exposure in bulb mode (counting 2 seconds). Taking a single shot seems risky to me in Large Format, so I always take at least two, each in different double-darks. And it gives me a chance to correct mistakes I catch after the first exposure. I considered this one done, so I packed up and headed home. Walking back to the BART station, I wondered to myself.. should I have taken another shot? Nah, too embarassing to show up again and set the camera up a second time.

cinematic san francisco


recently i got a new lens for my M4-P — a summicron 35mm, the fourth version or “bokeh king”. this one in particular is revered for how it renders out of focus areas. i’ve often felt the 28mm was too wide on this camera. funny, since i generally shooting with wide angle lenses. as the leica is more of a carry-everywhere camera, what i shoot is quite different than when i’m doing portraits or otherwise shooting architecture.

i was shooting the first of two test rolls with the camera and new lens last weekend. i stopped in my tracks on market street downtown, when i saw a girl crouching down on the street with a bolex. shooting video on film? i had to learn more. she was shooting towards the steam and sun, her husband was walking towards here. when they stopped, i struck up a conversation about their camera. it turns out they were shooting tri-x like me, and we exchanged meter readings. it was so nerdy. in any case, i can see why they were shooting at this place and time — the combination which totally made this shot below. the light, the steam, the environment. i shot a few frames as i talked to them. this image seems to not only shine in its own right, it captures the mood of my conversation with this young couple.

san francisco is just so beautiful. i prefer to walk around when i can, and when i do i am always noticing new things – beautiful light and shadow, curious juxtapositions, and interesting characters. i find myself missing the city when i’m gone. no wonder they were filming there, at that place and at that time. i’m glad to have shared this moment and crossed paths with this like-minded couple.

Please do not smile.

Last night was my fourth year attending Ryan’s company’s annual holiday party. The last time I went, I met this guy Joseph — an interesting character, very flamboyant, very into fashion. I had my Crown Graphic with me at the time, so our conversation led to portraits. He suggested that I do one of him, but that it should be very “kind”. I apologized to him, as my portraits are very.. how should I put it.. well, unkind. That was that.

Like many employees and their plus-ones, I ran into Joseph again last night at the annual party. This time, I explained myself a little better with regards to portraits. Here’s the gist of what I said:

I do no special tricks, no manipulations, or fakery. That is actually what fashion photography is largely about these days, and I am not into fashion photography.

For me, doing a portrait of someone is all about what goes on before the exposure, not what happens afterwards. The meeting, the education about the camera, lens, and process. Getting comfortable and composed, dropping pretenses and attitudes just as the shutter clicks.

In that split second, what is left of the mind of the subject is their essence. Giving no real instruction other than to relax and to not “smile” as many people do in pictures, their personality comes through. A large sheet of film, a close-up view of the subject through glass.. it’s a very close and telling view of someone. It records a large amount of detail in a very real and honest way. Nearly to a fault.

What follows is not a doctoring of the image, but a craftful reproduction of it onto paper. A straight contact print, one of the purest forms of darkroom work. Just trying to get a good representation of tones. Doing a contract print does not really even require much more than a light bulb and a piece of glass.

For a brief moment, I think Joseph really considered letting me photograph him. I will follow-up with an email this time, not letting the memory fade this year.

Even without shooting Joseph, the process of large format portraiture has created an understanding and connection.

I am looking forward to shooting more portraits this year.

Another FSF.

This past weekend was Folsom Street Fair. It’s an annual BDSM and leather subculture fair with fundraising events, parties, exhibitors (crafts, art, pornography, etc.), music, and general mayhem. For a consistent event like this, it’s increasingly difficult to come up with fresh ideas or photograph unique scenes. For me, it was a chance to get back into the street portrait mindset. Difficult for me, maybe moreso than it needs to be, but it is what it is. To those that frequent the fair, it’s a chance to explore, share, and exhibit fetish and sexuality in a public environment.

These images taken with a Crown Graphic. TMAX100 at 100, Rodinal 1+50 for 13 minutes. Negative scan, invert, trim, adjust levels, resize.

Paul at Zip Zap

Yesterday I got back three rolls of color film I’d dropped off at the lab. One of them was my first color roll in the new camera, but the other two were mysteries. One of them turned out to be a roll I shot in the Widelux F7. I still have a significant backlog of unprocessed film, most of it is years old at this point. It’s amazing that latent images on film can keep for so long. Just a brief flash of light, to be chemically revealed years later.

Image: Paul cutting hair at Zip Zap, Lower Haight in San Francisco.