A fascinating insight into the world of a fine art film photographer and how his work has been impacted by the overwhelming influx of commoditized digital technology. Jan Faul is an accomplished photographer specializing in panoramic landscapes. His work has been shown around the world and published by National Geographic. Jan is committed to capuring his photos on film despite all odds. This is an inspirational personal account of creative discovery and nostalgia for greater appreciation of the skill required to create film photography and the value it represents.
The idea of composing on a small screen with no viewfinder brings up a list of irreversible errors. If I were composing on a laptop, that might be better. But that still leaves doubts as the file is final. Film is too, but since every film image costs something most people tend to be more careful when money is being spent. Digital cameras and accessories have been shown to be more expensive than film cameras, but people still see image making as free. Digital photography is mostly more casually composed, perhaps even on the fly without much forethought because you can always take another 300+ shots if you feel like it.
Ansel Adams taught his students to pre-visualize so that when the image appeared in two dimensions instead of three and possibly in black and white rather than the color of real life, they would not lose focus. He tried to make us understand what the image would look like before it appeared in the developing tray. He was correct in his thinking, yet today very few working photographers have read his books filled with timeless advice. It only had one purpose: to give photographers a foundation.
The rocket is not really a V-2, but a replica developed by Werner von Braun after WW2. It is a Hermes A-1. It is on loan by the Smithsonian. The gantry is original and was used for many rocket launches. Getting in there took years.
It doesn’t take me any longer to compose with a film camera than it does with digital. But unlike digital, film gives one an indication of what there is to be worked with, whereas the digital file is final. If one fails to shoot a RAW file, the party is over before you begin as a JPG is a file set in stone. The reason I do not shoot digital is that I am neither wealthy nor self-centered enough to work with a medium format digital camera costing more than my car and which despite all its sophistication, still needs to be tethered to a laptop.
I shoot panoramas and so does a friend, but the similarity ends there. I work with panorama cameras and film and he works with stitching. If I go out to shoot, I get in my car, and follow my nose as it were to whatever panoramic opportunities I find. Kevin must do a lot of preplanning and scouting prior to making a panorama. If I am in the mood and the light is right, I might produce 20 ‘selects’ while Kevin is working on one. If I work in the winter at 41F (5C) and possibly in a nice drizzle to get the best from wet stone, I can work wonders. I have no idea what a stitched shot would look like with changing light conditions, a light rain and nearly freezing temperatures and I have no desire to find out. Even worse, I’m not sure a DSLR would stand up to the rain and cold.
Kevin can take a half day of setup plus shooting the hundreds or thousands of images to be stitched and then it may take 24+ hours to accomplish the stitching. OK, fine, it’s digital and almost immediate. I get my film souped and put into pages and I take it home to scan. My workflow is such that I take time to work with my shots, and when a suitable amount of consideration has taken place, I drop my film on a scanner and make 300MB print files which then get massaged to suit my intent or desire.
This monument was made for the 60th Anniversary of D-Day and stands near the original monument. D-day was on June 6, 1944 and was the start of the liberation of the Continent from nazi occupation. My father’s family fled Prague in 1939, so the D-Day invasion beaches and the fight for freedom which came with the 2.5 million men (mostly) is inspirational for me. I first went to Omaha Beach with my parents and only recall the bad weather and the piles of rusting material.
About the time reasonable digital printing was developed by Epson, I was diagnosed with an allergy to P-Methylaminophenol sulfate, which is the active ingredient in paper developer. I was forced to wear a respirator in my well-ventilated darkroom.
Those early printers had fugitive color inks and the only inkset not disappearing at the drop of a hat was called Lysonic and it featured excellent permanence but with a reduced color gamut. In the mid- to late 1990’s it was produced for Iris printers. If we still depended on the problematic and difficult to maintain Iris printers, the digital print revolution never would have taken place. They were expensive and if you turned one off, the inks solidified as they were heated and would not flow at room temperature.
Jeff Ball, a chemist and inventor of various things revolving around printing, started Lyson with some friends and investors, and when I met him in 1999, Lyson was just introducing their new line of Fotonic inks for Epson printers. Using their inks had some issues, but in general it was refreshing to use a dye ink with greater color gamut.
This is a demonstration of the power of the XPan and its wonderful 30mm lens. The doors are in Scotland.
Yes, the market has changed, and the worst part is that the market has gotten dumber than it used to be. I’m not referring to commercial photography, where people work on deadline and the deadline always seems to be before the shot is made.
In the world of ‘fine art’, the art is no longer as fine. Everybody now has a digital printer big enough to make a salable print.'Good enough’ is the new standard and ‘great’ is no longer required. Too many times photographers miss printing flaws and so put defective prints on sale. There is a setting on Epson printers called “High Speed.” Everybody uses it, but the secret to better prints is to never use it.
Fine art photographers today suffer from increased competition from amateurs who have bought themselves (for example) a Canon 5Dii, zoom lens, and an Epson 7900 in order to become ‘professional’. Unfortunately digital processes have made photography into something any idiot can pursue. Film cameras were the same, but producing work on film is more labor intensive, not so automatic, and one has to think to make good prints.
Manufacturers like Epson have learned from prior models to make printers literally ‘plug ‘n play’. In the early days of digital printing a lot could go wrong prior to making one’s first print, but today under the guise of making the process foolproof, Epson sells printers which are self-calibrating, self-cleaning, self-adjusting and which use more consumables than ever. This is Epson’s goal. They are in business to sell as much as possible. Epson rebrands products, rather than making them. This is not to say they are hacks, as through the years they have become much more responsive to consumer needs.
This statue is at the top of Little Roundtop, at the center of Gettysburg Battlefield, which in 1863, featured 150,000 combatants. I chose to shoot it on a day when there was a dense fog, thereby eliminating any chance of seeing what the general had been trying to see. I imagine as he stood there peering through the gunpowder smoke his view was similar to mine.
An important number to consider is an estimate of Epson’s printer sales for 2000 to 2010. Rumors say Epson sold about 2500 7x00 printers a week worldwide for ten years. The math gives an estimated sales total of 1.3 million 7x00 printers in a decade. They all need ink and they all need paper and Epson will give you lots of illogical reasons not to use third party supplies. They never mention saving money.
Yesterday a stockbroker called up to discuss what kind of ‘setup’ to get although he already has an old EOS. I forced him to consider buying a new camera so as to avoid pixelation issues. He asked if an Epson 7900 was ‘enough’ or should he get an Epson 11880?
Buying a £8500 printer requiring £1700 in new inks ten prints after startup is crazy for anybody not immediately making money with their printer. He says he wants to sell prints ‘at the mall’, although he also claims to be a visionary. I told him he is the first visionary with an iPhone camera and as such, I hope he wins a Nobel prize.
Digital cameras satisfy the ‘gadget’ craving many of us have for ever more sophisticated machines to assist us with doing things ‘better’.
Getting into these places is always a nightmare. AMARC was a little different. A few days before I had been at the Pima Air & Space museum and when I asked their curator how many planes they had she proudly announced “284”. The morning we were being driven around AMARC, I asked the same question and got this response: “As of 8AM, we had 4,458 aircraft.” One of the activities taking place that day was the chopping up of decommissioned B-52’s in line with the START treaty. As we walked around the sometimes whole and sometimes chopped planes, all I could think about was the colossal waste of money in building those goddamned bombers in the first place. I am something of a pacifist and although airplanes are nice to shoot, and so are battlefields, I am not a warmonger.
I shoot 99% film, although I made about 3,000 shots of a house being constructed for record shots. They are about equal to 500 rolls of 120 film. This is more than I shoot in a year, but 500+ rolls could be scanned, massaged and breathed on to become the lifeblood of my vision. Only film can do that. I feel that digital is another turn of the wheel in the documentation of life with image making machines.
In the summer of 1966, I worked in a camera store in Washington DC, and the movie Blowup, which inspired us to buy Nikons opened just up the road. As I recall, the camera shop sold 50 Nikon F body and lens kits two days after the movie opened. Throughout the fall and winter, Nikons continued to rocket out of the store. With them of course went film, lenses, light meters, enlargers, and other peripherals.
David Hemmings played the part of a photographer in swinging London and the movie had him doing all the right things. He drove a Rolls, had a carriage house for a studio, and of course aspiring models showed up to impress him with their blasé attitudes about nudity and sex. Best of all, he shot with a black body Nikon.
Suddenly everybody had to have a Nikon F. I couldn’t afford one, so I did the next best thing. I played with the Nikons in the store. For the rest of the year and into the next one, the Nikon F was king and for a lot of reasons it trounced the Pentax I used.
This image is one of those which require an extra dollop of interpretation. The light was harsh midday Mississippi sunlight and I could have stuck around for it to change, but it would have taken all afternoon. A proud southern guy had just wasted several hours of my time in sending me around on a wild goose chase and so I was in a bit of a hurry. His headquarters was in the building in whose shadow I am standing. It was flanked by a couple of uninteresting buildings, one of which had scaffolding on it. So I improvised. I interpreted and used the shadow as the reminder of his HQ. His former headquarters also needed some work and appears to be a rooming house.
I began my photography career in 1970, and on my second day at work the equipment manager took me camera shopping to replace what the photographer before me had used. They bought me Nikon F’s with a half dozen lenses including some of the best glass ever. I got a case filled with bodies and lenses and a very heavy shoulder bag. My shoulder bag carried three bodies and lenses, and today I still have sore shoulders.
In the late 1970’s Canon offered me a loaner kit with lenses and a couple of F1’s for an assignment and they were wonderful. The Nikons went on the block the next month. Nikon, in their ineffable wisdom, made their system focus from infinity backwards from what Leica, Canon and Pentax were doing. This made using a Nikon and any other camera like a Leica with a 21mm Super-Angulon rather difficult.
The place was obviously closed and presented this scene. Although under different management, it is still open today.
Camera bodies and lenses got better through the 1980‘s, but when my phone rang one afternoon in 1987, and the caller asked if I would like to borrow a Canon autofocus system for a week, I jumped at the chance. I was to shoot a soccer match and so brought along my T-90 and the 650. It was a slaughter. I shot about ten rolls on each camera. My T-90’s made 90% out of focus motion shots and the borrowed 650 made 90% in focus shots. A few weeks later I ditched the T-90‘s and bought the EOS system.
The irony is that within five years I had abandoned 35mm. Today I rarely use 35mm. When I do, it is a viewfinder camera. I use my digital EOS as I dislike digital in general. I mostly work with medium format film cameras and I suppose will until I stop shooting pictures.
The only problems arising from using film cameras is going through an airport. Security wants to know why I am not shooting digital although it is none of their business. Immediately thereafter they want to look at the 150+ rolls of film lying there unopened in lead bags. I try to go through the airport wearing a National Geographic hat as then I can rest my hat on my bag and they immediately back off.
In Britain they look at the bags but that’s it. Lead bags are pretty common at Heathrow, but oddly, not in the US. I should have been traveling with lead bags from the beginning, as the X-rays coming through the skin of the plane are far worse than anything one gets exposed to in an airport.
This picture was made on a Pentax 67 while on a grant from the Smithsonian to study the occupational folklife of the locksmen.
I am redesigning my web site currently, and my designer was just noting yesterday that there are no shots on it made with a digital camera. As she noted, “That’s pretty unusual these days.” I guess it is, but until somebody can tell me why I should be using a digital panorama camera listed at about the same price as a Volvo XC70 and tethered to a laptop, I will stick with film.
A worker shot from the street in NYC, while on assignment.
From 1993 to 2010, Jan received support from a foundation to photograph the US and Europe. It was a wonderful opportunity, and if a doctor had not made a medical mistake and caused him to lose his left foot, he would still be doing it today. Jan's work is available at Gallery 1839 in London and at Wohlfarth Galleries in Washington DC.