The Majestic Oak

Today’s blog post comes from Kyle Ford. Kyle Ford is an artist and educator currently residing in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate, NY. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design and has been published an exhibited worldwide. Kyle’s work investigates ideas of perception, representation, and interaction surrounding the natural world. For more information and insight into his work please visit: www.kylefordphotography.com

Portrait of Kyle with 8x10

It was a hazy Monday morning in early May 2007. A forest fire had been burning in the Okefenokee Swamp since the weekend and thick smoke had begun to descend upon the coastal city of Savannah, Georgia. That morning I had set out to make a portrait of one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi: The Majestic Oak.

I first came in contact with the tree a week before. Back then, my friend Jarrid Spicer – a great photographer in his own right – and I would often take trips to seek out these ancient sentinels of our country. Our expeditions, more often than not, would end up in forest preserves or state-run parks. Because of their strict environmental regulations and separation from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, these sanctuaries proved to harbor many beautiful old specimens. But this time was different. We found ourselves smack in the middle of a suburban housing development just a few miles southeast of Savannah proper. The development, aptly named Majestic Oaks, was somewhat of an over blown cul-de-sac. At the center of the giant turnaround stood our living relic.

The Majestic Oak, Majestic Oaks Housing Development

With a branch span of over 165 feet and a base girth of 27 feet 8 inches, this 300-plus- year-old tree was enormous. Its trunk alone was wider than I was tall. Its symmetrically shaped branches hung effortlessly, like a cloud descending upon the surrounding landscape. Strands of soft gray Spanish moss draped evenly throughout the tree, while patches of red and green lichen modeled the branches with splashes of texture and color. I instantly thought to myself, “I’m going to need a bigger camera.” Somehow, the prosumer DSLR that I traveled with (mostly for note taking) just wasn’t going to cut it. So much texture, gradation, and detail would be lost to the APS-C sized sensor. I knew to do it justice I would need to capture it in large format on Kodak film.

I returned the following week with my 4×5 K.B. Canham field camera and twelve sheets of Kodak Portra 160NC. This was before the marrying of VC and NC film types. As luck would have it, the haze of smoke from the fire burning in Okenfenokee Swamp had created a beautiful warm diffusion of the morning light. As I stood there setting up my camera, I heard a voice. About 200 feet behind me, a person emerged from a screen door on the back porch of a townhouse. It was the owner of the home on her way to work. She stood behind a waste high stonewall, waving a piece of paper. As I approached her she said, “This is the Majestic Oak,” indicating the paper in her hand. On the paper was an artist’s rendering of the tree. In pen and ink, the tree floated there, isolated on the soft white base of the paper. Absent of background and surrounding context, this “tree” she presented me with looked more like a symbol or an icon of the majestic tree.

We had a short chat about the artist, the history of the ancient oak, and the neighborhood. Before the owner left, she informed me that I was standing right where the artist made the illustration. As I turned to face the tree, from where I stood, I could almost take it all in in one glance. From that distance, The Majestic Oak seemed more like a perfect sculpture than a tree. As I looked around at the surrounding houses I began to realize that similar to the artist’s drawing, this tree itself was an icon.

Separated from the forests that once surrounded it, this tree stands isolated in the center of the cul-de-sac. Akin to a great work of art, it adds value to all the surrounding homes that gaze uponit. A plaque to the left of the tree indicates its title and estimated age. The neighborhood even installed lights to illuminate the treasure year round. At that time, I realized the artist’s rendering hadn’t done something new by isolating and iconizing the tree; that happened long ago, when a decision was made to preserve it.

Its intrepid strength as a living organism aside, The Majestic Oak still stands today for one reason: its aesthetic characteristics. Without those traits, the tree might have fallen the way of the forest that once surrounded it. The Majestic Oak survives as a reminder of a decision made long ago to preserve an aesthetic. Somehow, by photographing the tree, I feel a connection to the countless others who along the way chose to preserve its beauty, iconizing it in one form or another – be it pen and ink, poetry, photography, or even the seemingly small, yet lasting decision, not to let the tree fall subject to human development.

I knew I had to take my photograph from the exact spot where I stood and where I’m sure so many have stood before me. I had to create an image that would consume the viewer the way the tree consumed me.

I set up my camera once more. Originally, I had intended to use a wide-angle 90mm lens (roughly equivalent to a 28mm lens in 35mm) but upon looking at the ground glass I realized that the aspect ratio and detail in texture still left a lot to be desired. I needed the final image to have a large enough native resolution to produce a print the size of the wall with tack sharp detail you could get lost in. So I decided to transfer a technique that was common in digital photography to my view camera practice. I would shoot several negatives and stitch them together digitally to make one seamless photograph. This is one of the many reasons why I religiously shoot Kodak. The Kodak Portra series has a phenomenal film grain that produces unparalleled depth in tonal gradation and texture when scanning. Shooting Kodak allows me to practice a kind of hybrid technique of shooting film and scanning for digital process and output.

I switched lenses and grabbed my Symmar-S 210mm. At that distance, distortion caused by rotating the angle of the camera would be minimized, and I could easily set my aperture to the middle (f22) and sharpest point of the lens, still obtaining the full depth of field I required in the shot. I then divided the tree into six different quadrants and made an identical exposure of each, leaving a small amount of overlap to line up the negatives in  post. I returned to the lab, processed the film, scanned each sheet in 16 bit at 2400 dpi resolution, and began the week long stitching process. I opted not use any automated stitching programs to minimize any distortion automation might create and instead used layer masks and blending modes to stitch the negatives.

In technical terms, the end result was a 4GB file that could produce a seamless mural sized print of up to 10ft x 5ft at a resolution of 300dpi. For me, the final image was a small tribute to the beauty of The Majestic Oak and the simple decision made long ago to preserve it.

 

Film Photography Day 2013

Tomorrow is Film Photography Day!

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Lomo created Film Photography Day to celebrate analogue! My colleague, Lars Fiedler, over in Germany chatted with Lomo and we are happy to support the day with Kodak film!

April 12 will be filled with parties, events and workshops across the world. You can search for or start your own Film Photography Day celebration using Meetup. Lomo even provided a downloadable party kit! We have sent Kodak film to Lomo to include in their “Analogue Goodie Packs” they are sending out to events with more than 30 participants.

For those of you that can’t make it to a meetup, don’t worry! We have something planned!

Tomorrow, Friday, April 12 we have enlisted photographers around the world to give away Kodak film on Twitter for 12 hours!

Each photographer has one Kodak film goody bag to give away. It is an assortment of 12 different kinds and formats. Each person will have their own way to enter. You have one hour to enter for each photographer and they will announce the winner at the end of the hour.

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Sorting through some of the Kodak film for prizes

Below are the photographer’s twitter links and the times (All Eastern Standard Time) they will be giving away their film goody bag.

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6 am to 7 am – @jonaspeterson
Jonas Peterson – Brisbane, Australia | http://jonaspeterson.com

7 am to 8 am – @micmojo
Jan Scholz – Brussels, Belgium | http://www.micmojo.com

8 am to 9 am- @filmsnotdead
Film’s Not Dead – London, UK | http://filmsnotdead.com

9 am to 10 am- @stillshootfilm
Rachel Rebibo – Paris, France | http://istillshootfilm.org

10 am to 11 am- @ctwphoto
Tim Massie – Albany, NY | http://www.timmassie.com

11 am to noon – @rnmphotography
Ryan Muirhead – Utah | http://www.ryanmuirhead.com

12 pm to 1 pm – @shawnhoke
Shawn Hoke – Brooklyn, NY, US | http://shawnhoke.com

1 pm to 2 pm – @kylebcool
Kyle Bromley – Jacksonville, FL | http://www.kbromleyphoto.com

2 pm to 3 pm – @JosephPrezioso
Joeseph Prezioso – New England/Las Vegas | http://www.josephprezioso.com

3 pm to 4 pm- @hanlonfiske
Hanlon Fiske Studio – Rochester, NY | http://hanlon-fiske.com

4 pm to 5 pm- @jonathancanlas
Jonathan Canlas – Lehi, UT | http://filmisnotdead.com

5 pm to 6 pm- @juliagaldo
Julia Galdo – Los Angeles, CA | http://www.jucophoto.com

6 pm to 7 pm- @erickimphoto
Eric Kim – Los Angeles, CA | http://erickimphotography.com/blog

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Be sure to follow all these awesome film photographers and watch their twitter feeds on April 12!

As for us here in Rochester, we are having a Film Photography Day meet-up too! Hosted by the fine folks at Hanlon Fiske Studio, we will get together to look at photos we have all taken and enjoy some analogue camaraderie.

I am taking prints of these photos I shot on Kodak film in the abandoned Rochester Subway.

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I hope everyone has big plans for this year’s Film Photography Day!

Guest blogger: Holly Hughes, Editor, Photo District News

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Photo District News recently announced our 2013 PDN’s 30 new and emerging photographers to watch. Now in its 14th year, this special issue and online gallery, http://pdn30.pdnevents.com/gallery/2013/ celebrates 30 photographers who have worked as professionals for five years or less, selected by PDN’s editors from more than 300 portfolios submitted from around the world.  The announcement of our selection elicited the reaction we’ve come to expect: excitement, curiosity, warm congratulations for the selected photographers and some grumblings, mostly from veteran photographers, about all the attention lavished on upstarts. But PDN’s 30 is more than a showcase for new talent. It also has an educational mission.

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Our profiles of the PDN’s 30 include details about how they honed their photographic vision, the challenges they’ve faced in launching their photographic careers and the most valuable lessons they’ve learned so far. With the support of sponsors like Kodak and other companies committed to helping professional photographers succeed, PDN holds panels at photo schools and workshops around the country. During these panels, some of the PDN’s 30 photographers share with students and aspiring professionals their real-world experience of getting started in today’s competitive and rapidly evolving business. Not so long ago, the PDN’s 30 photographers sat where these students are now: Uncertain how to approach clients or galleries, unaware how much to charge for their work or where to turn for advice. It’s encouraging for students to hear how these emerging photographers learned the ropes, what they use, how they found their own voice and style, how they shoot. The majority of this year’s PDN’s 30 say they shoot film, in fact. But what I think what makes their stories interesting is not only the technical information they share, but the inspiration they offer to photographers at every stage of their careers.

It's Not What She Said, It's How She Said It…

Spread of food and homemade pretzels at Easy Tiger in Austin, Texas

How are the PDN’s 30 chosen? Based on the recommendations of photo editors, gallery directors, curators, art directors, photographers and educators, as well as suggestions made by PDN’s editors based on work we’ve seen throughout the year, we invite photographers to submit work that we review (and re-review) and debate. We look for the qualities that are essential for a long and creative career—a distinctive vision, versatility, and a proven ability to experiment and to complete interesting, enterprising projects. We strive to represent a mix of subjects and genres, including portraiture, fashion, photojournalism, fine art, editorial and commercial work. Once we’ve made our selections, the fun begins. As PDN’s senior editor Conor Risch writes in his letter introducing the 2013 PDN’s 30, “One of the satisfying aspects of working on the PDN’s 30 feature each year is the opportunity we have to get to know the people behind the portfolios of images that stood out to us.” No two photographers have shared the same path to success, but they are all share a passion for photography that is infectious.

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When I prep photographers to speak on PDN’s 30 panels, I always tell them that the students appreciate candid talk about setbacks and mistakes. What’s impressed me most, however, about the enterprising PDN’s 30 photographers of the last two to three years, is their ingenuity. In covering the professional photography market today for PDN, we hear a lot about how the traditional business models are changing. Fewer clients underwrite assignments; the gallery world has contracted; advertisers are cautious about taking risks on new talent or new ideas. In a rapidly changing marketplace, many established photographers are scrambling to adapt. But photographers who got their start within the last five years have no preconceived notions about how the business is “supposed to work.” They’re coming up with new ways to fund their projects and get their work seen.  They’re open-minded about the media, platforms and techniques they use to tell their stories. They don’t let categories like fine art or commercial photography define who they are.

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PDN’s 30 photographers may be newcomers, but they’ve put a lot of work into finding something interesting to say and crafting an original way to say it. They’re deeply committed to sharing the stories they want to tell and they’re confident that if they stay true to themselves, someone will pay attention. If you want an idea of where the photo industry is headed, you could do worse than to look to these future stars who are reinventing the business as they go.

Hogslop String Band, Harpeth River, TN

Photographing Winter

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I think Winter gets the short end of the stick when it comes to photography. It doesn’t seem like we take as many photos in the cold weather as we do in the summer. Even though there are plenty of winter activities and photo ops.

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Whenever we get a significant snowfall I take my camera out.

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I especially like to get photos of my favorite furry subjects.

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This winter I even took some night shots after a big snow storm.

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It was so bright out it almost looks like daytime! I’m so glad I ventured out.

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Living where we do, the cold weather encourages us to participate in winter sports. Snowshoeing…

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Ice skating….

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Also snowboarding, cross country skiing, sledding and snow tubing. I’ve even thought about ice fishing. All these deserve to be captured in photos to be remembered later on.

Here are some good winter photography tips that can help you get the best photos out in the snow.

5 Uncommon Snow Photography Tips That Can Transform Your Winter Scenes.” from Digital Photography School

Snow photos: Five top tips for great shots in the snow.” from Pocket-lint

Snow Photography: Tips to help make sure snow stays white and bright” from Better Photographs.com

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I think my next photo book won’t be of the beach. Time to head to a Kodak Picture Kiosk. Winter photos can make great photo books, cards and collages!

Find a Kiosk Picture Kiosk near you.

The Kodak Sponsored “Developing Lives” Photography Program

Developing Lives is a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) photography program partnered with the Eastman Kodak Company. The program provides residents living in New York public housing with one-time-use Kodak cameras and educational-training workshops. The participants create a visual and oral history of daily life that, without being heavy-handed, effectively counters many popular misconceptions about life in public housing. NYCHA residents are most often on the other side of the camera lens; Developing Lives turns that paradigm on its head.

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The project was piloted at the Manhattanville Houses in Harlem in the fall of 2010, with some 20 participants equally divided between seniors and children. The project has been expanded to include a total of fifteen developments in three boroughs with close to two hundred participants.

Just this fall, the Developing Lives program added a lecture-style class setting for seniors, in addition to the classes held in a small classroom environment. The lecture classes are similar in nature to a college-level photography class and offered for free to any resident living in public housing. Currently, classes have included about 10 participants per session from 5 developments; the lecture series includes 25-50 participants and is advertised to all seniors across all NYCHA developments.

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Each Developing Lives session includes weekly one-hour classes that run for a twelve-week period. Each week instructors demonstrate a new photography technique (light, shadow, camera language, etc.) and introduce a well-known photographer whose work exemplifies that technical style. The one-time-use Kodak cameras are distributed at the start of every class and returned the following week. The film is then processed and photographs reviewed and returned. Participants are asked to bear in mind the new photography technique when documenting their lives throughout the week.

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In addition to teaching technical skills, Developing Lives also helps participants become documentary photographers. The classes discuss the art of storytelling through a photograph. All photographs are paired with handwritten captions from the photographer.

The photographs are displayed on our Studio NYCHA website, which was launched shortly after the Developing Lives program piloted in 2010  (www.StudioNYCHA.org/DevelopingLives).

The New York Daily News ran a full-page article about Developing Lives in March 2011, at the end of the pilot program.  The piece demonstrates that the truer aspects and creative richness of daily life in public housing can garner the attention of the broader public, in stark contrast to typical negative coverage. Through participatory photography, Developing Lives gives residents control over their own narrative. As one senior participant who never used a camera before put it, “Holding up the photographs of my neighbors and neighborhood was like holding up a mirror to myself and allowing me to see things I never noticed before.”

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In addition to Kodak, which donated over 300 cameras, Developing Lives’ other private sector partners include Dell Computers, one of America’s most admired American corporations, who provided laptop computers at no cost; Seeing for Ourselves, a not-for-profit grassroots photography organization that helped initiate the Developing Lives program­ and conceive StudioNYCHA.org; and Duggal Visual Solutions, a premier American imaging studio (with a client-list that includes MoMA, The Whitney, and The Smithsonian, along with many Fortune 500 corporations), which provided all lab work at cost.

Meet our team:

ImageProject Creator, George Carrano organized and curated “50 Years on the Frontlines,” a retrospective of the works of top war photojournalist Philip Jones Griffiths that The New York Times called “One of the great tragic portraits of their time, and required viewing in ours.” And in a participatory photography exhibit curated by George, “Unbroken: Photography Subjects Speak Out”, photographers from around the world provided a visual journey of their daily lives —”poignant,” The New York Times termed.

ImageCity-Wide Project Director, Chelsea Davis was born and raised in New York City. Chelsea previously established two programs in participatory photography. In 2004 she created an art class for autistic children at the Association for MetroArea Autistic Children in New York, and the success of that program motivated her to set up a similar class in 2007 in the pediatric oncology ward of St. Louis Children’s Hospital. She believes in the communicative power of art and hopes to share this with the participants of Developing Lives.

Lily Randall has ably assisted the Developing Lives program since the summer of 2012.

A special thanks to the Kodak team for helping make the Developing Lives program possible.