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Monthly Archives: November 2010

After six months of working, I’ve managed to catch up on my “proof scanning “ chore—when I began focusing on this task back in June, I was about 500 negatives behind—and I shot another 100 negatives since then.  My “workflow” includes a prescan and an 800 dpi scan for each negative, inverting in Photoshop, saving the file, then sharpening a bit and adding a label for a proof print.  I can do about five or six negatives an hour, so the 600 negatives required about 100 hours of time in front of the computer.  I sometimes think about a poker player who talked about the hardest part was just keeping your butt in the chair—with scanning, there are always dead times when it seems necessary to get up and run another errand—but the only way to get the job done is to stay, and focus on getting through the stack.

8-5440 Milk Jug, September, 2009

Six hundred negatives in two years isn’t that many pictures, by current standards.  I once shot ten rolls of 35 mm film in one day (in Philadelphia, at the Beach Boys Concert, July 4, 1984)—360 negatives.  Since the invention of digital, I’ve often taken several hundred images a day—traveling usually—but the barrier to making lots of pictures is so low that I just do it.   But what do you do with so many pictures?

About fifteen years ago, Emmet Gowin came to Fairbanks to give a workshop, and one thing he did was play an audio tape of an interview with Frederick Sommer.  I remember it as being one of the funniest interviews I’ve ever heard—two people talking past each other—the interviewer asking a series of incredibly straight questions, and Frederick Sommer answering on some completely different level.  My recollection is that one question referred to Sommer’s relatively small output as a photographer—only a few hundred negatives in his entire lifetime—and Sommer’s reply was that it was easy to make lots of pictures, but that eventually one stopped being an artist, and became a manager of an archive.

Frederick Sommer, "Ondine", 1950

This being 2010, I did a google search for interviews by Frederick Sommer, and found this interview with Barbaralee Diamondstein.  I think this is the interview Gowin played for us—the question of Sommer’s low productivity is raised, but the answer is different than I remembered it—maybe Gowin added the comment, or maybe I just dreamed it up while sitting in front of my computer—but I do sometimes worry that I may be buried under my archive.

The republishing of “The Pond” with its references to Thoreau’s Walden brings back memories of my own obsession with that book, as a kid in high school, trying to find my way off the farm and into some broader understanding of the world.  My childhood was filled with stories from the Bible, and I think I consumed Thoreau as if it were a sacred text, a path through the wilderness.  The message of simplicity resonated with ideas from my own (Mennonite) community, as did the opposition to war and violence in all forms, but his rejection of the institutions of organized religions while retaining a sense of moral authority was reassuring.

Walden Estates, Fairbanks, July 25, 2010

So I must admit that my mind was twisted by a sign posted on the side of a truck (billboards are not permitted by Alaskan law) advertising “Walden Estates” a few miles from my house this summer.  Somehow the idea of Thoreau as a real estate developer had never occurred to me, especially in Alaska, thousands of miles away from the pond.  But the irony didn’t end with the sign—the development itself had been built as temporary, off-base housing for soldiers from a nearby military base, the cookie-cutter houses seemed as far from Thoreau’s cabin built from scraps as one could imagine, and the close quarters and the lack of privacy seem to mock the idea of solitude or wilderness.

Walden Estates, Fairbanks, July 25, 2010

Maybe this only proves the observation recently made by Kieth Richards that in the long run, it’s very difficult not to become a parody of a persona you try to adopt in your youth.  The house I live in isn’t that much different than the houses in Walden Estates, and my own life is far different from the hermit’s solitude Thoreau proposes.  But I still think they should change the name of the development to “Walled-In Estates”.

Walden Estates, Fairbanks, July 25, 2010