Fake it ’til you Make it

Maybe I should have asked my friends–the few who haven’t been badgered into participation on this blog at this point–to weigh in on 2015, new starts, and old habits that die hard in the face of the desire to change.

But that would have been a lot of work, and I’m not in the mood to persuade people to use this platform to express themselves. I mean, if you need to be persuaded, maybe a Studiola residency isn’t the right thing for you at this juncture…

full dollhouseHere is the thing about trying to change. It’s really hard to change and build new habits to reach new goals (or the same old goals you haven’t progressed toward) with the same tools you’ve been using.
cali dollhouse

Take my dollhouse. I found it really hard to devise a project that would somehow transcend the basic layout of the bedrooms.

So I ended up just coloring inside the lines, using each room to contain a different state I’ve lived in.

ny dollhouse

That got old pretty fast. But finding addresses for the past nine or ten years–wow! Research effort that could have been better applied to a paying job.

Flee, Dream, or Leap: the three basic motivations I’ve decided prompt all these moves.

youbehome My current habitat, New Orleans, found its way to the attic of the dollhouse.

There are still plenty of places where studs or supports or whatever you call the framework for a house should go.

dadghost And now they are empty spaces that make perfect homes for the ghosts in my life, who occupy just as much energy as geographical fleeing and experience’s baggage. I’m of the opinion that trying to bottle your ghosts in the hopes they’ll suffocate and die (hint: they don’t need air) or attempting to deny their existence–are futile and sometimes self sabotage.

We’ve all got them. It’s how you choose to live with them–that’s the stuff of intention and sometimes nightmares. Give them some boundaries. You may as well–they’re not going anywhere. Amy Poehler, in her new memoir Yes Please, talks about her gremlin voice, amalgamation of ghost-like self-doubts and criticism, which she regularly talks to. “Please don’t talk to my friend Amy like that,” she says.

New Year’s Revolution-ary question number #2: Where do your ghosts live?

January 2015 is I-Don’t-Know

Steve Spehar has completed his residency at the Studiola, and I’m so honored that he chose to exercise his steely discipline and multi-media talents on this blog for his one-a-day shoot-and-write 31 day challenge. December 2014 was filled with high quality content and a heart full of effort and reflection, and if you are just browsing by, I encourage you to check out some of Steve’s posts. He is not just a writer, he’s also a photographer. He’s not just a playwrite, he’s also a bartender. He didn’t just take pictures, he gave himself a daily assignment. And on those travels around New Orleans, he didn’t limit himself to his preconceived ideas of theme and focus. He met people, and interviewed them for the blog. He didn’t just interview people. He chose thoughtfully, and he listened. He didn’t just shoot pictures and interview people; he explored himself as an artist and this city he calls home. Even the days he was tired and told me he was really stretching for content, the dude researched references connected to his thoughts and captured a day in the life of an inquisitive artist who has a deep interest in process.

Steve taught me a lot about what good can come of not knowing, and acting out of curiosity about the uncertain, instead of fear of it.*

Sunday night, he leaned over a few glasses of wine and asked me, “who’s your curator for January?”

I didn’t know. I still don’t.

Normally, I’d have a list, an excessively thorough pitch to people, a schedule, and copious post-its laying about, spitballing avenues and ideas. And I would definitely have made up an answer–because that’s how I usually roll. Fix. Solve. Plug up holes.

nyeBut shit, life is loud, and I’ve been too busy to think about this stuff. I’m starting to wonder if maybe when you don’t know what to do, maybe you shouldn’t do anything.


I have the back of my old dollhouse, salvaged from an unpleasant afternoon with my late father. I recently took it out from behind a couch, and these days I stare at it a lot. I used to think it was a talisman, and if I could just come up with the right art project, I could channel it for great wisdom and healing of my past. Sometimes I think I will rebuild the thing, other times I think I’ll glue a lot of random crap on it. “Should I burn it?” I ask in my more dramatic, pyro moments. (The cleansing power of fire? Been there, done that.) Right now, I like just looking at it, and thinking about how much potential there is in the outline of a house, before all the decorating decisions have been made. I love this moment, the moment before the beginning sets so many things in motion, or, on my glass-half-empty-days, in stone.

People say that writers have only two or three ideas and they spend their entire careers revolving around those ideas, worrying them like pieces of clay, shaping them this way and that to convey and discover truths that palpitate just under the surface of the obvious. Maybe this is mine–wishing we could stay in that moment before the beginning just a little longer.

full dollhouse

The back of a dollhouse, torn from its studs and its floors, with only the vague outline of past compartments to guide the eye, invites me to imagine all sorts of ways to decorate and shape space. It’s my Porn of Potential, my fetish of Unending Possibility. But look at all the restrictions tatooed on that thing! The rooms, the layout–they are all set in stone. How much potential is there, really, in this dollhouse footprint? How much hope is there in the moment before a beginning, if you’re staring at a cookie-cutter layout? Rebuild the thing? Really? Why?

Let 2015 be a year of revolution/ let some new ways of thinking in, a bit loosed from the rusted clamps that have become too tight fitting for the expanding potential of our brains.

dollhouse peekthru

Those are great ideas, right? Easy to write and say, but I have no idea how to do any of that. I have litrally (as Chris Traeger would say) no idea how to answer the call to action that Steve makes in his final post.

I don’t know, Steve.

Steve didn’t give us answers or a rulebook. I know, I know. That’s the point. Well, frankly, that’s terrifying.

How to begin the new year with no curator, no answers, no rulebook. Maybe we start with questions instead of answers.

Have you been using the outlines of your past as blueprints for your future without even realizing it? Do you fend off fear by scrambling for answers?

noir dollhouse room

Has that been working out?


*If you stopped by the blog to read Steve; thanks, and I hope to continue to deliver content as interesting and wide-reaching as his was. 

Dec. 31 / Not the Last Day

I have a thought to share on this last day of another year gone by.  Your best year yet.  Your worst year.  Your year could have been better.

Couldn’t they always. Here’s an idea, and it’s one I intend to embrace myself: Stop making resolutions.

Nothing ever comes of it.  You let yourself off too easy, either in the intention or in the follow-through. How about this?  How about making a revolution.

I’m not talking about overthrowing a government, unless that’s your thing.  Then, by all means.  Get that shit done.  What I’m referring to is revolting against your self-government.  Topple the tower that is your conscious world and start digging around in that rubble.

Do something extraordinary for yourself, with yourself, by yourself.  Any good at being alone?  Practice that.  You’re not going to do it by vowing to “not go out so much.”  Maybe it’s the opposite for you, and you really get lonely because you’re so good at being alone.  Ok, time to find some new friends.  Easier said than done.

"Yes."  New Orleans, 12/31/2014.

“Yes.” New Orleans, 12/31/2014.

You have to upturn the tables in that temple and shout a little bit.  You don’t change a mindset with your mind, and you’re never going to change your character.  But you can put a scare into it.  Slap your life upside the head and knock it off balance a little.  There may be something remarkable in your sights when your eyes refocus.

Confront a fear.  Throw a stone.  Break a rule.  Do something immoral.  Do something illegal.  Don’t get thrown in jail, or better yet…get thrown in jail.  Just don’t hurt anybody.  There is no growth in that.  Scarring the self to promote healing is what our muscles do.  Scarring others to promote our own growth is parasitic.  So, since your starting a revolution, stop doing that.

Eat something that grosses you out.  Go somewhere that bores you. Quit your job. Cut your hair, or grow it.  Take a trip.  Take a very long trip, longer than you think you can afford.  Stop complaining about tourists and be one.  Do something that terrifies you.  Do something that gives you joy, and then do it again.  Say no for once.  Say yes.  Better yet, don’t say anything and try silence. Yell. Dance. Belch. Sing. Sprawl out on the ground for no reason.  Make a habit out of it.  Envision yourself as the perfect you that you can be and then, goddammit, start creating that person.

In his very short story The Coming of the Messiah, Kafka ends with this paragraph:

“The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.”

Put away your resolutions.


Dec. 30 / The Day We Expanded the Universe and Other Souvenirs

The curious construct of time, our conception of it via memory and experience, our confirmation of it by way of the calendar.  A myriad of meditations on the turning of days have announced themselves to my consciousness during this winter embarkation. The day of the week, with my own life and experience as a backdrop, has been an important factor in determining what may be of interest for that day’s dispatch.  For example, on Wednesdays I always have to work my bartending job early in the afternoon, which means I must either keep the post short and sweet, or in some cases work on it very early in the morning, before my waking life has switched over from Tuesday.  I have used my Wednesdays as excuses to make very short rants on process (Re-Definition), or to play curious games with subject matter by using bibliomancy (The Poetry of Random) and famous quotes  (Overexposed)

But the days have numbers, also, and our common appreciation of certain dates—the ones that have come to stand for certain ideas, concepts or historical events—has led me to frame those particular dates accordingly, at least as a jumping off point.  A Day of Infamy on December 7th and Merry Christmas, Suckers on December 25th are the best examples.

Nothing particularly earth-shattering has occurred, historically, on December 30th.  Or at least, not as viewed from our current zeitgeist.  If you had lived in the 15th Century, this would have been the date when the Duke of York was killed, in 1460, and his forces routed by Henry VI, at the Battle of Wakefield.  If you were living in the early 1700’s, particularly in Japan, you would be remembering December 30th, 1703, for the 8.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Tokyo and killed up to 108,000 people.  And if you were a citizen of the former Soviet Union (and now a former one), than you probably know December 30 as the date in 1922 when the U.S.S.R. formally announced it’s own existence from the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

But other interesting things happened on this date throughout the measured history of mankind.  I did a little research and came up with some highlights.

December 30th….this is your life!

  • In the year 39, future Roman Emperor Titus was born.  He would sack Jerusalem and destroy the Temple in the year 70, and succeed his father Vespasian in the year 79.
  • In 1809 it became illegal, in the City of Boston, to wear masks at costume balls.  This was a common theme in a city where Puritanical traditions and prudish censorship would continue well into the 1960’s
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley married Mary Godwin in 1816.  She would publish Frankenstein anonymously two years later, after she, her husband, Lord Byron and vampire-fiction progenitor John Polidori all had a competition to see who could write the best horror story.  Speaking of horror stories, Al Capone married Mae Josephine Coughlin on this day in 1918.
  • On this day in 1835, a minority of representatives from the Cherokee tribe were coerced to sign the Treaty of New Echota, effectively trading the recently gold-rich Georgia territory of their ancestors for a shitty reservation in the west.  This would begin the forced internment and removal of the Cherokee and other tribes that would later be known as the Trail of Tears. That same day, on another side of the globe, the H.M.S. Beagle left a New Zealand port bound for Australia carrying Charles Darwin and his team into their 6th year of scientific discovery around the world.
  • Tojo Hideki is born in 1884. He would go on to become the prime minister of Japan during WWII and was the one most responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.  He would be hung for war crimes in 1948, just shy of his 64th birthday. Other notable but not-necessarily-considered-enemies-of-humanity that were born on December 30th include Rudyard Kipling (1865), Simon Guggenheim (1867), the writer Paul Bowles (1910), Bo Diddley (1928), ace pitcher Sandy Koufax (1935) and one of my favorite all-time photographers, W. Eugene Smith (1918), whose photos and recordings from the Jazz Loft Project in the late 50’s and early 60’s make one of the most extraordinary documentations ever, of the jazz and cultural landscape in New York City during that turbulent era.   Other December 30th babies were rockers Patti Smith (1946) and Jeff Lynne (1947), professional whateveryoucallit Heidi Fleiss (1965) and basketball boomerang LeBron James (1984).
  • Besides the notable births on this day, there are also several notable deaths.  Ling Ling, America’s first panda, passed away in 1992 at the ripe age of 23.  Other deaths include boxer Sonny Liston (1970), bandleader Artie Shaw (2004), and dictator/lunatic/all-around defective human being Saddam Hussein (hanged in Baghdad, 2006).  John E. Hoover died on this day in 1918, but was reborn as J. Edgar.  Finally, our finite conception of the universe was forever put to sleep when astronomer Edwin Hubble formally announced the existence of other galactic systems at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society on December 30th, 1924.
  • The United Auto Workers staged the first sit-down strike in 1936, at a GM plant in Flint, Michigan, paving the way for a strong labor force in the United States.  Many of these unions, including the ones in Michigan, have only recently been weakened, undermined and disembowelled by the actions of self-serving corporate Republican shills.  These actions did not necessarily happen on Dec. 30, just wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself.
  • In 1953, the first color television, manufactured by RCA, went on sale for about $1175.00  Ten years to the day (1963), Let’s Make a Deal debuted on NBC.  Americans began to develop a penchant for selecting the goat behind Door number 1.
  • President Nixon halted the bombing of North Vietnam on December 30th, 1972.
  • On this day in 1974, the world-changing rock group Beatles officially disbanded.  On the same day in 1979, the same thing happened to the (not-world-changing) rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  Yes, that was the name of a rock band.  Look it up.
  • An abandoned building collapsed on 42nd Street in NYC in 1997.  There were no fatalities.  I had moved to the city about 8 months before.
  • Today, Dec. 30, 2014,  I went out with 2 vintage Polaroid cameras loaded with re-imagined instant film (The Impossible Project) and out of 10 snaps, only one photo developed with any semblance of a discernible image.
"December 30th, 2014" New Orleans, 12/30/2014. Format: Impossible instant color film via Polaroid SX-70 camera.

“December 30th, 2014″ New Orleans, 12/30/2014. Format: Impossible instant color film via Polaroid SX-70 camera.

Dec. 29 / Redux Redux

Three days left.  That’s three more days until we come to the end of another calendar year.  And three more days that I am self-contracted to create a post for this blog.  Today I make a return to an earlier thought, a revisitation of an earlier post.  To settle some unfinished business, if you will.

If you have been following along, or casually paying attention, I couldn’t be more grateful or gratified,  and if you happened to have caught my very first post (Dec. 1 / Breaking the Seal), you will know that my goal for this curation was to “shoot it, write it, post it” every single day of this month.   It’s been a real challenge, let me tell you, and revelatory.  I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my so-called process.

"Light Bugs" CITO, New Orleans. 12/29/2014

“Light Bugs” CITO, New Orleans. 12/29/2014

I always wanted the theme of each post to be in service of something of genuine interest, and not merely to meet my personal agenda of hitting a daily quota.  It was also important to me that the photos supported the words, or vice versa, and  I hope I succeeded reasonably well in both regards.  I know that some days were better than others.  There is nothing to which that chestnut does not apply.

Some days I kind of had a plan in advance, like going to the National WWII Museum on December 7th.  Other days were more improvisational, shall I say, and with respect to my self-imposed deadline, they could get downright desperate.  But there were a few days when I had a plan, such as an interview with a friend, that got derailed by circumstance, as these things do, and those were the times I had to come up with an alternative idea at the last minute.  In a couple of instances—my Q and A’s with both Derrick the printmaker and Will the cabinetmaker—I managed to make them up at a later opportunity.  There was one day that really kind of left me hanging, though, and that was the day I had intended to shoot the festivities at the Celebration in the Oaks in City Park.  It rained very hard and very long that day, and they, rightfully so, closed the attraction down.   I ended up shooting some night scenes up there anyway, and that post was fine, but it was definitely an example of the angsty aggravation of flying by the seat of your pants with the clock running down.

"Carnival" @ the Celebration in the Oaks, New Orleans City Park, 12/29/2014.  Format: digital via DSLR.

“Carnival” @ the Celebration in the Oaks, New Orleans City Park, 12/29/2014. Format: digital via DSLR.

In the interest of establishing closure in that circle as it comes around again, I’ve decided to shoot a few pictures tonight when I attempt to revisit the CITO.  I’m going with a friend anyway, so I figured it was as good a time as any to get those shots and call it a day.  Call it a post.  Call it a year.

If you’d like to know a bit more about the Celebration in the Oaks thingie, I did spend some time talking about it back on my December 23rd post, and you can also look directly at their website. As you can see from these pictures, the event is all about bringing out the lights, as well as bringing out the crowds.  It was a very packed Monday night as the Celebration enters it’s final week for this season.


“Giant Oaks with Dripping Light” CITO, New Orleans. 12/29/2014. Format: dig. via DSLR


“Carousel” City Park, New Orleans. 12/29/2014. Format: dig. via DSLR.


“Doves and Christmas” CITO, New Orleans. 12/29/2014. Format: digital via DSLR.


“Dragonfly” CITO, 12/29/2014. Format: digital via DSLR.


“Ferris Wheel” Celebration in the Oaks in City Park. 12/29/2014. Format: dig. via DSLR.

Dec. 28 / iCame, iSaw, iCaptured.

I had a fun little experiment earlier this evening.  I made a meandering drive around the city playing around with the photo tricks on my iPhone 6.

I’ve had my new phone for a month or so but haven’t really taken much time to explore the different functions.  I have this odd infatuation with the Hipstamatic app so I usually open that up when I’m shooting anything that requires what I consider an “artistic” perspective, whatever the hell that means.  The Hipstamatic is a clever camera app that lets you buy various “kits” of vintage style lens and film, and you can shoot them in any combination to get interesting retro-look snaps.  They even let you change the appearance of the app on your screen by offering different “cases” but I don’t see the point of that.  Still, even though something about the pre-programmed distressing of photos kind of bugs me, it’s a fun and addictive alternative when my camera is either not handy or not necessary for the shot I’m seeking.  You can see examples from this app in a few of my posts this month, like all the portraits in this one or all the random objects in this one.

But I know the included camera in this version of iPhone is purported to be pretty snazzy.  It supposedly gets a lot more quality out of its 8 megapixels than you would expect.  My experimenting did not involve getting into the built-in editing features or technical specs.  Here’s one review that does.  I just wanted to try out the different formats, including the video mode, from which I could cull some stills and post them here.  I didn’t have anywhere specific in mind, so I propped the phone on the dashboard mount that I have in my Honda Element and just drove.  The lens was focused on the road ahead but also kind of upwards, with a big sky view, and it was already after dusk when I set out, so it was a good opportunity to see how the camera handled dark shots.  It’s a good measure of any phone camera’s quality, by the way.  If you want to test out the camera, see how it does with low-light photos, how it handles both flash and non-flash.

There was a substantial amount of weird glare and strange reflections on the photos and videos that were shot through the windshield.  I mostly cleaned them up in editing, though some of it adds a funky ghostly quality.  I parked and got out of my vehicle only once, to try out the panorama function on a car wash uptown.  I also shot, almost accidentally, a series of really cool self-portraits of my shadow from the streetlamp reflecting onto the street.

Drive Bys-1

“Flags”, NOLA, 12/28/2014. Format: digital via iPhone 6 from moving car.

Drive Bys-2

“Car Wash”, NOLA, 12/28/2014. Format: digital via iPhone 6, panorama function.

Drive Bys-3

“Self-Portrait with Sewer” NOLA. 12/28/2014. Format: digital via iPhone 6, square format.

Drive Bys-4

“This Way” NOLA, 12/28/2014. Format: digital via iPhone 6, square format from moving car.

Drive Bys-5

“Frenchmen Street” NOLA, 12/28/2014. Format: Still frame from iPhone 6 video.

Drive Bys-6

“Church” NOLA, 12/28/2014. Format: Still frame from iPhone 6 video.

Drive Bys-7

“120 Million” NOLA, 12/28/2014. Format: digital via iPhone 6 from moving car.

Dec. 27 / Yes We Scan (or, Geeking Out on Process)

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

I don’t know who the ghoulish S.O.B. was that made up that old saw.  I love cats, and let it just be said right up front: I do not support the skinning of cats, no matter which technique you employ.

The reference, in this case, is to the photographer’s process, and perhaps more specifically, the thing we call workflow. I’ve got a project that I need to submit by the end of the month, and it involves scanning some of my old black and white negatives and turning them into presentable digital files.  Today I’m going to get into that analog to digital process and while I will try, as always, to be as entertaining as possible, let me tell you right off the top that this information is mostly for the person seeking advice on the scanning process, or just the intensely curious.   I won’t be going into the minutest detail here—there are photo tech and photo editing blogs online that are very helpful in that regard, and I’ve provided some useful links throughout.  My aim is to offer a little about my own process and give a good overview of where you might want to start if you have been considering turning that shoebox full of old photos or negatives into really polished images for use online or for printing.

If that doesn’t grab you, I will also be featuring some pretty pictures that I shot a long time ago.

"Hawk Girl"  Colca Canyon, Peru.  2000.  Format: scan of BW negative.

“Hawk Girl” Colca Canyon, Peru. 2000.     Format: scan of BW negative.

During my monthlong residency on the Redux I have talked about process and technique on a couple of other posts, namely the one where I spent the day making photogrammic Lumen prints in my back yard, and the post a couple of weeks ago when I offered a tour of my darkroom and talked about the process of setting one up.

I have to scan some black and white negatives and prepare them for my website, and also prepare some of them for a portfolio submission to a magazine.  I’ll be working with the shots I took on my first trip to South America in 1999/2000, when I was shooting with my trusty Chinon 35mm and still learning what it meant to be an intrepid photographer.  (See my darkroom post, as mentioned above.)  It’s important to note that the condition of the media you are about to scan is everything, especially in the case of negatives, whether in the real darkroom or the digital one.  If it was a badly shot or processed negative the first time around, it is what it is.  We’re not making miracles here. That being said, the advancement of tools in both scanning and editing software is amazing these days, and you can rescue almost any yellowed or cracked old-timey photograph and make it look amazing;  you can correct flaws in old or damaged negatives that once was impossible in the analog darkroom.  As a case in point, some of the color negatives from that South America trip had been damaged by cat urine (which is another story that details the closest I ever came to skinning a cat)  and though many were destroyed, I was recently able to save a lot of them in the editing process.

"Ocean View from the Jungle"  Parque Tayronas Nacional, Columbia.  2000. Format: scan of BW negative.

“Ocean View from the Jungle” Parque Tayronas Nacional, Columbia. 2000. Format: scan of BW negative.

There are three primary components to making a good digital file out of a scan.  The scanner, of course, the scanning software, and the editing software.  This is based on the assumption that you are working with a relatively modern computer, with whatever operating system is comfortable for you, and a good quality monitor on which to view and edit.  I feel like it kind of goes without saying that you need those things, and while I’m not going to get into the variables of what makes a good monitor or calibrating one, they are definitely things you should look into if you intend to create and share and reproduce professional-quality digital files.  For the sake of reference, I will geek on you a little bit and tell that I work on an iMac and have their latest Retina 5K display, which I keep properly calibrated with an X-Rite Color Munki Display.  You don’t need these things, they are a preference, and I am making images that need to be accurate when contracted to professional printing labs.

The same thing goes for a scanner, really, because as with most things, you get what you pay for.  There are many types and features of a good scanner, and a lot of things to consider, but if you’re like me, you want to land somewhere in the middle on versatility, quality and affordability.  You will probably end up getting a good flatbed scanner.  Mine is an Epson V600, and I’ve had it for a few years. ScanGear-1 I’m sure there are better ones available for that price now, but it has served me very well for my workload, which is generally scanning negatives and instant prints, and occasionally some old photographs.

While I love their scanners and printers, I’m not as fond of the scanning software that Epson includes with their scanners.  Again, I’m not going to geek out now on the how and why.  Once you start getting adept at using these tools, you form your own personal preferences. With Epson, it’s mostly user interface issues, and the ability to handle odd sizes (medium format negatives, for example).  I use the VueScan software, which you can purchase online, and is really popular among tech geeks. I like the options you get in the import process and the ease of exporting directly into Lightroom, which brings me to that third component.


Some of the stuff I use when handling negatives. 12/27/2014

Adobe Lightroom 5 is the base photo editing software that I employ.  I use Photoshop CS6 also, for difficult edits, but most of my photos never go through Photoshop at all.  Every single one of them gets run through Lightroom, and if you’re not familiar, it’s an invaluable tool for editing, managing and organizing your photographic images.  I started using it about 5 years ago, and it has absolutely overhauled my workflow and drastically improved the quality of my work.

Again, these are my preferences and the tools that I use, but as long as you have a decent scanner, good software to use with it, and photo editing software that you are comfortable using, you are on your way.  Let me talk, then, a little about my workflow, and I’m going to keep it short and simple.

  • Handling the negative.  I store all my negatives in archival sleeves and organize them in binders.  You might be pulling them out of musty boxes, and even if you think that you will never need them again after you scan them, file that under just-in-case.  Maybe it’s just that to me, the thought of throwing away negatives seems akin to chucking out demo recordings or razoring old master works, but it only takes a little work and a little money to archive them, and if you’re this interested in scanning, you’ll want to hang onto them.  With most of my negs, I’m working with a contact sheet for reference, but even then, I use a small light table and a loupe for looking closer.  I always handle them with protective gloves and wipe them with anti-static pads before loading them into the Epson’s negative holder.  I also clean the glass on the flatbed itself.  Getting rid of dust is the key here.  It makes the editing process easier.
  • Scanning the negative.  I’m not going to get into all the gory details about the settings options here.  You have to get to know the scanner software, and honestly, it involves some trial and error.  Having said that, the VueScan interface is really self-explanatory.  It just comes down to what you’re going to use them for as far as the sizing and resolution options, and whether you want to apply filters, crops, etc.  I usually apply a light infrared filter to get rid of some dust specks, and import the file large enough for either printing or digital use, but most of the editing I do in Lightroom and Photoshop.
  • Editing the negative.  There are so many things you can do at this stage, that I am again going to avoid heavy detail.  But I will say that in the case of scanning negatives, it’s important to me to stay as true to the original feeling of the shot as possible, and that includes crop.  Most of the processing is going to be cleaning up dust specks, adjusting tonality and contrast, tweaking shadows and highlights.  You have to get proficient in the editing software of your choice, and really maximize it to get great results.  Working in the digital darkroom is no different than working in an analog one, in terms of taking as much time as necessary on a single image, in order to get it just right.

If all of this is really something that interests you, there is a lot of information online, just start googling.  If you’ve got a lot of negatives, it can be a tedious and time-consuming process, but it’s worth it when you get that shiny and prettified file in front of you on your computer monitor.  As much as I love the texture and feel of a real darkroom print, there’s something about the light of the screen that really makes black and white images pop in a way they never can on paper.  And if you’ve actually had the interest to read this far into this post, then you might be up for the process.


“Miner” Taken inside the mines at Potosi, Bolivia. 2000.     Format: scan of BW negative.

"Vendor"  Quechua woman selling drinks at a funeral picnic. Huaraz, Peru.  2000.  Format: scan of BW negative.

“Vendor” Quechua woman selling drinks at a funeral picnic. Huaraz, Peru. 2000.   Format: scan of BW negative.