Tag Archives: holiday card

Old School Photography

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Perhaps the most meaningful personal shoot of the year comes every December. We sit down and talk about what the year meant and how to capture that in a photograph. How to express where we were at that time. I shoot the annual Ann Street Studio holiday card photograph in the same format each year, on a 4×5 film camera with black and white Ilford film.

This year’s image crossed continents twice from start to finish. It begins in France, taken in the afternoon light of Provence with flowers I bought at my little town’s Saturday farmer’s market. After I framed the flowers just so, I used two magazines to manipulate and block the natural light of part of the background and on some of the arrangement while the shutter stayed opened for 30seconds. I shot somewhere around 15 plates with variations on lighting and exposures then packed them up and brought the sheets of film back to New York with me to be hand processed at LTI.

As always, I took the processed film and contact sheets to my favorite darkroom lab in Boston which I pilgrimage to every winter and spent two days hand printing the set of 200 on Ilford warm tone fiber base paper.

I brought the final 200 back to France with me and spent days by the window light addressing each one, some with added personal notes, to be mailed out all over the world. It is a long process but one that brings me great joy in a digital age. To give someone a physical object you made with your heart, soul and abilities is like having a small piece of me in your home. The sense of pride I feel when people send me photos of the image framed in their home makes me feel grateful that I am a photographer. However, for the most part I don’t know what people do with them. I like to imagine someone using one as a bookmark to later discover again years from now. I like to fantasize a child or grandchild will come across one decades from now in an old box and feel a connection to me or at least to who I once was. They don’t have to know me personally but I hope they know my work.

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Old School Photography

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Each year, these prints are my little labor of love. This year’s holiday card began almost one year ago, at the beginning of 2015. While shooting a project for Tiffany & Co., we had the opportunity to rent a private helicopter to get aerial shots of Manhattan. I learned two things from that early winter morning ride: 1. I am deathly afraid of helicopters and 2. I wanted this year’s holiday card to be a print of my great love, New York City. Looking down on her from this birds eye view gave me a new visual sense of the layers of history in this city from which we build our own futures. I understood her in a new way and that’s what I wanted to capture.

Considering there is not enough Xanax in the world to get me in a helicopter again, I had to find a new strategy for shooting at this high but intimate angle. Though I love the views from the obvious choices—Empire State Building and Top of the Rock—they didn’t give me the towering sense I was seeking. From the tops of those iconic buildings, the city is dwarfed and dense, slightly out of reach. As luck would have it, our friends from The New Potato were hosting a party with Riviera Events on the 68th floor of the newly completed Four World Trade Center. It’s one of those moments in life where everything falls into place, as if designed by destiny. Here we are in the Financial District, where we work, standing in a building that is part of the present, looking down on the past. It was just what I wanted.

It was an incredibly difficult shot to take. Using a Linhof 4×5 film field camera, the cityscape was not bright enough to register on the ground glass where you do your framing and focus check. Only a few faint street lights were visible for me to use as a rough guide but for the most part I was shooting blind. This also applies to metering: I had no way of knowing if I would be right on the money or not, so I just applied what I knew about the sensitivity of film to light and my experience with it the past 19 years. The image that ultimately made the final print was a 5 minute exposure on Ilford Delta 400ISO film.

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After the image was captured, we packed up and headed to my favorite darkroom in Boston for printing (which made for a great 24 hour Snapchat story!)

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Old School Photography

Much of what we do at Ann Street Studio is with digital technology and I do love digital. I think it’s important to know the newest technology because that will forever shape how we shoot and see tomorrow. However, I was not raised on digital, but on the slow pace of film… the time it takes to load it and think about your exposure, never knowing if you got the shot until hours or days later. For our studio holiday card this year I wanted to step back, slow down, and enjoy the process of photography. It was amazing how much longer everything took, such a contrast to the enormous amount of content we can quickly produce these days.

We wanted to print an edition of 200 and started with the concept of shooting a simple still life of peonies to represent romance: the romance of mine and Kevin’s marriage this year. I went down to the Chelsea flower market and bought a variety of options.

It took 6 me hours to photograph 20 plates of 4×5 film.

Each sheet of film is carefully processed in pitch-black rooms with large dipping tanks. We then reviewed the contacts sheets of the film to choose our select for printing. I used red and green filters on the flowers when photographing to lighten and darken the greens and reds of the image and add more tonality to the end black and white product.

My favorite photo lab to use is actually LaPete in Boston. It’s large, clean, quiet and Bill (the owner) is an encyclopedia of photography and old school techniques. I go there partly to pick his brain.

30 sec exposure to light on warm toned fiber base paper, 2 mins in developer, 30 secs in stop bath (stops development), 5 mins in fixer (makes it not light sensitive), 30 mins in wash baths. It took two full days of printing to produce the 200 prints.

Using fiber based paper is a longer drying process than RC; each print was dried and pressed in 3 different machines, then cooled under weighted glass to flatten the print.

We headed down to Savannah and spent three days in Gallery Espresso spot toning each image by hand, since dust spots sometimes occur in the printing process. Signed, dated, and numbered – then sent for shipping.

It was, for me, like taking a deep breath. Although we always strive to create the best work we can possible create, I had an overwhelming since of pride looking at the photograph after all the time and detail and days it took to create it.

“Flower #7”, 2012



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