Week 1 at Penland School of Crafts
I had never heard of Penland School of Crafts before I was invited to teach here (actually, I’ve since been told that I did have a brief conversation about it with the person who subsequently recommended me to teach here, but, um, I don’t remember it…). It took me a while to find anyone in Seattle who had heard of it, but once I did, I only heard great things about it. So, last August, I committed to teaching a two-week class here, and after all my recent travels, found my way across the country to the mountains of western North Carolina.
Penland is an old place, started in the 1920s, with a broad collection of studios and classes: glass, clay, metals, textiles, painting, drawing, printmaking, letterpress, woodworking, etc. This session also has an encaustics class, belt-buckle making, sculptural animals, glass flameworking (in addition to hot-shop), velvet weaving, etc. We are the only photo class, in the real old-style darkroom! The class is based around the Holga, but also is turning out to be photo and darkroom 101, since all my students (except my studio assistant) are beginners.
The first week has been intense. In fact, it’s been a lot like my week teaching in Maine last year, but the difference here is that instead of leaving, now we have another whole week to go!
The first day was my standard one-day or first day; showing slides of work by bunches of people and talking about the different things you can do with a Holga. Then taping up and getting our Holgas ready, and going out to shoot. Day 2 started with an introduction to processing film, which began with teaching how to roll film onto the reels – not an easy task! After everyone got their first rolls processed, we got into the darkroom and made contact sheets. Again, more basics such as how to use an enlarger, what those funny numbers on the lens are, and the fact that photo paper should not be opened up in room light!
Learning to roll film on reels, and processing film.
On Wed, I talked more about ways to shoot the camera, and then we started making prints! All of this from square one. By the end of three days of talking, I was a little fried, but satisfied that now the students would be able to keep shooting, processing and printing, gaining knowledge and confidence with guidance as they work. And I’m super-thankful to my studio assistant, Courtney, who helped get everyone up to speed.
The last couple of days we’ve taken shooting field trips to local towns and a little carnival, kept going in the darkroom, learning more about exposures, contrast adjustments, burning and dodging, and started doing class work reviews. All the while, I’ve tried to make it to the instructor (and studio assistant) slideshows each evening, in addition to instructor gatherings and the like.
Now that things have calmed down, we’ve had some time to start visiting the other studios, which is a major social pastime and method for cross-fertilization and collaborations here. And, finally, we made it to the yoga classes that happen every day right above out studio. I’m hoping I can make it to the rest of them (the afternoon ones, anyhow; I’m not too useful at 7am).
My students are starting to generate some interesting images, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they come up with. With so many ways to focus, I’m sure some will work on their shooting subject matter, while some will concentrate on improving their printing skills. I still have some new information and techniques to introduce during the second week, just to keep things interesting!
Reviewing negatives on the light table.
I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to be here, and encourage everyone to check it out and make the trek here if you have an interest in any of the crafts they teach! More to come after the workshop, and I’ll get photos of the class posted soon as well!
Outside of my life with toy cameras, I spend lots of time photographing performers (yes, with a digital camera!). Mostly these are folks in the worlds of vaudeville, variete and circus, and you can be sure they are always fun and fascinating to work with! This summer I once again joined up with the New Old Time Chautauqua on their summer tour, this time in the island of Washington and British Columbia.
The tour, dubbed Aqua Chautauqua II (last year being I), and also Eau Canada, involved 4 islands and traveling by a combination of boat and land. A logistical challenge, to be sure, but we got to experience Lasqueti Island, which is totally off the grid, in addition to Gabriola, Salt Spring and Orcas Islands, and finished up at the Future Festival in Port Gamble, WA.
In the past, I’ve been exclusively the tour photographer. This year I also added a new role as clarinetista in the band – The Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra – a longtime dream come true!
The group goes to a variety of communities, usually underserved, and does public parades, free workshops, community shows at senior centers and other places, and finishes off with a full-blown show (often free). We partner with community non-profits, have pot-lucks with the locals, and spend time getting to know each other and playing at our various skills. It’s a fantastic group!
A selection of my photos from the tour are up here: Aqua Chautauqua photos.
In all the crazy traveling I’ve been doing lately, some trips are to places that I know I want to visit, and some places aren’t quite on my mental map (although anywhere is fair game on a road trip!). Pittsburgh wasn’t on my must-see list, but the invitation was a no-brainer anyway. And I’m so glad I went, for the photo fun, for seeing a cool new place, and for catching up with an old friend.
Sometime last year, I was contacted by Tom Persinger about being part of the f295 Symposium. Originally a group about lensless photography, which includes not only pinhole, but cameraless processes as well, it has expanded to include other old, alternative, and interesting processes, and this year, they brought me in to represent the toys; I’m honored! We gave a day of talks in New York in January (brr!), but this was the real shindig, with people flying in from all over, and several days of workshops before and after the symposium day. The group of speakers was awesome, and more so to me because I got to hang out and talk with most of them, all such interesting, accomplished people. It was really such a gift to be up there with them, speaking to the group, and teaching my workshop.
Mark Ostermann talking about his days as a traveling snake oil salesman, and how that led into the world of photography
Saturday evening was a lovely dinner with Patrick and Sherry from Freestyle, and the many members of their Advisory board who were among the presenters (Jill Enfield, Elizabeth Opalenik, Mark Ostermann, France Scully Ostermann, etc) (thanks Gerry!). Freestyle had a table set up, as usual covered almost exclusively with Holgas, including the New and Thrilling Holga TLR!!! I only heard about this new contraption a couple of days before I flew out, and it was very exciting to hold the only one in the US! I’ve been assured I’ll be getting a hold of one soon – yippee!!
Saturday the workshops were held at Pittsburgh Filmmakers (I keep wanting to call it Filmwasters, after a low-tech photography web site), which is an amazing facility with a bunch of darkrooms and classrooms, a great cafe run by Dave, who looks like he is straight out of Portland, but instead is brining his great vibe and food to Pittsburgh, and a dedicated staff and volunteers. One thing Pittsburgh doesn’t lack is space – you can get a warehouse, a killer darkroom, a fabulous house, for a song here. It’s a favorite pastime of Pittsburgh folks, in fact – torturing the rest of us with what they paid for their houses… So while I had my toy camera class going on, people were learning about daguerrotypes, wet collodion printing, making silhouettes and their own lenses. All the presenters were in the classes as well, which made for a super-vibrant environment for everyone.
Tom Persinger welcoming students to the classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. My toy camera class loading their Holgas.
Saturday evening was the opening of the exhibition that the presenters and some of the participants were in, at 707 Penn Gallery. It was really great to see the prints up close and in the paper, since we had mostly been seeing projected images of the photographs; always a pale imitation of the real thing, and we were here to geek about process. There was more chatting long into the night, and the next day on the photo walk and back at Filmmakers.
All in all, a great event, that introduced me to several new processes and lots of great people!
I also got a private tour of the Mattress Factory Museum, which housed a few of us over the weekend. The museum, which mostly features installations, was closed on Monday, but when I went over to the office to settle up, the building manager saw my disappointment and pulled out the keys. This place has been around as an art space for 30 years, and indeed, some of the permanent installations are 20 years old! A more recent one was mind-boggling; a kind of over-sized laundry shoot that gapes open in the middle of the floor and teases you with the thought of throwing yourself in; to me it was a much edgier version of the type of things I saw at Olafer Elliason’s exhibition at Boston’s ICA last summer. It’s a world-class museum, with the amount of space it would be impossible to support in any of the art centers we like to think have the art thing all wrapped up. So glad I got to see it! Oh, and down the alley where the main entrance is, a beautiful old brick building stands, its window replaced by gravestones, carved with the names and ages of people who lived there (in the area) in the 1700s; immigrants who led hard lives. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen; beautifully crafted and deeply moving.
Once again, I feel very lucky that my work is allowing me to do such fun things, visit cool places, and meet great people!