Something about photographs.

I’ve been writing a little each day, but never quite finishing, a post about blueprints and time. And while I work on that essay, in the background, I’m going to bring forward a few pieces from the vault, starting with this one, about Diana cameras and Hipstamatic, both of which are part of my love language, as the now-popular phrase would have it.


(Edited/updated from a post originally published in December 2014 with the title, “Diana, the original Hipsta sister.”)

Gertrude K

My friend Emmet retired 40 years after making the ‘mistake’ of taking a job teaching photography at Princeton, 27 years after coaching wandering, unfocused me through a wandering, unfocused thesis project. That project, loosely held together by the vague and non-committal title, “Jennifer Larkey: Works on Paper,” was a multi-media show that included hand-sewn books, hand-colored etchings, drawings, paintings, collages, silver gelatin prints, palladium prints, and cyanotypes. Until a week or so before the show opened, I could be found sitting outside the studio at 185 Nassau Street on a sunny day, holding a contact printing frame up to the sunlight to expose one of those palladium prints or cyanotypes. Contact printing using “alternative” methods (a mislabeling if ever there were one) was then, and is now – still, my favorite way of making photographs (literally “light image”).

As I’ve written before, I received my first camera, an Olympus OM-10, when I was in high school, when part of me wanted to grow up to be Ansel Adams. In the fall of my sophomore year in college, Emmet Gowin finally taught me, among many other things, how to use that camera, that there were many types of cameras, and that there was more to see through any lens than just a perfect full scale from pure black to pure white.

Emmet’s teaching assistant was a woman named Virginia Beahan whose work at the time included a portfolio of images she shot in Iceland with a Diana camera. I loved Virginia and her work. I also loved the Diana camera with its light leaks and extreme unpredictability.

A couple of years later when I was the teacher and not the student (at least not in title) the Diana camera was one of my favorite teaching tools – second only to cyanotypes. I gave my favorite Diana the name Gertrude K., in tribute to one of my favorite photographers, Gertrude Kasebier.

Gertrude K., along with a full set of darkroom equipment, negatives and all of my “good” film cameras, lived for more than a decade in a cardboard box that was carted from state to state, with intermittent stays in my mother’s garage.

I pulled Gertrude K. out of the box when I was finally ready to frame and display some art in the house where we were willingly and unwillingly putting down family roots. In that same large cardboard box where Gertrude K. and her co-conspirators had been stored was my 1987 photo class portfolio, the first of many final class portfolios that Emmet shepherded in his last decades of teaching. For the compilation, each student contributed one image. Virginia and Emmet each contributed one also. Emmet was working on the Petra project at the time. Virginia was shooting with her Diana.

When I made the move to digital photography (a move I’m still not entirely committed to, just for the record) I didn’t expect the happy surprise of finding Hipstamatic, the iPhone app that transports me back to the days of my beloved Gertrude K.

Although the Hipstamatic legend appears to be a complete fabrication – a clever marketing ploy – the app itself has made an interesting story on its own. New York Times photographer Damon Winter won a Pulitzer for images shot with Hipstamatic, and the controversy was considerable.

Not surprisingly, I side with Winter. An eye is a complete damn miracle of a human organ. A camera is a tool. Sometimes the right tool for the eye’s story is a 20×24 view camera. Sometimes it’s a pinhole device made from a Quaker Oats container. Sometimes it’s Hipstamatic.

I still shoot with my grown-up digital Nikon, at least from time to time, but Diana’s much younger Hipsta sister is often better at helping tell the story the way I see it. Inspired by this (long-ish but wonderful) video I decided to make my own (much shorter) Hipstamatic retrospective.

Here I am, still at it, in between fits of motherhood and professional career life. I even make large contact printing negatives from those digital Hipstamatic images so I can use them for “alternative” printing (cyanotype and platinum printing, mostly, though one day I’m going to be brave and made a fresh round of gum bichromate prints.)

I’ve held on long enough, it appears, for analog photography to be cool again. My children’s friends have film cameras and darkroom. They hunt tag sales for developing reels, cans, and trays. They’ve discovered that prints made from film negatives have lovely, unexpected qualities that are lost completely in a digital world.

That, in itself, seems reason enough to have a bit of hope.

“The Tennessee Brewery,” cyanotype on paper; 24 x 30 inches; Jennifer Larkey Balink, 2014. About the image: This photo was shot using the Hipstamatic app; that digital photo was converted to negative in Photoshop; the negative was printed on a large sheet of clear acetate; the final image was made by contact printing – placing the large negative on top of a full sheet of Rives BFK paper that was hand-coated in a chemical solution that is sensitive to sunlight, sandwiching the coated paper and negative between two large sheets of glass, exposing the image in direct sunlight, and then developing in water. It’s a lot, I know. So am I.

*****

What I was cooking, in 2014:

  1. Tyler Florence’s Spaghetti alla Carbonara | Bitter greens with lemon/olive oil dressing
  2. Ina Garten’s Spring Green Risotto | Berry tarts from the Fresh Market
  3. Quiche (Use whatever’s in the fridge as filling) | Endive/Chicory/Mandarin orange salad
  4. Ina Garten’s Salmon with Lentils
  5. Shrimp over mixed spring greens:  Plain boiled shrimp works just fine over a green salad.  If you want to put a bit more work into it you can cook them and serve warm over the greens, as in  this recipe.

One thought on “Something about photographs.

  1. Beautiful!! I shared your post with an artist friend of mine from Brazil. She is also a photographer but her main media is oils and water color. I knew she would appreciate this as much as I did! ❤️

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