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A New Process

 Compromise and Ideals

Motherhood, gardening, cooking, photography and writing are natural activities for me. Extensions of my values and perceptions, mediums through which I can attempt to pin down my emotions, learning experiences and loves. I love people, I genuinely see the beauty in life, in relationships, in God’s good grace and the truth that every day is a thousand miracle thing. I know beauty when I see it and I see it everywhere. Having a camera in hand feels like the best form of living in the moment, appreciating the little things and surrendering to the chance of creating an image that, though inadequately, communicates that beauty.

If I could get in the ground I would. Every Spring when we till and turn the earth I want to soak myself in it somehow. I love early bed, early rising, and good food. And yet, night after night I expend energies and ideas into a box that only holds wires. Often I surrender to the multitude of much that the Internet is. This tool is a sword that, for good and evil, processes emails, records my impermanent and shares my work. I honor it and I love it’s utility and possibility. When I am good and work hard I make use of these things benefitting from friendships and artistic progress, but too often I find that I use it as a tool to distract myself from work, from process, planning and from my demons. It’s a compromise.

The truth is that mediums are inadequate to every artist. Art both in product and process resembles the act of lying. It is the telling of a partial truth. The consumer/customer/client/enthusiast’s demand for new images, new processes, new proofs of talent on sites like Pinterest and Instagram increase these obstructions exponentially and in my experience this cripples much of the value and truth of our medium, photography. It also raises the bar and encourages the artist to feel inspired.

Every creative knows that with work comes compromise. When considering architecture increased height is partnered with increased obstruction. In photography choosing this focus over that focus, this composition over that,  kills all possibility in that frame for a different focus or composition. We “decide” or “cide” (kill) we choose one thing and kill everything else that was once possible.

Here are the main two things I compromise as a digital photographer.

PROCESS: I take loads of photos and I hope some of them are good. Sometimes I nail it but I don’t appreciate that much because my process of taking thousands of photos deceives me. CONSEQUENCE: I lose intention. I overshoot and walk away doubting myself.

PROCESS: I spend a significant amount of time editing my digital files. CONSEQUENCE: I lose my original vision and end up hating almost every image I make because the cost it demands from my family, my time and my sanity. I resent the time I spend up late and night and because I resent it I end up wasting time on Facebook, Pinterest, KSL (why?!), NPR, etc to try to distract myself from how awful editing is.

So I live my free time at a computer turning love to hate. Meanwhile books go unread, sleep unslept (made up word), exercise un sized. NOT the way a dirt digging life lover ought to live.

With the new year I committed to learn a different process. Insanity is doing the same thing over while expecting different results right? Right. I must create images differently because these results of my processes just aren’t worth it. Sure, I take some nice photos but the cost of those images is so staggeringly high I may as well not take a damned one. Oh but I’ve made this dysfunction my comfort zone and learning is uncomfortable. So is digging in the dirt to plant seeds but oh, the harvest garden. Aaaaand we’re off!

New Process

In the last 6 weeks I have collected images from 10 rolls of film shot on medium format film. My friend, the generous David Miller  has taken  Meikel Reece and myself under his wing for private tutoring on the discipline of film. It has been expansive in a thousand ways by requiring some very intense hard work.  I have found a freedom that comes with utilizing a more appropriate medium. One that reflects and honors my ideals, my vision and my intention while creating images I love.

Investment

Dudes, learning and shooting film is not cheap. Not on the bank account, not on the mind, not on the old habits of a digital photographer.

– We spend our Saturdays shooting. Usually a half day 3-6 hours. (COSTS: childcare, meal, time, pride, emotional energy)

– We brainstorm and coordinate shoots with models whom we recruit during the week. (COSTS: time, creativity)

– We work slowly and make lots of mistakes. (COSTS: childcare, pride, brain energy, disappointment, frustration)

– I ask questions that as a professional photographer I should be painfully ashamed of asking (COST: shame).

– I spend a lot of money. Each roll of film is $7/8 to purchase and $18 to process.The fetching back of my camera (which I’ve since remedied) has opened 3 times ruining a few frames (at best) to a full 3 rolls of film. But because I’ve invested so much to get the photos I pay to have them processed at the “best” (I don’t know this yet) lab in the nation because it’s worth it to me to see quality- even in my personal work. I’ve been impressed. I don’t mess around. (COST: research time, MONEY)

Worth

So in the last month I’ll tell you what I’ve gained, what I like and why I’ll keep doing this.

Two great friends. Tear wipe. I know. This is 100% true. Meikel and I are vulnerable about the ups and downs of our stuck-in-a-ruttedness. We are able to let all “professionalism” go and candidly talk about our ideals and dreams and how our process chokes a lot of that. That’s just the professional photog stuff. She’s a legit friend now. And David. He’s golden. We laugh hard and he’s patient with how dumb we can be (are).

A more accurate view. First of all- I’ve been a pro photog (which I loosely define here as a photographer who makes $ taking photographs) for 5 years. Once I got into the full-frame sensor cameras there hasn’t been anything about quality of a digital file, nor any editing manipulation that has impressed me. Photographs do, obviously. Medium doesn’t matter that much as concepts, contrast, idea, captures those all impress me. But when I put the medium format viewfinder to my eye I was astounded at how THAT is what I see. It felt natural from the minute we met. I feel sad that so much time has gone by professionally and personally without this more accurate view.

Intention. Sweet, slow, deliberate work. If film is digging straight rows for me then digital was throwing seeds on the soil for 30 minutes and in straight rows for 15. That analogy is weak but it works for me.  If I’m going to spend $25 PER ROLL OF FILM I’m not gonna fire away without some consideration. This is a completely debilitating joy. All of my insecurities get a Saturday chance to be questioned.  I see my subjects as if I’m looking them in the eye. I don’t feel committed to hearing a shutter click just because I put my camera to my eye. Last year I wrote a little thing about what I had learned in the last 4 years. I wrote some things about personal work that I wished I had known starting out. Well, I’m starting out again and I’m using these things I knew to be mostly regrets. Living a life from regret can be fantastic.

Additionally this intention has extended into my continued work on my digital camera. Monday I shot something exciting with Sarah Winward and I shot 200 images in 4 hours as opposed to the 1000 I would have shot. This whole thing just slows me down. The discipline of film and it’s demand for focus and intention extend into my digital work.

Time. These images aren’t edited. I pay (let’s round up shall we) $20 to edit 15 images. My ratio is low right now but I’m still getting a solid 1/3 of these pics coming out looking nice. So for $20 I get 5 photos. I expect that ratio to increase and I improve my hand at manual focus (a new skill in it’s own right). But that ain’t bad.

Quality. The blacks are detailed, the skin is flattered, the detail is rich and true. PLUS I wait for 2-3 weeks for my scans to arrive and then it’s like finding a time capsule. I love it.

Feeling. I feel refreshed and glad. I feel more authentic and I feel rejuvenated by the work. Both practically and creatively.

So there you have it. That’s a lot to read. Good job for making it through.

These images are some of my first shot on film and they depict the beautiful and gracious Allison Tiek, my partner in crime Meikel and our sensei David.

Paige Maitland - Ashley, this said it all… this is exactly why I want to shoot film… and I am full on digital right now. I don’t know how I will be able to make it financially but it is a huge hope of mine to one day make the transition. Are you using the contax system? LOVE.

Shawna Del Valle - Reading this was something like washing the mirror that I look in after years of having it dirty. I can see myself clearer which is refreshing but I can also see so much neglect. I’m not sure if I want to kiss you or punch you in the neck.
You are a brilliant writer and I love your words and insight. You are also a much better photographer than I have ever been. I love you, sweet sister.

Sarah - I can’t get your words outta my head today. I keep telling myself (and have for a long time) that there is nothing wrong with digital (and there’s not anything WRONG with it). But the fact that I have to keep having this conversation in my head means that my heart is leaning somewhere else. And that terrifies me. It will take a lot of work and money and time but regardless of where I start or how far I go I think I am ready to at least start planning what I want that to look like. Seeing others do it gives me courage. I have no effing idea where to start other than with my old camera, but I really want it to happen. Thanks for being a trailblazer for some of the rest of us.

lara - You and film. Holy cow. I cannot wait. You know you always have a willing subject!

michael morrow - Very astute, concise, most of all…..straight out of a lovely heart….great writing ashley…..my contribution to photographic images has evolved into eyelid snapshots of life ..images devloped, created, and expressed spontaneous, non-sequetter, silly, solemn, sacred…sometimes shitty intercourse with my surroundings…developed, expressed…sometimes at the just stop even….thru creativr meditative dance…you inspire ashley…in a good way
….

Fernando Del Valle - Thank you, thank you. thank you. First, I am so blessed to be part of such a talented and incredible family and I honor being able to call you my sister. I have inspiration all around me. I love your writing and your ART is incredible. One of my biggest challenges of a lifetime has been to “put myself out there”, to give of myself, to be vulnerable. You do so with such grace and passion as if a book looking back at a reader and saying “love me or not, here I AM.” Reading such open and honest writing motivates me to continue challenging myself out of my comfort zone. Thanks Sis.

admin - Fernando, thank you for taking the time to create a whole-hearted reply. You are right- it is hard to put yourself out there. I feel the same restraint and fear but everytime I try to share, engage and make myself vulnerable I receive a deepened sense of who “loves me and takes me” and that mitigates any pain in potential, perceived or actual rejections.

Love you!

admin - Micheal Morrow! Long tim no nothing! I am happy to hear from you. I am happy to reconnect, glad for your insight and appreciative of the encouragement.

admin - Get over here girl! Thank you for being so excited with me.

admin - Sarah, it is terrifying. Last year I made a list of all the limitations I wanted to overcome and so many of them are solved and sorted by using a different medium. I’m under no illusions that film is a magic bullet but maybe a better bullet? Maybe.

admin - Shawna, I love that image- a washing of a mirror. Yes. That is how I feel too. And if one must neck punch I am a happy punching bag.

Thank you for always believing in me. I love you to my darling.

admin - Paige, so happy to see your comment. It is a big transition. In order to soften the blow my friend David has been letting me borrow his Bronica (which I will be purchasing). It’s given me the chance to use it, become more acquainted with it and gain some experience before jumping in. I would like to shoot Mamiya/Contax/Hasse at some point but for now I’m content. That said, Bronica is a very affordable way to get started.

Irene - So well written and I feel the same way about a lot of things I have to get done on the computer but then don’t and then end up wasting my time. I never thought of the time spent to edit images but it must be painstaking and I think this is a brave solution. I am excited for you to learn and have this experience. Loving your work I’m seeing everywhere too.

admin - The time suck is a huge motivator for change for sure. It is painstaking and you know, it is requiring a huge investment that feels quite brave. Thanks for being generous enough to call it that. Thank you for always being such a thankful client and supportive friend.

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