The 4th of July in Ripscale

For the past five days, I’ve focused on one photographic goal.  And I have less than 120 hours to create it.

Challenge?  I can handle a challenge.  I eat challenges with my toast for breakfast.

July 4, 2012.  2:00 p.m. – 120 hours to go. Here I am, like everyone else in the Capital District, at the Empire State Plaza for the 4th of July fireworks show.

Normally on this day, I set up a photo-shooting location at the roof of the Eagle Street parking garage, so that I can get the fireworks framed with the Corning Tower, the Agency Buildings and the Egg.  I’ve done that type of photo shoot for the past three years.

This time… I’m taking a different approach.

While everybody else dragged their digital cameras and tripods to capture the brilliance of exploding gunpowder, I decided to keep this year’s fireworks show analogue-only, and just brought my Nikon F100, my Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens, my new Vanguard tripod, and plenty of rolls of 35mm film.  Oh yeah, and a few extra AA batteries.  Nikon F100’s don’t work as well without a steady stream of batteries.

I set up my tripod along one of the walkways, near the agency buildings.  As people walked by, I asked if they would pose for me – either looking and pointing at the fireworks, or taking pictures of the fireworks.  Granted, the fireworks were still hours away from going off… but some people were more than willing to point at the not-yet-fired-off fireworks.  This is good.

I captured some candid moments – an elderly couple dancing to big band music; an Albany police officer on his bicycle; whatever looked interesting.  I didn’t care if it was being shot on B&W film (Orwo, Svema, Arista school film), or on slide film (Kodak Elite Chrome, Kodak Ektachrome EDupe) or on C-41 film (everything from Kodak Ektar to cheapo Rite Aid film).  All I needed was to capture the image and work from there.  Capture the plank and build the house with it.

Even though I set up my camera and tripod at a semi-shady shooting location on the Concourse, the heat at the Plaza was getting oppressive.  And the only vendors that walked up and down the Concourse were selling glow sticks and illuminated wands.  And, folks, rest assured – those things are not made of ice water.  GRR

However, I got through the day shots without any trouble.  A family who also set up their viewing area near my location were kind enough to guard my gear while I made necessary beverage runs, and they also made sure that my tripod stayed in place and didn’t get bumped out of alignment.  Much thanks to Scott and Georgia and their family for all their help.

And then, as the fireworks lit up the Empire State Plaza concourse, I shot three rolls of film – Kodak Elite Chrome 100 and Fuji Velvia 50 – and finished the finale with Kodak Ektar in the camera.

All in all, I used thirteen of the twenty rolls.  Oh, and here’s a hint for all of you – for an easy-peasey exit out of downtown, there’s plenty of early “on-street” parking near State and Pearl Streets.  I was out of the Plaza and heading home within 15 minutes of the finale, while other people were still idling their engines in the parking garages.  Nyah nyah.

July 5, 2012 – 8:00 a.m. – 102 hours to go. First thing in the morning – I dropped off six standard C-41 film rolls at my local CVS.  Just develop them, I asked.  I don’t need any CD scans or 4×6 prints.  Just develop the negatives and place them in those little cellophane sleeves.  I’ll take it from there.  No problem, the drowsy-looking cashier said.

Oh boy.  Any time a cashier from CVS tells me “no problem,” I’m assured there will always BE a problem.

I then drove over to McGreevy Pro Lab in downtown Albany, and handed off seven rolls of film – three B&W, three E-6 and a C-41 cross-process.  McGreevy’s is the only local place I trust with slide and B&W film; and since McGreevy only develops film two days a week – Tuesday and Friday – I had to get these rolls to the pro lab by Thursday morning if I wanted ANY chance of seeing developed film by Friday night.  Again, all I needed was the film developed and sleeved.

And then I had to deal with the wait.  We’re in a modern era, an instantaneous era, when everybody rushes to upload their pictures on Facebook and on flickr and on Instagram.  If the 4th of July pictures aren’t online by the morning of July 5th, you’re considered a straggler and a lazy person.

Not me.  I’m being patient.  And creative.

July 5, 2012 – 6:00 p.m. – 92 hours to go. I arrived at CVS.  Of course, I’ve had issues with CVS developing my film in the past – either the film got completely wiped, or there were some weird developer streaks on the negatives.  But I didn’t have a choice.  Either I scan in six rolls of film and seven tomorrow – or I scan in THIRTEEN rolls of film in a single night.

I arrived at CVS.  “I have some film that was developed for Chuck Miller, I’m here to pick it up.”

The attendant walked over to the photo processing center.   He came back with a thin envelope.  “Here’s your film.”

“Um… that can’t be all of it.  I dropped off six rolls of 35mm film.”

“Your name is Miller, isn’t it?”

I nodded.

He handed me the envelope.  “This is yours.”

I looked at the envelope.  “You’re sure it’s mine?”

“Yes, sir.  And do you have your CVS card with you?”

“This isn’t my film.”

“Sir, it is your film.  Your name is Miller, you told me your name is Miller, so this is your film.”

“Yes, my name is Miller,” I protested, pointing at the receipt that was taped to the envelope.  “Chuck Miller.  Not Eleanor Miller!”

The cashier looked at the envelope.  “Sorry,” he mumbled, and went back to the photo processing location.  He quickly returned with six bulging envelopes, each one filled with film negatives.  I checked the envelopes.  Yes, they were my film.  And CVS followed my instructions – develop the film, don’t burn a CD, don’t make me prints.  Unfortunately, all they did was develop the film and stuff it into the paper envelopes, without even using those protective cellophane film sleeves.  GRRRR

So all night, I trimmed and scanned and sleeved six rolls of film.  And for the hundreds of exposures from those rolls, I found at least six images that will work for the project.

Now I gotta hope that McGreevy Pro Lab can also come through.  If not, I can still work with these six rolls of film.  But I want more options than that.

July 6, 2012 – 2:00 p.m. – 72 hours to go. I received an e-mail from McGreevy Pro Lab.  My seven rolls of film are done.  Come get ’em.

Five of the rolls were sleeved up – while two other rolls; my night shots of the fireworks, were sheathed and rolled in a box.  “I didn’t want to cut them,” said Joe Putrock, one of the techs over at McGreevy Pro Lab.  “I didn’t want to accidentally trim part of your picture away.”

Now that I understand.  A photo lab that cares about the output of the product.

I looked at the rolls.  Nice.  Nice.  Very nice.  Nice.  Nice.  Very nice.  This is going to work.

Of course, this means another long night of scanning.  My little Minolta DImage Scan Dual IV is gonna get a major workout when all this is said and done.

July 7, 2012 – 11:00 a.m. – 51 hours to go. I looked at all the film scans.  There were some great shots and some shots that looked like hell.  But through the entire run, I got several spectacular fireworks blasts on the finale, and I know that I picked up some swank crowd shots during the late afternoon.

I carefully selected each specific exposure – one from every roll.  Now comes the next step.  I saved the selected scanned images on a spare CompactFlash card, and then Let’s Go, Cardachrome – next stop, Ritz Camera in Crossgates Mall.

Ritz Camera’s still at the mall – at least for now – and I wanted to get these printed out.  An hour later, my prints were ready.  And since Ritz is going out of business, I was able to get the prints done at a reasonable discount.

Then home I go.  I spent the next two hours looking over each photo – deciding what to tear and what to expose and what to show and what to cover.  I don’t know if this will work.  If it doesn’t, I’ll at least have valuable notes for future attempts at this.

Rip.  Shred.  Tear.  Bend.  Fold. Spindle.  Mutilate.

And then… when all is said and done… I scanned the printed collage into my computer.  But even after all of this… I wasn’t done. I still had my doubts as to whether this would work.

So before I would release this image to anyone for viewing, I sent a copy of it to my friend Catherine.  I’ve worked with Catherine on my writing and magazine projects, I consider her to be my closest confidante.  She’ll tell me straight if I’ve achieved a miracle; and she’ll tell me if I’ve completely screwed up.

She e-mailed me back.  She said that the artwork was awesome, and that it reminded her of what Robert Rauschenberg achieved with his “combine” art pieces.

So do you want to see it?

Continue reading “The 4th of July in Ripscale”


You’ll have to wait for my fireworks photos.

I just want to give everyone a head’s-up … if you’re coming to my blog this morning, looking for some fireworks photos from the Empire State Plaza…

You’ll have to wait a day or two.

But I promise… it’ll be worth the wait.

This was my fifth time photographing the fireworks at the Plaza, and I think I got some fantastic shots.

And they’re all on film.  Slide, negative, B&W.

And you’re thinking… why did you shoot the fireworks on film?  Is your D700 broken, Chuck?

Au contraire.  My D700 – Chuck’s main fireworks shooter for the past three years – got the night off.

In its place – the Nikon F100, along with my new Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 ultra-wide angle.  And a bag full of 35mm film.

As soon as my first shots come back from the developers, I’ll post them.  But I didn’t just shoot the fireworks on film just because I felt like it.

If all goes well, I’ll have a picture on Monday that will really make all of you stand up and applaud with both hands.

Trust me on this.

The Ripscale

Sunday was a rough day for me. Mothers’ Day is a very draining holiday. My mother passed away six years ago, and there’s a lot of emotions going through me. Not good ones.

I thought about going over to Washington Park and photographing the tulips, but parking was almost non-existent. Downtown Albany was tougher to get into than a Phish concert.

So instead of trying to find parking, I drove upstate instead.  And in my car – my Nikon F100 camera, along with a couple of rolls of store-brand 35mm film. Figured I’d take some pictures in the North Country and soothe my soul.  Some shots in the Adirondacks.  That should work.

But for some reason… instead of driving all the way north, I got off the Northway at Saratoga Springs, and drove over to the Saratoga Harness Track – er, sorry, the Saratoga Equine Sports Center – er, sorry, the Saratoga Casino and Raceway – er, sorry, whatever they’re going to call it six years from now.

Now there are rules about cameras at the harness track. You are not allowed to bring any cameras or photographic equipment onto the gambling floor; and if you plan on photographing the race, you can’t use any flash photography. Fair enough. I got up to the rail, set up my tripod and packed a roll of generic ISO 400 film into the F100.

I snagged a few pictures near the rail, just some shots of the horses as they trotted or paced past my location.  The infield flagpole was fluttering away.  Some patrons walked up to the rail and cheered on their favorite horses – or at least the horses that were the favorites and not the longshots.

Then I drove home – I didn’t even feel like placing any bets; the way I was feeling, I couldn’t predict win-place-show in a one-horse race – and dropped the film off at CVS.

A couple of hours later, I returned to CVS and picked up the film, as well as some prints and some digital scans on CD.

Dammit.  The pictures with the flag fluttering in the wind have no horses near them.  The track shows virtually no excitement, save for one picture.  And I’ve gotten some people excited along the rail, but they’re not even looking at the horses as they go by.

Dammit dammit dammit.  Can’t I do anything right today?

And these pictures – they’re just not – I started ripping the photographs apart.  Dammit why couldn’t I get the flag fluttering and free?  And why in the world did I use film, why didn’t I just bring my D700 and shoot digital like a NORMAL person wold do?

Rip. Tear.  Shred.

Let’s face it, Chuck.  You’re a miserable failure.  Your family hates you.  Your friends are disappearing.  You’re about as functional as a three-sided square.  You couldn’t hold a relationship together to save your life.

And now all you have is a bunch of photographs that you wasted money on getting prints… just a bunch of ripped-up pictures… way to waste your hard-earned money, stupid…

… a bunch of ripped-up pictures…

Wait… What if I took this torn section… and this ripped part with the horses… and this ripped part with the flag… and if I could…

At the Harness Track: Ripscale Version
Ripscale: Saratoga Harness. Rite Aid 400 film, CVS 200 film, Nikon F100 camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

It’s not perfect… it’s just a reassembled ripped-up picture.  Just like my ripped-up psyche right now.  Torn like every single emotion I’ve ever had in my life.  Shredded like my soul.  Pulled together like Frankenstein’s monster.  Ripscale.  Sounds like a good word for it.

And although this photo could lead to something more definitive, something more artistic and competent and stylized… and although I should feel like I’ve achieved something new…

I have to think.   I have to think hard and strong and make any future “ripscale” projects like this as emotional and as visceral as my heart and mind is right now.  People would need to understand, to feel, what I’m trying to achieve if I ever do this ripscale discipline again.

Because if I can’t achieve that… then all I have is just a ripped up picture.