My dad’s dad passed away when he was 5. He was a geologist who specialized in fossil fish and is memorialized on a rock in front of the C.C. Little Building at the University of Michigan. When I was in 8th grade, dad had me digitize and process grandpa's entire slide catalogue of thousands of pictures of rocks, landscapes, horizons, and everything else that came within eyeshot of a 20-something geologist in the field. As I write this sentence, I realize that I am about as old as he was when he passed, which is weird to think about.
There was no rhyme or reason to the photographs. It seemed like he just shot random things and put them away on slides - never to be looked at again. It was incredibly monotonous work, but I didn’t question it. Dad was living rent-free in the family house on account of my great-grandmother moving into a condo and I think he felt an obligation to give back to the family as a whole during this time. I lived in Mississippi, but would come up to visit during Summer and Winter Break. I only had metal CDs and comic books to keep me company, which was fine, because when you spend the summers in rural Adrian, Michigan, you don’t really have a social life to speak of. Scanning, examining, and editing each slide took about 30-120 seconds. Multiply that by 3000 and you get a grasp of how formidable this project was [for context, the set below is ~200 processed out of ~1100 shot]; taking into account the light from the desert sun, composition, color [reds, magentas, oranges, they all had a distinct warm tint to them], contrast, and lines; for each and every slide to eventually end up as jpegs on a CD for…who knows? Posterity?
When I finally finished at the end of the summer, dad’s hard drive crashed. “We lost everything. I’m sorry.”, he said with the most empathetic look in his eyes that I remember him giving me. Like the sand mandalas of the Tibetan Buddhists: drawn only to be blown away. “Just do what you can.”, implying that I was to start all over on a new HD. It actually felt liberating; that it wasn’t about the end product, but the journey. I got to look through the eyes of my grandfather, whom I never met, at things even more intently than he did in the actual moment. This is when I got the patience to edit. This is when I began to appreciate the concept of ‘the image’. Working on this set reminded me very strongly of that experience: editing one slide after the other, after the other, after the other.
This is the most taxing shoot I have ever done; both behind the camera and behind the laptop. The festival itself spanned 2 days, totaled 15 hours of shooting time, and is the first commission where I'm using a full-frame system. I was barred from using a speedlite, which introduced unique challenges - especially given the stark chiaroscuro of harsh red and blue strobes in a dark room. The full-frame saved my ass. Without it, the end product would have been a noisy, oversaturated mess. My general dependency on the speedlite shows in the early images, as I'm adjusting to the new camera setup [this is the first time I'd ever really used a full-frame system], but I acclimate to the new machine towards the end. Embracing the harshness of the red and blue strobes at the expense of yellows and greens was something to get used to; and contradicted my normal workflow on shows like this - where I have a speedlite to preserve and focus on natural skin color and leave the backdrop to be tripped out and colorful. As a result, this set radically departs from the rest of my body of work, and I'm happy with the result. I had quoted the director, Dave Sharp, 7 to 10 days on edits, but was not prepared for the scope of this project. Editing time for both days took around 16 consecutive hours. This, combined with a new day job, cut into my free time drastically and forced me to rethink the balance of time and money. I'm still working it out.