Monday, November 30, 2009

I've been busy with graffiti in the metro...

No, I didn't do it. I couldn't draw to save my life, let alone spray paint. I'm working on a metro project that will probably take another 10 years to finish. It's not about graffiti, but I just discovered that line 3 has more graffiti on the cars than all of the other lines (as far as I know) combined. This is my last week in Paris, and I'm running all over the place trying to finish up projects before heading back to the U.S.

As I write this, it's 1:42 a.m. in Paris, so technically, I should have a new monthly special ready to go. But given how tomorrow (or rather, today) looks (last day teaching, special photo lecture to a local women's group), I may be a day late. There are still things I wanted to cover in November, but I'll have to get to those later.

For those who have been missing the tutorials, once I'm back in the States, the slower pace of things will definitely be more conducive to tutorials. But for now, it's madness.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

When plain old photos just aren't good enough...

I saved the strangest ideas from Paris Photo for last.

If you want a creepy portrait of a friend or family member, why not just have them sit still for a video and then dedicate a framed monitor to your masterpiece? Because we're not at Hogwarts, that's why.

Don't know what to do with that old photo of your great great uncle Tobias? I hear embroidery floss adds zing when your Bedazzler has run out of rhinestones.

Covering a photo in semi-opaque cloth can serve as a socio-political commentary on the veil in contemporary Iran or it can just be a good way to use up that extra bolt of fabric in your sewing room.

Who says the glass over your framed photo needs to remain clear? Tell Windex and their neatnik cronies where to go. Fight the power in the comfort of your living room with some acrylic craft pens and some free association graffiti.

One example of the altered glass approach that I actually loved (but no pic, sorry) was a photo of a plain wall with graffiti tags sprayed all over the inside of the glass.

In spite of my mocking commentary, I do like how the examples above make me consider alternatives to the traditional framed photo.

What do you think? Ever done anything unconventional with photo presentation?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ideas for displaying your photos (part 2)

In the last post, I looked at examples of lines and grids of framed photos at Paris Photo. This post will give examples that break with those basic layouts.

This combination of portrait and landscape frames is made more interesting by staggering the portrait frames rather than keeping them symmetrical.

Here, the arrow-like triangular positioning leads your eye from left to right.

This is an attempt to break up the traditional gallery-style line of photos. I'm not sure how I feel about the near-checkerboard look, but I guess it depends on the context.

One central photo (hidden by the man's head) seems to sprout wings from either side. Note how the ample matting helps contain what would otherwise be too many competing images. To me, this looks very Martha Stewart. And speaking of Martha, one of her tips that I have used is to cut out paper versions of all your frames and arrange them on the wall before you commit. I use paper grocery bags and painter's tape.

If there is any philosphy behind this arrangement, it is to avoid lining up any two frames. In my opinion, the quare white space on the left side draws too much attention to itself.

I love how the one landscape-oriented frame pops out of the grid in this set of Lartigue photos (which can be yours for a mere 120,000 euros. Yikes!) Once again we see the small photo / large matte look.

I also love how a couple of huge photos can fill a room.

Two groups of three. Good? Not so much? What do you think?

Symmetrical, but different. Makes me think of an owl.

And finally, a reminder that you don't have to let the shape of your photo determine the shape of your frame. Experimenting with mattes can make your display look more high end.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to display your photos: Ideas from Paris Photo (part 1)

Paris Photo is a massive 4-day event happening right now through Sunday in the Carrousel du Louvre. The show features 89 galleries and 13 editors from all over the world. I went last night and found it to be at once heavenly and torturous. Heavenly, because the scale of the show and the variety of major photographers on display outshone any photography museum I have ever seen. Torturous, because I couldn't take it all in (much less take any of it home). Want to buy a Klein? A bargain at 9,000 euros. A signed Cartier-Bresson will run you about 25,000 euros. A passport-sized Lartigue (and I mention the size because I overheard some Americans talking about prices in the cliché "size matters" way) costs 30,000. Although most of the prices were on display, I think it's safe to say that the "Well, if you have to ask, you can't afford it" rule applied to everything.

If you budget is like mine, the only things you can take away from the show are the memories, maybe a catalog, and some inspiration. Since I can't give you the first two, let me help out with the third, specifically, some inspiration for photo displays.

How do the galleries display their photos? In the next couple of posts, I'll give a few examples (also, let me give a disclaimer that my photos of the displays are quick snapshots). In this post, we'll look at the most common methods of display: the grid and the classic line.

Simple, modern, and elegant. A line of photos gives a classic look similar to what you might see in a museum. However, many museums would put more space between the frames for the practical reason of filling the space and of allowing more room for visitors to look at the photos.

A variation on the straight line that I love is this symmetrical display with a round photo and frame in the middle.

Larger spacing in this six photo grid of Duane Michals photos (being photographed by a woman who looks exactly like the one in the photos), is a safe choice.

Large photos arranged in a triptych work especially well if the center photo draws the most attention.

A long two-line grid of photos with identical matting and with no spaces makes a bold statement.

A vertical version of the two-line grid takes a more innovative approach by playing with the colors of the frames (but keeping a sophisticated black, white, gray palette).

A dramatic three-line grid of large color unmatted photos and minimal spacing makes a strong, modern statement.

Closely spaced grids sometimes use large matting to let the photos breathe and give a more classic look.

In my opinion, the wide black frames and black matting in this grid borders on overpowering the photos themselves.

No spacing between frames, small mattes, and color photos on a unified theme (painted trucks).

Photos of different sizes are cropped here to fit in a grid of identical frames.

Getting inspired for displaying your own photos? I know I am.

Tomorrow, I'll go beyond the line and the grid for more inspiration.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blurb books, an idea for using your photos

A chocolate religieuse from Ladurée

Here's a simple idea for using your photos: make a book. Isn't that the same as making an album? you ask. Well, yes, but without having to first print your photos, then buy an album, then choose an adhesive, etc. etc.

With digital photos, it's so easy to take them and then never look at them again. They don't even fill up a shoebox, just a hard drive (which hopefully is organized and has backups lest disaster strikes). Wouldn't it be nicer if they sat on your coffee table or had a prized spot on your bookshelf? No disrespect to those bulky three-ring binders that are so popular for scrapbooking, but they are too deep to fit in my bookshelf. Imagine, instead, a collection of little 7 x 7 inch professionally printed books that feature your favorite things, people, places, or whatever else you choose.

My latest personal "book project" is a Blurb book of all my favorite foods in Paris. A square version of the photo above was for my religieuse "best of" category until I found an even better one at Carl Marletti (look at the amazing food photography on his site). People are always asking me what they should do when they visit Paris, and I always respond with food suggestions. I mean, they're going to visit the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d'Orsay, Notre Dame, and other main attractions no matter I say, but they might not know about Hermé macarons or the amazing pâtes à choux at Marletti. So making a book is fun for me and a good gift idea for my friends.

But why Blurb? For me, it's about the best price/quality option. With unlimited resources, I would use Asukabook. Their printing is the best I have seen. I use them for wedding albums for most of my clients. But Asukabook is many times more expensive than blurb (and only for pros). I will use Asukabook for one-offs of special projects, but I can't afford to make a series a books for myself with them even at wholesale prices. Blurb books, on the other hand, are cheap enough to use as alternative to those plastic albums that hold 4x6 inch photos and they look a lot nicer.

I have only made two Blurb books so far, but here's what I can tell you based on my experience:
  • You download their software to create your book, which is convenient because you don't need much skill to get a good end result, but inconvenient because you can't get it printed anywhere but on blurb.
  • Keep it simple or you will be frustrated to no end. We did a 250 page book of poems (and drawings) that was a layout nightmare. The program was slow and buggy, and I swore I would never do another Blurb book after that. But I have learned my lesson. The end product looked better than expected, so rather than give up on Blurb, I will avoid text-heavy work and keep the layout simple.
  • The page limits are extremely flexible. You can do a short book (I did one as a Valentine a couple years ago) or a really long one (440 pages long!)
  • The site makes the books look higher quality than they are. Don't think this is going to compete with high-end coffee table books, but I do think they are nicer than what I have seen offered at comparable sites and stores.
  • When your book is done you can order a copy for yourself and/or others can order it from the site. This doesn't mean you can't protect your privacy (there are options for that). In my case it just means that the next time someone asks me what to do in Paris, I can tell them to get my book.
  • If you want to sell your book for profit you can do it, but I think Blurb is more of a convenient way to make a book than a good way to make money.
  • Finally, until Nov. 24, they have a -20% and free shipping offer that looks pretty tempting.
I'm having my kids do Blurb books about their time here in Paris. They can work on them here (which, to be honest, has been hard to get them to do) and have them sent right to our house in Utah. My 10-year old, Lucas, gave me the idea after he visited Les Invalides and came back with a series of photos he called "the last thing you'd see." They were photos of spears, horses in armor, and other museum displays seen from the perspective of someone about to be stabbed, crushed, etc. Morbid, but very funny. He did the same thing at the dinosaur museum. Now, if I can just get him to assemble them...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Free Money" Sparks Riot Today in Paris

I was going to go out and get some pictures of photo displays for a post, and then thousands of people showed up outside and, well, I got distracted.

This is the story of a publicity stunt gone awry. Apparently, a web site called "Mailorama" planned to give away money somewhere in our neighborhood. Things didn't turn out too well when a police officer announced that the event had been canceled.

Some wandered around looking disappointed...

while others decided to rock the police car from side to side. The lone cop promptly left, and that was the last we saw of law and order for at least a half hour.

Most people just wandered around the Champs de Mars, thinking maybe money would fall from the sky if they just waited long enough.

And of course, there are always those that like to climb whenever there's a big gathering. But with no real cause, people mostly looked confused.

But then, like the cliché butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon, the word "money" must have escaped someone's lips. Everyone dashed to the "Carrefour City" grocery store right across the street from our place.

Still no money. Still no purpose. No monuments to climb on. But wait! Fruit stand!!! (check out the guy at left)

People were grabbing fruit, stuffing their pockets, eating as if they hadn't had a meal in days. (check out the guy at the right).

I mean, what else is there to do with food, right? Oh, wait a minute, here's an idea:

It was like Christmastime in some Norman Rockwell "Saturday Evening Post" snowball fight illustration (or for you cinephiles, the snowball fight scene in Abel Gance's "Napoleon"), except instead of snow, there were only apples, oranges, tomatoes, and melons, and instead of quaint children of yesteryear, there were hordes of disenfranchised youth chanting "La banlieue! La banlieue!" (that's "suburbs," but here in France, it signifies the ghetto culture that strikes fear into the heart of every right-wing Frenchman).

On the bright side, apples, oranges, and melons taste better than snow. But don't mention that to someone who has just suffered a melon induced head trauma. The best thing to do in this kind of situation is RUN....

unless you're a person throwing fruit or an adrenaline junkie with a camera.

I was a little nervous that my camera would get smashed, but I wanted to get a shot that included the ATMs that say "RETRAIT," which in French has the dual meaning of "withdrawal" (as in "cash," or in this case, "fruit" withdrawal), and "retreat" which is what most sensible people do in this kind of situation.

Two details in the following photo that might not jump out at you: 1. The "Algérie" sweatshirt that basically evokes all kinds of things the French have tried to repress for so long, and 2. The poster in the background with a smug man in a suit that reads "THE DAMNED UNITED."

One of my favorite shots, I really wish it were larger here for you to appreciate the expression on the woman's face (cowering below the red awning) and the reflection in the window just above her head (you'll have to trust me on this one) that says OH (it took me a while to figure out it was from a hotel).

A shot where THE DAMNED UNITED poster is seen more clearly. It's one of those scrolling poster displays, so it was serendipitous to have that one visible.

One thing that surprised me was to see women gather fruit as if they had stumbled out of a Millet painting. The older woman (far left) found a nice melon, and the younger woman in the phone booth busied herself by filling a lovely rustic basket with fruit from two crates she had swiped just a minute earlier.

It may look relatively peaceful in that photo, but a few people had actually been hit so hard that they had fallen to the ground. Several people around me were hit, and my hair and camera took some shrapnel from a golden delicious and a clementine. Things were getting sticky, and I decided it was time to go inside for an aerial view.

A good view, but I had to take photos from behind a closed window once a couple of apples and clementines splattered into our living room. Eva was screaming, the computer almost took a direct hit, and Lucas' Nintendo DS charger got permanently wounded. We will now pause to watch Max clean juice off the wall:

But turning away from our living room trauma...

Yes, that is a car being overturned by the mob.

I ought to show some close crops so you can appreciate the expressions, but for now, just let me say that the media usually misrepresent scenes like this. Just like my experience with the youth at the techno parade, I found the violence to be playful more than angry. Most people are having a lot of fun (which I guess makes sense, given the expression "it's a riot."). The lack of rage makes it no less dangerous. In fact, it makes it more disturbing (like something Haneke would shoot).

The view from the apartment gave me some great shots, but it also distanced me from the crowd. Besides the threat of flying fruit, I had at least one guy give me the "I'm watching you and you're dead" sign from down below. When you're down with the people, you just smile and nod like you're enjoying the fun alongside them. But if you're looking down from your wrought-iron balcony, sniping photos with a long lens from behind the geraniums, you may as well be Marie-Antoinette saying "Let them eat cake!"—which, the French historian in me must note, she never actually said. Not that it mattered. Living conditions speak for themselves.

By this point, there's no going back downstairs. Mr. crazy eyes has already given me a death sentence and I'm stuck in my tower. As much as I want to go back outside, all I can do is make sure the windows are locked and speculate about why the riot police are taking so long.

Oh look, why there they are now...

From here, things go back to "normal."

By late afternoon, the streets have been swept clean of broken glass and car fragments. A salon is open, so I go get my hair cut in time for a ballet tonight at the Opera Garnier. We sit in one of the "loges"— a private enclave with lush velvet seats and a sofa. Six of us nestled behind a walnut door: a Japanese couple, an English woman with her friend from Greece, and us. We complain about the view. We rearrange our seats during intermission and decide we like the third act the best. Not a smashed clementine in sight.

We take the metro back to our rain-washed streets. The cobblestones remind me of that Gustave Caillebotte painting of a bourgeois couple sharing an umbrella. I take the boys out for a gelato on Rue Cler. We don't talk about eating cake, but we send Max to the Carrefour across the street to buy flour because tomorrow is Sunday.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Expanding your palette for photo prints (part 3: canvas, metallic, watercolor)

I talked about the basics in the last two parts, now let's tackle three more: "watercolor" (aka "cotton rag" or "matte fine art"), metallic, and canvas.

In my experience, Canvas is what a family buys for those extra special photos such as the family portrait above the fireplace, wedding and bridal portraits, or individual portraits of children. The common theme here is "portrait," but if I did landscape photography, I'm sure I would have clients purchasing landscapes on canvas as well. A canvas print costs many times the price of a photograph on paper, so what makes it worth the cost?

If you think about the psychology behind it, I think canvas enjoys the strongest connection to artistic legitimacy (i.e. a connection to traditional painted portraits), and that we have been conditioned to think of canvas as more special than paper. I would call this phenomenon the "nostalgia factor." Rare is the person who commissions a painted portrait, so the next best thing in most people's minds is a photographic portrait on canvas. Canvas has a more painterly texture and you can even add textured coatings that might give the appearance of brush strokes. I don't think canvas is inherently better. If you want fine detail, for example, you would be better off with a smoother paper. If you want something modern, you might consider other options. But for traditional looks, canvas gives off a feeling of classic elegance.

Lately, the trend for wrapped canvas (aka "gallery wraps") has been growing. The marketing pitch usually tries to exploit the inherent association of canvas with "art" while simultaneously arguing that since the wrapped image looks great on its own, you can save money by hanging it with no frame. Sans frame, gallery wraps make canvas a "contemporary" option, which is a pretty smart way for people in the canvas business to keep their product relevant.

This has become a very popular alternative photo paper, but you might have trouble finding it at most local labs. Look online (Mpix and Bay Photo are just two of the many online options) for places that do metallic. Kodak Endura Metallic is the market leader as far as I can tell. I can't really show you what a metallic print looks like, because you have to see it in person and look at it from different angles. It doesn't look like a photo printed on tinfoil as you might imagine. Think "glossy," but more interesting. It has a smooth surface, and a silvery base that you will notice most prominently in the lightest colors. Colors are more intense and vibrant on metallic paper. Black and white photos can look stunning on metallic, and some people swear that it's good for just about anything. Personally, I would never use metallic paper for family photos. I have heard people claim that it produces good skin tones, but I would only use it on more stylized photos. Cross-processed and bleach bypass photos would look even better in metallic.

I mentioned in my last post that "giclée" is snob for "inkjet." To be fair, a giclée is usually a high quality inkjet and it is usually done on watercolor paper. Hahnemühle photo rag is my favorite 100% coton inkjet paper. It's not even in the same world as Canon or Epson as far as I'm concerned. Some of the reasons have to do with paper's weight, its D-Max rating (i.e. how deep can the blacks get?), how evenly the paper absorbs the ink, color gamut, and so on.

I would recommend watercolor paper for more dreamy, romantic looking photos (perhaps at a heavier texture), for classic looking black and white, or for most anytime you want a quality matte finish.

And now it's time to play [wild applause], "What paper would Marc choose?" [confused smattering of claps] The game where we get to look at some of Marc's photos and find out which paper he would print them on! [sound of crickets chirping].

photo #1: Boy with dog

Traditional elegance, rich tones. Taken for a client with a tasteful European-influenced home. Canvas.

photo #2: Champion gymnast

Desaturated, stylized, masculine, cool tones. Metallic.

photo #3: Wedding photo

Romantic, pink duotone. Watercolor.

photo #4: Fire escape portrait

Urban, trendy, cross-processed. Metallic.

photos #5 and 6: Bride

Classic, timeless bridal portraits. Canvas for the photo on the left and watercolor for the more contemplative photo on the right. However, if they were displayed next to each other in a home, I would choose the same (either one) for both.

photo #7: CNN Hero, Peter Kithene

Rich, dark, earthy, and timeless. Ivory-hued watercolor.

Obviously, these are just examples with my opinions. But it is my blog, so I won't pretend to be objective.

Parts 1-3 have taken you through the basic choices, but we have only scratched to surface as far as expanding your print palette goes. I am on day three of being stuck inside the apartment, and I am going stir crazy. This isn't the last you will hear about photo prints this month (In the eyes of many photographers, we aren't even close to alternative processes yet), but it had better be the last post I do in my robe in between doses of Advil.