Pushing Fronts: 2013 Retrospective

The sun sets over the Riggin Barn on E. Riggin Road in Muncie, Ind., after severe thunderstorms inundated the area, Sunday, November 17, 2013. The outbreak of unseasonable thunderstorms spawned several tornados throughout the state of Indiana, including one in nearby Kokomo.

On the eve of my birthday (or “Guy Eve” as the day has become colloquially known in my inner circles), my mother was kind enough to bake me a birthday cake (a day early, since I’ll be spending my actual birthday jetting across the country for lighting work). The finished cake, sitting proudly on the kitchen table, was topped with two candles in the shape of a three and two. 3-2. Thirty-two.

While I knew that those waxy numerals weren’t telling any fibs, my gut reaction was to question the sum they’d derived. “Thirty-two? Me? That’s, like, some adult’s age!” Indeed, reality is a tough pill to swallow. Aside from having legal documents to confirm my age on paper, I’m also realizing my philosophical ideals and beliefs are lining right up with full blown adulthood.

Our consumption-centered society makes me cringe, people killing each other over tennis shoes leaves me feeling ashamed to be a human, and inventions like Google Glass — sure to make rude folks even more self-absorbed — make me want to spend my thirty-second birthday hiding under the covers with a can of cookie dough.

Perhaps these nagging social conundrums have played a part in a huge creative shift in my work this year. On the photo front, while some chased down every last test chart and megapixel from their digital cameras in search of, well, who-knows-what, I ran in the opposite direction back to my roots in film.

While I learned how to compose and operate a camera using 35mm film back in junior high school / high school, I never developed or printed film myself (it was always sent to a lab). This year, and nearly twelve years since I’d shot a single film image, I changed the rules by teaching myself how to shoot, develop, and print large format 4×5 film. With YouTube tutorials and ordinary books (remember those?) as my guides, I felt such a great sense of accomplishment pulling my first negatives from the developing tubes and seeing actual, clean images! “It worked!”

Sure, my digital cameras are responsible for the majority of my favorite photos from this year that, technically, could not have been captured the same way (if at all) on film, but it’s been quite refreshing to begin producing a body of work that exists outside the binary world of hard drives and CF cards. Work that I can hold in my hands. Work that has a smell. Work that I can scratch.

Later in the year, I decided to push the analog photography front even further by learning the beautiful intricacies of the wet plate collodion process. After a day-long, private workshop at the studios of Thomas Gibson in Lecompton, Kansas, I purchased an 8×10 dry-plate view camera built in 1896, modified it for wet plate use, and began creating one-of-a-kind photographic works on pieces of ordinary black aluminum.

95% of the tools I purchased for my new photography fronts were used. In addition to re-purposing others’ landfill-bound trash, there’s something really spiritual about using others’ tools from long ago with the same processes today. I often wonder how many passionate photographers used the very same trays, holders, and safelights I now use in my darkroom. I like to think all of their collective, creative energies are still attached to those tools somehow – energies that will help me as I grow and learn.

On the lighting design front, I’ve noticed a trend evolving this year with my work that’s been ongoing for a few years now. While I once would have been excited for (and fought for) as many moving lights and toys as I could on a gig, recently, I’ve been more excited about quirky, creative uses of ordinary objects for lighting. On a dance show I lit in November, for example, I used simple, metal trash cans with a pattern cut into them to light a dance piece, bathing the soloist and cyc in texture. The entire gag cost about $40 to put together, and received one of the largest reactions from both the choreographers and the audience (this despite having 8 moving lights on the show, which certainly looked lovely, but didn’t stand out as anything unique in 2013).

A piece from a November dance show featured ordinary trash cans I lit from within to bathe the dancer and cyc in texture. The entire gag cost around $40.

I’m confident the new year is going to see a lot more of this hand-made creativity across all my disciplines. In an age where everyone and their mother is shooting with the exact same digital camera, using the same lenses, or using the exact same Sharpy moving lights doing the same circle effects, the things that will really stand out from the pack are things that involve none of those tools (or involve them being used in completely new ways).

2014 will be fertile ground for this creativity, and I’m looking forward to pushing the envelope even further.

Ginna Hoptman and Pavel Filchenkov during the senior pairs free dance of the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Saturday, January 26, 2013.

A macro view of snowflakes lit through color gels in East Chicago, Ind., early Friday, February 22, 2013.

A fire ball rises from an explosion at the scene of a structure fire at 526 W. Chicago Ave. in East Chicago, Ind., Saturday, March 9, 2013. The initial fire call came in at 4:33 pm. The fire eventually spread to a neighboring building to the east.

Girls varsity basketball team member Linnae Harper poses outside Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago. Harper, a 5 foot 7 inch senior who plays the point guard position, is set to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall.

The Aurora Borealis luminesce in the sky over Lake Michigan near the lighthouse at St. Joseph, Mich., Tuesday, October 8, 2013.

An abandoned and fire-damaged cabin in the woods near Townsend, Tenn., Saturday, July 20, 2013. This was one of the many images I shot in 2013 on 4×5 film.

A B-17G Flying Fortress sits on the ramp at Porter County Regional Airport in Valparaiso, Ind., Tuesday, July 30, 2013. The World War II era aircraft, built in 1945, currently tours the country as part of the nonprofit Collings Foundation.

Sandy Jansson of Crown Point, Ind., kisses a frog during the Frog Jumping Contest held at the Lake County Fair at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Crown Point, Ind., Saturday, August 10, 2013.

The ruins of the sanctuary of City Methodist Church in downtown Gary, Ind., Monday, May 13, 2013.

The Mill Mountain Star flanked by clouds and the sun in Roanoke, Va., Tuesday, July 23, 2013.

Norma Serrano Williams (left), owner of Excellence by Design, gets an extra bit of paint on her roller with the help of Shannon Doolittle of Highland, Ind., while painting a bedroom at the home of Teresa Needles (not pictured) in Highland, Ind., Monday, June 10, 2013. Serrano Williams started the company, which offers a number of indoor and outdoor finishing services, 8 years ago. She also heads a non-for-profit organization called Girls and Paint, which seeks to empower women with life skills through the trade of painting.

Lightning strikes a radio transmitter mast atop the Willis Tower in Chicago, Ill., Wednesday, September 18, 2013. Strong thunderstorms brought heavy downpours to the Chicago area Wednesday evening.

“Poke Salad Danny” poses on Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, September 21, 2013. “Nobody’s from Nashville,” replied Danny when asked where he was originally from, eventually settling on Long Island as the final answer.

A view looking towards the tail of a B-17G Flying Fortress in the sky over Porter County during a demonstration flight near Valparaiso, Ind., Monday, July 29, 2013. The World War II era aircraft, built in 1945, currently tours the country as part of the nonprofit Collings Foundation.

East Side resident Frank Corona voices his opposition to expanding “petcoke” storage operations during a community meeting held at East Side United Methodist Church in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, November 14, 2013. Residents attended the meeting to discuss storage of the powdery petroleum waste at the nearby KCBX Terminal along the Calumet River, and its impact on nearby homes as the operation looks to expand.

Newly-married Elena and Oscar Romero enjoy their wedding reception at Meyer’s Castle in Dyer, Ind., Friday, May 3, 2013.

Snow covers a basketball court at Edward Valve Park in East Chicago, Ind., Monday, December 9, 2013. This 8×10 image was created using the wet plate collodion process.

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700, flight 4820 en route from Washington, D.C., to Chicago Midway Airport, flies in front of the full moon over East Chicago, Ind., Tuesday, August 20, 2013.

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