Yukuhashi, June 2022.

Photo taken without involvement of a photographer: When I bowed down to adjust my shoestrings, the camera belt slipped from my shoulder, sending the camera on a swift descend towards the parking-lot tarmac. On impact, the shutter of the camera fired, resulting in the image above. Luckily the camera shrugged it off, save for a few scratches in the bottom plate.

On air

Diesen Januar war ich zu Gast im podcast von Thomas Winters Fotobuch-Ecke, einem der Anlaufpunkte für Fotobuch-Besprechungen im deutschsprachigen Netz. Ausgehend von meinem Buch “From Pebbles to Boulders”, dessen Entstehung in Japan wir ausgiebig diskutieren, habe ich mit Thomas gute 45 Minuten über meine fotografische Arbeitsweise, Verbindungen zur Sinologie, China, Japan und viele weitere Dinge gesprochen. Hört gern mal rein, entweder direkt über Thomas’ Seite, auf der er auch einige seiner Eindrücke zum Buch veröffentlicht hat, oder z.B. direkt über Spotify.

In print

As already described here and here, the emerging COVID-19 pandemic left my wife and me stranded in her hometown Yukuhashi from March to July 2020 — right after the birth of our son. During that time, I carried a camera wherever I went, resulting in the capture of a large number of scenes of the local landscape, stones, rivers, houses, people, economy, politics, COVID-19, popular mythology and religion … my perspective on Japan “from pebbles to boulders,” so to speak.

Back in Hamburg, work was begun to edit the photos into bookshape. Being a side-project to my research, it took until September of this year to see the publication of the finished book. While 38 cartridges of film were carefully exposed and developed by hand in Yukuhashi, only 96 of the resulting photos were selected and arranged for this book, the layout being handled by Shoko Tanaka.

The book is printed to order by Norderstedt’s finest “Books on Demand” printer-publisher. It can be ordered (in Europe) through any purveyor of books of your choice, i.e. your local brick and mortar bookstore (suggested!), Book on Demand’s own webstore or various online bookshops.

From Pebbles to Boulders : 96 Photos of Small-Town Japan

ISBN 978-3-75349986-4

19,49 €


reflex 08, showing the new cover design/process.

Alongside other tectonic shifts happening around the world at the moment, reflex is now produced differently, i.e. using the services of Norderstedt’s Books on Demand GmbH. This is in lieu of printing my photos with a laser printer and binding them by hand into little booklets, which is how it worked until now.

While many appreciated the handmade quality of the old booklets, perhaps their shape somewhat distracted from the content of the photos. If some part of my process could be considered to be handcraft it would be the development of the films. More important, the recent arrival of our baby made it necessary to decide how to allot the sparse time available for photo work. Long story short: handstitching booklets did not make the cut.

(The back issues will continue to be available as handmade booklets from the nachladen.)

As usual, reflex 08 is available from the glorious nachladen as of now.

reflex 05

Reflex 05 is here, with photos from (mostly) Hamburg, Strande and Kiel. And its not just here, now its also there:

I decided to make the new issues of reflex available to the general public in the “nachladen“, Hamburg’s hot spot for self-published magazines and art printing. Drop by if you are in the area and have a look, they have heaps of nice prints and magazines by local artists well worth a visit.

Printing matters: reflex 01 to 04

Reflex issue 04 to 01.

Reflex issues 01 to 04 are finally finished. Each issue contains 36 of my photos taken during one quarter year, printed using electro photographical printing.

It’s been a long time coming: In March of 2018 I wrote that I would concentrate on printing my photos, instead of just publishing them on my homepage. Afterwards it seemed like no progress happened in this regard for well over one year. What can I say? The PhD thesis continues to occupy the largest part of my attention and from last summer onward, curating the exhibition “Negative/Scans” kept me busy as well. As a result, the stream of photos published on the homepage became a mere trickle, while no printed photos appeared.

I continued shooting though, as well as developing films and making proof sheets of the films. When some time was available, I experimented with different ways to print my photos.

The question of printing process

The major reason why the silver bullet – traditional enlargements, chemical development – could not be used: Our apartment lacks the space necessary to set up a darkroom able to handle print development. Turning the bathroom into a darkroom by putting an enlarger onto the toilet seat and some development trays in the shower is nice for some fooling around, but not for producing a reasonable quantity of prints. The throughput rate would be far too low. While I do hope to be able to set up a real darkroom again in the future, for now I will continue to use a hybrid workflow, meaning I take my photos on film, scan them and use the computer to prepare them for printing.

Besides the question of the throughput – or maybe better output – rate, there were further requirements which the printing process would have to meet:

– The prints need to be reasonably archivable (they should not degrade before I do, print durability should be in excess of 60 years)

– The prints should cost as little as possible (a drugstore print of the size 13x18cm costs around 0,40€. Nice for a few quick prints, but too much when having to print a lot)

– Print quality (resolution, tonality, luster) should still be as high as possible

After some experiments with on-demand digital photobook printing, which proved to not be right for me due to reasons of cost and lack of control over the process, I tried to print the photos myself using an inkjet printer. That one did a good job preserving the tonality of the negatives, but I do not print every day (or even week) and the danger of inks drying out in the printer is looming too large. (The printer wasting ink on purpose to flush out its printing heads is also unacceptable for financial reasons.)

I then stumbled upon “xerography” or electro photographical printing. The prints meet common archival standards and are not very costly in production. Their only downside is that tonality is not too good (resolution is reasonable though). Even if electro photographical printing sounds exotic to you, you probably have already encountered the process: It is the same one used in the humble photocopier. Following some deliberations, I figured since exhibition prints would be done through a different process anyway, xerography is the way to go for producing this little ongoing catalog of my work.

The editorial workflow for “reflex”

Reflex no. 3, pages 29 and 30.

After the question of printing process was settled, another decision had to be made on how to edit my photos. Sometimes I work on limited projects, which turn into little portfolios of photos almost by themselves (compare the Greek wedding), but what about the photos I take day-to-day without any connecting thread? These form the bulk of photos I shoot, by a wide margin.

I decided to select 36 out of all the photos I take every quarter year (Jan.-Mar., Apr.-Jun., Jul.-Sept., Oct.-Dec.), purely based on the criterion of which photos I like. These will be printed, presented and archived together. What results over time will be a kind of photographic reflection of the world around me, in the shape of a photographic journal. The focus is smack on the pictures, usually printed one per page with as little captions provided as possible.

My wife Shoko helps me to embed the 36 photos selected into a simple layout using the software InDesign. After printing the pages, I stitch them together between two sheets of packaging paper, resulting in a durable booklet of 21cmx21cm. On the front of this, the most important information about the content is given, as well as the issue’s number.

Let’s see how long I can keep this up.

Heavy Metal

Filing out the negative holder of a Pentax slide copier.

After toasting a few films with the “Canon P” rangefinder I got in Japan earlier this year I ran into problems when trying to scan the negatives: The film gate of the Canon is just ever so slightly larger than those of the Pentaxes I usually use, resulting in a ever so slightly larger area of film exposed to light. This made it impossible to leave a border of unexposed film around the picture in the digital file, which I have grown used to.

The solution is to file out the negative holder of the slide copier I use to digitize my 35mm films. This leaves just enough room around the negatives made with the Canon to form a black border. The negatives from the Pentaxes are not affected by this.

Below an example taken with the Canon P, now with proper black border of unexposed film.

Hamburg, May 2017. A hammock over the water of the Alster.

Photographing China II

Pentax KS-1 with 1:2,4/35mm lens and two LED panels mounted on a tripod. I trigger the shutter with a remote control. Not the most professional setup, but it gets the job done surprisingly well.

And this is what really brought me to China: Photographing old periodicals in the libraries of Shanghai. The main objective this time? Xinwen zhaopian (news photos), a catalog published by the Xinhua News Agency twice every week, for newspapers, magazins and other work units of the media sphere to select and order pictures from. It covers the period from 1958 to 1987 with barely a gap inbetween and is as close to the “photographic mainstream” during those years as you can get.

Digital contact sheets

The setup for contact prints.
The setup for contact prints.

This is the setup I use to make “digital contact sheets” of the film strips which have been developed. To keep them flat, the negative strips are sandwiched between two sheets of anti-reflective glass on a simple LED-lighttable. A digital camera (Pentax KS-1) is positioned above this on an ancient (“made in West-Germany”) repro column. A spirit level in the acessory shoe of the camera helps to ensure its completely level. The digital camera (with an old but sharp Pentax SMC 1:3,5/35mm lens attached) produces digital pictures of all the negatives on a film in one frame, which can be easily inverted to show positive images and allow a first glimps of the “catch of the day”.

This setup is a reversal of the way traditional — analog — contact sheets are made: Here the film strips would be put on a sheet of photographic paper (the “sensor”) and pressed down (into contact) with a pane of glass, then exposed from above with the enlarger or a simple light bulb. After development of the photographic paper you would be left with the positive images of the negatives on the paper, looking somewhat like the file reproduced below.

Overview file n0112.
Overview file n0112.

Based on these digital contact sheets, better called overviews, it is decided which negatives to digitize using a slide copier, and later continue to work on fine-tuning said pictures. (This part of the process was already explained here)

Apart from selecting the pictures to immediately work on, the overview files serve as a visual catalog of the “photographic stream of consicousness” recorded with the camera. These overviews are printed too, and can later conveniently be leafed through in the folder that is used to store them and keep them in order. Each overview print is inscribed on the back with the catalog number of the corresponding film, for example “n0123”. This is also the corresponding name of the digital file on the computer. When a negative of that film is turned into another digital file, the number of the negative (being one of 36 exposures possible on a standard strip of 35mm film) is added to the catalog number to give the filename of a finished picture, for example “n0123-36”. This makes it equally easy to retrieve a negative from storage (no matter whether digital or on paper) when it is needed at some later point.