Happy New Year 2015

As always, if you have questions, objections, worries or praise, and especially if you found your picture and want it removed, feel free to contact me. I will get back to you as soon as possible. You can also read my full disclaimer, if you are interested.

 

First of all, I wish you all a Happy New Year!

At the beginning of each year I always like to take stock of the previous year. Since I have started blogging in 2011 it has become a bit of a tradition and usually it gives me a sense of achievement that I don’t usually get when I’m just entangled in my day to day adventures. Two years ago I skipped the exercise, mainly because 2012 wasn’t such a great year, but looking back at 2013 was quite an enjoyable experience last year. And I’m sure 2014 will prove to be equally interesting.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Life and all that

2014 was actually a year of big changes for me. I gave up my plans of doing a PhD in Berlin – it just wasn’t workable at all – and finally moved to Spain to find my luck in other things. And all of a sudden an opportunity came up to do my PhD anyway! That’s what I call magical solutions. For me this was a fantastic development and I’m really happy about it.

One of my goals this year was to improve my health a little bit more and at the beginning of the year I was hopeful that I would soon be pain free. Sadly these hopes weren’t really justified. After just a few months the medication that kept me largely pain free stopped working and since then it hasn’t always been easy. I’m still trying new supplements, one of which actually seems very promising now, and I have a few things left to try, but I’m afraid for now I better assume that the pain is going to stay. However, although I regularly have quite bad days, my health hardly ever keeps me from doing the things I want to do and this is something that has changed in comparison to 2013. I’m not a victim of my health anymore and this feels really quite good. In fact I even started dancing tango again recently, which is something that my illness prevented for two years. Last year when I just had my surgery I couldn’t even walk properly, so dancing was completely out of the question. This means that my health is actually slowly improving although sometimes it’s impossible to see the progress in the usual everyday struggle.

My first solo show

Now, since this is a photography blog, let’s move on from the external circumstances and look at how things went for me photographically.

Well, it’s actually easy: 2014 was a fantastic year for me. The most amazing thing was that I had my first solo show in Cologne in May, which was definitely the highlight of the year and also a great success for me! It was something that I had been dreaming of for years and when it finally happened it all seemed a little surreal and otherworldly. It was a really great experience and it also was a great motivator! I learned a great deal in the process as well – how to mount prints on foam board (surprisingly easy), how to keep the foam board from falling off the walls (surprisingly hard) and all sorts of other things like that. Also making the selection really was an interesting experience – although I select pictures for posts every day I never really quantified my shots in any way and so I had difficulties making a selection at first. It only started to become manageable when I introduced ratings to my archive, so that now I can easily find the best shots. (This has also been a great help in making a selection for this post.)

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

 

The interesting thing is that the selection process also forced me to take a long hard look at what I’m doing and although what I saw was actually quite nice, I decided that I need to step up my game a bit, set myself some new goals and invest in really good gear so that the next show can be even better. This leads me straight on to my next section:

New analog gear

In 2014 I actually developed quite a bit of GAS – gear acquisition syndrome -, as you can see already by the fact that there are several subsections to this heading!

Compact rangefinders

It all started with a search for a good compact rangefinder, because my Zorki was rather heavy, clunky and sometimes just decided to eat my film for no apparent reason. I also wanted something largely automatic that would just allow me to snap away while I’m running errands. My first attempt at finding a camera like that was the Yashica Electro 35 CC. Sadly I happened to get a dud on ebay, which was really very broken. Although the electronics worked, the rangefinder was stuck, there was something loose in the top plate, the light seals were crumbling and the lens had some gunk in it. Repairing all of this took quite a while and only after the summer did I manage to shoot a halfway decent roll with this camera. However, it seems that even now the film forwarding is slightly broken and that the slow times are too slow, which I noticed when my brother was using it a little while back. By now I almost think that this camera is such a mess, that it’s not worth it to continue the repairs. On the other hand I have now already invested quite a bit of time and effort in it, so that I might as well continue until it’s fully functional. The next step will be to test the slow times properly by shooting a roll at night and then to try to figure out why the film forwarding jams sometimes.

Although my Yashica was a dud in the end I managed to find a rather nice compact rangefinder anyway: The Olympus XA. It quickly became the camera that I would take with me wherever I went. In fact for almost half a year I didn’t use my Zorki at all after picking up the XA, because it’s just so easy to use, light, small and quiet. And the best thing is that the lens really is great considering that this is a compact camera. I really like the results I got from this camera and it will remain the camera of choice for the moments when I need a small and light camera. I actually carry it with me all the time just in case.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Medium format

The most significant change for me with regard to the style of working was that I started taking pictures in medium format. I got the opportunity to try an Agfa Isolette II and I quickly became hooked on the gorgeously big negatives that allow for seemingly infinite zoom when scanned in a high enough resolution. The Isolette has a nice lens and I got some really sweet results from it, but it is a rather basic camera without a frame counter and zone focussing abilities only. With an 85mm lens zone-focussing does get rather difficult, so I was really longing for a camera with an actual focussing system on it. So, in the end I actually invested in a rather wonderful Rolleicord V with a Schneider-Kreuznach 75mm f/3.5 lens. It is a really beautiful camera and I have had very good reactions to it on the street, which means that it’s actually not such a big problem that I need a bit longer to set the shot and focus with the TLR. It’s a slower style of working and it forces me to think, compose and not just snap away. This means that I actually have a higher hit rate with this camera than with my 35mm gear. I was very surprised, that it doesn’t really matter that there are only 12 shots of 6×6 on a roll of 120 film. In fact I usually get at least one picture I really really like on a roll of 120 while this doesn’t happen for every roll of 35mm and even less rarely with my digital camera.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Leica

And if those weren’t already enough camera acquisitions, just before the year ended I also finally took the plunge and invested in a camera that I’ve been lusting after for many years, the Leica M6. This camera was the reason why I got into film photography in the first place, because the digital Leicas are perfectly unaffordable for me.

I didn’t really expect that I would actually prefer film when I started shooting. I started out on a slightly broken and perfectly misaligned Zorki 3C – a Soviet Leica copy – and worked hard to get the hang of shooting without a light meter and with a fully manual camera after eventually upgrading to the Zorki 4K. I learned how to develop film at home, some basic darkroom techniques and even winged some lo-fi contact sheets executed with the bathroom light once. I experimented with different developers and even started developing film in coffee, until I found some combinations that I liked – XP2 at box speed in Rodinal, Kentmere 400 / RPX 400 pushed in Rodinal stand or at box-speed in Caffenol-CL, Tri-X and Double-X semi-stand in Caffenol-CL. I think I’m getting the hang of developing now in so far as I can usually get the right look out of my pictures now.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

All of this was basically preparation to be able to get the best out of the Leica, once I was able to invest in it. Now it finally happened! I also got a Zeiss Biogon ZM 35mm f/2.8, which is perfectly sharp wide open and I’m looking forward to all the pictures I’ll be able to shoot with this combination. I haven’t had the chance yet to scan any of the pictures, but from what I’ve seen with the magnifying glass I’m expecting great image quality. And even without having seen the pictures in full resolution yet, the wait and all the hard work learning about film photography was definitely worth it already. The M6 is an absolute joy to shoot. The rangefinder is bright and clear and can be focussed even in very low light, which is not the case with any of my other rangefinders. The film forwarding feels incredibly nice and the shutter is quiet enough to allow for close distance street shooting without being a problem. Also the Zeiss lens has a nice feel to it – the focussing is smooth and the aperture ring has click stops at a third of a stop. It is definitely the nicest lens I ever handled. I really wonder whether a Leica lens will be able to top the experience of that, but I’m obviously hoping that at some point I will be able to afford one of those as well.

100 rolls

I didn’t only buy new gear though, I also took a lot of pictures. One of my goals for this year was to shoot 100 rolls of film, which is precisely what I managed to do. In fact I shot 111 rolls of 35mm film and 30 rolls of 120 film on top of this. I also took some of my favourite pictures on film this year and I really learned a lot about analog photography in the process. Of course Cartier-Bresson said that your first 10.000 pictures are your worst – and since this amounts to about 330 rolls of 35mm film I’m still a bit off the mark on this one, because I’ve only shot some 150 35mm rolls so far. More to do next year, I suppose! With all this analog work I actually moved further and further away from digital. As I already mentioned, by now I actually prefer film to digital, because it gives a more organic atmosphere to the images. It just looks a lot less sterile and I like that. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be shooting any digital at all anymore, but instead of shooting primarily digital with the odd walk with an analog camera it is now the other way round. Lately I have only touched my digital camera when travelling and even when running errands I prefer to take my Olympus XA. At the beginning of the year I was still shooting mostly digital, but the last 2 months of the year I hardly used my E-PL3 at all. I bet in 2015 this will happen even less.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Film experiments

Over the course of the year I have tried to find the perfect emulsion for my work, because I somehow just couldn’t get great results out my old favourite Kentmere 400 / Rollei RPX 400. They were ok, but never made me go “wow”! For a long while I kept trying, only to get disenchanted and switch to Tri-X as my primary film. However, also with Tri-X I kept having problems because of the development. By now I have found a great developer for both emulsions – Caffenol – but I kept trying different emulsions to see whether I could find a film that would really satisfy me. In the end I also shot quite a bit of Ilford XP2, as well as some single rolls Fuji Neopan Acros 100, Kodak T-Max 400, and test rolls of Eastman Double-X and Orwo N74+. For the test rolls the idea was to see whether further experiments with cheaper bulk loaded film from 100ft rolls of these emulsions would be warranted. XP2 was actually the first emulsion that I tested like this and it’s really quite nice at box speed in Rodinal, but it didn’t live up to my expectations when it came to pushing. If all of these experiments weren’t exciting enough, there was also a completely new development this year: I have also started to shoot some colour film! For quite some time I hardly shot any colour at all, but this year I suddenly got inspired by an amazing Joel Meyerowitz exhibition I saw in Düsseldorf. So, in the end I also tested some colour emulsions to find the right one for the kind of work I want to be doing with it. The colour emulsions I tested were single rolls of Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 400, Kodak Farbwelt 400, CineStill 800 (which is actually Kodak Vision 3 500T), and a whole bunch of two cheap German drugstore films both of which are probably re-branded Fuji film: Rossmann 400 and dm Paradies 400. They have the same canisters, but to me it’s still unclear whether it’s the same emulsion.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Film development

Since last year I have tried around with different developers. Before I only really knew how to develop film in Rodinal stand development and I really wanted to improve my development skills. To do this I decided to try a less compensating developer that was actually sensitive to temperature changes and agitation, in this case Tetenal Ultrafin. Although I went through a whole bottle of it, I found it rather difficult and never quite found the sweet spot. I either got too much grain if I over-agitated or edge-overdevelopment if I under-agitated. In the end I decided to try a different stand-development method instead that promised good results and started to develop film in coffee. Surprisingly Caffenol is actually a really good developer and it finally allowed for even development which I never before achieved in high contrast shots – neither with Rodinal nor with Ultrafin. The tonality with Kentmere 400 / Rollei RPX 400 is great and also with Tri-X I seem to have found a development method that works, which is rather surprising, because Tri-X has always been a problematic film for me.

Just before the end of the year I also embarked on a completely new experiment: Developing colour film at home. I had already shot a few colour rolls in the summer during the time of the football world cup, but never had them developed. After seeing the Meyerowitz exhibition I decided that I would have to shoot more colour and immediately knew that this would only happen if I learned how to develop my own colour film. I bought myself a Tetenal Colortec C41 Negative Processing Kit and after a bit of a period where I was eyeing the kit suspiciously I finally got over my fears and started to develop. After all the black and white development I didn’t find the C41 development very difficult and already my first roll turned out quite nicely. Since then I have developed 12 rolls of C41 film and I’m now reaching the limits of the kit. I will experiment further and see how many rolls I can get out of the kit in the end.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

travel, gear and other lists

Another change this year for my photography was that thanks to my improved health I was actually able to travel a fair bit throughout the year. This year I took pictures in Berlin, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Irun, Düsseldorf, Neuss, Cologne, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Chemnitz and Seiffen. Quite a list, eh? I basically travelled back and forth between Germany and Spain this year and it really helped me to focus on work. I tend to shoot a lot more when I’m travelling, so this definitely was great for my work. And since we’re talking about lists: This year I have shot the Olympus Pen E-PL3 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH and the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5 ASPH, as well as the Canon EOS 450D with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 on the digital front. I have also shot all of these analog cameras: Yashica Electro 35 CC, Olympus XA, Agfa Isolette II, Rolleicord V with their specific fixed lenses, the Zorki 4K with the Jupiter 12 35mm f/2.8 and the Industar 22 50mm f/3.5, and the Leica M6 with the Zeiss ZM C-Biogon 35mm f/2.8. My primary cameras this year were the Olympus E-PL3 and the Olympus XA, but over the last few months my Rolleicord has also become an important camera for me, if not even my favourite one.

Well, with all this travelling and shooting, all these experiments and experiences, would you believe that I also managed to read 100 books somehow? Granted, these were mostly short books, but in total I read some 22000 pages and among them were also Marx’ Capital Volume 1 and the whole of The Lord of the Rings in Spanish. Not too shabby I’d say!

She Shoots Film

Towards the end of the year I also got involved with a new project called She Shoots Film. With this project we want to create a new platform to promote film photography by women and have made a great start already. By now we have over 400 likes on Facebook, and a website with interviews and profiles of contemporary photographers as well as some articles about women photographers who have made history with their work. I’m proud to be part of this project!

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Goals for 2015

Well, after such a busy and successful year, how can you really go further? Shoot 200 rolls and read 200 books? Well, I don’t think that’s possible! Besides, it’s about quality, not quantity!

Improve my Spanish

The first thing I will attempt this year will be to improve my Spanish. Now that I actually live in Spain, I definitely can’t get by with just being mute. I used to be able to speak quite alright, but I somehow lost it while I was living in other countries. I understand almost everything, but speaking is difficult for me now. It’s probably just a matter of confidence, but I will actually start going to classes to get speaking again. I will also read at least 10 books in Spanish in 2015 (and Marx Capital Volume 2 – in English).

Travel to Argentina

For years and years I have been planning to visit Argentina, quite unsurprising for a tango dancer. I actually even wanted to move there for half a year. However, with all my health issues it never really worked out to even visit. Now that my health is a lot better and I can travel without getting ill, that trip to Argentina is finally happening. We’re planning the trip for April 2015 and I’m already researching where to find film, developer and a good lab that does E6 processing. Unbelievable but true: It will be the first time that I leave the continent. I’ve lived abroad and travelled a lot, but never beyond the European continent. I better change that soon! And of course I’ll be speaking Spanish there too!

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

50 strangers

My husband challenged me to shoot 50 portraits of strangers in 2015. I have shot some portraits of strangers already, but never systematically. This year I will go ahead and try to do this for real. It definitely takes guts to approach strangers, but with my Rollei I think it won’t be so difficult after all. It will also be a good opportunity to meet people and to practice my Spanish when I’m not travelling.

50 times Rollei

And speaking of my Rollei: In 2015 I want to shoot 50 rolls with my Rollei! It’s such a wonderful camera and I really want to use it a lot now.

Buying no new 35mm and MF cameras

My goal for 2015 is actually not to buy any new cameras in 35mm and medium format, since I already have really nice cameras in these formats! After all the GAS this year, it’s time to just use what I have and spend money on film rather than on cameras. (I might invest in a faster lens for my Leica at some point though.) Instead of switching around a lot I will mainly use my Leica M6, my Olympus XA and the Rollei in 2015.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Shoot E6

For my adventures in colour photography I will have to get into slide film, since I want to shoot medium format slide film for one of my projects. So, after doing C41 at home I will now try to do E6 processing at home as well. For the actual project I will probably have the film lab developed, but to get the practice of shooting this stuff I will have to process it myself or it will get too expensive.

Darkroom work

When I learned to develop film in 2013 I also learned how to make prints in the darkroom. I definitely want to get back to this in 2015 and check out the community darkroom that isn’t far from where we live. I actually regularly print my work, because that’s how photography is meant to be viewed, but I haven’t had many opportunities to do classical darkroom prints. I’m really looking forward to printing some of the negatives where my scanner had trouble with the highlights.

Write more

Although I have obviously written my almost daily blog posts last year, I would like to focus a bit more on my writing. This will include many articles and interviews for She Shoots Film, but also some fictional efforts that I have neglected last year. I will definitely edit my novel after leaving it in the drawer for a couple of years.

Possibly maybe

If the right opportunity crops up I might also want to try large format and maybe get some more training in general.

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

© Lilly Schwartz 2014

Well, I’m definitely looking forward to a new year full of adventures and experiments! And of course I hope you will continue to visit my blog! Without you guys and all the encouragement I get from you wonderful people, all of this wouldn’t be possible. Thank you!

Comments

  • shutteroo

    Great post, Lilly. Your achievements are already legendary! :-). Fifty years ago, I was pushing the envelope just like you, but not as well I hasten to add. I’ve become a bad and lazy blogger, and slowed a little with daily shooting. But you must keep on. Onwards and upwards. And you’re right about the Rolleicord and the Leica. I got my Cord in the early 1960s, and it has made some excellent images along the way, trouble free. And I got my M3 not long afterwards. It needed a professional CLA after 40 years, so it is not so reliable. ;-). The joy of the Leica is the silkiness of the functions, the precision, and of course the ergonomics, not to mention how the glass performs in front of that little light tight box. I’ve heard great things about the Biogon (I have a Biogon with my HB), and if it does what the Summicron does, it is a great lens. All the best for 2015. Good health. Keep up posting. It is part of my (photographic) life support system. Colin

  • Congratulation to what have seemed to be a very interesting 2014. I think you are developing a very nice style and look forward to see more from you in 2015 🙂

  • Fantastic – hope 2015 proves to be as fruitful for you!

  • What a fabulous post, Lilly! Nice to know your health has improved. And also your photographic skill. I admire very much your dedication to photography with passion and competence. Shooting film as you do is great, and you do it very well. I wish you ah happy healthy 2015 full of joy and peace. And if there will be (for sure there will be!) an interesting light for your photos even better! Buon Anno
    robert

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