Happy New Year 2014

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I wish all of you a Happy New Year! Can you believe that it’s already 2014? And still no hover boards! Well, they still have a year to figure it out, I guess.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is for me always a time of reflection. One looks back at the past year and starts to think of resolutions and plans for the next one. Somehow looking back is often depressing and honestly, resolutions are completely forgotten by February at the latest. Last year I even decided to skip the exercise entirely and just wrote “I better won’t dwell on this last year of 2012, since it didn’t quite live up to my expectations”. It is understandable since 2012 really wasn’t my year.

How I solved most of my health problems

In 2012 all my plans fell through entirely and I became very ill, probably due to stress. Since I had been ill already for 6 years due to my celiac disease at that point, you can imagine that “becoming very ill” meant that things got even worse than they were before. My celiac disease, which had been diagnosed 4 years earlier, just wasn’t responding to the gluten free diet and gradually got worse and worse. By the end of 2012 I was desperate and started the Primal/Paleo diet, but I did not see any results until 2013.

In 2013 things did not get better immediately either. Although by February my original health problems were much improved, somehow the most annoying symptom – chronic pain – had completely gotten out of hand because I was eating way too much red meat. Although this is no fun in itself it led to the final clue due to which my GP had an idea. In April I had to have surgery to confirm the suspicion and I was diagnosed with another chronic disease, endometriosis.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

The surgery made things much worse at the beginning and as far as I can tell it did not improve anything in the long run either. For months I couldn’t even walk very far, because I was in too much pain. A street photographer who can’t walk obviously is in a bit of a pickle. All these health issues really sabotaged my work in 2013 and there were several months when I just didn’t feel like picking up a camera at all.

I researched my new condition thoroughly and in the second half of 2013 all my efforts to get better finally paid off. Although it was a hard and long journey my health is much better now thanks to the paleo diet, a few supplements and one off-label medication without side-effects. After 6 years of health problems and baffled doctors, I decided at the end of 2012 that I had to solve my health problems myself and in 2013 I finally succeeded. It took about a year, but in the end I have found some things that work well for me. I am still not entirely healthy now, but almost all my pain is gone, my celiac symptoms have almost completely disappeared, I have more energy and I can even travel again, which had not been possible for quite a while. Travelling used to make me sick for at least a week, but not anymore. This means that my health is even stable enough for short trips now, which meant that in December 2013 I could travel to Dresden for a few days to see my exhibition and explore the city a bit.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

The most empowering part of this is actually that I made this happen myself! Where it comes to my health 2013 was a very difficult year, but in the end it was a successful one as well. I count recovering a substantial part of my health as my biggest achievement this year.

Let’s talk about photography

Even with all these health issues, which basically took all year to solve, I have been busy working on my photography as well though. You see, I am a stubborn person sometimes. And since this is still a photography blog, let’s start talking about how 2013 treated me photographically, which is way more interesting anyway!

The portfolio

At the beginning of the year I put together a portfolio of my work, which really helped me focus my efforts. I found a thread running through my work that was invisible to me before. I already knew in 2012 that I wanted to work more on my street photography, but I didn’t have a specific plan yet. Creating a portfolio showed me what I needed to do, to get where I wanted to be. Creating that portfolio really was an important step for my work. Even if you think you know which pictures are your best, it really helps to actually put them all in one place, print them and obsess about them for a while.

Berlin | © Lilly Schwartz 2011

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

© Lilly Schwartz 2011

New digital gear

After realising what I needed to work on I decided that it was time for a change in my photography gear. I switched from a Canon EOS 450D DSLR to a little Olympus Pen E-PL3 micro four thirds camera. The reasons are obvious when you take a moment and think about street photography. Of course you can use a DSLR for street photography, but it’s a bit like chopping onions with a bread knife. You can get it done, but it’s neither efficient nor comfortable. My mirrorless camera has quite a number of advantages that come in handy for street photography:

1. It’s small and light, so you can always have it with you without it being in the way.
2. It’s quiet, which is important so that you don’t startle the wildlife.
3. It’s unobtrusive. This has minimised the situations where people reacted negatively to my picture taking.
4. The image quality is great as long as there is enough light. Even in the subway at ISO 1600 the pictures still turn out ok. It’s not quite as good in low light as my DSLR, but for most situations it’s decent enough.

Switching to the MFT format was a very good choice and a lot of the pictures I took since the switch would not have been possible without it. In fact I would count this as the best decision of the year with regards to my photography. As for lenses: The Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH was a good choice as well. It has a few quirks, because it has a slow autofocus, but it produces really great image quality and the focal length is just perfect since it frames like a 40mm on a full-frame. It is the lens that I have always on my camera. For more information on the camera you can check out my article on how to use the E-PL3 for street photography.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Analog photography

In 2013 I also really got into analog photography. In May and June I learned how to develop my own film (a roll of Kentmere 400 in some D76) and also quite a number of darkroom techniques like making contact prints, working with an enlarger to produce prints on multi-grade paper, even dodging and burning. And yes, if you think about the timing, this was pretty much right after my surgery. I guess I needed to keep busy to not go mad. Since then I have been developing my own film in the bathroom, mostly using Rodinal semi-stand development (3.5ml per roll, 30sec quick inversions, leave to stand 60min, invert once at 30min). I also developed some film in Tetenal Ultrafin. It’s a very uncommon developer – Ultrafin Plus is much more common -, but somehow it was the only non brand-specific liquid developer I could get hold of in Spain. Mixing powder developer is just too much of a hassle, because the working solution doesn’t keep. Somehow it also seems impossible to get Adox products in Spain, so my usual choice of Adonal was not available. By now I’ve at least found a supplier of R09 one shot, which is a different brand of Rodinal developer, but for now I want to finish off the bottle of Ultrafin I started. Unlike Rodinal Ultrafin also doesn’t keep forever, which I learned by ruining a roll of film after the supplier sent me an old bottle that had been open for a while.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

The types of film I’ve shot in 2013 were Ilford HP5+, Kodak Tri-X, Kodax T-Max, Fuji Neopan and Kentmere 400. Ilford HP5+ still remains my favourite film, but I switched to K400 anyway, because it’s more economical – 3€ instead of 5€ -, provides good enough results, dries flat and can be pushed easily. I’ve shot about 15 rolls of it already and it’s quite alright. The only downside is that it seems to rip more easily in my Zorki. All in all I shot about 30 rolls of film this year with the Zorki which comes to about 1000 frames.

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

© Lilly Schwartz 2012

By now I have also ditched the light meter and can roughly guesstimate the exposure settings according to the sunny 16 rule and know when I need to push the film. I’ve not done too many experiments with pushing to higher ISOs, but I’ve tried to push some ISO 400 film to 1600 and 3200 in Rodinal. My 3200 experiments weren’t very successful, because I was over-agitating. However, in the end I managed to successfully push a roll of HP5+ and three rolls of K400 to 1600 by doing proper stand-development instead of semi-stand. The recipe is: 5ml per roll, 60sec slow inversions (about 5 or 6), leave to stand for 90 min, swirl for 15sec every 30 min.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

New analog gear

Most of my street photography happens around the 35-40mm focal length, so it’s only logical that I would need a 35mm lens for my Zorki as well. Some spontaneous bidding on ebay got me the bargain of the year: A Jupiter 12 35mm f/2.8 bundled with a Zorki 4K and a case, all for the same price as the lens would have cost by itself. The film forwarding lever of my new 4K was slightly flawed, since the plastic bit is missing, but I improved the handling with a bit of heat-shrink wire insulation. By now the 4K and the 35mm lens have become my favourite analog gear and I only use the 3C for experiments. After a while of guesswork with the framing I also got myself a 35mm viewfinder, since the internal one is only a 50mm one.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Gear and travel talk

In 2013 I’ve used a number of different cameras: My main one was the Olympus Pen E-PL3 mostly with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH. I have also tried the Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5 ASPH, but haven’t had the opportunity to take it for a proper spin yet. Before I got the E-PL3 in April I was predominantly using the Canon EOS 450D with the Canon EF 35mm f/2.0. I also used my Zorki 3C and my Zorki 4K with both the Jupiter 8 50mm f/2.0 and the Jupiter 12 35mm f/2.8. I tried the Olympus OM-D E-M5 once, as well as the Fuji x100s. The E-M5 is not my kind of gear at all, but I quite liked the x100s. It sure produces nice colours, and even though I usually shoot in black and white I’m not even being ironic. With those colours I’d even consider shooting in colour every once in a while. The colours of the Olympus and my Canon are horrific in comparison. And then of course I looked through the viewfinder of a Leica M6 a couple of weeks ago. I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these!

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

The number of places where I took pictures this year also increased thanks to my improved health. In 2013 I took pictures in Berlin and in San Sebastian, which are the two places where I spent most of my time. I also took pictures in Bilbao at the airport, in Chemnitz, in Dresden and in Leipzig.

Current projects

In 2013 I didn’t only work on my street photography and my analog photography, but also on two projects that have been on my mind a lot lately. My project Down below is quite likely my longest ongoing project and documents the strange inhabitants of the Berlin subway. In November I’ve been prowling the subway with my Olympus Pen E-PL3 getting off at every station, switching trains and so on. I am still in the process of editing these pictures, but it seems that it was quite a successful hunt.

@ Lilly Schwartz 2013

@ Lilly Schwartz 2013

@ Lilly Schwartz 2013

@ Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

The other project that I was working on at the end of November is called Memory and documents all the important places of my childhood, which means that I had to travel to my hometown. The house where we lived, my kindergarten, my primary school and my secondary school have all been demolished in the last few years and so it is a project of documenting something that is actually gone. I have finished shooting this on K400 film with my Zorki 4K and I have just today finished developing the last roll of film. After scanning it the next step will be to start editing.

Exhibitions

This year I also had some of my pictures in two exhibitions in Dresden. The first one happened in April just after my surgery, so I couldn’t go to see it. However, we travelled to Dresden to see the second one in December and I was very happy with it (impressions from the exhibition here).

Sounds like a successful on busy year, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what it was! Half the year was utterly annoying thanks to my health, but I really enjoyed the second half when things started to get better for me. Here’s to hoping that 2014 will continue in the same positive way as 2013 ended.

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

© Lilly Schwartz 2013

Plans for 2014

For 2014 I also have quite a number of goals lined up and it will be an equally busy year.

#1 Change of scene: I’m moving back to San Sebastian. This year I will definitely give up my flat in Berlin and move to San Sebastian entirely. Originally I came to Berlin to start my PhD and dance tango, but since my PhD plans fell through and I don’t dance tango at the moment, I don’t really have a reason to stay here. Besides, I have given Berlin 2 years and in the end it’s just too cold, my neighbourhood is too ugly and like all big cities it’s rather lonely as well. During my last couple of trips to San Sebastian it became pretty clear that it is also a good place for street photography. As it turns out there is even a photography school that looks actually quite interesting and teaches all sorts of styles, gear and techniques. Maybe an opportunity to learn something new as well. For this I will have to try to reactivate my Spanish a bit. I do understand a lot still, but speaking is a real problem. Nothing that a few weeks of language school couldn’t cure though. Since I’ve lived in San Sebastian a few years ago and learned my Spanish there, I already know a good place for this.

#2 Health: I want to continue working on my health and improve it even further. There are still a few issues that need to be resolved and I will work on solving these. This will involve to start swimming again and if I make some progress with that I would like to try to take up surfing. After all San Sebastian is a good place for surfing and it would be a shame if I wouldn’t at least try. We will see whether my health improves quickly enough to reach this goal this year. I’m planning to stay a while, so if not this year then this definitely has to happen 2015.

#2 Travel: My newly found ability to travel has resulted in a long list of places to visit and photograph. The list is at least as long as my arm and so far I’ve only ticked off one place: Dresden. So, in 2014 I would like to tick off a few more of them. Already planned are trips to Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bilbao, which are all rather close to home. I used to live in Düsseldorf and Cologne is only 20 minutes from there by train. Obviously I have taken pictures in Düsseldorf before, but not with my current gear and style of work. Also Cologne is rather familiar to me, since I used to work there once, but I doubt that I ever took pictures there. Bilbao is similarly close to home, since it is only an hour on the coach from San Sebastian, but it is far less familiar to me. Despite having lived in San Sebastian a few years ago, I have never actually visited Bilbao itself, although I usually arrive at the Bilbao airport when I travel to San Sebastian. A couple of places on the list that are further away are Paris and Buenos Aires, which have at least been considered for this year’s travel plans. Buenos Aires has been on my list for many years. After all it’s the tango capital of the world! A few years ago I even wanted to move there for a few months to learn Spanish. However, since the flight is 14 hours and I used to get horrifically sick from travelling this wasn’t really possible. With my improved health travelling to Buenos Aires actually becomes a realistic option. I don’t expect the flight to be lots of fun or my health to be perfect throughout, but it should for once be survivable. And who knows, maybe one day I will get to move to Argentina after all.

#3 Wide angle street photography: Among the new things in photography I want to try in 2014 is doing some street photography with my new Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5. The lens equates to a 28mm lens on a full-frame camera. It’s not quite as wide as Depardon’s 21mm that he used for Manhattan Out, but it’s quite a bit wider than my usual 35mm-40mm. Getting closer needs training, so a 28mm equivalent is the next logical step on the way to the super-wide 21mm that I want to reach eventually. I don’t know what it is about getting closer, but it is strangely addictive!

#4 100 rolls of film: In my analog photography efforts I plan on shooting at least 100 rolls of film this year. That’s 2 a week, which should be quite doable. I even already shot the first one. I would like to try some new developer and film in 2014 as well. For the developer I will try Caffenol in different versions. I’ve seen great results online and most ingredients are easy enough to find. It’s a little more expensive than developing in Rodinal, but it apparently compares to more expensive developers while being still rather cheap. The film I’d like to try is Ilford Delta 3200, Adox Silvermax, the new APX 400, Fomapan 400, Delta 400, Lomography Lady Grey and maybe even some Rollei RPX 400.

#5 Push push push: I really want to get more experience with pushing film. Before I leave Berlin I definitely want to attempt to shoot some analog pictures Down below in the subway as well and for this I will definitely need to push since my Zorki lenses are rather soft wide open. Delta 3200 is just way too expensive for my way of shooting (at 7€), so pushed Kentmere should be the way to go.

#6 The holy grail: I will admit it now. I want to buy a Leica M6 with a Leica Summicron 35mm f/2.0 this year. I’m not sure yet whether this will happen or not, since it depends on certain unpredictable expenses, but I will try to make it happen sometime after my move to San Sebastian. I have been working hard on this goal for a while and I’ve set myself certain requirements so that I’m actually ready for it. The first step was to get the Zorki, a soviet Leica copy, learn how to focus with a rangefinder and get by with a light meter. The next step was to learn to develop my own film, lose the photometer and learn to guesstimate according to the sunny 16 rule. The plan was to shoot at least 30 rolls of film with my Zorki – 1000 frames – to really get the hang of it. I wanted to reach a point where I can know how to expose and develop the film so that I get predictable results in different lighting conditions. I have done all this. The only thing left on my list of requirements is making contact sheets at home, which is already planned for March.

As you can see, if my plans work out it’s going to be a really exciting year!

Comments

  • Am out of breath just from reading all you have achieved and all you are planning; so inspiring! (I’ve been paleo for 3 years now!!)
    2014 can only be wonderful!!

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Phew, yeah, bit of a long post I noticed 😉 That’s ok though. 2013 was a long year so it’s only fitting! And I hope 2014 will be equally successful! How has paleo been treating you? Did you have a specific reason for starting?

  • Fabulous post, Lilly. Have a great 2014!

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Richard! Have a great 2014 as well!

  • I’m right there with you re:stress and illness Lilly. Here’s to a Healthy 2014. I love what you do and look forward to another year of marvelous images.

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Elena, that’s so nice to hear, especially since I love what you do as well! Oh but if your health is acting up, better slow down. I’m relaxing now as well after a stressful couple of months with lots of travel. It’s great to keep busy and achieve things, but we mustn’t forget that we need some downtime as well! Here’s to another great and healthy year for the both of us. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your work this year!

  • Nice to know your health has improved so much and allows you to travel and be very active. I like the way and the energy you put in your work and in your life. It means being alive!
    It’s a little late but I still wish you a 2014 with improved health, a lot of photo opportunity and maybe that M6…
    robert

    • Lilly Schwartz

      Thanks Robert! To you also a wonderful 2014! I believe that certain things should be done with all your heart or not at all. Like photography 🙂

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