Photography

Trump's Morning

A week before the election, I scheduled a day off for November 9th, in anticipation of shooting the "Point and Laugh at the Trump Tower" event on Facebook. With over 10,000 RSVPs,  I figured it would be a good event to photograph, given this bizarre, 18-month-long, trash can fire of an election season. Instead, as we all know, everything flipped on Election Night. My day off turned into documenting the immediate aftermath of Trump's victory. I boarded the R at 77th Street and immediately witnessed the psychological distress that would define the day. People openly wept on the train, holding their faces in their hands, hinting at what I was in for.

"I'm Outta Here"

My first stop was the New Yorker hotel on 34th street and 8th Avenue, where Clinton was giving her concession speech that morning. At 8th Avenue, I encountered a mess: police, fire trucks, Secret Service, metal barriers, protesters, supporters, cameramen, anchors, spectators. The mood was tense and somber. People yelled protest slogans as a row of anchors and their cameramen chattered away in different languages, the events going on inside the hotel.  Scaffolding surrounding the building made it difficult to shoot. Everyone was squeezed together on the sidewalk, passersby, PA's holding camera equipment, and myself.

Roll 445, shot 37

I briefly met a friend, press photographer Albin Lohr-Jones. We talked about the election, fielding theories on how the Cheese Doodle won, with most sentences trailing off into, "I can't believe it..." After Clinton's speech concluded, she was swiftly escorted into one of 10 SUVs waiting in front of the hotel and driven away. The crowd exploded upon her exit. Chants of "I'M WITH HER" enveloped the street. By this time, the rain let up, and I began making my way towards the Trump Tower.

I dislike shooting protests. I find them boring, repetitive, and "easy." Every photographer aims for the loudest protesters, resulting in little variation among the photos. I did what I could to frame my shots intelligently and interestingly. I won't know if that counted for anything until I develop and scan my negatives (maybe by Thanksgiving?).

I proceeded to the Trump Tower. Chaos. Take the same scene outside the New Yorker hotel and add more people, anger, hate, clueless tourists, and the NYPD. They closed the east side of 5th Avenue, where the Trump Tower sits. Garbage trucks and several SUVs were packed on the sidewalk and in front of the building. Instead, the crowds gathered on the across 5th Avenue. The sidewalk was divided into three sections: a cage for protestors, supporters, and a larger one for the media.

Roll 445, shot 34

Supporters hurled their praise for Trump at everyone the sidewalk, inciting pro-Clinton shouting, which quickly turned into 10-strong shouting matches along multiple spots on the sidewalk. Protestors were verbally attacked by supporters. "You're un-American! Why don't you leave if you don't like it? You should be arrested, beaten, and tortured."

Meanwhile, European tourists pushed their way through the masses, stopping in the middle of the block for their selfie opportunity with the gold TRUMP TOWER sign in the background, before laughing and continuing their vacation. It reached the point where the NYPD repeatedly instructed us to, "take your photo and keep walking." People were more concerned with their selfie than with what was going on.

Again, I tried to photograph the mess, avoiding obvious shots, illustrating the insanity contained on one city block.

On 56th or 55th street, a young girl in torn jeans and a bra was patiently trying (and failing) to rip an American flag and light it, drawing more jeers, insults and calls for her arrest from the crowd. The police placed her in a 8' x 8' box near the sidewalk. Everyone watched.

Two hours later, I couldn't take it. The sun was beginning to set and I was more than disgusted with the day's events.

On Light Leaks, Leicas and SLRs

Last month, I started noticing strange light leaks on my Leica M2 negatives. At first, they appeared two or three times per roll, but they quickly took over half of each roll. Two bursts of light: one in the middle and the other to the right. I checked the M2's first set of cloth curtains, saw no leak, and continued shooting. However, after developing the next batch of film two weeks later, the leaks continued to appear. I checked the second set of curtains (after the shutter is cocked) and I quickly saw the pinholes.

Terrible shot, worse light leaks

I can't figure out how the holes formed. Granted, I'm using a 56-year-old camera, but I thought I was careful. Leicas (and other cloth shutter rangefinders) have a BIG weakness: if you point them at the sun, the lens acts as a magnifying glass and burns holes into the cloth underneath. Unlike SLRs, rangefinders don't have a mirror between the cloth shutter and the lens, losing that level of shutter protection

Repairing Leicas is expensive; I needed a DIY solution. After poking around the Internet, I discovered that Liquid Tape can be used to seal the pinholes, creating a lightproof layer. Two coats  of Liquid Tape and 24 hours later, my camera was back to normal.

Liquid Tape drying on the shutter curtain

I switched to my Nikon FM3a while waiting for the Liquid Tape to arrive. I had no idea I would be so uncomfortable on that camera. I'm not new to Nikon SLRs. My first camera was a Nikon FE, used for years before my M2.

Nikon FM3a

The Nikon is loud and clunky, yet practical due to its cushy features (detailed viewfinder, ISO dial, exposure comp. automatic setting). The M2 is discreet, agile, and annoyingly utilitarian.

Walking through Little Italy during the Feast of San Gennaro, I was shocked at how unproductive I was. My eyes constantly scanned the edges of the viewfinder, checking to see what was in frame, something I never do on my M2. This slowed me down considerably.

Whenever I managed to take a photograph, the shutter was so loud that my subjects were instantly alerted to my presence, spoiling the moment and any further chance of capturing it. If I didn't get the photo that first time, the camera killed any chance of a second or third shot. Last, none of my Nikon lens had useful DOF scales, making zone focusing impossible.

I couldn't wait to get my M2 back. The FM3a isn't a bad camera. Feature-wise, it blows any Leica out of the water. The viewfinder lets you see exactly what's in the shot, you can sample the depth-of-field beforehand, it can function 100% electrically or mechanically, and more.

The key is to utilize the SLR in a way that makes use of its strengths. For street, I need a quick, quiet setup that lets me view the photo undistracted. The M2 fills that gap. For macro photos, shots that require a zoom lens, and for night photography, hand me the FM3a any day.

On a Possible Photobook, Learning and the Darkroom

However unsteady, the photos are coming. My style is consistent in its inconsistency. Rolls of nothing follow bursts of keepers. So it goes. I'm working on a new project. I'd like to produce a photobook (containing the home run shots) in digital and print versions. I imagine this book will exist as a free PDF and for purchase as a nicely printed book. I have no delusions of grandeur. Prices will be reasonable. I feel that social media is not enough. I need to continue learning and I want something concrete to offer. Either way, it's an experiment. At this stage, isn't everything?

If we knew the secret to self-promotion and achieving recognition, no one would remain unknown. Regardless, this should be a fun. At the end, I'll have a book of my best work, which is exciting. I'll also learn how to use Adobe InDesign. Thanks to the Internet, what you can do is tied to what you know. In my case, photobooks are off-limits until I learn InDesign (which can be done for free). Once that's accomplished, self-publishing is as easy as uploading a file, choosing paper type and sending the payment.

In conclusion, learn and do. There is no excuse today to not wear every hat. The Internet has removed (most) barriers to education. You're only limited by your imagination and your will to learn.

I built a darkroom in Bay Ridge. As of now, the space is not utilized. However, in late May, the conversation of what programs to run and how/when to run them will start! We're hoping to teach darkroom printing, film photography and rent the space to those who want to print. When that's all decided and ready to launch, we'll tell people. Simple.

Now for something worth reading:

Year of the Darkroom

Last week, I conducted my first test of a darkroom I built at the Arab American Association of New York. This is the first step towards creating a film photography community in Bay Ridge. The idea originated through a meeting with artist Anna Lise Jensen. With generous equipment donations by Brazilian photographer Ig Mata (thank you, Ig!) and paper donations by Rona Merrill (in association with CatLABS of JP), it's one step closer to fruition.

Ultimately, we're trying to grow this community by running photography classes, printing classes and renting darkroom time. After a few hours of cleaning and preparing, I found a place for three enlargers, a tray system, the enlarging timer, filters and a healthy collection of books. With all that taken care of, it was time to print. I photographed the AAANY's staff in April and decided to print and gift the shot as a thank you for their huge role in this project.

The test was a success, despite multiple annoying moments. Since 2011, I've been in a darkroom once. I forgot how calm one must be when printing. Waiting for the test strips, minutes at a time, in a cramped, dark space, only to find out your exposure is nowhere near close is an exercise in patience. Being years out of practice did not help to curb my frustrations.

This is a drawn-out, sophisticated process that demands your full concentration and an otherworldly attention to detail for a successful session. Yet, holding the final print and closely examining its subtle gradation between white, black and gray is an experience like no other.

If you're interested, please follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for updates as the darkroom evolves.

Darkroom: Chemicals mixed, room ready

Today's negative: frame 32
Darkroom: Loaded in the negative holder
Darkoom: In the Light
Darkoom: In the Light
Darkroom: Here's the projected photo
Darkroom: Focus checked with the grain enlarger

[video width="1920" height="1080" mp4="http://salimhasbini.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Video-Apr-29-20-54-52.mp4"][/video]

The first print! 10s of light at f/8 through the enlarger

Darkroom: 3, 6, 9, and 12 seconds. I am way off
Darkroom: More test prints and strips
Darkroom: Getting closer. The girl on the far left needs to be burned in. Her shirt is pure white, making the photo very unbalanced
Darkroom: Far left girl refuses to blend in. May I present my half-assed solution: A dodge and burn template, cut to size, made out of restaurant menus
Darkroom: DONE. Far left girl needed NINE ADDITIONAL SECONDS of dodging and burning, compared to 11 seconds for the entire photo
Darkroom: Start to finish washing in the sink
Darkroom: Start to finish washing in the sink
Darkroom: The four finished prints drying
Darkroom: This is what happens when you don't use fixer
Darkroom: This is also what happens when you don't use fixer
Darkroom: Seeing double. Panoramic aftermath.

A Continuing Struggle

Every day, I am thrown into a continuing struggle between recognizing what makes a photograph outstanding and inserting that quality into my work. Great work has a quality that can't be defined, yet is universally recognizable. With that being the case, as an artist, reaching this level is infuriating. With each photograph, I hope that the magical combination of timing and placement has benefited me, that the Gods have thrown me a bone. Shooting is exciting, developing rolls is exciting, reviewing the scans is not. Consciously capturing an undefinable quality, I'm realizing, is an exercise in futility.

I can compose a photo. I can pick out what to add or subtract from my frame. Regarding that missing 1%, I am stumped. In my free time, I look through my little collection of photo books and my jaw drops when observing what those before me captured while using the same equipment as myself.

Sometimes, these moments are unplanned: a little girl's smile, a man peeking out from his umbrella for a second, two posh dogs seemingly walking their rich owners. Happy accidents.

In my last batch of scans, one of the best photos was one I took when advancing to the first frame on my M2. I wasn't even looking through the viewfinder! If that can work but my inspired attempts at composition do not, what have I learned? Anything? After five years of shooting, I am marginally closer to understanding what I'm doing and why.

I think about quitting every day. I won't, but it crosses my mind. Photography represents a unique problem: timing. Illustrators can return to their drawing pad, painters, to their easel. With photography, your canvas and subjects are moving. You must recognize the moment and freeze it perfectly while under immense time constraints. Milliseconds matter.

Photography is a mercurial art. I am nowhere near cracking its inner workings. Despite the frustrations and the expense, I am still searching.

André Kertész -  East Walk of Conservatory Pond, Central Park, 1944

André Kertész - East Walk of Conservatory Pond, Central Park, 1944

Ken Schles -  Melanie at Veselka, 1986

Ken Schles - Melanie at Veselka, 1986

David Godlis -  Patti Smith, Bowery, 1976

David Godlis - Patti Smith, Bowery, 1976

To Paris

Last week, I booked a six day trip to Paris. It's time I left NYC for a little. The city gets on my nerves more these days. Despite my strong dislike of planes and everything associated with them, I could never forgive myself for turning this opportunity down. I can spare the time and the money. Six days of street photography in Paris. Aside from shooting, I'm going as a personal tribute to André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Those three are instrumental to who I am as a photographer. They've shaped my vision and showed me what was possible with a camera. I'm excited to roam the same streets as them. I have no idea what I'll find there. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps the magic they captured only proves their talent, timing and skill. After all, the setting doesn't make the photograph, the photographer does. Without a vision, any location, no matter how beautiful, will help you. Regardless, maybe the city and its people have something in store for me.

Robert Doisneau -  The Washing of Petty, 1961

Robert Doisneau - The Washing of Petty, 1961

Henri Cartier-Bresson -  Rue Mouffetard (1954)

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Rue Mouffetard (1954)