Every year for the last 20 years, Paul’s boss has led a weekend workshop for her Design Center students, where they go to the Lake Michigan shore, far out of reach of the internet and cellphones, and study the world around them, bringing what they observe into the art they create. This year, Trish decided to get some of her graduates together for a similar retreat, and Paul and I were lucky enough to be invited along.
We went to the beach near South Haven and drew textures made by the lake, melted graphite sticks with mineral spirits to create a viscous, creamy slurry that could swirl or tear, used palette knives to coat glass with thick paint so we could pull prints. We dabbled with spraypaint and blue photosensitive paper, read art books, made communal meals. The focus was on experimentation and observation, of play and practice without pressure. It was wonderful.
My favorite project was when one of the art professors brought out a dozen cigar-box pinhole cameras and turned us loose at a local antique shop. The light was iffy at times, so we tried exposures of varying length, and returned a second time for more images. The professor had stuffed a towel under the bathroom door and turned it into a darkroom, where we learned to load the cameras and develop the photos. This was a really great experience for me, as I’d never had the chance to take photography in college, and I was very pleased with the results I got. Watching the images appear in the developer was magical for me — I’m pretty sure I exclaimed aloud each time I saw one darken into something recognizable.
I’m very fortunate that I got the chance to try so many new techniques and play with so many new tools this weekend. I didn’t realize how much I needed that chance to experiment and explore — It shocked me how much I missed that feeling of pressureless creation.
Anyway, here are the photos, original first, then developed — I like seeing them side by side. Enjoy! I know I do.
Test photo of me, taken in bright light to test focal length
My first photo — a pair of old rollerskates on a table next to a small outbuilding. Bright light, 30 second exposure.
My second try — old doors for sale. Weak light, 3-minute exposure, very quick dip in the developer to keep it from overexposing.
Whoops, got the camera too close while checking focal length. Still kind of neat.
Two portraits taken of me — long exposures just before sunset.
Such a long exposure that my breathing blurred my form.
Closeups of my favorites