Category Archives: Stuff That’s Arty

Tintype Photography, Part 2

Just like the patterns in the grooves of the hipster’s vinyl are the direct physical imprint of a pressure wave traveling through space, the presence of silver on a tintype plate is the mark left by all the photons that hit it. We shepherd a series of physical processes in order to transform matter and create a unique, tangible artifact that will stand as an independent physical record of who we are. It is no surprise that in an era of increasing digital ubiquity, relentless inquisitors want to reflect not only on what we have gained but also on what we have lost.

Matter matters

There is something profoundly human in the drive to make a physical imprint on the world around us. I’m guessing that humanity started scratching patterns in the sand around the time that it acquired language. We are driven to modify matter and make it hold something of us, and once we have done that, this matter becomes a neutral witness of our experience. It holds a record of everything that went into its state. On the one hand, the medium speaks of its own physical attributes: rock is hard but it can be carved and polished and lasts centuries. Paints can be spread around in different ways to change the color of a surface, and they are delicate and can be damaged over time. It also speaks of the experience of those who took on the task of shaping it: their culture and language, as well as their motivation.
When we make something, we are asking the universe to hold something of us. And when I say “universe”, I don’t mean it in the vague agnostic sense. I mean it in the “atoms and particles and time that form what we perceive around us, that we’re not even sure what it is, where it starts or end, that we’re made of but somehow feeling separate from…” sense. We shape matter and make it speak in some way about what it feels like to be us, and that transformation from an incorporeal mental construct into a physical manifestation bridges the gap between our experience and the physical world. When someone later comes in contact with this mark we made, they become part of the continuum. Imagine you discover some petroglyphs somewhere out in the desert. I suspect you will instinctively want to touch them, and that will directly connect you to the person who carved them. Depending where you fall in the spiritual spectrum, you can see this as a quest for oneness or an attempt to establish a foothold in an uncaring world, but either way, it affirms that “we exist”.

Bytes bite

An electronic record doesn’t support us in the way that a physical one does. It systematically pulverizes anything we feed it, regardless of its significance, and encodes it into endless streams of seemingly random on/off states from which we can perceive neither structure nor meaning. Also, in order to consume that digitally “captured” version of something, we rely on a decoding process to reassemble the raw data in a way that creates the likeness of the original. In the case of a simulation created entirely on a computer, we rely on computing power and algorithms to generate a signal that we recognize as something familiar. In either case, the stuff that holds the meaning is transient and immaterial; it reminds us of something but it is not that thing itself. As digital tools become more powerful, the illusion of similitude we are able to create becomes increasingly convincing but ultimately, it will never have the life of something physical. It may have a life of its own but it’s in an alien world of pure logic and without senses that we peer into through shiny devices and smooth interfaces; they lure us in with the illusory promise of infinite creative control but ultimately filter out all that is intangible in the world we actually inhabit. The machines aren’t able to transcode what they can’t quantify, the mysterious, the unexplained, the sacred. They digitize and represent the surface with methodical precision but they don’t capture the essence.

Herding photons

Going back to the original question: why do I enjoy making tintypes? I love the fact that each exposure results in a single tangible artifact and liberates me from the oppression of unlimited undo and plasticity. You prepare the shot as best you can, you commit your actions to the plate, and you see the results of it. Then you move on… It takes purpose, vision, courage, and conviction, because you can’t “fix it in post”. It’s a truly magic process, too, specially when you dunk the developed image in the fixer and watch the positive result appear through a milky cloud. I call it the Harry Potter moment because it looks like a cheesy visual effect from a movie, except real. Also, the way we have been working, it’s a very social activity. It takes about twenty minutes from start to finish and people tend to gather around the booth chatting and observing the process, usually with smiles on their faces. We take our time, we experiment…
For a small price of $1599.95, you can order a hand printed version of this blog post on custom made scrolls curated from fair trade sustainably farmer grown heirloom Ethiopian papyrus.

Tintype photography, part 1

You absolutely need to know about tintype photography! Tintype photography, also sometimes referred to as wet plate or collodion process, is an image making technique developed in the early 1850’s and was widely used through the second half of that century because of its ease of use, its sharpness, and the immediacy of the results. Technically, the wet plate process can be used to shoot negatives on glass which can be used later to create prints or to shoot tintypes which yield a single positive on a dark opaque support.
Jason, a friend from my old job, is a complete film and old camera junky and, with the help of the internet, had been putting together a kit that would allow him to experiment with the process. He introduced me to it and I was instantly hooked. Since then, we’ve been geeking out together and I’ve been helping out where I can on Tintypebooth with the goal of creating a mobile tintype kit. We’ve shot 4×5 portraits at the Venice art walk and Tarfest, and Jason sets up for portraits every Saturday at Bar Nine, a groovy coffee lover’s destination in Culver City.

The process

It’s actually surprisingly simple. The whole process takes about 15 minutes and consists of the following seven steps. Don’t be intimidated by the mention of the various chemicals and other fancy sounding science lab-ey processes; I personally wouldn’t know silver bromide from halide crystals if they wore name tags. You can buy all the stuff you need on the internet.

  • Coating: a black enameled aluminum plate is coated with collodion, a viscous solution containing salts.
  • Sensitizing: as soon as the collodion starts to gel, the plate is taken into a portable darkroom, dunked into a silver nitrate solution which turns the salts into light sensitive silver halides, and loaded into a film holder ready to be exposed
  • Exposing: this is the “taking the picture” part. The ISO of the plate is somewhere around .5 so fast lenses and a bright flash are used to avoid motion artifacts.
  • Developing: the exposed plate is taken back into the darkroom. An iron solution is poured on it until the the exposed silver halides turn into silver metal, at which point the developing process is stopped by rinsing off the solution with water.
  • Fixing: at this point the plate is still fully covered with silver, some developed some not. The fixer dissolves away the undeveloped silver. The silver remains on the areas of the plate that got the most light and the areas that got less light reveal the dark enamel support.
  • Washing: once the undeveloped silver is fully washed away, the plate is rinsed to get rid of any remaining fixer.
  • Varnishing: once the plate is dry, it is still very delicate and the coating can easily be damaged. A coat of varnish is used to preserve the plate.
  • Although looking at these images on a computer screen really doesn’t do any justice to the feel of handling the actual object itself, I’m including the scans of a couple portraits I did a while back to give a sense of the look.

    What’s the appeal of doing tintype?

    Stay tuned for part 2 of this fascinating series in which I use very long words to explain why I think tintypes are a very relevant medium to experience in our hyper digital world.

    All pictures on this page by Sary Madsen at Tintypebooth

    Exposure/gain calculator for all your inverse squared falloff needs

    I get asked this approximately once every 6 months and I always forget which means I have to spend a bunch of time looking it up again. This kind of conversion usually comes up going back and forth between tweaking lights in the render and color correcting the individual outputs in the comp. I’ll jot the math down here so I know where to look for it next time. Oh, and since it’s about relentless play and hacking in general, maybe I’ll build some quick little javascript/HTML calculators, cuz I just like to party like that!

    Converting from stops to a multiplier

    This is useful when you want to use f-stops with a color correct node that multiplies your color values.
    newGain = oldGain * pow(2,exposureChange)

    Old Gain:
    Exposure Change:
    New Gain: 666

    Converting from a multiplier to stops

    This is useful when you have color corrects in the comp and want to bake them back into your render’s lights.
    newExposure = oldExposure + log(gainChange,2)

    Old Exposure:
    Gain Change:
    New Exposure: 666

    Adjusting for distance

    While we’re at it, you often need to move a light backwards or forwards while keeping the same light intensity on a subject. Assuming that “oldDistance” is your light’s current distance to subject and “newDistance” is the new distance to subject, you can use the following formula to figure out the new exposure required for the light to have the same intensity on your subject from the new position.

    newExposure = oldExposure + log(pow(newDistance,2)/pow(oldDistance,2),2)

    Old Exposure:
    Old Distance:
    New Distance:
    New Exposure 666

    Adjusting for light area

    In some renderers the light intensity is not normalized to the area of the light itself, which means that your light becomes brighter as you scale it up. If you want the amount of light to remain similar as you scale it up or down, this is your formula:

    areaRatio = (oldWidth * oldHeight)/(newWidth * newHeight)
    newExposure = oldExposure + log(areaRatio, 2)

    Old Exposure:
    Old Width:
    Old Height:
    New Width:
    New Height:
    New Exposure 666


    Submerged, a Lightscape Installation

    I have a real soft spot for projects that blend virtual environments with real architectural spaces. In fact, before I even found a place in the VFX and animation industry, I had already had the opportunity to get involved in various stage design and themed entertainment projects that required this kind of creative inquiry. I’ve also always been excited by the use of image re-projections techniques in my VFX and animation work because I find they can sometimes offer an elegant and effective solution to problems which would otherwise be difficult or expensive to tackle through more traditional approaches.

    A few months ago, when a painter friend approached me for help designing a lightscape installation for the opening of her exhibit, I jumped at the opportunity.  Corinne Chaix‘s exhibit is called “Submerged” and is at the PYO gallery downtown. Her work features underwater scenes, and she wanted to explore the idea of complementing their mood and reinforcing their theme by turning the gallery space itself into an underwater environment.

    We visited the gallery and brainstormed on the most aesthetically interesting ways to set up the projection. I also surveyed the space which later allowed me to build an accurate digital version of the environment.

    The next step was to create a digital version of the projector in this virtual environment which allowed us to visualize the way imagery projected out into the space.

    Meanwhile Corinne compiled a set of stock footage clips that resonated with her and passed them on to me. I created a composite movie that blended various elements from these clips and formatted the resulting image to fit the contours of the gallery space.
    The first clip conveyed a dark foreboding underwater feeling while the second captured the delicate crystal beauty of the water’s surface.

    I combined the two, moving the water surface to the top of the frame in an echo of many of her paintings.
    The last step was to take this composite, project it onto the walls and remap it to line up with the contours and orientation of the walls.
    I used the open source VisualSFM package to extract the geometry from the photos, Maya for the 3D and Nuke for compositing.

    Cement, Succulents, and The Bliss of Stacking Stuff That’s Heavy

    [vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]I can relate to the fundamental urge that stirred people to build Stonehenge. Also, I read somewhere that tiling has spiritual meaning in Islamic art because it allows the artist and the viewer to peer into infinity from a simple set of shapes and rules. As for me, these days, I am into designing stackable cement succulent pots. Putting things together, creating form, transforming space, exploring patterns and discovering shapes… The kind of play this website advocates is a sacred activity. No doubt in my mind…

    Anyway, check out my latest project:[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

    The Concept

    It all starts with a unit.

    1x1_0

    And then, there were two.

    1x2_00

    Any builder worth his salt will need stacking pieces.

    And so now, we start composing shapes.

    example_1

    Going up.

    example_2

    Playing with possibilities.

    example_2[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

    The Application

    Since they have holes, you can put stuff in them.

    You can make many combinations with just a few pieces.

    Playtime!!!
    1x1_grass[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

    The Buy Some

    Why should I be the only one able to have fun around here? I know you can wait to get your paws on a few of these bad boys.

    Well, lucky for you, a couple of local stores have agreed to spread the joy of succulent care and cool home made cement pots to our eager community and are making them available for purchase.

    In Los Feliz:
    http://www.pottedstore.com

    On Abbott Kinney:
    http://www.thejuicyleaf.com/

    On the web at Etsy:
    https://www.etsy.com/shop/RelentlessPlay

    Act now! Supplies are limited! Since they’re a pain in the ass to make and I’ll be working super long weeks all summer at my other job, I won’t be cranking out many of these. It actually gives you the opportunity to be the only one on your block with one. Think of how envious your friends and neighbors will be when they find out there are no more left to buy!!![/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

    The Making Of

    I built the main pot shapes out of 1×3 oak lumber cut and glued together to make the shape.

    blockpot_howto_01

    Next, I built a box around the master shape

    and made a mold out of rubber.

    Here is the original shape and the mold.

    blockpot_howto_04
    All that is left to do is put the empty mold back into the box it was poured in, put some cement in and wait a couple of days…

    blockpot_howto_05

    There it is. It’s that simple…

    Or is it? In fact, I learned quite a few things through the many mistakes I made along the way. First, the mold I document here actually has a major flaw in that it creates a visible seam along the main face of the pot. I ended up having to take a new approach and pour a new mold that had its seam located just around the bottom edge of the pot. Figuring out how to build the box and the process to take to get the two rubber pieces to come out the way they did involved a lot of visualizing 3 dimensional positive and negative shapes. Also, I made the box out of melamine which was yet another mistake because it has sucked up moisture and gotten warped. I think I will make a mother mold out of plaster for these at some point. Also, it can be pretty hard to get the cast out of the mold, specially the big rubber squares that end up shaping the holes. I need to find a way to make it easier, and while I’m at it, to make it so I can pour 10 pots at once rather than just one.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

    Epilog

    Here it is, at home.
    1x1_grass[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

    Hacking, Creativity, Process

    PlaneSander

    I had a great time today! I took apart my belt sander. It’s a basic Black and Decker model I got at Home Depot which I have been abusing for the past two years to sand and polish the cement pots I make. In the end, considering the time it took me and the fact that it only costs $50, the sensible thing would probably have been to go out and buy a new one. The thing is I am curious; I wanted to see how the pieces necessary for the tool to function all fit together into one design, I wanted to see how big the motor is, what kind of gears and pulleys it uses, and if there are any cool pieces I can use for something else or are just cool to look at. In the end, I took all its pieces apart, cleaned up all the cement and wood dust that were clogged up in there and, lo and behold, when I put it back together, it worked!

    Hacking is a vital activity that subverts the opaque technological structures that exert increasing control over our lives. Extensive data collection empowers large corporate entities to profile how we fit into marketing models and allows them to decide what we should or shouldn’t have access to in order to maximize profits. Accompanying this are the prevailing consumerist attitudes which dictate that the broken item should be thrown away and a new one bought. This wasteful assumption is enabled by the orgy of cheap goods globalization provides us with.  It sucks!

    Opening up that belt sander represents my refusal to accept this status quo.  Though I don’t particularly like the word “hacker” because it conjures up the image of a social recluse with questionable personal  hygiene, impressive technical abilities, and a broken moral compass, what I associate hacking with are the creative endeavors borne from the spirit of questioning, exploring, and rearranging the prevailing attitudes and objects of our world. It attempts to figure out how something works, and whether the designers of that “thing” put it together in a way that attempts to control my behavior, and it further seeks to put that thing back together differently. The reasons for doing so can be varied: artistic, political and utilitarian, but usually a bit of all of the above.

    Ultimately, I think what really compels me to open up a broken belt sander just to see what’s inside it is that it makes me happy. It allows me to experience a child like sense of discovery and excitement at understanding how something works and the happiness of integrating it into my own creative process. When I get lost in this process of disassembling and reassembling, breaking and building, cool things usually come out and it puts me in harmony with the world. It restores my sense of my own humanity. That’s why the name of this blog is relentlessplay; it’s meant to convey the urgency of keeping the spirit of play alive and well.