Disappeared and back again

Toy camera fans, did you hear the news? The Holga is back.

One of the first posts on this blog, seven years ago, was about a roll of Kodachrome. As Kodak was discontinuing the production of its legendary film, the last lab capable of developing its unique process was ending its work, too. So I caught the chance and shot one roll of Kodachrome myself.

That last roll was actually also my first. While for most everyone else the pull of the film was nostalgia, for me it was something I could only define as second-hand nostalgia. I didn’t have access to Kodachrome while growing up, of course, but experienced its allure as part of the allure of the American dream – yet when I was able to access it, the dream had changed. Continue reading

The Afghan Girl and what does photoshop – and the Impressionists – have to do with it?

national-geographic-100-best-pictures-coverYou already know this photo – it is the legendary portrait titled “Afghan Girl” that appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985 and then went on to become one of the most iconic pictures of all times. No wonder: the resolute gaze of the girl, in such dire circumstances, the unusual color of her eyes are indeed striking. What is also impactful but less  consciously recognizable is the color contrast of the saturated green and red that appeal subconsciously. And if you are a photography enthusiast, you also know the name of the photographer, Steve McCurry, popularly famous for shooting the last roll of Kodachrome ever produced, too. He was given that honor by Kodak because that film, noted for its exceptional saturated colors, was his signature film.  And you perhaps know that his signature style was striking human figures (most often shot in third-world countries) in traditional environments in saturated colors. Continue reading

Humble and archival in photography


Beach cyanotype. Hung home style

Rascuache (or, in its Americanized version, rasquachismo) is a Mexican term for reuse and repurpose of things. It is a strategy for everyday life typical for the poor masses as well as a mark of resourcefulness for people in general everywhere. But in the last decades rascuache is also an artistic term meaning the use of humble materials and unexpected sources of supplies – like plastic for drawing, discarded metal parts for sculpture and others. That may sound like the usual found-object crafts that we often see in gift shops and  at artfests today but actually originate from the revolutionary practices of Chicano movement artists in the 60s. They used it not because it was cool but to make a political point and insert themselves in a process that was seen as the privilege of higher classes. Continue reading

Photo transfer bits and pieces

phototransferDo you have a favored way to learn making new things? Like trial and error? If you overcome the fear of wasting a lot of materials as you learn, that’s one of the best ways. If.  Yet, if you decide to use cheap materials, just to obviate that fear, you may not get good results  and so be discouraged and abandon the whole project. But still. As I always like to say, I learned photography because of digital formats so I didn’t have to worry about wasted pixels.

Here is something new that I taught myself over a period of three years maybe. Continue reading

Mordançage, or the gentle beauty of the tortured print

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©Ellie Ivanova

As the New Texas Talent exhibition at Craighead-Green Gallery in Dallas is drawing to an end, I realize that I haven’t talked about my new work in the show. The images are done in an arduous process that took months to research and produce that it now deserves to be told about. It’s a process that makes for unique prints that also fits so well in the broader direction I’ve been following in the past couple of years. See some examples above. Continue reading

Hand-colored photographs

©Ellie Ivanova. Watercolor on a vandyke  print

©Ellie Ivanova. Watercolor on a vandyke print

I’ve been playing with the idea of hand-coloring photographs for quite some time. But it has been mainly daydreaming about it, researching it, being fascinated with it, without actually doing it.  Somehow I’ve been looking to discover the real reason I want to hand-color; to give shape to my ideology of hand-coloring first of all. Or maybe I’ve been afraid to ruin the prints 🙂

Before the advent of color film, hand-coloring served the purpose of adding color to black & white images. It was meant to restore reality where it was still technically lacking. And as happens with all photography tools, when technology finally catched up with a possibility, people embraced it for all the practical purposes but also disregarded it f0r art’s sake. Since the 50s, hand-painting on monochrome images has been happening for different reasons, mainly to alter the original color, to make a statement, or to embrace the aesthetics of times past.

Here are some approaches to hand-painting that have fascinated me the most: Continue reading

Photography as Printmaking


©Ellie Ivanova. Leaning on a Weak Argument. Silver gelatin print and linocut, 2012 and 2013. Click on image to view it large

Franco Vaccari says that photography is an unconscious act: the technology largely eliminates the necessity of an author with his/her artistic will and hand.  And I bet every photographer hears at least once a day the lamentation that photography can’t really be considered an art, since cameras nowadays do all the work.

So I took the chance to see how my photographs would work if they were prints as a blessing. Prints as in printmaking, made not from negatives taken by a camera, but through the hard labor of your hand. I was curious what my pictures would look like in that form, but first of all, if they would really feel like my own.  And I’d have to say it’s been a very illuminating experience. Continue reading

The Edelweiss Camera: A Bulgarian Holga

A mention of an Edelweiss camera today would make people think of the newly released Diana+ Edelweiss. Ironically, an edelweiss is a small, white, sturdy, very rare alpine flower (see left). And the new Diana+  edition is just a reproduction of the original Diana+ ; the only difference is the look and the only connection to its name is the color.

But actually, the original Edelweiss camera was a Bulgarian medium format camera, Continue reading

Holga Envy: the Hobo large format camera

Dominique and I in a Holga comparison.

While roaming the Tuscan countryside this summer, we happened upon the gallery of a French photographer living in Italy, Dominique Bollanger. While we admired his silver and large platinum prints and joked the old jokes about my Holga whimsicality compared to his high precision contact prints, he whipped out a wooden 8″x10″ box and told us, “This is my Holga”. We didn’t believe him, of course. We thought it was just another Holga joke.

Turned out, it really was his “Holga”, the same camera he used to capture the iconic Italian landscapes and then make beautiful contact prints straight out of it, with no intermediate enlargements. And if you imagine the pain of carrying around a heavy wooden box up and down the idyllic hills, you get my initial reaction. A 4″x5″ large format is inconvenient enough – now 8″x10″ would be a torture. Right? Continue reading

The Governess (1998)

This amazing film by director Sandra Goldbacher is a wonderful piece of visual poetry based on an intriguing story. But beyond its qualities as a film, I see it as a gem metaphor of the age-old conflict between photography as art expression and photography as documentation of reality. A classic must-see if you are even remotely interested in the visual arts. Continue reading

Photography books (with the privilege of hindsight)

"Music" (1980) by Jan Saudek

A friend of mine received a stash of old books from a retired photographer and invited me to take my pick among them. It was an interesting experience to get a glimpse of what was thought to be the best practices in photography back then and compare what of those old ideas has withstood the test of time. And wow, I’d say that photography and our attitudes towards it surely have changed! If you could have any photo-related book from 30 years ago, would you have gotten any?

If you go to a random Barnes & Noble today and ask for the photography books, you’ll be directed to two disparate sections of the bookstore. One will be labeled “Digital Photography”, the other simply “Photography”. The former will occupy two whole bookshelves and will be located next to the computer manuals; the second one, most probably rather small, will be part of the “Art” area along the wall. This is not retail disarray. It’s an organizational clue to two different philosophies of understanding and using photography. Continue reading

Tips for great portraits

Breaking all "rules for great portraits", this is one of my favorite pictures from the Third Eye Workshop, done by a 15-year old Roma participant

Blogs with photo tips on taking great portraits really annoy me. And every informational photography website has them, especially those dedicated to selling cameras and photographic gear. It’s clear that their canned advice is mostly about marketing. Even if they are not selling anything directly through those tips, they steer your photographic thinking in the direction of technicalities and gear instead of developing your vision as a photographer. And they help perpetuate clichés.

Does that mean that I don’t read them? I often do. Impulsively – out of curiosity to see if there is something new or unexpected there – but I don’t find anything revealing, every time. And the checklist form in which these tips are doled out is just as useful as a hypotetical checklist of “tips for great cooking” could be, starting with a recommendation to saute some onion. Well, great cuisine is not about making sure you start with onion. Continue reading

A new baby: large format view camera

This is my “new” baby  – a large format field view Linhof camera (1935 vintage), borrowed from TCC’s camera collection for my view camera class. It’s heavy, uses 4″x5″ sheet film negatives that are not easy to be processed and there is no way you can just grab it out of the bag and snap a few quick shots when you feel like it – there’s nothing remotely quick in it. Sounds like a great deal, right? 😉 Continue reading

Smena 8m: not a toy, but a serious little camera

Smena 8m is the camera of my childhood, which I still use. When I was leaving Bulgaria years ago, my Smena was one of the few things I took with me on what was going to be a long trajectory across several countries with just two suitcases. Throughout the years, the multiple geographic moves and the acquisition of other, much better cameras, my heart didn’t let me throw away my Smenka. And I was rewarded of that sentimental attachment when I finally took it out of the box again and loaded it with film, a few years ago. Reliving the forgotten experience of shooting with Smena took me back to my childhood. But most of all, the images surprised me with their clarity and precision. Seems that I had underestimated Smena and all that recent talk about it being a toy camera had made me downgrade its reputation.

A basic entry level Soviet camera from the Cold War era, it’s ironic to see Smena becoming more and more popular recently. That has become possible thanks to Lomography, an Austrian merchandising company that put in motion the aggressive marketing machine of toy cameras. First came LOMO LC-A, a medium-format camera produced by the LOMO factory in Saint Petersburg in Russia, now refashioned as a charming old time, “artistic” toy with unique quirks. Lomography took the manufacturing license for LC-A from the LOMO factory (which now produces industrial equipment only) and, along with the resurrected LC-A, started promoting the lighthearted approach to photography, whereas the low fidelity characteristics of cheap gadgets were championed as artistic advantages. They were now called “toy cameras”, because photography was not a matter of serious work and serious expectations but instead of serendipity and living in the moment. Continue reading