Category Archives: craft

about:blank is my Light Table


While I was traveling this summer, I shot a bit of film. Since I didn’t have a scanner with me, I ended up hacking together a mobile contact sheet workflow so I could share some shots before I got back home to my scanner. Doing this required an iPad,* iPhone, Photoshop Express, and Snapseed.

*I’m working in Appleverse so these will all be within the iOS space. Nothing here requires Apple stuff however since Google makes Snapseed and Adobe makes Photoshop Express.

First, pointing the iPad toward about:blank is a super-simple way of getting a light table. This is useful in general for previewing negatives or slides and once I started doing that the obvious next step was to use my phone as a loupe and take photos of the negatives.


When I’m doing this I set my iPhone to invert colors. This is a standard Accessibility option and only changes the phone display—the camera and even the screenshots all result in the non-inverted colors. Inverting the screen allows me to get a better sense of the negative and even adjust some of the camera exposure settings before I take a photo. The hardest part is minimizing the reflection of my phone off the negative sleeves.


The resulting image should look like a decent negative. I didn’t worry about cropping or even getting things super square since I can fix all that later on in Snapseed.


I use Photoshop Express to invert the negative. It’s one of the basic looks and there’s not much to say about it. Open the app, select the photo, invert, and save the photo. If I screwed up and reversed the negative on the iPad I often flip it here. But that’s something Snapseed can do too.

Since this is just an inversion, it won’t work with color negatives. Removing the color mask is a lot more complicated than a global color correction can handle so this workflow only works with black and white film.


The result is a low-contrast positive image. This is sufficient for sharing and previewing but I like to run it through Snapseed and adjust the levels to reflect just what’s in the film. No recipes here. I adjust the crops and perspective correction until it looks square enough. And I play with the image tuning so that the histogram covers the entire gamut.


I don’t push things too far though. I like seeing the negative borders and keeping a sense of “contact sheet” to these. They’re supposed to be roughish and prepare me for scanning them for real. I just want them to be nice enough that I enjoy sharing them too.



While I’ve continued making family albums through Blurb, I’ve also taken the plunge and started to finally put some of my photos together into projects. Or, well, mini-projects. I’m nowhere near ready to put a book together—heck, I’m not even sure it has to be a book—but I’ve got a lot of smaller sets of photos that I’ve wanted to see as some sort of printed collection.

Blurb’s magazine format is in many ways the perfect way to do this. It’s much less of a financial commitment than their photobooks but the printing and paper is also a lot nicer than their trade books. The magazine format also encourages small projects of 32–48 pages or so—making it very easy to just put something together relatively quickly.

So instead of working on and biting the bullet for purchasing an expensive one-off book, I can make a bunch of magazines for a fraction of the price and experiment a lot more.

I even set everything up for sale on Blurb’s site since Blurb’s book preview interface is pretty slick and makes for a nice way to look at the projects. I’m not promoting these anywhere* but I do enjoy flipping through them online. I’m not sure I can recommend buying them anyway since Blurb’s shipping prices are designed with books in mind and so feel a bit exorbitant if you’re purchasing a batch of small magazines instead of a stack of heavy books.

*This is the first time I’ve even linked to them.








Most of the magazines are a new iteration of the photos which are in my portfolio at So ~90% the same edit but some photos have been moved around or deleted. One magazine per section on my site, plus the B-Sides.* I’m still intending to eventually put everything together as a book but I’ll sit with the magazines for a while and see how I feel about them.

*The B-Sides concept is one I’m going to keep in mind for any future book projects too.

These were pretty quick to make since most of the editing was already done. Since I didn’t want to spend a lot of time doing the typesetting and text/cover design, I kept things super simple and did everything in my default text settings rather than mess around with fonts and design something specific for each project. I actually like the family-like sameness of the end result but I think I’ll have to consider a different approach with the entire project.



I also threw together a few small projects that have been marinating on this blog. One of them is of the Tripod Holes series of posts I’ve been making. It’s actually much much different to see it in print rather than on the blog. I’m looking forward to doing a second Tripod Holes magazine with new blog posts as well as putting together a full-size book at some point.

The other project I worked on was of my Pow Wow photos. One of the sad things about being on the East Coast is admitting that I will probably not make it to another Stanford Pow Wow for a long time. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the photos I took there but for the time being I have a small magazine of them which will make me homesick every Mothers Day.

Shipping issues aside, I’m super pleased with the way everything turned out and am thinking about what other small projects I’ll want to make while I sit with these.


The Basement

I never need a map

Yayoi Kusama, born 1929 Large White Net, 1958.

Japanese, Showa Period, 1926–1989, and Heisei Period, 1989–present
Yayoi Kusama, born 1929
Large White Net, 1958.

Maria Martinez, Jar decorated with Avanyu (water serpent), 1919–20

Made by Maria Montoya Martinez, Native American, 1886–1980
Painted by Julian Martinez, Native American, 1879–1943
Place made: Rio Grande, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, United States
Jar decorated with Avanyu (water serpent), 1919–20

PU Dogon

Dogon artist
Place made: Mali
Ladder, 20th century

The art created by people of color were only represented in the “ancient” and “pre-columbian” sections of the museum — as if our stories only existed a long time ago and there was nothing notable happening in our communities since then.

Sabiha Basrai

I touched on this in an earlier post but haven’t really gone off on a proper rant. I like the Princeton Museum a lot, but whenever I go I’m always steeling myself against getting too upset at how it treats art made by non-white people. I wish it were just that the Asian, African, and Pre-Columbian American galleries are in the basement. But it’s not. There’s so much more.

There’s the way that the Pre-Columbian gallery lumps everything from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego together in the same way that the African gallery (minus ancient Egypt) treats Africa as a single homogenous concept.

There’s the way that the galleries are labeled as “ancient” despite many of their contents being from the 20th century. And those modern pieces are described in craft terms whether by erasing the artist, placing the artwork in an imperial period, or just mixing it in with centuries-old pieces.

There’s the way that even artists working in, or in conversation with, the Western Art World upstairs get pigeonholed as ethnic craftsmen. Yayoi Kusama? In the basement. Toshiko Takaezu? In the basement. The art world is already extremely white. Taking the non-white artists out of the art galleries and putting them in the craft galleries makes it appear even whiter.

And I wish this were just a rant about the Princeton Museum. But it’s not. This kind of thing occurs all over the place—to the point where not needing a museum map is a joke I’ve made with fellow non-white museumgoers. We’re used to heading downstairs to see our cultural heritage. We’re used to seeing it lumped together with every other culture on the continent. We’re used to seeing it portrayed as an ancient tradition that no longer exists.

We joke about it because it comes with the price of admission and because it’s easier to laugh than to get mad.

On design

I’ve covered art and function as well as design before but never really tied together my issues about how many museums display art with how I’d love for them to treat more art as Design.

One of the wonderful things about design* is that it’s about how people interact with items. This is hugely important when discussing any art. Just looking at something is interactive—where you look, how long, how it makes you feel, what information it conveys. Understanding who the audience of a piece is and the artistic context it’s part of are also elements of the design.

*Full disclosure, as someone with a design background, I have to admit that there’s an element of “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” going on too.

As much as we like to conceive of art as being about the artist only—to the point where considering an audience makes us think about “selling out”—once something gets pulled into a museum, it’s inherently in conversation with the museum audience and the other pieces in the collection. Sadly, museums only really present things this way with design-specific exhibitions.

In design exhibitions you have displays which explain the context. We need to know what the products are and what makes their particular designs interesting. Maybe they allow for use in a particularly elegant way. Maybe they’re using materials in a new and novel method. Maybe they’re moving a previously-utilitarian concept into a luxury space. Maybe they’re doing the opposite and bring a product to the masses. We have to understand what else is going on in the world which is informing the designs.

In an art setting, asking and answering the same design questions will help us better understand things. What is this piece in conversation with? How is it intended to be used? How have people actually used it? What has it influenced or changed? This allows you to call out how the West has mined the rest of the world for cultural inspiration,* point out how technologies have travelled,** and recognize that art and artists—especially in the 20th century, especially in continents that have been colonized by the West—are very much aware of the general track of western art.

*Something that Princeton did do a wonderful job with for a brief while when they had a Japanese print paired with a Toulouse-Lautrec print and carved figure from Côte d’Ivoire paired with a Modigliani painting in the Modern Europe galleries upstairs.

**Also something Princeton did wonderfully, the Itinerant Languages of Photography show treated photography and photographic images as design elements that get constantly repurposed and reused in Latin America.

Willard Worden

Willard Worden. Midnight in Chinatown 1903

Willard Worden. Midnight in Chinatown, 1903

Willard Worden. The Portals of the Past (Ruins of the Towne Residence, California Street), 1906

Willard Worden. The Portals of the Past, 1906

Willard Worden, The Arch of the Rising Sun at Night, 1915

Willard Worden, The Arch of the Rising Sun at Night, 1915

While I was in California for the summer, I had a chance to stick my head into a small exhibition of Willard Worden’s photographs. The show is especially interesting from a documentary point of view since many of the photos show San Francisco both immediately before and immediately after the 1906 earthquake. I particularly enjoyed the photographs of the original Chinatown.

One of the weird things about San Francisco is how, despite being a relatively old settlement in American terms, it has reinvented and rebuilt itself over and over again. Sometimes these reinventions and rebuilding are true boomtown cycles. Other times they’re by acts of god. But where Los Angeles seems to be about layering and papering over and appropriating its past, San Francisco doesn’t seem to care.

Which is why it’s wonderful to see photos that show what things were like right before they were destroyed.* The old San Francisco, and Chinatown, photos show a city that I don’t recognize at all today.

*On this note, I should have grabbed a copy of Janet Delaney’s South of Market from the gift store. But I needed to travel light since I was already all packed to travel back to New Jersey.

Worden is also a master of night photography—taking advantage of wet streets and any available-light he could find. This is most evident in his photos of the Panama-Pacific Exposition grounds. Even as low-contrast prints they’re incredibly dramatic.

In many ways offering a closing chapter on the earthquake since the expo was intended to demonstrate San Francisco’s rebirth, these photos also fall into the same category of depicting things that have been destroyed and paved over. The Exposition grounds were temporary and only the Palace of Fine Arts remains—and even that had to be torn down and completely rebuilt in order to do so.

Willard Worden. Poppies and Lupine, ca. 1915

Willard Worden. Poppies and Lupine, ca. 1915

What I ended up thinking about the most in this exhibition though is the idea of photographs as consumable objects. Worden was a working photographer who wanted to sell prints. Lots of them. In whatever size you wanted. This exhibition includes portfolios and pricebooks for selling prints as well as information about which images sold well—though even with so much documentation, I still approached the photos as I do most photographs—looking at the technique and appreciating/critiquing the image.

The colorized photos on the other hand forced me out of that approach and into one where I had to think of the image as an object—how it was intended to be used, by whom, how it was manufactured, etc. I didn’t like the colorized photos—heck, I dislike colorized photos in general—but I loved seeing them here. Worden worked at a time when photography wasn’t considered high art so his market was the middle class who couldn’t afford proper painting. The colorization operation reminded me a little of Thomas Kinkade in how precisely craftsmen had to work on the photograph to make it more paintinglike and acceptable as an object.

Though the Kinkade comparison is a bit cruel of a comparison to Worden,* it’s refreshing to see these objects in a museum displayed as both art and as consumer artifacts—where they can prompt us to think about what kinds of “art” we’re willing to display in our homes and how we judge what other people choose to display.

*Most of Worden’s work is honest about being photography rather than trying to emulate a different medium.

Fine art photos are high brow now. Being reminded of a time when they weren’t reminds us of how high brow taste changes just like any other fashion. Museums tend not to mention this side of things. Art is typically treated as art for art’s sake—even if the museum is showing an exhibition of a specific collector’s holdings. We don’t think about the market and who’s allowed to dictate what’s “good” enough to be allowed into a museum. And museums don’t like us thinking about who they’ve excluded and why.


Apologies for the hiatus in my writing. I’ve been traveling and haven’t had the time to be on a computer—let alone the internet—long enough to put a post together. I’ve also finally gotten my act together and started making photobooks of my own. Instead of blogging, or even taking photos, I’ve been working on my stream, editing things down, and creating physical things out my photos.

These aren’t even “art” photobooks. They’re just family photobooks to take the place of the albums I used to make before I started switching* to digital a decade ago. There are still some sequencing issues I have to work out but for the most part, the photos are ordered chronologically. Most of my work is instead on the layout side as I’m often trying to fit multiple photos on a page without making it look too scrapbooky.

*While my main camera was film until 2007, I’d started shooting digital point and shoots on the side around 2005. Once that happened I didn’t feel like I could have a proper photo album until I started printing the digital photos. Turns out it was scanning the film ones that I needed to do instead.

Well, layout and editing. I’m wrestling with over a decade of digital backlog which, while I’ve sorted everything on Flickr, I haven’t been particularly ruthless about cutting anything. The family format is a nice way to ease into editing since it offers a bit of a cushion where sentiment and emotional attachment to lesser images is still a good thing. They’re not images I want to have blown up, but I enjoy having them alongside the images I’m prouder of.

So I get to include a number of smaller photos instead of “tossing” them. Meanwhile, I’m only picking one of two from a given event to print larger so I’m still winnowing things down.*

*Not that I’ll be making a proper photobook from these, but it’s still a good exercise for myself to cut things down to the tightest edit possible.

My biggest problem with this approach is that Blurb’s software isn’t strong enough to handle layouts with multiple photos—let alone text—in a way that I like. I tried them all and while the programs and plugins (especially the Lightroom plugin) work great for basic one-photo-per-page layouts, they don’t have enough control over dimensions and text flow for me. I had to fire up my ancient copy of InDesign and do everything by hand instead. Thankfully Blurb’s dimension calculator is accurate.

Printingwise, I’m plenty happy. I’ve been watching digital printing for a decade now and part of the reason for my waiting to make books has been waiting for the quality to be acceptable. While I can still see rosettes, they’re consistent with the higher-quality commercial print screens (~175lpi) I’m used to seeing. They don’t have the weird look of a lot of non-halftone digital screens nor are they as good as high-quality stochastic or super-fine (~600lpi) photobook screens.

The rest of the book feels great too. The premium matte paper is very nice and the bindings and covers are also solid. My family and I have already enjoyed looking through them and remembering things and I can’t wait to make more books now.

A few discoveries

Not exactly lessons learned, instead more like assumptions confirmed. I was a bit ambitious and made and ordered three books before getting a chance to confirm that they were indeed going to satisfy my expectations.

  • Converting grayscale images to RGB before creating the PDF resulted in nice black and white images.
  • 1.75″×2.625″ is indeed large enough to work in an album
  • I’m not wedded to aspect ratio with small photos
  • 10 point text is just fine

The black and white images were my largest concern since digital printing has a tendency to consider black and white printing as the budget option and not do as much quality control over print quality as it does over detecting color clicks for ink usage. But sending as RGB images worked fine. I’d consider toning them a little warmer since the Blurb defaults are slightly cool for my taste, but that may also be a lot more work for a minimal gain and a lot of potential problems.

Photographers’ Sketchbooks

Photographers Sketchbooks

I always love it when I’m at a museum and information about how an artist worked is available along with the actual art. I’m not just interested in learning how something was constructed,* I love to see how artists worked through their ideas and found what worked and what didn’t. The effort part of art is too often framed as being only in the actual creation side of things—painting, sculpting, etc.—not in the ideation and working through of the concepts or in the decision making about what to actually show people.

*Though that’s cool too.

This is especially important with photography since discarded work is preserved in ways which are often indistinguishable from the keepers. Unlike other arts, photography is in many ways a permanent work-in-progress as discards return to the archive and projects evolve. Being able to view a photographer’s unpublished work and see how it evolved is a rare pleasure.

Which is what makes Stephen McLaren and Bryan Formhals’s Photographers’ Sketchbooks so exciting. Rather than being about a single photographer, this book has samples from dozens of them. The term “sketchbook” doesn’t begin to describe the various working methods in here. There are contact sheets, maquettes and dummies, online streams, notebooks, workbooks, work prints, plans, sketches, and more. All vastly different ways of conceiving projects, working through them, and editing them. This is how art is made. There’s never one right way.

Many of the samples involve working with the stream and the archive. Taking unfinished work and knocking the corners off or reshuffling things. Showing the results to trusted peers. Rinse and repeat. That we’re allowed in to see this unfinished, unreleased work—oftentimes without explicit references to the finished pieces—is a major privilege which demonstrates the significant amount of trust that the artists have placed in McLaren and Formhals to handle and present these private documents into a more public space.

For photographers whose work I was familiar with it was great to see the behind-the-scenes side of how the work was produced. For those whose work I was unfamiliar with, I enjoyed being introduced to new work as well as learning some backstory for when I encountered the finished work. I can see myself returning to this book as I encounter more photography in the wild.

As a photographer, it’s also great to see how many different approaches there are. This isn’t a how-to guide. But it is inspiring. It’s easy to accumulate an archive of photos. Winnowing through and turning that archive into projects—even if they’re just family photo albums—is something I’ve been putting off for too long. Where most photobooks influence how I take photos and see things, Photographers’ Sketchbooks is encouraging me to do something with them.



I went to Philadelphia to see Paul Strand but I couldn’t help but be excited by their Vitra Exhibition too. For the same reason I would always hit the design rooms at SFMOMA, I never ignore a design exhibition at a museum I’m visiting. It’s not just because of my background, I enjoy seeing items which make me think about the things I use, how I use them, and how they’re made.

The Vitra show offered exactly that in addition to reminding me of SFMOMA’s chair obsession. While it’s interesting to see all the information about how Vitra works and designs things, it’s being able to see the objects—in particularly the chairs—that’s really fun.

Most of the objects on display are furniture. Most of the furniture is seating. Which is great since seating is one of those universal things that we all understand. I used to side-eye SFMOMA’s seating infatuation but I get it now. This isn’t like looking at a DWR showroom.* Instead, there are designs which push the concept of usability. Maybe they’re not comfortable. Maybe they’re not practical. But they’re playful and expand the concept of what a chair could be.

*I’m beginning to be convinced that the Ikea Nesting Instinct is really the affordable DWR Nesting Instinct.

And that’s kind of the point, Vitra doesn’t play it safe. Yes, there’s a heavy emphasis on usability. But you can’t be truly innovative without playing and being willing to put something crazy together. What the hell, let’s make a chair out of wood laminate. What the hell, let’s make a chair out of sheet steel. What the hell, let’s make a chair out of corrugated cardboard. What the hell, let’s make a chair out of iron mesh. Some of those work. Other’s don’t. You learn from what doesn’t and enjoy the result as an object anyway.