The Pierogi Project: Test 1

Pierogi Project-06155It’s always interesting to spend Christmas in Michigan. Generally I take on some sort of self-archeology project, like digging through my old toys and building up the Toy Warz photo series, but this year I’m revisiting the Pierogi Project, a documentation of how my mom makes Pierogi. Pierogi are these fantastic potato based dumplings, with origins in Easter Europe (so far as this project is currently concerned). As food is a way to document and preserve culture, in my older years I find it more and more interesting to bring this heritage into the digital conservatory realm.

04 Preparing Pierogi.Still003Pierogi are my near-favorite food from my family, more or less tied with platzki as the tastiest food from my childhood. Now, there’s no fixed recipe for pierogi, I had asked my mom, but she learned the recipe from her Ukrainian mother-in-law. I learned how to make platzki from my Polish grandmother, but to expand the joy of this simple food, I decided to start a project to document how to make them, both for myself, and to share our cultural heritage with anyone else who is interested.

04 Preparing Pierogi.Still002Back in 2010 or so, I shot still images of my mom preparing pierogi and recorded audio of her describing the process. Since I’m now working on cooking videos with the Laughing Lemon in Switzerland, it seemed natural to shoot a little documentary of my mom preparing the pierogi, which is the critical part of the recipe. Here is the test so far.

For filming I used my Sony NEX6 with Rokinon cine lenses, shooting in the natural lighting of the kitchen. For audio I had a Sennheiser MKE 600 shotgun mic with a Zoom H4n for recording. The Manfrotto fluid base monopod was great for shooting from up high and the Rhino gear 4 foot slider was great for getting linear tracking shots in the kitchen and dinning rooms.

The World Is Sick – We Are the Doctors – Iron Sky

The world is sick, but we are the doctors. The basic plot is that the Nazi government has been hiding on the dark side of the moon for the past 70 years and is now ready to take over the world. It’s been described as Sin City meets Inglorious Basterds plus, I don’t know, some measure of insanity and a healthy dose of sci-fi Philip K. Dick extravagance, and I can’t wait for Iron Sky to be released in the Zurich area.

Viewing the teaser material triggers in my mind the pioneering work of Metropolis, a silent masterpiece that blends well with techno remixes and stands the test of time. I get that awesome visual feeling of a black and white silent masterpiece, but beautifully interpreted for the current century. Personally I’m looking forward to this new emergence, resurgence of the European-Germanic cinema, and hope some of the abandoned factories around Berlin get converted to studios instead of posh apartments (Fuck Media Spree).

Iron Sky isn’t a German film, but it sort of invokes the analogy in my mind, that Germanic cinema has had an interesting history, pioneering film production and then withdrawing into a troubled post-world war purgatory where it wasn’t possible to make movies because of politics, resources, money, or probably everything in between. Getting quality movies made in Europe seems to be generally difficult (near impossible to get funding in Switzerland), and what I love is that the funding model of Iron Sky is showing how movies should be made. This film couldn’t be produced in a Hollywood studio, it just wouldn’t have been given a greenlight. It’s not from one studio or country, it’s a total collaboration with funding also coming from crowdsourcing and individual support.  The film is a collaboration-production including Blind Spot Pictures & Energia Productions from Finland, 27 Films from Germany and New Holland Pictures from Australia, with filming in Germany and Australia.

I get a sense that the humor here is a sort of part of an evolution, it reminds me of TRaumschiff Surprise, an excellent mockery of Star Wars meets Star Trek meets the German form of the Love Boat (Traumschiff)…and the teaser for Iron Sky reminds me of that type of humor, but mixed with visuals beyond Aliens and violence beyond Inglorious Basterds. No doubt, countless youtube remixes of Der Untergang and Iron Sky will hit the internet when Iron Sky is released on DVD (actually they’ve already started).

Iron Sky is a cult success before the release, the trailer teaser stands on it’s own as the most unique and absurd plot I’ve ever heard of, and come next Halloween I foresee an pleathura of politically compromising Nazi space-trooper costumes heading to Berlin dance parties and filling in the dark shadows of the Cathedral (my favorite Goth club). The visuals of Iron Sky are almost more amazing than the plot. The released images of Nazi space ships, giant space Zeppelins rival the work seen in Aliens and in my mind near surpasses the cinematic visuals of HR Giger. If you’d like to learn more, buy war bonds or invest in the film, check out the main website,

Analogue Lust: Dark(bath)room Escapades in Photography

I got into photography a few years before the digital revolution exploded and people everywhere began remarking on the death of film as a capture medium for light painting (er, photography). Some say film is dead – I say film is as dead as painting, which is still a vibrant activity for millions throughout the world. Having a darkroom in my apartment has been a quiet dream of mine for a long time, and recently became a reality (till I had to take a shower). This is a summary of my latest analogue escapades with black and white printing. When you develop your own film and enlarger your own prints, there’s this mystic feeling of having a hand in the total process from image capture to final print. A sense of being able to push and pull your development and watch the prints magically grow from the arid white vastness of the unexposed paper to a finely contrasted representation of reality. It’s the embodied feeling of getting it right in the camera. Cartier-Bresson, the decisive moment, Joey L with a Polaroid and capturing the moment. Anyways, I just moved to a new place and hadn’t setup my digital studio yet.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working with a friend of mine to setup a pinhole camera project for a 6th grade class she’s teaching. We began with a Polaroid pinhole camera, but it’s too expensive to have each kid build a camera with a Polaroid back on it, and you also can’t tell the whole story of how an image is developed, as it’s all contained within the Fuji/Polaroid insta-magic photos. So, instead my friend went back to her roots and decided to have the kids build a traditional pinhole camera using black+white paper as the film, and then create the final image via contact printing. It’s a great project for students, especially in this techno-world of today where every gadget can take photos and then upload your electronic images to Facebook, creating and instantly distributing a perfect copy of a copy of a copy that can be shared and retweeted and posted all over the planet. You lose of course, the uniqueness of the printed image. A printed photo is unique – this transience, this fleeting fleck of uniqueness can be seen and felt in each print you develop by your own hand, because no two will be exactly the same (well, at least the way I do it they’re all unique accidents).

Dark(bath)room Setup

We needed a darkroom setup of course to realize the project. I easily found a Rollei enlarger setup on (a Swiss auction site) for 250 CHF with two new packs of Iflord Multigrade paper. It was a no-brainer to pick it up. The enlarger was a classic Rollei, coming direct from Lisa, a photographer in the Zurich area. From we ordered the developer and fixer chemicals. Film may be dead (as some say), but it’s super easy to find everything needed for a darkroom. We took ownership of the enlarger and accessories on a sunny Sunday morning, and spent the rest of the day setting up the laboratory and making prints in the bathroom. We put the developer trays and chemicals in the shower to have some running water. Ideally you don’t want to balance the enlarger on a toilet, but you sometimes need to make do with what you have, which is exactly what we did (thankfully it never fell off).

First Prints

My friend started out doing exposures of me sitting outside with her pinhole camera. This was nothing more than a shoebox with a piece of Iflord paper in the back and a pinhole in the front. This piece of paper was developed (creating the negative) and she created the final positive image via contact printing of the negative pressed flat against a second piece of paper under the light of the enlarger. As it was a wonderful sunny Sunday and I had just done some laundry, we hung the prints out to dry along with the whites. This was my first experience seeing pinhole images like this, and I think they rock. The kids in her class are going to have a fabulous time building their own cameras, doing prints, and learning valuable lessons about optics during the process.

I opted to print images I already had, and pulled out the first black and white negatives I could find, which happened to be some ISO 50 Ilford PanF exposures I had made in Bolivia during a trip back in 2003. This is a high contrast film, and it prints very nicely on Ilford Multi-grade paper. I decided included the film carrier holes in my prints, mimicking those retro-film borders you can apply to your iPhone photos using many random retro-cam apps. Fuck the apps, if you desire ultimate interactivity and user experience then consider a darkroom. Oh, do you have a retina display? I have a retina as well – two in fact, they’re called my eyes. Wow, cool, you can view your images on your iPad – know what’s cooler, looking at the smooth fantastic surface of a new print drying in sun along with your laundry. I also pulled out a Fuji Neopan 120 negative from my favorite place in Berlin, and played around printing images of this club front and sticking them to the bathroom mirror. I love how films all have cool names like PanF, Neopan, Provia, Velvia – all with individual character traits and unique personalities, a concept generally lost in the Canikon pissing matches and pointless megapixel branderbating orgies that dominate too many conversations in the photo circles of the world.

Digital Is Not Worthless

I know there are photographers today who have never touched a piece of film, let alone developed or printed their own images. I love creating images with Photoshop and my Sony 24 mega-beast A900, but it’s not the same as creating in the darkroom. I started out with film, moved on to a film scanner to create files for prints, then went on to digital cameras and then expanded to Photoshop. From Photoshop I went a little analogue – started doing paintings, and now my journey has come full circle back to where I thought would be awesome 15 years ago – doing my own prints in a darkroom. No regrets at any point. Use the technology tools you have as you see fit and never stop exploring.

ArtDeath – KunstMord Short Film

Photography is a fun hobby, but it’s been taking a side-seat to short film and video production. My first coherent attempt is called ArtDeath – KunstMord. It’s a bit of a self-reflection piece, centered on the idea that the artists is driven to destroy their work, and in doing so set their spirit free to create again. I don’t know where this came from, but it’s a theme I’ve been building in my brains, and 1 Day of Art Copenhagen put things into context for me. I’m a lover a visual media, and it seems totally natural to present a painting as a concept in a short film instead of just in a gallery. The painting is just a container for the ideas and feelings of the viewer and of the artist. Film gives the artist another pallet to work with in displaying the work. Essentially I want to take the content of paintings, including the background story of how the work was created, and package that together into short films. At the point the term video poetry comes to mind, and I see short films in my head which are a mix a visuals, poetry vocals, and the correct imagery. Of course, implementing this is naturally had to do until you know what you’re doing. My first attempt was Gonzo Art – I: a short film all about my Gonzo Art painting with vocals connected to the writing I added to the painting.


I had had the idea for ArtMord (or KunstDeath) for a while but time was short, so I shot the film with my girlfriend over a few nights time and used such innovative production equipment as a skateboard dolly with my NEX-VG10 attached with a Manfrotto super clamp. This had the nice effect of not being totally stable while rolling on my hardwood floors, and added a nice vibration to the footage, which fit in nicely with the tension I wanted to build in the film. Naturally it’s up to the viewer to decide if this worked or not.

I added my Big Blue Beast chainsaw to the mix, as I like the idea of mass and loud destruction on an artistic scale. I don’t think the machine actually works, but it was irrelevant as I used music to simulate the beast getting fired up. In the future I envision a flamethrower, but I’ll need a real place to work in, like an actual industrial space or studio instead of my apartment. For the soundtrack I used GarageBand with my own vocals, modified of course, to sound like high-pitched youth. It somehow mixes better with the back-beats than my natural voice (or so I thought at the time). It’s like when I do portraits and I want to add a texture layer, somehow it just makes everything mix better together, like baking a cake or cooking an Indian curry for dinner.

ArtDeath-KunstMord Film

Fuji GA645 wi Wide Angle Film Camera Wonder

The Fuji GA645wi is another hold-over from the Pro Film era. An often over-looked camera in the long history of photography. The 645wi is in the 6×4.5 cm medium format, with a 45mm f/4 fixed lens. In this age of digital the bandwagon camera geek might take pause and pose the question: “What manner of foolishness is this? Film is dead my friend. Can I recommend the Canon G9? It does RAW!”?

First, a thousand discussions on hundreds of photography web forums suggests that film is not dead. Finger painting didn’t die when brushes were invented. Painting with brushes didn’t stop when the large format camera became available. Large format photography is still in fashion, despite the high-quality 35 mm options. And despite the rise of digital photography, film is still on of my preferred medium for capturing images.

Debating film vs. digital is worse than debating assisted suicide, abortion rights, the war in Iraq, or Israel vs. Hezbolla – because the film vs. digital debate is by definition a colossal waste of time. Use what works for you. What I know is that I get kick-ass photos with film, Fuji Provia is my friend, I like wide angle, I like medium format – and that was enough of a reason to drop 700 USD on a used Fuji GA645wi.

The GA645wi is built with and embodies that age old simplicity design aura, that so many companies ignore. A camera is a light box. Modern ones include automatic shutters and exposure meters, add a bright viewfinder, and not much else matters. The compact Fuji medium format cameras are unique in the camera world, and will for sure never be made again. For travel and mountaineering considerations, the list of equivalent cameras to the Fuji GA645wi is about zero.

It was built to pro standards, is still serviced by Fuji, and produces excellent results. When paired with pro film like Provia, Velvia, Fuji, Kodak, etc., the resulting images are vibrant, sharp, and unlike anything you could get with a comparably priced digital.

45 mm on 6×4.5 is rather unique. Since the lens retracts into the body, you can take the GA645 into many situations, but retain the quality expected of a much larger camera. Much like the GA645 (60 mm lens), there’s program, shutter, and aperture priority shooting modes. Manual focus is possible, but is mainly used only if photographing sunsets that fool the autofocus. The “i” version has two shutter releases, one for portrait, one for landscape orientation.? There’s a built in flash and it will take 120 or 220 film. The autofocus is good, but it’s best when used with static objects. The metering is dead on, it’s designed well and delivers results.

Few things suck more than not being able to capture the image you want after hiking into the Alps or flying across unknown seas. The reason I bought the GA645w is the lens. At 45 mm, the EBC Fujion has an angle of view close to 24 mm on a 35 mm camera body. This is my ideal focal length for land and cityscape shooting. Not so wide that details or subjects are lost, not so telephoto that you can’t fit the whole subject into the viewfinder.

To envision the GA645w, think of a Ricoh GRD or the unreleased Sigma DP1 and stick a syringe of growth hormones into your imagination. A high quality lens paired with a large image capture area. When you buy a Fuji rangefinder, you’re buying a lens with a minimalist, highly engineered body.

The ardent digital defender might say,

“Well, you need to know how to process your photos, with film the lab does all the work, you just don’t know what you’re doing. If you did, you’d shoot digital with RAW.”

This might be partially true. But what I know is that I capture a lot of detail and a large dynamic range with film. It’s a cool look that has over a hundred years of design and development behind it. It just looks good, I know this from experience. Photographing the Swiss Alps or the streets of Europe is awesome with film. Fewer highlights get blown out, and I have more detail in the shadows. I still like film, love digital, and love a wide angle lens, which is also why I’m taking the Fuji GA645wi along on my three month trip to Tokyo, as well as my Ricoh GRD.

I’ve taken some quick shots in Zurich and just love shooting with the GA645wi. The body is rugged and the viewfinder is just an awesome and bright, the way a camera should be. If you’re looking for a compact high quality camera, I recommend seeking one out.

Fuji GA645 – The Awesome Film Camera

pict3343.jpgIf you define a professional camera as one that actually says professional on it, then the Fuji GA645 was my first pro caliber photo tool. When first released in the early 1990’s it went for something near to 1500 USD. Now they are commonly found on eBay for 300-500 USD. For professionals it means a camera with near point-and-shoot convince and killer tack-sharp medium format “pop”. It really is point-and-shoot. You depress the shutter button half-way, it focuses, depress further, it takes the picture. Given its geometry and size, the GA645 is easy to hold steady in low-light situations. As I mainly do travel and landscape with this camera. The lens is a 60mm Fujion with an f/4 aperture. Many people have found fault with this design, complaining that f/4 is just too slow, the same people who have shot down the Sigma DP1, which sports an f/4 objective. Of course, numbers on paper are just that, in practice I haven’t found the f/4 lens to be limiting. Toss in some ISO 400 or 800 speed film and you have the ability to shoot in low-light situations, and since you’re shooting with a 6×4.5 film size, the quality of the resulting image will still be fantastic, especially for such a mobile camera design. The automatic focus however, can be a bit frustrating. Every camera has limitations, and the autofocus is what adds a rain-cloud texture to the overall fantastically sunny experience of shooting with a GA645. See, once in a while I get my negatives or transparencies back and find the subject was out of focus and blurry. For this reason, in general the GA645 is best used for static subjects. The focus distance is displayed in the viewfinder, so you can always look there to make sure it’s about right. It’s also possible to do manual focusing, which is nice because the focus was easily fooled when I traversed from Bettmerhorn to Eggishorn in intermittent fog cover in the Swiss Alps. Shooting into the rising sun can also screw with the focus system, and in such situations I set the focus to infinity. Despite the autofocus limitations, the metering system is dead-on and I rarely have any exposure problems.

pict3352.jpgThe Fuji GA line sports a few accessories, which one is still able to pick up if one is so inclined. A flash bracket and flash we produced, the basic GA bracket is shown here. Somehow I’ve acquired one bracket and two flashes, both of which I never actually use with my GA645. If you do use them however, the flash exposes very nicely with a butter popping sound. The bracket has a tilting head, so when you rotate the camera to shoot in landscape orientation, you can rotate the flash 90 degrees (similar to the Sony HVL-58). I sometimes use the bracket with my Minolta 7D. Since neither is produced anymore, they can be had on the used market for either reasonable or absurd prices. The one useful accessory I do use often is the tripod bracket. It lets you mount the camera and rotate around the axis of the lens, perfectly balanced and engineered. A macro attachment is also available, but doing macro work without being able to check the actual focus is bit hit and miss – and with medium format film, a tad expensive.

Zurich Night Limmatstrasse GA645
I mainly use my GA645 for travel and mountaineering. What does this mean? It’s been packed along on a month-long trip through Europe, throughout the American Southwest, in White Sands (New Mexico), sand dunes in Colorado, numerous trips in the Swiss Alps, atop Mt. Fuji in Japan, it’s been to the Zurich Street Parade, been used for night photography, and is my favorite camera when I stroll through Berlin. When you consider the quality of the Fuji EBC lens with the 6×45 format and a pack volume equal to that of a DSLR, it’s really a killer camera to take into the mountains. My GA645 has been all through Western Europe, Greece, the American Southwest, and is still taking kickass photos. Mine got a tad wet when I got lost on the Oberaletschglacier in Switzerland and slept next to a rock, but the next day it was shooting fine. The sand dunes of Colorado also did little against the durability of the GA645.
What place does a sweet film camera like the GA645 have in the digital world? A fair question, why does one need to shoot 6×4.5? Well, one doesn’t need to do anything but eat, sleep, and drink water. However, if you’re looking to capture a great deal of information on a photographic capture medium, the GA series is a fantastic answer when paired with something like the Nikon LS-9000 scanner. After three or four years of shooting with my GA cameras I rented the Nikon 9000 for a weekend to see what a decent scanner does with film from the GA. The raw files from the 9000 using Vuescan come out around 400 Mb. I also export a downsized tiff file to work with in Photoshop. Using techniques I’ve developed for portrait photography I manipulated the shadow tones and intensity to render a fantastic scene from a hike in the Swiss National Park near Zernez. The result is just fantastic.
Whispers of a Journey Into the Night

Whispers of a Journey Into the Night

Berlin walk-way GA645The general risk with buying old discontinued Pro technology is that, if it breaks – you’re screwed. So it’s actually sort of cool that you can still send in the GA645 to Fuji for a tune-up. About two years ago I picked up some surplus GA645 parts from eBay, including some shutters and body pieces, so aside from Fuji, I’m somewhat confident I could fix basic problems should they arise. The Fuji GA line is just the start, you can also get into the GW and GSW cameras, which can be bough in 6×7, 6×8, and 6×9 versions, all offering jaw-dropping razon tack-sharp images. So getting down to Brass-Tax, in the age of digital sensors and megapixels the Fuji GA645 is a film camera which still rocks hardcore. If you have some spar funds I highly recommend picking one up.

Read more about the GA645 at dante stella.