The Cherry on Top

One of the pleasures of photography for me is not knowing for certain if the picture I took will come out exactly how I had imagined it. Many people shy away from this, but I embrace the uncertainty because it keeps me on my toes and it always delivers the feeling of excitement when unrolling a developed roll of film. Sometimes you get duds, but in every failure, there's a lesson to be learned. From time to time there are also those special moments when the stars align and the photo gods deliver you a gem beyond your imagination

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The way that this man is resting his hands clasped together reminded me of the same way my dad would stand when waiting on something. It also has the compositional elements that attracts me to a photograph. It is minimalistic, has strong graphic shape to it, and there is something that makes me feel (in this case, a human gesture). The lighting conditions was not favorable, but I knew it was a shot that I can creative work with in the darkroom. It wasn't until I made a test print and looked closely at it for a few days when I noticed something special.

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Zoomed into his hands, there is something peculiar happening. With both his ring and his watch worn backwards, some questions arise. Was he in a hurry? Does he normally wear his jewelry in that manner? Why are his finger nails so long? The beauty of photography has always been the many stories that it can tell. The better photographs to me are the ones that allows me to make my own narratives with my own perceptions.

 

 

 

Coney Island has always held a place in my heart. Yes, the water is murky, the sand is littered with glass, and the neighborhood has some of the most dangerous housing projects in Brooklyn. But just outside the sandy path and on the boardwalk, you can find real "New York" culture spawning on every block. I never considered myself a "documentary street photographer", (though I have the deepest respect for that medium) so the below photo is a bit out of what I would normally photograph.

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When my eyes saw a dog driving a car, my instinct was to quickly read the light and snap the photo. The window period was short but I think I got the best photo that could have possibly been made at that point. It is easy to get lost in this photo due to the unique subject and the busy background. But if you let your eyes wander a bit, you may find yourself a nice surprise.

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On the bottom left corner, there was a detail on the car that read "New Yorker". It was like a stamp of approval. To me, the photo was a portrait of Coney Island and it's eccentricity. Coney Island is an iconic area of New York and has been photographed in a million cliche ways. But to me, Coney Island symbolized a melting pot of not only the diversity of ethnicities in New York, but the different characters in it. Strange things happen in Coney Island and to outsiders, it can feel a little overwhelming and intimidating.    

 

I've always believed that one of the good qualities that I have is my attention to detail. (Yes, I listed that on my resume and meant it!)  As I develop and grow as a photographer, I'm learning that it isn't the grand scheme of things that attract me, but rather the small details that always seem to be the cherry on top for me.   

I have been receiving some interests for some of my prints recently and I am truly honored. If you are interested in purchasing a print, please email me at studio@davidzphotography.com and I will gladly make one for you! All prints are silver gelatin prints on fiber based paper handmade in the darkroom in my studio in Brooklyn.

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Finding myself

I had learned to cook from my mother when I was a child. She had taught me to cook traditional Cantonese dishes, which I loved and have a deep appreciation for. But as I began to go solo in the kitchen, I looked to put my own twist on these dishes. And who can blame me? I was a kid growing up in the Lower East Side influenced by Hispanic and African American culture and putting ketchup on almost everything. So when I made my first fried rice, I knew I had to put ketchup in it. (Sounds disgusting, But I find it delicious)

As a photographer today, I am often asked who is my favorite photographer. Though I do have an arsenal of my favorite photographers, the work and stories that influence me and inspire me the most goes beyond photography. Just like cooking, I took different experiences and influences to make the dish that I wanted to eat. I am constantly stimulated by other art forms and philosophies and continue to bring it into my own craft.  Here is a short list of some of the artists and work that has made a big impact on my work and continue to shape who I am.

Fan Ho

Fan Ho's Approaching Shadow, changed the way I thought about photography and continues to inform the way I see the world.

Fan Ho's Approaching Shadow, changed the way I thought about photography and continues to inform the way I see the world.

Just like many people, I never saw photography other than a way to document and record a moment. Many of the photos that I was use to were family portraits taken with disposable wind up cameras bought from a pharmacy. All of that changed when I saw a photo from a photographer from Hong Kong named Fan Ho. The photo was minimal, timeless, was intensely shaped with light, and had a sense of mystery about it. It completely drew me in and sparked my addiction to photography. Since then, I had learned of new photographers and love many different works. But this photo (below) totally kicked my ass and I can even claim to have changed my life. 

Francis Mallmann

Francis Mallmann is an Argentine celebrity chef who is a master of cooking with fire and is recognized for primal cooking techniques. His illustrious career as a chef speaks for itself, but it isn't the food that drawn me to Mr. Mallmann, it is his unconventional philosophy of life that inspires me. I touched upon this briefly on my previous post Moving backwards in a Digital Age, but I believe that we live in a world of too much practicality and often put aside doing things for the sake of enjoyment. Mr. Mallmann's approach to life is simply to "get out of your chair, sofa or office and go out". I highly recommend you to watch the below video for a glimpse of his philosophy. If you have time and access to a Netflix account, I would suggest to watch the episode about him on Chef's Table as well.

One of the most unique humans alive

Frank Ocean

Although categorized as a R&B artist, Frank Ocean to me is a musician in his own class. His music is raw, honest, versatile, nostalgic and melancholic. His use of words paints a picture that we all can relate to. What draws me the most to his music is his willingness to stretch his vocals almost to the point of a voice crack which brings so much soul into his music. There are always critics of how a photo should be and what a perfect photo should be. I don't think a perfect picture exists, nothing is perfect and I think thats the beauty of it all. That we all have scores of imperfections that makes you unique and human. 

Fun Fact: it is a pet peeve of mine when a person discredits a photo simply because it is slightly out of focus or grain size is too large.

 

"Nights", A masterpiece by Frank Ocean

In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar Wai

Hands down one of the most beautiful films made and one that I constantly watch over and over again for visual inspiration. Director Wong Kar Wai's attention to the smallest details is displayed through his scenes where there is no exchange in verbal dialogue but instead uses small human gestures that implies full conversations. Gestures that can be easily overlooked but can garner so much human emotions. I hate to pigeonhole myself, but if there was one piece of work that my photograph identifies with, it will be all in this movie. 

Very powerful non-verbal gestures that I continue to chase in my own photography

Who or what are your biggest influences to your craft?

Moving backwards in a Digital age

The magical moment that never ceases to excite

I will never forget the first time experiencing and being involved with the analog process. I was having my Tintype portrait taken at the back of a bar in Brooklyn and can still play back the moment my face magically appear out of thin air on a piece of glass. Although I was mesmerized by the magic, I remember being extremely engrossed in the whole process. From the very beginning of the light set up, to watching the photographer walk into his makeshift darkroom, to seeing my face emerge from the chemicals. I had to be a part of that world.

Wet Test Prints drying on colorful clothes pins after a 8 hour printing session

Wet Test Prints drying on colorful clothes pins after a 8 hour printing session

Over the course of the past 2 weeks and many 12 hour printing sessions, the craft has taught me not only to be technically skilled, but also to be extremely patient and to work "in the moment". The materials being used, all have their own characteristics and are highly sensitive to many different elements. And when you begin to work them all together, every single difference will cause the materials to interact with each other in a different way. From start to finish, you learn to respect the materials and begin to have conversations with it.

A completely wasted piece of paper turned black in the developer. A way of the Darkroom telling you to "Stay in the moment and stop thinking about cheeseburgers."

A completely wasted piece of paper turned black in the developer. A way of the Darkroom telling you to "Stay in the moment and stop thinking about cheeseburgers."

Making a silver gelatin print is a long and analytical process. When you make a test print, you have to wait for the paper to dry and allow the tones to settle. You put it up on the wall, and you study it. Sometimes it can take a few hours, sometimes a few days or weeks before you arrive to a print that you are happy with. You study it and think about why you took the photograph and what it means to you.  The process forces you to communicate with your materials and connect with your own vision of photography. 

Still a work in progress, laying out some early test prints to study and taking notes before making another test. Every movement of light under the enlarger produces a different quality of light. The effects, as shown above, is that every print is unique and slightly different. 

Still a work in progress, laying out some early test prints to study and taking notes before making another test. Every movement of light under the enlarger produces a different quality of light. The effects, as shown above, is that every print is unique and slightly different. 

The darkroom itself removes any instant gratifications that this world today so much values, and naturally forces you to become more involved. It is not a debate of whether it is better or worst than digital, it is going back to the primal instincts of human beings; to create and experience the enjoyment of making something with our hands. From the time I load the film in my Leica, to pulling out the paper from the wash, it is important to me to know that I have been involved in every single step of the process and the final print is a reflection of my vision and sensibilities.

I will be writing periodically about my process, thoughts and updates on this journal.   If you enjoyed today's post and would like to follow along my journey, please share and subscribe by entering your email on the right side of the page and hitting the "Sign Up" button. I know the importance of a clean mail box, so be assured that only relevant content will be shared.Thanks!

 

Building a Darkroom in the Brooklyn Navy Yard

It has always been a dream of mine to own a studio where I can create, cultivate inspiration, and get shit done. When one of my best buddies, Winston Chiu and his Bonbite crew allowed me to use one of their small bathrooms in their office as a Darkroom, I pounced on the opportunity.  

With a modest budget and a need to customize furniture to fit into a small 10'x5' bathroom, I enlisted the help of the handiest friend (David Li) that I know to get this project done. Together we built a enlarger table and 5' x 2' wooden sink. Check out some footage of a project that took about 3 days to complete. 

 

 

Huge Huge shout out to David for being responsible for 90% of the building. His passion and creativity in wood working inspires me on my own craft. Also, would like to thank Winston, Kyley and the whole Bonbite team for their hospitality and accepting me into their nest. Their work ethic and vision motivates me to show up everyday to match their drive for greatness. Now on to making art!