Got together with Dave Salinas, aka "the lowest fidelity," for an interview. Alternate title for the piece was "Analog Up Your Ass" but Google made me change it.
Bridge Burner: How many cameras do you have and which is your favorite or most used?
Dave Salinas: It's kind of hard to say how many cameras I own. I guess a SHITLOAD would be an accurate answer. I try not to have cameras just lying around my studio & house collecting dust, I'm not a collector. I give away cameras all the time.
The core group of cameras I keep in rotation are:
Zero Image 6x6 pinhole
Polaroid Land Camera
Holga 6x12 pinhole
The camera I use most would be the Canon 5DII. It's a digital camera. It's a camera I use for everyday snapshots rather than photographs. But the camera that I produce what I consider to be my best work is from my Hasselblad. The format is a simple square 6x6 medium format film negative. Composing images inside a square frame is visually appealing and simplistic for me.
BB: Many photographers I know love shooting film but have given it up for the ease/cost advantage of digital. Why do you continue to use film for most of your work?
DS: The reason I love shooting things on analog film is because it allows me to get into the darkroom to print directly from my negative. Printing in the darkroom utilizing a wet chemical process is what I consider to be the core of my work. There is something to be said if you can photograph something, develop that negative, & properly get the exposure and tonal range you precisely want in a final photograph on paper WITHOUT the use of a computer. It's a tedious process that allows you to build a relationship with your camera, photography chemistry, & your honed in printing techniques. I also feel that there is a certain level of respect that comes with the craft of making an image 100% by your own hands.
About two years ago I was working late at ERS gallery setting up for a show that I was curating. It wasn't uncommon for me to work my regular job, then spend another 8 hours working in the gallery. It was after one of these long workdays that I was loading up my car and getting ready to go home that I stopped to talk to a friend about the upcoming show. I was completely exhausted and casually rested my laptop briefcase against my car on the ground as we had a lengthy conversation. As I was finally ready to go home to get some sleep I had forgotten that I had my laptop resting against my car and proceeded to back up and drive off. It was in that slow reverse movement that I felt the slow destruction of my car tire rolling over my laptop. It was a new Sony laptop, top of the line model. My laptop was destroyed along with more than two years of high-resolution scans from negatives that I was using to print via inkjet.
Looking back at that moment I realized that was the best thing that could have happened for me...in a photographic sense. I knew right away everything from that moment will be 100% handmade. Zero computers, zero photoshop.
I still shoot digitally. But the things I would consider fine art or images I am trying to exhibit are going to be traced back to it's negative and not a high resolution jpg.
I'm in love with the analog process. It's a world of difference from the digital aspect of moving sliders in photoshop to manipulating tonal ranges with chemicals, filters, & timing under a red safelight in the darkroom.
BB: What is your favorite landscape/location to shoot?
DS: I think the place that has my interest the most would be West Texas. The sheer vastness and incredible topography makes this region a favorite if mine. I've exhausted just about every way to photograph this area of Texas. Every time I get a new lens or a new camera I start thinking of that great West Texas light & the incredible range of earthy pastels that make up that landscape. The simple compositions of
"no place photography". Being in that area is like what it's going to be like on earth after humans are extinct. The crumbling structures that are sun baked and slowly being reclaimed by nature litter the wide open planes of tall pale yellow desert grass blowing in the wind resembling a calming yellow sea. It's a great place to photograph. It's a great place to be seen by nobody, and to participate in nothing.
BB: What has been your favorite abandoned place to shoot?
DS: I think one of the best places I have photographed is New Orleans. In the wake of Katrina and the left over devastation it has yielded great locations in regards to "urban exploration" photography. There is a huge abandoned power plant along the levee that is amazing! Its such a deceiving building...from the street level it looks like a typical 4 story industrial complex with one of the sides being all windows. On the inside it has levels that span below the street level making it a very expansive industrial complex with some of the best lighting conditions I have ever photographed in. I just remember being fixated on this one area where the light was beaming into the open air main are through the wall of windows. It goes without saying, there were so many opportunities to fall to your death inside a place like this. I'm generally afraid of high places, but I must go into some sort of photo blissed out trance to put myself into some very dangerous positions to get the shots I want. What really amazed me was all the graffiti inside there as well. All the typical spots were hit with tags, but there were other locations where dudes obviously risked their lives to leave their mark several stories above the ground floor.
There we also entire neighborhoods completely abandoned. I went very early in the morning to avoid the usual thug foot traffic as to avoid getting my cameras jacked. I have learned to move quick and get my shots without hesitation...
BB: Many times the subject of a photo is mere happenstance, so would you say composition is just as important as the subject?
DS: I try to pay very close attention to my compositions, especially when I shoot my Hasselblad. When I shoot with that camera it leaves these two notches on the right side of the negative. Its like the signature of that camera. When I print those images its important for me to include these in my final prints. So in order for me to do this I have to make sure my compositions are right on, with zero room to crop. The lines in a photograph are very important to me, I have to make sure I am not cutting into the flow of an image by bad composition. When shooting film it is crucial. Composition is incredibly important. I like to approach a scene from all different angles & levels. Composition is everything!
BB: Which subject/type of photography do you find the hardest to shoot?
DS: I think the hardest thing to shoot is people. I have been slowly working in some portraits and it takes almost an immediate trusting bond with the subject. Generally I have been photographing homeless people on the street. You basically have to gain trust extremely fast and get them in a position to forget about the camera. Its especially challenging for me because im usually photographing them in a really tight crop, so my lens is less that a foot from their faces. I have built relationships with some of these homeless subjects. Its just a matter of capturing that beautiful moment when they are letting their guards down and allowing you to get some honesty in their faces.
BB: You have curated several events at El Rincon Social. Is this something you really enjoy or more a labor of love?
DS: I really enjoy it. It’s allowed me to really build lasting relationships with a number of artists I completely admire. But at the same time I hate it. I never realized how much work goes into producing a successful show. You have to deal with so many different personalities and make everything flow in a way the show makes sense. I'm going to keep doing it, I feel like I have already invested so much time in learning how to do it properly that I can eventually get really good at it.
BB: Where do you get your expired film?
DS: I work at the Camera Co/Op. It’s easy making contacts of all the old school photographers that have converted to digital but still have a fridge full of film. We trade stories and I tell them how I still produce images in the darkroom and then they sometimes offer me their film! I have more film than I can possibly even shoot, but its fun trying to burn though it all. It also really helps me explore alternative processes that I normally could not afford to do. I am in a lucky situation, I have had the great fortune to be on the receiving end of constant support from the guys that have put in major years in the darkroom. I’m fucking lucky.
BB: How do you feel about digital filters and "effects" to recreate film processing techniques?
DS: I used to completely hate it, but now I just dislike it. hahaha. I hear the phrase "the final image is what matters". This is bullshit, there is something to be said when I you can produce something that looks amazing with just chemicals and timing. For me, photography is basically chemicals and timing.
BB: Do you listen to music when processing/printing and if so, what are some of your favorite bands to having spinning?
DS: Music is an incredibly important part of my process! So much that when I am making these huge prints in my lab that when it comes to applying the chemistry to 8ftx8ft sheets of paper on the floor, I HAVE to have the peak of a song playing during this critical moment. It’s usually the noised out feedback of a Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine song or something like that. I can’t even explain how important music is in my darkroom. People always want to "sit in" on my process...but realistically, they would have to endure incredible volumes of feedback noise or droned out guitars from my stereo on blast for hours on end. It becomes an endurance contest. I often end the night with a giant headache and covered in chemistry from "really getting into it". I often try to produce images that my favorite bands music would look like in a still image.
My Bloody Valentine
These bands are ALWAYS in rotation!