Welcome to Negative Notions

So you’re on my new blog. Hello new reader! If you’re already familiar with my work, you might be aware that I already run two blogs – Brooklyn Stereography (a frequently-updated blog concerning 3D photography) and The Kingston Lounge (a nearly-abandoned but still technically active blog on which I display my own archaeological photography in photoessays). So you might be asking yourself what on earth I might need a third one for. On the other hand, chances are you’ve never heard of me or my work. In either case, welcome to my latest endeavor, Negative Notions, a blog wherein I’ll be publishing images scanned from “found” negatives. Now you might have some questions, and although they’ve not been frequently (or, as of this writing, ever) asked, I’m going to answer some currently anticipated questions:

But first, a scan from a negative of dissection time in biology class.

So why do this blog?

Basically, over the years, I’ve acquired an awful lot of random negatives. Some have come from the abandoned buildings I photograph. Others have come by way of being tacked on to box lots of stereographic glass plates that I buy for my collection. Recently, a set was donated to me. Even more recently, I bought a mostly-rubbish collection of assorted glass-plate photography that was supposedly the work of a French Artillery Sergeant during the Great War, and photographer when not in combat. It was nothing of the sort; it was random plates cobbled together from various sources. The stereoviews, for which I bought the set, were mostly useless. But some of the large format portraits were quite well done, and very unique. So I got the notion (get it?) to spin-off the stereography blog and dedicate a new blog to random negatives from unknown sources.

I have no clue what this guy is doing besides sticking pins in a map, but it’s a killer photograph!

And as luck would have it, I came up with this idea as I was bidding on a lot of 2,500 small format (35mm) celluloid negatives from America in the 1950s-1970s on eBay, because the quality of the handful of images used as examples was fantastic. As it turns out, I won, and the set did not disappoint. The above images (and the rest of those in this post) are from that set. Upon seeing this latest pile of “found” (more accurately “acquired”, in most cases) negatives, I registered this domain name, and I’m now setting up this blog!

A bombed-out US Army recruiting station, from the 70s.

So what’s going to be featured on the blog?

Scans of negatives, of course! I might include some of my own very early works here, as they’ve been “re-acquired”, inasmuch as I’ve found some stuck between the pages of books, in old envelopes whilst home for the holidays visiting my parents, etc., and I’ve got a good enough current repertoire that I don’t need to hide my early, extremely pretentious work as I come across it. But mostly, I’ll be presenting works of other, anonymous photographers. Outside of my own work, besides a few small sets that have labels indicating some measure of provenance, I have no clue who in the hell took most of these photos. I just know that I like them and want to share them with the world.

In most cases, like in the cases of the two portraits above, I have no context for the images as all. So in terms of captions or historical details, I’m pretty much going to just put something beneath the image. Unlike on my stereography blog, where I can heavily research the subjects of my work at the very least, and sometimes even dig into the history of the photographer, I don’t have that option here. I just have piles of negatives, in various formats, from various regions at various times. I’m going to categorize them by collection inasmuch as possible. If I can identify a subject I will. But in most cases, that will be impossible. So basically, the text will be… whatever I feel like writing at a given time. It might be insightful, or it might be fatuous. Feel free to skip the text and just look at the photos if you like – all of them are clickable, so that you can enjoy the photo in greater detail.

One in a series of photographs from the same local American football match.

What collections are you going to be posting?

In the beginning, I’m likely going to mostly post from what I’ll term the Life in America Collection, the same collection that the photographs in this post are derived from. There are a couple of reasons for this – the photographer responsible for the creation of these negatives was very versatile, shooting everything from portraits to industry to automobile accidents to sporting events. He shot artsy-style stuff and documentary stuff. So it’s a collection that certainly won’t bore most people (who have any interest in American culture between the 50s and 70s). More importantly, I can scan 18 of these images in the same amount of time it takes to scan a single 6x13cm glass-plate stereoview. Granted, those 6400 ppi RAW scans are much more intricate, and the source material in much worse shape. These negatives are near-flawless. But basically, when I need a break, I can pop the equivalent of half of a standard professional roll of film onto the scanner, hit “go”, and walk away with 18 new images, of which at least half are guaranteed to be post-worthy from what I’ve seen so far. Brooklyn Stereography is still going to be where I spend most of my time – but in the time it takes to scan & write up a single post there, I could probably do 10 on here. No research, no 1/2 hour scans – just plug-and play. And there are some outstanding images in the set:

My favorite of the images I’ve come across in the little of this collection that I’ve explored so far.

I’m going to intersperse groups from my other collections of course. No Man’s Collection, which I mentioned earlier, will be cleaned & scanned as I get the time to do so. The negatives which came with Millie’s Set will be represented as well. Dozens of rolls worth of celluloid negatives (mostly 35mm, some 6×6) found in abandoned buildings will show up when I can find them, as will the dry plate negatives I found in the attic of an abandoned safe company in Ohio. Various other sets of negatives that I’ve come by over the years will also show up, and I’ll likely show some of my earliest works – not really suitable for posting amongst the last couple of decades’ worth of images, but photos I took nonetheless. And of course, now that I have this blog, maybe I’ll be inclined to acquire more. We’ll see what happens!

How will images be presented on Negative Notions?

In general, if the post just contains a single image, I’ll obviously just post the image. In a longer post such as this one, I’ll do my best to pair taller (portrait-format) images which have something in common side-by-side as above. This means less scrolling, and guaranteed visibility on even the most ancient of monitors. Don’t worry, if you want to see them larger, just click on them. Landscape (wide) photographs, as well as square-format images, will simply be posted. If I’m posting a whole bunch of images with little or no context, I might just put them in a gallery. Don’t feel bad – just enjoy the pretty pictures and don’t worry too much about what they mean. It’s hard to do much more with pictures taken by gawd-knows-who in unknown places at unknown times.

A photograph from the LTV Aerospace Corporation, taken after 1971 when the company took that name. Besides being involved in a huge bankruptcy proceeding, there’s very little information out there on LTV, even in the vast void of Wikipedia, but I sure wonder what’s going on with these weird little track cars. See, there’s a little bit of context in this caption!!!

Are you going to retouch the images here?

Besides standard dust and scratch removal, not so much. That said, either scanning a negative or printing one in a darkroom is an art unto itself, and there’s no way to go about it without some measure of inserting oneself into the final product. Whereas positives (like slides, remember Kodachrome slides?) are what they are – they look a certain way, and that’s how they were shot – negatives are a different breed entirely. For example, this image:

Construction worker talking on the radio in his digger, whilst other workers do hard labor outside.

…was initially far too contrasty in the base scan – the interior was blackish, and the outside was blown. This could be easily corrected in a darkroom by printing it lower-contrast, so I just adjusted the contrast slider down and it looked great. I’ll assume that this is what the original photographer would have intended, and just go with that. But I’ll never exceed what I can do in a darkroom – and I won’t even go that far, as I’ll not be dodging and burning. Partly because it’s harder to guess the original photographer’s intention, but mostly because while it can be fun in the darkroom, it’s a giant pain the arse to do it digitally, and this is just a fun little side project for me.

Easter egg*.

(What/Who/Where/When) (appears in this photograph/was this photograph taken/took this photograph)?

Well I don’t freaking know! I’d certainly post a caption or a few paragraphs if I did. Unlike my main blog on photographs that I didn’t take – Brooklyn Stereography – this one was partially created just so that I could have a place to post stuff without doing any research or thinking of anything clever to write about it. That said, if you know anything – please reach out to me! Each post contains a comments section at the bottom. Go there and tell me anything you can about these photos! Recognize a building, a person, an event, anything at all? Post a comment, or use the contact form on the blog to tell me about it. I’ll update the post and give you credit!

Emergency personnel attempting to free an injured man from being pinned inside his truck after a collision on a freeway. I only know this much because there are four other negatives of the same scene from the same negative strip; the final image on the strip appears to be a woman putting on a fashion show for her friends in a parlor or something.

Will there every be anything controversial on this blog?

How the hell would I know? It’s an art/photography blog. That’s pretty wide, scope-wise. Different people find different subjects controversial. For example, some people would view a photo like the one above as being gratuitously gory – I view it as being an interesting photograph of an event that happened. Some homophobes might find a still image of two men kissing controversial, but see nothing wrong with a naked lady. So it’s hard to say. Are Weegee’s crime scene photos controversial? Not to me, but I’m a professional photographer that owns lots of photography books, and that might not be your bent. Some people might not want to see things like the slaughterhouse scene a few images up, or the bombed-out Army Recruitment Center near the top.

In today’s American society, many people view the female nipple as necessarily sexualized, but not the male nipple. Other people see those people’s views as intrinsically sexist (I include myself among the latter). All this said, it should be amply obvious that a post is going to contain a nude woman if, for example, the post title is “nude woman sunbathing on the roof”. I will never show pornographic material here (even if I had any), so don’t worry about that, but I don’t view simple nudity as fundamentally pornographic.

All that aside, and despite my dislike of the increasingly insipid “trigger warnings” that are becoming the norm these days, I will not post anything that could be considered offensive on a racial, anti-semitic, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, etc level without making note of that fact well before the image appears in the post – or perhaps even in the subheading of the post on the main blog page. So if, for example, I acquire some negatives from the late-stage Weimar Republic, and some of the images contain swastikas, pictorial representations of Hitler, salutes, etc, I would broadcast the fact that those images will appear at the top of the post, and give you ample time to hit “back”. Same goes for anything with the “N” word, scenes of KKK members, or anything of the sort. Fortunately, I don’t have anything like that right now – but who knows what’ll show up at some point. Pretty much everything else, as long as done artistically or for documentary purposes, is fair game. Basically, be an adult about it – and of course, if you find something offensive, it’s your prerogative to stop reading.

Can I use images from your blog for my [insert use here]?

It really depends, doesn’t it? The best answer is – reach out to me and find out. If you want to use a photograph for a presentation to your art class, or for a dissertation on LTV Aerospace Corporation (see above), or for your non-monetized blog, then I’ll probably agree readily, and provide you with a non-compressed higher-resolution version if requested. By “non-monetized blog”, I mean blogs like mine – blogs by which you do not make money per hit, make money through advertising, etc. I hate ads. Most people hate ads. I don’t use them, and if you do, you can’t use my images. Any commercial use on your part will require financial recompense on mine.

Steal my intellectual property, and I will call the CHiPs on you. Yes, there really is a California Highway Patrol service, as proven by this photograph! Who’d have thought it was anything but a brilliant television program about some studly… okay, I can’t even keep this up, and I’m a bit loopy because I was up all night watching stuff from the new Bergman box set and intermittently working on this new blog.

As numerous people who’ve stolen my work in the past can attest, I’m more likely to just send an invoice than to waste my time with cease-and-desist letters – for one notable example, look at the local NBC affiliate who used one of my images for about 5 seconds during a broadcast about an abandoned insane asylum I’d photographed. Each of those 5 seconds cost them $200, and this was for a single broadcast. But then, look at the hundreds of students, researchers, historical societies, nonprofits, etc that have contacted me about using my work over the last couple of decades – I usually not only assent to the usage, but offer alternate angles / images, high-res copies, background discussions, etc as requested. Bottom line is: JUST ASK.

Will you be offering prints of these images?

Probably at some point, if the interest is out there. If I do, they’ll be significantly less expensive than prints of my own work, since I didn’t have to jump fences, evade LEOs and security guards, hide in crappy waterlogged basements, etc, to get these, nor did I have to buy thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, tote it into said locations, and carefully compose the images. I threw some negatives that I find interesting up on my scanner bed, adjusted a few sliders, and put them up on the internet, mainly so that other people could enjoy them to. Since I’m not doing it for the money, I’m not going to try to profit as if I were – I’d like people to be able to enjoy these photographs if they so desire. I have no idea whether these will generate interest, or whether they’ll be interesting enough to hang in your living room – personally, I would hang the woman sitting in a shopping trolley up in mine if my wife and I didn’t have the walls completely covered with art already. In any case, if you just totally fall in love with something and need a personal copy of it, use the contact form to get in touch for now.

JOIN US!!!!!

So you’re still reading this…

Hopefully this means that you’re sufficiently interested in this new blog to keep reading – huzzah! You can use the sidebar links to either subscribe through your WordPress account, if you have one, or to receive emails when new blog posts are made – you can set your alerts to “daily”, “weekly”, or “monthly” or some such. In any case, if you don’t want to subscribe, you can always bookmark it, or write it on a little scrap of paper that you then stick into a book that you don’t open for another year yet and stop in to see what progress has occurred in the previous 365 days. In any case, I hope you’ll come back, despite any “negative notions” you may have after reading this.

And if not, why are you still reading this? Do you have too much time on your hands? And for that matter, why is “having too much time on your hands” even an insult, being that the vast majority of us wish we had more time on our hands? Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

*Easter Egg: go back up to the photograph of the trio in the slaughterhouse with the caption “Easter egg*.” Click on it to open up the image page, and think of the best caption you can possibly think of for that image. Seriously, someone’s gotta have something pretty great. The first caption suggestion to make both myself and my wife laugh out loud will be the official caption for this image, and you’ll be credited as providing it. This last paragraph will then disappear. Nifty, eh?

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