More Scala from Oklahoma

Won’t be revisiting Oklahoma for the next road trips until October

Been spending quite a bit of time in the interim going through what’s been exposed so far, making notes 

Hundreds of photos have been made thus far, with many more to come 

And plenty more of Oklahoma to explore 

But very happy I’ve added the 120 Agfa Scala film to the mix 

A truly special film (read more about it, and the new series, in the previous entries)

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Oklahoma 35mm

As mentioned in the previous entry, the 35mm format is also being used for the Oklahoma series - Portra 400, overexposed a stop, processed normal (I usually give all my films a little more air in that way) 

Leica M6 and 1970s 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit lens

A great combo, which I write about in the entry titled ‘Porta, M6, 28mm’

And more on the various formats and mediums I’m using for this new series in the entry titled ‘Oklahoma series’

The above photograph was made in McAlester, OK, July 1, 2018

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Oklahoma 4x5

While I’m using 120 and 35mm films for this new Oklahoma series, which I didn’t for the Texas series, A PLAIN VIEW, it was important to keep the old 4x5 camera active, as an extension of sorts 

To have a handful of large prints on display for next year’s Philbrook Museum exhibition is important, and those are best made from larger films 

And there’s something about that particular film and the old lens I use on the Speed Graphic camera that I’ve really grown to almost need at this point 

For every roll of 120 or 35mm I expose in Oklahoma with the smaller cameras, I find it important, and even crucial, to use the bigger Portra film to keep with a theme of sorts; to keep the pages in the same book, one similar geography to another (perhaps I’ll carry on with this approach as I continue to move about the States) 

The above photos are a few examples from the old Graflex, from Tulsa and outward 

So far ... 

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Oklahoma series

Photographed in Tulsa, Summer 2018, with the original Agfa Scala 120 slide film and a Mamiya 7ii 6x7 camera w/65mm lens 

From a handful of leftover rolls I’d found before beginning the Oklahoma series in June  

Such a wonderfully unique film, and one that is being produced again but only in 35mm

dr5 lab in Iowa is the only lab to process it, and they do fantastic work. And with a multitude of b&w films 

For A PLAIN VIEW, I used my old 4x5 Graflex Speed Graphic view camera and expired Kodak color films, which is being repeated for this new series (Portra 160vc, Ektachrome E100S, TMAX 100 Readyload), but I wanted to include 35mm (Portra 400) and 120 film (Scala)

It’s been nice moving between the three formats, and color and b&w—roaming small-town neighborhoods and making photographs from the passenger seat with the Leica M6, for example, is allowing me to make photographs that I wouldn’t be making as many of had I opted for 4x5 exclusively

Saves time, too, but more importantly it’s allowing the series to feel a bit multidimensional

Each format and medium tell their own story, but there’s a cohesiveness to the lot of the photographs that I’m starting to see more and more of as I sort through what I’ve exposed thus far

This series marks the first time I’ve worked on a project using multiple formats and mediums  

When I’d set out to start photographing for the project, the idea was to just document Tulsa, but after spending two weeks there at the beginning of June, it became clear to me that it would mean more, and be more fulfilling for me, to document Oklahoma as I’d done Texas for A PLAIN VIEW 

There’s something about roaming new places by car, being on unknown highways and approaching unknown towns, that has a certain allure and excitement to it 

Being in Tulsa was extremely inspiring, but I find myself most inspired when I’m driving 

Tulsa is a very unique, beautifully barren city, and I found myself fascinated by it each day, and was productive there, but when I went back to Oklahoma after having decided to document ‘anywhere Oklahoma,’ I found myself with a motivation I’d felt teetering toward the end of my stay in Tulsa 

I like to move and roam and anticipate what lay ahead 

And I’m especially inspired by rural America and what lay behind  

This other life; the quiet and what remains  

These empty places that somehow have that unique cinematic quality to them  

That second trip back up to Oklahoma from Texas, as I’d suspected would be the case, there were things to photograph as soon as I crossed the border. Interesting things. I was thrilled  

In Wills, Oklahoma, I made my first exposures just north of Lake Texoma, off Highway 377

I covered a lot of ground that second trip, and made quite a lot of exposures—close to 20 4x5, about 8 or so rolls of 120, and 6 or so rolls of 35. In four days  

I was accompanied by my 14-year-old son, Pilot, who made his own photographs 

He also documented much of the trip on digital video for what’s to become a short behind-the-scenes documentary to be realeased in conjunction with my exhibition next year 

His footage is beautiful. Very proud  

That little haul around Oklahoma with Pilot was his and my first photo road trip together since last summer. It’s a remarkable thing traveling with him. I look forward to doing it with my other kids, too, as they get older  

This series was commissioned by the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa for a 6-month exhibition to open June 2019

The Philbrook has two museums, one in an old 1930s villa, and one downtown, on the same block as the amazing Woody Guthrie Center  

Both very beautiful spaces  

I’m thrilled the kind folks at the museum commissioned this work

They take a unique and much looser approach than most museums  

They seem to be driven by breaking tradition and supporting artists on all levels 

Wonderful people up there  

I’m planning another trip around Oklahoma for the series, and to cover as much of the state as I can in that time  

I’ve already begun making test prints of some of the photos from the first two trips up there 

Some pretty good results so far 

I will be posting more Oklahoma photos and updates here over the coming months  

Once done making the photos for the series, I’ll begin the editing process for the exhibition and accompanying book, which will release at the end of the exhibition 

Jason Lee Comments

For the photograph above, I used the incident bulb on my Sekonic L-508 Zoom meter

With the meter facing the camera, I took my reading in the shade, about 20 or so feet in front of the camera - being that it was darker at the camera, it was necessary to step away from it a bit and edge a little closer to the shadow line, where it was a bit brighter 

Had I exposed for the light beyond the shadow, I would have lost the detail in and around the bus, and in the foreground  

But knowing that color negative film holds a substantial amount of information on the highlights side, more so than on the lowlights or shadows side, I knew I’d have those areas easily protected 

For my night photographs from the series, which can be seen on this site under A PLAIN VIEW at PHOTOGRAPHS, I used the spot or reflective meter on the Sekonic

This allows me to meter from the camera, which is often very objective to the scene  

I take various readings around the various light sources close to the central area of the subject

I also take readings away from that central area to see how far off the non or less-lit areas are from the light sources 

There’s usually a kind of averaging that occurs  

If I’m getting a couple of f/11 readings, and some f/5.6 readings, I’ll expose the scene at f/8, which happened to be a bit of a common f-stop for quite a few of the night photos. f/11 would be fine, but it’s all about creating that balance between highs and lows, circumstance and scene to circumstance and scene 

I’m also going to of course get f/1.4 and such readings, and EU (‘Exposure Under’), as well, which means losing some shadow detail

But that’s fine, as in scenes like the one below, our focus is on the thing itself, where the lights are. But to overexpose the film in the name of preserving shadow detail that may not even matter, and subsequently be left with blown-out lights and the surrounding reflecting surface areas, wouldn’t be good 

You want to pay more attention to those higher f/stop readings to protect the light sources and highlights  

The shutter speed for most of these night scenes would end up falling somewhere around 15 seconds  

Needless to say, a tripod is necessary for such photos  

With day photos, especially when the sun is above, I find it necessary to keep the incident bulb inside its housing, or to cover the top of it when it’s extended, as I’m usually only interested in the light that’s in front of the subject and not above it 

If my bulb were extended at a noon-day scene, for example, versus covering it, I’d have a much richer reading. And if I followed that reading, I’d be in jeaopadry of losing shadow detail, which, again, isn’t as protectable as highlight detail is  

Metering is really important, and can be played with in a variety of ways - even slight movements with the meter up or down, side to side, can make a noticeable difference in f-stop readings 

It’s all in how you want to expose the scene, coupled with how you’re rating your film and what kind of look and feel you’re going for  

A fun and necessary process for having greater control over your exposures  

However, handheld meters while using cameras with built-in meters aren’t necessary, but it’s still interesting to bring an external light meter along and see what kinds of differences you can find with both. Experimenting is always fun, and can be really informative 

For handheld meters, I love my 508

Really nice meter ...   

Jason Lee Comments
Square format, and the Mamiya c330

The first time I’d seen square format (6x6 on 120 film) that caught my eye was in THE NEW WEST, Robert Adams’ fantastic book from 1974 that features b&w photographs of a developing western landscape (highly recommended)

Quite a few years back, I purchased a Mamiya c330 Twin Lens Reflex camera as you do when experimenting and adding bits and pieces to your collection of tools 

What I love about the c330, in relation to other square format cameras, is the bellows focusing, interchangeable lenses, and that a prism finder can be fitted to the top in place of waist-level composing / focusing 

And they can be purchased for cheap 

And the lenses are great  

I went on to use the c330 a lot, usually with a 65mm lens (the equivalent to a 42mm in 35mm format) 

Or the 55 (the equivalent to a 35mm lens in 35mm format) 

But being that my preferred formats are rectangular, the c330 would also do a lot of sitting around 

For the July road trip out to Los Angeles from Texas, my Mamiya 7ii was my choice but the camera was not cooperating 

And so I decided it was time to dust off the c330 

Problem was, both my 55mm and 65mm lenses were out of commission (stuck shutters) and I didn’t have time to get them functional before departing

All I had was the 80mm (the equivalent to a 51mm in 35mm format), a focal length that I’m not too keen on 

It was almost uncomfortable and somehow a bit claustrophobic looking through the viewfinder and trying to compose  

Never really been a fan of 50mm - my go-to lengths are 35mm and 28mm

But as I made my way across the western part of the country, I strangely grew to like it  

The format and focal length turned out to be a nice change  

And the Ilford Delta 100 processed as transparency by the dr5 lab turned out beautifully 

Such a great process, yielding exceptional detail

Having that camera on the trip inspired me to want to use it more, and with the 80mm, too, and do some additional exploring with it, maybe enough to yield a book or two 

Exposed about 13 or so rolls with it on the trip out to Los Angeles and then back to Texas 

Turned out to be worth it - happy to be back to appreciating square format again 

Photograph above made in Kingman, Arizona, July 21, 2017, with the c330 / 80mm lens / Ilford Delta 100 / dr5 combo. The film was pulled a stop, which allows for a more ‘open’ photo. A nice approach if you’re looking for smoother and flatter photos, and with good shadow detail 

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LA to Texas, August

Double-exposure by my oldest boy, Pilot, with his Canon AE-1 and the amazing Fujicolor C200

The last time he and I were on the road together with film cameras was when he was about 6 or 7, from Portland to Los Angeles

He had a point-and-shoot camera and made some great pictures, which I still have. One of the many beautiful things about film - it's for life

He'd go on to photograph here and there over the years that followed, but now, at thirteen, he's hooked, and he's got a nice little arsenal of cameras

Really proud of him for his dedication, and for seeing film not just as something that 'used to be,' but as something that just is

It's important that my kids are exposed to as many things as possible, from then and now, and, importantly, to understood that just because something is new, it doesn't necessarily mean it's better

They of course have access to iPods and iPads and such, but they also have access to film cameras, and vinyl records, and reading is certainly encouraged. As is writing, by hand, on paper. When my kids visit my photo office, without fail each of them asks if they can type something on my Smith Corona. They're fascinated by the old contraption. But they don't look upon it as being strange or out of place

On the road, Pilot spent his time in the passenger seat of the old car writing in his journal, or napping, and making film photographs of the passing landscapes out the window 

Proud of him, too, for wanting to write about the trip, and for staying as dedicated to that throughout as he was to exposing film  

We stopped often to make photographs, and he even ran the Bolex 16mm camera a few times, using the handheld light meter and asking questions. And then he'd journal about it 

We took the usual Highway 40 / Route 66, but instead of going up to Barstow and then the 40 across from there, or Joshua Tree up to the 40, we opted for the 10 and then northeast along the 60 and up to Seligman, Arizona to eat at Westside Lilo's Cafe, a favorite eatery of mine

To be a tour guide for my teenaged son, who is now as interested in film as much as I am, was really special

I couldn't shut up the whole time as he'd just sit and listen, ask questions, and then open up his journal and write  

Was a treat pointing out this or that that I'd photographed before. And he was nothing short of excited. To be able to share something like that with my boy is pretty incredible (it's been important to me over the years to establish true kinship with my kids, and that it's happening with my oldest in this way makes me a happy man)

And to see how the things I've photographed over time have changed - the old abandoned gas station in Seligman, with its old lights still standing, now overgrown and becoming enveloped by the earth around it

Photographed it again. I think I do each time I'm in Seligman  

Tucumcari is always nice to roll into, too. For how 'rundown' it is, like many of these small towns that were once thriving, it seems uniquely a bit more awake. Content. Less touristy perhaps than a Seligman, and so maybe, as a result, a bit more interesting, and even cinematic. Can't put my finger on it, but something cinematic about it. Maybe it's just a good example of something I've seen represented in a film somewhere. The kind of film that makes you want to roam, and be there

It's always amazing to revisit places and things I've photographed over the years and remembering those times

I haven't revisited much from the early California photo road trips (written about in this section), but I plan to, and again with the old 8x10 camera and what useable 8x10 Polaroid film I have left  

Maybe next year  

Maybe I'll bring my son on one of those trips, too. Maybe the other older kids, too - they're getting big enough, and they certainly understand what their dad loves to do and have little film cameras of their own

It'll be nice to see Highway 395 in California again, and Highway 1 up near Salinas - love it up there. And California feels much different than the Southwest. It's nice to spread out and feel and document the differences in locations. Different feelings, experiences, but at the same time, so much of it feels the same - America is pretty beautifully uniform in many ways, but with enough differences as you move around to keep it interesting, and with that ever-changing sense of newness with each new place explored 

But for now, back to Los Angeles later this month to continue working on the 16mm road trip / skateboarding film 


Jason Lee Comments
July, Texas to LA

408 miles so far. Amarillo today from Denton yesterday

Taking our time. Molinar hasn't seen much of Texas or northern Mew Mexico and Arizona, and so stopping often to show him places I've photographed in over the years and for my recent Texas series, and then the routes I've taken in the past in NM / AZ  

Left finally yesterday very late afternoon after discovering in Decatur, Texas that the meter in my Mamiya 7ii was not working and having to turn around and grab my Mamiya c330. One of my favorite cameras but I wanted 6x7 this trip 

But happy to be using the c330 again - now liking the idea of a square format series from this trip, although I'm not a fan of the 80mm lens I was forced to use (both my 55 and 65mm lenses are out of commission). But slowly growing used to it 

Also have the Mamiya Universal for Fuji 3000b and 100c, and the Bolex Super-16mm camera - this is the first time I'm using peel-apart, conventional, and 16mm films together on a road trip since 2009

It's nice to have the Bolex back on the road 

And to be exposing the Fuji instant films again - been since last year that I've used the medium


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The beginning of film photography

At the park with my oldest boy, now almost 14, and my first film camera, a Mamiya RZ67. Photo by longtime friend, Gay Ribisi

I'd bought the camera about two years prior in Canada while working on a movie as an actor

It was on that set that I got the film bug  

Prior to getting into acting, I'd exposed a lot of Super-8 film for Stereo Skateboards' 1994 film A Visual Sound (viewable under FILMS) with little automatic cameras, and had used some Polaroid cameras here and there, and spent a lot of time around skateboard photographers, but it wasn't until 2002 that I started paying attention to photography, and cameras, and film - motion picture and stills - on a more serious level 

As an actor, you tend to do your thing as the crew does theirs. But one day, on this particular set, I started noticing the cameras. Not just being aware of their presence, but really seeing them  

And that's all it took  

I started asking the camera guys questions about film, lenses, metering, lighting, light meters, color temperature, etc

And they were more than happy to oblige me  

Almost immediately I bought a Bolex 16mm movie camera and a light meter  

And then the RZ67

I spent everyday experimenting, studying 

After night shoots I'd go back to my hotel room and set up the Bolex on the balcony and expose film with that beautiful morning light. It didn't matter what I was aiming the camera at, so long as I was exposing film, and using my light meter, and that I was actually doing it. Buying that Bolex was indescribably exciting - 'A real movie camera!'

And I went through a lot of Polaroid and Fuji pack film sheets with the RZ and its Polaroid back, using the films to practice metering and to test various filters, etc. It was nonstop 

A bonus of having started learning about these things on a set was realizing how important it is for an actor to know about things like lenses and focal length and depth-of-field, etc 

There can be a disconnect between actor and crew because actors generally don't know what's going on with the camera 

Once I started understanding these things for myself, and things like the axis (which side of 'the line' a scene is taking place on), it helped my performances, my confidence, my overall sense of command in the years that followed 

At some point after that movie, I'd gotten a studio space in downtown L.A., complete with strobe lights and seamless paper backdrops, and the experimenting continued 

A multitude of film type tests, filter tests, lighting tests, and pushing and pulling as many different film types as I could, all the while taking notes. Of everything  

B&W and color

Borrowing people for portraits  

Strobe light, window light, all of it 

And doing what I thought should have been done, what I'd known or been exposed to at the time: 'studio photography' 

It wasn't until hitting the road with my old Century Universal 8x10 view camera and boxes of 8x10 Polaroid film in 2006 that I learned just how little that approach to photography was for me. Being outside and documenting in an unforced and more natural and organic, spontaneous manner was uniquely inspiring. I knew then what photography was meant to be for me 

And seeing Henry Wessel's retrospective at SFMoMA a year later solidified that  

After those first photo road trips I sold all my strobes and backdrops and such, stripped it all down and have since remained focused on just being out there and documenting life, whether it be rural America in a more slowed down manner with large format cameras or walking city streets with point-and-shoot cameras  

Photography, film, exploring. Nothing better  

Happy to see film on the rise and companies remaking old films and introducing new ones. Seems to be a good time for the medium

Next photo road trip will be Texas to California later this month

I'll be posting entires from the road 



(You can read about the aforementioned large format Polaroid road trips in this section)

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B&W on the road

Following the 8x10 Polaroid road trips around California that began in 2006 (written about below), I started using more 35mm b&w films on the road - California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas. Either with SLR, rangefinder, or point-and-shoot cameras, and with everything being reverse-processed by the dr5 lab 

I had done some of my own traditional b&w processing earlier on, but once I'd discovered that there was a lab that was processing b&w negative films as transparencies, I became hooked. Maybe it's because of having grown fond of the one-off factor with the Polaroid peel-apart print films I'd used prior, but I liked that with the slide film process, what you do in-camera creates the final photograph. Essentially, the camera becomes the darkroom - how you expose the film, and then the processing, determines the final photograph. Much as with shooting E6 film. Or peel-apart print film 

When I got my first 35mm b&w negative film rolls back from dr5 as mounted slides in 2007, I was pretty blown away - detailed, rich, unique, final 

Although I'd gone from large format Polaroids on the road to 35mm, the one-off factor remained  

Since 2007, I've exposed a lot of rolls of film for the dr5 process, 120 included, and everywhere from Disneyland with my kids to vacations overseas (I have quite a lot of b&w slides from Europe and Turkey that I'd like to do something with one of these days) 

But the slides that seem to carry the most weight for me are the ones that I've made on various road trips around the southwest and west coast (viewable under BLACK & WHITE). Similar backroad explorations as with A PLAIN VIEW, which consists of large format color film photographs made throughout Texas, and those early large format Polaroid trips around California that would become the seed for all future photo road trips, but more widespread. And over more time 

I've been sitting on a lot of these slides and am planning to publish some of them over the next few years 

And depsite having a unique fondness for these regions, I'm equally eager to explore other parts of the country in an effort to add new b&w chapters to this ongoing story of this America that I enjoy capturing

The South and the Midwest are on the list

But first, more trips around California, where it all began ...  

Jason LeeComment
The early days on the road

Highway 1, 2006, 8x10 Polaroid 809

I was using film cameras prior to this but this was the year that I'd set out to document from the road for the first time. I'd been using 8x10 Polaroid films in my downtown LA studio, experimenting with portraits and different types and styles of lighting, and while I'd made some exposures here and there on various travels with other, smaller cameras, I'd never really taken a dedicated 'photo road trip.' Nor had I seen an 8x10 Polaroid print outside. And because of how much I loved the big Polaroid films, especially the 804 b&w stock, and because I'd known that not many were using the big Polaroid films in the field, I was eager for this to be the medium of choice for what would become two separate road trips around California in 2006/7. I'd found a Calumet hand-crank field processor, loaded up the car with boxes of the big Polaroid films and hit the road. Polaroid's 8x10 films require a separate processor, unlike their pack and 4x5 films, and the smaller, lighter, cordless Calumet processor was much more ideal for making 8x10 Polaroid prints outside of a studio setting compared to the brand's own much bigger version

My good friends Aubree Watson and Gay Ribisi accompanied me to assist and document the experience. I was 36-years-old

I remember so vividly, and miss so much, walking to the check-out counter at Samy's Camera in Los Angeles with stacks of boxes of the big film like a kid in a candy store each time I'd need to replenish my stash. And how the employees would tell me that no one really bought the big stuff except for me, 'and maybe one other guy here and there.' I couldn't see why; I couldn't imagine how it wasn't more popular. Maybe it was just me who felt (and still feel) that the Polaroid peel-apart films were beyond unique, and beautiful, especially in such a big size, and weren't just a novelty, or 'a means to an end.' Even the smaller 664 pack film I'd used a lot of I'd considered a true film. In fact, liking it so much is what compelled me to see if Polaroid made a bigger version of it. And when I'd discovered they did, I was thrilled. I mean, one-off 8x10 prints, right there on the spot? Incredible. Polaroid 804 still stands as one of my favorite films, and I've gone through a lot of different mediums and film types and sizes over the years. Shame to see Polaroid not only no longer making it, but no longer making anything at all. I have quite a few boxes of the big films left, but of course it's all expired now. Hoping to get through the stash next year. A lot of the chemicals, mainly with the b&w films, have dried out, partially or completely, but I'm hoping for the best 

The first print I'd made roadside with one of the big Polaroids was a revelation. Knowing that I was out there making 8x10 Polaroid prints on the side of some road somewhere was thrilling. The whole process. I wondered why more people weren't doing the same. Perhaps it was because the film was expensive. Or that 'Polaroids' weren't to some considered 'real photography,' even in large format size. Or maybe it's just that no one had thought to do it. Regardless, it was incredibly exciting, and I'd felt I was on to something new. A good portion of these Polaroids can be seen in a digital copy of my 2016 special limited edition issue of Refueled magazine HERE

I wish now that I would have carried on using the big Polaroid films over the years that followed, but I suppose I just never imagined the company would go under 

But, no matter, those early photo road trips with the big Polaroid films and the old Century Universal view camera were instrumental by how they'd forced me to notice things, to pay attention, especially where the so-called 'mundane' or 'simple' are concerned. Regardless of what camera and what film. They validated an instinct in me. And a spontaneity that I would realize was vital for photography, even when using cumbersome equipment that requires more time. Those early days of exploring California solidified in me an undying love for the road, and the randomness, the abandoned, the forgotten, the odd things, the strange ins and outs of this America. I knew then what I loved documenting and why. And I've been driven by this ever since. And it would all lead to A PLAIN VIEW 11 years later and will undoubtedly continue 

American installments. From the road 

More to come ... 

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