“Our ILFORD Inspires 'Legends of Skateboarding' series concludes with Jason Lee's ‘THE AMERICAN PHOTO ROADTRIP’. Discover the philosophies behind Jason's signature aesthetic during a journey through rural Texas highway 380 to document the abandoned yet cinematic American landscape. A former Pro Skateboarder, Jason has established himself as a pillar of the film community making him better placed than most to identify the parallels between skateboarding and photography. Filmed and edited by: Exploredinary (Sarah Reyes & Daniel Driensky). Score by Raymond Molinar. End credits song "At The Cathedral" by Jason Lee and Eric Pulido. Image credits copyright Exploredinary. Shot on ILFORD HP5 Plus.” –Ilford

Jason LeeComment
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)

Jason Lee Comments
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

Jason LeeComment
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 ... 

Jason Lee Comment
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
Portra, M6, 28mm

Photo made in Dunken, New Mexico, March 8, 2018

During the final stages of A PLAIN VIEW being bound in San Antonio, Armand from Denton Camera Exchange and I headed for Los Angeles by road, my preferred method of travel statestside 

Felt good hitting the road again  

Hadn’t used the Leica M6 much over the past year or so. Felt like the time to dust it off

The last road trip to and from Los Angeles, I had the Mamiya C330. My absolute favorite TLR camera. It’s a bit more cumbersome, though 

Was nice to have the M6 for this trip; more exposures on a roll, no handheld light meter

Just the M6, the first film camera I ever bought, back in 2002, and a handful of rolls of Portra 400, which I overexposed a stop (process normal) 

We left Denton in the afternoon of March 7, headed to Fort Worth on 35W, connected with Highway 20 southwest 

Made my first exposures in Blue Mound, TX

Took a little upswing off Highway 20 to Mineral Wells, TX 

Had heard quite a bit about that little place and the old hotel that can be seen from the distance as you make your way toward town

As I’ve mentioned before about Texas, so many of its small towns are uniquely cinematic to most places I’ve roamed and photographed  

Indescribable. The quiet, the emptiness; this is what always grabs me the most. Even when there’s human presence, the pace of it all feels different than other places

When we rolled up to Mineral Wells, as always happens when you discover ‘one of those places,’ I knew it was great. And pictures flash in your head; movie references, memories, and feelings 

Somehow, especially when I’m using color films, it’s always a cinematic sense; movie-related  

Moods are so incredibly key in determining what to document  

These places, and the colors, the sky, the shapes and placement of things. The weather, when it’s crisp; the air, thin and cool, and that sharp Winter/Spring Southwest lighting 

Nothing like it  

For years, and most of the time, I’m using black-and-white films 

My favorite color film, for 35mm, is Fujicolor C200 

I like Portra but hadn’t used any fresh stock, or in 35mm, in a number of years 

For A PLAIN VIEW, I exposed quite a few expired 4x5 sheets of it, and I liked the outcome, but no fresh 35mm Portra in a long time 

Until this trip  

I’d loved Portra 400nc years back when they were still making it  

Wasn’t sure about the now ‘standard’ Portra I was using on the trip

But I love it. ESPECIALLY as it rendered through the 1974 28mm Elmarit lens I borrowed from Armand (28mm and 35mm focal lengths are my preference) 

Never quite understand the need to use the best, most expensive glass 

I suppose it comes down to what look and feel you’re after 

But for me, I prefer imperfections, lower contrast, something a bit faded, pleasant, temperate  

Especially with what I document and how much these things seem to demand something a bit more ‘even,’ particularly when using color films

But even when using black-and-white films, I prefer to overexpose and at times pull the films

I like more open and flatter photos; faded colors and grayer blacks  

Henry Wessel does this with his black-and-white films. I enjoy his photos 

The old 28mm, non-aspherical lens I was using, coupled with the overexposed Portra 400, proved to be a nice way to go  

I’ll be revisiting this combo again  

Armand I spent another couple days on the road, exposing film in New Mexico, Arizona, and, lastly, the California desert, before rolling into Los Angeles 

I exposed 5 rolls of film heading west

There will always be more roaming. Or one can only hope it never ceases

For me, there’s nothing like it ... 



Jason Lee Comment

It all began with making the exposures beginning in January of 2017  

I made my last exposure for the series in Hedley, Texas off Highway 287 on April 2, 2017

Just two months later I was exhibiting prints from the series in Fort Worth, and a month after that in Austin

Following some trips to Los Angeles later that summer, I started working on the layout of the book back home in Texas, which took about five or so weeks 

Once the image flow was there, my friend and fellow photographer Steve Reeves and I began the arduous process of proof printing, for which we used his Epson 9900 pigment inkjet printer 

Getting everything right for book presentation took us about four weeks 

The proof prints are what we used to compare the offset prints to. They are the ‘guide,’ and so to get everything right with the proofs was important 

When the book page sheets come off the press (in this case, McCoy 100# matte text stock), they are placed on a slanted table and visible by daylight-balanced overhead lights  

It is there that we do our side-by-side comparisons; the book pages against our proof prints  

Any corrections happen there, with the pressman making whatever necessary adjustments for better correlation between any given print and its corresponding proof

A new run would then be made and we’d compare again 

Until it fit

I’d ‘ok’ the sheet and we’d wait for the pages to be printed and the next section of the book to be prepped for printing (about an hour downtime)  

Printing took about a week-and-a-half, and I was present for every last sheet 

We finished printing February 10

The pages were then transported from the printing plant in Dallas to the bindery in San Antonio, where I would oversee that process 

It was important that this book be made in the U.S., and specifically Texas, where all the photographs were made. With so many photography and art books being outsourced, my plan is to keep all FP book production in the States 

It makes books more expensive, but it’s worth it to me. It’s worth keeping book-making in my own backyard where I can oversee each stage of the, as I’ve learned, very involved process 

It’s been a busy run, this project, and a year in the making. And a lot learned and digested on the book-making end of things

This is to date my most fulfilled publication as a photographer and I’m quite proud of the outcome

And so I appreciate the support

The first edition of the book is made up of 2000 copies: 200 hardcover with slipcase and companion 8 x 10 print (sold out), and 1800 softcover (available next month)

The meat of the two books is identical, with only the covers being different  

The book is 12 x 10, 180 pages, and 111 photographs selected from the nearly 300 I made over the course of my twenty-five days roaming Texas  

All photographs were made with expired 4 x 5 Kodak color films and my Graflex Speed Graphic view camera  

From the beginning of dreaming up Film Photographic (@filmphotographic) as being some platform or another for film photography/photographers, I knew I’d eventually start publishing under the FP name. Thrilled it’s now happening. Many more books to come, and featuring a variety of photographers 

Thank you again for your investment in what we’re doing with Film Photographic  

(photo by Daniel Driensky) 

Jason LeeComment
A PLAIN VIEW, the book

I made the photographs over the course of four road trips around Texas (south, north, west) between January and April of 2017 with expired Kodak 4x5 color films and a Graflex Speed Graphic view camera.

While rural America as a general landscape and concept is where I find myself most inspired, I’m drawn in particular to California, the southwest, and the plains. I’ve made a lot of photographs in California and the southwest over the years but fewer in Texas. And mostly with black-and-white films. Now living here, I had a strong desire to explore the state more extensively. And in color. 

I covered about 5000 miles and exposed close to 300 sheets of film, 111 of which I used for the book.

I’d seen the early color photographs of Joel Sternfeld and was inspired especially by those of William Christenberry before I started making my own American photographs, first in 2006 from the highways and backroads of California with black-and-white and color 8x10 Polaroid films, but if there’s anything I owe credit to visually for this particular series, it’s color cinematography, and from the likes of Robby Müller, with Paris, Texas, Vilmos Zsigmond, with The Deer Hunter, and Néstor Almendros, with Days of Heaven, to name a few. The photography for Terrence Malick’s Badlands has equally been a big draw for me.

My aim with this series wasn’t to present “color photography” in the categorical sense as much as it was to create photographs that perhaps feel like pieces of films, from that particular brand and era of cinema.

In general, I’m not interested in photographic categories and labels as I am in making photographs, for the joy of it, and the fulfillment of curiosity. 

I’d seen Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas in the early 1990s, and even back then, before I’d ever picked up a camera, it felt like a moving collection of photographs of a landscape that had me riveted from the film’s opening sequences. That stuck with me. As did its color palette. Visually, it’s a stunning film. Emotionally, perhaps even more so. And David Byrne’s brilliant Texas-based True Stories, while a much lighter film, has had its own impact on me. Another visually inspiring piece, photographed by Ed Lachman.

When I thought about doing a color series in Texas, these are the things that came to mind.

And much of the landscape lent itself very naturally to this. An extraordinary number of scenes I encountered that appeared to be on pause from some bygone era or another. And more often than not, no one around. A kind of surreal stillness I’d never witnessed in quite this way. And many of its small-town centers appearing as movie sets; like stretches of street scene facades on the backlot of some movie studio. But real, and rich, and full of history. And locations and moments and colors throughout my journey that paralleled the worlds of those wonderful films and their collective palette. And that I perhaps paid a new kind of attention to because of these visual and tonal and emotional references. And because of now working in color and conscious of the film’s translation of the various environmental tones and shades.

And scenes like the old white Dodge truck in the alley; the truck appearing to have been placed there at just the right angle, and in just the right setting, and with just the right lighting, as if from a film. Or for a film. I see scenes like these and can’t help but feel transplanted, and as though they’ve been created for me, or someone else with a camera. It’s a unique feeling of exhilaration to happen upon scenes like these. And with that beautiful dusk lighting.

All things very fitting to these cinematic references, in both theory and reality. But it was the use of the expired films and my 1941 uncoated Kodak Ektar 127mm lens that would complete the vision.

In color, and for the purpose of inhabiting a different space with this series, and of favorably documenting these subjects, which, in many cases, are as faded and color-shifted as the old films themselves, this landscape demands being photographed a certain way; anything too accurate, too clean, would draw many of these subjects unnaturally away from the contexts in which they seem to so comfortably exist. There is a timelessness and fragility to much of this landscape, and so film too new would be asking too much of it. As would a high-end, coated modern lens.

With color photographs in general, I’m not interested in vibrant colors and sharp contrast, but rather in a more temperate palette. And the combination of the expired films and the old lens allowed for that, and for something more unique to anything I’ve ever made in color.

But tonal and visual references aside, the landscape remains my primary focus.

The strangeness and beauty of this inconsistent America, full of variety and color and character, prosperity and degradation. Conflicts between man and nature, old and new, past and future. Things are ticking along, doing what they do, and to be an observer to it all, and to give notice to it, this is what motivates me.

The emptiness and the quiet of these scenes, this landscape. The desolation. The openness. The random, odd portions. Environmental contrasts and contradictions. Things left behind, neglected, forgotten. And these shards of a past culture that somehow continue to hold firm. And how they reflect the environments around them. And their similarities and differences, one town to the next. And one state to the next. 

I often wonder if those living in these towns, at the center of these places, view these scenes with a similar sentiment, or as anything other than just an ordinary slice of life, seen only in neglectful periphery. And what they mean to them, if anything at all.

They mean something to me. And they intrigue and inspire me. And act not only as reminders of how things once were, but how things still are, on the other side of everywhere else. They are the necessary balancers in this plastic, homogenized modern world of ours.

Photography allows us to view things differently, and to place value in these ordinary, everyday scenes. 

And documenting them gives them notice, and validity. And I enjoy documenting them, very much.

Not for the sake of being a photographer in the artistic sense, or trying to capture things in a certain way so as to adhere to or fit into some photographic category or another; I just simply enjoy making photographs. And being on the road, exploring.

Long hauls for this book. Some days having exposed only a few sheets, other days a couple dozen. Rolling into some town or another after midnight, tired, hungry. And despite needing a motel room, and food (mostly gas station scraps at that time of night), you can’t help but keep looking. It’s hard to shut it off; sleep and hunger wait as you get that second wind when you land somewhere new, having seen the town lights in the distance from the highway - “What will I find here?” You make your way up and down the streets, searching. Dead quiet, car creeping along at 5 mph, hoping for a last good exposure to end the day with. You make one, maybe two, find a motel, bring all the gear into the room, make journal notes of the day’s events, count how many sheets of film you have left, all while eating the chips you bought at the gas station down the street. Wake, find a proper meal, plan the new route, keep moving.

It's a wonderful feeling being out there, a part of it, and open to the environments around us. In the words of photographer Henry Wessel: “The process of photographing is a pleasure, eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It's thrilling to be outside your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts.”

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
The Texas series films

For the 4x5 Texas series, I chose expired color films because I knew they’d fulfill the cinematic and tonal references I’d had in mind, especially through the old glass of my Kodak Ektar lens

Having used b&w films on most of my prior road explorations, and never wishing I’d done otherwise, when I set out to document the Texas landscape all I could see was color 

It’s not that Texas is more colorful than the other Southwest states I love and have explored over the years, but I couldn’t escape seeing this book filled with color photographs 

Not ‘true color,’ however, but a kind of color that would both match my references and do justice to the subjects, which, in many cases, are as faded and color-shifted as the old films themselves 

In color, this landscape demands being photographed a certain way; anything too accurate would draw many of these subjects unnaturally away from the contexts in which they seem to so comfortably exist. There is a timelessness and fragility to much of this landscape, and so film too new would be asking too much of it

And for what I’d had in mind, the tonal quality of the photographs needed to have a paleness, a softness, a mutedness - all things that contribute to the distancing of our stance in relation to the subject necessary to give this series and its scenes something perhaps even quieter than anything I’ve ever produced photographically, which it seemed to demand  

The expiration dates of the films ranged from 1992 to 2009 and consisted of both negative and positive types - all Kodak, Readyload and sheet 

While some of the old positive films didn’t hold up as well (especially when poorly stored, expired positive films tend to shift heavy magenta), I was extremely happy with the negative films I chose 

The photograph above was made in Valentine, Texas with 17-year-expired Vericolor III. Amazing film 

If you can imagine for a moment this photograph having been made with fresh slide film, for example, and through a new, beautifully coated lens. It wouldn’t work. Or at least not in the same way; a different story is then being told. And one that I wasn’t and am not interested in telling 

And digital image capture is simply out of the question  - without the use of any kind of filtering and heavy post-production, which digital images require to get any kind of feel from them, you’d be faced with something thin and cold and lifeless 

When using expired color films, which I of course recommend if you’re looking for similar results to what I’ve described here, they should be given good overexposure. This also contributes to a smoother and flatter photograph, which I prefer and required here 

However, there can be grain increase with some expired films - this was noticeable with the Pro 100 (especillay in the Paris, Texas photos from the series). But at the same time, the Pro 100 had some pretty incredible color shifts (toward yellow) that I absolutely love  

All of the various variances and factors played very well to the overall feel of the series  

The Portra 160vc was probably ‘truer to life,’ but, still, due to the bit of overexposure I treated it with, and with the old Ektar lens, I was able to match it nicely with the other photographs in the batch 

While there are differences in quality between some of the photographs in the series, each film did its share to contribute to what very much feels like a consistent and uniform tone and, more importantly, feel 

Very pleased with the photographs  

Was a long haul - 25 days on the road, 5000 Miles, 297 exposures 

Trial and error, mistakes and triumphs  

The old Graflex Speed Graphic held up well, as did the lens (a highly recommended 4x5 camera, should you be interested in that format) 

Editing for the book is moving along nicely (Feb 2018)

Feel free to ask any questions about the film and so on. There’s a lot of the old stuff out there, and it’s certainly fun to experiment with 

And if you visit A PLAIN VIEW under SHOP, a few of the film types I used are listed 

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 

Jason LeeComment
Los Angeles

Third trip back out here in the recent months  

The 16mm film project that started on the road back in July from Texas to Los Angeles is coming along nicely 

Have exposed close to 30 rolls now

Strange being here as a visitor, having been living in Texas for a couple of years now, but it's given me an unexpected and very useful 'outsider's perspective'  

I know this city so well - moved here from Orange County, just a bit down the freeway, in 1991

Have lived all over the city throughout the years  

Have skateboarded here, became a skateboard company owner, an actor, photographer, director 

I have favorite areas, and restaurants, and times of day and times of the year  

Incredibly special city, and while I don't perhaps feel I could live here again, it feels in some ways that I appreciate it differently  

Photographically it's remarkable - downtown, the outskirts of downtown, Boyle Heights, the deep Valley, the industry, the abandoned and the hanging on. And the people 

It's all at once filthy and presented 

Almost overwhelmingly exciting 

There's both a buzzing energy here and a strange calmness; for how chaotic it may seem, it's surprisingly settled. And much more cinematic than I remember while being here. I suppose we have a tendency to get used to things 

Don't much prefer the west side, but Santa Monica and Venice are always a treat for roaming and documenting 

And even in Beverly Hills, where downtown LA is probably considered some far-off land somewhere 'out there,' there are stories  

And slivers of the past that remain standing, and its own imperfections and oddities that provide those necessary environmental contrasts  

Perhaps the recent travels around Texas for the forthcoming book A PLAIN VIEW opened me up even more to environment in general (the Texas road trips were specifically and only for photography, and only in one place and at one time, and so I was more actively aware and plugged in to my surroundings) 

And I think I brought some of that with me here  

Don't think I've ever before, while living here, been so moved to continue documenting this city, day in and day out  

I've exposed a lot of film here over the years, but now the city feels more like a photographic platform or backdrop; like a project; something that I need to document

I'm motivated to work here 

And having the Bolex movie camera and working with it each day as I search and search this Los Angeles for things to imprint on my film has certainly given me a new and different sense of exploration, of excitement 

The people, the architecture, the sounds and smells, the differences and similarities, the consistencies and inconsistencies, one stretch to another 

But mostly its beautiful flaws  

And its oddities 

And its unmatched character  

And all the while snapping photos with the Contax G2 I have on the trip (the photograph above was made here in downtown recently with that camera and one of my favorite color films - Fujicolor C200)

A magical and undeniably unique city that I feel both forever connected to and strangely withdrawn from 

But I think it's this withdrawnness, and this resultant newfound objectivity to it that has allowed me to pay more attention to it

It's nice filming skatboarders, too, and to have ridden a board last night. It's been a privilege filming so many great talents and personalities, all of them unique in their own way, just as the various shapes and shades of this city

Everyone has a place here  

Looking forward to fiishing filming and starting to put the pieces together 

2018 Release  


Jason Lee Comments
The Texas series

The idea began when Chris Brown from Refueled magazine and I discussed what to do for a follow-up to the special limited edition instant film issue we published last year 

We were going to do a Volume 2 featuring a selection of my b&w photographs from over the years but decided to do a more traditional, stand-alone book release, and with new material (his RF Book Co and my Film Photographic will be co-publishing) 

And Texas came to mind 

I'd photographed here off and on over the years, but not much with color film. Not much color film in general, really. Not since the early-2000s 

While the photographs in this series aren't dissimilar to many of my other photos from the road over the years, I felt I wanted this series to be in color, but a kind of color that would serve the cinematic references I'd had in mind for the series

Using expired color films and my old Kodak Ektar lens would prove to be the perfect combination for achieving that certain look and feel I was going for (the photograph above, from Krum, Texas, was made with 17-year-expired Kodak Pro 100 film - amazing result)

I used a handful of different Kodak films, all expired, all 4x5, and my old Graflex Speed Graphic view camera 

25 days on the road, off and on, and roughly 5000 miles - January through April of 2017 

Some thoughts on the series, and my photographic approach in general, in regards to this particular America that I've been drawn to for so long now:

I am immensely and forever attracted to these forgotten things, and simple scenes, and empty spaces, the quiet, and what remains, and to the best of my ability I try and capture them from a distance, always conscious of the importance of staying out of the way. Conscious of (hopefully) favorable or interesting angles, yes, but the thing itself is what I'm interested in. I'm simply an objective viewer. And the photographs seem to work to the degree that I maintain a genuine appreciation for what I'm capturing

To the people at the center of what I'm seeing as an outsider, this is just the way it is. But to me, perhaps because I am an outsider, but mostly because fundamentally there's a deep curiosity and an inherent drive to provide some sort of photographic commentary about this landscape, these American scenes, I see it differently. I enjoy wondering about how things are the way they are. And the odd things, too; the things that stand out and contribute to and encourage this curiosity. And many of these scenes feel like conscious installations, which I find fascinating; the neatly kept bush growing around the street light; was the shape of the greenery intentional; does the caretaker of that unit think of it as something creative, or aesthetic in any way, or is it just many copies now of a first attempt that seemed to do just fine and so the tradition has been kept?* Many curiosities and questions come to mind from this vantage point. And the placement of the white Dodge truck in the alley is, to me, like a scene from a movie, the truck placed there at just the right angle and in just the right setting, and with just the right lighting so as to evoke a certain feeling or as a reference to something.* And even though I know it's just simply where the driver happened to park the truck, I buy into the story. Because I want to. I see scenes like these and it reminds me of something. Something cinematic. I never know specifically what at the time but it feels special to me, and important in some way. But to the insiders, the everyday viewers of such scenes, it's just a plain view

Thinking with photography in mind allows us to view things differently. And to perhaps place a value on what others may deem unimportant, or uneventful; everyday views. I find these bits and pieces of America the necessary balancers. It's a wonderful feeling to explore and to be open to the environments around us, no matter what or where they may be. To quote the great photographer Henry Wessel: 'The process of photographing is a pleasure, eyes open, receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It's thrilling to be outside your mind, your eyes far ahead of your thoughts'

More to come, and the book will be available early next year year 

*viewable HERE

Jason LeeComment
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


Jason LeeComment
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)

Jason LeeComment
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
June 14 gallery talk

A man reads in his front yard, Paris, Texas - 4x5 Kodak Pro 100 

June 14 at 6pm I'll be giving a talk at @artspace111 in Fort Worth about A PLAIN VIEW, currently on display at the gallery. Please rsvp with Artspace 111 if interested in attending

Jason LeeComment