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 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 eager to finally publish some of them next year  

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...

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
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 to follow, 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...

Jason LeeComment
A PLAIN VIEW opening

A PLAIN VIEW, june 2 - 18, @artspace111

A big thank you to all who braved the heavy rain and made the opening tonight, and to those who purchased prints. And to the kind folks at the gallery for having me

And to those who purchased prints upon today's website launch (SHOP) - after some decompression, I'll make and sign and date the prints and get them shipped out 

A PLAIN VIEW is very special to me, for a number of reasons, and so to see the 45 prints I chose from the new series framed and presented in a gallery setting, and to have received such positive feedback, meant a lot 

I made 297 4x5 exposures over 25 days of driving around Texas earlier this year. It's the most I've covered any state I've photographed in over the years, and the most color film I've ever exposed at one time. And the expired Kodak films through the old Kodak Ektar lens captured perfectly the scenes as I'd wanted to see them. Very happy with the palette, the narrative, and the print quality 

The next showing of prints from the series will be July 13 - August 12 at @preacheraustin 

In the meantime, the editing of the book will continue, with its release scheduled for end of year 

I'll be speaking about the series at the gallery June 14 at 6pm. For those interested in attending, please contact them. I'll have my camera from the series on hand and look forward to discussing and answering any questions about the process 

Jason LeeComment
Thank You

For visiting the new website. And thank you to the amazing duo that is @ronrauto and @yelley for constructing it 

This section will be a source for news about projects, site updates and additions, etc

It will also eventually serve as a replacement to Instagram, which I find to be a useful but limiting means 

Photo and video posts will be made here, stories told, questions answered ...

As I've been promoting on IG, a handful of prints from my new large format film series A PLAIN VIEW will be on display at @artspace111 in Fort Worth, Texas beginning tonight through the 18th. Opening reception 5 - 8:30pm - press release HERE

There will also be on an exhibition of prints from the series July 13 - August 12 at @preacheraustin in Austin, Texas

The initial selection of photographs that were chosen from the series to be printed for these exhibitions are also available here under SHOP. Additional photographs will be designated for printing on July 13, with the book to be released end of year 

These editions will be the only editions offered from this series, and only in the four sizes listed 

General inquiries can be sent HERE

Thanks again for visiting 

Jason LeeComment