Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Javier Alonso: From Large Format to Holga

Javier Alonso: From Large Format to Holga
   For the month of June 2011 we turn to the Caribbean for the work of Javier Alonso, native of Rodas, Cuba. Alonso says he’s always been interested in photography. When his family got its first camera in 1970 Javier was excited and volunteered to take all the photographs. As a result, and as is common with photographers, Alonso is in few family photographs. He was happy, however, to compose the image in the viewfinder and to make the image.

    Javier came to the United States in 1972 when he was fifteen years old. He finished his high school at University of San Diego High School in San Diego, California and went on to college at the University of Southern California. After the scholarships and money ran out he transferred to San Diego State University from which he received his B.S. in Civil Engineering in 1989. He continues to work as a civil engineer with the California Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) in San Diego, California, while pursuing his passion of photography in every waking hour.

   Javier spent all his savings to buy his first camera in 1979, a Nikon EM.  Then a starving college student, he didn’t have much cash to buy film and wasn’t able to shoot many rolls because he was shooting only in color and couldn’t afford the film and the printing. It wasn’t until 2002 that he began taking classes at Grossmont Community College in the City of El Cajon (translated, “the bhjox”) and fell in love with the darkroom. In May 2008 he received an AA with the first Grossmont College graduating Photography class.

   Once a month he would take a weekend to shoot. After he started working (and making some money) he was able to go shooting more often and shot 4 or 5 rolls at a time. He had no formal photographic training, but by trial and error, reading the manual and photo magazines he began to teach himself the technical aspects of photography. (For example he discovered depth of field increases as you close the ƒ/stop). He figured out how to meter the important shadow of the image.  Some examples of his early work  are “Driftwood,” “Flower 1,” andYerba Buena Island”).

Yerba Buena Island

    Soon after he married, his wife recognized Alonso’s passion for photography and urged him to take a photo class at Grossmont College. She said he was shooting like a maniac and wanted him to learn to be more selective.  Alonso enrolled in Photo I and tried his hand at black and white photography for the first time.  His first print in the darkroom seemed to him almost “a divine apparition.’  He says, “Watching the image appear in the paper was something just short of a miracle.”  From that moment he developed a deep interest in the darkroom and realized to be a true artist you have to have control of all the phases of photography. He believes the printer as well as the photographer is an artist, and unless the printer is also the photographer he gets little or no credit for the final image. For that reason Alonso prints his own images.

   During his first semester at Grossmont Alonso decided to try street photography.  He needed to be in peoples’ faces most of the time and found street photography challenging. Two examples are his “Window WashersandDay at the Gym.”
Window Washers

   Taking a Large Format camera class opened more new horizons. The large negative and the camera movements gave him more control in making the image. (Country Store).  He found he could selectively focus in ways he would not have been able using a 35 mm camera. Or, the opposite, he could choose to have an area completely out of focus.  He learned how to take advantage of camera movements to make an image of a tall building without the convergence common with hand held cameras.

Day at the Gym
Barn J-9 Ranch
   This opened the field of alternative photography (contact printing) to him.  These processes are labor intensive in all the steps from creating the precise negative, sizing and coating the paper, to exposing and processing the final print.  Alternative processes Alonso has tried include Salted Print, Albumen, Vandyke Brown (Grape Press), Wet Collodion, Cyanotype, and Palladium (Courtyard, Mission San Miguel, Mission San Diego and Barn J-9 Ranch

   After several years of working with Large format imagery (e.g, Window into the Canyon,) Alonso was introduced to the anti-Large Format Holga camera.  With little control over the image the Holga is the opposite of the Large Format camera. Incompletely focused images are common. The only thing in focus is the center of the image. Light leaks are common, as is vignetting (darkening of one to all corners of the image).

   Even though Alonso likes to use a large format camera he was captivated by the uniqueness of the Holga image. Images which he made from the Grand Canyon show the wonkiness of the Holga.  Photographers often use a large format camera to capture all the detail of the canyon but the Holga gives images a feel that they were taken in the early days of photography. Examples of Alonso’s Holga images are Lone Tree Overlooking the Canyon, and Tree Waves to the Canyon.
Window into the Canyon
Tree Waves to the Canyon North Rim

Mission San Diego
   Javier is a member of the ƒ-45 Group a photography group organized by retired Grossmont College Instructor Jim Noel. The group’s purpose is to encourage the use of large format photography and film photography in general. Through the ƒ-45 Group Alonso has exhibited at the New American Museum in 2010, the San Carlos Library in 2010, and, the Borrego Art Institute in 2011. Alonso has exhibited and has work as part of the permanent collection at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas as part of the Al Weber “California Missions” portfolio series.

Joshua Tree
Grape Press

All photos © Javier Alonso, used with permission