Input on a possible project: Electrolux Closing

Discussion in 'Journalism and Documentary' started by Stephanie Brim, Feb 10, 2010.

  1. Stephanie Brim

    Stephanie Brim Member

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    I've been thinking. This usually gets me in trouble, but I'll go on.

    We have a lot of characters in this town. A lot of good people. Those people are going to be out of work next year when the Electrolux plant closes in town.

    The one here makes washers and dryers. It used to employ almost a couple thousand people. Over the last year, layoffs have depleted that number to around 800, maybe 850. My husband was one of those who got the ax. He, luckily, went on to find a good job at another place in town. Some others aren't so lucky.

    I kinda want to tell their stories; those of the people who work or worked at the plant and those of the families that they have that are also inevitably affected by such a huge employer leaving a small town.

    Large project. Huge scale. Scared as hell to start down the road to do this. Need some encouragement, I suppose. The fact that I'm thinking of using 4x5" film isn't helping my nervousness.

    What say you, APUGers? My husband will be the first portrait taken. Then my dad, and the rest of the 5 or so poeple in my family who still work there. Then the rest of those I know who used to. Then anyone those people can point me to who can sit still for up to 5 seconds. As many as I can.

    There's no other photographer doing this to my knowledge.

    I think what I'm most scared of is not doing these people justice with my skills. I still have a lot to learn. So...how crazy am I?
     
  2. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member

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    Do it... those are important stories to tell... do it!!
     
  3. mikebarger

    mikebarger Member

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    Excellent learning experience, and coming from a small myself I'll sure you'll have plenty of encouragement from your neighbors and friends.

    As Suzanne stated...important stories.

    Mike
     
  4. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    I agree with Suzanne do it.

    Back in 2000/1 I worked in a sugar beet factory, which had opened in 1923, and just after Christmas we were told it had one more campaign (season) left then it was being closed down. I got permission from the management and the following year documented the site, particularly the various parts of the process. I was lucky because I went in and always worked with the shift team I'd been part of.

    So far I've only printed maybe 12 images from 25+ rolls of 120, and a handful of 5x4's, but the value (as historical document) of the images becomes more important with time and they will be going to a new museum which being set up in the town.

    Unfortunately I didn't have time to document the people, I was working full time elsewhere, but many were near to retirement and had good packages, others moved to associated companies but all were given generous financial compensation.

    Ian
     
  5. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser

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    hi stephanie

    i'm just another voice in the choir.
    do it, and don't get too hard on your self
    since you are just starting out making 4x5 portraits.
    after the first few you will have more practice and you will be happier with the outcome .

    sounds like a great project!

    john

    ps do your shutters have a flash sync ?
    you might consider the camera on a tripod and a weak flash as a fill ..
     
  6. Stephanie Brim

    Stephanie Brim Member

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    That's a really good idea, but I think the only one that does have flash sync is the Geronar in the Copal 1. I'm going to try to get another lens, possibly a 135 or so, and maybe I'll look for the flash when I'm looking for that.

    My other lighting gear is pretty basic: two shop lights with high-wattage florescent bulbs. Haven't even made stands yet. I have ideas, though. I thought about actually purchasing some lights for this project, but I don't know what yet.
     
  7. Bob Carnie

    Bob Carnie Subscriber

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    Stephanie

    One of the most important factors in good photographic work is picking topics that you are familiar with, and documenting over a long period of time.

    An example is one of my clients Dr Mark, in Canada there were no house call Doctors. He decided he would like to document his house bound patients , so he started doing house calls with a 4x5 camera.
    .

    12 years later he has moved his practice to a completely mobile one , he does house calls only, the ministry of health has provided an ongoing budget to fund a nurse practitioner, a nurse, a social worker, a housecleaning worker, and a administrator all under Dr Marks supervision working as a team with elderly patients in their home.

    Mark has been featured in a National Film Board Movie which won a Gemmini Award called House Calls, he has spoken more times on this subject that he is now an highly regarded spokesperson for this topic in Canada. He has been featured in national and regional newspaper articles promoting his work.

    To date he has had two photographic shows and right now I am preparing a Solo Show of his work for the Royal Ontario Museum, titled House Calls.
    this show will hang for 6 months and thousands are expected to see this show.

    My point to this long story is that you should go for it as others have also encouraged you.. Shoot 4x5 , get releases, and keep at it. There is so many possibilities for you to persue and judging by the current economy, you would be photographing and telling stories of very important issue that is close to you , your friends and actually all of us.

    Marks , hero btw is Dorthea Lange who took a few good photos of a topic that needed to be shown.

    Bob

    good luck
     
  8. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council

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    I'll add another vote to the "Just do it" chorus, and a caveat, and practice this with the folks you already know well: a single portrait photo, unless an environmental portrait (I don't know what you're planning to do for settings on these photos, but please don't do Avedon-esque plain white backdrops), doesn't tell enough of the story of each person. Interview the folks you photograph, and document their stories along with the images. Oral history is as important as the photographs, and will make them so much more meaningful ten, twenty, or fifty years down the road when most of those people have moved on or died. Practice interviewing with your friends and family first, so you get used to pulling good details out of people (get them to talk about stuff you know about them, and remember to dig deep into any ear-catching details they sprinkle in. Don't just let those things go by unremarked or un-investigated). Use details from each previous interview as a springboard for questions in the next one. Oh, and get yourself a good recorder and microphone of some kind. Trying to take notes while interviewing is a long dead (and extremely difficult) art.
     
  9. Rick A

    Rick A Subscriber

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    If you feel that it is important to tell this story, then buy all means, you must tell it. Do not worry about your skill level, worry only about taking the shot. Please share it with us here as you go. I look forward to seeing the results.
    You might even see about the possibility of grant money to fund it as a social project.

    Rick
     
  10. Whiteymorange

    Whiteymorange Subscriber

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    Go for it. If you tell their story, however imperfectly, you both win.
     
  11. asp.artist

    asp.artist Member

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    How wonderful that you can use your photography to show what these people (and you) are going through. And what an opportunity to share some interesting stories. What fun! And certainly keep us posted.
     
  12. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    Every picture tells a story is not merely a cliche. It's truth. Remember, in this project you aren't making "portraits" or "art" or any of a hundred other reasons people make photographs. You're telling the stories of the people, much like the old folks tell the stories of dear departed Uncle Lucas or whoever at Holiday gatherings.


    The first advice is right.


    Who the hell knows why G*d assigns things to particular folks.

    Or, as the Zen masters would say, be here now. Will you do them justice? Wrong question! Will doing nothing do them justice? Better something, even if you're just learning, than nothing.

    Bravery isn't lack of fear. Bravery is action in the face of fear.

    The time is now, and you are the one in place. So, pick up the camera, and what you can do is what you can do. Be here now.
     
  13. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

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    Sounds like a great project, and a story that must be told, jump in with both feet!
     
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  15. Stephanie Brim

    Stephanie Brim Member

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    No, didn't plan on being the next Avedon. Not my style. :wink: I do plan on using this as a way to get used to my hacked 'studio lights', though, so there may be a few staged shots in there somewhere.

    And, thinking about it a little more, 6x6 and 35mm may be a better idea. Even though I can use the Speed Graphic handheld, it still may be too heavy for, say, a dimly lit bar or a home at night. If I'm going to shoot 4x5 I think it will be studio-style. Who knows? There may be a few of those. The majority, though, I want to be able to get them doing something or being somewhere that they love. I want you to see these people as happy, even though, right now, the future is uncertain for many of them.

    My dad was here a few days ago and told me that he's out looking for work. He used to be on the maintenance crew, but he got bumped back down to working in the press department when all the layoffs got to a point where they needed him there. He's been there for almost 30 years...since before I was born. I don't think he's ever worked anywhere else since he's been out of high school. He's applied as far as Story City, which is 40 miles away, and heard nothing back. He may have to look at leaving the area, and his grand kids, behind.

    This is the type of things that I want people to know. Something like this doesn't just affect the workers, but also their families and the surrounding community.
     
  16. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    IMNSHO:

    Do it...and make it good, not lame, like so many of these types of projects. Pictures of people sitting there looking glum in their work environment, eyes straight at the camera, lit with artificial light...we've seen it a million times, and it says absolutely nothing about the people or the situation.

    Don't worry about equipment. Load a 35mm camera with Delta 3200 and get what you can. What will matter most in making the project good or bad will be your ability to work with your subjects. IMO, you should strive for trust and openness from your subjects, and visually speaking, go for a consistent style and mood...and always remember that you are telling a story first and foremost...not taking pictures. Pictures are just your means of communicating the story.

    I have never found another vacuum cleaner that works as well or that I love as much as my 1969 Electrolux. Good luck. I wish I could be doing this project!
     
  17. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    Unfortunately this isn't the vacuum cleaner Electrolux. Electrolux split into a European and American branch decades ago, like around WWI or so, and the company in Europe went full bore into household appliances. The NA branch made the best vacuums in the world. (OK, confession, I worked for E-lux in the early 80s for a summer job. And I have my grandmother's 1968 Model L that still beats the bejeezers off the last plastic thing I got from Wal-mart!)

    When the European company wanted in the American appliance market, they bought back the name, and the old vacuum cleaner company is now named Aerus. See http://www.137.com/lux/luxnow.html for some history.
     
  18. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    Thank you for the information.

    My grandmother bought mine from a door-to-door salesperson in 1969, right after my grandfather had died, and she had the house to herself and some money to blow for the first time in her life. The salesperson joked that he didn't even get to use his pitch, because she had already been shopping for one and knew all about them.

    It was the only vacuum cleaner in my house the entire time I was growing up, and it totally spoiled me. No other vacuum has ever seemed anywhere close to its quality. I inherited it a few years ago when my dad died. At some point, I guess my grandmother ran over the hose with her car when vacuuming it out. It is smashed and unusable, so I need a new hose to use it. The unit itself seems just as strong as ever, though.
     
  19. Joe Lipka

    Joe Lipka Member

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    I think the most important thing you have to deal with is not anything photographic. Consider the story you are going to tell. With a project this big, you will need to be very specific in the stories you will tell. Maybe you decide you need to tell "X" number of stories. Concentrate on these stories and do the best job that you can possibly do on the very few things that are the most important to you in these stories. Yes, you will probably leave some stuff untouched, but if you want to be successful in your project (successful meaning you complete the project) you will need to be disciplined in what you choose to do and relentless in the execution.

    I would suggest you write down what you want story you want to tell (you are not making photographs, you are telling a story in pictures) and you might even want to think about how to illustrate the story you want to tell. You might even make a shot list of things that will be necessary to tell the story you want to tell.

    Another reason to be very specific about what you are going to do is the fact you are using a view camera. I used a view camera for more than 30 years and what gets put on the negative is almost always a surprise you find after you develop the film. You won't know what you have on the film until way after the photograph is made. The moments are ephemeral and quite often what you hope is on the film just isn't there. By the time you figure this out, it's way too late. Which does actually lead me to a technical detail that I didn't think I would get to in this post. Get yourself a lot more film holders. Nothing will make you a better large format photographer than as many film holders as you can carry with you.

    Be specific. Be thorough. Be relentless. It will be work and you will love it.
     
  20. johnnywalker

    johnnywalker Subscriber

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    What Whitey said, I second.
     
  21. Tim Gray

    Tim Gray Member

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    I'd do it. Sounds like a great idea for a project, and a worthy cause to boot. If you have both 4x5 and 35mm, maybe do 'formal' portraits with the 4x5 on a tripod and lighting, and candids/environmental type photos with the 35mm.
     
  22. vdonovan

    vdonovan Member

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    I've worked on three documentary projects involving dozens and dozens of portraits. It is EXTREMELY rewarding.

    In my experience, few people like to have their portrait taken so a lot of the challenge of portrait projects is to make folks feel comfortable. I am not a naturally warm or outgoing person but my people skills developed incredibly. When I started, I really dreaded going up to people to ask to take their picture. Now I dive right into it with genuine pleasure. So if you feel intimidated by working with people, just be brave and dive in. Smile, shake hands, act like you are enjoying yourself. Take your time and don't be in a hurry with each person. By forcing myself not to hurry, I also minimized my technical mistakes, which I tend to commit when I get nervous.

    Don't spend all your time behind the camera. On one project I walked around for two days introducing myself to people and talking to them before the actual portrait sessions. I carried a camera but did not take any pictures. That way people knew me as "the camera guy" but I could engage them personally. It made the actual shoot much more fun and relaxed.

    Good luck! In my opinion any chance to shoot people and tell their story is valuable.
     
  23. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    If you ever get a chance, legitimately, to document the plant itself as well, do it, and then pair it with the portraits.

    Consider seeing if you can get permission to take photos at the gate a few weeks before the place closes. Look in the little bars that usually are around such a place, as well.

    Then go back a year later and shoot them again; over half of the bars will likey be closed up.

    I lucked into such a project many years ago.

    My dad managed manufactiring production a place that made gear for mining and pulp and paper and sewer treatment facilities. At one time over 600 employees. He would go in on Saturdays when the factory was shut down to work on reports, and I would be allowed to photgraph the facility.

    Sadly I was only into 35mm gear at the time, and a larger format would have expressed some images much better. Once I as allowed in to the foundry while they were pouring, and came away with great images of that outing.

    That was now 25years ago. The plant is a smaller opertion. It is managed by a childhood friend. I should probably try to get back there again.
     
  24. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    Without knowing your situation, this is a short in dark but....

    I think you have a worthwhile cause to start the project. But I'm not sure about the choice of equipment. With so many subjects and the scale, the cost of just purchasing the film will be enormous. On top of it, all the chemicals and time involved can be overwhelming. To me, it sounds as if medium format or even 35mm would be sufficient or even preferable for bulk of the shots. You could use LF when needed, but using it for all shots may be unnecessary.

    It would be sad to start something like this and not being able to finish it because of financial or time constraints, or because technical aspect of the project became overwhelming.

    Just my thoughts....
     
  25. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member

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    With all due respect, I think figuring out the story, then going about illustrating it leads to boring pictures. I like most of the advice given in Joe's post, but getting to specific too early may keep you from finding other avenues to pursue. There is something to be said for working intuitively, and finding the stories as you go.
     
  26. mikeg

    mikeg Member

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    I'll add my Just do it" to the chorus. Just think how you'd feel in 10 years time if you never even started.

    Do some research into projects of this type, portraits etc so you can see what over people have done and in what style.

    As you said, start off with your close family and friends, then print these up and review the images, if you don't like them then as it's family I'm sure they won't mind sitting again as you refine your style. Also, it gives you something to show to other people as you widen your net of subjects. Showing people what you've done will help them to understand what you are doing and perhaps open a few more doors.

    Best of luck it sounds a great project. I'm sure you'll do it justice.

    Mike