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Figuring It Out: The Films of Laura Dern

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Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) speaks in voiceover in a half-dazed, half-searching tone, as if slowly bringing herself out of a dream. “The story you are about to see is true … as far as I know.” A documentary filmmaker, she’s used to finding ways to look beyond the surface of what people present about themselves; she’ll have to turn that ability on herself. She remembers herself being and looking older than she was, speaking about a man she calls a lover—despite the fact that he was an adult and she was only 13—with a defensive, forced attempt at nonchalance (raised arms, dismissive pitch) that turns pleading, then incensed when she’s called a “victim,” her voice breaking into a raised whisper, her expression into a furious grimace. “This was important to me, and I’m trying to figure out why … Let me just figure this out for myself.”

“The Tale,” debuting on HBO on May 26, is documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox’s narrative retelling of her experience, and an emotionally searing look at how people process their abuse. The casting of Dern, one of the most adventurous actresses working today, feels apropos, given the performer’s willingness to walk a constant emotional high-wire act and her recent hot streak that includes, but is not limited to, “Enlightened,” “Wild,” “Big Little Lies,” the “Twin Peaks” revival, and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” It’s also an instructive text when looking at Dern’s body of work, a career filled with stories of women who have either experienced or witnessed unbearable trauma and who are trying to find the meaning behind it all.

The daughter of two of New Hollywood’s greatest character actors (Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd), Laura Dern began her career in uncredited roles alongside her mother (“White Lightning,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”) before emancipating herself at 13 when her mother objected to one of her early credited roles in the teenage punk girl drama “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.” Dern’s role as one of the members of the Stains is relatively small (it’s largely Diane Lane’s show), but she makes an impression as being kind and empathetic, expressing genuine sympathy when a band member of another touring group overdoses. Dern’s teenage roles draw on her natural warmth and luminous presence; her performance as the blind Diana in “Mask” in particular sees her displaying an unusual level of openness with Eric Stoltz’s Rocky (born with a rare skull deformity), a willingness to accept him for who he is and stray outside her comfort zone for someone who accepts her.

Straying outside one’s comfort zone is central to Joyce Chopra’s “Smooth Talk” (pictured above), which gave Dern her breakout role as Connie Wyatt, a teenage girl hitting her rebellious years and having a hard time of it with her demanding mother. The first half of the film is a remarkable study of a teenager’s tentative first steps toward sexual exploration, with Dern veering back and forth between being marvelously unaffected (tossed-off delivery and leaning posture around her parents) and exaggerated flirtation, like that of someone who’s both fascinated bt sex and stuck in a childish, mocking view of it. She adopts confidence only to shrink away, puts her full body into a kiss before breaking off, admitting that she’s not used to “feeling … this excited.” 

It’s in the second half, when a greaser (Treat Williams) appears outside when she’s home alone that “Smooth Talk” dives headfirst into that discomfort. Dern’s bashful body language gives way to a menacing, dancelike semi-seduction with Williams, shifting from apparent fun and games to something that’s outright predatory, with her demeanor collapsing collapse into hyperventilative terror. She’s in that uncertain place in between childhood and adulthood, when everyone is trying to define themselves, but there are plenty of men who have their own ideas of who she is and what they want from her. “Smooth Talk” would be an ideal (if grueling) double feature with “The Tale,” a young person’s immediate experience with sexual desire, confusion and abuse paired with an adult’s retrospective understanding of that trauma.

Dern received raves for her work, getting her first of two straight Independent Spirit Award nominations (back when they tried to be more than Oscar predictors); her next would come with a part that would bring her to greatest and most important collaborator. Few directors have brought as much out of Dern as David Lynch, but then, few performers have brought as much out of his characters as Dern, beginning with her role as Sandy in “Blue Velvet.” The archetypical girl next door, Sandy has a kind of unearthly wholesomeness that’s best showcased in her monologue about her dream about “robins of love.” The key to Lynch’s work is his belief that the truly good can coexist with the truly wicked. Dern represents the former, delivering the monologue with a whispered awe and reaching hand gestures that border on evangelical before bringing herself down and finding a way to clarify it to her rapt listener/love interest. Sandy and Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) see some terrible things (including a painful moment of trauma that prompts a distorted look of sorrow that’s distinctly Dern), but she remains unwavering in her belief that her dream of light can conquer darkness and make sense of this strange world (would that Isabella Rossellini’s Dorothy were so lucky). 

Dern teamed with Lynch again for 1990’s “Wild at Heart” (pictured above), playing the far more confidently sensual Lula while retaining the same good-heartedness she brought to “Blue Velvet.” It’s a heightened, deliberately iconic role, with Dern leaping into exaggerated dancing, purring with sexual abandon and leaning just so to express her arousal or satisfaction when talking to or about Nicolas Cage’s Elvis-obsessed Sailor. But Lula is also someone who has experienced great pain—the death of her father, her molestation at the hands of his friend, the murderous rage of her mother (played, in a stroke of casting genius, by her real-life mother, Ladd)—and has come out the other end demonstrating a full-bodied, defiant belief in the all-conquering power of love. The film’s “Wizard of Oz” framing device sometimes comes across as a bit forced, but it’s also another example of how Dern’s characters often tell themselves stories to make sense of their lives and guide them from darkness to light. 

Dern’s early adult roles often deal with characters exploring their sexuality at a time or place where that might put them in jeopardy; that’s certainly the case with Martha Coolidge’s “Rambling Rose,” in which her “borderline nymphomaniac” Rose comes to live with the Hillyer family (father Robert Duvall, mother Ladd and teenage son Lukas Haas) after unspecified trouble with men. Dern brings a blithe, bouncy exuberance and confidence to the role, waltzing down the street knowing that her walk can turn heads and her smile win hearts. But Dern also embodies Rose’s goodness, her sexual escapades being the actions of someone who has an intense and open need to be loved, and to be treated with the kindness that she shows the world but that the world hasn’t been good enough to show her. A scene between her and Duvall after she’s caught in bed with a man sees her not going so far as begging, but rather earnestly presenting herself with all cards on the table, an eyes-wide-open, forward-leaning acknowledgement that “I’m only a human girl person, and I ain’t always perfect.” 

“Rambling Rose” earned Dern her first Oscar nomination and preceded two high-profile supporting roles in 1993. As criminologist Sally Gerber in Clint Eastwood’s beautiful “A Perfect World,” she illustrates the impossible situation that Butch (Kevin Costner) was put in as a troubled child with an abusive father, giving a full picture of his trauma and bringing us to empathize with how he became a criminal. As Ellie Sattler in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park,” Dern plays the warmer counterpart and partner to Sam Neill’s testier Alan Grant, exuding, intelligence, physical capability and a deeper concern for how easily the park can spiral out of control and the consequences that come with it (she also has the ability as an actress to practically unhinge her jaw in terror when things do go wrong). In a key character moment, she pleads empathetically for John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to recognize how the people they love may get hurt. Both roles cast her as figures of empathy, finding ways to make sense of the reasons why people cause each other pain while trying to prevent it from happening again.

If “A Perfect World” sees Dern asking us to sympathize with a troubled person, Alexander Payne’s “Citizen Ruth” (pictured above) shows how far that should be extended. Make no mistake: Dern’s pregnant, inhalant-addicted Ruth Stoops is a first-class fuck-up. Dern dives headfirst into making her as gross and unlikable as possible, smearing her mouth with inhalant residue, manipulating the same people who are manipulating her (both sides of the abortion debate attempt to co-opt her case for their agenda), and shouting some truly filthy insults (“suck the shit outta my ass, you fucker!”) with gritted teeth and gusto. Yet the actress still finds something sympathetic in her, her downcast eyes and fidgeting fingers communicating her knowledge that she’s fucked up yet again and is about to be on the receiving end of some real hardship. Ruth may sputter with uncertainty when trying to voice the whys behind her right to choose, but Payne and Dern take her choice, and the pain behind what led her to it, seriously (besides, she said it loud and clear the first time).

Dern’s career slowed down in the late 1990s and early 2000s, something she attributed (more than plausibly) to her guest appearance on “Ellen” as a radiant, openly gay woman that causes Ellen DeGeneres’ character to come out herself. She got her first serious critical attention in years in John Curran’s “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” in 2004. The film, about a two couples (Dern and Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Watts and Peter Krause) whose lives are upended when Ruffalo and Watts begin an affair, is too drifting and one-note to draw much blood, but it comes to life whenever Dern’s enraged, emotionally rangy Terry takes focus. Dern adopts a hunched-over posture for her arguments with Ruffalo, her clenched chin jutting out slightly, to show a woman who’s well aware of how she’s being deceived and whose total dismissal to the role of child caretaker (something she does not take to naturally) looks like it’s almost literally weighing her down. Terry’s agonies in “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” are resolutely ordinary, compared with some of the other characters Dern has played, but they’re no less important to her.

Dern reteamed with David Lynch for the truly deranged “Inland Empire,” in which she plays the actress Nikki Grace, getting the comeback of a lifetime with the role of Susan Blue before her role starts bleeding over into her identity (or something … even more than usual with Lynch, describing what actually happens seems futile and beside-the-point). It’s a tour-de-force performance, alternatively put-upon, ferocious, frightened, and whatever one can call this terrifying face. She’s simultaneously the film’s emotional anchor and its constantly metamorphosing nucleus. “Inland Empire” is, at least partially, about the emotional wringer that performers can put themselves through for a role, and how easy it is to mix up one’s own emotions with their character’s. A monologue in which Nikki’s character (?) describes her trauma and her self-defense in a jaded tone that occasionally sparks into violence is later seen in a theater, the actress observing herself. She’s played a character who has lived through real terror, but we see that the actress herself is living in terror, both at home (her husband is deeply controlling and ambiguously threatening) and at work. Does the actress simply play the part, or is she drawn to roles that bring her to relive (and potentially make peace with) her nightmares?

“Inland Empire,” like most of Lynch’s works, does not put its or its characters’ purpose into words so bluntly; Dern’s next major role is a little more easily (and narrowly) defined, but not uninteresting. The 2008 TV movie “Recount” (pictured above) relives the national trauma of Bush v. Gore, the second-most nightmarish presidential election in recent memory. Largely focused on the tactics employed the official campaign teams of Vice President Al Gore (Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary, Ed Begley Jr.) and Governor George W. Bush (Tom Wilkinson, Bob Balaban), the film also takes time with Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (Dern) and her poorly disguised efforts to throw the election to Bush. Dern walks a fine line between humanity and cartoon with Harris, whom she portrays as a zealous, wide-eyed ideologue with exaggerated hair and makeup. But she finds the heart of Harris in her true-believer story about Queen Esther sacrificing herself for “the lovely Jewish people,” evangelizing as if her staking her career on Bush winning the election is for the good of the people. Her self-martyring tone is farcical, but it’s also indicative of how political partisans view their work as de facto for the good of the people and a tool to bring a country together after a moment of bitter division, rather than the actions of further division. 

Many of Dern’s more recent film roles have been smaller, supporting parts, but a few have still been notable. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” she has that same true-believer tone as a rich woman who has taken to the new religion of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Her student’s passion for something that’s given her life meaning is palpable; so is her shocked pain at being rebuked for questioning how, exactly, it can switch teachings so cavalierly, her body practically crumpling at Dodd’s shout. She’s more unflagging in her optimism as Reese Witherspoon’s mother in “Wild” (her second Oscar-nominated performance). Dern comes across in only a handful of small scenes as a vivacious presence who nonetheless knows perfectly well that she’s lived through hell, smiling through memories of pain because it brought her the most important person in her life. She’s the witness to someone else’s pain in Kelly Reichardt’s masterful “Certain Women,” a lawyer to a man (Jared Harris) who got screwed over when accepting a piddling settlement after a workplace injury but who can no longer be helped because of it. One senses her lived-in frustration as he refuses to listen her (then listens to a male colleague who tells him the same thing), but her genuine empathy for a man who she’s effectively powerless to help is also clear. And as Admiral Holdo in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she commands the screen with a steadfast, unwavering certainty that she’s doing the right thing—any assumption of her incompetence be damned—finally proving herself to be among the bravest and most self-sacrificing heroes in the series.

Still, most of Dern’s best recent work has been on television. The brilliant, unjustly canceled “Enlightened” sees Dern’s personality as embedded into the work as Mike White’s (indeed, the two are credited as co-creators). Amy Jellicoe is another of Dern’s troubled heroines trying to find meaning in their lives, following her nervous breakdown first with a genuine attempt to regain the respect of her colleagues, then by becoming a corporate whistleblower in a move that’s half genuine, half out of bitterness. Amy’s a mess, lashing out at people she (rightly or wrongly) believes have wronged her at one moment, then preaching with a sincere but totally oblivious sense of illumination in the next. What holds Dern’s performance together as Amy whips back and forth between manic highs and deadening lows is an ardent, indefatigable expression that it’s possible for her to do something important with her life and potentially make the world a better place, no matter how crazy that world thinks she is. 

Dern returned to HBO in “Big Little Lies,” with her Renata Klein initially set up as an ostensible villain; Dern tears into the overbearing, bullying aspect of Renata, whether she’s stabbing the air with her hands like a maniac or giving a silent but icy glare, shouting her threats at the top of her lungs or whispering them with quiet menace. But there’s still a beating heart in her, a genuine desire to protect her daughter from pain (whether it’s violence at school or the more everyday hurt of someone skipping her birthday party), and the heartbreak in Dern’s voice when she voices her feeling of utter powerlessness (a control freak’s worst nightmare for minor issues, let alone real pain) is unmistakable. Much of the strength in “Big Little Lies” is its belief that flawed women can ultimately come together, forgive each other and help each other along; Dern’s performance is key to that.

And still, “Big Little Lies” had only the second-best Dern performance on television last year. There’s a nostalgic, near-breathless thrill in Dern’s first appearance as Special Agent Dale Cooper’s long-unseen secretary Diane on “Twin Peaks” (or “Twin Peaks: The Return”), an unmistakable callback to their close connection in “Blue Velvet.” Still, one couldn’t have predicted Dern’s delightfully cynical performance, all long drags on cigarettes and venom-spitting “fuck yous,” a far cry from the mostly upbeat Sandy. But even putting aside the eventual revelation about Diane’s nature, it makes sense after decades of disillusionment following a rape by the man she most trusted. That pain comes through in her reunion with Bad Cooper, her voice breaking, her breath quickening; it’s even clearer in her late-series breakdown, her shield of cynicism giving way to trauma flooding back. Even Diane’s return to normalcy is a pyrrhic and only temporary victory, with a sex scene with MacLachlan’s Good Cooper playing less like a triumph and more like a final, deeply sad shared moment between the two (which Dern somehow conveys largely with her back), one of the show’s many acknowledgements that trauma cannot be erased. 

“The Tale,” then, is instead a look at how one lives with that trauma. Fox’s gradual shift to acknowledging something terrible happened is not an easy journey, nor is it a simple one. The film deals heavily with the tortured self-rationalizations and denials employed by both survivors and abusers, ones both sincerely believed and desperately clung to. The final scene is confrontational without being fully cathartic, Dern’s belated but volcanic outrage a moment of her taking her past back (a real triumph) without any illusion that she has expelled that very pain. If there’s something Dern’s best work shows, it’s there forever; one can only try to make sense of it.

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Historic Photos of NASA's Cavernous Wind Tunnels (39 photos)

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Throughout the 20th century, NASA (and its predecessor, NACA) made extensive use of wind tunnels to test and refine designs for airplanes, spacecraft, and many other vehicles and structures. Dozens of specialized tunnels were constructed over the years at Langley Research Center in Virginia and Ames Research Center in California, to test the effects of high windspeed, turbulence, icing, ionization, and much more. Some of these facilities were gigantic—the largest, still in operation, is the 80-foot by 120-foot tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center. In the 1990s, a surplus of government wind tunnels and advances in computer simulations led to a consolidation, and a number of older facilities were demolished. Gathered here, a collection of images of NASA’s amazing wind tunnels from the past century.

A technician prepares to unlatch the door built into the guide vanes of the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, in March of 2010. The tunnel, one of dozens of research facilities at Langley, was built in 1939 and operated until 2004, when it was retired as part of a national initiative to optimize government-owned wind tunnels. Operating "transonically" or across the speed of sound, the air in the test section traveled from about 150 to 1,000 miles per hour. The guide vanes, which formed an ellipse 58 feet high and 82 feet wide, cut across each cylindrical tube at a 45-degree angle. Similar sets of vanes at the three other corners of the wind tunnel turned the air uniformly as it rushed through the 1,000-foot race track-like enclosed tube. If guide vanes were omitted, the air would have piled up in dense masses along the outside curves, like water rounding a bend in a fast brook. (Bill Taub / NASA)
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digdoug
31 days ago
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Louisville, KY
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11 Tips for Photographing Your Dog or Cat Like a Pro

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In order to make your snapshots stand out above the rest by making them look professional, incorporating several creative elements can do just that. I am often asked by pet owners how to get the best shots of their furry companions with a basic camera.

If you are a doting pet owner, more than likely it is important to you to have meaningful images to share with your loved ones online, to have perfectly framed images within your home or at your workplace, and to even share with others on holiday cards and a variety of items to display your image.

This is the ultimate guide of tips for you to get the best photos of your pet, even if you find it challenging at times to get your pet to “pose.”

Tip #1. Timing is Everything

When you are ready to photograph your furry loved one, keep his personality in mind. Knowing what makes your dog unique compared to other animals will allow you to focus on his true personality, and thus will capture his natural spirit within each image.

Tip #2. Environment is Essential

Another tip for getting the best images of your pet is to keep him at ease. Photographing him in his comfort zone will allow you to capture a wide range of shots without the obstacles that come with a nervous and anxious cat or dog. Find a place where you know your pet loves, and where you have made memories together.

Tip #3. Lighting

In terms of the best lighting to acquire excellent images, overcast days are ideal for photographing your pet outdoors. Overcast lighting is consistent and even, creates perfect soft shadows, and allows dogs or cats with darker coats to look their best. Rather than taking pictures in bright sunlight which creates a harsh shadowy effect, you can also opt to venture outdoors in the early morning or late evening hours to take advantage of the warm glow. Also, steer clear of using a flash, as it may frighten your pet and also result in that annoying red-eye.

Pro Tip: If you must use a flash (in cases where you have no natural light), try to use an off-camera flash or swivel the beam of light upward so it doesn’t go right to the face (and, more specifically, the eyes!). Also, a piece of wax paper when placed in front of the flash will diffuse the bright light. You may need to practice several times to achieve the right result.

Tip #4. Familiarize Your Dog or Cat with the Camera

Let your pet experience the sounds and flash of your camera by allowing him to listen to them before you begin your photo shoot. Walk your dog around for a bit and take various pictures of the surroundings to get him used to the unfamiliar sounds and such. Also, let him give it a good sniff! Once you begin taking pictures of him, reward him with a small treat between shots and praise him for a job well done.

Tip #5. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Backgrounds should be simple and minimalist; you will definitely want the attention on the pet. Less distracting backgrounds may include a nice and open patch of green and lush grass for outdoors, and for indoor shots a room that is well-lit with white walls along with neutral carpet or a rug is ideal. Of course, you will want to avoid seeing any people or an unclean and cluttered background for optimum appeal. If you are unable to find a clean background, simply blur the background with an open aperture.

Pro Tip: Taking close-up photos with an evenly blurred background makes the photos look professional. Simply choose the aperture priority mode on your camera and set it, and then set the lens to the widest aperture. For a good lens that will be f/2.8, or for a really fast prime it might be as low as f/1.4; on a kit lens, it will be f/3.5 usually. The numbers will vary depending on the camera. Get close to the dog, and keep them a few feet away from the actual background. The further he is away from the background, the blurrier the background will be, and vice versa. For a more focused face, close the aperture a couple of f stops or zoom out a little bit.

Aperture priority at f/2.8. Selective focus on the eyes.

Tip #6. Become Eye-Level with Your Pet

Stooping down so you can look at your pet in the eye will yield better results. When images are taken from you looking down on your pet, you will have shots that are too distant and will not look as if you focused on your subject. When you are on their level, your pictures will be from the dog’s perspective rather than a “human perspective” and will be much more appealing to the viewer.

Pro Tip: Knee pads are a great solution to prevent any soreness that can occur!

Tip #7. Now, Get Closer

Pets love getting attention and being played with, and this includes during a picture-taking session. While it is perfectly fine to allow everyone to see the whole dog in pictures, people enjoy seeing up close shots from a variety of angles. Different angles and super-close photos enhance the small details of your pet that otherwise people wouldn’t really notice, such as those cute freckles around his whiskers, his wet and shiny nose, and those pink pads on his paws.

If your pet moves around a little too much, or if you are having a challenge getting up close while photographing him, invest in a zoom lens. A zoom lens will give the look and feel of you being close with the dog, and will still allow you to reveal his true personality and delicate features.

The added benefit of a long focal length is that it will help with isolating your pet in terms of depth of field (ie give you a nice blurry background so that your pet is center of attention with no distractions).

Tip #8. Attention-Getters

Treats and toys will allow you to receive and keep your dog’s attention. Keep them close to the lens and move them around the lens area to keep his eye on you, and don’t feel shy about making a variety of barking sounds and noises to keep him focused. Play along with them and keep them happy and you will keep their attention for a longer span of time.

Pro Tip: Use small treats so you don’t overfeed him.

Tip #9. Freezing the Action

Great action shots can be amazing with a fast shutter speed. Many of the digital cameras on the market today will easily allow you to take pictures in full manual mode, which gives you a nice blend of shutter and aperture. You can also work in shutter priority mode, which allows you to choose the shutter speed while the camera adjusts to give you an ideal aperture. Sports mode is another alternative for freezing the action; it works by automatically selecting the fastest shutter speed in each situation.
Making sure you and your camera are always ready to be one step ahead of the actions your pet will perform will give you the most accurate shots, and you may even wish to use the burst mode for many sequential and rapid shots.

Tip #10. Take Many Pictures, and Reward Them for It

Don’t think you are taking too many pictures, as this can never be done! Remember the extra battery and just have fun. The more shots you take, the greater chances of you acquiring the perfect shots of your fur baby. Reward him for a job well done in front of the camera, too! Lots of praise and small treats can really go along way, and can also strengthen the bond between the two of you.

Tip #11. Patience and Confidence

Remember to take time to stop and breathe, especially during those times where your pet is super active. Patience is essential when photographing your pet and there will be times where you just need to wait on him to become settled for still shots or wait on him to get more “excited” or active for action images. Have confidence in yourself and know that allowing your pet to “be himself” during your photoshoot will reveal the most personality.

Photographing your pet does not have to be a challenge and can yield professional-looking results with these tips. With practice, you will be able to achieve gorgeous pet photos in your own home or environment of your liking. The most important thing about taking many lovely pictures of your cat or dog is the memories that are made, not only in the actual photographs but in the time you both spend together. Relax and have fun, and enjoy the productive and bonding experience together!


About the author: Alicia Rius is an animal portrait and lifestyle photographer based on the West Coast and specializing in dogs, cats and horses. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of her work on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Open Thread – Ric And Zooey On Their Walk

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By request. It’s hard to get pics when I have to monitor for coyotes, which way the kittehs want to go, and whether or not they are going to pounce. I take them out one at a time, because they inevitably want to go in different directions, and then when it’s time to go in, 27 pounds of squirming cat can be difficult to handle. Zooey is in purple, and Ric in denim.

 

Open Thread!

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Dry Glass Plate Photography is Back

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In the era of the “selfie”, of the relentless click-and-publish images on social media, of the mega sensors replete with megapixels, we are witnessing an unpredictable resurgence of many ancient photographic devices and techniques.

Wet collodion (tintypes) and many other alternative photo processes are being keenly rediscovered today and there is an ever-growing plethora of workshop available to those who want to learn and practice them.

A primitive photographer myself, a practitioner of what I like to define “slow photography” for most of my professional life, I observe this phenomenon with great interest, wondering about what its deepest rationale might be.

The amazing and light-fast technology that permeates our lives can become overwhelming at times. Images are indeed one of the most widespread and immediate forms of communication nowadays, when an ever-decreasing attention span makes just reading a few paragraphs a daunting task for many.

At the same time, creating digital images is devoid of the tactile, hand-dirtying, artisanal, alchemic qualities typical of the silver process heritage.

Today lenses and cameras are precisely designed and built by computers, there is no more space for the serendipitous human error neither in the photographic machines nor in the images they produce. Everything is simplified and automated, bringing the original Kodak Brownie advertising promise “ you press the button- we do the rest” to an almost dystopian level, thus hampering some peoples’ vision and their enjoyment of the creative process.

That is certainly my case and, given the choice, I’ll always opt for an ancient glass and wood large format view camera versus the latest digital device.

I suppose there are other factors too: In analog photography the creative process doesn’t end downloading your files to a computer or uploading them to social media, lost in a binary void forever, but it continues in the darkroom, where one carefully chosen image undergoes a complex voyage towards becoming a print, a tactile, permanent, often unique expression of the photographer’s vision.

To sum up, it appears that the impermanence of digital is finally starting to feel uncomfortable to some, hence a reversal to think more, click less, dabble with wet techniques from the past to create images that can actually still exist in the future.

Along those lines, I am happy to report the recent re-introduction on the market of a long gone photographic medium: dry glass plates.

Dry glass plates, invented by Dr. Richard L. Maddox in 1871, were a major advancement for photographers who until then were mostly using the wet collodion process. Wet collodion required to be poured just before taking the photograph and developed shortly afterward, something rather difficult and time-consuming outside of a studio environment.

Dry glass plates instead, being pre-coated with a light-sensitive gelatin could be easily transported to external locations and the photos developed at a later time, back in the darkroom, greatly helping photographers to expand their business in outside locations. You can admire a nearly unknown itinerant seed vendor-photographer exquisite dry plates photos taken on the Italian Alps here.

While I am familiar and have practiced in the past wet collodion photography, I too, a century later, find dry plates portability a great advantage over tintypes. With dry plates, I can even fly commercially, without having to worry about the strict Airlines regulations against the poisonous and explosive wet collodion chemistry.

Shooting these new old dry plates is not completely devoid of problems, yet, but things are improving rapidly. The first batches had some flaws and coating issues but that, by now, has been completely resolved.

The man that made dry plates photography possible again is Mr. Jason Lane, a brilliant optical engineer based in New Hampshire, who has a deep love and understanding of photographic media and techniques from a bygone era.

Mr. Lane’s production is still completely artisanal and made in U.S.A.: he painstakingly hand-coats his dry plates, boxes them and ships them.

A one-man operation fuels this unexpected and welcome renaissance inspired by the past but with an eye to the future, giving us the opportunity to experiment with one of the most archival-stable and fascinating photographic technology from the beginning of last century.

In a world that is often keen to forget and foolishly dismiss as useless many valuable assets from the heritage of mankind, not only in photography but also in everything else, including oral tradition, popular culture, and art, I find Mr. Lane’s work extremely remarkable and inspiring.


Editor’s note: Jason Lane has been selling his dry plates for several months now. The emulsion has a “normal” sensitivity, so it responds to UV and blue.

“In this way, it shares a lot of characteristics with wet plate, combining them with characteristics of film I really enjoy the look of the handmade plate era, and it seems I’m not the only one,” Lane told PetaPixel back in January.

Lane is selling a few standard formats and is also open to making custom plates of all sizes — he has made and delivered plates as large as 12×20″ and as small as 35mm.

You can find out more about Lane’s plates and purchase you own through his website, Facebook page, and Etsy store.


About the author: Giovanni Savino is a New York-based photographer and cinematographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Savino’s work on his website and Instagram. This article was also published here.

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The Best Cat Beds (According to Our Cats)

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At some point, most cat owners have bought their cat a bed, only to discover their kitty preferred the tissue paper or cardboard box it came in. To try to avoid future heartache of this type, we spent 19 hours researching 62 cat beds and testing 13 of them. We picked seven we love for their style, softness, and cleanability—as well as their ability to meet the behavioral needs of most cats. Although we can’t guarantee a cat won’t snub a bed ever again, we think most cat owners will find a standout here.

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