An Experiment in Film Photography Among California's Fabled Alabama Hills
Tips, tricks, and thoughts on analog photography and why it's worth spending a lifetime to learn by Photographer Jason Corning
Kodak Portra 160
Photography is a graceful lover, a generous friend, and the album that gets you through a breakup. But like anything worth anything, photography requires as much as it gives. A lover deserves attentiveness, a friend wants understanding, and the record needs to be flipped.
Photography requires inspiration and refinement.
I recently took to the road in search of inspiration and an opportunity to refine. I set a route east from San Francisco over the Tioga pass, narrowly dodging Yosemite Valley’s bloat of seasonal tour buses and onto the legendary Highway 395.
The 395 runs the length and hugs the curves of the Sierras, eventually fading into the dirt and tract homes outside San Bernardino. We would see hot springs, ghost towns and criminally large plates of biscuits & gravy. I would work on my double exposures and try for some long exposures of the night sky above the Alabama Hills.
I have been shooting 35mm film on the same camera for 15 years. The Pentax K1000 is perfect for experimenting because it is fully manual with not a single feature beyond what is necessary to take an in-focus and properly exposed photograph.
"Once I had the camera’s mechanics down, all that was left was to spend years and years shooting roll after roll of utter garbage."
Years ago, a technician at Samy’s taught me that if I held the film rewind button while cocking the wind lever, I could shoot one photo over the last on the same rectangle of film. This was a merciful tip, as I had previously been utilizing a complex system of Sharpies, open film canisters, guessing games, and abject failure in my quest for the mythical double exposure.
Once I had the camera’s mechanics down, all that was left was to spend years and years shooting roll after roll of utter garbage. I would get one that worked here and there. I figured out which textures worked well with certain light combinations. I tried to avoid the clichés. I would shoot an entire roll of the same scene and shoot assorted images over it to see how and why different combinations worked. I learned how to block out sections of a composition in order to avoid fading out the parts of the doubled image that I wanted to keep saturated. I shot whether I was sad or excited or happy or distracted. I listened to Van Morrison’s "Astral Weeks" on repeat because the album’s cover is a double exposure. I obsessed over finding new ways to blend positive and negative space between two images.
"I shoot in order to invest in an art form that I will always pursue but never perfect."
I keep journals of ideas with records of settings, conditions, and even directions I may have been facing in order to get different shapes of star trails (nearly north is my favorite.) I try everything and will continue to make infinite mistakes. But I pay attention to how the results make me feel and what I want to replicate in the future.
I shoot in order to invest in an art form that I will always pursue but never perfect. I have tried my best to find the inspiration to keep refining the process. Because photography deserves it.