Forage From Fire - an interview with Norma Quintana

Tragedy struck Northern California in 2017 when the Atlas Peak Wildfire ripped through Napa County. Entire communities were reduced to piles of ash and precious family treasures were lost forever.

For photographer Norma Quintana, the remnants of her home provided a stark backdrop for mourning, healing, and a fascinating series of images.

Norma’s Forage From Fire series features photographs of her charred personal items, set against the black gloves that first-responders used to sift through the rubble.

Recently, we sat down with Norma to chat about her incredible career as a photographer, printing her work at Dickerman Prints, and her exhibition at SF Camerawork.

What was the first camera you remember using?

As far as I can remember, I had a camera on me all the time and recall having a 35mm KODAK INSTAMATIC 104 camera.  Color of course!

How did your love of photography grow?

My academic background is in Sociology.  I obtained a post graduate degree in the social science and justice.  I share this because my interest has always been in gathering and analyzing evidence.  Photography was a natural fit for me as I began to document.

I learned the craft of photography class by class, shot 35 mm, black and white then moved on to a medium format camera. The Forage From Fire was done with the iPhone camera and is my first ever digital and color body of work.  The learning curve has been dramatic.

What is the most impactful photograph you've ever created?

Such a great question! I would say the Forage From Fire Glove image with a burned camera.

You studied under Mary Ellen Mark, Graciela Iturbide, Sally Mann, and Shelby Lee Adams. How does their tutelage influence your photography today?

I learned a great deal from these icons! So many lessons!  Graciela Iturbide taught me compassion, Shelby Lee Adams: dedication and commitment to a project and Mary Ellen Mark, grit.  Sally Mann shared her wisdom.

What led you to co-found PhotoAlliance and how are you still involved with the organization today?

I had wanted to create and support a photography culture in the Bay Area. I was on the Board of Directors for up to 10 years and attend their amazing lecture series.  It is a jewel in the art community. (learn more about Photo Alliance here)

Your Forage From Fire series has gained a lot of media attention, and is currently featured in an exhibition at SF Camerawork.

Before jumping into the work itself, would you be willing to share a personal story from the Atlas Peak wildfire (that has nothing to do with photography)?

Prior to the fire I had been consumed by Hurricane Maria.  My immediate family is from Puerto Rico.  As life would have it, I had been trying to reach my aunt and cousin who live on the island and had not been successful. I was on high alert.

On the day I learned that we had lost my home and studio of over 25 years to the firestorm, I received a call from my aunt who was worried for my safety.  I learned she was safe and I shared that I had lost my home.  My aunt sent her blessings.

Forage From Fire is an incredibly personal project, focusing on personal items that were rescued from your home and studio. Can you share a bit of your inspiration for the series?

The creation of Forage From Fire was uber organic and unplanned!  It was so innate in me to forage for recognizable items on the burned site. I remember thinking …. this is my personal 9-11. I was not really inspired but more compelled to document. The loss was about home.

How did you choose which objects to feature?

All the objects were found with the use of a sifter.  In my home I was the collector … so I knew the genesis of my physical world.  Also, I focused on what would fit with a glove.

You used an iPhone X to create the images in Forage From Fire. As someone who traditionally uses film as your medium, can you describe the experience of using such a different camera?

I have always believed that creating images is not about the camera!  With that in mind, I would say that the issue for me was the use of color.  Also, it is the first time I created work digitally.

Can you describe your process and setup for creating the images in Forage From Fire?

I foraged using a industrial respirator mask and a sifter created for me by a volunteer in a winery.  They knew there was going to be demand for people who were looking through their wreckage.  I recall finding artifacts and immediately wanting to photographed them and upon my return to the temporary home I was in… started to photograph as I always do… with available light .

There's a certain beauty in the contrast of your burned treasures against a black rubber glove. How did that concept come to be? Was everyone given those gloves when they returned to their home, or did you borrow a few from the cleanup crew?

The gloves were given to me by first responders.  We were all given masks and masks!  Initially, there was extensive smoke and everything destroyed.

You mention that your project has had a deep impact on those recovering from the trauma of the fire. Can you describe how that impact manifests itself?

I have heard from so many people that they find the images both staggering and hopeful… some even said liberating.  I believe they see a person who lost everything and had a story to tell.

I have heard from strangers across the world… via social media platforms.  I have also received art books and prints from people who I have somehow touched with Forage From Fire.

 Seth Dickerman and Norma Quintana go through Forage From Fire test prints. Seth Dickerman and Norma Quintana go through Forage From Fire test prints.

You have been working closely with Dickerman Prints to prepare your images for the Camerawork exhibition. Can you describe what that process has been like?

Working with Seth, Gabriel, and Garnell are my dream team. I knew I was in great hands when I learned they had started in the dark room. They approach the work as artisans.

Thanks again for your time. Before we go, do you have any words of wisdom for photographers starting their careers?

  • Remember that photographs are not taken they are created!

  • Try everything: photojournalism, landscape, portraiture etc.

  • Study the work of other photographers.

  • Get your hands on photo artbooks.

  • Learn the craft of photography.

  • Photograph when you have something to say.

 Gabriel Aguilar and Norma Quintana with a framed print from Forage From Fire. Gabriel Aguilar and Norma Quintana with a framed print from Forage From Fire.

Forage From Fire debuts at SF Camerawork on October 4. Learn more here.

To view more of Norma’s work, visit normaiquintana.com


Exploring the LGBTQ community with Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover

We had the pleasure of talking with local photographers – Saul Bromberger and Sandra Hoover – about their work and the LGBTQ community.

Saul and Sandra have been deeply involved with the LGBTQ moment since they first shot it back in the 1980's. This body of work has grown immensely over the years and became the focus of both of their careers.

Their ultimate goal for this series was to show what it was like 25-30 years ago when the gay community was marching for it's civil rights, fighting AIDS, and coming together as a community; and, what's it's like now for many LGBTQ teens who we found to be confident, open, and happy to be who they are.

 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990


DICKERMAN PRINTS GALLERY:What inspired you to get involved with the movement?

SAUL BROMBERGER: “Motivation for me started back in the 80’s when coverage of the movement was just beginning in local newspapers. At the time I worked for SF chronicle, and there were male photographers with telephoto lenses running around snapping shots. Working with a newspaper, I knew how photography could impact people’s lives.

The problem I saw was that most photographers would only focus on the nudity and the flamboyant nature of the movement; basically showcasing only the outrageous and crazy aspects of the community, but they didn’t focus on the actual community. It labeled the LGBTQ community as ‘crazy and wild,’ and this angered me.”

 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990


DPG: What did you want to portray by shooting the LGBTQ community?

SB: "I wanted to tell people's stories by show casing the little moments that I witnessed. It was about showing the side where parents are supporting their children and the community.

Back when we first started shooting the Pride movement, there was still a lingering ghost of AIDS.  I I wanted my photographs to help raise awareness about AIDS and the people dying from it. I wanted to bring light to the movement and show that it a civil rights movement before anything else, because that wasn't how it was being portrayed in the newspapers at the time."

 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990


DPG: Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

SB: "One of my biggest influences would be Eugene Smith. One of his most famous projects was working with Minamata disease (caused by mercury poisoning) in Japan. His dramatic photographic essay brought world attention to Minamata disease and conveyed the idea of passion and the hopefulness. This to me was incredible and life affirming and I wanted to incorporate this into my work.

Another incredible influence I had would be Bruce Davidson. I was inspired by his project shooting scenes of urban poverty on East 100th Street in New York. He was aiming to bring change and awareness to a population that was often left ignored and deemed 'ghetto,' when there was so much more to it than that. He worked hard to balance the dire situations that residents lived in with moments of beauty and resilience. It was also a common thread throughout his life’s work."

 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990


DPG: You've been shooting Pride since the 80's, what do you think has changed the most about it over the years?

SB: "I think one of the biggest elements that has changed about Pride is that back in the 80's people were marching for their civil rights. People would wait all year for Pride to be with the one that they loved. Some people even risked losing their job if they were caught attending Pride by their work.

In the last few years, ever since same sex marriage was legalized, I have noticed much more corporations have been involved. This is a great– don't get me wrong, but I feel like it's become more about promoting brands rather than be about the core of the movement itself, civil rights.

This year; however, with the Trump administration, I've been seeing a lot more resistance and the come back of fighting for civil rights and equality for all."

 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990


Interested in shooting civil rights movements like Saul and Sandra?

Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Get close and once you feel like you're close, get closer! 
This will not only help keep your photos direct and less busy, but you will be able to capture the smaller details and moments that a lot of people miss when shooting with a telephoto lens.

2. It's about Interpreting a scene, how do you want people to feel?
Ask yourself why you are there with a camera. What is it that you want to capture while shooting?

3. Don't be afraid to talk to people! 
Introduce yourself and remember to always be respectful when shooting. It's about making connections with people and learning their story and capturing their light and love.

4. Timing is everything! 
Every good documentary photographer knows that it's about waiting for the story telling elements to come together and then shooting in the moment.

5. Bring different lenses. 
This will help create a diverse body of work and make capturing different images easier.

 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990 From the archive   'The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Freedom Day Parade: 1984-1990


To learn more about Saul and Sandra's work and for contact information, please visit their website.


5 Amazing Photo Editing Apps (not made by Adobe)

While Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom rule the photography kingdom, there plenty of things they just can't do. Fortunately, both programs allow users to install plugins and filter sets to further enhance your photography.

The below list features some of our favorite apps - all of which play nicely with Adobe's Creative Suite.

Topaz Labs

Best known for Topaz Adjust, Topaz Labs also includes fabulous plugins for clarity, noise, detail, glow, special effects and more.  These are, perhaps, the most popular filters currently available to photographers.

 A before and after photograph using Topaz Adjust A before and after photograph using Topaz Adjust


MacPhun

This great suite of photography apps and plugins includes the powerful Intensify – which gives your images a vibrant HDR look from a single photo. Another great app is Snapselect – an ultra-fast photo browser that isolates similar photos and helps you choose the best ones before import. (sorry PC users... it's just for Mac)

 Inside the MacPhun Intensify app. Inside the MacPhun Intensify app.


Exposure

This powerful photo editing plugin allows you to recreate that old film look and feel on your digital images. Draw attention to your subject by manipulating focus, vignette and depth of field... and more. Exposure offers an endless array of visually creative options; from simulation of fast lenses to tilt-shift and motion blur looks.

 Photo © Christopher Wilson  - Created with Exposure Photo © Christopher Wilson  - Created with Exposure


Perfect Effects 9.5

Enhance your photography by using Perfect Effect’s suite of beautiful and timeless filters. Highlights include lens flare, tilt-shift, faded matte, pastel bliss, silver sunset, vintage sun, color pop and more.


BlowUp 3

Ever want to get a large print out of a small digital photograph? With BlowUp’s amazing enlarging plugin, you can cover an entire wall with a photo from a 3 megapixel camera. At Dickerman Prints, we use this plugin for all our custom photographic enlargements.

 BlowUp 3 lets you get the most detail possible in photo enlargements. BlowUp 3 lets you get the most detail possible in photo enlargements.


A Celebration of Forgotten Places: by Sam Aslanian

 

 

"The past is never dead. It's not even past,"
-William Faulkner
 

On forgotten back roads and main streets across the southern United States, entire regions have been left behind by the fast pace and technology of modern day life.

What remains is "timeless, silent and still... untouched by the clamor and commotion of our lives," according to fine art photographer Sam Aslanian.

To document this striking vision of the south, Aslanian embarked on a photographic journey across those dusty byways in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana.

His images, created by using long-expired film, add to the mystique and form a series of evocative photographs that can either engulf the viewer or be utterly voyeuristic: depending on your mood.

Aslanian continues, “As always, I used my vintage 1960's and 70's film cameras loaded with long-expired film, creating a fitting marriage of technique and place — a region untouched by the 21st century, photographed by tools entirely of the previous century.”

 

. . .

 

LOOKING SOUTH

Be sure to attend the opening reception for Looking South on Saturday, February 7, at the Christopher Hill Gallery. The exhibition features twenty-one large and medium-format pigment prints from Aslanian's journey: all created at Dickerman Prints.

Saturday, February 7  //  3:00 pm - 7:00 pm

The Christopher Hill Gallery
1235 Main Street
St Helena, CA 95474

 

. . .

 

ABOUT THE PRINTING PROCESS

At Dickerman Prints, we love collaborating with artists to create the best prints possible. While getting ready for Looking South, Sam was kind enough to share a few words about his experience here at the lab.

"Late in 2010 The Christopher Hill Gallery in St. Helena agreed to put on my first fine art photography show. After the euphoria had worn off, I had to figure out how to print my prints— some of which were as large as 40x60. I use old, expired film that is then pushed pretty heavily in the processing creating an immense amount of grain and “texture." 

The first tests done at other labs were disastrous— glassy, ugly grain with none of the beauty of my photos as I saw them. I was almost considering canceling the show, when a fellow photographer told me about Dickerman Prints.  From the very first tests that Garnell Boyd did for me, I knew that my days of wandering in the wilderness were over. 

Now I am on my 4th gallery show, and Garnell and Dickerman have become an integral final link in my fine art process. Now I just show him my original on an iPad and he takes it from there, creating vibrant images full of depth and texture."

 

. . .

 

Meet sam Aslanian

Sam Aslanian is a longtime California resident and life-long student of photography. Holding a degree from the University of California at Los Angeles’ prestigious film school, and driven by a passion for film arts, Sam worked his way through Hollywood as both an executive producer for commercial and music video productions, and as an accomplished photographer. With his keen eye to both substance and style, Sam found success for more than 20 years in the often fickle and unforgiving industry known as Hollywood.

Wherever his adventures take him, Aslanian travels with his battered SLR cameras that are often held together with duct tape. In his bag can be found all manner of film, yes the kind the photographer loads carefully, gingerly, and spools into position in the camera’s belly.

It is a hard commodity to come by in the modern world which is both the blessing and the curse of Aslanian’s medium which is to use film deemed by others as past its prime. The film tells his story with often unpredictable results. The challenges of digital technology have made camera film practically a dinosaur, and therefore available expired film an even sweeter reward, at least to Sam, for the hunt.

Aslanian scours the likes of Paris, Rome and rural America in search of his unique photographic voice and scours the unlikely shelves of ancient film purveyors and Craig’s List to find his film.

 

To learn more about Sam Aslanian, visit his Facebook page.

 


Sailing Indonesia

A wonderful part of photography is living life vicariously through the lens of others. Through these beautiful images shot by Bay Area based Dennis Anderson, we're able to travel on KLM Dunia Baru, a 150' long ironwood vessel just completed in Indonesia, on her madiane voyage, sailing through some of the most pristine and remote areas of the South Pacific.

Below are the words and photos from commercial and residential photographer Dennis Anderson who graciously shared them with us here at Dickerman Prints.

This is the maiden voyage of the KLM Dunia Baru, a 150' long ironwood vessel just completed in Indonesia.  The boat was hand built by a group of 30 Konjo and Bugis tribal members who have a 1000 year maritime history. Wearing flip flops and wielding chain saws and hand made tools, they set up on a riverbank in Kalimatan ready to receive one of the last legal barge loads of ironwood to be cut in Indonesia.  It took them 4 years non stop to build and float the hull.

My friends Frank and Jeni were the project managers for the owner and worked on the boat for 6 years.

Finish work and engines and sail rigging were completed in Bali. I made two trips to photograph the ship for the owner. The first, a work in progress set of shots, and a chance to collect and curate all the snap shots taken of the early construction in Kalimatan. Then in Dec/Jan 014, I was hired back to go on the maiden voyage and make marketing photos for potential upcoming charters. More importantly to me, I took on the title of artist in residence, free to shoot whatever caught my eye.

This truly epic adventure was a 1200 mile, month long exploration of some of the 17,000 islands and varied tribal people of the Indonesia sea. Let me describe one especially meaningful stop. 

Early in the voyage we returned a number of the original builders to their home in Ara, a village in Sulawesi where  boats are still being built on the beach.  The Mullahs and elders performed the final blessing to Dunia Baru by sacrificing a goat on her decks, and hanging the feet from the bow and stern.  

The next day the entire village, maybe 250 people, all came on board with the roasted goat and enough other island food to host a feast and celebration for everyone. The remaining crew felt greatly relieved as all the traditional forms had been competed.

Then free to roam we visited, dove, and snorkeled in Komodo, Ambon, and in Raja Ampat, New Guinea. This marine haven is part of the South Pacific's Coral Triangle.  It is an extremely remote area which retains more diversity and quantity of marine life than anywhere else left on the planet. Its accessible by charter boats from Sorong, which has an airport. 

---

And if you are interested and happen to have an extra 80K laying around, you too can charter her for a week relaxing and sailing around in style.

Dennis Anderson is an internationally known commercial and residential photographer whose fine art photography is in the permanent collections of both the New York and S.F. Museums of Modern Art. 

A native of New Jersey Anderson received a B.A. in art from Antioch College and then studied under Imogene Cunningham. As an accomplished master of lighting, Anderson has traveled to Asia, South America and throughout the United States shooting feature assignments for the designers and owners of homes, restaurants, and resorts. His photos have appeared in numerous books and magazines including Architectural Digest, Hospitality Design, Interiors, Maritime Life and Tradition, Vogue Living, Resorts and Great Hotels and Rolling Stone. . He presents a series of photography and lighting seminars around the country as a member of the Distinguished Speakers Series of the American Society of Interior Designers.


The World’s First Digital Camera by Kodak and Steve Sasson

Ever wonder when and where the first digital camera came from? Well, in 1975 an engineer at Eastman Kodak named Steve Sasson produced the very fist digital camera pictured here. How did it work? Sasson writes:

"It had a lens that we took from a used parts bin from the Super 8 movie camera production line downstairs from our little lab on the second floor in Bldg 4. On the side of our portable contraption, we shoehorned in a portable digital cassette instrumentation recorder. Add to that 16 nickel cadmium batteries, a highly temperamental new type of CCD imaging area array, an a/d converter implementation stolen from a digital voltmeter application, several dozen digital and analog circuits all wired together on approximately half a dozen circuit boards, and you have our interpretation of what a portable all electronic still camera might look like."

The 8 pound camera recorded 0.01 megapixel black and white photos to a cassette tape. The first photograph took 23 seconds to create.

To play back images, data was read from the tape and then displayed on a television set:


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