Connecting from Lagos with Nigerian Photographer @andrewesiebo
To see more of Andrew’s photographs, follow @andrewesiebo on Instagram.
The Internet was new and very expensive in Lagos, Nigeria, when aspiring young photographer Andrew Esiebo (@andrewesiebo) attempted his online search for a mentor. “I was only able to afford a minute to do the Internet search,” he says. But in that brief moment, he connected with Paul, a photographer and blogger in Minneapolis, Minnesota — and began a correspondence that continues to this day. “Back then, I would take pictures with my film camera, scan them and email to Paul for his feedback. And at some point, he sent me books with titles on light, camera equipment, the business of photography and darkroom processing. I studied those books religiously and acquired the confidence to be more creative and skillful with my camera.” Almost 15 years later, Andrew’s photographs have been exhibited and published around the world, and he continues to post to the Internet to fill “global visual representation gaps” about his homeland. He adds, “Lagos is a city of contrasts. There’s slums and posh areas, congestions and tranquilities, tension and calm, hopes and despairs. There’s spaces for everybody in the city.”
This month’s featured artist is drousselle. A street photographer from Europe!
Be sure to follow drousselle and support his work!
City and country where you live
I live near Paris, in France.
- How you started with street photography?
I think I was offered my first camera when I was around 10. At that time, I was already acting strange - I liked to shoot things such as a sink, an electric pole, or a random guy on the street… Film was quite expensive, and my parents were not always happy about my strange pictures. While growing up, I kept shooting everyday life. I was not aware this was “street photography” and it is only when I decided to grow my photography knowledge and read photography books that I discovered this genre through the work of the classic masters - Cartier-Bresson, Ronis, Doisneau, etc.
- Why street photography?
This is a question I keep asking myself. Some photographers love spending time in a studio, but I’d rather be on the streets. Some like to prepare and control their shootings, while I’d rather work with chaos and intuition. Some like to work on post-production and produce the cleanest shots, I’d rather let my images remain “raw.” This actually tells a lot about myself!
I believe street photography is more a state of mind than a genre. It’s about being over-optimistic and self confident. Street photography is made by guys who carry their camera everyday, just because they believe there is someone or something interesting to shoot anywhere, at any time. This is a very powerful philosophy.
- What and/or who inspires you?
Inspiration comes from many different sources, and not primarily photographers. Music, literature, paintings… I try to keep an open mind and be curious about everything. But I would say the surrealist movement and the beat generation are my main references.
In terms of photographers, my favorites would be William Klein, Daido Moriyama and Lee Friedlander, among many others I admire. Recently, I had the chance to visit Mark Cohen’s exhibition in Paris and I was hypnotized by his work. I have kept studying his books everyday since…
- How often do you go out to capture moments?
My camera never leaves me and I shoot almost everyday. It is an addiction - I am a compulsive photographer. Sometimes, I try to calm down, put my camera back in my bag and stop shooting. Then I just observe people, attitudes, movements, shadows, … it is a good exercise and helps me find new points of views!
- What do you look for when you go out on the streets?
The truth is I don’t know. I have no plan. I try to forget about everything and just follow my instincts.
- Do you interact with your subjects?
Usually I do not try to make contact with people I shoot. But shooting is a way of interacting too. It can be perceived as aggressive, so there may be a need for some discussions and explanations, but always after the shot is taken - this happens on rare occasions for me.
- How do you challenge yourself to improve on photography?
I have become very critical about my work. A few months ago, I decided to stop using my digital camera and go back to film. I thought I’ve had taken too many “easy” shots, and I needed to be much more selective. So I slowed down my production a lot. Now I take more time to think about the shots I make. I do not want to be flooded with a ton of uninteresting images. Using an analog and manual camera helps in this matter.
- What gear do you use? Philosophy: Digital or analog?
Right now, I am using almost only an analog rangefinder (Voigtlander) with a 40 mm, loaded this Tri-X film. I also use a Rolleiflex TLR from time to time.
- B&W or color? Why?
I am a B&W photographer. It’s not that I do not like color, but this is how I see the world. I do like color street photography when it’s produced by talented photographers. But color has always been a challenge to me. I may try to switch to color some day, but I am not ready to do so right now.
- What about post processing/developing?
I develop my own film, always using the same developer (D76 stock), and work on silver prints in a small darkroom. So my post-processing is reduced to the usual dodging and burning, and some cropping (that I try to keep away from). To me the quality and the feeling of silver prints can’t be achieve by digital printers.
I am always a bit frustrated by the rendering of my images when scanned, but this is the only way to share them on the web!
- Any advice from your personal experience?
Keep shooting, follow your instincts and never be afraid to fail!
About my film scanning and post processing workflow
Theirry-Facon asked a few days ago about the scanning and postprocessing workflow I use for film. I referred to it briefly in an earlier post: More about my black and white film workflow, but today I will expand on the digital side of my film workflow.
(Please skip past if this sounds uninteresting, it’s not getting better from here.)
After drying a set of negatives, I do post processing at my desk. It’s reasonably dust free, I have a HEPA air filter next to my desk which helps reduce airborne particles, and I wipe down the surfaces before bringing in the negatives. Before bringing the uncut film in, I also put clean negative sleeves on top of the work area, then use a small light and white paper background to help see where to cut the negatives into strips with scissors. For frames with dark / black edges, it can be difficult to spot the gaps, so it’s useful to have correctly cut negatives around as a reference for finding the interframe boundaries.
For 35mm film, the sprocket holes are a good guide, since they're aligned perfectly parallel on both edges of the film. For 120 film this doesn’t work as well, since there are no holes and the edge flashing doesn’t necessarily match. A rotary cutter might also help, but I don’t keep one around.
The length of the cut negative strips will depend on your scanner and how you plan to store them. I have a bunch of very old 35mm negatives cut 6 frames per strip, which was typical for contact printing on 8x10 paper in a darkroom. Most consumer photo labs will normally cut 35mm 5 frames to a strip, which fits in the envelopes for standard 4x6 print orders. I also cut my own 35mm negatives at 5 frames to a strip, because this fits in my scanner’s negative holder, and makes each scanning batch 10 frames at a time, which is convenient for keeping track of progress. You can purchase negative sleeves in different sizes, but It’s important that your negative strips actually fits in your scanner.
The number of frames per strip can vary for 120 film. I shoot 6x6, 6x7, and 6x4.5 format cameras so the strip length changes for each to fit. I didn’t check the first time, and ended up with negatives that fit in the negative sleeves but were too long for my scanner’s negative carrier. For 6x6 and 6x7 I cut 3 frames per strip and for 6x4.5 I cut 4 frames per strip. I don’t have a 6x9 or 6x12 camera at the moment, but those would be fewer frames per strip to fit in the scanner’s negative carrier.
For the past several months I’ve been using a Canoscan 9000F Mark II scanner. These have a built in backlight for film scanning, and can accommodate both 35mm and 120 film. The absolute quality of the scan isn’t quite as good as the Plustek 8200 I used to use, but it is still very good, and it can scan 10 35mm frames or 1 strip of medium format frames at a time without intervention. The Plustek required moving the film holder manually for each frame, which makes it more time consuming. The Canoscan is also much less expensive, about $150 new, under $100 used. It comes bundled with a simple application for scanning and simple photo adjustments.
I don’t try to optimize the scan to make it look best. Instead I try to retain the maximum tonal and feature detail in the scanned image for post processing. This means moving the white, black, and contrast to spread the levels across the full range, and turning off any built in noise reduction, spot removal, and sharpening. The goal is to put as much of the useful negative density levels within the scanned dynamic range as possible, not to create the most aesthetic result.
Just as in darkroom printing, light areas of the negative correspond to dark/shadow areas of the image, and dark areas of the negative correspond to light/highlight areas of the image. Unlike darkroom printing, there is usually a hard limit on the maximum negative density that can be captured in a digital scan. This is because the digital scan just records zero or noise if the input is too dim, which corresponds to overexposed areas on the negative that are too dense for the backlight and sensor. On the other hand, it’s often possible to handle underexposed and shadow detail that would be difficult to print, first because this can usually be adjusted with the scanner’s exposure control, and in extreme cases an underexposed negative can be made slightly denser by putting in a neutral density filter, such as an unexposed or flashed piece of developed film.
The dynamic range characteristics of digital scanners can easily result in disappointing scans of negatives that look a little dense but otherwise printable in a darkroom. So while modern negative films are extremely tolerant of overexposure, you still need to keep the digital scanning process in mind while choosing exposures, as you will lose more highlight detail than what’s made it onto the negative if it exceeds the maximum sensitivity of your scanner.
Here is a typical scan. Sharpening and grain reduction are disabled. The black point for the scan is moved to “10”. Remember that the “black” part of the image corresponds to the “clear” part of the negative, and the film base is not quite perfectly clear, and there’s no need to capture the tone values beyond the unexposed density of the processed film. If your software supports it, you should use 16 bit TIFF rather than JPEG output files. The scanner sensor will produce somewhere between 12 and 14 bits of dynamic range, and you’ll preserve more detail and tonality for post processing if you’re able to leave the scanned data uncompressed. This is the same tradeoff between RAW and JPEG format output from a digital camera.
I usually scan to 16-bit TIFF format at 3600+ dpi. Disk storage is cheap, and I’m often interested in preserving film grain and edge effects. I use pec pads to clean the scanner before each batch, and also use a rocket blower on each set of negatives. I have an anti-static brush and Tetenal also, but have never needed these on newly developed film. These are useful if you are scanning old negatives that have accumulated dust and crud though.
Scanning a roll of film at high resolution takes around an hour on my setup, but you only need to manually intervene 3 or 4 times per roll. This means that you can go do something else, like take a shower, get coffee, have breakfast, or run the scanning batch in pieces as you come and go during the day.
For doing any photo editing on a computer, you should be using a calibrated monitor. This is true for both digital images and scanned film images. I use a Datacolor Spyder for monitor calibration and matching. There are color calibration utilities built into Windows and MacOS but you really need a hardware colorimeter to get consistent results.Monitors will typically change brightness and color response over time, so it’s useful to recalibrate regularly. You still need to do color calibration for processing black and white, as you need to remove any color casts and make the luminance respond in a consistent way to use a monitor and achieve predictable output results.
I process and archive all of my photos, film and digital, using Lightroom. Once the negatives are scanned, I store them in sleeves and use the scanned files similarly to digital camera RAW files. First steps are to adjust the overall exposure, black and white points, contrast, and look for dust spots to remove. There are always dust spots, even if you wipe everything down. After basic adjustment, I’m not a purist about post processing film but will tend to stick with things I could have done in an analog darkroom process - crop, rotate, dodge, burn, vignetting, gradients, and limited blurring and sharpening. It’s much easier, faster, repeatable, and doesn’t burn through piles of (expensive, time consuming) work prints.
The classical chemical/optical darkroom process has properties that exceed what I can do with a hybrid workflow. However, sticking with “analog” types of post processing adjustments means that in theory, I could use the digital version of a given “print” and construct a similar result using an analog process starting with the original film negative.
In my current situation it’s unlikely that I would have time to do this regularly, even if I had convenient access to a well equipped darkroom. It’s far easier and faster to apply sharpening in Lightroom than by constructing and printing with an optical unsharp mask. I enjoy the ability to apply my darkroom knowledge to construct similar effects in digital form.
If you’ve read to this point, feel free to ask questions. This is all specific to me and my setup, you may find other approaches more suitable but the general issues and decisions you encounter if you do your own hybrid film workflow are likely to be similar.