One of the most interesting ways I meet people is “friend referrals” out of the blue. That’s how I recently met teacher/photographer/furniture maker/synth hardware designer Matt Borland (above). My friend Rob Gorbet who chairs the Department of Knowledge Integration at UW said: “I wanted to introduce the two of you as I feel you should (get to) know each other.”
I’m going to tell you more about the benefits of talking with strangers, but I’ve got two things for you before that:
#1 If you like what you see/read here, please consider supporting this community-building work with your pocket change through Patreon. New contributors this week who decided to be awesome: Karen Scian, Jeremy Ladan and John Wynen.
#2 Matt will be delivering a collaborative piece Fri Oct 23 1-2pm at Felt Lab in St Jacobs. The Lab partnered with an engineer, a writer, a composer, and two artists from Inter Arts Matrix to create A Sense of Place. I know, it’s the middle of a workday, but register here for a free lunch and shift your hours so you can check it out in person and meet the makers. Ok, now more story…
You’re going to see some photos here of cameras (meta!), but that’s really just a MacGuffin so we can talk about people coming together. Matt and I decided to meet for coffee in early September before my schedule got really nuts with Maker Expo stuff. I rolled in to Coffee Culture at King and Dupont uptown carrying my DroneBox project, which is a cardboard box with wires, motors, batteries, and an Arduino hanging off of it. Matt brought a portfolio of his photos. Talking With Strangers Pro-tip #1: conversation is easy when you start with “tell me about what you love to do.”
Pro-tip #2: talk is cheap (tho’ fun); do something. Rob’s instincts were bang on: Matt and I got along gangbusters (and I rarely use that term). I said: “Let’s do something.” This has worked out very well in the past. Matt said: “I’m going to get you hooked on shooting film.” Me: “Great!” I self-identify as a photographer, but I don’t know jack about film. My modus operandi is all-digital for speed and lower cost. So we set up a subsequent meetup, which was this past week on Wednesday. Above is the best photo that came out of me that experience. This is Tessa. When Matt asked me what lens I wanted for the morning, I said I wanted to photograph strangers on King Street, double-challenging myself. Now Tessa’s not a complete stranger because she’s a TA for the course Matt’s teaching and as it turns out I met and photographed her at a hackathon back in June. Happily, serendipity crossed our paths that morning.
Matt offered up his 1950’s-era Hasselblad 500C/M medium format camera, film, developing chemicals, know-how and time. I offered some suggestions of good community efforts to plug into, some feedback on photos and a latte. Which leads to Pro-tip #3: give something.
A bit more on Matt: he would like to design synthesizers. Well, he’s actually already doing that; he would like to make money doing that. Check out his tests on Soundcloud to try out the rigs he soldered together and coded up. When I saw the gear he was building, I shouted: “Dude! You’ve gotta meet Ian “Spooloops” Newton! In fact, he’s playing at Night\Shift on Halloween so we *definitely* gotta get to that gig.” All this while I’m pulling up the ME post I did on Ian.
Film-scanned photo above of some jackhammering at the old post office uptown. I had my back against the wall across the street but couldn’t quite get this all in. This Hasselblad is all manual focus, of which I do very little in my travels. And all of your moves for aligning the camera are reversed from SLR land. Oh, and you gotta use a separate light meter to set your exposure. Challenge! So in addition to focus and composition issues here, my coffee-fueled chatting earlier made us miss some pretty fantastic morning light on this worksite. All black-and-white photos here were shot with Matt’s awesome film camera.
Polymath Matt is a maker’s maker. He grew up in the village of Ilderton, north of London, ON. Population then was 300. Being from Point Edward, then-population 1200, I am pre-disposed to like people from villages.
Before going on to teaching at UW and Conestoga College, Matt did a PhD at UW in Systems Design Engineering focusing on “The Characterization of Piano Soundboard Materials with respect to their Vibrational and Psychoacoustic Properties for Evaluation Purposes”. That’s pretty ninja. You’ll find his photos on flickr and 500px, but he eschews facebook and twitter. He worked on this trippy structural fabric project that ended up on the fashion runway in Paris. His partner Kate Sauer owns and operates Sablétine Fine Pastries uptown. Matt makes some pretty wicked furniture and guitars. All this and he somehow found time to be a volunteer photographer at Maker Expo, too.
This gets me to Pro-tip #4: find the others. The makers, the creators, the inventors. They’re right here among us. Working on stuff. You will (almost) never connect with them by reading the internet. Gotta put feet on the street.
This is Alex. I stopped him on King and asked if I could take his photo. I was shooting ISO100 film and Matt was helping me tune the EV setting on the camera for each shot. When you only have 12 exposures you really do take a lot more care with the shots.
Once I had shot the 12 exposures, we headed back to Matt’s place for a chemistry lesson in developing film… without a darkroom.
My pre-focusing experiment failed here: didn’t wait long enough for the cyclist to get into the place I had focused on. My Nikon D3 can shoot about 9 frames per second reliably. Tough to get that speed on the film camera when you have to turn the crank to advance the film. What you trade off in speed though, you get back in much higher resolution with a 6x6cm negative.
Meet Matt’s darkroom-in-a-bag.
You need to get everything in there, include the film magazine and then…
work quickly and blindly with your hands stuck in the bag. You gotta beat the buildup of sweaty moisture in the bag while you unpack and spool up the film into a light-tight jar.
This is Alice. I thought she was a stranger when I first asked if I could take her photo, but then recognized her from a chance meeting in DVLB. She’s a friend of amazing maker Bernie Rohde who collaborated with her and some other makers on a light-up sound-sensitive rig that she wore at Summer Lights Festival back in June.
I almost nailed the focus on her eyes. Not quite, but close. I should also mention that I asked a lot of people to pose and about half said no. You can’t let that discourage you.
Here’s the carcass of the film I shot.
Ok, now this shot I took with my D3 while Matt wound film.
Empty film back from the 500C/M.
Matt told me that a fellow named Robert McNair taught him how to develop film years ago. Robert worked at the UW School of Architecture. In a chapter from it’s-a-small-world, Robert actually came out to a Lightroom workshop I did earlier this year at kwartzlab and I met him.
Speaking of Roberts, this is Robert the brewmaster at Abe Erb on King. I shot him from the sidewalk through the big roll up door. Should have had him come closer to the street for more light.
There is a lot of exact measuring in this whole process.
Here’s the Gerlach family, caught by me at Erb and King. Meet two of the founding directors of kwartzlab. They’re the taller ones in the photo.
Temperature affects time the film spends in the developer/stop/fix solutions.
I wasn’t fast enough to get the better composition of construction workers. It is a universal truth that there is no faster way to scatter hardhats or get in a fight with them than to point a camera at them. Did not ask.
Lots of regular agitating, quarter-turning, tapping, and other rituals in the whole process of developing film.
Here’s one of the synth’s that Matt built (top).
I stopped another stranger, Jon, on the street and asked if I could photograph him. “No, but you can take a picture of the dogs.” Meet Capone (left) and Jasper.
Rinsing film. Almost done.
More jackhammers. Focused too close.
doing the dishes.
This is Matt. Shot with his camera. On film.
Here comes the magic!
Matt developed two rolls of film at once. This one he shot of some local architecture.
These needed to dry for about an hour before we could scan them.
Looks pretty good.
While we waited…
Matt busted out…
this Calumet large format rig. Tilt. Shift. The whole nine yards.
He joked that it took a beefy $400 Manfrotto tripod to hold this $300 second-hand LF camera. 4×5 inch negatives. Whoa.
Alright, time to scan our negatives.
Chop ‘em up.
Mount in this jig.
Check that they’re seated properly and then…
That’s me, with one more for you. Pro-tip #5: pay it forward. If you’ve ever thought two people would be a good friend match, put it out there. I’m glad Rob did. Got a great new friend and am hooked on film to boot.
Thanks to all my subjects, strangers and friends alike. And big thanks to Matt Borland for teaching me something. Well… many things. Go see his talk at Felt Lab on Fri Oct 23.
On King Street, this is Waterloo.
DW (12 hours)