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Seattle Times photographers offer a glimpse into what inspires their best visual reporting.

November 30, 2013 at 8:00 PM

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A different perspective on race


Christina Humburgs.

One of the main objectives of the "RACE: Are We So Different?" exhibit at the Pacific Science Center is to challenge participants' perspectives with facts and conversations.

When Jack Broom approached me to team up with him on a story about these perspectives, I wanted to challenge my own. So I pulled out the Sinar 4x5 view camera that was collecting dust in our pool locker.

"I thought that thing was broken," was the common sentiment of my fellow staff members when I mentioned it to them.

Turns out, it was. Slightly. The plate that adjusts the front element was missing the proper parts to lock it down. But, everything else was in great shape, and I had never used a 4x5 before, and became really attached to the idea of using it for these portraits to accompany Jack's story.

I pitched the idea to my editor and included the price of the film I wanted to use. Not cheap. Ten sheets of Kodak Portra 400 runs about $48.00. Processing was a couple bucks a sheet and had to be done in Portland, as our Seattle labs no longer process C-41 sheet film.

Challenging, we decided, but worth it. I promised to only shoot 2-3 frames per subject. And digital backups, just in case.

I took the broken part over to Photo-tronics in South Lake Union to no avail. Then over to Glazer's rental department next door, where someone always seems to have an answer. They put me in touch with Dante Schultz, the used camera department manager, who had a working Sinar F1 for me to rent for cheaper than buying it. Fellow staff photographers John Lok, Ben Benschneider and Steve Ringman gave me a crash course in loading film, camera mechanics, and how to actually make the image.

Level, focus, meter, settings, close and cock shutter, pull dark slide, expose, reverse dark slide, repeat. I did the process at least twenty times at work and at home just to practice. I was terrified of screwing up a $5 sheet of film.


Tabitha Jensen.

My first portrait was with Tabitha Jensen, and I swore I was going blind. I couldn't see if the image on the ground glass was in focus. Her chunky glasses, which made the picture, also made it very difficult for me to see if her eyeballs were in focus. As we photographers know, out-of-focus eyes will kill a portrait. Seeing her upside down and backwards, also didn't help. It was 9AM in the morning and I was sweating.

Read the story here


Sinar F1 4x5 view camera.

I kept hearing John Lok's advice in my head: "It's not going to turn out like you think it will. But that's ok."


Sinar F1 4x5 view camera.

We had a great connection, and by the end of the shoot I felt relaxed and in control. As I did with the next five I had scheduled in the following two days.

Processing and scanning the images was its own adventure. I drove the film down to Citizens Photo in Portland, where they graciously scanned it in two hours while I waited. Then I scanned proofs on our cheap flatbed scanner in the photo department. They were pretty all over the map. After trying our drum scanner and skilled imaging department and the scanning wizards at Panda Lab in Queen Anne, we decided to go with the original proofs.


Scanning the images was far easier said than done.

All in all, it was worth it for me to challenge my comfort zone and learn a new skill. I also feel that the portraits convey a different energy, more serious and formal, and intimate with the subject. It's important to throw a wrench in your routine every now and then to see things with fresh eyes - be it in our conversations or opinions on race or our daily rituals.

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