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April 3, 2014 at 2:55 PM

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Beyond the Byline: Portraits at the Moisture Festival

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When I was in Seattle interviewing for this job two years ago, my now-fellow staffers Genevieve Alvarez and Erika Schultz told me about the legend of the Moisture Festival. The name alone intrigued me. I missed it my first and second years of living here, but when I saw the ads this year, I tried to think of a different way to shoot it.

A few months ago, I pulled out our 4x5 camera for the first time to shoot some portraits for our story on the race exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. I was itching to use it again and understand it better.

I broke down the cost per sheet of film and pitched the project to my editors, and outlined what I intended to do with the festival organizers. Everyone was on board, including our video producer, Genevieve, who came up with a great idea to shoot little vignettes of the performers using the 8mm app for iPhone. It was a quick way to mimic the antique style of film into moving pictures.

The body on our Sinar 4x5 was still broken, so I took it to CameraTechs in Ballard, who tried to track down a part from a company that has been sold-and re-sold, and doesn't make new parts. Dante Schultz over at Glazers Camera was able to hook me up with a newer model for cheaper than repair, and I was ready to shoot.

The Moisture Festival is fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, no-dress-rehearsal quick. Performers show up to do run-throughs and then go live. It's sometimes chaotic and always changing.

To pull off the portraits, I'd show up two hours before each show and wrangle whomever had time for a picture. After opening night, I started to re-think my abilities. This was difficult with the 4x5, which is a camera that requires time, stillness and focus.

I started looking up the performers on the calendar before the show, and pleading with a few over email, Facebook or the phone, to come early and to make time for a portrait. Many graciously obliged. This made the process a lot easier.

I ended up shooting six pre-performance nights at the festival, including one at the burlesque show at the Broadway Performance Hall.

The performers, staff and volunteers became familiar and friendly to Genevieve and me, and it really made me understand why people come back to the festival year after year. It's a big, zany family of people who love performing and creating something magical.


Bettina Hansen holds one of the negatives for her 4x5 portrait project on the performers of the Moisture Festival at the Seattle Times newsroom April 1, 2014. The photo is an homage to John Loengard's book Age of Silver, in which he photographs and profiles eminent photographers.

Thank you to CameraTechs in Ballard for really trying to fix the old Sinar. Thanks to Dante Schultz at Glazer's Camera in South Lake Union for hooking us up with a deal on a new one. Thank you to Fred, Angie and Danny for giving me the time to work on this. Thanks to Panda Lab in Queen Anne for doing a beautiful and fast job processing the sheet film. Thanks to Genevieve Alvarez for keeping me sane, assisting me on shoots, and shooting sweet video. Thanks to Paige Collins for putting together the beautiful online presentation. And thanks to Mark Mirko, Kevin Martin and Andrea Wise for lending me their eyes. I'll keep the words "don't overuse the tilt-shift and keep listening to your eyes" in mind for a while, Mark. -Bettina Hansen

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