Portraits 13: Douglas M. Berry

One of the surprising and fulfilling moments that happened earlier this year was reconnecting with Doug Berry, a colleague of mine from Brooks Institute. He called me one night and said that he was turning 50 this year and had lost touch with a lot of his old friends from school. He wanted to reconnect. He also felt that he had reached a milestone in his life that he wanted someone to take his portrait. He said he could only think of me to do it. I said yes right away because he took mine back in the day for a Hasselblad Student Showcase ad. I was happy to give back and return the favor to him. I was honored of course but panicked as I have not shot a portrait in years! I had to dust off my strobes and needed to practice big time. In the end, I had to trust myself and know that something beautiful would happen. And, I was pleased with what came out of the session. We even got to reminisce and talk about the good old days and realized that we've led parallel lives. Next week is his birthday. He lives down south and I am unable to be there but I hope he had a great party this weekend. Cheers, Doug!

Douglas M. Berry. San Francisco, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Douglas M. Berry. San Francisco, CA/©Stella Kalaw

Writing on my Face

I found a set of 4x5 polaroids last week while looking for pictures to post for throwback Thursday on Facebook.These were exposure tests from a portrait that Adam Booth took of me back in 1997. I didn't know what to do with these outtakes and I didn't want to throw them away. One day, something urged me to write some kind of manifesto on my washout face. So I took a black marker and began to scribble my thoughts. There are six polaroids from this set but I am only sharing one. The others were just a bit too personal.

. Stella Kalaw portrait/ ©Adam Booth

Stella Kalaw portrait/©Adam Booth

Day Off 03

It was refreshing to encounter some wonderful black and white images at the galleries I visited last Friday. Before transitioning to color, I photographed exclusively in black and white for many years so I certainly have an affinity and fondness for the medium.

At Haines Gallery, Adou Samalada's Man & Sheep portrait was stunning. Deep blacks and the blotchy textures from the characteristics of expired film complemented his subject matter. The series depicts the disappearing Yi ethnic minority in his native Sichuan province in China. The silver gelatin print was enlarged to 50 inches high which I thought contributed to the image's arresting quality. Unfortunately, seeing in on screen does not give justice to the original piece.

Adou Samalada
Haines Gallery
September 10- October 17

Man and Sheep
Adou Samalada


At Fraenkel Gallery, Hiroshi Sugimoto continues to push the boundaries by using electricity as his subject matter and capturing it on film. One of the common threads to his work is his adherence to using only the traditional materials of the medium: time, light, film and camera and masterfully altering them to produce stunning images. I stood there in awe looking at the details: the hair-thin light streaks and the naked tree shaped patterns scattered arbitrarily against the largely dark, unexposed backdrop. Beautiful.

From the gallery's press release:

Sugimoto’s “Lightning Fields” depict electricity, an element that — especially for photographers working with large-format negatives — has historically been problematic and uncontrollable. Static electricity is well known to scar photographers’ negatives, and consequently to destroy their images. (This is one reason why carpets are not installed in darkrooms.) Viewing the challenge as an opportunity rather than a problem, Sugimoto has inverted the process and made nature’s static scars the focus of his attention.

To create each image, Hiroshi Sugimoto uses a Van De Graaff 400,000-volt generator to apply an electrical charge directly onto film. The result in each case is a unique, instantaneous image of an electrical current, sometimes resembling a meteor shower, or a “treeing effect” on the film. Sugimoto’s recent body of photographs continue to evidence the primordial and metaphysical qualities that define his oeuvre.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Lightning Fields
Fraenkel Gallery
September 10- October 31

Lightning Fields, 119.
Hiroshi Sugimoto


Finally at Gallery 291, Mary Frey forms an analogy between photography and taxidermy. On her website, she writes:

Photography invites us to pay attention. It describes with economy, precision and detail. It enables us to stare, scrutinize, and become voyeurs. Taxidermy allows us to do the same. Its complete replication of an animal’s stance, gesture and look provides us a way to study and comprehend its existence. Yet I find that these animals, often portrayed in suspended animation, seem simultaneously strange, ghostly and beautiful. Their gaze is both familiar and unknown. I intend this work to move beyond what is merely seen to the territory of the imagination, where what is remembered and known is transformed into something new.

For this body of work, the original images are ambrotypes- a photographic image on blackened glass. It is created using the wet plate collodion process, which was popular in the mid nineteenth century. The use of archaic chemistry and materials usually depict a decayed, haunting and mysterious feel to the images which I am always drawn to. I viewed her work with much appreciation to the photographic process.

On the other side of the gallery were Michael Garlington's unconventional portraits. I read this review that described his work as "Joel Peter Witkin meets Diane Arbus." He uses the now extinct Type 55 Polaroid film creating a raw and unfinished quality to his final images. Clowns, animals, naked bodies. umbrellas and bowler hats-- nothing is too odd for Michael to tackle when it comes to his portraiture.

Mary Frey: Imagining Fauna
Michael Garlington: Garlington's Travels
Gallery 291
September 10- October 31

Varying Hare
Mary Frey

From the Album Series
Michael Garlington


©Stella Kalaw

Everywhere we traveled in Mali and Senegal, the locals invited us for tea or attaya- a concentrated infusion of Chinese gunpowder green tea leaves and sugar. We gathered around a portable charcoal burning stove situated in front of the person concocting the drink. The boiling brew was contained in a petite blue enamel kettle that rested on top of the hot coals . Right beside the stove was a tray with two shot glasses. The tea is poured back and forth between the glasses to create the froth on the beverage. The process was an art form. In fact, we had witnessed a village chief from Dogon pour from at least a foot high from the glass, looking straight at us without spilling. The heavy textured tea was overwhelmingly sweet. As it lingered in my mouth, the bitter flavor from the tea leaves left a quaint after taste.

There were three stages to this ritual and this was apparently the weakest brew. The locals drank them like water while I could only manage to take a few small sips at a time. Nonetheless, we did it in the spirit of camaraderie and to experience a slice of the West African way of life.

Seydou Keïta

Mr. Seydou Keïta, photographer
Bamako, Mali 1996
©Stella Kalaw

Jörg Colberg featured Malian photographer Seydou Keïta on his blog a few days ago . I am suddenly reminded of our group's visit to his residence in Bamako.We were 17 students travelling in West Africa with our professor, Paul Liebhardt. There was not enough space to hold all of us inside his home so we gathered just outside the entrance while Paul spoke to him. Afterwards, he allowed us to take his portrait and at the same time, we had snapshots taken with him.

From the Deutsche Börse Group Website:

Seydou Keita worked from 1948 to 1962 as a freelance photographer in Bamako, Mali. His studio was one of the most popular in town, just as the one run by the somewhat younger Malick Sidibé. On Saturdays, people actually queued up outside the door, Keita recalls. In the course of his lifetime he produced around 30,000 portraits.

In the 1950s, photography was still a major event in Africa, he recounts. Having your picture taken was something new and exciting for people. Some believed that it involved great dangers, that your soul could be stolen from you and that you might then die. Others believed that the photographer used his camera in order to view the people in front of it naked. Keita let people look through the viewfinder themselves and thus calmed their suspicions.

Keita’s clients loved the photos because they were so sharp and the images so precise, because the light was so sweet, and because they liked the way they looked posing. Everybody wanted to look as good as possible in the photo. Keita considered it his duty to find the best pose and the most favorable profile for each person. He wanted his clients to look beautiful, in the firm belief that art is beauty.

In the 1950s, Western influences started to elbow out the African tradition. The men started to like Western dress and modern accessories such as wristwatches, ballpoint pens, phones and motorcycles, and loved to be photographed with these accoutrements. The women, by contrast, were more traditional in their outlook, wore colorful, patterned clothes and wide sarongs. They attached great value to jewelry such as earrings and bracelets, but also wanted their hands with their fine fingers to be fully visible. All of this was a sign of affluence and elegance.

Keita also chose the fitting background. He initially used a tasseled bedspread as a backdrop, then a sheet with arabesques, and finally simply a piece of gray fabric. Sometimes the background was ideal to point up the person’s clothing, he remembers, and sometimes that was pure coincidence.

At the age of 14, Seydou Keita was given a camera by his uncle and decided that he would be a photographer. He taught himself the tricks of the trade, never went to college, never met foreign photographers, and never saw any of the pictures they took.


Kolnes brothers

Bouzidi brothers

I miss doing portraits. I was exploring this series for a portfolio a few years back but later abandoned the idea. I wanted to photograph siblings from different countries. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough connections to continue the project. I still love the pictures though. Perhaps through this blog, I can find new subjects. I'll just give it a try. So, if any of you know of an interesting set of siblings, please feel free to email or send a comment to me on this blog.

First Contact Sheet

On my last visit to Manila, my father showed up in the lanai one morning carrying a huge box. "Here," he said as he plopped it on the floor. "Can you go through your old things and throw away anything that you don't need? I want to purge the storage." I nodded my head. He turned around and walked back to the house. I stared at the box for quite sometime. I wasn't prepared to revisit my past especially when it was presented to me as a task to be checked off on a to do list. Not wanting to disappoint him, I reluctantly opened the flaps of the box and saw a bunch of folders and envelopes. I grabbed a few and it turned out to be all the stuff from when I attended college at De La Salle University. Most of what I kept were test prints and multiple print versions from my school assignments. I also found several slides and color negatives stuck together from the years they were stored in humid conditions. As I rummaged through the pile, I saw a lot of terrible pictures and badly printed images. It was one of those moments when I realized how far I've come. I ended up throwing away most of its contents but kept this one contact sheet for sentimental reasons. It is the very first roll I shot, processed and printed in black and white. Like everyone else, I had to start somewhere. I just kept at it and never gave up until I discovered my full potential.


Magallanes Park, Makati.

When I was a kid, I loved playing the baras (bar in English ) in the park located around the corner from where I lived in Manila. Every afternoon, I attempted to climb it, carefully taking a step or two until I overcame my fear. I remember lingering on the fourth rail for a very long time. Crossing the next ones were overwhelming especially when I looked down at the steep drop ahead. Weeks passed and I haven't moved. One day, I finally found the courage to take the next steps. It was an exhilarating feeling to reach the top. I sat there, my legs dangling in the air, watching the other kids play down below.

Then I found another challenge.

I wanted to move from one bar to the other using my arms. That got me into trouble. When I exerted too much, I came down with a fever the following day. My mother then sent me to a manghihilot, a native healer that specializes in techniques and treatments for sprains and muskoskeltal conditions. He covered my skin with coconut oil, felt the sprained areas with his fingers and strategically cracked my limbs. Miraculously, my fever disappeared soon after the visit.

When I first saw this image on the contact sheet , I was unhappy with the color. The baras was painted red and yellow stripes which did not exude the feeling I wanted. I remembered it to be green. Disgusted, I threw it in a box under my desk. While searching for another picture a year or so later , I saw this again. With fresh eyes, I scanned the contact sheet and decided to convert the image from color to black and white. What a difference it made! Feelings of nostalgia rushed through me. The image now carried the emotions that was missing when I first viewed it.

Suchay's friends

These photographs belonged to my Lola (Suchay) who passed away a few years ago. They were tucked away in a cabinet for many years. I found them during my recent visit to Manila in January. The album was very fragile. The cover was worn out, its brittle pages crumbling at the edges as I held it in my hands. The photographs, however, were in relatively good condition. I was quite surprised they survived the humid weather in Manila. These young women were probably my Lola's friends in Dagupan as evidenced from the handwritten dedication on the front of the images. I don't have the urge to find out the facts or details about them. Instead, I prefer to embrace the beauty and mystery surrounding these photographs.

Found: Czech Army Photograph

Rough translation: the 7th platoon of the 6th Czechoslovakian Regimen in Russia. Picture taken in the forest close to a railroad station.

Once in awhile, I don't mind wandering and getting lost when I travel to a city. This is how I found this photograph in a small bookstore off the tourist path in Prague. I was quickly drawn to several boxes of old pictures and postcards that sat on the counter in front of the store keeper. It was satisfying to leaf through these vintage images as they revealed a different perspective of Czech history told through personal snapshots, class pictures, friends and family gatherings and random landscape sceneries of the country. This particular one stood out. I was glad to see a handwritten description at the back of the picture. Later on, I had a local translate the words in English.