Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 12x12 Vancouver Photo Marathon - 3rd time's a charm?

This year marked the third year (fourth of 12x12) that I was one of the fortunate 60 whose fervent clicking a month ago paid off with a coveted entry in the 2012 12x12 Vancouver Photo Marathon.

[12x12 Vancouver Photo Marathon is a film-based photo contest.  60 contestants are given 1 roll of 12 exposure film, given themes 1 per hour on the hour over 12 hours for a total of 12 themes and must return the film with all photos taken in order, 1 per theme]

Two previous outtings doesn't give one any advantage and this year's 12x12 was no exception as the format gained one extra constraint, not only would the usual rules apply (12 photos taken in order), we would be using BLACK & WHITE film.  Talk about taking the retro spirit of the event to the next level!

My photography experience is not deep and I've never taken photos in black & white.  This was going to be more of challenge than it already has been the last 2 years.

I would prepare for this event no different from past years.  My father's Canon AE-1 has been my weapon of choice and I had recently picked up an AE-1 Program with my brother, as he planned on participating as well this year.  I wasn't able to put a lot of practice time into the Program. My brother had to withdraw from the event so I decided to stick with what is familiar and stick with the AE-1.  A budget tripod (which I learned at my first event was necessary) and I was ready to go.

Also no different from past years was my intent to practice and the resulting half roll of blank film left in the camera the night before the event...

I packed my Nikon D3100 digital body with the intent to do test shots prior to the film shot.  I always considered this somewhat 'cheating' but meh, why not give it a try?

Arrive at this year's 12x12 HQ Coffee Bar, get checked in, have my mug shot taken and obtain the hallowed film that would be my canvas for the day.  Bonus!  My entry number was 7, first time in 3 years I got a single digit entry number! woot!  I grab a quick breakfast and settle down to load the film.  This is not something to take lightly as there have been numerous victims to loading or other technical malfunctions resulting in heartbreak at the exhibition, or in some cases, at the end of the day when the error is realized.

Many eager faces were familiar from years past and there were a fair number of new faces as well, always great to see.  I don't "know" many of these fellow 12x12ers very well but the familiarity still makes the event a warm, close-knit event.

As 10am looms over our heads, like the hot summer sun, Morten  gets up on a chair (with that shock of blonde hair and beaming smile, I suppose the sun analogy works here too), as always, to start the event.  60 eager photographers gather around.  After the thanks and formalities, the anticipated first theme of the day is announced:  My Entry Number +........ COLOUR!

First of all, the ONLY advantage veterans of this contest have is the expectation of the first theme, take note dear reader, it has always incorporated your entry number so if you are looking to get into this contest in 2013, you've been informed!  Now back to the cruel yet very creative twist on the theme... colour... on black & white film.  This year's contest held the twist that it has moved from colour to Black & White film.  Not the most difficult theme to work with but to do it creatively, and personal preference, subtley, would be the challenge.

I hadn't had the chance to scope the area out and having driven to the event, had to move my car from a meter to a parking lot.  The obvious ideas rolled into my head, lucky 7, 7-11, 007, etc.  Colour shot to the forefront of my mind and I did a quick wiki to confirm my thinking.  Colours of the rainbow, 7 is the generally accepted number of distinct colours, Vancouver, rainbow... Since I was in my car anyways, off to the "colourful" part of Vancouver!

I was hoping to find some way to picture the flag in a stylistic way, but as I arrived at Davie St, I was sad to see the official flag had... 6 stripes of colour on it!  *sigh*  As I headed to 7-11 somewhat begrudgingly, "colours of the rainbow" rang through my head.  The result of my visit to 7-11 would be this photo, I hope the film version turns out similarly.  I wasn't copying the settings exactly between digital to analog cameras.

Yes, the bag is upside down, but the point was to look for the name and not have it so obvious.  Hopefully the film version turns out close and "taste the rainbow" comes across.  As I finished the shot, a passer-by said "Skittles art?" and I gave him a brief on the goings on which he found intriguing and wished me luck.

Back to Coffee Bar just in time for the second theme to be announced: Through the looking glass

I imagine there will be a lot of similar shots for this theme and I'll be interested to see those who really thought outside the box for this one, or maybe creatively INSIDE the box.  I'm not sure how this one will turn out so we'll have to wait and see at the exhibition.  The shot was taken relatively close and quickly so I had some breathing time to await Theme 3: Nude.

Wait... aren't there rules against nudity in the photos?  hmm... how to work with this.  Rolling a few ideas through my head one took solid hold of me.  I decided to wander around and see if something else would catch my eye first.

I should say that my goal for this marathon was "Do not settle" and get images that I am happy with.  In past marathons, fatigue or a sense of rushing to 'keep up' with the themes has caused me to 'settle' for photos that I could see fitting the theme, but I did not feel was the image I wanted.  This year I would work to make images I was happy with, winning or not.

The question now was, to make the image I wanted, I had to go home... or did I?  Nester's Market was in the area and I headed in to undoubtedly make an image others had thought of.  Lo and behold, I run into 2 fellow marathoners with a similar idea.  I gather my supplies and head out to make the photo below.

Even with that rambling about "not settling", I did deviate slightly from the original image I had in my mind of two apples, one 'nude' and one not, or at minimum, one apple 'nude'.  I suppose this was a melding of those two ideas.  Maybe a 'fully nude' apple would've been better...

Theme 4 was the introduction of the first of the head scratchers, In 20 years.  I started to curse my lack of practice in multi-exposure and black card techniques which would've been very handy here.  After looking at some "settle" type shots, I wandered down to the convention centre and decided to "go big or go home" and try a black card multi-exposure shot with the two convention centres.  2 things happened on taking this shot:  the first exposure went ok (i think), the second exposure, I forgot that I had set the timer (my friend and nemesis for the past 3 years) and shifted the camera to check after pressing the shutter resulting in... well... I guess we'll see at the show!  As I left the convention centre, I found a better view to have captured the old building as well... sigh.

Back to home base to find Theme 5: Old school.  Well... a million different ways to picture this.  Vintage anything would work.  We were in Gastown, how fitting.  Granville Island artisans would work nicely as well.  What else "old school"?  How about exactly the phrase "a very old school".  well... I was suggested music as one of the original uses of the term "old school".  That worked.  Quick google search resulted in a vinyl record shop nearby, which was on lunch break.  I took a photo through the doorway, which I probably shouldn't have but... I'm not too disappointed with the image... yet.

Back for a drink at Coffee Bar awaiting theme 6.  Almost halfway through and on time, pretty good.  As the clock struck 3pm (oh wow, had I really been out and about for 6 hours now?) Three Times was revealed to be our subject.  A lot of literal interpretations popped through my head.  This being my third year having 3 12x12 buttons together would work, except I lost my 2010 button :(  I could borrow one from a fellow competitor but the image didn't quite do it for me, it was about 80% there.  Multi-exposure was so very tempting but again, my lack of practice in it made a disaster very likely.

Before I headed off to gain inspiration, I was recruited to be a subject in Monica Chow's interpretation of the theme.  Modeling done, I wandered off in search of multiple time zone clocks, not finding anything good, I decided to do the multi-exposure shot as best I could.  I would have to use my office to facilitate the shot but when I got there to set up, I discovered I was missing my tripod!  It was not possible to do this shot without a tripod, where could it have gone??

In the rush to get out and start taking the Three times photo, I had left the tripod leaning against the window back at home base.  Thankfully a Coffee Bar patron was nice enough to turn it into the 12x12 table.  Thank you!

I had missed the announcement of Theme 7: Top.  I was getting pretty tired at this point.  The sun in the early part of the day had taken its toll and I decided to head home for a quick refreshing shower, plus I had setup a hair appointment for 6pm.......umm... yeah.

I decided on an image for Top and needed to go home to grab a prop anyways so off I went.  Partway home, I realized there was no way I would make it in time and stopped at Oakridge Mall for a bite and picked up a 'replacement' prop that I had at home but in all honesty, wasn't sure where it was so may have wasted time looking for it anyways.

Back downtown in time for my hair appointment, sitting in the chair I was getting ansy.  I did have my Top photo to take plus I would be 3 themes behind by the time my appointment was done!

Hair properly coiffured, I bolted for the Top photo.  When I set it up, I realized it would not turn out how I hoped.  In desperation, I *gasp* settled, and took the shot.

Panic really starting to set in now I headed back to headquarters to pick up Theme 8 and 9: Hide and Clever.  Uh oh... starting to run out of gas now.

The mental stamina required for this marathon is often overlooked.

I was going to take "Hide" literally now and re-use the prop from Top in a desperate attempt to get caught up.

One theme behind, but time to pick up Theme 10: Float... head scratching was in full force, and it couldn't have been hygiene since it was just professionally washed (btw ladies, Kaen on Thurlow just off Robson, is where I had my hair cut but they do GREAT Japanese Nail Art.  Owner is a world champion!  It is amazing work).

I had not headed east of Gastown all day and decided to go that way in hopes of new inspiration.  Ran into fellow marathoners and shared our status, they having just finished Clever in a "not so clever" way.  I had to admit I was heading that route as well.  I came across a building that I had never seen before.  The building itself was quite non-descript, however, there was one feature that is arguably "clever".  I had a debate with myself whether it was indeed clever or not and almost walked away.  Click, back to being 'on schedule'.

Memory is a little hazy at this point and I think I headed back again for Theme 11: Background Story wow, this had a lot of potential in Gastown and surrounding areas.  I set off to get my Float image.  Again, multiple exposure images shot through my head.  I wandered back alleys in search of places that would be dark enough to aid my attempt but found nothing.  In the end I used a back alley and a single exposure but not before having an SUV drive through my 'set' almost ruining my shot!

Floating done, I headed off to an area I had visited earlier in the day and thought would be great for photos.  I wasn't quite sure if what I had in mind would actually pan out but I had to go look.  As I rounded the corner to the subject and surveyed the scene... it was PERFECT.  Here's hoping I was lucky enough to be the lone take on this image and it looks good in the judge's minds.

As you can see, I did not use the digital body to the fullest advantage.  It was cumbersome with the crossing straps plus a backpack and tripod.  I also have a tendency to take a shot quickly and move on.  I'm not sure what it is.  12x12 has already slowed me down a lot to properly look around the frame but I'm still a little 'jumpy'.

OK, back to home base feeling pretty good!  Caught up on theme 11 with what I feel is a pretty decent shot.

The sunlight has left us by now so the next show would be tricky.  I have a tripod but no flash.  Not a huge fan of flash but maybe that's just cuz of my lack of experience with it.  I can imagine some remote flash photos I'd like to try to make =P

60 weary photographers gather inside and outside Coffee Bar, awaiting the final theme.

Morten climbs up on the chair for the last time, reminding us of the critical deadline.  The last film canister of the day is drawn from the box.  Morten teases the crowd by slowly unfurling the final theme... (D)Evolved


If you were to script this competition, this is the theme sadistic directors would put in.

It was vague and explicit at the same time.  There had been somewhat tough themes throughout the day but this one definitely wins the WTF??? theme award.  If only due to fatigue and wanting to get home and enjoy a nice hot shower/bath.

I wandered out onto the Gastown sidewalk and stood there for 5-10 minutes just thinking and nothing was coming.

It honestly wasn't that hard a theme... the hard part (and I overcomplicate things ALL the time) is like in the Matrix... choice.

I simply did not want to choose.  I wanted BOTH.  But how?

I connected with Rigor a fellow marathoner, who was similarly stumped,  with whom I'd spoken throughout the day.  We decided to pair up and head into the DTES because, let's be honest, it's a stereotypical image of DEVOLVED.

We wandered around through Pigeon Park, up Hastings St.  There were some images but there was so much activity going on around us.  The sleepy DTES streets of the day had transformed as night set in.  We continued through to Chinatown where 1/2 hour had passed by.

This deadline was not one to be taken lightly.  We had to decide and decide fast.

I saw the Chinatown Night Market.  This could work.  Stereotypical street bazaars of the Orient, evolved into the organized storefronts most people know Chinatown to be, yet a part of the evolution of Chinatown was the de-evolution back to the street stalls of the night market.  I looked for the image.  I didn't look hard enough.  I decided to head back and capture an image of a DTES resident curled up in the doorway next to a mural of Chinatown.

The resident was gone.

Under 15 minutes to go.

I had left Rigor behind and didn't want to head back without letting him know where I was.  I wandered up and down the block, looking for something.

We met up and I had no image.  I decided to start heading back to home base.  This photo would have to be a "settle" image.  Not the way I wanted to finish the competition.

As we hurried back, I found an image that I had pictured in my mind and although not quite the image I had exactly, it would do.

Maybe the allure of the DTES was too strong, something simple would have sufficed and saved the panic... well... this is what makes up the strong allure of the 12x12 competition.  The urge to do better, to get better and ultimately, to get the shot that got away...

Thanks to all the 2012 12x12 sponsors, volunteers and organizers for making this amazing event possible!  It's an annual kick in the butt to better my photography and every year, most importantly, I impress myself with what I can come up with.  Let's hope the film agrees!

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