The Photo Exchange

Ellen Butler – Bill Collins: Exhibition

Posted in Photograph Exhibits, Photographers, Photography, tPE members by douglaspstockdale on July 14, 2015

Ellen Butler - Bill Collins Exhibition 07-2015

Ellen Butler and Bill Collins are inviting everyone to come Sunday July 12th to their exhibition opening in Long Beach.


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BC Space gallery – Photographers Exchange Reception

Posted in Photo Galleries, Photograph Exhibits, Photographers, Photography, tPE members by douglaspstockdale on July 12, 2015

BC Space PX exhibition 07-09-15 - Rachael Kleinhenz

BC Space PX exhibition – photograph by Raquel Landworth-Kleinhenz

Last Thursday evening (July 9th, 2015) was a wonderfully well attended reception at the BC Space gallery for the Photographers Exchange exhibition opening. As stated in an earlier update, the exhibition will be on display through August 30th, 2015.

Following are some additional photographs from the opening reception;

BC Space reception - Photographs Exchange Exhibition_5

BC Space reception - Photographs Exchange Exhibition_4

Roger Bennett_BC-Space_07-09-15

Roger Bennett with his print

BC Space reception - Photographs Exchange Exhibition_2


Douglas Stockdale with his two prints, photography by Diane Reeves

BC Space reception - Photographs Exchange Exhibition_1

BC Space reception - Photographs Exchange Exhibition_3

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BC Gallery Exhibition – update

Posted in Photo Galleries, Photograph Exhibits, Photographers, Photography, tPE members by douglaspstockdale on July 3, 2015

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Photographer’s Exchange: L -R, Scott Mathews Water Drop, Larry Vogel Guardians of the Sacred, Michael Weitzman Without Love.

BC Space Gallery is pleased to present its new exhibition: The Photographer’s Exchange: A Quarter Century of Sharing the Light.

The Photographer’s Exchange was founded in 1990 by accomplished fine art photographers Larry Vogel and Larry Weise. They were joined shortly thereafter by avid collector Larry Pribble. The three Larrys as they became known, shared a passion for the art and exacting craft of photography and were seeking a way to share their enthusiasm with kindred spirits.

What began as the occasional gathering of a few fellow enthusiasts gradually evolved into a formal organization with dramatically expanded membership, and regular monthly meetings at which they shared information on traditional and new photographic techniques and processes, worthwhile exhibitions, and critiqued each others work.

Never a camera club, the Photo Exchange has remained focused on bringing its members together to enhance their visual literacy through freely sharing their passion and knowledge of the art of photography. This collection of work in this exhibition represents the culmination of twenty five years of “Sharing The Light” and clearly illustrates that the collective can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.

There will be an opening reception for The Photographer’s Exchange: A Quarter Century of Sharing the Light on Thursday, July 9, 2015, from 6-9 PM at BC Space Gallery, 235 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. The public is welcome and the event is free.

The exhibition will be on display through August 30. Normal gallery hours are 1-5 PM Fridays through Sunday.

For further information, check the website at or contact the gallery at (949) 497-1880. Additional contacts are: Scott Mathews (714) 345-7595, Bill Edwards (949) 307-5360, and Jim Koch (949) 646-2242.

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Eye of the Beholder exhibition – final week at BC Space Gallery

Posted in Photograph Exhibits, Photographers, Photography by douglaspstockdale on March 20, 2015


The Eye of the Beholder exhibition is in its final week at BC Space Gallery. This combination of innovative camera obscuras by San Francisco photographer Jo Babcock combined with the whimsical drawings of Costa Mesa artist Bruce Barton challenge the age old debate of the camera vs. the mind’s eye as the source of artistic creation.
There will be a closing reception for the exhibition on Sunday, March 22, from 4-6 PM to be followed by a light repast and showing the documentary movie Tim’s Vermeer. This intriguing movie, produced by Penn and Teller, explores the possible use of a camera obscura by 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer a century before light sensitive materials and photography as we know it, was discovered. Music will be provided by The Liquid Window Project with Vincent Mitchell on Bass, Dan Olney on drums, and Carras Paton on Sax.

The closing reception is free (yep, FREE) to the public, but donations are requested for dinner and the movie. Reservations are encouraged. For additional information on the film see:

For other viewings of the exhibition and reservations for dinner and film, please contact BC Space at (949) 497-1880 or (preferable) A preview of the show may also be seen at





The Paper of the Mind

Posted in Photography by jeffalu on February 24, 2015

Jeff T. Alu, “Digitalus”, image of iPhone screen processed on iPhone


It’s one thing to talk about digital photography taking over film, and another to talk about mobile phones taking over digital photography. I think this is indeed happening.  I also wonder if the digital age will take over the print.

Regarding film, it’s not weather film will disappear, it’s weather regular cameras that shoot film will disappear. I think that slowly-but-surely many photographers are beginning to believe that mobile phones can take some pretty fine pictures.

I have my mobile phone with me all the time, but it’s not my “Serious” camera. However, since I have it with me all the time, I shoot with it more often. I simply take more pictures with it.  Maybe it is my “Serious” camera. Maybe I just don’t want to admit it.

For the most part the iPhone is my camera of convenient choice now, and if that makes me a lesser photographer, that would be a point of view that is changing. Many are accepting mobile phones as legitimate cameras.  Many are using them and realizing how easy they are to use.

With all the filters available right on the phone it’s much easier to process your photos and get the look that you’re after quickly and easily. Even with the higher-end digital cameras you still need to wait until you can get your photo into Photoshop to process it. Not so with cellular cameras.  And of course these photos can be instantaneously shown to the planet.



A few of my iPhone images (left) at the Harwood Museum in Taos, NM


The gallery/museum world is more and more accepting of the digital camera, and now the mobile phone, and they are more often accepting pieces shot with these types of cameras into their exhibitions.  I’ve had a number of my iPhone shots in numerous exhibitions, and have also curated many mobile photos into very large exhibitions at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art.   A couple examples of such exhibitions can be seen below.  You will need to have the Silverlight Plugin installed to view these.

Pixels: The Art of iPhone PhotographyPixels


A pocket full of vision: Mobile Photography Awards



Regarding prints, I think the function of the print today is not as it was 50 years ago. Back then the print was a piece of art in itself.  Today one large function of the print is to accurately portray what’s on the computer screen.  It’s about getting the settings just right so that the print equals the pixels.  In that respect is it possible that the purchasing of higher-end prints is slowly becoming outdated, with fewer and fewer people collecting them?   And, what factors will make a valuable print in the future?

I think photography is becoming more about image and less about print.  The ways in which these massive amounts of images are distributed has almost nothing to do with paper.  After all, paper can degrade, whereas pixels do not. Once an image is uploaded, it is thought that it will stay online forever. Truly recording something demands that it be available forever.  Can we really trust a print?

In the same way that we look at old prints of subjects from the past, in the future we might look at prints themselves as subjects of the past.  We are already seeing images presented on iPads being displayed next to paper prints in galleries.  Will we see fewer and fewer paper prints over time?

I’m wondering what might come next?  Images displayed in 3D like a hologram without any physical limitations present to degrade the clarity?  Images beamed directly to the brain, merging with the viewers thoughts to create unique interpretations.  Images replaced by emotions, rendering the images themselves obsolete.

But for now, we’re stuck with physical, portable image recording devices which we call upon at almost any time, and very quickly, to record what is in front of us. In fact, there is so much of this going on that what we may end up with is not the recording of separate smaller moments, but the unintentional simultaneous recording of a single moment from many different locations.  Maybe we will begin thinking in terms of massive databases shot by many different people simultaneously to create massive simul-records, recording the state of the entire planet at any given moment. Art, science, social-science, and history merge.

Prints are records.  These databases of simul-records could be, in a sense, the new form of future printing.  You wouldn’t print these on paper, but they would serve the same purpose as a traditional print.  How would you display them?  Somehow a computer would have to merge and organize the many simultaneous photos in a way that made sense.  But there would be motion and interactivity involved as well.  The print, in whatever form, would have to be digital.

I suppose we could still have traditional prints along for the ride.  But they would most likely be thought of differently than they are today.  They would be an artifact, perhaps an afterthought, of the new paradigm.  They would become less of an art form unto themselves and more of the subset of a simul-record.  Maybe we could still collect them, but what’s printed on the paper itself might be more important than whether or not it’s part of a numbered series or printed in a darkroom by a skilled individual.

Personally, the last thing I feel like doing when I take a photo is printing it out. I just want to look at it on my computer screen.  Printing it makes it seem faded and less vital, with all of the vibrancy fading away.  And once you print it the print begins to die.


To see some great mobile phone work, visit the sites below:


Jeff out.



Unfinished Notes on the Dangers of Over-Worship

Posted in Photography by jeffalu on February 23, 2015

“Trapped”, Jeff T. Alu, Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk



I had planned to write about the concept of over-worship, and how it’s possible to like an artist or photographer to such a degree that you try to emulate them and forget about who you are and your individuality. Well, the weekend was crazy, dealing with many artists picking up their work at OCCCA, the Oscars, maybe a little too much wine, and so I didn’t quite finish the article for today morning.  So here are my notes from the article, taken mostly in dictation on my iPhone.  Somehow I think maybe they’re more effective than a finished article anyway…



Don’t say why you like them, say how they’ve influenced your work. – more than just being good and inspiring you, they have REASONS for doing what they do. And you don’t necessarily have those reasons. And doing it because you like them is not a reason, it’s a copout.


When I grow up, I want to be just like him.  NO YOU FUNKIN’ DON’T


It’s OK to be influenced, it’s OK to try out the ideas of someone else, it’s OK to acknowledge that someone has had an influence on you, but geez, you don’t want to be just like them, they have skeletons, and you have your own, and they won’t mix well together at all.


I realize that coming into your own can take time, and you might need a little help and guidance along the way.


Disperse the influences of other artists within yourself, thus blurring any indications as to where these influences came from in your own work.


Try imagining that you ARE a great photographer. One of the famous ones…and you’re walking around taking photographs. You have complete confidence in your abilities. You know that you have the skills to pull off a great shot. The shot that you take is going to become famous, and sell for quite a large sum. When you die, it will be auctioned off for an even larger OH FUCK! WHO ARE YOU KIDDING?? THE FAMOUS GUYS PROBABLY DIDN’T HAVE ANY MORE CONFIDENCE THAN YOU DO! THAT’S HALF THE BATTLE, OVERCOMING YOUR FEARS TO REACH YOUR GOALS! BUT YOU NEED TO DO IT YOURSELF, OTHERWISE YOU DON’T GET NO CANDY!


Yeah, OK just be yourself. Breathe through your own nose, see through your own eyes.


Don’t feel like you have to create in a certain style just because you know that style to be great or at least perceived to be great. Have faith that you have a point of view of your own.


Look! What I created here looks just like so-and-so’s work. Well that’s a great place to start but it’s only a beginning. Congratulations on having taken someone else’s journey without the journey part. You can’t reach a meaningful goal without first taking a meaningful journey. And as with any meaningful journey it may take a while to get there.


Linda brings some of her photos to class. She’s very proud of them. She shows them to the class and they love them. The teacher loves them. They look just like just like Henri Cartier-Bresson, the teacher says. Well he’s my favorite photographer, Linda states. I love his work, and you’ve given me such a huge compliment! I can’t thank you enough! Linda leaves the classroom completely satisfied. She goes home and celebrates. A few days later, she’s still very happy and satisfied. She decides to go out and take some photos. She walks along the street but everything looks the same, as if she’s seen if all before. She has a new perspective, one of peace and relaxation at having accomplished something real and true. She realizes that what she’s doing now is a bit of a waste of time, since she has no real desire to show any of her work to anyone anymore. She’s somewhat board. The challenge is gone. She reached her goal of being just like her hero. If she’s lucky she’ll find something else to occupy her time.

I place you on a high pedestal.

I don’t understand, why did you place be here?

Because I believe you can do no wrong. Everything I am, everything I want to be, is you.

Why the hell would you want to be me?

Because if I can be like you, I won’t have to worry about being me. I don’t have enough confidence in myself to be me.

Well, I didn’t have lots of confidence either. But I combined myself with other people and influences, but keeping myself in the front. I’m not so original or perfect.

But you seem so confident in yourself.

I’m really not as confident as I look. I just do what I do and hope for the best.

OK then get off that damn pedestal.

Why would anybody want to believe everything someone else says. Don’t take their word for it, form your own opinion.

If we want to advance as a society, we can’t think like everyone else. On the other hand, if everyone thought completely differently there would be chaos.

The more you worship another artist the less time you have to think for yourself.

The more you worship another artist the less you believe in yourself.

Replace worship with experimentation.

over-worship equals over acceptance of the way things have to be.

over-worship is like finding what you think is the answer without asking any questions.

It’s like blind faith.

over-worship is cheating.

Use the work of other artists as a guide, not as an ultimatum.

Jeff out.

Seeing Less And Noticing More: Andrei Tarkovsky

Posted in Photography by jeffalu on February 20, 2015

Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Tarkovsky was a movie director that has very much affected the way that I look at and think about many things, certainly the way I think about photography.  He’s responsible for altering the way that I look at many of my subjects. What I would normally see as unimportant I now see as very important.

In movie making, I have a huge appreciation for intricate plot lines, fast paced editing, and mental saturation.  Films with these attributes allow you to watch again a 2nd time or even a 10th time and notice things you didn’t notice before. This adds depth to what you’re seeing and lets your opinions and moods weigh in more heavily on interpreting the meaning.

In the case of Andrei Tarkovsky, we have the very same kind of depth going on, but the pace is much slower and you might at first be feeling that there’s nothing going on at all.  Yet this slower pace forces you to notice more within a smaller boundary of consciousness.  You’re presented with less over a longer period of time, so you’re given extra time to notice what you might ordinarily miss.



Scene from “Nostalghia”, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky


Tarkovsky had the bravery to slow way down.  He wasn’t trying to be tricky or overly-clever.  He was simply following the path of his vision.  He was never presented with a huge film-making budget to work with and he made only seven films.   You won’t find any special effects in these films, he didn’t have any use for them.

Isn’t it logical that if you slow down you’ll see more of what is right in front of you?  Do you really need to purchase expensive equipment or visit far away locations to see something worthwhile or to discover what it is you’re after?  I think there is something to be said for doing a lot with a little.  As photographers, we could certainly benefit from this line of thinking.  Training our minds to see what is right in front of us is both practically and aesthetically rewarding.



Scene from “Stalker”, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky


The result of Tarkovsky concentrating on smaller details over longer periods of time is that the seemingly unimportant becomes very important.  We zoom into the fractal and those seemingly small or even unseen details become magnified.  What we never thought was worth noticing is now commanding our attention.

I’m inspired by the fact that Tarkovsky was brave enough to follow his vision knowing that it was against the flow.  He knew that his movies would most likely lose money in the theater, yet he followed his vision anyway.  Many artists do this as well at times, out of necessity and lack of money.  But Tarkovsky had the weight of movie studios, actors, and all of the crew and critics on his shoulders.  He somehow convinced them all that his vision was worth pursuing and watching.



Scene from “The Sacrifice”, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky


Assuming you’re talking in terms of plot, very little seemingly transpires during a Tarkovsky movie, yet so much transpires in terms of emotion and vision.  I think we can all learn something from this, or at least contemplate the nature of it.  We can certainly add these aesthetics to our bag of artistic tools, and bring them out when we need them.

Below are a few great contemplative Tarkovsky sequences.


Here we have a sequence of three men riding a train, from the movie “Stalker”.  We hear the sound of the train in the background and we note their individual expressions and emotions.



Here is a sequence from the movie, “Nostalghia”, a transition into a dream sequence:



This sequence is again from the movie “Nostalgia.”  A man must light a candle and walk the entire length of a pool and when he reaches the other end he will die.  The wind blows the candle out multiple times and he must return to the other end of the pool to relight it. The sequence goes on for nine minutes.



I was inspired by Tarkovsky to create the movie below that utilizes my own visions and techniques towards scale, but plays upon Tarkovsky’s aesthetic for bringing the insignificant to prominence.  It was mostly shot in the farmland near where I work during my half hour-long breaks each day.  I call it “One of Tarkovsky’s Dreams”, as if it were a dream that Tarkovsky might have had.  I suppose you could say not much happens during this movie.  Yet depending on your point of view there’s also an entire universe here.


I hope these Tarkovsky sequences inspire you the way they inspired me.  If you haven’t seen a Tarkovsky movie from start to finish, I would highly recommend doing so. You might discover the power of the seemingly insignificant.


Jeff out.


Single Image or Series…What Does It All Mean?

Posted in Photography by jeffalu on February 18, 2015




I’ve often pondered the difference between shooting a series of images and a single image. Does taking a series of photos heighten the meaning and understandability of what a photographer is trying to say? It would seem that this is the case, especially when considering that most photography books published today deal with a series of images based on a single idea, rather than a random series of images. It would also seem that most of the photographers being represented by many of the major photography galleries around the world shoot with very specific ideas in mind and have a series of images which support those ideas.




I’m wondering however whether this entire realm of belief is nurtured and promoted based less on personal or aesthetic reasons and more on a need to cater to a viewing public who need to be spoon-fed something more obvious, especially when based on the fact that we’re living in a very sound- and visual-bite-oriented society. We’re used to having many images thrust upon us without our permission, and those images that are thrown at us are done so with such vigor, especially where advertising is concerned, that we’re made to believe that those particular images are golden. What does that do to the part of our brain that should be left to making up its own mind? Doesn’t this make it more difficult for us to decide for ourselves what is worth seeing and what is not? Hmm.

Ahh, but back to the series thing. Oh but wait, an aside: Can’t the input into our eyes when turning our heads from left to right be thought of as a series of images as well? True, the brain does not have to process each of those images individually, in fact I would say only the first and last images in a single head turn, and especially the last one, we’ll call it the “goal image”, the image which caused you to turn your head in the first place, is the one worth processing. But everything we see is in fact a series of images. Obviously it’s safe to say that the images “in the middle” are not as important.




So, maybe the images “in the middle” of a series of photographs do not in fact need to be as strong. Maybe we’re wasting our time shooting those middle images. A good starting “gotcha” image and a strong finishing image might be enough to do the trick. The middle stuff can be ho-hum.

I think it might be true to say that the general public often has difficulty determining what is good and what is not, especially considering how much is visually thrust into their conscious on a given day. Seriously, to stop and look at something, while still within the realm of their control to do so, is perhaps in fact counter to what they actually feel like doing, or are, as of late, being programmed to do. People would rather move, not stop. Who has time to stop?

A series of photographs: It almost alludes to stupidity, as if we need multiple examples of the same thing. Isn’t it like we’re thinking, “I don’t understand what you’re saying, I need another example.” Alright fine, here’s another one. “I still don’t understand what you’re saying, I need another example!” And on and on.




Or maybe it’s the photographers way of saying, “I can’t take a decent image of this subject, so I’m going to take a bunch of these and maybe I’ll get lucky.” So you try and try, and eventually, yeah, you do get lucky. Good job.

In a series of images it seems that the emphasis is on the idea. In a single image, it would seem that the emphasis is on the image itself. How does this affect the way in which we shoot these photos? Well I guess you could say taking a single photo…takes a lot less time.

Now don’t get me wrong I enjoy taking series of images also. I began doing it about 10 years ago, after someone asked me, “Why don’t you take a series of images?” I obliged and I was happy with the result. But I can’t help but wonder if this has caused me to be lazy in some way.




And I suppose you could zoom out and take a broader look at that big fractal. For example even if I’m not taking a series of images of one subject, if I am taking a lot of random landscapes, you could certainly call that a series of landscapes. Come to think of it, is it even possible to avoid taking a series of images in the first place? Pretty much any image you take on planet Earth could be considered to be a series about, well planet Earth, eh? And don’t even get me started on the universe.

So please don’t ask me to shoot a series when I’m already doing it. Don’t tell me I need to hone in on one single idea. Let’s face it, even images that seem totally opposite of one another are still part of a series: Images shot using light in some way. Images shot using a camera in some way. Images that I myself have taken. Images that are less than satisfactory.

About the only way it’s possible to successfully take a single image is to only have shot one image in your entire lifetime. And there’s a pretty good chance that this image is going to suck. But thankfully, no one will be able to tell the difference.


Jeff out.

Playing With Scale

Posted in Photography by jeffalu on February 16, 2015

Jeff Alu, “Sphere”, El Mirage Dry Lake, 2009


One of my favorite techniques in photography is to play with scale. Or more specifically, making it difficult to tell how big or small something is. I want the viewer to look at a photo, do a double-take, and wonder, “Just what the heck IS that?” They’ll accept certain aspects of it, but something will seem “off” about it. Why do I want them to react this way? It has to do with an internal dialogue that I have going on in my head almost constantly having to do with the fact that everything deserves to have a chance to be looked at. Why can’t I just leave these objects at their regular scale? Well, sometimes in order to appreciate something that might be overlooked I think you need to present it from a slightly different perspective than for which reality allows!

In adding a tilt-shift focus in many images, which I create in Photoshop. I’m using it differently than usual, however. In most cases with tilt-shift you see something huge being turned into something much smaller, such as a cityscape being turned into what looks like a hand-made model. In my case I’m doing just the opposite: making smaller objects appear to be larger. Some examples can be found below.





Jeff Alu, “Hill”, Salton Sea, 2008

Here we have something that appears to be a mountain but which is only about 8 feet high. It is a mud volcano found at the Salton Sea. These small volcanoes spurt mud at constant time intervals. There are about 20 of them in the field and each one spurts mud at a different rate.





Jeff Alu, “Structure”, Salton Sea, 2006

I came across this structure at the Salton Sea while hiking around. To this day I have no idea what it is. Was it something new that was being constructed or something old that was decaying?  It’s about 30 feet long.  The pieces of wood are each about two feet high.  I really need to revisit the area to see if it’s still there!





Jeff Alu, “Wave”, Laguna Beach, 2012

This wave is only about six inches high, but placing my camera down very low on the surface of the water made it appear to be much larger. The wave was about two feet away from the camera in this shot.  It was not a waterproof camera, so I had to lift it up at the very last minute.




Jeff Alu, “Relic”, Salton Sea, 2010

This appears to be an organic creature of some kind. It is actually a decomposing waste barrel. This was found about 50 feet from the mud volcanoes.  The barrel itself had totally disintegrated, but the metal rings on the top and bottom of the barrel were still in tact, although totally warped out of shape.





Jeff Alu, “DTLA”, Shot from Echo Mountain, 2011

This shot of downtown Los Angeles was taken from Echo Mountain in the San Gabriel Mountains. I love the way downtown Los Angeles is represented by something incredibly small, a few rectangular blocks at the bottom of the image.  It was a very noisy image to begin with, as it was a very smoggy day, and blurring the image further sank the buildings into the murkiness.





Jeff Alu, “Pyramids”, Laguna Beach, 2010

On the day before a number of the mobile homes along the beach in Laguna Beach were going to be removed forever, I took a walk in the area.  I came across these cement structures sticking out of the sane.  They resembled large pyramids, especially with the long shadows, but are actually only about three feet long.





Jeff Alu, “Tree”, Coyote Dry Lake, 2007

I was the cinematographer on an independent movie and one of our destinations was Coyote Dry Lake in the California desert.  We traveled the lake bed in search of large, natural “pits” that can be found in the surface.  Near one of those pits I found this small “tree”, about 8 inches high.  I took a shot right from the ground.  Many of these small bushes can be found, but this one had a particularly tree-like appearance.





Jeff Alu, “Canyon”, Irvine, CA, 2014

Here is what appears to be a huge Canyon but is actually only a trench about 5 feet high. I crawled down inside with my camera. I first threw some dust in the air to give it more atmosphere which gave it a depth cue and made it appear even larger.





Jeff Alu, “Pieces”, Construction Site, Riverside, CA, 2000

In my first year of digital photography, I visited many construction sites.  I found the shapes fascinating, though I often had to find ways to sneak in.  They were usually abandoned on the weekends.  In this case I came across two small pieces of wood on cement right after it had rained.  Though it’s obvious to me that these are two small pieces of wood, almost everyone who saw this thought that I must have shot it from a plane.






Jeff Alu, “Dust Devil”, El Mirage Dry Lake, 2009

This dust devil was shot at El Mirage Dry Lake in California.  I’ve been chasing dust devils for years, as they are so often very similar to tornadoes in structure but are of course much safer.  In this case I darkened the shot quite a bit to take out the foreground details, which would give clues as to the actual size of the dust devil.  With those details missing, the size becomes questionable.






Jeff Alu, “Flow”, Near Trona, CA, 2012

There is a huge field of mud flows near Trona Pinnacles in California.  I took a drive out there but on the day of my trip I was just getting over a cold and had quite a headache.  I didn’t stay for very long but captured about 50 shots of the mud flows of which this was my favorite.  Some very subtle tilt-shift focus warped the scale enough to make it appear the it might have been shot from a plane.




Jeff Alu, “Snowcapped Mountain”, Fish Creek, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, 2000

I came across an outcropping of red sandstone in Fish Creek at Anza Borrego Desert State Park.   Processing it in black and white gave it the appearance of a mountain top covered with snow.  I love the way that one formation in nature imitates another in this case!


Jeff out.




Lots Of Darkroom Work And No Photos To Show For It

Posted in Photography by jeffalu on February 13, 2015


In the past I’ve spent many hours in the darkroom.  Unfortunately I have very few photographs in my portfolio to show for it.  In fact I have none at all.  All of that darkroom work is a big part of the reason that I became a digital photographer, and not a traditional film photographer.

From 1986 to 1993 I worked on the Planet Crossing Asteroid Search project at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).  Headed by planetary scientist Eleanor F. Helin, the project was created to increase our knowledge of the asteroid population in the solar system, and to hunt specifically for Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), or asteroids that could potentially strike the Earth.

The telescope that we used at Palomar Observatory was in fact not a telescope at all, but a Schmidt Camera.  Always referred to as a telescope, the 18” Schmidt camera, pictured below, was built in 1936, and was in use until 2010.  Its primary users were our group from JPL and another one headed by Eugene Shoemaker and David Levy, who were considered to be our competitors.



The 18″ Schmidt Telescope as it appeared in 1936.


Photographs of the sky were shot with the 18” Schmidt on Kodak 4415 film.  The film was first “hypersensitized”, making it more sensitive to light, by baking it in hydrogen gas for 8 hours in metal canisters.  We would generally take 6 minute exposures, opening the huge shutter at the end of the telescope, and tracking on a guide star while the exposure was taken.  The telescope tracking was excellent, but we would have to correct for smaller movements in the telescope by attempting to keep the guide star centered on crosshairs while viewing it through a smaller guide scope attached to the main telescope.  Without doing this, our pinpoint star images would look more like streaks, and any very faint asteroids would not be seen on the films.

The films themselves were cut into circular pieces via a “cookie cutter”, and were loaded into a circular film holder that had to be loaded into the telescope.  This could be tricky, as the holder was heavy and had to be loaded in complete darkness.  Dropping the holder while loading it would be disastrous, as only a few feet below was the primary reflector mirror.  If the holder was dropped and the mirror was damaged, we would be out of business for a while.  Amazingly, this never happened during my time there.



“The Chopper”, used to cut sheets of 4415 film into circles.



The film holder located inside the 18″ Schmidt Telescope.


The field of view of the telescope was very wide, and could be estimated by holding your fist up to the sky at arms length.  This wide field of view allowed us to shoot photos of a large amount of sky in a single night, which is what was needed in order to be the first to discover an asteroid or, much rarer, a comet.  It was all a race against time.

In the darkroom it was all very procedural.  Nothing artistic going on here.  The films were loaded into racks, 8 to 10 at a time, and lowered into the D-19 developer for six minutes.  They were taken out and lowered into the stop bath for 30 seconds, and after that into the fixer for four minutes.  Then a 30 second wash in “Photo Flow”, to clean off the chemicals.  The films were then hung to dry.  As negatives, they were almost never printed, and we used them as negatives, with black stars and white backgrounds.  I spent many hours in this darkroom, listening to music while developing, and it’s here that I really learned to dislike the darkroom process.

Each area of sky was shot twice, with roughly a 40 minute separation.  The two films, with identical star patterns, were then loaded into a stereo microscope.  It is here that all of the asteroid discoveries could be made.  When viewing the films through the microscope, all of the stars in the two negatives would appear to be flat, since they hadn’t moved over the 40 minute separation due to the telescope tracking along with the sky.  However, an asteroid would be moving differently, and its motion could be detected by its appearing to hover above or below the plane of the stars, depending on its direction of motion.  This 3-D appearance either signaled the discovery of a new asteroid, or a known asteroid.



The Stereo Microscope used in the discovery of our asteroids and comets.


We would discover many new asteroids on a single ‘dark run’ of six nights, and if we were lucky we would find one or two near earth asteroids.  Occasionally we would discover a comet as well.  I spent many hours scanning and re-scanning those films, occasionally finding objects that we missed the first time.  At one point, we did miss something truly amazing:  On our films, we had a comet which later became known as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the comet that crashed into Jupiter in 1994.  To our credit I suppose, it didn’t look anything like a comet at the time we recorded it.

As advanced techniques for discovery later became available, such as CCD cameras and automated data gathering and detection, our method for discovering asteroids became obsolete.  Machines were taking over and they could discover objects with much more frequency and precision than humans.  The discovery rate began to increase and our old telescope was used less and less.  It was finally retired in 2010.



The telescope as it appeared towards the end of its life in the 18″ dome.


When I left the job at JPL, I found I needed something to replace the feeling of discovery that I was now missing.  I began hiking in the desert, especially in unknown areas, to see what I could discover there.  I bought my first digital camera, A Kodak DC-280, in 2000 to document my hikes in the desert.  Before I knew it I was bringing back all sorts of strange photos from out there.

During all of that time scanning hundreds of films at JPL, it had begun to occur to me that what we saw on our films, these tiny little pinpoint images, were in fact representative of something staggeringly huge, and that when we made an important discovery of an asteroid which could potentially collide with the Earth, I could always trace it back to those tiny little black dots which required a microscope to resolve.  This paradox tickled my brain and got me realizing early on that all things are of equal importance, large or small.  Or at least all things deserve equal attention, regardless of size.  In other words, when I come across something that is incredibly small or seemingly insignificant while I’m out photographing, I have no problem assigning it huge importance.



Near Earth Asteroid 1988 EG as it appeared on our films at the time of discovery.



Wolf Creek Crater in Australia


In my own adventures as a photographer this philosophy and spirit of discovery is key.  It drives me to move forward and continue the search.  When I am out searching, I never have a set idea of what it is I’m looking for. I simply seek, occasionally finding exactly what it is I WASN’T seeking. For me, that’s the time I learn something new about life: When I discover a new path, a new way of seeing, a new reason for continuing my search.



Comet 117P Helin-Roman-Alu




The 18″ Telescope as it appears now in the visitor center at Palomar Observatory.




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