Learning, Seeing, Hearing

I’ve been keeping a ‘creative notebook’ for the better part of the year. I was trying to learn many things at once, and wanted to help make sense of it.

Here are some things I wrote in my creative notebook about the three main things I worked on this year in my practice: taking photos, playing alto sax, and learning darkroom as well as inkjet printing.

a scan of a color photo of a colorful bridge in the Castro in San Francisco in a cropped square format

Bridge at Dolores Park, San Francisco. (Leica M3, Kodak 250D)

Learning film photography

What I set out to learn about film photography:

  • shoot ten thousand photos in 2023 on color, black and white and slides. (I got to 7000, and did a lot of color and black and white, but only a few slides). I wanted to do this as I had not been taking photos on film for more than a decade. I figured the more photos I took, the more I would learn.
  • learn to load film from 100ft bulk rolls (done: I load black and white, as well as slide film and motion picture film regularly)
  • learn to load film in film dev tank (done: the hardest thing to do was not be so impatient. That led to many kinks and crimping in the film, early on)
  • learn to develop black and white, C-41 (color) and ECN-2 (motion picture film) (done: I don’t enjoy the ECN-2, but can easily do the rest)
  • how to scan 35mm and medium format film using a Fuji Frontier as well as home scanners (done: it’s a regular part of my creative workflow now)

What I learned about film photography

  1. Things that seem intimidating are quickly learned, once you try
  2. Some things feel complex and overwhelming if you try to intellectualize things in your brain. Getting motivated to just do it is more important than thinking about how to do them perfectly or expertly
  3. Mistakes happen, and we can learn from them but mistakes that arise from being careless (for example, if I try to develop 5 rolls of film at once but I’m exhausted before I begin, I am likely to make cascading mistakes) can be avoided by being mindful of my current state
  4. Get rested before trying new things, especially if it is a difficult thing or something I have ‘failed’ at previously
  5. Don’t forget to have fun

Learning to play jazz

a scan of a black and white photo of Charles Unger, a saxophone jazz player in San Francisco, playing a horn

Charles Unger of the Charles Unger Experience trying out my Yamaha alto sax. (Minolta Hi-Matic 7S II, Kodak T-Max 400, Perceptol 1:2)

What I set out to do with music:

  • learn to improvise to play jazz standards
  • spend more time practicing my alto sax every week
  • be able to easily play the high E, F and G

I think I got to do all of that, and have greatly improved my improv skills but I still need to work on it.

What I learned about music

  1. My classical music grounding has given me many skills: I can play almost anything written, I can still sightread extremely well, I can play ‘in time’ easily
  2. However, I need to keep working on improvisation so it feels less like a mystery, and more like second nature
  3. To do this, I need to keep practicing
  4. Go back to basics: work on all scales and chords
  5. Practice all the jazz standards
  6. Spend as much time out there with working musicians as I can: I notice that if I do, even if I’m just messing around, I pick up new skills exponentially, as if by osmosis
  7. Things that are hard on my own at home: playing the high F on the alto sax, comes almost instantly when I’m in a music studio environment with other musicians and just ‘fiddling’
  8. Same as with photography, don’t intellectualize too much: trust yourself to reach a note or be able to find the right ones, and just do it

Learning to print (darkroom and inkjet)

a scan of a black and white photo of a bride coming out of San Francisco City Hall

Bride at San Francisco City Hall. (Yashica Mat 124G, Kodak T-Max 400, Rodinal 1:50)

What I set out to do with printing:

  • learn how to print photos using different types of paper on an Epson SureColor P7570
  • print inkjet color and black and white photos
  • learn how to print black and white photos in a darkroom
  • learn how to print color photos in a darkroom

I got to do all that! And really love this more than I thought I would.

What I learned about printing:

  1. Don’t get nervous about not knowing or remembering all the things
  2. The more darkroom time I get, the more naturally it will come to me
  3. I’ve already exceeded my own expectations by being able to actually produce an image (for both black and white, and color): doing something almost entirely in the dark is less anxiety-inducing than when I started
  4. Practice as much as you can

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Adrianna Tan @skinnylatte
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