ryan stufflebam

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Old Negs, p3

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These are a couple negatives that I was probably most excited to print once the darkroom was finished. On my monitor, the photos aren’t quite as… magical? I guess that’s part of the reason I built a darkroom in the first place. Photography is a printed medium.


But part of the fun of these negatives is that they were taken with his (my father-in-law’s) old 4×5 speed graphic – his old crime scene camera. He gave it to me after I graduated, but it actually wasn’t in his possession shortly before that. He had to track it down and clean it up. One of his old partners’ kids had it sitting in a closet or something. It still works pretty well.

It was pretty cold when I took these. But he sat and just smiled and talked to me while I fumbled around with the dark slides and shutter release. I really just wanted to test out the large format for portraits, so we were both pretty relaxed the whole time. And I usually don’t feel at ease when doing portraits, really. I need to practice more. I keep saying that. It’s just that rocks and trees and such don’t have many expectations of you.


When I’m showing prints to friends, these two photos are the ones they usually hang on the longest. I like to think it’s because it’s probably the first time he’s been in front of that particular lens.

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November 13, 2014 at 10:39 pm

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the UV box

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Once upon a time, I decided alternative processes were pretty cool, but the desire to produce inevitably led me to spend ridiculous amounts of time at a friend’s house. See, he had the UV light source. I realize I could use the sun, but it’s so unpredictable. And while I’m learning to love the quirks and inconsistencies of the process, I don’t feel the need to emphasize the struggle – particularly when it costs (at the time for me) a good bit of money to make each image. So James and Emily gladly played host while I took up residence in their dining room and laundry room for about a month.

But now I have a house. Now I have a darkroom! Now I need a UV exposure unit. See the logic? And while I really enjoyed James’ company whilst printing (we always have good conversations about art and art’s purpose…), I would rather be having similar conversations with my wife – with whom I did not converse for practically that entire month because my phone just wouldn’t work in their house. Leah graciously put up with my absence, but we’d rather not do that again. So I built a sun in a box!


I know it doesn’t look like much, but that six-inch sub fueled most of the build that first day. And I don’t have any other pictures of the first few days. No idea why. Fast forward a week or so:


See that? That’s a complete electrical circuit including 4 ballasts, 12 bulbs, 2 fans and a switch. And nothing burned or exploded. This was a great moment. Leah painted the inside of the bottom cavity silver sometime during those few build days we fast forwarded though. I figure the more reflective the interior, the more even the already really even light should be. If it’s worth doing…


Here’s a better photo of the wiring. Most people put their ballasts on a piece of metal flashing to ground them – supposedly it helps with flickering. If it’s just a ground, I figure a ground wire would work just as well. So far, it has, but I’ll keep an eye on it to make sure. Shortcuts can be fatal, but I just really didn’t want to drill through a piece of metal umpteen times. You can see I also stained the exterior gray. My countertop on the dry side is the same stain. And plus I want my equipment to look good. Since I never really built a whole lot growing up, I’m using any excuse I can to hone some practical skills. AND, if it looks good, that’s one more reason to not build it again.

UV box-3

UV box-4

So this is the final product. A bunch of UV light in a pizza oven with a sliding vacuum drawer. My apologies for the crappy photos, by the way. I’m using either my camera phone or a practically defunct digital camera. The autofocus is just crap.

But, the vacuum part is pretty cool because it ensures that the negative and paper are in firm contact for the sharpest image possible. It’s also cool because there’s no actual seal or clamps or anything. The weight of the glass just seals against the edge of the neoprene rubber sheet laid in the bottom of the drawer. The edge is raised by some foam, but other than that, no seal. But it works. Pretty happy with that. I should be able to print a 13″ x 19″ negative without any problems so long as the paper isn’t too large. We’ll see how that goes.

Eventually it will live under the counter with a shelf underneath. But we’re not there yet. Probably after the holidays I’ll get around to it. But I just started test printing with it this past week. It definitely works, but since the light source is a bank of fluorescent tubes, the test prints are a bit different from my old prints done on a halogen (?) light source. So I’ll have to calibrate how I print the negatives again, but it should be much easier than last time. I don’t have to drive across town with every new calibration palette. I just have to walk downstairs. It’s awesome.

That said, the images are still pretty good. There’s just some muddling in the mid-tones. Once my ink refills arrive, I’ll be back to the races. In the meantime, here are the test prints – one old, one new.

UV box-2

UV box-1


You can see the mix up that starts to happen in Leah’s skin tones. It’ll get straightened out eventually…

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November 9, 2014 at 10:55 pm

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Stone Door in b&w

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As promised, here are the b&w prints from Stone Door. Not as many interesting shots from this roll, unfortunately. But both of these were pretty fun to print. Particularly the first one – the front wall was not nearly as differentiated in the negative as it is here. You always hope a contrast filter will fix your problems, but the issue wasn’t contrast so much as separation. So I ended up using a combination of filters for the different sections, then dodge and burn on top of that. I made a good few prints before I got it to where I wanted. Finally holding that mental image in my hands – that’s a good feeling.



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October 14, 2014 at 9:24 pm

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Stone Door in color

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I think it was last winter, but it was unseasonably pleasant that weekend.



The sheer amount of vertical space never gets old. I realize that this is just in a TN valley. But you’ve got cliffs and stairs and climbing paths and streams that flow rather than wind around. Or flood. Rocks move here – because of water and wind. There aren’t even any rocks to speak of where I grew up, let alone hills for them to collect at the bottom of. I couldn’t really wrap my head around it. I think we sat atop the Door for half an hour in the morning, then 45 minutes at the end of the day.




Leah climbed around a good bit. Went out to all the outcroppings. I mostly sat. My knees were shot by the end of the day. Not that I would venture out to the edge like her, anyway. I actually fought with her on our honeymoon after she climbed down onto a jutted rock over some incredibly turbulent surf. I still don’t like it. But I just sweat it out. Have a private coronary, no harm done.



There are some b&w prints from this trip somewhere, too. I’ll get around to finding those sooner or later.

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October 6, 2014 at 9:58 pm

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A weekend at Buck’s, p3

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As I said in the first post on Buck’s property, he’s a true Southern host. “Please make use of my finest stallions (4-wheelers), drink from my wells (actual spring well), fly through the air at my expense.” That last one there is a zip-line he installed over a creek not too far down the road. My niece and nephew were really excited. Everyone else was, too. But I think the opportunity to zip through the air over the surface of the water is a special thing for a child — an adrenaline-riddled fulfillment of every anthropomorphic children’s book ever.

The first couple photos are from that afternoon – I spent all my time zip-lining. Not photoing. Because, honestly, zip-lines.

bucks property003

bucks property005

The last night we were there, we feasted with Buck. We got to talking about photo stuff and he ran off. He shortly returned with a photo in hand of his daughter’s wedding. It was up on a massive lookout over one of the valleys in the area. He said he’d drive Leah and me there if we wanted. Well, of course, we wanted. He picked us up at 6am. That was a little rough for Leah, I don’t think I ever actually fell asleep. But he picked us up in some of the densest fog I’d seen in a long time. We knew it’d be a good while before it lifted, so we stopped by the zip-line creek to take some photos. Long exposures in the fog with water and no wind? Sign me up any day.







So we eventually get to the lookout. We were basically in a cloud. Buck was pretty disappointed, felt like he was a bad guide. I couldn’t have been happier. How often does a Midwestern boy get to sit on a mountainside leaning into nowhere and watch the fog wisp and curl between us? Still, Buck was really apologetic. He and Leah drove to McDonalds and grabbed breakfast and coffee. I stayed and waited just in case the fog lifted enough for any kind of photo. It was so calm and quiet, not even the birds were out. Normally when it’s silent like that, my ears will ring. Or I can hear them ringing. But not that morning. I rocked on the back legs of a porch chair and stared at nothing.

Leah and Buck got back with a coffee for me. We might have waited for another half hour or 45 minutes. The fog started to break up during the last five minutes, so I shot a handful of frames before we left.



We got back to the cabin and everyone had eaten and packed the car already, so we grabbed up our things and headed home. I like Buck. I don’t think I know anyone that joyously receives guests like him.

The fog didn’t break until we were an hour and half down the road.

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September 23, 2014 at 10:14 pm

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A weekend at Buck’s, p2

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So there’s not a lot going on in Pall Mall, TN. But if you’re gonna get away, might as well get away. Even still, there are a few community staples that we visit every time we get the chance. The Forbes General Store being top of the list. It’s under new ownership now, but when we were there last year it was most definitely still the same old general store. There didn’t seem to be much “general” about it – mostly just tourist stuff. I’m sure the hwy 127 yardsale kept it afloat. Anyway, here’s some of it.




Leah got to show our niece and nephew around the store. I don’t think anyone thought sampling the fudge was a good idea.




I don’t know who that is. But one of the other places we stop at (but never eat at) is the Possum Trot diner/auction house. Normally the guys sitting out front are at the General Store just a whittling away. Maybe playing Pig (card game). But if there’s an auction, buddy, they’re there. I stuck around for a few minutes of the auction, but then just went back to the cabin. I can’t do it. Ebay is even a struggle for me, let alone real life. Yard sales, though. I’m at least comfortable haggling over this thing you’re trying to sell me. But why would I want to actively compete with the guy sitting next to me? Nerve wrecking.




I do believe the whittlers mocked me a bit for taking their photo. The sacrifices I make…



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September 21, 2014 at 10:15 pm

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A weekend at Buck’s, p1

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Every year along the Hwy 127 Yard Sale, we all stay at Buck’s cabin in Pall Mall, TN. I’ve taken a few photos during those stays, but we’re usually pretty beat from being out in the heat all day. But this past year the in-laws drove down and we went and visited Jim & Sheryl Buck for a long weekend in October. Hospitality is a big thing to Buck, so he let us (encouraged us, threatened us if we refused to) traipse all over his property, use his ATVs, he cooked delicious meals for us  – just an incredibly gracious host.


bucks property011

bucks property006

I woke up earlier than most everybody, except maybe my mother-in-law. She’s one of those people that just always seem to be awake. But I hiked across the road and up a hill across from where we were staying to get the next few shots right at dawn. Can’t decide if I like the headlight-trails or not. And always take an extra pair of shoes if you plan on taking photos is East TN. The mornings are wet. “Dew” doesn’t even come close to describing how much moisture is on the ground. I think it took two days to dry out my shoes.



bucks property008

That red dot in the middle-left of the next photo, right in the little valley, is a big red bow on a stick. Buck puts those out as markers for sink holes. I think he might have lost a tractor to one, once upon a time.

bucks property009


So the bows are out in the fields, but in the forest along the trails Buck hangs bird houses and gourds to indicate caves, sink holes, or cliffs that are nearby. So on one of our ATV outings, we stopped at as many signposts as we could before it got dark. Just to see. Leah always gets too close to the edge.





There are no photos looking out from the caves. You don’t know what kind of animals could live in there. Buck told us about his handful of bear sightings this past year. Let us never cross that bear’s path. Ever.

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September 14, 2014 at 10:10 am

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Old Negs, p2

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When I was in Photo II at university, all of our assignments were to produce 10 images based around some kind of constriction – shoot at night, shoot portraits, landscapes… That kind of thing. Being constrained by work on my thesis by this point, almost all of my previous photos had only been of/at/around Belmont’s campus. I was ready for something to take me away from work for a while. Well, the next assignment was “Belmont’s Campus.” Didn’t matter what the image was of, just so long as it was at Belmont.

I was non-plussed. I couldn’t just go shoot the same photos over again. I mean, I was a “good student” – I read everything, I did all the work, and I pushed myself to do it. So it amounted to busywork. And I was irritated. So I took photos of ugly things, irrelevant things. A water meter on a dorm. A gas valve. At one point, I found a dark rock and put it on a light rock. I took a picture of it – macro, just to really drive home my indignance (a quality my wife somehow finds endearing, some of the time). Anything that caught my eye for any reason, I took a picture of it just to be done with it.

And none of those photos were any good. I knew it then, and I know it now. And when evaluations came around, I was pretty honest about how I felt. Everyone got a laugh about it, I still got a good grade, and we moved on. Honesty pays.

But all of my reasons for taking the photos were completely valid. It was right to take those bad, angry photos. I was writing a journal entry with that assignment. And the value comes from that kind of documentary, self-examining honesty. As a viewer/audience member, you could see the pithiness in those photos, the nagging irritation I felt. If I can just keep being honest with myself about what I find interesting, my photos would be better for it. I don’t need to have a treatise written out to justify taking the shot. It’s one frame of celluloid. No one cares, just take the photo. Be honest enough to take the picture, you can figure out why you were drawn to it later. It’s not the end of the world to be a little impulsive.

But I’m not and I don’t. I still don’t do this nearly enough, even less so since moving to medium and large format film. Money necessitates I think about it a little more. But every once in a while, particularly since I’ve been combing through old negatives to print, I’ll run across a frame that catches my eye – probably for the same reasons it caught my eye with my camera in hand. I couldn’t tell you what that is. But I enjoy contemplating that fleeting interest just as much as I enjoy the photo itself – as the editor, seeing how the photographer felt at the time.

And to this end, I leave you with a frame from last summer – light stick on dark rocks.


I’m still not sure why I took it. Or even if that matters. But it sure was fun to print.

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September 11, 2014 at 12:07 am

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Old Negs, p1

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I finished building a darkroom in my garage a few months ago (probably post about that process some other time…), and I’ve just been going through old black & white negatives I never did much with. I like how my scanner treats color film. Most color films. But it’s always been pretty harsh with the b/w stuff. Probably user error there. But hell if I know how to make it look like an actual darkroom print. Unless you just scan in an actual print. Like this:


This is from probably 5 or 6 years ago. This is an actual abandoned church in the middle of no where, TN. But it was also the set for an Alan Jackson music video that MooTV did. I was just PAing to help a friend, but music video shoots mean early and late hours for everyone, so I got there around 4:30am and left probably around 6pm. This shot was taken probably half an hour before sunset, and if I remember correctly, it’s something like a 60sec exposure. On loose floorboards. I’m still surprised it’s as sharp as it is.

But anyway, scanning in prints is way better than scanning the film. Photoshop doesn’t treat grain quite the same way photographic paper does. Particularly in and near the blacks. The grain blends and bleeds in the darkroom, but it’s very static in Photoshop. It almost looks like static rather than grain. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to actually scan the film in. Maybe.


I saw this old, beat up organ on the Highway 127 Yard Sale, also probably 5 years ago. I think what drew me to take the photo was the texture in the black paint versus the smooth black keys. “Treble Coupler” probably helps, too. But I just didn’t know enough to really pull out the texture when I took the shot. Not terrible. Just not what I wanted.


From 3ish years ago? This is from the corner of the corn field across from my parent’s house. I believe I was holding my camera at head height – as you can see, it’s really stinkin’ tall. I think I took this photo to prove a point about how tall corn is. No one outside the corn belt has any idea. This is why I don’t do corn mazes. “Oh, but you’re from IL, right? You LOVE corn mazes, rIgHT?!” No. Ever been lost in a corn field? Too tall to see over, too big to just head off in any direction hoping you hit the edge. To make it even worse, my father-in-law (retired detective) talks about how if anybody had gone missing in the past few days and didn’t show up – and particularly if they had a record – they would just post a cop car at different fields and wait for the carrion birds to start circling. So no, I’ve no mind to traipse through a corn field, mazed or not.

More prints will be showing up here as I do them. Possibly with some tech notes if they were recent enough. The backlog is large, but it’s about time to start shooting more.

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September 2, 2014 at 7:58 pm

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Cyanotypes at Bongo Java

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A few years ago, I got a random email from the Fido baker asking if I would be willing to hang my Japan photo series since it fit in with a city-wide Cherry Blossom Festival. I giddily accepted – even though I’d pretty much written off photography as anything serious. I’m a video editor by trade. A sometime shooter, at best. But that was the catalyst I needed to get back to it.

Kyoto_022 print

Probably my favorite photo from this series. Viking owns it now.

What’s even better is that Lisa (the aforementioned baker) has asked me to continue producing shows to exhibit at Fido and the other Bongo Java venues – which, again, is exactly the kind of motivation I need. And she’s done a pretty awesome job at getting a lot of other local artists to exhibit some really nice paintings and photos. So, I made a small collection of large cyanotypes that has been making the rounds this past year. Most of the images can be seen here, but they’re currently hanging at Bongo Java on Belmont Blvd until October 9th.

Stufflebam Cyano

I like and appreciate the accessibility that the internet provides, especially when trying to disseminate new work to a wider audience. However, I was reluctant to upload these to my website simply because so much is lost on a computer screen. Never mind how different every single computer monitor is from the next, or how a monitor produces light and paper reflects it, or how you lose so much resolution when it’s shrunk down tiny, or or or… Computers are great. They make my life ridiculously easier. But seeing the actual unique print – there’s just no replacement for holding a real thing in your own hands.

All this to say, you should go see my show.


This is James. I printed all the cyanotypes at his house. I’m still incredibly grateful.


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August 23, 2014 at 7:05 pm

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