Iffy NY

Film Speed & Escaping Noise

View From Home, Brooklyn, 2014.

The above is a shot from my digital camera. At one point of time I had almost given up on 35mm film because of how grainy it was looking even at low ISO’s and how the colors were just not saturated enough.

Ironically I recently came across in a discussion at school was Film Speeds. There was a major difference in film results, specifically in grain and color when I compared my results to others. And for a really long time I thought it was because of the quality of light in India and the color temperature.

But thats not the case. I was facing the same issues even when shooting here in NYC. The reason as it turns out to be is how I’ve been metering film.

Portra 400VC metered at 400. If you notice you'll see heavy grain specially at the bottom part of the image even though the light is perfect. This is not simply grain, its noise due to underexposure.
Portra 400VC metered at 400. If you notice you’ll see heavy grain specially at the bottom part of the image even though the light is perfect. This is not simply grain, its noise due to underexposure.

Most films as it turns out are best shot if metered for slower ISO than the box rating. So for example if you have a roll of film at 400 ISO, you could shoot it at 400 ISO and get low color saturation and high grain OR shoot it at 200 ISO (overexposing by +1 stop) and get higher color saturation and almost no visible grain. I just want to point out, here I’m talking about pure overexposure, not pushing film (we are still developing the film at box speed)

This shot is from the same roll of Portra 400VC and its been overexposed by 1 stop. And even though I expected loss of highlights, the film holds the tones perfectly.
This shot is from the same roll of Portra 400VC and its been overexposed by 1 stop. And even though I expected loss of highlights, the film holds the tones perfectly.

Thanks to the latitude of films, overexposure is not so much of a problem if you’re going up to +2 stops in color. BW is even more resilient with capability of up to +5 (for low ISO BW). Just a note – these tips are only for C41 and BW films, not slides or digital. Also as you go up in ISO on films, latitude will continue to drop.

Now all sounds good and you might be jumping around excited that your results would be better but this ISO reduction poses one serious problem. Color films as such are limited to mostly 400 ISO. There is a single higher speed Portra 800 but other than that they max out at 400. So now because you’re shooting everything at a lower ISO, you’re stuck at 80 ~ 200 ISO for most of the times which means shooting only in daylight.  Question is what should be done in low light situations?

One solution could be buying expensive faster lenses with apertures like f1.2. The other could be pushing films. But there is a trick to it too. Instead of pushing the film and processing it at pushed ISO, if you develop it at still higher ISO, you could get some of the saturation and contrast back. So hypothetically speaking, if you wanted to shoot at night, take Portra 400, shoot it at 800 and develop it at 1600.

I’m yet to try the last push process idea but in theory it should work. When I do I shall post results or if any of you guys are going to do it, send me a email and we can share the result online.

Americans detain suspects in Iraq insurgency

Seeking New Explanations – Papers On Photography

If there is one thing we’re missing in today’s photography culture, it’s the critical reading of photography in a non-visual space. As photography becomes more accessible and proliferated, we also have to be mindful of our changing relationship with images. A critical approach makes the photographs more than mere scribbles on a large visual canvas.

When I recently met Coco Chen at Magnum Photos in London, we started discussing her dissertation based on photographs shot by Canadian photojournalist Rita Leistner in Balad, Iraq in 2003. At the time, Coco was in the process of completing her piece. Now I am pleased to present to you the essay in its entirety, titled “Precarity in the Age of Digital Reproduction: The Political and Civil Repercussions of Rita Leistner’s “Prisoners of Balad

Americans detain suspects in Iraq insurgency. Image by Rita
Americans detain suspects in Iraq insurgency. Image by Rita Leistner
Following attacks on American convoys or bases, soldiers conducted house raids, rounding up prisoners who were then “bagged and tied,” which meant that white burlap bags were pulled over their heads and their wrists were tied with plastic cuffs. Image By Rita Leistner
Following attacks on American convoys or bases, soldiers conducted house raids, rounding up prisoners who were then “bagged and tied,” which meant that white burlap bags were pulled over their heads and their wrists were tied with plastic cuffs. Image By Rita Leistner

The paper, as you’ll read now, discusses how we are all consumers influenced by the media. However, before the public is exposed to the products of the media, the political climate already works to shape and determine the media’s mechanisms and content. Coco and Rita have agreed to let me publish the paper— an important document for every consumer of photography to read— here on Constellation Cafe.

Prison Download

About Coco : Born in Taipei, she has resided in Taiwan, Japan, USA, and UK. She attended the Northwest School in Seattle, Washington and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut before moving to London. She is currently completing her Bachelor of Arts Degree in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her interests include photography, psychology, and human rights.

If you’d like to get in touch with her, drop her a email here

About Rita : Rita Leistner is a politically and socially engaged lens-based artist whose concerned photography uses conceptual approaches to create photographs with a special relationship to current events and the human condition. Her work has been exhibited widely and published in many magazines. She is co-author of several books, including Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq; and The Edward Curtis Project: A Modern Picture Story, co- created with Métis/Dene playwright Marie Clements.

Rita has an MA in comparative literature from The University of Toronto, where she teaches a course on the history of photojournalism and documentary photography. Leistner is a rare “theorist-practitioner,” who brings a critic’s eye to extensive work in the field and lays it out in a way readers and students can understand. She is currently working on her first short documentary film.

Rita’s new book “Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan” is out right now on Amazon, have a look at it here. Also for more of her work, please do check out her official website.

Water Front

Last Few Breaths : Bombay

Bombay in the rains is as charming as Delhi in winters. Somewhere this time the city has lost a little bit of its charm, but so I thought. My belief has been reinforced again after meeting a few old dear friends, I feel like I’m back in my space.

Quaiser, 2014
Quaiser, 2014

Just an update on whats to come for the month, Constellation Cafe would be doing the feature on papers on photography, introducing you to two artist exhibitions.

Sudeep, 2014
Sudeep, 2014

There are also a few other reviews which will be posted, really exciting books coming up! (Including Almost There, Polaroids From Haiti, Holy Bible, Interrogation and Hidden Islam).

Bombay, 2014
Bombay, 2014

Constellation Cafe Books : Redheaded Peckerwood

Research can reveal a lot many things. For me it was this book as I researched for a crime based project and for Christian Patterson it was the 1958 story of a young couple who go on a killing spree in Nebraska slaying ten people. Today I introduce to you, Redheaded Peckerwood, a beautifully abstract book which lets you wander on the coast of a horribly tragic tale.


Published by Mack Books, the first edition of the book came out early 2011 and almost immediately sold out. Now after three editions, it still remains one of the most brilliant photobooks out there for your library.


Hardbound and presented as a thick brick of information, you don’t know what to expect when you look at the worn out cover photo of the book. 164 pages thick, the book creates a under pull, its physicality only exaggerating the ominous nature of the images to come.


Patterson spent about a week each over five years following and photographing the story of young Charles Starkweather, a 20 year-old from Lincoln in Nebraska, and Caril Fugate, his fourteen year old girlfriend. Because this documentation takes place about 50 years from the actual events, it acts as a representation of not only the event but the very state of mind of the two rebels, at times romanticising their act and condemning their actions almost in parallel.


In terms of the nature of the narrative, the book also features found notes, images of objects which add depth into the images. These are introduced to you as evidence, abstract and open ended for you to be able to decide their importance and relevance.


Featured in the Parr/Badger History Of Photobook III, its been described as a book which challenges the very medium of photography.

Redheaded Peckerwood is a very contemporary updating of what might be termed the elliptical narrative photo book. Patterson uses every facet of the bookmaking craft to underline a tale that, like all historical stories, we interpret through secondary rather than primary media. The book is a creative reinterpretation of an event that has already been famously reinterpreted in Terrence Malick’s film Badlands (1973), and indeed Patterson does much to clear away that accretion to bring us ‘closer’ to the ‘original’ event. But above all, Redheaded Peckerwood is a complex and challenging commentary on the photographic medium itself.

Redheaded Peckerwood is a beautiful book which actually encourages you to see beyond a biased viewpoint which we all create in our minds. Its open, its abstract and because its detached from any actual violence, it seeks to create a atmosphere where you are held from any presumptions or judgements. For me Redheaded Peckerwood is not just a photobook, its a session in letting yourself be exposed to something which would in a conventional world be a nightmare of humanity.

Also, if you found this interesting, Patterson gave a insightful interview about his process and the project on A Horn Magazine, do check it out. There is always his personal website for you to stalk and be amazed.


ICP & New York : One Month To Go

I’m so sorry for the slow updates on Constellation Cafe. Its just a month before I leave for ICP in New York to study PJ & Documentary for a year and I’m just trying to finish up on some commercial projects here and add some more images to my personal projects.

Atul Jindal & Karan Kumar : Big Dance Center Showcase, 2014
Backstage With MJ5
Backstage With MJ5, 2014

I’ve also been talking to a few more photographers and writers and surely you’re going to be seeing many more guest articles like the one by Albert Such on Quotations From Chairman Mao Book Notes.

Big Dance Showcase 2015

On the same note, I also want to introduce you to Big Dance Centre. Over the last six years they have made themselves into definitely the best dance school in India specially for contemporary and hip hop. And I can’t even describe the energy and enthusiasm these guys have. They were also the one to choreograph “Blue Eyes” by Honey Singh and worked with Amitabh Bacchan in Boothnaath and Sharukh Khan in Temptations Tour. Do check them out on their official website.

Without Apologies S

Moving To New Shores

Firstly Constellation Cafe just made it to 100,000 hits and about 1,450 followers! Super excited about that! Thank you for all your support and feedback about the blog to keep it running for more than 5 years now.

I’ve not been posting any personal work on the blog recently and I’m trying to change that now. In my mind I’ve always been hoping that the blog becomes more of a centre of discussion rather than me shamelessly promoting myself. Still, just to keep you updated, here is a picture from the recent trip outside the city.

Salt Flats
Kochar Brothers, 2014

Secondly, Constellation Cafe is now going to be featuring academic papers on photography, starting with Coco Chen’s paper which discusses the political and civil repercussions of Rita Leistner’s “Prisoners of Balad”.

Supporters of Muktada Al-Sadr in Najef
Supporters of Muktada Al-Sadr in Najef. Copyright : Rita Leistner

I’ve been reading more papers like these and its just so fascinating to look at how images don’t exist independently but in fact share a relationship with the audience even before they are seen by them.

For now, do have a look at Rita’s website here. Rita Leistner Image Via Pri Org.


Constellation Cafe Books : Party – Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung

“If there is going to be a revolution, there must be a party”


A few days ago, Akshay reviewed Cristina d Middel’s much praised (and extremely difficult to find) photobook “The Afronauts”. For those who like, and collect, photobooks, “The Afronauts” is one of the big fishes, the trophy that we would like to get hold of, while we must get by with the iPad version (or the PDF…)


Party: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung, or rather “Quitonasto Form Chanmair Mao Tungest”, as written in the book cover, is her latest book. It is based on the famous little red book of the Cultural Revolution era, which contained the Chinese Communist Party ideology, and from the outside it really looks like a new edition of the book: small size (8.9 x 12.7 cm), red plastic cover with golden letters, thin pages.

Cristina has removed most of the text in the book, leaving only few words here and there that compose sentences sometimes naïve (“nature changes”), sometimes enigmatic (“If you want to know the taste of eating yourself”), and interleaved photographs, in the size little bigger than 6×6 contacts, taken in a trip to China.


The combination of photographs and text builds a narrative very much in the style of Cristina: combining humor, tenderness, and the surrealism present in everyday life. This is the China that will not appear in any photographic report published in the media: a little paper tiger on a window sill, red carpet on a staircase, two little girls in red striped dresses holding hands, a broken bust of Mao, somebody playing with a dog … It is the story of a personal trip, where the little unconnected details fall together to draw a picture of the wonder of travel and life.

Tripa MAO_OK_P.indd

I guess that Party can be considered a photobook (it has already earned a couple of prizes.). But its small format, the appropriation, almost like a souvenir, of the little red book, and the power of the conjunction text, constructed from pieces of Mao ́s quotations, and images, make it transcend the traditional concept of a photobook.

Party: Qutotations from Chairman Maoi spublished by Editorial RM in collaboration with the Archive of Modern Conflict. For further reading have a look at the website for AMC. Albert and I also had a conversation about the book along side Broomberg & Chanarin’s “Holy Bible”. Have a look at CPH Mag‘s website for notes on the same.

About The Author : Albert Such is a documentary photographer based in Barcelona. You can have a look at his work on his official website.


Constellation Cafe Books : Raised By Wolves

If there ever was a book which was brilliant, bold, intricate, intimate, poetic and brave, its this. Rare as can be, this work is not known to many but for me it defined how photography could be so involving.

The only copy I could get my hands on was in the Magnum London library..

Photographed by Jim Goldberg and published by Scalo in 1995, this book was originally created to support the exhibit it accompanied.

“Although the accompanying book received one mixed review shortly after publication, it was described as “a heartbreaking novel with pictures”, and Martin Parr and Gerry Badger in their book The Photobook: A History praised it as “complex and thoughtful.”

Created over 10 years, the book follows a group of teenagers who live on the streets of San Francisco & Los Angeles. Jim Goldberg’s craft with storytelling reaches its pinnacle with this book, it creates a new level of its own.


As a book, the first thing which you notice is the embedded roughness. Jim made multiple versions of the book before he finalised on the one to be printed (I think 7 versions in total). Softcover with thick gloss pages and a open spine, the book encourages you to spread it out, open and expose it completely.



This attitude is also mirrored in the very structure of the book where images are always fearless and unapologetic. These combined with letters, correspondence and conversations between the photographers and the subjects, creates a implosive shock which makes you really reconsider our own prejudice and perceptions.

Raised By Wolves is one of those books which shakes you and pulls you apart, completely changing the way you think. Goldberg’s genius lies in the modesty and utter humility which reflects in his work, which changes this book from a documentary to a deeply moving personal portrait.

In case you’d want to have a read, there is a page on Slideshare where you can see the entire book. Also if you’d like to look at more work by Goldberg, its available on the Magnum Photos website. There is another detailed review of the work available on American Suburb X in case you’re interested.


Constellation Cafe Books : The File Room

Recently added to my collection is this grand red book by Dayanita Singh, titled “The File Room”. Now most of you would know that I’ve been a great admirer of her work since my introduction to photography and needless to say she’s also been of great inspiration.

Steidl Publication 2013
Steidl Publication 2013, I bought the book when it was released in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013

The File Room is Singh’s latest book marking the convergence of her interests in bookmaking and photography. The hardbound book is huge, a brand new direction from her older more intimately sized publications. Printed with Stiedl, the book feels organic, heavy with the weight of familiarity. There is something in this book which makes it feel new yet aged at the same time.


The book comes in multiple colors for the cover fabic (I chose red). Singh has spent a lot of time working on the make of this book, everything from the cover fabric to the font inside, each one has its own poetic purpose. The book as a whole is a celebration of textures right from its cover, its end sheets and the paper.

Inside lie 88 pages of images and short texts along with a afterword by Aveek Sen and a interview with Singh herself. Its all introduced with black and white images printed beautifully on perfectly matt paper which is not only a pleasure to view but a delight to touch. These monochrome images document the many spaces of file storage rooms (either government or personal) in India. Stacks upon stacks of files and precariously standing towers of documents, stored, forgotten. She rarely uses texts in her books but here it comes across as a bridge for the reader, bringing them closer to the work.


The File Room is a beautiful book and Singh earns full points for her craft. Unlike her previous publications, she focuses on the physicality of the work, keeping the images simple and uncomplicated. Everything in this book, from the fabric cover to the texture, smell of the pages and the matt print reinforce what The File Room is about, her obsession with paper, documentation and book making.

I hope you can see the texture of the paper in this image. Its beautifully thick, much like archival quality.
I hope you can see the texture of the paper in this image. Its beautifully thick, much like archival quality.

This is a lovely book and you’d definitely love it more if you’re looking at it away from Dayanita’s earlier work.  For me it moves too far away from photography into craft but it opens doors to a more secretive artist baring herself. The File Room brings to light a body of work which comes only with evolution and refinement, a work without doubt pointing back to the artists roots.

Still, if you’re looking to add one of her books to your collection, I’d strongly suggest her earlier work Go Away Closer or Privacy. I don’t have a copy of Privacy but I’ll surely showcase Go Away Closer in the weeks to come.

In case you’re interested, right before she released this book, Dayanita had a big retrospective in Hayward Gallery London. A preview of that could be seen in the video below :


Constellation Cafe Books : Afronauts

It seems a little absurd to introduce  a book which is so well known. When released in 2012, this self published book sold out in less than two months. Inspirational, magnificently creative and brilliantly simple, “Afronauts” is to me one of those books which I desperately want.

Source : The Guardian
Source : The Guardian

I first came upon this book while researching for one of my projects. Photographed by Christina De Middel, the book develops from a little known story about the Zambian space program.  Christina who comes from a strong photojournalistic background, decided to take this story and develop her own ideas around it. The result is a wonderful body of work which consists of images, illustrations and collages.


Zambia 1964, the rather eccentric school teacher Edward Makuka Nkoloso single-handedly started a space program to put the first African on the moon, thereby joining the space race between the Sovjet Union and the United States. Due to a lack of funding, both by the Zambian Government and the United Nations, and because one of the astronauts, a teenage girl, became pregnant, the short-lived program came to an early end. It is a lesser known part of the African history which unfortunately mostly has been dominated by wars, violence and hunger. Half a century later Spanish photojournalist Christina de Middel used this story as the basis for her book Afronauts in which she rebuilds the story and adapts it to her personal imagery (source Amazon)

Cloud Chris

I wish I could tell you about the make of the book and how it feels to actually read through a physical copy but this book is really difficult to find and if you do find a copy, its usually too expensive to buy. But as I really wanted to read the book, I wrote to Christina and she actually sent me a complete pdf copy! (Thank you again to her being so totally amazing).


88 Pages thick, Afronauts is constructed on the delicate balance of myth, fact and fiction. The book has been designed to feel like a research file including articles, notes and images put together. A really impressive part about the project is also how Christina doesn’t betray the subject with imposed design ideas or disbelief but builds on their aspirations and dreams.

Source : SPBH
Source : SPBH

What sets this work apart from others is the very humility of Christina’s work. When you look at Afronauts, its funny, witty and infinitely brilliant. But what lies undearneath is a non-judgemental idea of faith and understanding. Afronauts is presented as a playful surrealistic book but it also challenges our ideas and perception of the African nations.

So if you ever find a copy of this book, buy it without a single thought, its going to become one of the most prized books in your collection. There was a really well directed AV project also about the same project on Vimeo but I think its been removed. Anyway, if you like Christina’s work, have a look at her website. She was also nominated for the Deutsche Börse award for the same work, so you can find her interview below.

On the same note, if you’re in India or nearby, you’ll be happy to know that Emaho Magazine is holding a book making workshop with Christina & fellow artist Riccardo Cases.

Emaho Workshop With Christina De Middel
Emaho Workshop With Christina De Middel

The workshops will be held in Mussoorie  from 19th to 22nd June, 2014, as a joint project of EMAHO Magazine and the IED Madrid.  For more information, please visit Emaho Magazine website.

Also, if you apply now, you can avail a 7,000 INR discount. There are only a few limited seats left so if you’re interested, buzz Emaho asap!

Working With Photography & Art


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