In honor of
Weegee and Kohei Yoshiyuki
Photos are from Piercing Darkness project – a forthcoming limited edition artist’s book of infrared flash photography by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
Piercing Darkness takes over where Weegee and Yoshiyuki left off with their groundbreaking candid infrared flash photography.
Piercing Darkness along with my project The Americans…60 years after Frank are under joint consideration for a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship.
For those that are not familiar with this type of work, infrared flash coupled with an infrared camera, makes it possible to take photographs in complete darkness with little or no visible light coming from the flash.
Freak Show – man passing a hook through his nose and out his mouth.
The 3 shots that follow are some of the first photos I took with the IR setup. I was still learning the ropes of how to go about it. It is very hard taking pictures out in the woods in the dark when you can’t see the ground or your camera.
Although infrared flash night photography is a rewarding and interesting area to work in, it can be dangerous. At 2 in the morning there is always the threat of an attack or robbery. There is also the danger of going up to strangers and sticking your cam in their face. If you wish to try this type of photography I suggest you do so with self-defense in mind.
Before I shot the 2 guys ‘tag teaming the gal’, I was almost run over by a drunk at 1 in the morning. I was able to jump out of the way at the last moment…just. Being of an ADD nature and always distracted, I was very, very lucky that night.
Shooting infrared flash in the darkness of night is not studio photography, most of the time it is a crapshoot. If your an anal photog and like your shots perfect…forget IR flash work. Just stick with your tripod, cable release, beauty dishes and tethered laptop. You never know exactly what you have until you develop it…just like the old ‘wet darkroom’ days.
I discuss the characteristics of the ‘anal photog’ here…about 2/3’s of the way down starting with large format cameras.
Many times you can’t see the subject in your camera for proper framing nor can you even see the controls of your camera. Unless you can see in the dark, you have to be all set ahead of time. The focus may be off, exposure is off, lots of issues shooting in the dark. But when things work out and you get a great shot it makes it all worthwhile.
Homeless Couple Hollywood Blvd…with obligatory clichéd juxtaposition of foot for added interest.
If you shoot at dusk you may be able to see a little in your screen. You can also get some nice shots of the sky at dusk.
Those NYC gals can sure toss their hair!
The one gal doesn’t seem to like it. GD, she can toss it in my face any day of the week!
When you are shooting blackout flash photography some of the pix will be crooked. It is unavaoidable if you can’t use a viewfinder or see well in the dark. You may think you are a devotee of Winogrand with all the off-kilter work, but you should strive for something beyond Winogrand’s ‘snapshot aesthetics’ by balancing the crooked composition with excellent content,
If your crooked photos have strong content your photos wont be confused with Winogrand’s crooked mess that also had crap for content in a lot of his work….that is the difference.
Here is a little trick I use that may help you if you decide to try IR flash night photography. I glue small pieces of toothpicks on my camera controls so I can feel them braille style to adjust controls in the dark. OK, I may be guilty of a little fondling and pimping my cam here…but I have an excuse!
I’ve seen a fair amount of (sexual) breast suckling in my day. I have never seen it fail to put a smile on the face of the gal being nursed!
An old gal once asked me what fascination men see in breasts? I told her no one can say. It is the same way that no one can say why they like vanilla or chocolate…they just do. I gave her a quote from Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade to make my point.
Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die…
I told her it is not her place to ask why, the only question for her is whether to provide the stimulation to men and women.
When I shot this next pix I had no idea the gal had almost 1 inch long nipples…nor that she had them poking out of the fishnet top. That is the beauty and mystery of piercing darkness.
A little history on infrared flash photography…
Graflex 4×5 Speed Graphic press camera with GE 5R Infrared Flashbulb.
The Speed Graphic was a mainstay of Weegee. Loaded with 3 zinc ‘D’ batteries and a film holder, it weighs nearly 9 pounds!
The camera fondlers are spoiled nowadays. They complain their cameras that weigh a pound are too heavy. The old press photogs were real he-men lugging this thing around all day.
From Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection
Two of the founding fathers of IR flash photography were Weegee and Kohei Yoshiyuki. From my limited research, they were the only two photogs in history that have done any meaningful projects with IR flash photography.
Here is some of their work with IR flash…
(You got to love those moments that pleasure the gals so much it makes their toes curl! GD…can there possibly be ANY more pleasurable work in this world than making women’s toes curl and crack!)
Lovers at the Palace Theatre – Weegee
There are many variations of this photo showing Weegee took various poses of the couple. The dates for this shot vary all over the place…1940, 1943 and 1945. Weegee said he prided himself in reality based photography, but he was not getting what his client wanted for movie theatre shots. So Weegee staged some of the infrared movie theatre shots….”helping realism along” as he wrote in his autobiography.
Weegee talks about his infrared flash photography on pages 117-118 of his book Weegee by Weegee. He said he picked up a female model with a “peek-a-boo dress” and a male model from the Art Students’ League. He brought them to a theatre and told them “Don’t look at the camera and don’t laugh. Just make love.” .
Weeggee reenacting how he did his infrared flash theatre photography. He disguised himself as an ice cream vendor.
Weegee’s account of his infrared work is confusing. Many of Weegee’s early infrared photos date from the early 1940’s. He would have used a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 press camera in that era. In his autobiography he said he hid his camera in the ice cream tray, which sounds more like the 1950’s when he used small format cameras. It is pretty hard to hide a press camera.
Here is another version…
While the photo of Lovers at the Palace Theatre fits the bill for his staged infrared theatre photos, it was dated in the 1940’s. From his books timeline description his staged infrared theatre photos were done in the early 1950s. So, there is no telling which infrared shots are candid and which are staged when it comes to Weegee.
Well, I can’t hold Weegee’s staged lovers against him. I’ve been in a number of theatres and have not seen any love scenes as yet. I keep looking. Until then let me offer Weegee this IR theatre homage…
The next photo is by Yoshiyuki…from his project ‘The Park’.
Yoshiyuki’s project centered around taking IR flash photos at 3 parks in Japan (Chuo, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks) where people would go to have sex (both hetero and homo) and voyeurs would stay in the shadows to watch them. (Sometimes the voyeurs would see how far they could push things and try to sneak into the action!)
In a 1979 interview Yoshiyuki said that just as he started to test Toshiba infrared flashbulbs, they were discontinued. Yoshiyuki replaced the discontinued bulbs with Kodak (infrared) flashbulbs.
A quote from the 1979 interview done by Nobuyoshi Araki and Kohei Yoshiyuki:
“I found out that Toshiba made flashbulbs- infrared flashbulbs. Before I had a chance to use more than a few of them, they were discontinued. Then I looked around for filters, and ended up using two tricolor separation filters. After a while I heard that Kodak had some flashbulbs, so I used them. At that time infrared flash units didn’t exist. Sunpak came out with them after I took these pictures.”
I have done extensive research on infrared flashbulb history and have never been able to find any information on Kodak making infrared flashbulbs or any flashbulbs for that matter.
I contacted flashbulb historian, dealer and expert Bill Cress about Kodak infrared flashbulbs.
Bill’s reply: “Kodak did not make bulbs, if anything they may have had some private labeled by others but not made by them.”
Chuck Baker, another historian and collector concurred stating; “As far as I know Kodak did not make their own flashbulbs.
I polled the Flashbulb Collectors Page, a Yahoo Group, on this subject. Unanimous consensus was Kodak never made any flashbulbs whether they be infrared or visible light.
Private label or not, nothing ever shows up in the historical record or on the second-hand market for Kodak flashbulbs either in the visible light spectrum or infrared. While it is possible that the Japanese had access to products not available in the USA, it is only conjecture.
Yoshiyuki started his Park project before IR strobes were on the market. But as he approached the mid-point and end of his project, IR strobes were readily available from Sunpak. The bottom line is; it is a mystery as to what infrared flashbulb or strobe Yoshiyuki was actually using for his Park project.
I like Yoshiyuki, so let me just borrow a quote from his interview to finish things up and say…”I better not say any more.” You can draw your own conclusions
The General Electric #5R, #22R and Sylvania Blackout 2 and Blackout 25 were the most common infrared flashbulbs of that era. The most popular infrared flashbulb of these four was the GE 5R.
In the December 1947 issue of Popular Photography, Weegee said he used “midget infrared flashbulbs.” He goes on to say in the April 1956 issue of Popular Mechanics that he used 5R infrared flashbulbs.
I don’t know how much the 5R’s cost in the early 1940’s when they were first commercially marketed, but a package from the 1960’s was priced at $3 a dozen. Infrared flash photography was developed during WWII as a means of taking photos in complete darkness also known as ‘blackout.
A trade announcement in the May 1949 edition of Popular Photography said Sterling Howard Corp of N.Y.C. was selling infrared flashbulb coating kits to turn white light flashbulbs into infrared flashbulbs. The list price for the gelatin & dye kit was $4.75.
This document was taken from Photography: Naval Training Course, Vol. 1, NAVPERS 10371-A, prepared by Bureau of Navy Personnel, 1951.
A flash lamp pierces darkness about the way a 16- inch gun salvo rends silence. The ordinary flash lamp, that is. There’s one which is decidedly “un ordinary.”nA photographer takes a flash picture in pitch darkness. Only a few feet away there is not the slightest hint of it. But what about the flash? There wasn’t any. A flash picture with no flash? Well, for all practical purposes-yes.
Actually there was a flash. But it was made up almost entirely of infrared light, which is invisible. Yet the lamp illuminated the subject quite enough for a clear picture. This is infrared flash photography or “blackout” photography. The special flash bulb is coated with a Lacquer which transmits a maximum of infrared rays while holding back nearly all the visible rays.
It must be used only with infrared film and in total or nearly total darkness. Slow shutter speed (1/25 to 1/50) and wide lens opening (f/4 to f/8) are required. The phenomenon of blackout photography will work only at very short distances-usually 10 to 15 feet. But at close quarters it will produce a surprisingly satisfactory photographic record.
This procedure might have numerous military uses. An example would be in taking a vital picture when a brilliant glare of white light would tip off your presence to the enemy. There are also less ominous circumstances which would make the use of the conventional flash impractical or impossible.
An early blackout infrared flash photo from 1945 of Kodak’s Aero Pan film spooling operation. A single GE 22R infrared flashbulb was suspended above each operator for illumination. Photographed with a 4 x 5 camera with infrared film.
In 1974 Sunpak introduced the first commercial infrared strobe. The Nocto 400.
The Nocto 400 was a revolutionary strobe as it was the first and only commercially produced dedicated infrared flash ever made. It weighed about 886 grams without batteries.
It’s downfall was it produced a visible bright reddish / orange glow when it fired. It had a high and low setting and ran off of A.C. or 4 ‘C’ batteries. The low setting produced a slightly lower glow that was only visible if you looked directly at the head. The high setting produced a visible orange glow that would reflect off the object if it was within a few feet and had a reflective nature. The recycle time was 7 seconds on high and 1.5 seconds on low powered by the AC cord. The guide number calculator had a range of 57 feet for the high setting.
A few years later Sunpak introduced the model 622 which incorporated interchangeable heads – one head being a dedicated infrared flash head.
A technical tidbit…
On Flickr, member ‘t6b9p’ wrote :
“…the Sunpak 622 IR head is actually fitted with two IR filters. An inner 0.2mm flexible IR filter with 50% transmission at 730nm and a hard outer filter that has 50% transmission at 850nm.”
I took apart a Sunpak 622 IR head and sure enough there are two filters as ‘t6b9p’ reported.
The spec sheet lists the following information for the 622 Pro IR head:
Peak Spectrum: 840 NM
Guide Number: 30/100
Angle of illumination: 65 degree horizontal by 45 degree vertical.
Coverage: 35mm lens on 35mm camera
Weight 3.8 oz / 100 g
The beauty of the Sunpak was its systemized design that allowed rapid change of 7 dedicated strobe heads:
Bare bulb Head
A vintage 622 with IR head installed and the zoom head.
The Sunpak 622 was a monster to lug around. While the head is light, the weight of the entire flash unit is very heavy at 1109 grams without batteries. Recycle time with 4 alkaline batteries was 12 seconds on full power and almost instantaneous at low power.
This is a very powerful strobe that is said to be roughly 250 watt seconds. Although the flash head still emits a reddish glow it seems a little less than the Nocto 400 emitted. The dual filter array does a good job in keeping this strobe stealthy.
Sunpak Nocto 400 compared to Sunpack Auto 622 with IR head.
If you would like to use one of these vintage film era IR strobes on your digital cam you will need Safe-Sync adapter.
In the 2000’s third party cottage industries came out with IR flash adapters that slid over small, modern strobes and commercial strobes modified for dedicated IR use.
When I’m out wandering around late at night I never know what I will come across for the IR cam to record…
Of course, to do it candidly, with live people, you must have great stealth skills. Just gluing toothpicks on your cam wont do a thing for you unless you got the rest…talent and skill. I hold the world record for how close you can get to someone and shoot a candid. I have daylight candid’s going down to 2 or 3 inches from people.
Still, if I get sloppy with technique I get caught even with invisible flash technology…but only 2 or 3 times out of a hundred. If you want to be a better street photog – learn how to be one with your cam.
The best bet for stealth is when the subject is occupied elsewhere. This guy was a roving bartender. He had a bottle strapped to his waist. His motto was ‘drinks for tits!’
Even though he is looking right at me, this next photo is a candid. Same with most of the rest of these photos in this post…all candids. The only not-so-candid exceptions are the lady in the Indian headdress (I asked.) that is below and the 2 guys working on the gal. The 2 guys started out candid, then they turned around and told me ‘get that fucking camera out of here.’ (BTW…If I was on that tag team, the photog would have to set off an atom bomb to distract me and get my attention!)
In any case, I don’t care how stealthy you are (…and I am very good at it, http://dewallenrld.tumblr.com/) you can only crawl up a person’s ass so far and still be invisible.
Being able to go right up to an person in the dark and shoot them without blinding them with a strobe is very liberating. The only drawback is being forced to have a larger foot print than I would like with my gear – the giant IR flash adds a huge amount of real estate to the setup.
After 12 to 14 hours of IR street shooting my infrared flash candid photography skills improved quite a bit. Before I shot the first 3 photos that opened this post I only had about 20 to 30 minutes practice shooting the IR rig at my house. Shooting people outside in the dark is very different than fiddling with the cam in the basement. Now, I can’t toot my horn too loud. Skills or not, big ego or not, as I said earlier IR flash candid photography in the dark is a crapshoot…I only show you the good ones!
Of course it is all luck! ~ Cartier-Bresson
Here…I have even included a Plain Jane photo for the conservative crowd that do not like anything sexual!
The guy below was doing his best with his advertising campaign to get a girl. This gal didn’t have any interest in his product. Since I’m not queer or a girl, I’m no expert…but his package looked like a nice one to me.
He would ask girls if they wanted to touch it…none accepted. This girl recoiled and held her hand as tight as she could to her body. I guess this underscores the difference between the sexes. If a girl was offering free touches of her delectable’s…she would not have to ask a (hetero) guy twice.
Even in the dark…if a gal wants to gets a guys attention all she has to do is to do a split!
Isn’t this what you all try for with your street work? You find a funny sign and wait 20 minutes until someone walks by it…the proverbial and clichéd juxtaposition. Well, try it in the dark, with the signs moving and no viewfinder!
One of the problems with IR flash at night is most of the time you are dependent on flash for 100% of the light. The little ambient light that is available gets lost with IR. You can see the fall-off in the shot above; the foreground was pulled 1.5 stops the background was pushed 3 to 4 stops.
Below is an example of the maximum effective range for infrared flash using a medium power IR strobe set to maxiumum power.
Traditional photography has more latitude when it comes to blending flash and ambient light at night as you can see in this next shot.
In any case, either you can make it work in LR or not. Never force things, don’t rejoice in your garbage…trash it!
Cartier-Bresson on the subject…
“Yes…Yes…Yes…photography is like that and there’s no maybes. All the maybes go to the trash. There is a tremendous enjoyment in saying yes, even if it is for something you hate. It is an affirmation…Yes!”
I was at a meeting put on by lesbian separatists. Here is a little doctrine of the separatists in case your not familiar with that movement…
One of the lesbians didn’t like me taking pictures and started pushing me around and was very abusive. As I left, a group of 5 or 6 lesbians surrounded me. They demanded I delete my photos. As soon as they confronted me I had my magnum can of pepper spray in hand with my other hand fingering a collapsible baton. I refused to delete any of my photos and ended the conversation in short order.
I find it does no good to keep arguing in these situations. The only thing that happens is tempers will start to boil. As I walked away they continued following me while verbally harassing me. Luckily for them they were all mouth. If things escalated I was ready to serve up some Tabasco and crack some heads.
An interesting aspect of infrared flash photography is how it shows up the veins of the body. Dr. Lou Gibson did a number of experiments in this area.
When picking your infrared flash you should choose the wavelength that is most conducive to the type of shooting you want to do. Some IR flashes do produce a little visible light that the subject will see if they are looking at it. If you are working with normal street lighting it is not a big deal. They most likely wont see much of the flash.
With my style of shooting I work in almost complete darkness and right up in people’s faces, so I try to go with no visible light. When you are shopping for your IR flash, pay attention to the sound it makes when firing and recycling. Every flash has its own sound signature and some are a lot louder than others.
If your shooting in a noisy environment then it wont matter much. But if things are quiet and you stick your cam in someone’s face, you don’t want a noisy flash blowing a stealth shot.
Some of these IR flashes have so many lights on them they are lit up like a goddamn Xmas tree. Red, green, blue lights…a nightmare for the stealth undercover photog. But, that is how the camera fondling engineers design this crap. They don’t know their ass from Randy’s proverbial donut hole when it comes to candid work…do they.
If your stuck with an IR flash that has lots of flashing colored lights working against you, cover them up with gaffers tape and pinprick holes in the tape to allow a little of the light to shine through the tape.
Out of all things mentioned above, recycle time is of the utmost importance. One of my IR flashes had it all going except for one thing…a slow recycle time. I missed many shots with that flash. I seldom use it now, except if I need a disposable flash that I don’t mind being trashed.
Don’t ever say no one breasts-feeds you the scoop. I give it all to you, I hold back nothing.
But, you will never get this stuff on the photo forums or mainstream photo websites. I’ve been banned from virtually all of the photo forums for trying to bring you the right information. The controlling pricks that run the photo forums are interested in $. All the photo websites are the same – they only think of profits and not in giving you the best information. I’m not $ motivated, so I tell it how it is.
The price you pay for total darkness is the flash range will be less than you get with the flash that emits a small amount of visible light. You may want a long distance IR shot once in a while, so you may wish to stock low and high power IR flashes in your kit. While you can get by with just a high powered IR flash, they are huge and work against you with candid photos.
A trick you can use to hide some of the glow of your flash is to use a Sto-Fen white diffuser. The diffuser masks much of the glow and you still get 95% of the IR illumination. The drawback of the diffuser is it does cut down on the flash strength by 1/3 to 1/2 stop.
Instant review is an important tool that benefits IR flash. It not only helps with getting the right exposure or something approximating it, but it also lets you know your IR setup is working properly. You can’t tell by seeing any light from the strobe, so all you can go by is the photo you just took.
From Women are Beautiful: Beyond Snapshot Aesthetics artist’s book.
It is hard to get perfect exposure with infrared flash while doing street work. You are always changing distances and if your working undercover you can’t always be changing your exposure. (Or even see your controls in the dark.) Other times the shot comes up so quick there is no time to fondle the cam. The only time you have is to decide do I take the shot as-is or not. You just have to do the best you can working with an acceptable range of exposure / framing / lack of focus and make it work in post.
Again, not something the anal photog has developed much skills at. The anal photogs are used to working with pretty perfect files and trying their anal best to get it perfect in-cam. Whereas street / documentary photographers are used to working with imperfect files and making something great out of it. When you do street or doc work, if you come back with 70% to 80% of what you were after, you can still have a winner.
Cartier-Bresson’s Rue Mouffetard Paris 1954 is a good example of the principle of imperfect perfection.
Don’t yawn at me when I am lecturing you on the characteristics of the anal photog.
Before I took the shot above, I had thirty something photos ruined. Someone had bumped into me and knocked the IR flash slightly off the hotshoe. When I was taking photos I was not getting anything since the flash was not working. This isn’t the first time this has happened. If your shooting candid’s, you can’t constantly be reviewing your shots if you want to stay undercover. So, you have to balance reviewing in a timely fashion to shooting candidly.
As bad as it was losing 30 something photos from a loose flash, earlier that week I lost 300+ photos. As I said working in the dark can be tough. When changing a memory card I dropped it and lost lots of good photos that night…a fistfight, a girl with pillowy and veiny breasts, girls in soapsuds, people yawning and lots more. I had to learn the hard way to be extra vigilant when changing cards in the dark.
When out and about I sometimes get bored waiting to find the next great shot. I have a number of projects that I just shoot ‘off the cuff.’ Weegee used to like shooting pix of people picking their nose. One of my boredom projects is shooting people while yawning…candid. It is good practice for fast shooting…a yawn does not last very long.
Working indoors is also another are of interest to me. Here is one from my latest artist’s book project Gay Bar. Shooting in gay bars is tough, I usually get thrown out in short order.
A transwoman and her friend. From Gay Bar artist’s book.
I have more IR images that are marinating a la’ Eric Kim style. I’m letting them ‘age’ cause I’m hoping my bad photos will somehow magically look better later on!
No, just kidding. Generally, you should NEVER marinate your photos – learn from your mistakes and successes ASAP.
Mine are marinating cause I don’t have the time to process them. I hate sitting on my photos, but that is how it is. It takes a lot of post processing to develop IR.
Digital IR images look terrible right out of the camera. They do not look anything like the old Kodak High Speed Infrared Film we shot back in the day.
Here is what a digital IR image looks like with no post processing.
Here is the same image after extensive post-processing
From The Americans…60 years after Frank artist’s book by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
With work you can get the IR image to look ‘something like’ a traditional BW image. Although, the tonal range and look of digital IR BW is still going to be different that non IR digital BW.
Here is a non-IR digital image.
When I go through the images, some can be tossed immediately. Other times an image has to have some processing done to determine whether it is a keeper or not. In general, IR post processing takes a lot longer than traditional post processing. Sometimes you invest an hour or more of work in it only to find it is a borderline image and it still ends up as trash.
If you’re after the classic IR flash look, burn out the highlights some and pump up the contrast. I prefer a more extended range look myself, so I split the difference. If you are having trouble making good prints from your infrared flash images, make one good master print with the proper amount of burnout, then use it to help match your future prints.
You don’t have to scare people Bruce Gilden style to get ‘bug eyed’ shots. If you keep your eyes open you can find them naturally occurring once in a while. If you are in a hurry for the bug eyed person, then you may have to resort to scaring people.
Now, there are no photo police to enforce any rules or certain ‘look’ when it comes to developing IR. With certain images you can process them to look a little like a poor quality traditional BW image. Since my early IR film days were based on Kodak High Speed Infrared Film, I strive for a little of that look with my digital post processing. But, we are all free to process them as we like…
When I go out to shoot street I seldom have an agenda. I shoot what I come across that interests me. You prob wont believe this, but I am pretty shy. If I can avoid it I don’t like talking to people. Sure, sometimes I can be bold and do all sort of things to push people…if I need to. But it zaps my energy as it isn’t my natural way of being. My preferred M.O. is to get as close as is needed to get the candid shot all the while staying undercover.
Adult themed horror house – women examining their clitoris with a flashlight and mirror.
Man doing squats with park bench – Santa Monica
If you want to learn more about freezing time in the dark, get a copy of the bible on this subject:
Photos used herewith are taken in part from the following limited edition artist’s books by Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
The Americans…60 years after Frank
Secrets of Candid Photography
Bikers’ Mardi Gras
Women are Beautiful: Beyond Snapshot Aestheticism
Pitch Black Crapshoot
A Shot in the Dark
The Great Tit!
Sex machine with vacuum nipple stimulator c 1930’s / 40’s
Selection from Iconoclastic Reporter artist’s book
Daniel D. Teoli Jr. Archival Collection