Adventures in Laserdiscs

Trainspotting, released by Criterion Collection on Laserdisc.

A number of years ago, I went through a pretty serious love affair with Laserdiscs, the home video format that was a high-end alternative to VHS and Beta cassettes in the 1980s and 1990s. While never achieving mainstream commercial success, the format was embraced by diehard movie lovers and filmmakers who wanted the best possible home version of their work. Movies on disc would feature widescreen presentation (at a time when nearly everything on tape used the dreaded “pan-and-scan”), audio commentaries, deleted scenes and other bonus features. In other words, an early version of what would become standard on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K Ultra Blu-Ray.

My laserdiscs have been sitting in boxes for the past three-plus years, and they haven’t been touched since my move from Minneapolis to Chicago. My Panasonic laserdisc player broke down, and since the media is long since obsolete, repairs today are virtually impossible, and so the movies sat in storage, wasting away. Meanwhile, I finally moved on to Blu-Ray and streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max, and also purchased a very nice 4K television last year. It would seem that going back to a home video format now three generations removed is beyond pointless, it’s just silly.

And, yet…part of me still doesn’t want to give up on these large, bulky discs. I found myself enjoying Laserdiscs much more than I had expected, and under the right conditions with the proper restoration and dedication and care, the format could still rival DVD. I found that animation was especially impressive, as one never had to worry about compressed digital artifacts, excessive edge enhancement or other compression problems that plagued DVDs. Criterion Collection was another welcome example of LDs at their best, and many of their titles include bonus material seen nowhere else. And let’s not get into all the great music discs that have never been released on the later formats.

And so I had a crazy idea: maybe I should write a book about this subject. I am very eager to get back to writing about pop culture and movies, something that I haven’t done since the publication of Pop Life and Greatest Hits in late 2017. All of my efforts since have been on the art and photography side, which is very important to me, but it’s not everything. I still need more creative outlets. So maybe this idea could work?

Right now, I am assembling a spreadsheet of my laserdisc collection to see where things stand. After that comes the all-important writing part, and since I’m looking at roughly 100 movies to review, this could become a very meaty book. At this point, it’s all just speculation and guesswork. But we’ll see how things go.

Of course, I ought to remind you that I also have two major book projects that are standing ahead in line, and those really should be completed first. As always, I think the solution is simply to write. Just get words written down and take things one step at a time and see how things go.

Again, patience is key. I have a number of art books to complete, including a third anthology volume, the portraits, the next volume of street photography that follows up The White Album, a book from the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit currently playing here in Chicago, and a photo album of baby’s first year. And I still really need to be making progress on that Ghibli book, and I’m telling myself if I could only write a couple pieces every week, I’d be making great progress.

Such is the life of an independent author and publisher. You have the freedom to crank out as much as you possibly can, and that’s a very liberating concept, but it’s a lot of hard work. We’ll see how things go.

Finally, here’s a short gallery of a couple laserdiscs from my collection. Note just how amazing the packaging and cover designs are, especially when compared to modern physical formats. One could almost have a lot of fun collecting laserdiscs just for the cover art.

A Look at the Desk Calendar Series

One of my current book projects is another art anthology of my older works, this time a collection of early zine-styled drawings, graffiti scribbles and abstract coloring book sketches. To digitally preserve the artworks, I first tried to use an older PC scanner at a Fed Ex Office store (I still keep calling them Kinko’s), but I’m now using an iPhone scanner app that outputs at a sufficiently high enough resolution for my needs.

This brings me to the subject of my longest-running art series in my career: the desk calendars. These were large collage works created on office desk calendars, created over a period of many years while working at TCF Bank’s corporate offices in Minneapolis and Plymouth, Minnesota. Until I began publishing books, I considered these to be my magnum opus and had always intended them to be digitally preserved for both publication into books and also blown up to 3x-6x their original size for physical art installations and print runs.

The iPhone scanner app has proven to be less than ideal for this, but it’s only because I need a proper high resolution copy of these works. I did capture the final six pieces from the 2017 series, and while they won’t work for print reproductions, they will work perfectly fine in the digital realm, and so I wanted to share them with you on the website.

So what are the Desk Calendars all about? Well, it’s a bit tricky to describe. Think of it as a combination of a calendar, a comic book, a high school yearbook and an abstract painting that is based almost entirely around text. The idea evolved over a number of years as the “b-sides” to my paintings, which first began as a few short notes for the benefit of collectors and then steadily grew larger and more involving until they became full-scale artworks on their own.

I really did enjoy this final year and wish I had kept creating them through 2017, but I was winding down my job at TCF Bank for a move to Chicago in August, and work on launching my new publishing label startup was taking all my free time and energy. These calendars are very involving and take a long time to create. The goal was always to finish a piece within that specific month, but there were years when it would take as long as three months to fully fill out and complete.

In any case, I wanted to share the final “season” of the desk calendar series. I don’t currently have any plans to revive this project, as it really does require one to work a desk job during business hours and my life currently revolves around caring for my eight-month-old daughter during the day, in addition to running around town, cleaning the apartment, keeping us all fed and somehow squeezing in a little time for writing, art or photography. And have I mentioned that I have already sketched out my next dozen writing projects over the next 12-18 months? Oy, froynlavin, my head hurts.

The 2017 desk calendars are just below the jump. I hope you enjoy them.

Continue reading “A Look at the Desk Calendar Series”

Art Gallery: More New Portraits

Once again, I have a handful of new portraits to show off, as part of an ongoing series that is slowly building itself into another book. I think these came out well, and the pixelation as a result of digital file compression only helps to enhance the image. I like the presence of 1980s-style computer pixels, so it fits in nicely. I tell myself that if I can produce one or two sets a day, the book can be finished fairly quickly, so we’ll see how that goes.

Art Gallery: A Few More Portraits

As always, strike when the iron is hot. When inspiration arrives, you must rush forward as quickly as possible before it dissipates, for you never know when, or even if, it returns. In that sense, inspiration is really just another word for love. And when it comes to art, you better love what you do, because heaven only knows almost everybody else isn’t going to give a hoot.

Here is a sampling of several new portraits that I completed. I think they came through very well, and while they were a bit more challenging in places, everything did come through in the end. Once again, I am aiming for a painterly visual style, something that doesn’t obviously shout out “digital photograph.” It’s not anything close to what anyone else is doing with either digital art or photography, but that’s par for the course for me.

These will find their way into a future art/photography book, no question about that. I’ve thought for some time that the next volume should involve portraits, as nearly everything else involved locations, scenery and abstractions. We’ve gotta see some faces after all that, especially after the year of COVID.

Art Gallery: A Look at Some Portraits

For much of the past year, I have been working on my next major photography project, which is a series of Pop Art portraits that continue what I would call the “Biotracer style” that has infused my last three books. It has been a long and slow process, mostly because I’m still not sure how it will proceed, but at this current stage appears that it will be a series of “Portraits” books that could stretch into the infinite future. I don’t want to make another massive “double album” volume like The White Album and will probably try to keep the page lengths down.

This series of digital photographs were taken this weekend. The subject comes from a Mariano’s supermarket recruiting poster, captured on an Apple iPhone Xr. All of the subsequent editing and post-production work was also done entirely on the iPhone, using only the stock photo editing tools. This has been my modus operandi for the past two years and I still feel that I have yet to exhaust its creative possibilities.

One new wrinkle to come from this collection is the idea of multiple layers of editing. Usually, I will create a new work from a photograph and save it to my email or computer. This time, I saved to my email, but then downloaded them back to the iPhone and tinkered with them a second time. This was done with the majority of these pieces but not all, and I am very impressed by how well they turned out. My goal was to create a wide variety of works and art styles from screen printing to psychedelic pop art to cubism and surrealism and 1980s computer graphics.

Twenty pieces follow in this set. Feel free to take a look and tell me what you think. Everything is located just after the break –>

Continue reading “Art Gallery: A Look at Some Portraits”