Monday, January 20, 2014

Photoshop Time Travel and New Fuji Camera!

 "1982+2005, Paris, France" by Chino Otsuka

Chino Otsuka, a London-based photographer, is working on an interesting series of self-portraits, which pairs the present day photographer with herself from the past. She takes old family photographs of herself and inserts new self-portraits of herself into the old pictures, using Photoshop to age the new images to match the old. This is done seamlessly and the images play with the notions of self and the passing of time. Otsuka wrote this passage about this series:

I have a chance to meet,
there is so much I want to ask,
and so much I want to tell.

"1980+2009, Nagayama, Japan" by Chino Otsuka

You can see her images at her own website and at the blog, My Modern Met. Otsuka has also published a book of these images, titled Photo Album. Check them out.

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Also, in a bit of unrelated news, Fuji will officially announce a new camera in their X-series of cameras, the X-T1. They released a teaser photo of it and it looks like Fuji is aiming for some of Olympus' territory. The X-T1 is styled after SLR's of the past with a faux-pentaprism in the middle of the top and plenty of dials to complete that nostaglia-ridden aesthetic. They will formally announce the camera on January 28th and we will discover what it can do then. I'm not sure this camera is really needed, since Fuji already has the excellent and well-regarded X-E2, but what do I know? Camera companies seem to be spending a lot of time looking backwards for inspiration these days.

Monday, December 16, 2013

David Vestal: 1924 - 2013

 David Vestal, 2009, by Ellen Wallenstein

David Vestal, longtime photographer, educator, and writer, passed away on December 5, 2013 at his home in Bethlehem, Connecticut. For many years, Vestal wrote a column for PhotoTechniques magazine and I always tried to read those when I could. They were illuminating and pithy and often tried to push their way through the veils of pretense that hides much of the art of photography. He had a way of breaking things down and explaining them in understandable, commonsense terms. In many ways, he was a role model for me and my writing about photography. I never had the chance to meet him, but he was a powerful influence on my life and my photography.

New York City, 1958, by David Vestal

David Vestal wrote two photography books, The Craft of Photography and The Art of Black-and-White Enlarging. The latter book became the book I turned to in learning how to print and in how to be a photographer. When I learned photography in the late 1970s, I gravitated towards Ansel Adams’ Zone System for the exposure and development of black-and-white film. I used a 4x5 camera with a spot meter and tried to decipher how to use it all. Adams’ three book series at the time seemed kind of intimidating, so I picked up and read Minor White’s book on the Zone System. It may have been a small book, but the prose was dense and impenetrable, and practically impossible to apply in a useful way. It was more poetic allegory than technical instruction. So I bought Fred Picker’s Zone Workshop book. It was easier to understand, but turned out to be more of a sales tool for his business than anything else, however it did serve as a basic primer for the Zone System. Finally, I broke down and picked up Ansel Adams’ series of books and set about reading and learning his way of working. At the time I had access to a densitometer, which Adams required to determine correct exposure and development, and off I went. After a few years of working on this and getting the hang of it, I attended the Ansel Adams workshop in Carmel, California, only to have John Sexton, one of the last great Zone System photographers, say something like, “Well, I can see that you are doing everything by the book, but you need to expose more and cut back the contrast.” So that’s when I learned that following what Adams wrote down only gets you in the ballpark and really isn’t necessarily made for real life situations. 

Gallup, New Mexico, 1966, by David Vestal

And that was when I discovered David Vestal and his book, The Art of Black-and-White Enlarging. In his book, Vestal laid out a way of testing film exposure and development that was practical and sensible. I tried it, and after a few tweaks to accommodate my own working methods, it became how I tested every new film and developer combination, and it was responsible for a vast increase in the quality of my negatives, which became easier to print and produced better looking prints. Indeed, this book was filled with commonsense approaches to the practice of photography that made my life easier and my photography better, and David Vestal was the person who made that possible. His book was the mentor that I turned to when I needed to learn something and he made all the difference in the world to me. I kept his book close at hand and referred to it all the time. It became my standard reference work. Like I’ve already said, I never had the chance to meet him in person, but he was indeed my teacher and mentor, and I will never forget what he did for me. Thanks, David Vestal, and rest in peace.

New York City, 1959, by David Vestal

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Humans of New York vs. Creative Art

 photo by Brandon Stanton

I recently heard a news story/interview on The Humans of New York, which started out as a blog and has now become a New York Times bestselling book. The person behind the work, Brandon Stanton, takes portraits of people he encounters while walking around the city. He asks if he can photograph them and then interviews them and includes a bit of the interview with the photograph, which provides a bit of context to the portraits. Stanton makes a lot of these portraits. In the interview I heard, Stanton came across as humble and even a bit overwhelmed by the attention his work is gathering. He was charming enough that I was predisposed to like this work even before I saw it. You can see the work here.

Nick Vossbrink, a photographer working out of San Francisco, wrote an essay called "I'm Tired of 'White Guy' Photography Projects" that is marginally about the Humans of New York project and categorized the work as colonial photography which examines other cultures alien to the photographer’s point of view in an attempt to explain that culture to outsiders in a condescending manner. You can read his essay here. National Geographic is the primary example of this approach to photography, though they are far from the first to use this model of working. August Sanders seminal work of documenting the German people is another or Jacob Riis, whose work serve served to expose the dangers and destitution of New York ghettos of the late 1800s, are other earlier examples.

In fact, using photography to examine and understand other cultures and people and ways of life is as old as photography itself. It’s part of what photography is; a way of looking at the world and figuring out how everything works. But Vossbrink has an interesting point to make concerning photography.

Vossbrink said in his essay:
“To see the same approach taken towards non-white or non-mainstream cultures now feels old and stale. And with almost everyone having the tools to document and represent themselves now, it starts treading into self-serving, patronizing, white-guilt behavior too.

The colonial view doesn’t work for me anymore. At its best, I find it boring. At its worst, I find it racist. In almost all cases I’m tired of it.”

So does his point have merit? Perhaps. I do think we have moved past the idea of photographing indigenous peoples in far-away, exotic locales and have it be anything but insulting and patronizing to the people depicted. But is the idea finished completely as a mode of seeing? I find that hard to believe.

And that’s the thing with creative endeavors. It is up to the artists to come up with something new. If we rely on the tried and true, what has been done before, we face the prospects of creating art that is tired and stale. That is why certain kinds of photography really are kind of boring, when it comes right down to it. And photographs can be boring and beautiful at the same time, if the image has nothing new to say. Things like landscape photography and nudes are mostly just retreading old ground and repeating images styles that border on being tropes. New takes on these subjects are rare. And that’s what Vossbrink is reacting to in his essay. All too often Stanton gives us the same “Oh, look at the weirdo in the big city” kind of image that we’ve seen time and time again, from people like Diane Arbus and Weegee. For urbanites, these images are comforting and familiar. For rural folks, they are the evidence supporting all their preconceptions about the people in big cities.

So is Humans of New York patronizing and boring? Not really, though the skills of the photographer aren’t particularly strong. Stanton’s images are sometimes mediocre, bordering on student work, if I have to be honest, but it is the quotes and the stories that go along with the images that elevate them out of mediocrity. This work is about more than the images, which is usually the case with successful art; the meaning of a piece of art extends past the surface image of the artwork. It is the context of the art and its subject and its maker's intent that makes for good art. Is this great photography? No, but it is good photography that is worth looking at and that is something far from boring. And I suspect that Stanton is a photographer to watch and pay attention to.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Photographer Daniel Beltra Wins Prestigous Award!

Daniel Beltra was awarded second place in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is jointly sponsored by the Natural History Museum in London, England, and the BBC Worldwide. Daniel won for his work for Greenpeace documenting the building of the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in Brazil, which will displace up to 40,000 indigenous people and destroy untold amounts of rainforest and biodiversity. Daniel was born and raised in Spain and now calls Seattle, Washington, home. He has made this his life's work, being a witness to and exposing the damage and destruction that people have brought about in the world, even as he frequently puts his own life at risk. Congratulations, Daniel, and keep up the good work.

Monday, October 14, 2013

New Stuff From Sony and Sigma!

The rumors have been flying around the Web that Sony was going to introduce a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera system, similar to their NEX cameras, and that's what they've done. Sony has just announced the A7 and the A7r. The A7 will have a 24 MP sensor and the A7r will sport a 36 MP sensor with no anti-aliasing filter for maximum sharpness. Both models will have a built-in OLED EVF finder. The cameras will feature a tiltable LED screen, focus peaking, and weather-sealing. The cameras will accept current NEX APS-C lenses, though some vignetting will occur, and Sony will also offer an adapter so you can use full frame lenses from their regular full-frame cameras. The A7 body will sell for $1698 and the A7r body will sell for $2198.

Sony will also introduce a handful of new lenses for the cameras: a Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 OSS, a Sony G 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS, a Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8, a Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8, and a Zeiss FE 70-200mm f/4 OSS. This promises to be an exciting new system for pro photographers. Full frame images with smaller cameras and lenses. What's not to love?

And finally, Sigma is introducing a new lens, the 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art lens. The Sigma Art lenses emphasize image quality and sharpness, so this will probably be a lens to check out. It will have a fairly large filter size of 82mm, which means that they will have more room to play with in refining the optics for maximum effect. The physically smaller the lens, the less room you have to correct for optical problems. This lens will compete directly with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS L lens and it will be interesting to see how they compare. No word yet on its price.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Zeiss Introduces a New Normal!

Something interesting has happened to lenses and cameras. It turns out that high-pixel-count digital sensors are a lot more demanding of their lenses than the needs of film ever were, and for most camera companies, their latest camera sensor's resolutions have blown past the ability of their lenses to resolve fine details. In other words, new lenses need to have much higher resolution to match the needs of the digital sensors in the current cameras, not to mention the sensors of the future. For instance, when Nikon introduced the D800 and D800E, they also published a short list of their lenses that would best work with these two cameras. Not all Nikon lenses have the resolving power to take advantage of this new 36 MP sensor.

So this means that lens manufacturers are going back to their drawing boards, or CAD programs, and inventing entirely new lens designs that are able to resolve image details like never before. And Zeiss is one of those companies. Zeiss has created a new lens called the Otus 55mm f/1.4. It's fairly big for a "normal" lens, weighing more than 2 pounds, but it does have 12 elements in 10 groups, so there is a lot of glass in there. Resolution has been optimized across the field of view, even at the open apertures and at any distance. The mechanical construction has been brought to its highest possible standards. Zeiss' goal with this lens was to create the highest quality lens in the world. Only time will tell if they succeeded.

The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens will be available in Nikon and Canon mounts and will sell for just under $4000, which makes it one of the world's most expensive normal lenses. By the way, Otus is the Latin name for a type of owl that has excellent night vision.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Digital Bolex D16 Footage Has Been Seen

I have to admit that the news about this camera has seemed to pass me by, even though it's been talked about for almost 2 years. It's still not quite available, but Bolex has made some footage from the new camera available to view on their website. The low light capabilities are impressive.

This camera is supposed to sell for less than a new Canon 5D Mark III and it seems to fit a similar niche that the Blackmagic cinema cameras do. And it can mount a wider range of lenses and shoots RAW footage, so that is all good. But what is that crank on the side of the camera for? And I even like 1950s Space Age aesthetic to the design. Retro and Modern at the same time. Go to Bolex here to watch the sample videos and learn more about it.