Wednesday, December 17, 2008
A couple of photographers whose images were featured in Focus on Photography have published books that you should be aware of. First is Tim Flach, who was the career profile for the animals chapter. His book is called Equus, and it features a wide variety of images of horses, from all angles, points of view, and stages of life. From the studio to wilderness locations, Flach covers every imaginable aspect of horses. This is a beautiful book and well worth looking at.
Second is Dan Burkholder, who provided the title page photo in Focus on Photography and a few other images. The title page image was part of his series of post-Katrina New Orleans photographs and his book is that series. It's called The Color of Loss. This work is hauntingly bittersweet and beautiful, and showcases the capabilites of digital photography. Burkholder is a great photographer and this is a wonderful chance to see images that push the boundaries of documentary and fine art photography. Check it out.
Friday, November 28, 2008
This is the first of 5 such Group Tests from www.dpreview.com. Stay tuned!
Friday, November 21, 2008
The issue of whether or not to shoot RAW in the camera has been rendered a moot point by one easy-to-use, free, downloadable utility: the Instant JPEG from RAW utility or IJFR for short. Once it's installed, you simply right-click on a RAW image, select "Instant JPEG from RAW," and in no time you have a JPEG of that RAW image. How fast, you ask? Well, last night after doing a bit of shooting (the client wanted JPEGs right away so she could create simple place-holder images for a catalog), I selected the images in the folder (around 16 images), and it took 1 second to convert all the images into JPEGs and put them into a new folder of their own. That's one second to convert 16 images. I think that says everything.
Once you use this utility, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. You do have to register at the website and then they'll email you a link to the download site for the utility. It's really simple to install after that. Go to RawWorkFlow.com, and look around at the different products they offer, or just go to the IJFR page here. You'll be happy you did.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
The current exhibit in the back gallery at the Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon is David Maisel’s project, Library of Dust. It runs from October 2 to November 2. Library of Dust is Maisel’s series of color photographs of corroded copper canisters. Each one is placed on a black background and while the copper is sometimes polished to a soft glow, in other images the copper is dull and tired looking, dented and bent out of shape. The colors of corrosion vary from brilliant cerulean blue to deep magenta. In some images the corrosion builds out from the surface of the copper and spills down the metal sides, creating thick layers of mineral deposits, like what you might find in a limestone cave, but made of white, green, and blue accretions.
Occasionally, the canisters are laid on their sides, but most are upright and positioned in the center of the frame, much like the Edward Weston’s Nautilus Shell (1927) or, more specifically, one of Irving Penn’s Cigarette or Street Materials photographs from the 1970s. Visually, Maisel’s images share a lot in common with Penn’s images, but Penn’s were shot on a white background and presented as platinum prints. Another thing that Maisel and Penn share is the scale of the exhibited work—both are big. Penn’s were roughly 4 x 5 feet in size and Maisel’s are perhaps a bit bigger than that—intimate, small-scale objects presented larger than life. They invite the viewer to be drawn in and they seduce the viewer with sensual, visual delights. But whereas Penn’s images showed us the discarded, used-up objects of people, Maisel’s images are of discarded, used-up people. Literally.
The copper canisters contained the cremated remains of people. They were patients at the Oregon State Hospital, whose bodies remained unclaimed after their deaths. The earliest canisters date from the 1880s and the latest from the 1970s. There are more than 3500 of them at the hospital. When Maisel photographed them, they were all placed in a small room with simple pine shelves, stacked three deep in rows, looking like a library, hence the name of the exhibit. In an effort to conserve them, since that time, they have been placed in black plastic bags on new shelves in a room next to the old one.
Standing in the gallery surrounded by Maisel’s photographs is like standing in a mausoleum. And in many ways, this is exactly what is happening. But the first response is one of wonder at the beauty of the objects themselves. The colors are deliciously rich. The patterns of the corrosion are delicate, nearly ephemeral, like they would fall apart if you touched them and blow away with the wind. At other times, the corrosion seems like the sediments of the ages—solid and geologic—or like aerial photographs of the borders between earth and sea. The black of the background is the black of outer space—infinite and eternal. It separates and propels the canisters toward the viewer. But the scale and presence of the images belie the reality of the objects themselves, the canisters become as fragile as the lives they contain. All of these are people who left this world unwanted and unclaimed. Their lives and their bodies are now packed into these containers. This is all that remains of them. The sadness of that truth is mixed with the stunningly bittersweet testimonial of Maisel’s images. In a way, Maisel offers these people another chance of recognition—a way for them to be seen and not forgotten. The images are Maisel’s own memorial to the patients of the Oregon State Hospital. Like a lot of good art, Maisel’s Library of Dust works on a variety of levels. Visually beautiful and emotionally devastating. It pulls you in and repels you at the same time. It is both grotesque and sublime. And because of this, the Library of Dust is unforgettable.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Well, it’s Photokina time again and unlike most years, there are a few surprises this time around. You can always get the complete scoop at dpreview.com, but here is my take on the more noteworthy product announcements.
The biggest surprise is Leica’s S2 digital camera and system. Not only did they come out with a brand new digtal SLR, but they invented a new format for it. The sensor on it falls between full frame 35mm cameras like the Canon 5D and medium format backs like those from Hasselblad and Phase 1—it measures 30 x 45mm and contains 37 MP. For reference, the 5D’s is 24 x 36mm. Added to the surprise, is that the S2 is slightly smaller than pro cameras like the Canon 1Ds and the Nikon D3. And they have a full range of lenses, a total of nine, to go with it. Just when I thought that Leica was going to fade away, they come out with something like this. Go figure. Of course, it’ll be way too expensive for most people (I heard one guess that the S2 body might sell for $30,000. Yikes!), but it sure is an interesting idea. You could even consider it something totally new.
And not too long ago, I mentioned in the blog that Panasonic had announced a new format, the Micro 4/3s and I said then that we probably wouldn’t see any cameras using this new format for a while yet. Well, I guess it’s been a while because both Panasonic and Olympus have shown new cameras in the format. The prototype from Olympus even takes the form I talked about—a small, Leica-styled compact camera with tiny interchangeable lenses. Like the folks at Leica, they must have been sitting on this for some time. When the production camera actually arrives, it’ll give photo-journalists a new tool for their trade. Which is a really excellent thing for everyone concerned.
And Canon finally unveiled the 5D replacement, the 5D Mark II. The sensor jumps from 12 MP to 21 MP and the camera will do HD video (1080p at 30 fps). The ISO has also been increased up to 25,600, just like the newer cameras from Nikon like the D3 and the D700. It also has the latest Digic 4 processor, for what that’s worth. And it features automatic dust reduction for the sensor. The increase in MP is a bit surprising, as is the video capability, but the new model has everything that people were expecting, which is good. And not surprisingly, the rumors and speculations about the replacement for the EOS 1Ds Mark III (it's about one year old) have already begun.
Also good news for photogs is that Lensbaby has all new lenses. One is called the “Muse,” and it’s built like the older 2.0 model. The “Control Freak” is similar to the older 3G and has 3 screw posts to finely control and lock in the degree of tilt on the lens. The newly designed “Composer” is based on a ball-and-socket and allows the user to move and tilt the lens quickly, but have it stay in place. Quick like the “Muse” with the control of the “Control Freak.” Sounds good to me. The big news is that all the lenses will have interchangeable lens elements. You can choose from a 2-element multicoated doublet (reasonably sharp), a single element uncoated lens (slightly soft), a plastic singlet (think of Holga plastic cameras), and even a pinhole (for great depth of field that is still soft). All will have varying degrees of sharpness and interesting image characteristics. And once you buy a complete lens (which will retail for about $270), the rest of the lens element choices are pretty inexpensive (around $35). How cool is that? I’ve been using the 3G for a couple of years and I love it. Lenbaby’s give you results like nothing else. They’re a wonderful tool in your lens kit. If you haven’t tried them, check them out.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
How Art comes into existence is a question whose answers are as individual as the people who make it. Norvel Trosst’s latest project, the Telford Chronicles, is an exhibit showing at the Lorinda Knight Gallery in Spokane, Washington (509.838.3740). It shows there from September 5th through the 27th. Trosst’s project combines aspects of traditional landscape photography, conceptual art, Pictorialist, Surrealist, and Expressionist art. It is also one of the most successfully conceived and executed exhibits I’ve ever seen.
By way of full disclosure, I have to admit to a few things. Norvel is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for many years. He asked me to appear in a film which he included in the exhibit and is central to the concept of the project. Norvel also has a photograph in Focus on Photography (page 215), the textbook Kathy and I wrote. And he included some of my haiku in a radio program that he hosts on public radio in Spokane. So am I impartial? Not at all, but what follows is my opinion and observations, so make of it what you will.
The idea behind the Telford Chronicles is quite ingenious. The exhibit is a narrative about the discovery of negatives and prints found after some vague apocalypse—it could have been in the far past, or the distant future, or perhaps some alternative version of our world. Part of the set-up of the exhibit is a film of the discovery of these lost negatives. I play one of the explorers in the film with Zan Agzigian, a poet and writer in Spokane. The photographs are Adrian Telford’s record of this apocalyptic world, sometimes serving as testaments of the desolation and destruction of the landscape and sometimes showing Adrian as the silent observer, the explorer of this world. Norvel plays Adrian in the photographs with a costume of camouflage pants, dark blue blazer, white turtleneck, and dark goggles. He doesn’t interact with the land, he acts as a witness to the destruction. He continues to wander looking for something undefined, whether other people, remnants of civilization, or his own past. Accompanying each image is a short statement, many of them bleak cries of anguish and grief. None were written with any particular image in mind, but after the prints were made, they were paired up together, not as explanations of the images or captions, but as affirmations of their shared emotional content.
Using photography to tell a fictional narrative is not a new idea—it has its origins in the costume portraits and tableaus of the Pictorialists—but in Norvel’s hands, it has a poignancy and weight that few photographers have matched. The isolation, the desolation, and the emotional depth come from Norvel’s own life. The origin of the project can be found in his own long-term illness that haunted Norvel for more than a decade. It’s all too true that sometimes, though not always, art and beauty comes from suffering. You only have to look at Van Gogh or jazz musicians like Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday to see evidence of this. But in the end, out of Norvel’s illness, his suffering, came a thing of great beauty. This is one of the most moving and emotionally resonant exhibits I’ve seen. There’s no question that the images and statements are dark and sometimes sinister, but still there is a quiet beauty and grace that underlies it all. If you are in Spokane this month, go see this show.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Microsoft has released PhotoSynth, a “revolutionary” software program. It can combine dozens up to thousands of images (maybe much more?) of a particular location or scene, and then create a 3D image of that place. Then you can “go into” the image and move around and zoom into tiny details. Several months ago I saw an online demo of the program and it was frankly baffling. My mind could hardly grasp what I was seeing. The closest thing to it that I can think of is a scene from Blade Runner, that old Harrison Ford/Ridley Scott classic. In one scene, Ford’s character feeds a photograph (it looked like a Polaroid to me) into a machine and then was able to go deeper and deeper into the image, going through doorways and checking out other rooms, chasing down images and scenes in mirrors—seeing details and views that weren’t visible in the original photograph. It was pure fantasy. At the time. PhotoSynth has nearly the same capability. Isn’t that weird?
Also, Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe have had their online/downloadable tutorial Fine Art Printing: From Digital Camera to Print published by Calumet Photo as a DVD. Reichmann is the man behind that great website Luminous Landscape. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so. I’d recommend the DVD based on my experiences with their tutorials. They produce quality goods.
And one more thing. Specs on a new Canon DSLR have been leaked--the 50D, which will supposedly replace the 40D. The 50D will have a 15.1 MP sensor and a high-resolution 3-inch LCD. This is, of course, unofficial, but I'm sure the official story will come out for Photokina. I just wish info had been leaked about the replacement for the 5D. Oh, well.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The new cameras won't have mirrors and prisms and won't be, strictly speaking, SLRs. It will have the same video preview that point & shoots have now. The big, and signifcant, change is the lenses for the new system will placed at half the distance from the sensor as in current DSLRs and the lenses will be greatly reduced in size. Together this means significantly smaller and lighter cameras with nearly the resolution of full-sized DSLRs. At least, this could be the case. See, there are no cameras, lenses, or anything else at the moment for this new system. This is all on paper, so to speak. Maybe we'll see prototypes at Photokina in September this year, but I suspect that it may be a while before we have anything in hand.
Still, seeing that Leica is partnered with Panasonic for many of their digital cameras, this seems like a perfect opportunity for them. Small compact cameras with small compact lenses is just up their alley. At least it seems to me that they should be jumping all over this. It would be a way to be in on the start of a whole new system and format, and they wouldn't be forced to play catch-up with all the other camera companies like Canon and Nikon. They've always been good at creating and playing on their own terms in their own niche, and this is the best chance they've got to do this again. I hope this works out for them.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
People love to speculate on whether Ansel Adams would have liked and used Photoshop. At least in a documentary of him I saw, that was made before he died, he talked with some excitement about future electronic technologies and how they might interpret his images. Digital photography and the enormous image manipulation capabilities of Photoshop weren’t available yet and wouldn’t be until 15 years or so after he died. He was seeing and liking the effect digital technology was having on the printing industry. The laser-scanned reproductions of his images were the best he’d ever seen. But he didn’t see or talk about the manipulation and compositing aspects of what was to come. Of course.
The people who think that Ansel would have embraced Photoshop usually point out a certain image of his—Winter Sunrise: Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944. Ansel talked about this image in his book, Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs. He made the image while in the neighborhood shooting his documentary project of the Japanese Internment Camp, Manzanar, during 1943 and 1944. In this otherwise pristine landscape, the local high school students had put their school’s initials, “LP,” on the hill side in white-washed rocks. “LP” stands for Lone Pine.
Ansel made the image and spent a number of years dealing with it after the fact. In his words, “I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.” When I took a workshop from John Sexton in 1987, he related the story that Ansel gave him the job of scraping the LP out of the 8x10 negative with a scalpel, when John was Ansel’s assistant in the 70s. On the face of things, this account isn’t all that different from what digital photographers do every day, cloning out offensive elements from their images to make them a better representative of what they saw and felt. And it’s a good way to control things beyond your control when you shoot.
Whether or not Ansel would have embraced and used Photoshop, no one can say, but I suspect that he, being the equipment junkie that he was, probably would have done so. Below are the version of this image that we usually see now and below that is one from a 1968 book This is the American Earth, written by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall. This version of Winter Sunrise was made before the removal of the hillside letters (I circled those annoying letters in red, just to make them more annoying) and shows how Ansel once printed it. Please forgive the big crease in the middle of the image. It was reproduced as a double page spread in the book. It is a lower contrast, quieter image and it is cropped differently. Notice how the sky is lighter in tone. Ansel’s printing grew bolder and more dramatic as he got older. He’s a great example of how an artist’s vision and language changes over time.
Winter Sunrise: Lone Pine, 1944 (from Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs)
Winter Sunrise: Lone Pine, 1944 (from This is the American Earth)
Close-up of the "LP" on the hill.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I was feeling a bit stale in my approach to photographing. Maybe it was just the aftermath of a long cold rainy Oregon winter, but I thought I needed a change of pace. Something to shake loose the cobwebs and see things in a new way. Yadda yadda yadda. So I signed up for a workshop. I’ve taken several workshops over the years, and taught quite a few as well, but it’s always nice to get together with other folks with a shared interest/passion and have some fun. You don’t have to have a definite agenda beyond maybe trying something new, learning a new trick or two, or just taking a few pix. So I signed up for an all-day field trip to Sauvie Island.
Sauvie Island is, not surprisingly, an island in the Columbia River northwest of Portland, Oregon. It’s mostly farms, beaches (some clothing optional!), and wildlife refuges. The workshop/fieldtrip, offered by the Newspace Center of Photography in Portland, was led by Susan Bein, a long time Photoshop guru, photographic artist, and genuinely nice person. The first stop on the excursion was the Bybee-Howell farmstead, an old house that is now overseen by the State Parks Department. Susan had brought along a 400-foot roll of plastic intended for use as a painter’s drop cloth. It’s very lightweight, translucent, and tends to drift in the air and billow in the breeze. As we were walking up to the house, she asked if I wanted to use the plastic in some photographs. After all, that’s why she brought it along.
I looked at the plastic, looked at her, and thought, “Are you kidding? That is nothing that I would ever photograph!” But I said, “Uh, no thanks,” and shuffled on. Now remember that I signed up for the workshop for a change of pace, and here I was turning down something that was a definite change of pace, for me anyway. Not a shining moment for yours truly. Well to make a short story long, once we got in the old house and I saw how she was using the plastic, I did take some photos. And I did have a good time doing it. And I even like the images I made.
Moral of the story is: if someone offers you some plastic to play with, take it and have fun with it. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks, Susan.
Below are a couple of shots of the plastic in the old house. Spooky.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Okay, I might have to save up for this one (speaking of eqipment). Komamura Corporation, in Japan, has unveiled a miniature Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera as a digital camera, called the Rolleiflex MiniDigi AF5.0. It works much the same as an old Rollei, except it's 3-inches tall and it is digital, after all. MSRP will be around $399, or so. But isn't it cute?
There’s a kind of online debate going on at the moment that will be of interest to photographers. It’s about the importance of equipment. Ken Rockwell wrote an article called, “Your Camera Doesn't Matter,” and the title says it all. Michael Reichmann, the guy behind the excellent site Luminous Landscape, offers a counter-argument called, “Your Camera Does Matter.” Click on the titles to read those articles.
Rockwell offers a ton of clichés and clever one-liners, not to mention redundancies and downright bizarre statements, to support his view that photographs are made inside a photographer’s mind and not in the camera and that the camera is inconsequential to how well a photo turns out. Well, in my experience, the camera and lens and all the dozens of decisions and choices made along the way have a definite effect on any resulting photographs. While it may be true that if you can’t “see” an image in the first place you won’t be able to capture it even with an excellent camera, to pretend that equipment doesn’t matter is just not being realistic. It’s like all the other choices a photographer makes in creating an image, the equipment you choose impacts your images in a very real way.
Reichmann’s point of view is that photography is a craft (not just an art) that uses equipment to produce its images. It’s hard to argue with this statement and matching the equipment to the subject matter is a very important part of being a photographer. After all, you can’t make professional quality architectural photographs with a disposable camera. You can’t make a formal portrait with an old Polaroid camera. That’s why black-and-white landscape photography is almost always done with 4x5 and 8x10 view cameras or more precisely folding field cameras, or at least it used to be. But it seems like Reichmann’s leaving out or downplaying the photographer’s creativity—the mental process that happens in making an image. And frankly it’s true that having the best equipment is no guarantee for getting the best images.
Over the years, I’ve known plenty of photographers with all the latest expensive equipment who can’t make a decent image and I’ve known many who use cameras I wouldn’t even pick up on a dare, but manage to create wonderful images just the same. I believe it’s a matter of matching the photographer’s working methods or personality to the equipment and the subject matter. When these three qualities are aligned with each other, excellent images are the result. But in my experience, better quality equipment can allow a photographer to achieve even greater results. Good equipment makes the job of photographing easier, and it’s just that simple.
It seems like Rockwell and Reichmann are both trying to separate the art from the craft (coming from different directions) and that’s not something you can really do with photography—art and craft in photography are way too entwined. So in a way, they are both right and wrong. Does equipment matter? Of course it does. Does creativity matter? Of course it does. They all matter just as much as any of the other variables that exist in photography. And like I usually say, the art of photography is found in the choices you make in creating a photograph.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
I saw the latest catalog from West Elm, a contemporary home furnishings company. They feature a few framed photographs for sale along with beds, sofas, and rugs. The descriptions of the photographs leave me a little baffled, however. In three of the four examples, they include what kind of camera made the image in specific detail.
Here’s an example: “These striking images were captured using a Nikon D70 camera with Nikon 17-80mm lenses.” Ignoring the grammar problems, why would a potential buyer be interested in this level of product detail? Maybe I could see it if the camera and lens used were rare or high-end professional models, but this is not even strictly pro-oriented gear.
Either an image is interesting or it isn’t. Knowing what kind of camera was used won’t make it any more appealing. I don’t know of anyone who has ever bought a photograph because of the equipment used to make it. They might buy one because of who made it, but for the most part people buy photographs because the images are beautiful, interesting, nostalgic, or shocking.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Polaroid has announced that they are completely getting out of the (instant) film business by the end of this year and will concentrate on television and digital photography technologies. This is a sad day for all the photographer/artists that used Polaroid materials to such good ends for so many decades. Gone will be all the square little SX-70 pictures. Gone will be all the cool and unique image and emulsion transfer prints. Gone will be the black-and-white images with the distinctive edges, such as Mark Klett’s. While their decision is understandable from a business sense, they will be missed.
Trading on the enduring reputation of Swiss bank accounts for security and discretion, the Swiss Picture Bank is now offering the first online, guaranteed permanent digital archive. Their catchy motto is: “Safe. Forever.TM” Since most digital photographers are a hard drive crash away from losing most or all of their images, this could be seen as a valuable resource. The costs start out at a reasonable one-time charge of $.03 an image for 30 years of storage. Seems like a good idea to me.
This last item is not photo related, but I found out today that actor Roy Scheider died this past weekend from complications of cancer. He was 75 years old. His notable film roles include The French Connection, Sorcerer, 2010, Marathon Man, All That Jazz, and, of course, Jaws. He always brought a genuine sense of the everyman to his characters and carried himself with dignity and gravitas. Every movie that he was in benefited from his presence. I’m sorry to see him go.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Well, the PMA show (Photographic Marketing Association) came and went last week and there were a few noteworthy items that showed up. Canon has a new digital Rebel, the Rebel XSi. It now has a 12-mp sensor, Live View (sort of like what point & shoot cameras have), and uses SD cards instead of CompactFlash cards. The expected replacement for the 5D wasn’t shown, but since this is a Photokina (that’s the big European trade show) year, it might show up in the Fall. Nikon has a few new lenses: a AF-S 60mm f/2.8G Micro lens and a PC-E 24mm f/2.8D tilt-shift lens. From Casio, not exactly a leader in digital cameras, comes the Pro EX-F1, which looks like a small SLR and has the astounding shoot rate of 60 frames per second at full 6-mp resolution. I guess you better have a big memory card for this camera. I’m not really sure what this will be good for (motion studies? scientific research?), but that’s truly amazing performance.
Fuji showed a good camera for people who want D-SLR performance, but don’t want to change lenses: the S100FS. It has a wide-range image-stabilized lens, equivalent to a 28-400mm 35mm lens, and has an 11-mp sensor. If you want high performance and only one camera, you might take a look at this one.
Perhaps the most curious camera shown was a unnamed prototype also from Fuji: a folding 6x7 medium format film camera with Aperture Priority automatic exposure. Since they discontinued all their medium format cameras a few years ago, this was a surprise to say the least. Still for the film fans out there, this will probably be a great camera to shoot with—small, portable, and with a tack sharp lens on it. Some of my favorite and most used view camera lenses were made by Fuji. You can see a photo of this new camera here. It’s kind of pretty, in a nostalgic sort of way.