The Online Photographer

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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Link Repaired

In the posting "A Few End-of-the-Year Tidbits" from Dec. 26th, apparently the World Press Photo 2005 Winners link didn't work. Here's the correct link.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Taking Technology Too Far


If you haven't seen Jack Flesher's article about the Arca Cube at Luminous Landscape yet, you should! (Some things just don't have to be that complicated.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Re: Digital Color

Imy in the kitchen: The print is lovely.

For the past five or six years everybody's been talking about film vs. digital, but I'm having more of an issue with color vs. B&W than I am with film vs. digital. There's not much doubt in my mind that digital is better for color than film ever was, at roughly comparable levels of comparison. That is, if you compare 35mm SLR color to 6-mp DSLRs, large-format film to medium-format digital backs, and film point-and-shoots to digital ones, digital color's better. But B&W in digital is not satisfactorily resolved yet. Film still has more than just an edge, albeit at a heavy cost in hassle.

But digital's combination of good high-ISO quality with anti-shake technology is allowing me to take better pictures, period. Well, not period, because you do have to take into account the kind of pictures I take! This one, for instance, was taken in fading dusk light from a window at a kitchen sink. I don't think I would even have tried it on film. Plus, I took it on Tuesday and delivered prints on Thursday, with minimal time and effort spent on it in between. And with something like this printed large, I get more comments/compliments from non-photographers than I ever got with film—including comments specifically about technical quality.

Still, I miss B&W.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Friday, December 30, 2005

How To Write A Nonfiction Book

This post is now available as a free, formatted .pdf file on my bookstore site. Please help yourself!

Could It Be? Really? The Leica M Digital?


Read what you wish into the face of Stephan Daniel, Chief of Product Management at Leica Camera AG, but that happy smile seems pretty clear to me: The digital Leica M is coming. Actually coming. Coming soon. Soon.

According to the new issue of Leica Photographie International, the new camera will be introduced with new wide-angle lenses, but it will accept existing Leica-mount lenses as well.

Your task, should you choose to accept it: Wait for it!

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Not a Dumb Question

Q: Dumb Question? When you look through the "viewfinder" of an SLR, you see what the camera sees. When you look through the "viewfinder" of a rangefinder camera, you do not see exactly what the camera sees (parallax or something).

When you look through the back-side (full-screen) viewer (whatever it may be called) of a digital camera, do you see what the camera sees?

A: Right. The LCD screen reports what the sensor sees. Pretty exactly, too: most digital camera screens show pretty close to 100%, whereas many film SLR viewfinders show closer to 90% of what will be on the negative or transparency.

Q: But only in terms of area, not distortion, right? You just see less than what the camera sees but what you do see is exactly what you'll get?

A: Pretty much. There are slight differences, but nothing as bad as the parallax caused by using a separate viewfinder of any type. The main difference is that when you look through a modern SLR, you're seeing through the lens with the lens wide open. As you know, depth of field increases as you stop down, and lenses also get sharper and have fewer optical aberrations stopped down than at full aperture. So the rangefinder camera viewfinder suffers from parallax—slight differences in viewing angle—but it sees as the eye sees, in "pan focus," i.e.,
sharp front to back. If you're photographing in bright light and the camera is stopping down--say you're doing street photography on a bright day and shooting at ƒ/11--the rangefinder shows a more true image in that respect compared to, say, a 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens, which shows you the exact perspective through the viewfinder but much less depth of field than you'll get on the negative.

Or, as Roseanne Rosannadanna used to say, "it's always something."

The other differences in the image in an SLR viewfinder are usually very slight, and derive from the optical system of the mirror, the pentaprism, and the eyepiece. Some, naturally, are better than others.

I posted a tutorial on this subject a while back.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to BJ)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Variable Aperture Zooms: Fear No Longer

When variable aperture lenses were first introduced, photographers learned that they were quite unsuitable for use with studio flash lighting, or hand-held meters generally, because you didn’t really know how much light was getting to the film except at the shortest focal length. With the mechanical aperture ring of the lens set to ƒ/8, the amount of light getting to the film would be ƒ/8 at the lens’s shortest setting, but might drop to ƒ/13 by the time you got to the longest setting. Exposure value for intermediate settings was guesswork. The problem of exposing with a variable aperture could be dealt with directly by the camera’s built-in meter, but if you didn’t want to use the built-in meter, you had a real problem. This led to the general opinion that variable aperture zooms were as a class not suitable for professional work. The judgment was seemingly confirmed by the fact that such lenses offered by the major manufacturers usually were cheaper stablemates of fixed-aperture zooms with similar range.

Things have changed. With modern lenses for digital cameras this distinction can become trivial. If the aperture is set by the camera’s electronic controls (no aperture ring on the lens) the system can be designed so the actual exposure reaching the sensor varies only if you are trying to use the lens wide open. At smaller stops, the camera is clever enough to keep things constant so, if your flash meter said to use ƒ/8, you can set ƒ/8 and you’ll get the same exposure at any focal length.

You can test this. I just stepped out and tried it with an Olympus E-1 and 14–54mm digital Zuiko, which has an aperture that varies from ƒ/2.8 to 3.5 wide open. Set the camera to Aperture priority, open the aperture all the way (ƒ/2.8 in my case) with the lens at it’s shortest setting.* Aim at a nice big, evenly lit subject like a lawn, and zoom the lens out longer. The aperture will fall, from ƒ/2.8 to 3.0 to 3.5 in my test, and to compensate, the shutter will fall to slower speeds. So far, just what you’d expect from any variable aperture zoom. Now set the aperture to ƒ/8 and repeat the test. The aperture readout will remain at ƒ/8, but the shutter speed will also remain constant. The camera is cleverly keeping the amount of transmitted light the same, which lets the shutter speed remain constant. So if you determine your f-stop setting with a separate light meter—essential with studio flash and sometimes desirable in other situations—you are safe unless you need the widest aperture on the lens.

With camera systems designed this way, the rule that variable aperture lenses are by definition inferior to fixed aperture ones has lost whatever legitimacy it may once have had. Of course it can be an advantage for the lens to maintain a fast maximum opening at longer focal lengths, but since this will almost surely make the lens bigger, heavier, and more expensive, don’t let this one issue be a “deal breaker” when selecting a piece of glass for your computer-that-takes-pictures.

Posted by: CARL WEESE

*Most variable aperture lenses go from wide/fastest to longest/slowest, but some are more devious. You can still use the above test to see whether the set aperture can be trusted.


Monday, December 26, 2005

A Few End-of-the-Year Tidbits

1958 SI cover featuring Bob Cousy, by Hy Peskin, who died in 2005

Reuters Pictures of the Year 2005

The top web search on Yahoo! for 2005 in the category of "products" was "digital cameras."

World Press Photo Winner's Gallery 2005

Best Photography Books 2005

Notable Passings:
Flame Moore, surfing photo great
Hy Peskin, first Sports Illustrated staff photographer
Fay Godwin, British landscape and portrait photographer
Gerry Deiter, Lennon-Ono "Bed-In" photographer
Lord Lichfield

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (book list compiled by Alex L. Worman)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Do Captions Matter?

Greg Mallet-Prevost and Cabin, by Matt Houston/AP

Do photographs need captions? "Rock and tree" photographers are fond of saying that pictures have to stand alone, on their own, without being shored up by words. I see their point, but I've never trusted the idea. The pictures I like best are pictures with significance, and often the significance simply must be explained: it isn't contained in the picture alone.

Consider the above, taken by Matt Houston for the Associated Press. It was taken on Dec. 21st, 2005, and shows a man named Greg Mallet-Prevost standing in front of part of his the house where his family has been living since the 1960s.

The significance of the picture is that the log cabin, now a minor extension of the house, was part of a large plantation once managed by a black slave named Josiah Henson, who lived here. Henson, through his autobiography, was the chief model for Harriett Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom.

So this is Uncle Tom's Cabin. Who wouldn't want to know that about this shot? How could anybody fully appreciate the picture without knowing it?

Incidentally, Josiah Henson hardly deserves the approbrium that has befallen the "Uncle Tom" epithet. He was a capable, literate, and honorable man who eventually escaped on the Underground Railroad to Canada, where he welcomed and sheltered other escaped slaves and wrote his biography. Incidentally, Henson's historic cabin has been purchased from the Mallet-Prevosts by Montgomery County, Maryland, and will be preserved as an historic site and tourist destination.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

NOTE: The photograph shown here was originally properly captioned by the photographer. I'm not questioning or criticizing his captioning abilities; merely pointing out how important captions can be for many types of pictures. —Ed.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Closing Shop for Two Days

Photographer Unknown

The Online Photographer will be on hiatus for two days, for Christmas Eve and Christmas. We will return on the 26th.

Merry Christmas one and all!

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Order Window Opens for Ilford and (soon) Kodak Film in Special Formats

In my recent funky film formats post I mentioned that efforts were underway to organize special orders for Ilford and Kodak film in ultra-large and other special formats. I'm delighted to report that these efforts are now coming to fruition:

Ilford FP4 Plus and HP5 Plus

Kodak TMax 400 (TMY)

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Aperture Gets Version upgrade


Yesterday, Apple Computer released Aperture 1.0.1, an update recommended for all Aperture users that is available for download on Apple’s website.

The Aperture 1.0.1 update “addresses a number of issues related to reliability and performance. It also delivers improved image export quality and metadata handling,” according to Apple. Key areas addressed include white balance adjustment accuracy and performance; image export quality; book and print ordering reliability; auto-stacking performance, and custom paper size handling.

Aperture is primarily a RAW workflow manager intended to supplement and enhance Adobe Photoshop CS2. There is a "First Look" at Aperture at MacWorld.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Ansel at the Boston MFA

What: Ansel Adams, prints from the Lane Collection

When: Until January 4th, 2006, seven days a week except for Christmas Day (hours vary)

Where: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; exhibition web page here

The scoop: An extensive and varied selection of Adams' work from throughout his career, including many less familiar items along with several Greatest Hits.

This show is a revelation, if perhaps not in quite the way intended. Your faithful correspondent was disappointed by the ultra-harsh gradation and murky shadows characteristic of too many of these prints—they were seriously not fun to look at. And Group ƒ/64 charter-member status doesn't exempt one from the physical reality that enlarging too far turns fine detail to mush.

Not everything is such a downer. A group of very early prints, including many from Adams' 1927 Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras portfolio, was unfamiliar and enlightening, and a scattered handful of contact prints from the '30s and '40s struck me as genuinely lovely. There's a decent print of Moonrise, Hernandez, as well as an authentic Hills Brothers Ansel Adams coffee can. An actual large format camera is on display, too—a very battered 8x10 Century Universal just like Ansel used (except, maybe, for the lens in late-model Copal 3 which adorns the front).

Be prepared to pay dearly for these pleasures: ticket, service charges, and parking for three and a half hours came to just over $50. The catalog, which I did not buy, would have added another $40.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Currently at Marc Selwyn Fine Art

On the Beach #260, 2003, by Richard Misrach (click image to see larger)

What: "Richard Misrach" (Recent Photographs)

When: Until January 25th, 2006, Tuesday through Saturday 11am to 6pm

Where: Marc Selwyn Fine Art Gallery, 6222 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 101, Los Angeles, California, USA 90048

"Misrach shot this series in Hawaii, beginning in 2001. He chose the location for the obvious reasons: The beaches are beautiful, the light is dazzling and there is an endless supply of tourists doing what tourists do best—next to nothing, for hours on end.

"More important, Misrach found a hotel built so close to the shore that the balconies of its upper rooms provided a bird's-eye view of the ocean below. To see what he saw through the lens of his large-format camera—now enlarged to 8-, 9- and 10-foot-long prints—is to feel as if you are floating, just like many of the people in the pictures. They seem to be as weightless as angels, thanks to the saltwater." (David Pagel)

One Review: "Life pieced together from floating images," by David Pagel, The Los Angeles Times calendarlive.com, December 16, 2005

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to DE)

Sony Gets Spanked

"Don't Mess With Texas Computers": Texas (USA) Attorney General Greg Abbott has announced a lawsuit against Sony BMG for secret spyware installed by Sony music CDs on users' computers. Although this does not directly affect any photography technology, Sony Corp. is one of the world's largest manufacturers of digital cameras and OEM sensors.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to KK)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Zeiss Lenses for Nikons

DPReview and other online sources are predicting an announcement by Zeiss Germany after Christmas that it will manufacture Carl Zeiss SLR lenses for Nikon F-mount film and digital SLR cameras.

(This is a tentative posting that will be replaced when more concrete information become available.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Bound for Glory

Russell Lee: Shepherd with his horse and dog on Gravelly Range,
Madison County, Montana, August 1942


Bound for Glory: America in Color is the first major exhibition of the little known color images taken by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information (FSA/OWI). Comprised of seventy digital prints made from color transparencies taken between 1939 and 1943, the exhibition reveals a surprisingly vibrant world that has typically been viewed only in black & white. These vivid scenes and portraits capture the effects of the Depression on America's rural and small town populations, the nation's subsequent economic recovery and industrial growth, and the country's great mobilization for World War II.

The pictures in Bound for Glory, many by famed photographers such as John Vachon, Jack Delano, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott, document not only the subjects in the pictures, but also the dawn of a new era...the Kodachrome era. These colorful images mark a historic divide in visual presentation between the monochrome world of the pre-modern age and the brilliant hues of the present. They change the way we look—and think about—our past.

Approximately one dozen photographers were employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA), and its successor agency, the Office of War Information (OWI), from 1935 through 1944. The original goal of the government project was to record through documentary photographs the ravages of the Depression on America's rural population and were intended to spur Congress and the American public to support government relief efforts. Over the years, with an improved economy, increased industrialization, and the onset of World War II, the photographs increasingly focused on an America that was productive, beautiful, and determined. The photographs originally intended to have a narrow focus developed into a noteworthy broader national record.

In additions to their documentary and historic value, the color images in the FSA/OWI Collection provide a remarkable opportunity to study the early use of color film as it was employed by a dedicated group of professional photographers. It is revealing to compare monochrome and color images taken on the same shoot, or to identify particular landscapes or subjects that caught the photographer's eye in such a way that he or she chose to use the medium of color to best represent their essence. (Library of Congress)

Posted by: DAVID EMERICK


Monday, December 19, 2005

By: Hans Verbrugge

"Hexar," © 2005 by Hans Verbrugge

No particular reason for this, I just liked this shot and thought you might like to see it. It was taken by Hans Verbrugge with a Leica M6 and 35mm ƒ/1.4 Summilux-ASPH on Tri-X at E.I. 1600 and developed in HC-110. (Click on the image to see it larger.)

Posted by MIKE JOHNSTON (my thanks to Hans)

Bright, Fast, and Pretty



The Sigma 30mm ƒ/1.4 EX DC HSM digital lens, photo courtesy Adorama. The block diagram (cross-section) of the 7-element lens shows the position of the low-dispersion elements (blue and green) and an aspherical follower (pink). (Or is that mauve?)

For some time—quite a long time, it feels like—I've been following with interest the introduction of the Sigma 30mm ƒ/1.4, a prime (single-focal-length) lens made specifically for APS-C sensor digital SLRs. After a particularly long interlude between announcement and availability, the lens finally began shipping at the beginning of August last summer.

Unfortunately I can't review it, since it's only available in C. and N. mounts (in addition to Sigma's, of course), but at least there is a limited amount of information filtering through the web. There are only three reports so far at Photography Review, though they're all positive, and Pbase has a lot of samples. You can't tell much from online samples, especially small ones, but fortunately the one thing you can get a handle on, sort of, is one of the most individualized characteristics of a lens—its bokeh or out-of-focus rendering. From what I can tell, the bokeh looks much like that of the better 50/1.4s for 24x36, i.e., quite good, although it may get a little stressed when the subject is just too close (for instance in this set of test shots by vibrio). Crucially, its o-o-f rendering at ƒ1.4 seems excellent.

Curiously, Sigma hasn't opted to take advantage of the smaller image circle to make the lens small and light—at 15.2 oz., it's about half again the weight of an average 50/1.4. But Sigma does say it's carried out one of the most important modifications for a digital lens, and coated the lens from the back just as well as it's coated from the front. Many hobbyists don't know this (and many more don't care), but lensmakers seldom multi-coat a "multi-coated" lens on every surface of every element; rather, they do what they have to to get flare down to an acceptable level, and if that allows for single-coating some surfaces or even for leaving some surfaces uncoated altogether, so much the better for the bottom line. Rumor has it that it was Tamron that figured out that with digital sensors, there is much more reflection back off the sensor to the rear of the lens than there is with film, and that lens performance is enhanced significantly by coating the lens against light entering from the back. It's one of the prime predictors of good DSLR-lens performance, and one of the reasons why many lenses built for 35mm film cameras aren't ideal for digital. All but the best ones, that is.

There's another samples gallery, by Fotoworkz, here. Note that if you click on the samples it will pull them up at full size. As for flare resistance, sharpness, consistency, and the most important specification of all—sales numbers—don't ask me.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment: carpeicthus said, "I adore this lens. I have 269 real-world samples here."

Deadline for Railroad Photo Contest Approaches

A rail photo by Steve Crise, last year's Third Prize winner. Steve does urban landscape, product, portrait, and set photography as well as stock photography for Corbis with a railroad theme.

Every year, the Center for Railroad Photography and Art sponsors a contest for railroad photography in order to encourage "outstanding contributions to railroad imagery." The deadline for this year's contest is February 20th; you can download a .pdf entry form from the Center's website. Here's a helpful hint: if you know a railfan photographer who isn't online, download an entry for them!

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Flor for More

Those who feel that $14.95 for a nicely-printed book of Flor Garduno's photographs isn't expensive enough might like this $9000 edition instead.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Sunday, December 18, 2005

'Appreciating' Books


A New List

I love books. I also think that books of photographs are how photographers communicate best. They're how photographers share their work with each other and with their audience, and how they "set" their work in stable, finished form for retrieval by posterity.

If you can get the knack of spending time with them, they can be as fulfilling as music.

Readers of my older online column "The Sunday Morning Photographer" will remember an Amazon list I put together years ago called Readings for Practicing Photographers. In that list—which wasn't even limited to books about photography, much less to books exclusively of pictures—I winnowed out 25 books that I think are helpful for photographers and people who want to become photographers, or that were significant to me.

But as I've written elsewhere, photo books can be great to collect, too. They tend to receive rather limited press runs, which often don't outlive the interest people have in them—so they go up in value over time. Some of them do, anyway. The great classic books of photography can now cost many thousands of dollars. I have in my own library dozens of books that have increased more than tenfold in value since I bought them, and even a handful that I bought as remainders, for bargain-bin prices, that are now worth north of $400 each. Several books I have would be difficult to replace period.

So what I've done now is to put together a brief new list (only ten books, and the winnowing wasn't easy) specifically of books that will appreciate in value. Naturally, no one can predict the future; but my track record is pretty good. I'm placing my bets that these ten titles, all of which you can buy new today for retail price or less, will all be worth more ten years from now than you'll have to pay for them now. In some cases, I'm guessing, significantly more.

Of course, I could be wrong (although I won't be wrong about all of them). Only time will truly tell. I'll probably still be writing about pictures ten years from now, however. If you're still reading, well, then we'll see how I did!

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Saturday, December 17, 2005

'The Little Angel'

"The solitary, inspired, diseased, clairvoyant lunatic," Angel Rizutto referred to himself as "The Little Angel."


"From May 1952 to June 1966, a troubled recluse named Angelo Rizzuto stalked Manhattan with a camera. He saw a city of solitary beings isolated amid the architectural grandeur, cold streets prowled by disillusioned women, exhausted men and vulnerable children. He ended every roll with a portrait of himself, alone in a spare room, sullenly staring or bizarrely grimacing into the camera, a loner among loners.

"No one saw these images while Mr. Rizzuto lived. When he was dying of cancer in 1967, he asked that his photographs—some 60,000 of them—be sent to the Library of Congress, along with $50,000 from his estate to finance a book of his work. The library printed a cheap, staple-bound booklet, then used the bulk of Mr. Rizzuto's money to acquire the work of more famous photographers like Diane Arbus.

"It would be another 40 years before Mr. Rizzuto got the book he deserved: Michael Lesy's Angel's World, published this month by W. W. Norton & Company...."



(From the Times review by John Strausbaugh. Read the rest of the article here.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (hat tip: Bob R.)

The Balloon-Seller of Kabul

Former teahouse in a park next to the Afghan Exhibition of Economic and Social Achievements in the Shah Shahid district of Kabul. Balloons were illegal under the Taliban, but now balloon-sellers are common on the streets of Kabul, providing cheap treats for children. Photograph by Simon Norfolk.

I deliberately waited until the weekend to post this link to Simon Norfolk's website. Norfolk is an English photographer (he was actually born in Nigeria) whose name and work are well-known in Britain but perhaps not known well enough elsewhere. His work is powerful and affecting, and, in addition, serves as a persuasive demonstration of how photography can be made to serve the cause of authorship. Going beyond the coherence of even the traditional photo essay or the documentary portfolio, Norfolk's work, taken as a whole, creates a thesis, even an argument, that is uniquely his. But I urge you to wait until you are in a serious frame of mind—and have some free time—before you visit his website; you could be there a while.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to Ailsa McWhinnie)

The Promise of the Cypress Sensor


A little more than a month ago, Cypress, which made the sensors for the now historical Kodak full-frame DSLRs, announced a 9MP, APS-C-sized chip made without microlenses that will begin shipping to manufacturers this coming February. My friend Bob Atkins, photographic polymath and all-purpose factotum of photo.net, wrote an introduction to it here.

You can read the press release for yourself at the tail end of Bob's article, but here are some of the salient points: it's a CMOS chip with low power draw, has a pixel pitch of 6.4 microns and an image array of 3710 x 2434 pixels, there's a monochrome version, and its projected estimated unit cost is $90.

Ninety dollars. As in 75 Euros, 51 British Pounds, 10,400 Yen, 273 Argentinian Pesos, or 0.0939457 ounces of platinum. In case you're wondering, that's cheap. Ahh, progress.

Of course, Neo-Luddite that I am, the thought of the new Cypress sensor makes my mind immediately wander to one of my more absurd but nonetheless dear pipedreams: a digital M.

Or its equivalent: a small, light, responsive point-and-shoot with just such an APS-C CMOS sensor and a small, fast, semi-wide fixed lens. And if you're not a black & white photographer from way back, you're simply not going to understand the fierce and visceral appeal of the monochrome-sensor idea. Don't even try. But when I think of it, I go all wobbly....

Just two more thoughts, because this is speculation and speculation's pointless. Thought one: I really don't see why a classic Meßsucher [rangefinder] wouldn't be an excellent way to focus a digital camera. Thought two: couldn't one devise a non-removable fixed semi-wide-angle lens that has an add-on teleconverter to make it into a short tele? That way you could have your 35mm-equivalent fixed lens and an 85mm-equivalent accessory in your pocket. Maybe I'm way too attached to the memory of wandering city streets with two small lenses in search of pj-style art shots, but that notion has an aura of hope to me.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Friday, December 16, 2005

Diverse Delights


In case you happen to be headed to warmer climes on your upcoming holiday (you know, palm trees, azure waters, brilliant sun, warm wafting breezes), there's an excellent article at Divernet reviewing and comparing seven affordable underwater digital cameras. The article is written by John Bantin and Rob Hancock.

Keep in mind that nature pictures of colorful little creatures on reefs is not the only use for such cameras; they can be handy for art photographs made at beaches and in pools too—Aperture put out a nifty little collection in 1988 called Swimmers that was chock-full of such appealing people-near-the-water pictures. Snap away!

On Divernet, I particularly like the pictures of the guy standing next to the test charts...underwater, naturally.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Thanks for Coming By

This site got 5,856 hits yesterday (!).

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

The Web Tightens Up

In 1997, the National Geographic magazine issued a 30-CD set of all of its issues for the previous 108 years. A number of photographers and writers whose work was included sued for additional compensation (for those of you who aren't professionals, payment for original pictures is usually determined based on intended use, and if a client retroactively decides to expand its use of a photograph—for instance, if it decides to use an editorial image for a cover, or a catalog image for an advertising campaign—the photographer is owed additional compensation). They were turned down by a Federal court in a ruling which called the CDs a "revision" permissable under copyright law. The ruling was later upheld by a Court of Appeals. Last Monday, the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) refused to hear the case, without further explanation.

The issue of who gets paid for what, and how, is going through a radical transformation. Record companies (who had it good in the past and are clinging to their privileges) are obsessed with copy protection, to the extreme that Sony was recently revealed to have installed what amounts to malware on its recent music CDs—play one in your computer, and it secretly installs spyware, spyware that can even be used by third parties to hack your personal hard drive. Clearly, that's going too far. But if everything's free (or free to copy), how do the content providers get their due?

Payment for creative work has never been remotely fair. Vincent Van Gogh used to have to trade finished paintings for new tubes of paint; on the other hand, I remember a gallery show I saw in New York City years ago—a famous painter (I think it was David Salle) had essentially had two rolls of undistinguished vacation snaps made into 16x20 dye transfers. The gallery had put $25,000 pricetags on the photos, and the gallery attendant gushed to me about what a marvelous opportunity this was, since so little of the painter's "work" could be aquired for so little money. Vincent should have been so lucky.

What is most likely is that content will simply follow the money—however it emerges that the providers can get paid, that's what they'll create. Earnest attempts to find subsidies for traditional modes of content provision will gradually go extinct. Nothing wrong with that, from an economic standpoint anyway.

Recently, the Web has begun to tighten up a bit. While 99.99% of what's online is still free, some of the best and most trafficked sites have begun to erect subscription "gates" to their content. The New York Times, said to be the #1 news site on the Web, makes essential content available for free but charges $50 annually for most ancilliary content, including columnists. In photography, PDN (formerly Photo District News, the must-have journal for commercial photographers) now charges a $65 annual fee for its Website content.

It remains to be seen how these attempts will play out. The content on large, established custom sites is clearly worth paying for; however, individuals cannot possibly afford an infinite number of such subscriptions, so the number of sites able to demand direct payment will always be limited. And will the presence of the "gates" have the effect of driving surfers to free sites just below the pay sites in the quality hierarchy? I don't know. But I don't read New York Times editorial columns online any more.

Interesting times, these.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fun with Negative Carriers: The Sequel

Like John Sexton, I use an LPL 4500II enlarger, though mine has the color head instead of the VCCE. But where he likes to be free to print the whole picture area or crop from there, I often like to print full frame with a black border all around, which makes me even more finicky about negative carriers than he is.

For 35mm, I used a metal file to enlarge the opening in the corresponding LPL glassless carrier. For my medium format negatives from 6x4.5 through 6x12, I use the LPL 4x5 glass sandwich carrier and put up with the dust hassles. 4x5 is a problem, though. My LPL glass carrier has an opening of 94x120 mm, which isn't enough to cover the 96x120 image area of a typical 4x5 negative, let alone the full image with a border all around. Some 6x12 cameras and rollholders, notably the models from Noblex and Linhof, produce a negative 120 mm wide as well.

I fiddled with a variety of home-brew solutions but ultimately bought an Omega E- series 5x7 glass sandwich carrier. No, it's not designed to fit the LPL 4500 series, but it will slide in and there's room to position it so that the negative can be centered within the film gate of the enlarger.

Doing that leads to another discovery about the LPL. There's a reason the negative carrier is cut so tight: the light source itself is designed to just cover the image area of a 4x5 negative with a teeny bit of margin around, and no more. So while FFWB printing from 4x5 is possible, it is a bit of a pain—everything has to be lined up just so.

There's one other problem that I'm surprised John didn't mention. He's a big fan of T-Max 100 film, which is distinguished not only by its exceptional sharpness, fine grain and smooth tonality, but also by its shiny emulsion side. Most glass sandwich carriers these days, the LPL among them, include a textured anti-Newton upper glass to eliminate Newton's rings generated where the glass touches the smooth surface of the film base. The emulsion side of virtually all B&W negative films, on the other hand, has enough texture that Newton's rings are not an issue. TMX is the exception, and is the only film I've ever used that can produce Newton's rings from the emulsion side.

To deal with Newton's rings from TMX I replaced the clear lower glass in my LPL carrier with a piece of Denglas, an anti-reflection coated glass usually found in professional frame shops, where it's used for high-end framing jobs. High-end, because Denglas is expensive stuff—it's priced by surface area, and you could spend hundreds of dollars for a piece of Denglas large enough for a modest-sized painting. Fortunately, a small piece like 4x5" is within reason—I paid $20 for mine. Because Denglas is prone to minor surface defects that are irrelevant in framing applications but problematic in the optical path of an enlarger, you'll need to find a frame shop that's willing to let you sort through a few pieces until you find an unblemished 4x5" area that they will carefully cut for you. Anti-reflection coated glass is also available under the Tru-Vue AR* brand. Be careful to ask for "anti-reflection" and not "anti-glare" glass—the latter typically has a surface texture that will show up in the print if you use it as the lower glass in the carrier.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

* .PDF download

Who the Heck Is...


COSMIN BUMBUT?

Short Take: Young (b. 1968), prolific Romanian photographer just beginning to be known elsewhere. Graduate of the Theatre and Film Academy in Bucharest, and has won awards for both fashion and advertising photography in Romania. His book Transit won "Art Book of the Year" at the Romanian National Book Fair in 2003.

A Taste: "Passengers, Baia Mare–Cluj, Romania" (shown. Click on the image to see it larger; it's better a little bigger). Original print available from Photo-Eye in an edition of 26, $560. Prints made by inkjet from scanned negs.

Textbite: "I took up photography because at that time my mind was free. Now, after thirteen years the only thing I know is how to put a rectangle to my eyes and play with the shapes and lights that dwell inside of it. In my photos I have been trying to express tactile vicinity where the onlooker is invited to share the same feeling I had when I released the shutter. I have been searching for a concrete photography, of a pure instrumentality; my task is to record and set a limit to the existent, the banal, the simple. The photos from the 'Transit' series describe an important stage of my life when I was a university student and a train commuter somewhere in the northern region of Transylvania. It was foggy, cold and I was often a stowaway in the strange company of miners and peasants, but my camera and I were inseparable." (Artist's Statement)

Representative Book: First Book, Transit, published in 2003 by Humanitas, Bucharest. (He developed his film during the project in the common bathroom of a student dorm.)

Website

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Featured Comment: Richard Sintchak writes, "We've been fortunate to have Cosmin posting at the Contax G Pages since 2002. I've loved his stuff and he's gotten more than a few of his images in the site's Hall of Fame. His gallery is here."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Afterimage Featured Print


Afterimage Gallery's Featured Print right now is photographer David Donovan's most popular image, titled "The Touch." The 7x7-inch print, said to be a particularly lovely example of the photographic printer's art, is available for $400.

Afterimage Gallery of Dallas, Texas, is one of the oldest galleries in the country devoted exclusively to photography. It sells prints in a wide range of prices and has an extensive presence on the web, with more than 1,000 pages on its site.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Currently at UCR/CMP


What: Sachigusa Yasuda's 'Flying' photographs

When: Ends December 31, 2005

Where: University of California Riverside/California Museum of Photography, 3824 Main Street, Riverside CA 92501

"'Flying' alludes to the recent epidemic of suicide cyber cults in Sachigusa Yasuda’s native Japan—internet chat groups where suicide pacts are hatched and meticulously planned by young adults ironically trying to find meaning in their lives by ending them—a rate of one suicide every 15 minutes. The three-point perspective views and impossible angles and vistas—formed by collaging hundreds of images shot from slightly different viewpoints into seamless photographs—presents a series of dizzying and chilling images. The artist’s presence—she leans from top storey windows to take the photographs—is erased during the digital process, creating the illusion of filming while falling. As in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and other early German Expressionist works, the forced perspective in Yasuda’s photographs ratchets anxiety and alienation upward towards discomfort and fear." (Ciara Ennis)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

'This is a Monster'

Phase One Ships the P 45

“The ultimate and unmatched P 45 digital back with 39 MP sensor and 117 MB file sizes per shot—for the world’s most demanding commercial photographers. The result is sharper and more detailed images than ever before, no matter if the images are going for a billboard on Times Square in New York or in a high-end fashion magazine.”

Henrik Håkonsson, CEO of Phase One, said “Today is a landmark in digital photography. The availability of the P 45 throws off many technical limitations experienced by professional photographers. Photographers using the P 45 will achieve exceptional image quality never before possible in professional photography. They will also spend less time in post-production and can focus more on their craft and creativity.”

Posted by: DAVID EMERICK


Why People Photograph

"I am self-indulgent. When I photograph, I'm scratching the same itch that makes people gossip or tell jokes; only this gossip is visual, not verbal. There is nothing exalted about it, and it does not transcend any reality whatever. It tries to pass an experience on as nearly intact as possible.

"What happens, and (maybe) why. The process is that something comes in my eye and stimulates me to shoot because I'm bursting to let it out again—preferably to inflict it on an audience. If the audience likes it too, so much the better; but my photography is selfish, not altruistic. I do it for me.

"It's like conversation. Watch people talking. Notice how we wait with poorly hidden impatience for the other fellow to stop talking so we can start. Apparently it is more blessed to send that to receive. A photographer carries on a one-sided conversation through vision, with enormous satisfaction. ('Look what I saw!')"
—David Vestal, The Craft of Photography

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

So What IS the Best Monitor?


Back on Nov. 29th, in a post called "Coveting Vaporware," I mentioned that the only "old" technology I really covet any more are CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors. In response, a reader named Joe left a comment clueing me in to a good little article [link no longer works—6/15/06] by photographer Will Crockett, who has gotten a lot of buzz as a great teacher of DI whose presentations have a lot of charisma. (Thank you, Joe.) Combining Will C.'s expertise and my prejudices, I'm going to brazenly go where few fools hath trod before and name my pick for the "best" monitor for DI. It's the NEC MultiSync model FE992. (That's actually its predecessor the FE991SB shown.) If you're with NEC, contact me privately for the address to send the payola.

Okay, okay, calm down. There's no "best." I know that. (Why would you think I don't know that?) But let me explain my reasoning. First of all, why CRT? It's not that I don't like LCD monitors. It's just that the best ones are still the most expensive ones, which cost multiples of what a dowdy old-tech 19-inch CRT flatscreen does. And how long have you ever kept a monitor? Three years? Five years? It's best to think of these things as semi-disposable. I still like CRT monitors for photography. Their color is better, they resolve great, and there's no color shift with changes in viewing angle. Why a 19-inch flat screen? Because it's a good compromise: there's a generous amount of screen real estate (if you're too crowded with Photoshop open, add an el-cheapo 12- or 15-inch second monitor for your palettes) yet it's small enough for almost any video card to drive. Finally, it's Cheap! Cheap! Cheap! The darn thing only costs $165. That was a paltry one-month's supply of film for me not so very long ago. To me, good is good, but cheap and good is very good. Your mileage, habits, libido, craving for status, or whatnot may vary.

(Oh, and a helpful hint: to reduce eyestrain with all monitors, force yourself to open your eyes and blink often. As you've probably heard—it's been all over the news lately—recent studies have shown that squinting at your monitor reduces your blink rate and causes painful, burning dry-eye.)

Finally—it's true, the NEC FE992 does weigh a portly 50 lbs. For that reason, I recommend not going on hikes with it. Instead, place it on a desk or table and leave it there.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

DIY Photojournalism

People Contribute Record Number of Photos & Video to BBC After London Fire (hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Monday, December 12, 2005

Negative Carriers

Aspens Forest, Dusk, Near Aspen, Colorado, 1983 by John Sexton

When printing 4x5 it's the enlarger in use that dictates the negative carriers you have to use. That being said, let me try and provide some information that might be useful.

I use the Omega/LPL 4500 II enlarger with their VCCE II (Variable Contrast Constant Exposure) enlarger light source. This light source is of a dichroic design using a halogen bulb, and thus creates some heat at the negative stage. For this reason I find it essential to use a glass carrier. While I love the flatness of the negative and the fact that it will not "pop" in the carrier, I hate the four extra surfaces, which can collect dust. It's just something you live with, the necessity of careful dusting—and often redusting—of the negative and carrier glass.

One thing that I have done to all of my negative carriers—regardless of type—over the past thirty years is to have the negative carrier milled out to allow for full frame printing. It is unbelievable to me that enlarger manufacturers necessitate you crop your photographs when printing in their negative carriers. I will make all of the cropping decisions on my images myself, thank you very much! To have the negative carriers enlarged I have generally had a machine shop do the work by giving them a sample negative, and asking for 1mm of clear film around the image area. Whether a glass carrier or glassless, this will allow the negative carrier sufficient area to grip the negative and hold it securely in place. Some of the carriers I have filed out by hand. On a larger negative carrier, such as 4x5", this had to be done carefully, so that you don't enlarge the opening too much and allow the negative to fall through. In addition, I like to bevel the edges of the negative carrier toward the negative itself to minimize any shadowing or reflections the carrier might cause. After enlarging the negative carrier I paint it with flat black paint, and off I go to make prints.

Posted by: JOHN SEXTON


Directly from Japan



I'm sure you've seen the telltale phrases: "made for the home market," "Japan only," "Not imported." So how do you in the States or Europe get your hands on some of the good stuff that the Japanese reserve for themselves?

If it's supplies for traditional photography you're looking for, try Dirk Rösler's Megaperls Webshop. Dirk tells me it's something he started as "a little project between jobs," but says he's gotten tremendous interest from all around the globe. The page's subtitle is "Film and more directly from Japan," and it's just the thing if you simply must have Fuji Acros in 8x10 with some Artdol Sheet Film developer, or a pack of Fuji Bromide Rembrandt V paper.

Megaperls even sells—get this—the elusive Natura S camera. Just an ordinary little black point-and-shoot...with a 24mm ƒ/1.9 lens! Never seen on these shores before. (Now why can't they stick that lens on a digicam?)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

TIME's YIP


TIME magazine's annual "Best Photos" issue comes out today. I don't have to tell you that this was an eventful year around the world, but I think it's worthwhile to point out the highly visual nature of a lot of that news. Video footage of disasters may be in short supply (how many times have you seen the same video clip of the tsunami from that hotel balcony, or of the hurricane ripping down that hanging traffic signal?), but they're exactly the sort of things that lend themselves to more in-depth examination by still photographers. Combine that with the ever-increasing ubiquity of better and better digital equipment, and this should be a good issue (let's just hope they went easy on the gutter bleeds). The feature, which I could swear used to be called the "Year in Pictures" (YIP) (or maybe that was LIFE?) is this year called "The Best Photos of 2005." You can get a little foretaste of the issue's contents at TIME's website.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Michael Evans

Mike Evans with a few friends


Michael Evans died ten days ago, of cancer. A veteran newspaper photographer who had been nominated for a Pulitzer, Evans turned down a higher-paying job at TIME magazine to become Ronald Reagan's official White House photographer in 1981 (he left the post in 1986). Ironically, however, Evans' most famous picture of Reagan was one of the first he ever took—on assignment for a horse magazine in 1976 after Reagan's bid for the Republican nomination had failed. (It was the first time the two had met.) Evans came to national attention again briefly when Reagan died in 2004, when both TIME and Newsweek put his signature 1976 Reagan portrait on the covers of their memorial issues. He was 61.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

So Long, Man


"A lie is profanity. A lie is the worst thing in the world. Art is the ability to tell the truth, especially about oneself."
Richard Pryor

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Saturday, December 10, 2005

From the Bargain Bin


Here's a book for those who like their photography as Art with a capital A: Flor Garduno's Inner Light, a collection of still lifes and nudes. Both Edward R. Hamilton and Amazon are now offering remainders at $14.95. You can get a taste of the content here, though the small images on screen don't adequately convey the impact of the pictures as they appear in the book, printed bigger and bolder in a decent tritone. The foreword is new-age gibberish, but fortunately the pictures themselves are presented without distraction. Many of the nudes, with their mysterious props and adornments and compositional fuss, strike me as reaching a bit too earnestly for Deeper Meaning; no doubt someone more familiar with Mexican culture or with Ms Garduno's thinking will grasp some metaphor that I'm missing. But the still lifes are more straightforward, and some of them are quite lovely. In all, worth the price of admission.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Who the Heck Is...


KATY GRANNAN?

Short Take: Establishment fine-art photographer who makes anonymous proletarian portraits of individuals or pairs of people, often nude or in dishabille. The portraits are coloristically sophisticated, fey, distanced, with that peculiar deadpan emotional milkiness popular in art photography now. Grannan also does commerical and editorial work (including fashion and celebrity portraiture) very similar to her fine-art work.

A Taste: Untitled, 1998, from the project "Poughkeepsie Journal" (shown).

Textbite: "To find her sitters, Grannan places an advertisement in local suburban papers, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Wisconsin Tribune, and the Austin Chronicle. These ads, found in the classified section, read:

ART MODELS

Artist / photographer (female)
Seeks people for portraits.
No experience necessary.

Leave msg.

Grannan's process is quick; each portrait is taken within the short span of three hours. She arrives at the homes with only a camera, a light and a fan. Grannan transforms the sitter's room into a stage, pushing beds and moving tables." (Gallery 51)

Representative Publication: First book, Model American just published by Aperture (Fall 2005).

Website: www.katygrannan.com

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON
NOTE: "Who the Heck Is..." will reappear from time to time.

Featured Comment: Imants wrote: "I quite like some of the art images the commercial images lacked the sophistication and seemed a bit one dimensional. The theatrics remind me of some of the early work of Tracey Moffat. I think that the work of Bill Henson is somewhat stronger in content."



An Even Bigger Big Print


TOP: Carl Weese with 16x40-inch test print from an Epson 4800, from a scan of a 7x17 inch negative. BOTTOM: The picture, "Dawn, Shepaug at Hidden Valley." The print has sold a number of times as a Platinum/Palladium contact print.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to C.W.)

Single-Light Setups


When I worked as a professional photographer's assistant, way back when, we did everything with artificial light. Everything. Even outdoors.

Everybody has their own approach to things. Everybody's different. One typical divergence is "He-Man" versus "Lean-and-Mean." In a nutshell, some guys like the Hummer H2. Some guys like the Lotus Elise.

In the studio where I worked, we did everything He-Man. Huge Speedotron Black Line 4800ws power packs, dozens of heads (including Quads), enormous softboxes, racks and racks of Matthews C-stands. Most amateurs think similarly. They think that if they "get into lighting," they need massive amounts of equipment, and a corresponding monetary investment.

Me, I'm a Lotus Elise type of guy. Don't give me a bigger engine—give me a lighter car.

Portability, simplicity, and straightforwardness are what I like. Along these lines, I've always liked working with a single light. Rather than set up separate heads for hairlights and fill lights and so forth, I'd rather do it all with one. I don't even like softboxes—give me diffusion panels. Extra lights? Reflectors. I like the collapsible ones, which shake out to three times their stored size in about half a second. The classic portrait setup is two frame-and-panels: between the light and the subject is a diffuser panel, and, placed so the light hits it directly, a white panel on the far side. Voilá—key and fill. Hairlight? A mirror on a flexible arm clamp! I love it.

(A cost-saving tip: make frames for panels out of PVC pipe you get at the hardware store. Don't even glue it—it holds up fine when fitted together and knocks down completely for easy transport.)

And the light? No sense in going with a pack-and-head for one light. Get a monoblock. When choosing a monoblock, there are several things to keep in mind:
• The controls are on the light. If the light is at the top of the stand and the top of the stand is out of easy reach, then you'll need a remote control if you plan to change the settings frequently. In practice you probably won't need to do this, so don't buy the remote control straight off. Just be sure there's one available.

• Current draw. Most commercial buildings have 30- and 40-amp circuits, but many private homes and older buildings have 15's and 20's. I even did a job once in a building that had 7.5-amp circuits! The bigger your light, the bigger the current draw when it recharges. The monoblock won't be much use to you if it blows the building's fuse once every three recharges.

• Flash duration. Ever noticed how cheaper lights have longer burst times? That limits you to slow shutter speeds. Fine on a controlled set, but what if there's a lot of ambient?
Now, frankly, you'll like most any monoblock you work with. I've always liked the White Lightnings myself, although in my day the Ultras were current and they're discontinued now. Nowadays, for the amateur who's man enough to forego the He-Man approach (and that includes you she-women), there's an even better, even lighter, even cheaper solution: AlienBees. What's not to like? Well, the website is alarmingly cute. And it's certainly not He-Man—not with little cartoon bees all over it. But check this out: no switching power supply; no transformers; just capacitors! This eliminates the traditional objection to monoblocks, which is that you're balancing all that weight at the top of a pole like a pumpkin on a stick. With the AlienBees, there's no weight.

The best AlienBees buy is the B800. Not too big. Not too small. Just right. It was designed by Paul Conrad Buff. (Yes, that Paul C. Buff.) It's light. It's certainly cheap—less than $300 (and not $299.99, either, but actually less than $300). It's got a flash duration that's faster than your camera's top shutter speed. It will go all day on an 8-amp circuit. It's shipped direct to you from a central location in the USA, the Country Music Capital, Nashville, Tennessee. It even retains my favorite original White Lightning feature: you can use regular ol' light bulbs as modeling lights. No more downtime because you forgot to mail-order more dedicated bulbs.

The best online review can be found at Dave Weikel's site. There are lots of pictures. He even takes one apart for you. Even if you don't read it now, bookmark it!

Simplicity. Portability. Straightforwardness. Ahhh.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Friday, December 09, 2005

No Nipple Piercing Adverts So Far

Page from Rafael Tongol's website

If you've been following along, you may have noticed that a small stack of Google ads has appeared in the sidebar. I'm no web wizard by any means, so I was pretty proud of myself for figuring how how to get them there, and how to get them looking the way they do (I got to choose the colors.) But I have no idea who decides what actually gets advertised there. (It's possible nobody decides, since Google is famous for putting in place impossibly complicated programs and then leaving them alone to do their thing. Anybody know? Post a comment if you do.)

Anyway, I was naturally curious as to what the content of the ads would be, so I checked a few of them out. One was for a Florida fashion photographer name Rafael Tongol. Now, I'm not a fashion guy, and I don't know Rafael Tongol from Adam, but his stuff sure looks slick to me. And gee cheese-whiz, those are some very nice tearsheets the guy's got. I'm impressed. No, actually I'm jealous, is what I am.

In any event, however Google decides what goes there, I'm relieved that the ads that are showing up seem to be photography related and not ads for funeral homes and nipple piercings and other odds and ends like that. (You know how the web can be.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Congratulations to...

Congratulations to Ron Leach. He got our sympathies recently when the magazine he edited since 1997, Petersen's PHOTOgraphic, was closed down by its parent company, Primedia (which also now owns Stereophile, among a number of other publications). I'm sure there were company politics behind the scenes that I'm not even remotely privvy to, but, whatever the circumstances, it can't be pleasant to have a ship go down when you're standing at the helm. Petersen's had been publishing for 33 years.

Nice to see, then, that Ron L. has found dry land again as Web Editor for Primedia's flagship photography publication, Shutterbug. (He's also an Associate Publisher.) So far, so good: take a look at the deluxe new site that Shutterbug.com launched recently. The main page features recent reviews by veteran photo-writers such as Dave Howard, David Brooks, and Joe Farace. Ron Leach even has a fledgling blog at the site, although it's new and there's not a lot of content there quite yet. But watch the space.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

One Wessel

Waikiki 7, 1979, by Henry Wessel


(Just so you can see what I'm talking about.)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Bill Owens' Great Project


Revisiting some of Ralph Meatyard's work yesterday made me think of two other photographers whose work I loved, Bill Owens and Henry Wessel. Turns out both of them have books out too.

Owens, of course, was and is famous for his 1972 book Suburbia, one of those iconic photo books that always get mentioned in photo histories. It was reprinted in 1999 in a new and improved version (seriously—a red sunburst on the cover proclaims "New and Improved!" in a not-so-sly trot on that particular modus of conventional retail advertising. Unlike most things so labeled, however, the new edition of Suburbia actually is new and improved, with better editing, better printing, and added content). His newest book, Leisure, which the spread above comes from, is actually the completion of his four-book series on American middle-class life in the 1970s (the other two are Our Kind of People [1976] and Working: I Do It For the Money [1978]). Leisure, published last year, is presumably the project's coda.

It's always seemed to me that many "real" photographers fly just beneath the radar. Photography—Ansel, Avedon, and Annie notwithstanding—isn't generally a star vehicle: it's not easy to make a great big splash and maintain a cult of personality. But the interest in the pictures and their subjects flows with a strong current that can survive the ups and downs of fortune and penury, fame and obscurity. Owens is, as much as anything, like a bright cultural anthropologist with a visual flair. Past the admitted irony present in most honest photographs, you can sense and see his interest and fascination with the decade of his youth and his relationship to it. It's an old philosophical question: how much are we a part and a product of our communities, and how much are we opposed to and apart from them, pulling against their requirements and observing them as if from the outside?

In much of the time since his three great books came out, Owens has been running a brewery in California.

I know even less about Henry Wessel than I do about Bill Owens, apart from the fact that I have the same affection for some of his exquisitely uncomposed 1970s documentary pictures; I probably only associate the two photographers with each other because I became aware of their work at the same time of my life. I've requested a review copy of his latest book, which appears to be a pastiche of five earlier, smaller books. I'll report back to you if and when I ever get to see it.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Currently at Arizona: Meatyard


What: "Ralph Eugene Meatyard" (exhibit of 150 photographs)

When: September 23, 2005 to January 8, 2006

Where: The Center For Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

"The photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard defy convention: they have been called visionary, surrealistic, and meditative. Whatever the label, these evocative images of friends and family and the natural world around his home illustrate a delicate psychology of human interaction. Meatyard was trained as an optician, a profession that he maintained all his life in Lexington, Kentucky; he bought a camera in 1950 for the sole purpose of photographing his first-born son. But shortly thereafter, he joined the Lexington Camera Club and developed a friendship with his photography teacher Van Deren Coke, as well as a circle of local writers and photographers, including Guy Davenport, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Jonathan Williams, and Minor White. Family and friends freely participated in Meatyard's staged and mysterious images, which often involve masks and abandoned spaces, and obliquely reference social, political, and cultural issues. A key subject in Meatyard's work is the natural environment, which is featured in his "Light on Water" series, in which long exposures seem to create calligraphic texts, and his No-Focus series, in which he deliberately photographed stems and twigs out of focus. In one of his last series titled Motion-Sound, the pictures were made by moving the camera gently, creating multiple exposures of the woodland scenes that suggest abstract sound patterns. The book accompanies an exhibition organized by ICP Assistant Curator Cynthia Young with acclaimed writer and Meatyard friend, Guy Davenport, who also wrote the text. Also included are the exhibition history, chronology, and bibliography. Essay by Guy Davenport."

The quote above is the publisher's description of the recently reissued book.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

Clusterfuck Aesthetics

"Whether you call it the New Cacophony or the Old Cacophony, Agglomerationism, Disorientationism, the Anti Dia, or just a raging bile duct, the practice of mounting sprawling, often infinitely organized, jam-packed carnivalesque installations is making more and more galleries and museums feel like department stores, junkyards, and disaster films. It is an architecture of no architecture, a gesamtkunstwerk or "total artwork" whose roots are in opera, Dada, the Merzbau, and the madhouse. Whatever the subject—be it bodily fluids, pop culture, or politics—terms that describe this sculptural strategy include 'grandiose' and 'testosterone-driven.'

"Nowadays this all-at-once gambit can be seen as a way to compete with the paranoia and havoc of everyday life; a homeopathic dose of poison whereby ruins are created to counteract ruin; a manic-depressive panic attack in the face of information overload; a rejoinder to minimalism; a way to fill space and get attention...."

Read the whole article by Jerry Saltz at The Village Voice

Posted by: DAVID EMERICK


It's the Candy (and the Softliters)

The trick? There's a Hershey bar under his left foot. You can believe he's very aware it's there!

I learned this trick to use photographing children from a "Simones" videotape. They use a piece of candy to focus and maintain a child's attention during a photo shoot. The trick is to place the candy someplace where he or she will have to participate in holding it and hiding it from the camera. The lure is that the the candy can be eaten "as soon as we're done." It's the anticipation that produces the excited expressions!

You have to be true to your word and in a short while let them have the bounty. Give the child time to enjoy it, and this will let him rest, stay occupied, and get ready for the next bribe! Then do the candy thing all over again. By the time you are done with your photo shoot, you will have pumped up the child so full of sugar that the parents will have to deal with them for the next few hours as they "fly around the room."

When in a client's home, you want to get in there and set up quickly and break down quickly but still have that great studio light. I have just recently discovered a new light modifier that's great for this: Photek Softliters. I am sure Mike Johnston is rolling his eyes because I know he just loves artificial studio lighting. Not! LOL. But the truth is the parents have expectations of their "photo shoot," and the chances are they expect to see professional equipment. (They don't realize the best shots are really done when you capture your child in his natural habitat and in natural poses. You'll get to sneak those shots in, and they'll become your best sellers, but that's another post.)

In this session I worked on location at the client's house. You'll need to bring your stash of "the stuff," or, as the kids call it in underground terms, candy. I shot with a Canon 20D and the 24-70mm L lens. The pictures are captured in RAW and converted using Bibble Pro with no retouching. I had just picked up my new Softliters and this job was their maiden voyage. What a wonderful improvement over common umbrellas! They are much closer to the quality of a beautiful softbox than the harsher light of an umbrella. The light is first bounced and then diffused as it goes through the special diffusion material. One of the problems with an umbrella is the fact that they have a shaft that sticks out. This prevents you from getting close safely without appearing to put the kid in danger of a poke in the eye. The Softliters have a removable shaft, so once you set it up, you unscrew the shaft and you are hazard-free.

Tell your subject to hide the candy from the camera under his hands or foot and he will be all giggles and barely able to contain himself. This is rich shutter-happy territory.

The candy and the Softliters provided a pleasureable and successful photo session. That is what you want to walk away with at the end of the hour!

Posted by: PETER GREGG


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Subsidized Prints



Inexpensive holiday gifts courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer: The Library of Congress has always made photographic prints from its collection available for purchase. These aren't rare vintage prints of the sort you'd pay tens of thousands of dollars for in a gallery, but in many cases they are actual photographic prints made from the original negatives—and if you care for the objects as photographs rather than investments or objets d'art, that's often good enough. This superb portrait of a Klickitat brave, for example, costs only $28 for an 8x10, $37 for an 11x14, and $46 for a 16x20.

Right now there's a great African-American section available, including the natty family at left as well as an awe-inspiring portrait of Harriet Tubman looking downright regal, among other things. Check out the Famous Photographers section too—how else are you going to be able to afford one of Alexander Gardner's portraits of Abe Lincoln?

All in all, fun stuff for lovers of photographs.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON