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Sunday, April 30, 2006

'Golden Age of Jazz' Photographer Bill Gottlieb Dies

by Adam Bernstein, The Washington Post

Bill Gottlieb, 89, a self-taught jazz photographer who took some of the most indelible images of the top musicians bridging the swing and bebop jazz eras, died April 23 at his home in Great Neck, N.Y., after a stroke.

Mr. Gottlieb's photography was initially an afterthought, mere visual accompaniment to his regular work as a jazz scribe for The Washington Post and the influential music magazine Down Beat during the 1940s.

After reading manuals for his Speed Graphic press camera, Mr. Gottlieb took hundreds of witty, haunting and altogether unforgettable portraits of musicians such as Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald. He once captured Gillespie making goo-goo eyes at Fitzgerald during a performance....


More on NPR

William Gottlieb prints are available from Holden Luntz Gallery

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Illustration: Frank Sinatra in 1947 by William Gottlieb, Courtesy Holden Luntz Gallery

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Daguerreotype Lives

By Oren Grad

I've had daguerreotypes on my mind, ever since visiting the Southworth and Hawes exhibition.

The interesting thing about photographic processes that are superseded in the mass market by newer technology is that they don't necessarily go away. They may hang on for a while in a long, slow decline, or they may be eclipsed almost entirely but reappear later as a younger generation rediscovers them and finds virtue in their special attributes.

So it is with the menagerie of so-called "alternative processes." Their use now always a matter of choice rather than of necessity, they appeal especially to people who enjoy craft for its own sake, who savor the picture as a physical object, and who'd rather cradle an exquisite jewel in the hand than hang a big, bold poster-print on the wall.

Even the daguerreotype lives on, championed by a new generation of enthusiastic practitioners. It's a challenging craft, not for the lazy or impatient. The toxicity of the classical process, based on development over mercury vapors, requires careful safety precautions and scares off many; fortunately, the Becquerel process offers a safer alternative. But for daguerreotype aficionados, the demands of the medium are part of its charm.

Jason Greenberg Motamedi, an anthropologist by training and profession who is also a rising young star within the community of daguerreotypists, teaches an introductory workshop on the process. I've known Jason for some time through his thoughtful discussion-board postings on classic lenses and through private correspondence we've had on matters optical. When I saw an announcement that one of his workshops for this year still had some openings, I asked if he would share with T.O.P. his thoughts on the medium. Here's what he wrote:

Daguerreotypes are mysterious and beautiful. Their images—positive, negative and mirror at the same time—have an amazing sense of depth and delicacy. The process, although difficult, toxic, and expensive, is highly enjoyable and meditative, combining the skills of jeweler, chemist, photographer and bookbinder. Yet the most intriguing aspect of the Daguerreotype for me is its "presence", or to make up a word, its thing-ness. This seems particularly important in the age of digital reproduction. A Daguerreotype, unlike a screen image and even the most perfect silver, platinum, or albumen print, is foremost a three-dimensional object. Made of copper, silver, and glass, they are surprisingly heavy, yet seem to fit perfectly in the palm of a hand. Finally, daguerreotypes are all flawed. Producing a perfect blemish-free image is near impossible. I find something comforting in being forced to leave much of my art to chance.

Jason offers his workshop through the Peters Valley Craft Center (go here and scroll down for the workshop description) and also through the Center for Alternative and Historic Processes (scroll down from here for workshop listing). The CFAAHP workshop is full for this year, but the Peters Valley session still has openings.

Jason has an intriguing website as well. More of a proto-website, really; demands of work and family forced him to set aside further development after the site's launch a few years ago. However, Jason tells me that he's planning an update for this summer. You can also find a selection of work by Jason and other contemporary daguerreotypists here.

Posted by OREN GRAD

Paul's Take

I've enjoyed Mike's reaction to the "big" prints I made for him. It's always nice to produce something which generates such a sense of delight, and this was no exception. To carry the experiment one step further, I thought I'd write up my response to what Mike has written, and offer my meager insight into the whole "big print" thing.

I’m not surprised Mike says that it’s hard to look at the small prints because your attention is drawn to the large prints. That’s definitely true—large prints are an attention grabber in a big way.

Now, that can be good, or bad. If the photograph isn’t any good, then it might be true that a really big print of this cruddy photo looks better than a little print, but you’re still trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear. Printing it bigger doesn't magically transform it into a good photograph; it just makes it looks slightly less lousy. And some photographs are meant to be a small, intimate viewing experience. As much as I love the photographs in Michael Kenna's Monique’s Kindergarten, I think most of them would lose their appeal when printed larger.

On the other hand, I think some photographs ought to be printed large. Photographs that are rich in detail, for instance, become an immersive experience when printed large. A great example of this is the work of Christopher Burkett. Burkett's prints are a different sort of viewing experience—the closer you get, the more immersive the experience is, and the more detail you see. Unless you've had the experience of standing slack-jawed in front of one of Burkett's 30x40 prints, you haven't really experienced his work at all. (Burkett has a website at Go to the gallery page, find a gallery close to you that shows his work, and then go to the gallery.)

Strangely, images with broad areas of smooth tonality also seem to work well as large prints. The first really large prints I saw were large digital prints done by David Fokos. The prints I saw were from his long exposure work, with sparse composition and large regions of creamy smooth tone. I'd seen his work printed small (16x20) but these large 30x40 prints blew me right out of my sneakers. Even adjusting for viewing distance, the large prints just had a presence that wasn't there with the smaller prints. (His website is at Again, I’d urge you to look at the list of galleries that represent his work, find a gallery near you, and then go to the gallery and see the real thing.)

I think Mike is right to be delighted with the way this image comes across printed large. It has that hard-to-pin-down set of qualities that make it a good candidate for being printed large—some sharp detail, some areas of nice, luscious creamy tone. That's why I sent the email to Mike proposing this experiment in the first place—I had a pretty strong feeling that this print would be a winner printed large, and the real question was just how large we could print an image from a 6-megapixel camera and not have it look worse instead of better. We both got a real surprise on that score—before printing it, I would have bet that the best looking print would actually be pretty small. If you had asked me beforehand if I thought you could print an image from a 6mp camera at 22x33 and have it not look like crud, I would have told you "No way." But after I made that 22x33 print I sent to Mike, I sat down, looked at it, and concluded that I was just plain wrong. I'm not saying that every image from a 6mp camera can be printed 22x33 and look good; I'm just saying that this one can.

Finally, there are some practical issues to large prints; it’s not all sweetness and light. They're hard to handle—a 44x55-inch sheet of paper gets kinked just laying flat on a table. They're hard to present—a 22x 33-inch print is about the largest 2:3 aspect ratio print you can overmat with 32x40 mat board, the largest easily available size. Finally, unless you happen to live in a museum, you probably don't have very many places where you have enough wall space to display very many large prints.

But a large print of the right image (and "Surface Tension" is a good example) can be a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI

'Surface Tension' print Sale

Here's the smaller version of the apple print, image area 22" wide. Since this really has turned out to be an arresting print (the first two people who saw it bought one), Paul has agreed to make the prints and just this once, I've decided to make an exception and waive my customary $20,000 print price. If you'd like a print—either size pictured above or below, 22" or 33" wide—the price is $500, half price if you buy it over the weekend (before midnight Monday, May 1st). Please make payment by PayPal to mcjohnston [at] mac [dot] com. Shipping is included except overseas, which requires an extra $20. Prints will be made on an Epson 9600 with Ultrachrome inks on Enhanced Matte paper. It will be shipped from Paul Butzi Photography.

Again, the best representation is here.

Be sure to specify what size you want—and don't forget to include your address!


Catching Up With Reid Reviews

I haven't caught up with Sean Reid's photography equipment review site Reid Reviews lately. He's now followed up on his excellent comparative shootout between the new Zeiss Ikon and the Leica M7 rangefinder cameras by posting the first part of a comparative review of the Leica 21mm ƒ/2.8 Elmarit Aspherical and the Zeiss ZM 21mm ƒ/2.8. This is especially interesting to me since I've got a magazine review of the Zeiss lenses in the cooker. There are several other new articles on Reid Reviews as well, including an extensive article about ultra-wide lens options for the Canon EOS lens mount and a review of the Leica D-Lux 2 digicam.

Reid Reviews is a paid subscriber site. My comment about that is power to ya, Sean!


Friday, April 28, 2006

Picking the Right Print Size

Here I am holding the largest of the five prints Paul made, which has an image area of 22" x 33".

After I posted the entry below called "The Tiny-JPEG Fallacy," Paul Butzi generously offered to contribute to an experiment in print sizing. I uploaded the file of my picture "Surface Tension" (a name I picked out of thin air as I wrote the earlier post, by the bye, lest you think me pretentious) to the web, and Paul, out in Washington State, downloaded it and made five different prints of it at graduated sizes on his Epson 9600.

All have a 2x3 aspect ratio, and the long dimensions of the prints are 7", 10.5", 15", 22" and 33".

My initial reaction was that Paul really knows how to print. Although he says he did very little to my file other than running Noise Ninja on the largest two and sharpening for each output size, it seems obvious to me that he knows his printer and knows what he's doing.

He warned me that it's difficult to go back to letter-sized prints once you've seen your work large, and I hear that. I was struck by how hard it was just to look at the smallest sizes—my tendency was simply to ignore them while admiring the larger prints. While Paul and I agree that the "ideal" size for this particular picture is the second-to-largest 22"-wide one, the biggest surprise is how well the largest two prints hold up. This is not an image with a lot of detail, and specular highlights like the water droplets on the surface of the apple can "convey" without having to be of very high resolution. Still, this is a 34-MB file from a 6-MP capture on an APS-C DSLR, and the first two people I showed the biggest print to both wanted to buy it. It's pretty amazing how good such a big enlargement from such a modest file can be.

The 15"-wide print also looks very good, although I suspect I might be more satisfied with it if I had never seen the larger prints.


Digital Myth #1: Pro Printers are More Expensive

By Paul Butzi
One of the digital photography myths I’ve run across doesn’t quite take on the status of a myth…but it is a pretty pervasive misconception. The misconception is that a printer like the Epson Stylus R2400 is a cheaper way to make prints than its upscale, pro-level brother, the Epson Stylus Pro 4800. That might be true, but only if you plan to make very few prints.

Right now, the street price for an R2400 delivered to my door is about $780. The street price for the 4800 is quite a bit more—$1800 delivered to my door. At first blush, the R2400 looks a lot cheaper. The trick is that in the box with the 4800, there’s a set of 110ml ink cartridges. To really level the price, we need to add in ink cartridges to the R2400, so that we’re buying the printer and the same amount of ink in each case. Ink cartridges for the R2400 would run me $13 apiece, and they have a capacity of about 11ml of usable ink. So we need to add in 9 cartridges, in each of the 8 colors we’re going to use. Nine cartridges, 8 colors, $13 a pop—that means we’re buying $936 in ink, just to get up to the 110ml level we’d get with the 4800. That brings the total cost for the R2400 up to $1,716, so that the R2400 costs us just $84 less than the 4800. Eighty-four dollars isn’t a whole lot to get a printer that’s built to pro standards, can print wider, and has the self-calibration features of the 4800.

But wait! There’s more!
There's more. The 4800 can also use 220ml ink cartridges, which really cut the cost of ink. A 220ml cartridge costs $84, or 38 cents per ml. Compare that to the cost for the little cartridges for the R2400, which run $1.18 per ml—more expensive by a factor of three.

If you compare the cost of running the two printers until you’ve run an additional full set of 220ml cartridges through the 4800, and 20 sets of 11ml cartridges through the R2400, the additional ink cost will be $672 for the 4800 and $2,080 for the R2400. Total cost for the R2400 to this point is $3,796, and total cost for the 4800 is $2,472…a difference of $1,324 in favor of the "more expensive" Stylus Pro 4800.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI

LowePro Slingshot 200 AW

Manufacturer's Description: Perfect for photojournalists, the all-weather, airline carry-on LowePro SlingShot 200 AW uses a sling design to go from “carry mode” to “ready mode” in just seconds. Carried comfortably on the back, it rotates to the front so you can get to your camera quickly. The SlingShot 200 AW holds an SLR with mid-range zoom lens attached, 3 or 4 extra lenses, cables, and accessories, and has a full-access lid to make loading it a snap. This feature-rich bag also includes a built-in memory card pouch, micro fiber LCD cloth and two generous organizer pockets.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Return of the Stereo Camera

It looks as though the Horseman 3D camera spotted in prototype at PMA is really going to happen. The Japanese page is projecting delivery for this summer.

Posted by OREN GRAD

Aperture Team Booted?

Think Secret is reporting a rumor this morning that Apple has asked the team engineers for Aperture to leave. "Sources familiar with Apple's professional software strategy said they were not surprised by the move, describing Aperture's development as a 'mess' and the worst they had witnessed at Apple."

Read more about it at Think Secret.


Featured Comment
from Josh Wand: "See Daring Fireball for confirmation of the rumor, more or less, and some spot-on analysis...."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On-Line Camera Company Museums

By Oren Grad

While our Esteemed Proprietor works out his issues with the network gods, T.O.P. is pleased to offer our entertainment-starved readership links to these cool on-line camera company museums:



Nikon (Caveat: the server for the Nikon site has been quite slow recently. Don't give up, though—it's worth the wait.)

Posted by OREN GRAD

Blog Notes, part B

I apologize for the recent lack of content. I have now been offline for more than 24 hours for "server maintenance in my area," and was offline intermittently for 12 hours prior to that—which means I have a backlog of "real work" staring me in the face, and tech support on speed dial. I seem to be back online, at the moment at least, and hopefully will stay that way for a while. Sheesh. More soon.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

T.O.P. Endorses: LENSPEN

Okay, so I'm kind of a nut about lenses. But in the past 26 years I have tried every single possible method ever devised by Mankind for getting lenses really clean, spotless, new-looking, and this one works the best. No, it doesn't last forever. But it only costs ten bucks, give or take. If you don't have one already, get one. They really work well.

Where To Buy: I care? Google or Froogle "lenspen" and suit yourself.

Tip: The business end (at right, with the chamois tip and carbon in the cap) is detachable. In case you're backpacking or into saving space. Just pull hard.

This is an actual unpaid, unsolicited endorsement.


Monday, April 24, 2006

Blog Notes

1. Because it's all more or less moot, I'll be taking down all the bits about Mamiya within the next couple of days. A little too much ado about almost nothing, as it turned out.

2. "Based purely on a cookie," T.O.P. logged its 250,000th "First Time Visitor" last weekend, with about three times that many hits (page loads) since November. I dunno, but that seems respectable for a blog. I guess it depends on your frame of reference.

3. To avoid keeping you in suspense, I should say I probably won't post "T.O.P. Ten #3" until tonight or even tomorrow morning. On the good side, there will be more endorsements soon.


Kate Moss and the Death of British Art

Marc Quinn's sculpture of the supermodel was unveiled this week, the latest in a series of portraits of her by some of Britain's leading artists. So what does it tell us about contemporary art? That it is mediocre and enthralled by celebrity, says Jonathan Jones

The Guardian—A really bad artist can say something about the times in a way that often eludes genius. While the good artist gets lost in personal obsessions, the trite and sentimental hack has a way of showing us what we're all thinking. With his sculpture of Kate Moss, unveiled this week, Marc Quinn has done it again. And what he tells us is that we may as well put up our hands and confess that beneath our thin veil of modernism we remain an artistically conservative nation. British art has returned to its origins, we see on these pages. After all the sensations, after the brilliant careers and after the fire, we have arrived by some cyclical divine joke in 18th-century London, where portraiture is god and the leading artists of the day compete to depict Mary "Perdita" Robinson, Emma Hamilton—and Kate Moss.

A decade ago, when British art was interesting rather than merely famous, Gary Hume painted the first iconic portrait of Kate Moss in a Warholian mode—well, it was nearly iconic for nearly 15 minutes. It was based on a magazine image, and her face became a disturbing void. Hume's painting remains the best that has been done of her, because it is not soppy about its model....



Featured Comment by Ken Tanaka: "The contextual irony of placing such a story here is inescapable. Although this site is anything but a glamour photo venue it is the hoards of 'glam' shooters that made this woman, and her thousands of peers and predecessors, 'important' in the public eye. All to sell products wrapped in sex appeal.

"So why this writer should single out this particular artist's work as being emblematic of mundane British art baffles me. I suspect that on the day this story ran his paper had many pages of ads featuring Moss wannabes. Why not also bust the chops of the photographers that shot your paper's ads?

"The general subject of the boundaries between fine art, pop art, and advertising is so old that it's growing...Moss."

Featured Comment by Eolake Stobblehouse: "There are many aspects to consider in this story, about art, photography, and celebrity, as well as media. When all is said and done, though, one thought has to linger: Kate sure is limber. And at her age, too."

Mamiya's Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Here is an email from Bill Gratton of Mamiya America about some of the recent Mamiya news...

"Good Morning Friends,

"Some of you may have recently heard some rumors regarding Mamiya. Over the weekend there were a lot of 'busy-bees' on the internet making all sorts of speculations, including implications that Mamiya was going out of business. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact Mamiya's future is brighter than ever before. I've attached a copy of the official press release. It should help clear things up a little.

"It is actually really good news. Mamiya OP is a very large company, making everything from golf club shafts, fishing rods, pachinko machines, and much much more. The upper management has always been made up of people from such departments (seemingly everywhere but camera/optics). The new operation will be solely focused on the photographic field. The transferring of the Mamiya Camera/Optics division to a company whose business is software and IT makes for a very promising digital future. We are all really excited by this!

"As for the sales and the future of existing cameras, everything should remain business as usual for the foreseeable future. It should dramatically improve our position in transitioning to digital technologies.

"It will not interfere, interrupt, or negatively affect any of our operations here in the US.

"The MAC Group's dedication to partnering with the education community is as strong as ever. These improvements should further secure our leadership role within the professional photographic community, and help us to further serve you and your students in the future.

"As usual if you have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me. I am traveling this week to a couple of remote areas. So I apologize in advance for any delay in getting back to you in a timely fashion."

—Bill Gratton
National Mngr. Educational Markets
MAC Group / Leaf America

—Official Press Release—

Mamiya Transfers Camera and Optical Division

Elmsford, NY, April 24, 2006—Mamiya O/P has announced that its Optical Equipment Division, manufacturer of the leading medium format cameras and lenses, will be transferred to a new company. The new company, Cosmo Digital Imaging Company, Ltd., was formed by Cosmos Scientific Systems, Inc., a leading company in IT technology.

Cosmo Digital Imaging will be able to combine its software expertise with Mamiya’s photographic capabilities to further advance in the digital direction of professional photographic imaging technology. Building on Mamiya’s reputation and worldwide distribution network, the new company will be able to achieve an even higher level of customer satisfaction. Service of Mamiya cameras, lenses and accessories will also be handled by the existing Mamiya distribution network.

Coming in the wake of a number of industry changes, this positive development gives Mamiya a new direction and a vision for the future.

Cosmo Digital is planning to execute these changes on September 1, 2006 and will retain a substantial number of present staff and facilities and acquire all the assets including inventory, property, trademarks and patents to assure a smooth transition."


My Changing World

Musical Fidelity's latest Dreadnaught

The world must be changing, all right...recently I find myself lusting after a Pontiac(!), of all things (the Solstice, when the one with the bigger engine comes out, not that I can afford a new car, because I've always been too big to fit into a Miata), and a Sigma(!!) (I just can't wait to get a 30mm ƒ/1.4 for the K-M 7D). I've come a long way from wanting a restored Austin-Healy 3000 and the faster 85mm from Carl Zeiss.

As far as music-reproducing equipment goes—another of my interests—my world is changing there too. Recently a company in Britain called Musical Fidelity introduced an all-in-one Krell/Levinson/Pass-style dreadnaught called the kW250s. I've always liked Musical Fidelity. When they first got started I owned a sweet little thing the company made called "The Preamp"—that was its official designation—and a swell power amp that went with it (called a P70, I think).

Anyway, the kW250s is exactly what I wanted...10 years ago (well, minus the tuner section). Now, however, the world has traveled too many times around the sun. My "stereo" is basically two little speakers on either side of my computer, and my "music library" is on two humongous hard drives (on top of which the speakers, appropriately enough, sit). I do fire up the big stereo from time to time when I want a fuller sound, or something more than a road sign to bass. But not all that often. Certainly not every day, although certainly every week. And it's the Olive Opus that I covet now. Gotta wait for the prices of such devices to come down.

I'm waiting for a high-rez SACD-type music file format, too—that seems inevitable. Or at least I hope it is.

Back to camera-land, there are a couple of things I'm hoping for there too. Not just my pet Decisive Moment Digicam, although I continue to think that it's one of my few harebrained ideas that would actually succeed commercially. Lens connoisseurship is certainly changing: I can mimic the "looks" of various kind of lenses in software now, and I'm waiting for some canny manufacturer to take DxO's lead and figure out that it can build a lens with certain aberrations deliberately uncorrected, correcting them later in software. Well, I guess the Nikkor 10.5mm* already does that. And I'm waiting for a digital camera that's not made of black polycarbonate and manganese alloys. Hasn't the classic old metal-carapaced look been gone long enough now to be sufficiently exotic? How long will it take some enterprising digital manufacturer to go retro? Thom Hogan did a survey a few years ago and was surprised to find that what a large number of Nikon photographers wanted was...a digital FM3A. Staunch.

I still want an Austin Healy 3000, however.


*Official name: Nikon Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm ƒ/2.8G ED AF DX Fi PG 13 AD NO PU TX NL MT ZZ**

**Satire Alert

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Unpaid, Unsolicited Endorsements

I have to admit, I don't know how to play The Game. The Game of success, I guess that would be...The Game of sellin', schmoozin', networkin', makin' the rounds and playin' the players. (Either that, or I've earned myself too much of a rep as a loose cannon, someone who'll speak his mind without regard for whose delicate Corporate feelings get hurt. Readers tend to like that. Advertisers definitely don't.)

Therefore, I've decided that when I'm done with the T.O.P. Ten list, I'm going to start a brief list of endorsements. Curiously enough, these will be actual endorsements. That is, they will be things that I endorse, personally, of my own volition, based on my own experience, and inspired by nothing but my actual affection for them. Not things that companies have asked me to endorse, not things that people are paying me to plug and hype, just things I like. I wouldn't mind if they'd ask me or pay me, you understand. It's just that they don't. So I'm going to do some endorsements anyway—unpaid, unsolicited ones.

Should be fun. (Picture me rubbing my palms together and twirling the tips of my Snidely Whiplash moustache and chuckling evilly.)


Mamiya America to Merge with Ad Agency

More information about the pending sale of Mamiya's camera business can be found at PDN Online.

Meanwhile, Mamiya America Corp. (MAC) Group, the U.S. distributor of Mamiya, will be merging with an advertising agency (or the other way around...the advertising agency will be absorbed into MAC). Jan Lederman, President of the MAC Group, has announced that the New Jersey advertising agency ChristopherMax Studio has been merged with MAC Group. "We are definitely in an expansion mode with our company posting solid gains in 2005 and 2006," said Lederman. "As we move forward in this aggressive marketplace, rapid and high quality advertising and communications have become more important than ever. We will be taking additional space to accommodate the requirements of the advertising group, and expect to add to staff to strengthen both our traditional and Web marketing activities."

The new advertising group will be named MACmar. The move is expected to take place by July.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with a tip o' the hat to Oren Grad

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Monique's Kindergarten

By Paul Butzi
The recent discussion on the relative merits of large and small prints has had me thinking. Although I tend to print pretty large, one of my favorite photographic books is Michael Kenna’s wonderful gem, Monique's Kindergarten. I hadn’t held the book in my hands since before my last move three years ago, so I dug through the bookshelves and found the book, just to take another look.

It’s a larger book that I remembered (10x10 inches), but the photos are just as I remember them—65 warm-toned prints, printed exactly 4x5 inches. Kenna made the negatives with a 4x5 camera and the prints are, in essence, contact prints complete with the shadow of the film rails. These are small photographs, but they’re not blurry or lacking in detail—they’re exquisitely crisp and full of texture and detail, in that way that large format photographers love. Beyond the print size, though, Kenna’s wonderful small photographs are also photographs in the small—capturing little scenes that match a child’s ability to relate to the world from up close. Many of the scenes captured must be close to the prints in size.

There are a lot of things that make this book so incredibly delightful. The photos are beautifully printed and show Kenna at his best, and he’s very good indeed. The quality of the book is outstanding—fabulous reproduction quality, a beautiful binding—everything I’ve come to expect from Nazraeli Press. The book is perfectly sized to be held in your lap, and the paper is just right—it feels good in your hand, and the surface is just shy of glossy, so it doesn’t interfere with viewing.

Still, I have lots of books that are as well made as this one, and they don’t enchant in quite the same way. There’s just something about the fusion of the print size, the scene size, the subject matter, and Kenna’s reverent approach to it that makes me think this book is as close to perfection as I’m ever likely to see.

So there you go. Sometimes small is just right.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Klemantaski Collection

Louis Klemantaski, The Junior Car Club Meeting; Brooklands, May 6, 1939

This month's issue of Motor Trend Classic has a feature on a photographer named Louis Klemantaski, and references a website. The site, called The Klemantaski Collection, turns out to feature a number of different old-time racing photographers, and has prints for sale. Good stuff if you happen to like old cars and don't mind the fact that they didn't have much in the way of telephoto lenses back then. The great shot above is (aptly) captioned "Norman Wilson showing great intensity with his E.R.A. on the Mountain Circuit," and then adds, somewhat alarmingly, "Note the complete absence of any safety equipment."


Sony to Continue Minolta's Alpha Brand

Lose some, win some: Electronics giant Sony Corp. of Japan, a major player in the reshuffled camera market, has announced that it will continue Minolta's longtime "Alpha" product-line trademark for its new/merged Sony (nee Konica-Minolta, nee Minolta) digital SLR offerings, slated for a gala introduction/launch/rollout this summer.

Western readers have long been familiar with Minolta's high-end SLR (and later, DSLR) offerings under the brand names "Dynax " (Europe) and "Maxxum" (North America); the same products were always known as "Alpha" in Japan. Evidently Sony will now rationalize that name uniformly to the rest of the world market.

Although Sony sometimes seems like an almost impossibly ponderous company (from time to time dabbling in far-flung product segments—remember its audiophile speakers?—and just try to find specific products on its websites), this whole situation generally bodes well for photographers, I think. As lontime readers of mine might know, I've been a fan of Sony Cybershot cameras and currently use Konica-Minolta cameras. My opinion is that a) Konica-Minolta brought both useful expertise* and technical innovation** to the DSLR field, and b) Sony has demonstrated time and time again that it is not afraid to innovate in the field of digital cameras. There are also some fascinating implications for lens development and branding: Minolta's last several zooms were made for it by Tamron (and are, in my opinion, outstanding), plus, Sony has already established a successful collaboration with Zeiss. What-all will bubble up under the rubric of Sony Alpha remains to be seen, but it will be interesting. I'll certainly be paying close attention.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON and a bow to David Emerick

*Specifically, color accuracy, dynamic range, and camera body design
**Most notably in-the-body Anti-Shake and the unusually good viewfinders of cameras such as the Maxxum/Dynax 7 and 7D

Exeunt Mamiya? is reporting this morning that the venerable Japanese medium-format camera manufacturer Mamiya may be following Bronica in leaving the camera business. According to engadget, Mamiya has agreed to sell its camera and DI assets to Japanese IT company Cosmos Scientific by September 1, 2006.

If this is true, it may mirror the troubles experienced by Kyocera when it attempted to develop a premium Contax DSLR that missed its market window due to an overly extended development time; the long-anticipated Mamiya ZD medium-format DSLR has only recently been made available for sale (December in Japan, March in Europe).

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Roger S.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

T.O.P. Ten: Number 4

Robert Capa, Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death,
Cerro Muriano,
September 5, 1936


One of the fundamental problems of photography not necessarily encountered by any other type of artist is the problem of access: to photograph something, you ordinarily have to be in proximity to it, or in a position to see it, or at least at the proper standpoint—and being there is not always easy or safe. The ultimate example of the exclusivity of access is probably pictures taken on the surface of the moon, but Danny Lyons' insider photographs of a motorcycle gang in The Bikeriders and Larry Clark's documentation of a violent drug subculture in Tulsa are good examples as well—and there are others, of course. (One of my own mentors in photography, the late Steve Szabo, once answered a student's question "What should I photograph?" by asking back, "What can you photograph?") Above every other genre of photography, however, war photography is the one which makes the most demands in return for access.

Robert Capa (left, in 1945) was born in Budapest, Hungary, and lived most of his life as a "citizen of the world." He was in a gully with a number of other Spanish militiamen when he took the picture variously known as "Falling Soldier," "Falling Loyalist Soldier," or "The Death of a Loyalist Soldier." (The true title is given above.) Remorselessly specific and yet as symbolic as a flag, surprisingly simple, undyingly powerful, it is an authentic picture of very nearly the exact instant of a man's death. Originally published in LIFE in 1937, it is also in Capa's book about the Spanish Civil War, Heart of Spain. It was not faked as has sometimes been claimed: forensic analysis suggests that the soldier, identified as Federico Borrell García, was already dead as he fell. (The author of the best currently available book on Capa, Richard Whelan, explains the research in depth in an excellent online article about the picture.)

At only 22, Capa was the age of most graduating college seniors when he took this. He lived one of those comet-like lives—bright, and brief, as well as vivid and romantic in the best mid-century movie-star tradition. He was hard-partying, handsome, invariably described as "dashing," a womanizer, a risk-taker—an outsized personality, much loved, eventually much missed. Unlike Henri Cartier-Bresson, with whom he founded the international freelance agency Magnum Photos with their friend Chim (David Seymour), Capa cared little for careful organization or the veneer of art in his photographs. He sought immediacy and authenticity. The novelist John Steinbeck, who knew Capa well from their collaboration in Russia in 1947, said of him, "He could photograph thought...and capture worlds."

Having already photographed four wars, Capa professed to have given up war photography before he was killed, famously saying that war was like "an actress who is getting old—less and less photogenic, and more and more dangerous." He was in Japan for a Magnum exhibition in 1954 when LIFE called needing a photographer in Indochina. Once there, Capa left the column he was with to go up the road so he could photograph the advance. He stepped on a land mine. When he was reached moments later, his leg blown off and a gaping hole in his chest, he was still alive. He died clutching his camera, one of the very first of 135 photographers killed in the Viet Nam war. He was 39.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tiananmen Photographer Cole

I was privileged to hear this morning from Charlie Cole, one of the four still photographers who photographed "Tank Man" on Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 (he identified the fourth for me as Arthur Chang of Reuters). I've added his note as a "Featured Comment" to the original posting of "T.O.P. Ten #7." Don't miss it.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Small Pix and Tiny JPEGs

By Gordon McGregor
I've been struggling with the "tiny JPEG" thing from a different perspective for about 6 months now.

I'm a product of the digital age. I picked up my first camera 5 years ago (about a week after I got married, but that's a different story) and started shooting. It was a Canon G2. Everything I shot/ produced was digital, displayed and shared digitally etc. My family and my wife's family are all overseas, so the Internet is a great way for us to share pictures with them. Most of my photographic friends are from various Internet forums. I very rarely print anything out, but when I do, it is at home on a letter-sized printer.

Everything I do is aimed at or learned from a 640x480 pixel image. Well, maybe not everything, but it feels that way. So much so, that all the compositions I produce are quite simple, bold, "large" in terms of the available space on a 4x6-inch shot. I can't seem to do subtle compositions or effective compositions for things that are going to be printed large.

Now, I'm not claiming that what works at 4x6 never works at 20x30 or 40x60 but there is a certain aesthetic to working in a small image composition. There's a certain aesthetic that works well for a large image composition. There is overlap between the two but I can't seem to
shoot images that work well large. I see them in galleries—beautiful images with small details—but whenever I try to shoot those kinds of images, I then look at them at 4x6 and think "too small, not enough interest" and move on.

Can't seem to move past that mental block I have for composing and viewing for a "big" scene.

This seems to me, to be the reverse problem of your Tiny-JPEG fallacy—that the small version is a representation of the large. For me there never really has been anything but small versions—so I can't do large very well. (I kid myself that I do a good job of composing for effective small images)


Monday, April 17, 2006

The Tiny-JPEG Fallacy

M. Johnston, Surface Tension, 2005

I went rummaging through my files trying to come up with a picture that illustrates the idea I've been talking about lately, and I think this works as well as any. The "Tiny-JPEG Fallacy" or whatever you want to call it is simply the tendency we have to think we've seen a picture when we actually haven't, because what we've seen is actually a small web-res JPEG or a little halftone in a book. Sometimes you can get all you need from a picture from a small representation of it; other times, as with many oil paintings, you absolutely have to see it in the original to "get" it; most fall somewhere in between.

I've left this as a pretty large file, so when you click on the apple, hopefully you'll see a fairly large screen image of this picture. If you can, you'll see that the point of it is simply the tension between the small area of high sharpness around the water droplets, and the way that plays off the murkiness of the rest of the frame.

This makes a rich, gorgeous print—or perhaps I should say "proof"—but even at the very largest size I can make it on my printer, which is slightly smaller than 11 inches in the long dimension, I'm pretty sure it's not big enough. I'm guessing it would come alive at about 10x15 inches, give or take. Any smaller than that, and you can kinda see it, but you also kinda can't. It just doesn't quite convey.

I hope this illustration gets the point across. I've long been interested in what photographs show vs. what they don't show, as well as the play between things we "see" that aren't actually there and ways in which we can't see, or willfully miss, what's in front of our eyes. (I think we miss an awful lot of the visual world even when we're looking at it.) Being careful to keep in mind the limitations of web viewing and other "incomplete" forms of reproduction is probably more important now than ever.


Featured Comment by Anonymous: "Shrinking pictures can cover a multitude of flaws. I have shots that look great at 6"x6" and fall apart at large sizes (e.g. 22"x22") because some things are out of focus that shouldn't be. However, the out of focus aspects are almost invisible at 6x6. So in many cases making larger pictures demand that you be more aware of your technique.

"But once you get past the technical problems I think that the appropriate scale all depends on the picture. Some of them only look good large, some of them only look good small and some of them are really indifferent to scale. I have found that I am not very good at predicting how scale will affect pictures; I'm wrong at least a third of the time. So experimenting with scale and learning to let my pictures speak to me is pretty important.

"It's very easy not to experiment with scale for a couple of reasons: habit and convenience. When I worked in a color darkroom almost everything was printed 11x14 because it was the most convenient size.

"With Epson printers I have a strong habit of proofing everything on 13x19 paper. So I have to think about trying other scales.

"But those magic moments when you find the right scale for a picture that wasn't working make it worth all the energy it takes to break out of doing your work the habitual way."

Website of the Week

There's an almost intimidating amount of work available to view at photographer Carl de Keyzer's website. As I've said before, I think the best way to approach sites like this is not to poke and pick and pluck, and certainly it's not to speed through everything like you're taking some kind of memorization course. I'd suggest selecting one of the entries in "Books" and looking at it carefully. Mindful, as ever, of the "tiny JPEG" admonition (i.e., that we're not really seeing these pictures at these sizes and resolutions).

A lot to see and learn from at de Keyzer's site.

Picture: Carl de Keyzer, Man Preaching on a Daytona Beach, Florida, 1991

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Superstition Ain't the Way

by Paul Butzi
I’m one of those eccentric individuals—a fundamentally mystic personality with a serious scientific/engineering disposition. It’s always frustrated me that when it comes the mechanical aspects of photography (e.g. film, developers, lenses) much of the conventional wisdom is nothing more than rank superstition repeated so many times that it takes on the patina of Divine Truth.

My favorite example of this is the effect of cyan filtration with VC papers. Several notable authorities (including one who was once an assistant to Ansel Adams, and another who is the author of one of the most famous books on darkroom formulations) have claimed that cyan filtration when printing on VC paper is the same as neutral density. Others have claimed that it adds magical midtone glow, or adds sparkle to highlights. But the fact is that adding cyan filtration subtracts red light, and VC paper is insensitive to red light, and so cyan filtration has no effect at all.

The digital world is not immune to this sort of superstition. Often there was once a reason for the myth—it was once true, back when we were working with 8-bit per channel files, or when software was more primitive. But the nature of superstition is that once it enters the conventional wisdom, it’s never tested and never questioned.

The good news is that although the barrier to testing things was high for traditional silver-based photography, it’s incredibly low in the digital world. Want to know if this method produces better results than that method? The feedback cycle for a digital workflow is so short, it’s a snap to try it both ways and compare.

This sort of simple testing has deflated more than a few digital superstitions here in my workroom—superstitions about whether it’s better to up-rez images in steps, for instance, rather than in one shot, or send 16-bit per channel files to the printer rather than 8-bit per channel, or whether it makes any difference if I send a 720 ppi file to the printer versus a 360 ppi file.

And that raises the next question—what are the new, digital superstitions? Have you tested them? What were your results?

Posted by: PAUL BUTZI

The King's Idiocy

Anyone may comment on postings in this blog. Comments are not edited but are moderated. What that means is that while I can't alter what commenters write in any way, I do decide whether each individual comment gets posted or not.

So far my only rule has been: no ad hominem. Ad hominem, Latin for "to the person," is shorthand for the logical fallacy argumentum ad hominem, which refers to the strategy of attacking the debater instead of his or her argument. Colloquially, it simply means attacking somebody. Since this is not a forum, I don't feel the need to allow anyone to say negative things about others for no apparent reason other than that it's their opinion.

The toughest comment to deal with is one that makes a substantive contribution but then throws in a gratuitous personal attack. For instance, "You asked what year he was born; he was born in 1931. But he's an idiot." Since I have no way of editing the comment, the informational content has to be sacrificed in order to disallow the insult. Too bad, but whatever.

Then there's the rather tricky issue of comments that are critical of me. For example, "You didn't mention that he was born in 1931. But then, you're an idiot." Disallowing such comments smacks of self-interested manipulation of the free exchange of information, which is one definition of censorship.

On the other hand, it's our realm, and we are the King; our power is godlike and we can crush insolent peons without remorse or fear of consequence. If one's purpose therefore is to proclaim the King's idiocy, one might be better advised to do it beyond the gates of the autocracy. Ya think? [Fade to: MAD LAUGHTER.]


Friday, April 14, 2006

A Brief History of Reproduction

A few years ago I was in New Mexico rummaging through a flea market and ran across a 5x7-inch glass plate negative that intrigued me, so I bought it, for five dollars. Unfortunately it broke on the return home and I stashed it in a box of old images. I ran across it the other day and brought it to work to scan it. I was originally attracted to this image because it was a glass plate negative of a carte de visite nailed to a wooden plank, the earliest form of photo reproduction I had seen. Yesterday I printed the image on an Epson 9600. So this is an inkjet print of a glass plate negative of a carte de visite, a little photo history lesson in itself.


Bert Monroy's Photoshop Photorealism

Bert Monroy, Damen (from an original many times this size)

At first I thought this was simply a hoax, although on looking into it further I'm cautiously—if provisionally—coming to take it at face value. Bert Monroy, who calls himself a "digital photo-realist artist," says that the picture above, entitled Damen, is a digital "painting" made entirely in Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. It's 3 ft. 4 in. wide and 10 feet long, he says, took 2,000 hours to create, and contains more than 50 separate Photoshop files with a grand total of 1,500 layers.

Now, as to the 1,500-layer question of why anyone would spend 2,000 hours doing something a camera can do in 1/250th of a second (okay, I suppose that's being too cute, but you know what I mean), I'm afraid I can't answer that.

Although it does bring up a tangential issue that I've been meaning to mull publicly some bright day: namely, the hidden or semi-hidden effect of demotic web viewing of photographs (or web pictures, in Bert Monroy's case). If this is on the level and not some slippery artsy folderol à la Sherrie Levine or Richard Prince, then I suppose my mistrusting reaction to it is because I think I've seen it but I haven't seen it. That is, I've seen the web page and the tiny little JPEG, which makes me think I've seen the artwork (you too?), but if I'd actually seen the artwork—the 10-foot long print—maybe my reaction would be completely changed.

I thought of this the other day when looking through the work of Tamas Dezso. Many photojournalists and purveyors of photojournalism are understandably reticent about providing large JPEGs online, since the pictures are expensive property that the owners would like to realize a return from. But what this means is that we're stuck squinting at little tiny pixelated representations of pictures that should really be viewed bigger. We're seeing a facsimile, but the facsimile-ness of the facsimile is something that's easy to miss, or at least gloss over. In the case of Damen, it's the same deal—perhaps just more obvious than usual.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON (thanks to Gordon McG.)

The Sam Memorial Dog Camera Award

Son of Sam?

...And we have a winner. Named for Sam, the late purebred Chinese crested hairless that won the "World's Ugliest Dog" Contest three years running until his demise (by all rights, he should definitely have retired the prize), T.O.P. hereby awards the Sam Memorial Dog Camera Award for World's Ugliest Camera to the Simmons Brothers Omega 120, the early American precursor to the Koni-Omega. It is a sad thought indeed, but the world may never see an uglier camera. Mere tastelessness cannot reach such heights, and the sameness encouraged by modern manufacture will probably doom such Rube Goldberg contraptions. R.I.P.

Thanks to the two commenters who nominated it!


The Weather in Wisconsin

Hail, yes.

+90°F: Dangerously hot. Torrid. Insufferable. Check on elderly neighbors, bring pets indoors. Hospitals inundated with heatstroke victims.

+80°F: Very hot! We'd be in trouble wit'out dat air conditioning, eh? Get lots of fluids.

+70°F: Hot.

+60°F: Balmy. Nice day—not too hot.

+50°F: Crisp. In early Autumn, cause for anticipation. In early Springtime, considered hot.

+40°F: Brisk. Fewer kids seen playing outdoors in T-shirts.

+30°F: Bring in the garden hoses! Kids should wear sweatshirts even if they don't want to.

+20°F: Deer huntin' weather, eh? Be sure to get outdoors and enjoy the nice day.

+10°F: Gettin' kinda cold. Time to break out the winter coats!

0°F: Put off washing the car. No more barbeque on the Weber. Start to leave furnace on during the day.

–10°F: Winter's here, oh yay. Wear your good mittens. Close windows in kids' rooms at night. Wisconsites greet each other by saying, "Cold enough for you?" More than half answer, "Nope, not me, I like it!"

–20°F: In summer you make fun of us, but this is why we're fat: fat is darn good insulation. No sledding for the smaller children, if it's windy.

–30°F: Two words: heated dipstick! Pets can sleep inside. Outdoorsmen know what separates the men from the boys: good hats.

–40°F: Cold makes the news. More than a week of this and it reaches the pipes. Even skinflints turn up the furnace.

–50°F: We hardly ever get this nice a cold any more, thanks to that darn global warming. Schools close. Holes for ice fishing hard to keep open without turning on the Coleman in the fishing shed.

–60°F: SUVs won't start. Better put off Wal-Mart trip till tomorrow.

–70°F: Exposed flesh freezes. What the heck is this, Minnesota?

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with Good Friday greetings from Wisconsin

Epson Lawsuit

How many times have you replaced an ink cartridge when your Epson printer says it is out of ink and noticed there is still some ink sloshing around in the cartridge? Well, a lawsuit has been filed against Epson and a settlement has been reached. Read the settlement notice.


At Least It's Not Called "Clunk"

In the ugly sweepstakes, the Agfa Clack gets extra points for having a really good bad name.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Hunchback of Solms

In response to the Ugliest Cameras post below, Hiding Pup said, "Surely the world's ugliest camera has to have something to do with the mid-1980s?" I'd agree in that I've always felt that the Minolta 7000 (1985) is one of the truly ugly cameras of all's got all the stylishness of the flat-sided Detroit iron of the era, the kind of cars that had opera windows and fake wood stick-ons so poorly printed you could see the halftone pattern from ten inches away. The Maxxum/Dynax 7000 wasn't just a pastiche, or some kind of accident. It had a thoroughgoing, designed-in ugliness that I could almost admire, if I weren't grimacing so hard. Also, I must say I'm a bit conflicted as to whether the 7000i, a completely different design, is slightly uglier than the 7000, or slightly less ugly. A tough call.

I'm not sure how many people would agree with that assessment of the Minolta 7000. Maybe you had to be alive and sentient in the mid-1980s to fully appreciate just how Gawd-awful the mass taste of that era really was.

And how about another camera I think is just dreadful looking—the Leica R8, a.k.a. The Hunchback of Solms? Granted, other cameras surpass it easily in terms of how immediately repellent they are. But many ugly cameras depend on cheapness or shoddiness to achieve their ugliness, and others are simply misguided attempts at stylishness or just great examples of execrably bad taste. The R8 (a fine picture-taker, by the way) is possessed of a more notable sort of unattractiveness. It's a deep-seated butt-ugliness, bred in the bone, a bad concept carried relentlessly to its logical conclusion.

Photo of Minolta 7000: Ritz Camera; of Leica R8: photoxels

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ctein's Next Book

Ctein is writing a new book. Focal Press (the publisher of his first book, Post Exposure) asked him to write a book on digital photo restoration. Producing the manuscript for Digital Restoration: Start to Finish has consumed his life for the past six months, but it's finally on
paper. This will be one big, fat book—over 75,000 words and 500 illustrations. Knowing Ctein, it will be expert and complete.

Publication is going to be in the fourth quarter of this year. Ctein will be holding pre-publication sale, just as he did with Post Exposure. You can order an autographed copy in advance of publication and receive a substantial discount. We'll announce it here when the time comes.


Not Cyborg, AIBORG

The All-Knowing and Ever-Wise Oren Grad has helpfully supplied the information that the ugly Konica I was referring to this morning is the Aiborg, not the Cyborg. Thus enlightened, I was easily able to find a picture of it online. Although this is a flattering angle, seeing it again after all these years made me laugh anew—the thing just looks like a cartoon character, doesn't it?

Also, for more inspired ugliness, don't miss the breathtakingly woeful Imperial Mark XII suggested by reader 2yellowdogs. That thing makes the Holga seem elegant.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with a tip o' the hat to O.G.

The World's Ugliest Camera

As film cameras begin to go the way of other useless antiques, it can only become more popular to talk about them as objets d'art. We often talk about beautiful cameras (for me, the twin champs are the Leica M3 and the 5x7 Deardorff), but, as everybody knows, ugly cameras take better pictures. Anybody have any candidates for World's Ugliest Camera? One of the most inspiredly ugly cameras I ever saw was a point-and-shoot called the Konica Cyborg, but unfortunately I can't seem to find a picture of it online. Of course, almost all disposables are about as charmless as can be, certain Russian Leica copies are inherently hideous, and I might mention that the late, lamented Minolta had some pretty bad years in there. The Graflex 3A "Automatic" (above) has to be up there. Anybody got any favorite ugly ducklings?


Monday, April 10, 2006

The Steinmuellers Try 'Print It Yourself'

Uwe and Bettina Steinmueller, Oak Tree in Storm

In a move that is either brilliant or foolish but innovative in either case, Uwe and Bettina Steinmueller are attempting a new way of selling fine-art photography: "Print It Yourself." For less than half the cost of their already reasonably-priced prints, their idea is that you will purchase just the file of the picture from them, along with a license to make one fine print for yourself. (You also get to make trial runs and test prints, of course.) "These days many of our readers have the same printers that we use to print portfolio prints," they reason. "The direct printing process is not that complicated if you know the basics about today's inkjet printers."

Many fine-art printmakers will quail at the idea of letting go of this crucial part of the process—but perhaps many serious amateurs who are heavily into printing will slaver at the opportunity to try their own interpretations. Who knows? In any case, it's certainly an interesting and thought-provoking idea.


'The Decisive Moment'

Later today I should be receiving a copy of Henri Cartier-Bresson's 1952 book The Decisive Moment to sell on commission. The owner is an artist on Martha's Vineyard. It is of course one of the towering masterpieces of the photographic book, cited in Badger and Parr, Roth, the ICP's "The Open Book," etc. It is a fragile book, so it's genuinely rare in good condition. I'll post details and pictures soon.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Peter Gowland is 90

By Oren Grad

The multitalented Peter Gowland—Hollywood bit actor, renowned glamor photographer, camera builder extraordinaire, and all-around fun guy—turned 90 last week. I leave it to the more scholarly types to opine on the esthetic and cultural significance of the Gowland photo-oeuvre; his cool cameras are just as worthy of celebration.

Gowland developed at least five distinct large-format designs—a lightweight monorail view camera, an architectural camera, an aerial camera, a single-lens reflex and a twin-lens reflex—most of which have been offered in multiple formats and with a wide array of custom variations available to meet the needs of each purchaser. Perhaps the most exotic are the 4x5 Gowland SLR and the monster 8x10 Gowlandflex TLR. (Click here and scroll down a couple of rows to see the 5x7 TLR in action on the beach, photographing Raquel Welch.) At the other extreme is the ubiquitous 4x5 Gowland Pocket View monorail, co-marketed for a time by Calumet, which turns up regularly on eBay and on used equipment shelves and which can still be purchased new from Gowland.

I've owned three Gowlands over the years. My first, a very early 8x10 monorail purchased used, was a truly spartan design—little more than a bellows riding on a pipe. (With time, the Pocket View design was refined to make it easier to use and more functional.) Later, Peter built for me an ultralight 5x7 short-rail view camera intended for field work with a 180mm lens, and then a bag-bellows version of his 6x9cm "baby" monorail. Each time, it was a pleasure doing business. Peter would answer the phone himself, and spend the time to understand what I was hoping to accomplish and brainstorm about what he might cobble together in his shop that would be a good match.

I've linked to a few pages from the Gowland website, but it's worth the time to explore the whole thing, starting from the top. It's chock full of fun stuff about his life and work, with plenty of surprises for those who don't already know about him. Have a look and join me in a toast to Peter Gowland: a very happy 90th, and best wishes for many more years of good health and photo fun!

Posted by OREN GRAD

What To Do With Your Free Time

This, and the other two pictures here, © Tamas Deszo and compliments of POY

In most of our viewing area, it is now officially the period of time arbitrarily known as "the weekend" (in French, "le weekend"). I would like to point out to you that customarily, you are supposed to have more "free time" on le weekend. "Free time" may be defined as time spent diddling at your computer doing things that you are not supposed to do in front of your computer during le week.

It's a perfect time, therefore, for you to check out this year's POY pictures (sorry, that's redundant, but I don't make the rules). Not only is this award site a helpful accumulation of some of the best authentic photography being done by people who get to do it all the time, but, by looking carefully and reading some captions, you can actually assimilate some modest knowledge of what's going on in the world, something which cannot be said of looking at a closeup of a strawberry or another picture of your cat.

Some cautions are in order, however.

First of all, we all know that bad things happen in the world. That they do so dependably is of use only to religious doomsayers, who can always predict dire consequences with the confidence that they will come true eventually (for instance, it was foretold that Tennessee would be punished by God for voting against Al Gore, and darned if God hasn't sent large numbers of highly destructive twisters to Tennessee this week to do just that). Virtually no one else actually likes it that bad things happen in the world with such appalling regularity. (No, certainly not photojournalists.) My recommendation therefore when looking at the POY photo-essays is not to click around within them in a haphazard or frenzied manner, or to try to view them all in one visit, but to look at them carefully just a few at a time—even if that means you don't get around to them all. (I'd suggest beginning with a very careful look at the superlative work of Magazine Photographer of the Year Tamas Dezso. That, folks, is photography. If you miss the man who fixes the bicycle spokes, you're looking too fast.) Otherwise, your sense of pity for the victims of the bad things that happen may go from being focused and specific and well up into being vague and general. And that is not what is wanted. Photojournalism is not generic, it is never generic, and it is not intended to be perceived as if it is.

Secondly, it may be helpful to keep in mind that small JPEGs online is not exactly how the pictures ought to be viewed. This is similar to the CD jewel-box effect, in which a small and inferior reproduction of proper album cover art is substituted on the front of the jewel-box as if it were equivalent. It's not. But I digress. The pictures you'll see were intended to be viewed in magazines, printed well on glossy paper, with captions that are easy to read. The POY site is only the CD jewel-box version. This is perhaps particularly true of Dezso's work. For instance, in the picture here of the young girl climbing on the ruins of her former home, I think it's important—or at least poignant—to be able to see the doghouse.

Anyway, I hope you can spend some time with a few of the photo essays this weekend, if you actually do have any of the aforementioned "free time"—it is known to be elusive.


Adolph Gasser, 1912-2006

Adolph Gasser died a week or two ago, at the age of 94. He was the owner and proprietor of San Francisco's legendary Adolph Gasser Inc., a.k.a. "Gasser's," on 2nd Street between Howard and Mission, an institution to Bay Area photographers. He was the camera dealer and repairman to generations of San Francisco photographers. These included many San Francisco luminaries like Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams (in whose home A.G. was married to his second wife—with Ansel as Best Man). Gasser was a skilled camera technician and a very early technical advisor to Nikon, Inc., and he held early patents in flash-shutter synchronization. He built Ansel's enlarger. In the Army Air Corps, he loaded and operated the cameras that photographed the explosions of the atomic bombs that ended WWII.

When young photographers would ask if they could buy equipment on credit, Gasser would ask to see their portfolios. If he thought they were any good, he'd give them an account.

He lived to know two of his great-great-grandchildren. Gasser's will carry on in its present location under Adolph's son John, who has been running the business for a number of years now.


A Short Dye Transfer Note

A few people seem to approach photography from a "technical status" viewpoint—as if every assertion about technique is concerned about what is "better" and "worse" and what that says about where they themselves stand in some imaginary hierarchy.

All I was saying in "The Nearly Lost Art," below, is that you might want to consider buying a dye transfer while you still can, if owning one interests you. It's definitely dying out [sorry] and not so long from now it will be a lot more difficult to get one. This sort of thing interests me, is all: I own examples of a variety of different photographic techniques. That includes several vintage (c. 1910) and several contemporary platinum/palladium prints, a couple of tintypes, several Daguerreotypes, and so on. I passed up a chance to buy an autochrome many years ago and I wish I hadn't.

Yes, I own a few dye transfers (just not the ones I really want).


Canon's Best

Canon has a new top-of-the-line printer—it's the ImagePROGRAF iPF9000, a 60-inch wide super-large-format inkjet printer with 12 individual pigment ink cartridges. Aimed at production houses and print-for-pay establishments, it has a number of nifty features said to streamline production and maximize uptime, principally a fast dual-printhead system that I don't understand and thus won't attempt to explain. Among its other capabilities are that you can swap out ink carts while it's printing, so that an expiring cartridge won't ruin a print in progress, and it has a paper-cutting device Canon says will never need sharpening or replacing.

I personally won't be getting one, but only because it won't fit on top of the filing cabinet.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Doug Plummer's Dispatches

by Paul Butzi

Doug Plummer, a photographer in Seattle, has been making the transition to a digital workflow for a while now, and has been posting his thoughts on his blog. Since Doug is ahead of me in the transition to digital, I’ve been reading his blog as a sort of "leading indicator" of what issues I'm going to be addressing in the future.

Naturally, just when I've been doing a lot of thinking about digital camera resolution and the tradeoffs we make with camera size and flexibility, that synchronicity thing happens, and Doug makes a post about trading down in resolution. Yes, down; he's swapped his EOS-1Ds mk.II for an EOS-5D, because the 1Ds mk. II is just too big and heavy.

Doug (left) has an impressive ability to cut through the technology haze and drill right down to the bottom line—how will this technology help him get from the image in his head to the photograph on the paper. So when I read that Doug seems to have decided that the resolution of the 5d is "enough" and that even though the 1Ds mk.II has more resolution, the size and weight of that camera are less than ideal for the work he does, it makes me sit up and take notice. That's especially true when Doug says that the 1Ds mk.II is losing value quickly because other pros are also trading down.

Doug's blog is good reading all the way through. In particular, it's worth going back to his first post on the 5D to get his first impressions of the camera.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI