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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Heaven and Hell

Mike Goes to Heaven: I'm in a world where God isn't the only one who cares how things look. The angels, too, have a modicum of aesthetic sense, and have bothered to see to it that our surroundings are pleasant and interesting. (They do this by giving the task of architecture and design to those angels who actually have an aptitude for it, and preventing the wanton and haphazard destruction and industrial development of the landscape.)

Everywhere I look, I see pictures. To record one, I need only blink my eyes. A file of what I saw is provided for me that has the tonal scale of Kodak Tri-X but never gets grainy in the highlights, always has more than enough dynamic range, and always has more resolution than I need for the size of enlargement I choose. Later, deft and cunning assistant angels render my perfectly corrected file onto actual film for contact printing on real gelatin silver paper. I'm in heaven.

Mike Goes to Hell: Although I'm only allowed to use one camera, I'm always as heavily draped with equipment as the fellow at right. The camera I have to use hefts like a brick made of lead, and has a lens on it that's too long, zooms too much and too slowly, and always seems to be at the other end of its range from the end I want. The camera itself has some 400 knobs and buttons on it, and 38,000 discrete combinations of settings—but the connections between the buttons, dials, and switches randomly migrate, and are never the same. The camera is digital, and all the files have histograms that jam up against both ends of the scale, and too much saturation.

In hell, I see even more and better pictures than I saw in heaven—but I just barely miss almost all of them. It's something different every time: I have the camera set wrong, or the camera refuses to autofocus, or it refocuses just as I take the shot, or the viewfinder blacks out because the AEL button has spontaneously become the "B" setting.

The only things that will stay still for me, and that I can always get beautifully exposed, sharp pictures of, are flower blossoms and cats. If anything else that turns out perfectly, my PC mistakenly deletes it, or runs a program that saves it as a JPEG over and over.

And, of course, the Devil is my client. With every picture I present to him, no matter how hard I work on it to redress its shortcomings, he finds just enough wrong that he can justify not paying me...or paying expenses only. He promises to pay on a 30 day billing cycle, but actually it takes a random number of days greater than 2x30 before the check arrives. I have no legal recourse, naturally, even though there are lawyers everywhere. And I never have the opportunity to refuse his jobs: he's the only client I have lined up for the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, on and on, forever. I'm in hell.


Photo by S. Smith

NOTE: If you are, or know, S. Smith, please contact me. —MJ

Featured Comment by David Kelly: Ah, Paris with a Leica M3 and collapsible Summicron loaded with HP4. Couple spare rolls in your pocket.

And New York with Nikon D2x and 18-200 zoom, powerbook loaded with Adobe's beta of the next Photoshop, and a sat phone. Spare lith ion batts for everything, of course. Have a nice day.

Call for Pentax K100D Work

If anyone has any nice shots taken with a Pentax K100D and would like their work to be considered for printing in a published magazine review, please contact me by leaving a comment to this post. I will not publish the comment. Please don't forget to include your email address!! If you don't, I have no way to contact you and cannot answer you.

You will need to be able to point me to your work posted online. Publication pays £40 ($75) per picture and, especially if you're not already widely published, the "tear sheets" from the magazine could be a valuable addition to your portfolio. Remember—it's important that you include your email address will your reply. Thanks.


UPDATE: We now have all the pictures we need, so no further submissions can be considered. Thanks very much anyway!

Mitsubishi Electric Develops Deblurring Flutter Shutter Camera

By Karen M. Cheung, Digital Camera Info

August 30, 2006—Following this month’s 33rd Annual Siggraph Conference in Boston, MA, a research team at Mitsubishi Electric is catching the attention of camera manufacturers for their photo motion deblurring technology, called a flutter shutter camera.

The flutter shutter camera is a modified camera that can capture moving objects at an exposure time of over 50 milliseconds, like high speed motion cameras. Using a coded exposure sequence, the new flutter shutter camera could recover text from a speeding car and sharpen images, according to the researchers.

Introduced in early August, three Mitsubishi Electric researchers presented the abstract, “Coded Exposure Photography: Motion Deblurring using Fluttered Shutter” at the largest computer and graphics conference, Siggraph. After one year of research development, Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab (MERL) senior researcher Ramesh Raskar, MERL visiting researcher Amit Agrawal, and Northwestern University computer science assistant professor Jack Tumblin launched the new prototype with the goal of deblurring photos....


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Adam McA.

Maps (final version)

Okay, I think I've had enough of this now, and I imagine most of you have as well, although I very much appreciate people taking the time to tell us where they are. (And I especially thank people for their compliments. Much appreciated!) Here are the final versions of the Extemporaneous Unscientific T.O.P. World Reader Distribution Maps. Areas colored baby blue are officially claimed as part of T.O.P. World Dominion. Areas not colored blue have low population density and/or low computer density and bad internet connectivity, too much else going on, or perhaps just poorish taste. Or else I just missed 'em.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Incredible Shrinking Anchorwoman

The eye lies: CBS anchor gal Katie Couric as she looked for real at Carnegie Hall in May, and about 20 pounds lighter in a Photoshopped portrait that appeared in the network's in-house mag.

by Don Kaplan, The New York Post

August 30, 2006—
Talk about a miracle diet—Katie Couric has become the Incredible Shrinking Anchorwoman.

Thanks to a computer "slight" of hand, the Tiffany network has made the new face of "CBS Evening News" instantly drop about 20 pounds.

In a picture widely distributed to the media last month, a normal-looking Couric wore a frumpy light gray suit and her trademark smile.

But thanks to Photoshop, the popular editing software, the same photo, printed in a CBS magazine, shows her looking much, much thinner—and her suit has become a few shades darker....


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Ron I.

Poynter on Copyright

I know we are sick of the Jon Benet story, but here is a copyright twist that is interesting.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Cartier's Hands

In front of a small but very nice art museum in Martigny, Switzerland, is a celebrity sidewalk containing bronzed handprints of Francophone artists. And I found the above. The hands are very small, and I cannot duplicate the curve of the thumbs with my own thumbs. The imprints were made in 2002. Do they show that more than 60 years spent twiddling Leica knobs, starting with the model III, can have serious consequences?


Many Places Under the Sun

T.O.P. has conquered great swaths of new territory overnight, although it does seem sort of unwarranted to paint all of Russia our imperial robin's egg blue just by virtue of one reader in St. Petersburg. Still, I'm humbled and pleased to have readers in so many places—from the United States to the United Arab Emirates, Slovenia to South Africa, Iceland to Israel, Tallinn, Estonia to Tasmania. All of us naturally hear of strife and disasters in the world, and my own country is not approved of in some places, so maybe it's helpful in some small way that we can all unite in a friendly way in pursuit of this relatively harmless hobby.

I've also been pleased in the past couple of weeks to hear from various quarters that people like the daily nature of T.O.P. as well as its variety. I like both those things myself—one of my motivations is that I want people to reliably find something new on "checking in" each day, and I have always had more of a taste for variety than is commonly countenanced. Curiously, this was one of the original missions of "magazines"—to present a "hotch-potch," as the mystery writer P. D. James spells it. I don't see why not. Nowadays there aren't too many magazines left where general-interest items of all sorts are storehoused together. You can buy magazines about pets or parenting, but not pets and parenting, and a company I worked for several years ago has separate magazines for model trains, toy trains, real trains, and outdoor garden trains, although whether the latter are models or toys or a bit of both is beyond my expertise. Along with that specialization comes a certain dead seriousness. For instance, there is a fierce controversy in the model train world as to whether one's "layout" may be whimsical and humorous or must hew to strict standards of representational accuracy. In the latter case, there is an endless argument over whether historically and regionally accurate model trains should have grafitti on them. The real ones do, of course, but some train buffs do not like the fact that the real ones do, and will not add grafitti to their models despite the fact that they will take infinite pains to make the lettering on each car accurate, and carefully add streaks of dust and dirt with airbrushes.

By comparison, photography is spontaneous and piecemeal, and maybe that's one of the things I like about it. It is at once relentlessly specific in what it shows, subversive of overly regimented mental categories or purposes, and yet it's applicable to all sorts of things. (There are photographers that specialize in gemstones, racehorses, or new cars—or, for that matter, model trains.) But one thing I like about it is that it is not generally moral. That is, there aren't right and wrong ways of participating in this hobby. There are ways, of course, of putting photography to immoral uses. But it doesn't lend itself to the sort of uncompromising ideological purism that fractures so many human enterprises, even trivial ones. The fact is, short of documenting actual crimes (or, in the case of some forms of pornography, committing crimes to produce photographs of them), whatever you decide you want to do with your photography is pretty much okay. We advocate for certain approaches, and we admire those who accomplish relatively more than less, but there is nothing wrong with snapshots of the grandkids, majestic high-resolution mountain vistas, vacation pictures, "nice" nudes, zippy colors, celebrities on the hoof—even, if I want to be extreme, pictures of cats. You might be focused, ambitious, and disciplined, or maybe you want to dither around and follow wherever your fancies lead. Your interest might run to making sure you own the latest and best high technology, or to collecting antique cameras of one brand, or to studying photography's history, or to keeping up with still pictures of the news. You might want to know a little bit about everything, or everything about one thing (the person who pops to my mind here is Maxim Muir, the world's foremost expert on paper developers. I haven't heard from Max in years.) It's all good, is the point. You should do with photography whatever you want to do—and if you do, then you are "one of us."

One of the hardest things to do, it seems to me, is to photograph home through the eyes of a stranger. I'm just not motivated to photograph Waukesha, Wisconsin, where I live. It's not much of a town, it seems to me. And yet I know there are stories here, and great pictures everywhere. I get glimpses of their promise all the time. It's just a question of getting out into the town and really looking around. I've never been to Nebraska or Hawaii, much less Tallinn or Bangkok or Perth. But I'm sure if were privileged to travel to any of those places—or any of the hundreds of other places T.O.P. readers read from—I would look upon it as an absolutely golden opportunity to photograph. And I would be right.


Featured Comment by Adam McAnaney: You had me going with your most recent post, up until you wrote "One of the hardest things to do, it seems to me, is to photograph home through the eyes of a stranger. I'm just not motivated to photograph Waukesha, Wisconsin, where I live. It's not much of a town, it seems to me." It's not that I don't agree with you about it being difficult to photograph home. I fight against this all the time. I was just shocked to hear you say it. Or maybe I was just shocked to hear you imply that you want to see Waukesha through the eyes of a stranger. What has attracted me to your photography so far has been your ability to see the beautiful in the everyday, your pictures of your family, your dog, your home. You recently wrote that "pictures don't say things, they show things." Well, you have shown us your home, and your words have given us a sense of how you feel about the people and events in it. Clearly, you aren't doing this as a stranger, and much the better for it. Whether it is the pictures themselves, or the words that accompany them, your style (at least as I have come to see it based on the pictures you have posted here and on the Luminous Landscape) is immediately distinguishable from that of a stranger, of an observer, and you have inspired me to take more pictures of the little world around me (not too many people find Frankfurt all that exciting, either). BTW, as an example of the kind of picture of yours that I'm talking about, check this one, posted May 24, 2006. The background couldn't be more mundane, but the picture couldn't be more personal. That picture, and your choice to post it as your favorite at the time, made an immediate impression on me. I hope I'm not laying too much of a trip on you, but I wanted to let you know that you're doing a wonderful job of looking around for those stories and great pictures in Waukesha. At least that's the way it seems from roughly 4,500 miles away.

BTW, I've done a fair amount of traveling, and I love taking pictures when I do. Everything is new and exciting and since people don't generally travel to ugly places on purpose, beautiful. I take hundreds of pictures when traveling. But if I'm honest, I have found that the pictures I take of home are subjectively better, on both an artistic and an emotional level. The trick (for me, at least, given my hopefully developing style) is to realize that, embrace it and make sure I have my camera with me when I catch a glimpse of promise.

Mike Replies: Adam, this is a wonderful comment, and I don't mean to argue with you—your points are valid—I do try to photograph my actual life—but that picture you referenced was taken in Chicago. The lake pictures I sometimes show are taken in the countryside near a town called Mukwonago, southwest of Waukesha. I'm sure I've posted a picture or two taken in my yard, but aside from that—and the hot rod show pictures I posted a few days ago—I don't think I've ever posted a picture taken in Waukesha. It's not that there aren't pictures here; just that it's mundane to me.

My point was simply that we all can "engage" with the places where we live, if we try. If we don't, it's just a choice. The opportunities are there.

Monday, August 28, 2006

T.O.P. World Dominion

Here are the maps so far of T.O.P. world domination, as of 11:00 p.m. Monday CST (and thanks, everybody, for the nice comments).


Where in the World Are You?

Where are you? What State or Province, country, or continent? Please leave a comment. We're especially interested in hearing from you if you don't see your location represented yet in the comments.

(Anyone may comment, and word verification has been temporarily turned off for your convenience. However, comments are still moderated, so don't be worried if yours doesn't show up in the thread right away.)

Posted by: T.O.P. STAFF

e-Fotografija Pentax K100D Review

Matjaz Intihar has just published a thorough review of the Pentax K100D at the Slovenian photograpic website e-Fotografija (the review is translated into English by Joze Sveticic). Unlike my own, this review covers all of the features of the camera in detail and includes many test pictures and samples.


Photo-Eye's Best Photography Books

Don't know how we missed this, but here, a little late, is a link to Photo-Eye Booklist's Best Photography Books of 2005. And the awards go to:

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, Corrine May Botz (Monacelli Press)

Echo, Chan Chao (Nazraeli Press)

The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult, Clement Cheroux (Yale University Press)

Portraits, Rineke Dijkstra (D.A.P./Schirmer Mosel)

Possible Relatives, Tina Enghoff (Journal)

For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness, Julian Germain (SteidlMack)

David Hilliard (Aperture)

Kamaitachi, Eikoh Hosoe (Aperture)

Casa Susanna, Michel Hurst and Robert Swope (powerHouse Books)

Borderlands, Eirik Johnson (Twin Palms)

Why Mister, Why? Iraq 2003–2004, Geert Van Kesteren (Artimo)

The Loves of the Poets, Joseph Mills (Nazraeli)

Chronologies, Richard Misrach (Fraenkel Gallery)

Fashion Magazine, Martin Parr (Magnum Paris)

[Note that even though this is a 2005 list, several of these books are already out of print, and a couple of them have already increased in value and are hard to get. —MJ]

Subscribe to the Photo-Eye Booklist


9/11: The Aftermath

Five years on and Joel Meyerowitz's epic images of Ground Zero remind us anew of the enormity of that day. The veteran photographer spent nine months at the site, shooting mangled steel, mountains of rubble, heroic human effort...and, finally, an empty pit. As Peter Conrad writes, the images in his new book Aftermath: The World Trade Center Archive show destruction on a biblical scale.

View the photographs

Sunday August 27, 2006
The Observer

Joel Meyerowitz's early photographs were poetic meditations on the sky and the omens that glimmer in it—a twitching nerve of summer lightning that snakes through the blue evening air on Cape Cod; the arch that spans St Louis like a metal rainbow, opening a gateway for Western explorers; the reassuring totem pole of the Empire State Building, with the sun gilding a spire that was designed as an anchorage for airships. Then, on 11 September five years ago, the sky fell in. A few days after the World Trade Centre collapsed, Meyerowitz wangled a pass to the site. He spent the next nine months photographing a sulphurous underworld in which the sky was a remote, mocking memory.

What he saw to begin with was a mountainous mound where twisted steel, pulverised cement and shredded bone had fused: the implosion of those levelled towers. The rescue workers, who began by futilely searching for signs of life in this smoky, reeking tumulus, called it 'the pile.' For Meyerowitz, accustomed to serene and unclouded skies, it was chaos—or rather Chaos, the gulf of elemental ructions that existed, according to Greek myth, long before the world was created.

He trod on a surface that was still molten, so hot, because of the jet fuel that continued to ignite fires deep below, that it ate through the thick soles of his boots. The debris, in which so many mangled bodies were compounded, was itself lethal. Voids could open in the pile to gobble up the unwary; extruded metal could casually slice your head off.

When the sky fell in, the ground beneath our feet opened to swallow it, reversing the separation of heaven from earth decreed at the start of Genesis. The weight of the wreckage eviscerated subway stations under the World Trade Centre and exposed the networks of cables and pipes that used to keep the whole elaborate apparatus lit and watered; it also came close to provoking a further biblical catastrophe.

The most frightening of Meyerowitz's photographs shows a zigzagging fissure that one day, weeks after 9/11, suddenly ripped open a street. Earth excavated when the foundations of the World Trade Centre were laid had been dumped in the nearby Hudson River and used as landfill for the high-rise dormitories of Battery Park. The hole in which the towers were built was reinforced by a dyke, which now began to quake....



Random Excellence

By Graham Sawyer, Sutherland, UK (from


Whither the E-1?

Olympus's share of the digital SLR market has shrunk to a critical low—less than 3% in July, according to stats from Bloomberg (thanks to Michael Reichmann at L-L for the link).

As even casual observers know, Olympus has invested heavily in its from-the-ground-up 4/3rds system, having developed several new cameras and lots of excellent all-new lenses. However, there remain critical gaps in the lens line, and Olympus has most probably been affected by the gradual defection of its strategic partner, Kodak, from the high-end digital marketplace. Ironically, to this very day I consider the Olympus E-1 to be one of the best camera bodies of the digital age, an ergonomic and functional masterpiece. No DSLR has a sweeter shutter, for example.

Unfortunately, its sensor and buffer remain stuck in 2003. In an era when the market leaders are refreshing their models on schedules of two years or less, the 5-MP E-1 sensor is critically overdue for an upgrade—so overdue that, if an E-2 is not forthcoming at Photokina, it should probably be accepted as a sign that Olympus intends to abandon the DSLR field.

If that's true, it's ironic that The Luminous Landscape's Michael Reichmann, a consistent critic of the 4/3rds concept, has finally come around...sort of. Here's part of what he has to say about 4/3rds in his review of the Panasonic Lumix L1: "...I see chip size by itself as having become largely irrelevant in the consumer/prosumer marketplace. Most serious amateur photographers are happy with maximum sized prints in the 11x17" to 16x20" range, and the current 8–16 MP cameras handle this well. For those looking for even bigger prints, there's always medium format, just as in the past. So, it seems that for the most part, while the real-world advantages of the smaller 4/3 format seem a bit thin, its disadvantages have largely been overcome by improved sensor technology."

...That is, of course, if the improved sensor technology finds its way into the camera. Let's hope that the E-1 is not the end of the line for the top Olympus model—it's simply too good a camera design to lose.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Studio Hatyai

Through its globe-spanning network of informants, T.O.P. has received word that John Kennerdell's website is open for business at last.

Readers of PHOTO Techniques magazine during Mike's tenure as editor may remember John as the author of "What is Bokeh?", part of the now (in)famous cover feature on that topic from the May/June 1997 issue, as well as "Street Shooting in the Orient: the Contax G2 and the Zen of Small-Camera Photography," published in Jul/Aug 1998.

The new website offers a mix of recent and older material from John's many years of snapshooting across Japan and southeast Asia. Monthly updates are planned.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pentax K100 Review by MJ

I've had a short review of the Pentax K100 published over at The Luminous Landscape.

It's a small, light, workmanlike entry-level DSLR. How much you would like it probably depends on what you want to do with it and where you're coming from. If you've been using more professional DSLRs or mid-level and above film SLRs (say the level of the F100 and higher), then you'd likely be underwhelmed by the Pentax. But if you're coming from the world of "prosumer" and pocket digicams, the increase in quality and capability will be considerable, at a price that's singularly easy on your wallet, your shoulder, and your clamber up the DSLR learning curve.

More at the link.



by Oren Grad

In response to last weekend's post "Appreciating Photographs", Will provided a link to a classic article by Minor White, "Equivalence: The Perennial Trend". Unfortunately, within the past few days, the site that hosted the article has come down after a long run. As I write this, you can still get the article by Googling the title and retrieving it from cache, but there's no telling how long it will be there.

White was perhaps the most influential expositor of the "equivalence" concept, initially proposed by Alfred Stieglitz. The essence of the idea is pretty straightforward: photographers can use pictures as metaphors, to represent feelings about things other than those shown by the pictures.

It's true: photographers can do that. Whether anybody will get the message is a different matter. Here's White's self-demolishing explanation:

To be concrete, and leave off theory for a moment, we can return to the photograph of a cloud mentioned above. If we question the photographer, he may tell us that it stands for a certain quality that he finds in a specific woman, namely her femininity. The photograph exhibits softness, delicacy, roundness, fluffiness and so corresponds to at least one feeling or emotion that he has about her. If we ask why he does not photograph the woman herself directly, he may answer that she is hardly photogenic, or that he wishes to establish a certain aesthetic distance between his direct feeling and his outward manifestation of it via the photograph.
If the problem isn't obvious, take a look at any of the original "Equivalents" (for example, here), and ask yourself exactly what was going through Stieglitz's head when he was making them.

At some level, White must have understood this, because he hedges his bets, acknowledging that the viewer might feel something other than what the photographer had in mind, and even that you might have to find others smoking the same stuff you are for the trick to have a prayer of working:

To work in such a manner, the photographers must be able to get their work before those persons in the world who are sensitized intellectually, emotionally, and kinesthetically—not a numerous audience to be sure, even if widespread. Universality, that quality always thought to be desirable in photographs and pictures, is not denied to such photographers. It is their efforts that matter, to communicate-evoke with individuals who are in tune with the central core of universality common to both man and spirit.
White actually spends much of the article not explaining how this mode of communication is supposed to function, but rather ranting on the theme that photographs can have emotional resonance, and dissing the oafish majority who don't share his elevated sensibilities. I'll grant him the former point, with which I quite agree. But as for whether and how you can bottle that resonance and pass it around for others to share, all the mystical bloviation can't hide the fact that he's got nothing useful to say.

UPDATE: Jim Couch has kindly provided a link to another copy of the article.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

T.O.P. Notes

This morning, T.O.P.'s one millionth "unique visitor" logged on from Plymouth, New Hampshire. His (or her) ISP is the Plymouth Electric Co-op, he uses Windows 2000, and he spent 16 minutes and 24 seconds browsing the archives. (Beyond that, ve know nussink.)

Unfortunately, there is no prize. Just T.O.P.'s thanks to all our visitors and readers, current and past, regular and occasional. Thanks for coming by.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Japanese Photographers: Yasuhiro Ogawa

Yasuhiro Ogawa photographs in a gritty documentary style, in both color and black-and-white, using Leica rangefinder and Nikon SLR 35mm cameras. He was born in 1968 in Kanagawa prefecture, and began to take pictures at the age of 24, influenced by the work of Sebastiao Salgado.

His website displays selections from fourteen of his documentary series.

Caveat: the site uses Macromedia Flash, and may load slowly for users with dial-up connections. If your browser hangs up on the home page, try entering the site at the menu page.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

When There’s Nothing to Add...

Mike’s reaction to the hot rod show reminds me of thoughts I’ve had about two other photographic subjects. A client, a fancy Inn that has bought quite a bit of my work to hang on the walls, has beautiful formal gardens that they’d like me to photograph. But as I’ve found in the past, I love to look at a formal garden, to walk around and absorb the ambience but I find absolutely nothing to photograph in one because the landscape architect and the gardeners have said it all already. Formal architecture hits me the same way. In decades of commercial illustration photography I found architecture—beautifully designed buildings and interiors—the most boring of assignments because, again, it’s all been done by the architect and decorators and I really have nothing to add. I guess I can’t get that interested in simply documenting another person’s creative work.

At the same time I’m drawn to vernacular architecture and have made whole projects of this sort of subject.

I’ve also sometimes photographed wildflowers.

The Inn even bought a big print of this picture, whose subject couldn’t be more unlike their manicured formal gardens.

Maybe the owners who've lavished such loving care on the hot rods have left us nothing else to add.

Posted by CARL WEESE

Just Say No to JonBenet

Last week, guess which story topped the national evening news on ABC, CBS, and NBC? JonBenet Ramsey. Who was the big guest on Nightline and the Today Show? JonBenet Ramsey’s father. What story made front-pages of America’s newspapers, including The New York Times? You got it.

It wasn’t the war in Iraq or the tenuous truce in Lebanon, or even 10 million kids here at home who lack health insurance. It was JonBenet.

Contact the News Anchors at ABC, CBS, and NBC, and tell them we’ve had enough JonBenet by signing this petition.


Featured Comment by fizzy: You know why Lebanon isn't bigger news? It's a rerun. So is Africa, and Republican vs. Democrat, and Arabs we don't like, and young African-American men killing each other at civil-war rates. And they're like The X-Files: at one point we cared how the story was going to turn out, but they just kept making up more outrageous stuff just to keep the series on TV. We like conclusions. These stories don't show any sign of ever having one.

And JonBenet is fascinating stuff: the whole bizarre universe of the child beauty pageant. The Svengali parents creating the mini-me-but-better. The hyper-OCD mom, too tightly wound to have a real child. The evidence that seems too obviously fake to really be fake. The apparent bungling by the police that any mystery-novel reader could point out. The curiously dispassionate response by Dad when the suspect was captured. The very fact that a rich white girl was murdered (which, even ten years later, still would be front-page news in any big city in America). America thinks that no one is looking out for that little girl, from her parents to the police. We want to see how the JonBenet Show ends up.

Carbon vs. Silver

Walker Evans. Or Is It?

A new gallery exhibit of large carbon-on-cotton digital prints of scans made from Walker Evans's negatives raises questions about the differences in media

By Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times

"...The image produced by the camera, whether it’s a negative or a digital file, is only the matrix for the work of art. It is not the work itself, although if the photographer is a journalist, any hanky-panky in the printing process comes at the potential cost of the picture’s integrity. Digital technology has not introduced manipulation into this universe; it has only multiplied the opportunities for mischief.

"I dawdle over this familiar ground because the digitally produced prints of classic Walker Evans photographs, now at the UBS Art Gallery, are so seductive and luxurious—velvety, full of rich detail, poster-size in a few cases and generally cinematic—that they raise some basic issues about the nature of photography.

"For starters they suggest a simple question, whether luxury and richness are apt qualities for pictures of Depression-era tenant farmers in the American South. These are, I must say, almost uncomfortably beautiful...."


Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Richard S.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Garage Band Does Living Room

My friend Bob Burnett (he directs documentaries in real life) was one of the cameradudes on a couple of recent music videos. In Wilco's "Muzzle of Bees," Bob hovers behind the bass player and appears briefly about an eighth of the way into the song. I like his flarey, confused camerawork at the end of the first guitar solo. It was also Bob's job to chop the hole through the ceiling for the downshot of the snare drum near the end.

In this video of Steve Albini's band Shellac—same living room—he was on the Albini close-up chase cam. (The hole in the ceiling from the Wilco shoot is still there.)

These videos are part of the series "Burn to Shine." Bob was the add-on camera for the Chicago project called "Burn to Shine 2" (where these clips come from). The project is the brainchild of Fugazi's Brendan Canty and Christoph Green. Go to for more info. There's a good Denver Post article at that site about the overall approach. All "Burn to Shine" projects are shot in high def.

And this is the terrible result of a bored filmmaker on the road away from his family for days at a stretch:

Bob Burnett, I Am Bob


Smithsonian Launches Online Photography Initiative

The Smithsonian's 18 museums, nine research centers, and the National Zoo collectively preserve some 13 million photographs which now, thanks to the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, will begin to be made accessible to researchers online. The images found in some seven hundred collections throughout the Smithsonian are organized by museum and discipline—for instance, the National Museum of Natural History holds natural science images in its collections, the National Air and Space Museum houses images of flight in its archives, and the National Museum of African Art holds photographs of Africa in its collections. The Smithsonian Photography Initiative is devoted to the presentation and study of these photographic images, viewing photography as an art form, a record keeper, and a cross-disciplinary medium that encompasses science, history, popular culture, and more. Beyond offering more information about where to find photography collections throughout the Smithsonian, a new website aims to be an educational tool, serving anyone who wishes to study, explore, and enjoy photographs of many kinds. To view the website go to: where you will be provided access to some 1,800 digital images, the work of 100 photographers, who used 50 different processes.

Posted by: GABI FITZ

Lighting Colored Gemstones

Doctor Charlie

My younger brother Charlie, who among other things is a mean cook, a decent guitar and piano player, an M.D. double-boarded in pediatrics and internal medicine who has his own practice, and a devoted dad, is also a gem cutter. He first learned to facet gems from a book when he was 14, and spent half of every day during his senior year in high school working at the Smithsonian Institution Gemology Department. He now has a nice little side-business called Technofacet, Ltd. selling beautifully faceted colored gemstones. (Very annoyingly, he makes more money doing this than I've ever earned at any of my main jobs. Sheesh—little brothers!) He owns one of the famously overengineered and overbuilt Gyro Gearloose faceting machines* (even though he seldom facets his own stones any more) and employs a network of some of the best freelance cutters in the world. Ironically, because he's a true "subject matter expert" and has no store overhead, his stones are of higher quality than most jewelry stores offer, and routinely appraise for 3X, or more, of what they sell for. Then again, it's not the world's easiest business. For instance, he refuses to keep any stones at his house, so everything he sells has to go by messenger from the safe deposit box at the bank to the Post Office. I suppose you get used to stuff like that, but if you thought organizing pictures was hard....

It turns out that photographing gemstones is a formidable specialty, and no trivial thing. Charlie tells me: "All of the photos for this week were taken by your eldest niece, with a 5MP Pentax Optio WP, using three halogen lights arranged right/left/over middle. The biggest problem in gem photography is the light—the stone is supposed to act like a retroreflector, so a truly ideally cut stone would show an image of your eye every time you look at it! Or, in this case, the camera (one reason we use a grey camera instead of my old black one)."

Back when I wrote more for magazines, I always meant to do an article on one or more of the grand master gem photographers, hoping to unearth some of the secrets of the skill. It's one of those projects I'll probably never get to. Still, any amateur who has ever tried to photograph a cut gemstone with his or her trusty macro lens can probably appreciate the surprising demands of the specialty.

(Illustration: a 2.44 carat spectral chrome green tourmaline,
photograph by Christine Johnston)

* Note: the picture labeled "XS3 on a Graves" is Charlie's.

Two New Canon Lenses

Rob Galbraith has posted information on two new Canon lenses, a 50mm ƒ/1.2 L USM and a a 70–200mm ƒ/4 L IS USM.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Paul

PhotoRec Digital Picture Recovery

PhotoRec is file data recovery software designed to recover lost pictures (photo recovery) from digital camera memory and lost files including video, documents and archives from hard disks and CDRom. PhotoRec ignores the filesystem and goes after the underlying data, so it'll work even if your media's filesystem is severely damaged or formatted. PhotoRec is safe to use, it will never attempt to write to the drive or memory support you are about to recover from. Recovered files are instead written in the directory from where you are running the PhotoRec program.

PhotoRec is free. This open source multi-platform application is distributed under GNU Public License. PhotoRec is a companion program to TestDisk, an app for recovering lost partitions on a wide variety of filesystems and making non-bootable disks bootable again.

PhotoRec site


Refilled Ink Cartridges Fade Rapidly


LONDON, UK, August 23, 2006—A new study at the independent testing organization Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. (WIR) shows that photos printed with refilled cartridges can fade significantly in less than two months, while prints made with original HP inks and photo papers last far longer. Photos printed using original HP inkjet print cartridges on HP media had the highest WIR Display Permanence Rating of all inks tested—73 years. This means that under the standard conditions of the WIR tests it would take 73 years before noticeable fading would occur. By contrast, refilled inkjet print cartridges had among the lowest WIR Display Permanence Ratings ever measured in the WIR lab....



Canon Ketchup

Canon has released info on the new 400D model. I could not find anything on the Canon USA site, but Canon Australia has posted this product page and this introduction page.

"Replacing Australia’s number one-selling D-SLR, the EOS 350D, the new model includes a Canon-developed 10.1 megapixel CMOS image sensor that delivers stunning, professional quality photographs. Super-fast image processing, thanks to Canon’s proprietary DiG!C II processor, ensures the camera is capable of capturing three frames per second (fps) for a burst of up to 27 consecutive frames."

Canon Australia


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Daniel Seguin, David Desjardins, and Dean Sherwood

by Chantal Stone

There's a movement on the Internet, and it’s been around for a while now, with momentum building every day. It's called photoblogging. A photoblog is a chronological log of photography; a weblog where the emphasis is on a picture rather than text. There are thousands of active photoblogs on the web right now, most updated daily, by photographers from all around the world. The photographers vary from the amateur to the professional, from film purists to users of digital technology. Three photoblogs of note belong to three very different photographers with a great zeal for photography as well as talent in their craft: Daniel Seguin, David Desjardins, and Dean Sherwood.

Montreal resident Daniel Seguin has been in love with photography since he was a kid. He often found himself the “photographer of the day” for family events, using his parents’ old Canon reflex camera, and then later served as photographer for his High School yearbook, processing and printing his own images. Then, like many photographers, life happened, and Daniel set his camera down for a while, only to become reacquainted with his first love years later. Now, as a recent graduate of Concordia University in Montreal with a Master’s degree, Daniel manages to find the time to take the incredible photographs that fill his photoblog :: Make it Happen.

Daniel’s work can easily be described with one word: magnificent. His grand style gives the viewer a glimpse of his unique perspective of the world. His images range from the majestic Canadian landscape to the hidden corners of Montreal. They are crisp, exact, thoughtful and passionate.

Daniel’s blog is a journey into his world. Updated almost daily, Daniel sees it as cyclical. He shoots to fill his photoblog; his photoblog is there to inspire him to shoot. He celebrated his one year anniversary for his photoblog this past July, with a collage of all the year’s posts. There, he eloquently explains the significance and impact of photoblogging:

"Throughout the year, I’ve been fortunate to meet some fabulous people through whom I’ve better learned to see the possibilities and that there is no real right answer out there. For this, I am grateful. Thank you all for having shared in my experience. This photoblog and I have only co-evolved as a result of your visits, prompting reflection, dialogue, and learning...."

What’s next for Daniel? With his vision and his new degree, the possibilities are endless. Like most of us who see photography as a journey, he plans to practice his technique, learn through experience, and continue to participate in the photoblogging community. He writes that he would also like to somehow integrate his photography with his work in client systems. Whatever he does next, surely he will "make It happen."

Another Montreal resident, David Desjardins, maintains the photoblog Postcards From the End. A systems administrator for an IT firm by day, David fulfills his creative urges through his photography.

David’s style can best be described as pensive. His images are very often soft and calm, depicting the quieter edges of Montreal. From architecture to nature, from the still life to the abstract, David’s images illustrate his introspection and his willingness to let his sensitive side be known, while still maintaining an edge.

David began shooting when he was introduced to photography in art school. He began his photoblog in early 2005, with PFTE being the updated incarnation. He began his photoblog first as a simple outlet for his art, a place to display and share his work. He then became more involved with viewing other photoblogs, entering the community of photobloggers which, as David describes “the sharing with other photobloggers and getting to know other styles and types is just sublime for the artistic heart.”

For future projects, David would like to explore some creative portraiture. But for now, he enjoys the intimacy involved with close-up and macro photography. Where his photography will take him is anyone’s guess. With little pressure on himself to produce, David allows himself to be creative, when the moment speaks to him. “If you try to force art, it won’t come out [right]”, he says, “…I don't really have plans or goals. I do it because the act of doing it is its own reward.”

Across the pond, in Lincolnshire, UK, lives photographer Dean Sherwood. Dean’s gritty, high-energy, impactful images can be found at his photoblog Post79. When not photographing, Dean is also a health club manager and full time student.

Dean fell into photography quite by accident when one day he picked up the wrong magazine, and purchased Photography Monthly. He took it home, read it, and was inspired to purchase a camera. The rest, as they say, is history.

Dean sees his photoblog as a chance to be creative and to display facets of his imagination through words and images, with subject matter ranging from intense and sometimes intimate portraits, to angular street scenes, to landscapes and fine art.

An avid journal keeper, Dean writes his insightful thoughts along with his photographic posts. He also enjoys the friends he has made through photoblogging since the inception of his first photoblog, Captured4Life, and now even more so with his new and improved site Post79.

Success has already graced Dean, since he has been published in publications such as Digital Photography and the German magazine Max, as well as his local newspaper, for his coverage of local events.

What’s next for Dean? In his words: “I hope I can take you all on a journey, a journey through the intimate and the open, the extraordinary and the ordinary, the touching and the once touched.” And a trip through his photoblog will certainly do that.


New Zeiss SW

Just what you needed: a film rangefinder-type camera without the range/viewfinder. Zeiss has announced the Zeiss SW (superwide? Makes sense), a less (but still very) expensive variant of the "known Zeiss Ikon" [sic] that uses only an external, shoe-mounted viewfinder, presumably with scale/zone focusing.

Here's the press release, FWIW. Make of this marketing move what you will....

See Wider!

The Zeiss Ikon SW is the 35mm precision camera for uncompromising superwide photographers. Its lens mount takes any lens with M bayonet, in particular the ZEISS high performance superwide-angle lenses Distagon T* 2,8/15mm ZM and the Biogon T* types from the ZEISS ZM range.

An accessory shoe directly above the lens takes the corresponding superwide viewfinder. A second shoe is built in to take a flash, a bubble level or other accessory.

The electronically controlled metal focal plane shutter offers speeds ranging from 1/2000 sec. – 8 sec. in automatic mode (AE-lock is available) and 1/2000 - 1 sec. + B in manual mode. Fastest flash synchro speed is 1/125 sec.

The Zeiss Ikon SW offers the same extremely high image quality as the known Zeiss Ikon rangefinder camera: far above today’s digital cameras. It is fully integrated into the Zeiss Ikon system. The Zeiss Ikon SW comes without the complex rangefinder and is therefore considerably more affordable than the rangefinder camera.

The Zeiss Ikon SW will be available as of October 2006.

List price is 799,00 € (without VAT)

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Oren

Magnum in Motion: No Whisper No Sigh

The Magnum Photo Agency, founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, has long been one of the world's pre-eminent news photo and photo essay organizations. The names of their photographers, past and present, reads like a who's who in the history of documentary photography.

Until recently Magnum's name was familiar only to photographers and editors. But during the past year or so Magnum has become less reclusive, reaching out with more public expositions of their vast image and talent wealth. One of the best such expositions is their "Magnum In Motion" site which features an ongoing collection of Flash-style photo essays created by Magnum photographers. Most of them are narrated by the photographer that created the pictures, usually in coverage of some world event or circumstance.

All of the essays are well worth viewing. Even if you're not terribly interested in some of the subject matter I guarantee that the pictures will leave lasting impressions. But I want to point your attention towards one presentation that's a bit different than most of the others. Titled "No Whisper No Sigh," it's a collection of 100 Magnum images built around the conceptual theme of silence in all its forms, causes, and interpretations.

During the past week or so we've discussed the subject of communication of meaning in photography. This presentation fits particularly well with such discussions.

Warnings: First, be sure you have some time on your hands before you dive in to Magnum In Motion. I doubt that you'll be able to watch just one of these presentations. Second, note that "No Whisper No Sigh" does feature a few nude images.

Posted by: KEN TANAKA

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming for a...

...Musical side-note. I recently discovered that BIS Records has a "Listen!" feature on its website. I conceived a passion for "original" or period instruments in Baroque music during the heady early days of the CD, when Trevor Pinnock was the reigning young hipster of Baroque, and of all the period-instrument bands (there are many, some of them composed of differing combinations of some of the same players, others straining the definition of "period"), the one I have the biggest soft spot for is the BIS label's "house band," the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble. They manage to be light, spare, spirited, and virtuosic all at once. Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" is as hoary a chestnut as there is—it's cruddy with hoar—but the DRE makes it sound young again, as only they can. In fact, if you want an object lesson in how scored classical music can be transformed by the right performance, compare the DBE's Handel Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op.6:6, rapt and lyrical, deep, emotional, lithe, with the same piece from Telarc's famously "well-recorded" (whatever that means) but dull, foot-patting rendition (which for some reason some people actually like...a mystery). Why the DBE wasn't immediately driven to record all the Concerti Grossi by pure force of acclaim is beyond telling.

It's not like the Drottningholm hasn't handled chestnuts before. Duelling Tubas, Uncle Ocher's Klezmer Band, and the Fat Guys' Fart Orchestra have all recorded Vivaldi's Four Seasons, along with 1,800 classical bands ranging from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra to a guy on the sidewalk with a cymbal on his foot. But the DBE's version (recorded way back in '85) is still the best one ever done with tape rolling. It's everything that classic should be: fresh, almost violently spirited, bright, sere, lively, clean...fierce. Delightful.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.


Featured Comment by David Adam Edelstein: Wow, it's almost like the score is the negative and the performance is the print. :-)

Yo, Radiant V

Whassup and yo to Radiant Vista, T.O.P.'s new sponsor (note their purty square ad in the lefthand column, below the "Archives" listings). Radiant Vista runs brief but packed weekend workshops, with October and November weekends coming up in Seattle, Boulder, and Philly. The tuition prices are CHEAP (really), the instructors excellent, and the weekends popular—a good intro to workshopping for those who aren't ready to commit their entire vacations. Click them now, click them later—they'll pump you up. (Sorry: old-fogey SNL reference.)


Artificial Muscles Light Up TVs

By Jonathan Fildes
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Arrays of thousands of tiny 'super prisms' controlled by robotic muscles could bring real colour to TV screens for the first time, scientists say.

The devices, known as electrically tunable diffraction gratings, have been built by researchers in Switzerland.

They manipulate light to reproduce the full spectrum of colours on screen, impossible using existing technology.

The team say the devices could also be used to make computer displays with the same resolution as high-end LCDs.

'Today's displays can only reproduce a limited range of colours,' said Manuel Aschwanden of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and one of the team behind the work.

'The main advantage of this technology is that it can display all colours'....



Noise Reduction and Scans from B&W Negatives

Lately, I’ve been waxing enthusiastic about great products from small companies. I sat down this afternoon intending to write up a little blurb about how I use just such a product when making inkjet prints from scans of my 4x5 B&W negatives. The product is Noise Ninja, a great noise reduction program with a stupid name.

But I procrastinated, and instead started browsing interesting photo blogs, and in one of those annoyingly perfect serendipitous coincidences, found that Doug Plummer has written the definitive version of what I was going to write. So instead of writing it myself, I’ll just point you to the post on Doug’s wonderful blog.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI

Monday, August 21, 2006

Shoot Out The Lights

Arthur Elkon, Richard Thompson at Milwaukee Irish Festival, August 20th, 2006

My friend Art Elkon took some nice shots of Richard Thompson at his recent Milwaukee concert—and got featured on Thompson's official website for his trouble. Congrats, Art—nice pix and nice going!


'Detroit Proposes, Man Disposes'

Here's a fine little article about the hot rod show experience by one of my favorite writers, Minnesota's Glenn Gordon.

Oh, and if you want a hot-rod theme, I'd propose "See America Right" by the Mountain Goats—a monotonic one-minute, fifty-four second snarl of a road song that practically smells of greasy exhaust.


Joe Rosenthal, 1911-2006

Joe Rosenthal has died, at an assisted living center in a suburb of San Francisco. He took what is undoubtedly one of the most famous U.S. war photographs ever, the still picture of the flag-raising by U.S. Marines on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima.

Much has been written about the circumstances and the occasion for the photo. It is acknowledged that the flag-raising was of a second, larger flag, not the first flag to be raised after the taking of the island, and it is variously said the second flag-raising was "staged," or that the second flag-raising was done simply because the first, smaller flag had come down, or because the photograph of the first flag-raising was known to have been lost. (There's also a Universal newsreel of the event.) This isn't the place to look into the various interpretations in detail: it suffices that the picture is an iconic image of exhausted triumph at the culmination of bitter combat. The photograph became the basis for Felix W. deWheldon's heroic Marine Corps Memorial statue in Washington, D.C., and Rosenthal won the Pulitzer Prize for it.

The U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, D.C., sometimes incorrectly called the "Iwo Jima" memorial.

Ironically, Rosenthal tried to enlist as a photographer but was rejected by the army—for poor eyesight! He was on Iwo Jima in February 1945 as a photographer for the Associated Press.

When he died on August 20th, Joe Rosenthal was 94.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with thanks to Alex

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Hot Rods

Bloviation Warning. This could go on a while.

We had a hot rod show in Waukesha yesterday. Actually, the last three days—but I went yesterday. The weather was perfect.

I don't know much about hot rods—well, apart from having seen American Graffitti a number of years ago (a nice film by a man who went on to spoil his career doing silly movies about space)—but even so, I have my doubts as to whether it is possible to take an original picture at one of these events. The cars are the stars, and everywhere you look there is gleaming paint and glistening chrome. The photographer's role, though rather limited, seems very clear...

...Car bits. The obvious strategy is the detail shot. Unless you're happy with crowds of heavy people in bad T-shirts (they're very friendly people, don't get me wrong), the thing to try seems to be concentrate on a car-part detail here or there. I lost my appetite for this sort of thing quickly; to not do so, I suppose, would require an interest not so much in the detail pictures but in the details themselves. Apart from liking white sidewalls (I do like them, though I'd never for a instant consider them for myself—they're sort of like spats in that way), I have no idea if this is the sort of wheel and tire that would appeal to an actual car person or not. What can I say, that I liked the pretty colors?

But speaking of colors, bet I know why this particular woman was attracted to this particular car.

It's funny—as a photographer, I think I've climbed the "pro" mountain and then slithered halfway down the further side. If I had been covering the event for somebody, I know just what I would have done. I spotted a pretty (if faintly weathered) blonde I would have asked to pose for me reflected in a certain windshield; I saw a man in a wonderful Hawaiian shirt I would have asked to stand in one car window so I could take a picture of a particular car's interior—and his shirt—through the other. But since nobody's paying me, why bother?

If the shot above were to appear in a newspaper, for example, I would have had to take the fellow's name—he seemed to be the car's owner—as well as all the specifics about what kind of car it was. On the bright side, I don't have to send him a print. (Well, except on the off chance that he sees this blog.) I don't even know if my local paper uses stringers.

And because I wasn't covering anything—that is, not really working—I had my finger on slow-speed advance, and didn't shoot enough. This little fellow presented me with a common editing dilemma: I have two shots of him, this one with a good expression, and another one in which he's in focus and tack sharp but doesn't have as good an expression. The purpose of shooting a lot is not to shoot a lot, it's to shoot enough to make sure you get the shot you want in the can. Sorry, outdated expression.

I lay flat on the asphalt to get this shot, though. I probably drew a few looks, but I didn't notice. Worth the trouble, don't you think? I didn't meet Joe.

Which reminds me, I suffered one disappointment. Being 6'2" and 250 lbs. has intermittent advantages, for instance when I want something off a high shelf or when I want to pretend (to people who don't know me, it would have to be) that I'm someone intimidating. But there is no way I could shoehorn my excessively-sized self into a '32 Ford Coupe. Those things must have been made for people about the size of Danny DeVito. (Hmm, being his size has some other advantages, too.)

Back to car bits. I don't know from car engines, but some of the engines on those cars looked cleaner and shinier than my kitchen.

All in all I had a nice time at the hot-rod show. Talked to some nice people and saw a lot of fuzzy dice. The camera let me down decisively several times, though. I was surprised by the number of times it mis-focused or decided spontaneously to expose one or two pictures way off base—I lost one shot I really wanted to see, boo-hoo. But maybe it can be put down to an ailing battery; halfway through the card, the battery gave up the ghost. I knew I should have grabbed another one from the charger on the way out of the house. You know what they say: Oh well.

Arrrr! Last shot.