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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.


Blogger John said...

"I have no legal recourse, naturally."
But I thought hell is where lawyers go. . . and you can't find one?;-)

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Ernest Theisen said...

Mike that is excellent. My parish priest is a photographer. I shall send him this. He will love it. Thanks, Ernest

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In hell, all monitors must be better calibrated - they have to be, because everything is in color. Heaven still seems stuck in B/W.

Seems like in heaven you still smell Acutol, whereas in hell it's Chanel No.5, worn by a drop-dead gorgeous model with a smile that would make the angels of heaven turn green with envy, only if they could - their curse is to remain B/W.

I know where I'm going. And I've got a one way ticket, baby!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I wonder if in a perfect world (heaven) I would even bother to take photographs."

What, you mean heaven's no fun?


9:59 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

" 'I have no legal recourse, naturally.'

But I thought hell is where lawyers go. . . and you can't find one?;-)"

I beg your pardon. I'll go fix that. Thanks.


10:00 PM  
Blogger Bob Rose said...

Have I missed the point, or have you not actually asked S.Smith if you can use his photo?

4:32 AM  
Blogger Max said...

It reminded me of this joke, It might not very politically correct these days, but we should be able to laugh about ourselves a little, it goes like this:

Heaven is a place where:
The lovers are Italian
The cooks are French
The mechanics are German
The policemen are English
The government is run by the Swiss

Hell is a place where:
The lovers are Swiss
The cooks are English
The mechanics are French
The policemen are German
The government is run by the Italians

6:26 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"Have I missed the point, or have you not actually asked S.Smith if you can use his photo?"

I have actually not. I have not been able to identify, locate, or otherwise raise said Mr. (or Ms.) Smith, despite several tries. I would love to be able to ask him, as I very much want to use the photo for a different purpose that I can't assay without permission.


6:41 AM  
Blogger David A. Goldfarb said...

In response to David Kelly's comment--a slightly more attractive "New York" option might be Phojo, which I've seen a New York AP photographer using. Here's an article in PDF format about it--

It has a basic editor that runs on a palm pc with a cellular modem. The guy I saw using it carried a Canon 20D and two or three lenses with his palm pc and a cellphone, and it all fit in a waist pack. He said he coud shoot for days getting assignments by cellphone and filing them in cafes without having to stop in the office.

Maybe this qualifies as purgatory.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

"Ah, Paris with a Leica M3 and collapsible Summicron loaded with HP4. Couple spare rolls in your pocket."

I dunno...San Francisco with a Rebel XT, a 28/2.8 and a 1GB card wasn't too bad, either. Plus I had room left in my pocket for money.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Dave New said...

"It has a basic editor that runs on a palm pc " --- ah, you had me all excited. A PALM pc (runs PalmOS) is NOT the same as a POCKET pc (Runs Windows), which is what is required for this application.

Call me when something that runs on a Palm(tm) PC turns up.


Treo 700p user (with EvDO modem speeds -- yum!)

11:31 AM  
Blogger scotth said...

I think my photographic hell would be a small room with no windows and several other people incessantly discussing things like pixel pitch, circles of confusion, mtf charts, 100% crops, DOF formulas...

5:36 PM  
Blogger RG said...

"Ah, Paris with a Leica M3 and collapsible Summicron loaded with HP4. Couple spare rolls in your pocket."

I can identify with that. ;)

But what is HP4? Was that Ilford HP5 or FP4?

9:01 PM  
Blogger Ian Rees said...

The most amusing thing about the posted image is the use of Nikon straps with his Canon bodies. :)

9:58 PM  
Anonymous David kelly said...

"HP4" is a typo, should be FP4, thanks for the catch, rg

5:45 AM  
Blogger Bob Rose said...

I would have thought that you should be setting a good example as a photographer, and not using a photo on your blog without permission. It's obvious that your intentions are good, but it's still bad practice and illegal as far as I'm aware. The chances are that the photographer won't mind, but it's a slippery slope.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

bob rose,

as long as its under "free use" or whatever it's called for educational purposes it's not illegal.

Not saying it's good or bad, but not illegal.

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have probably gotten this far already, but on the off chance you haven't:

What a great image!

Marshall Smith (no relation that I know of)
Stamping Ground, KY

3:29 PM  

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