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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Citizens Photo—Portland, Oregon

I wish this nice place were in my neighborhood. (Stole the picture off the web.)


Featured Comment by Kiliii: Mike, I love this place. I go there quite a bit to pick up odds and ends, and it's always fun to chat with the fellas there, mostly about the way things are going in photography today, and how difficult it is to be just a photographer anymore.

Tiny little space, with mostly lots of bags. I've watched them change from carrying lots of used Minolta manual focus stuff to focus more on point and shoots. But I buy from them anyway, because I like the faces, I like the interaction, and I like the visceral feelings that come with being alive and in a Photography Shop. I'm a photographer, and they're photographers. We enjoy shooting first and foremost, and for a brief moment in time when I get to stop in and hang out for half and hour, I feel the same way I do when I'm in the field—alive.

Oh yeah, plus I used to go there even when I lived in the Gorge, 90 miles away. It's that kind of shop.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Art of the Book

I have to admit I have something of a prejudice against oversized photo books. They try so hard—it seems such a coarse, obvious strategy to try to attract attention. Lots of "big" books aren't quite carried by the pictures inside them, many of which are simply reproduced too big, and despite their typical cost a lot of them aren't very well made—they tend to get loose and sloppy after surprisingly little handling.

When talking about photo books, I care a lot about what you might call "the art of the book"—by which I mean the book as an art-object in and of itself—its design, the quality of its printing, its overall proportions and how appropriate it is to its contents, how it all works together, the "rightness" of the whole production.

Anyway, here's a "big" exception to my bias against big books: Phaidon's Looking East: Portraits by Steve McCurry. The size works beautifully here with the images—I've just never seen these pictures look better in print, even though many of them have been reproduced many times in many places (yes, the famous green-eyed Afgan girl is present and accounted for, in ultimate form). Looking East is a great way to experience a fine selection of these wonderful photographs. The reproduction is top-flight, and the design is unusually unfussy—it gets out of the way of the pictures while adding just the right note of elegance.

Okay, I can't stop with the dumb puns, but this is a "great big book." Look for it.


Blog Notes

I just want to take a sec to thank everybody for yesterday. Michael Reichmann at The Luminous Landscape, Steve Sanders at Steve's Digicams, Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBLOG, and Alec Soth, on his blog, among others, all mentioned us and provided links, which was very nice. Just over 20,000 people stopped by for a look (20,461, about twice our usual traffic) and nineteen people made donations, ranging from $1 to $100, which helps pay the monkey on the treadmill. A lot of nice comments were added to the "Ten Best" list posting.

And I had a nice day. Thank you.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Online Photographer Turns One

It's our birthday! T.O.P. started one year ago today.

To celebrate, we offer our (first annual?) T.O.P. Ten Best Living Photographers list, which you'll find below. If you think an omission just can't be tolerated, your nominations to the list are welcomed—just leave a comment under that post.

There's also an interview with Mike about T.O.P. over on The Luminous Landscape today.

A few stats: There have been 849 posts since last November 28th, for an average of a little over 2.3 a day. As of yesterday, we've attracted 2,218,890 page views from all over the world. Our most popular post (far and away) was "Great Photographers on the Internet." (It's really overdue for a Part II, don't you agree?) Two days after that was posted, we set our 24-hour record for hits of 26,537. More than 150,000 people have viewed that page. Another popular post was the "Sam Memorial Dog Camera Award," about the World's Ugliest Camera. This is probably the furthest off-topic we've ventured (admittedly pretty far, kyuk-yuk-yuk-yuk).

We have published posts from 37 different contributors, who are listed below; thanks to all of them. Thanks, too, to our sponsors, who have kept the site alive.

But most of all, thanks to all of you who read T.O.P.! We've all been gratified by the site's popularity, and we appreciate all the praise and compliments we get. To one and all, thank you. You're always welcome here, whether you come by several times a day, or once every few months, or anything in between.

Here are T.O.P.'s Contributors in its first year, in alphabetical order (the most frequent contributors in boldface):


Monday, November 27, 2006

Send Us a Birthday Present

T.O.P.'s Ten Best Living Photographers List

Herewith, in celebration of our first birthday, is T.O.P.'s highly subjective, unapologetically U.S.-centric (I can't help it, I live here), bound-to-be-controversial, and not-quite-totally-pointless-but-almost Ten Best Living Photographers list. Why? Because lists are fun, and it's our party.

Counting down from number ten:

10. Jill Freedman. Why? Because Jill Freedman gets it. She knows what photography is for. She understands that it's not an intermediary, a way of distancing: it's a way of getting closer, of showing what's worth seeing, of telling what needs to be told. Because there's nothing in between Jill Freedman's pictures and what's important—and nothing in between her and her art, and that's the way it's supposed to be. She's not rich or famous. Just good.

9. Duane Michals. Why? Because he's Duane Michals—there's only one (see left). Because he's an artist, using the tools of approximately Photo 101 circa 1965 to contruct conceptual scenarios only he could dream up. Because he makes simple snaps into art with leaps of meaning and twists and riddles.

8. Kim Kirkpatrick. Why? A forgotten photographer of the forgotten, the American master of bokeh-aji has amassed the largest body of undiscovered major work this side of Abbott's rescue of Atget. Averse to publicity, resistant to showing, taciturn to a fault, Kirkpatrick has managed to hide in plain site of the haute-art NY galleries like a panther staring from the woods. His (yes, he's a he) work is difficult, austere, elusive, and almost metaphysically lonely, and formal and emotional at the same time, as if vectoring in on each of those opposites exlusively. Also a subtle colorist. Long overdue for a major monograph, but don't hold your breath, or you may turn an exquisite shade of blue and expire.

7. Nicholas Nixon. Why? "Nicholas Nixon speaks of honor. 'I'm honored to be using the same methods as Atget, as Walker Evans. I want to honor what is possible. I'd like to go deeper, get closer, know more, be more intense and more intimate. I'll fail, but I'm honored to be in the ring trying. I'd like to go deeper than Stieglitz did about his marriage. It's arrogant, but I'd like to try.' Nicholas Nixon speaks of trust. 'I trust photography. I trust my ability to challenge it and it to challenge me.' And he speaks of obligation. 'I have the good fortune to be married to someone for twenty-seven years. I have an obligation to try to tell a story about it. I want to show more about her; about us.' " (Arthur Ollman)

6. Sally Mann. Why? You could make the case that she's been searching for a subject since her children grew up, but the big body of work she did of her kids in a dark rural fantasyland of the mind is the best Southern fiction America's had since Welty, O'Connor, and Faulkner.

5. Roy DeCarava. Why? A quirky talent, America's version of Bill Brandt in the sense that he owns his own rather odd technical signature and remains opaque to many, a man who sometimes seems to have his arms wide open but his back to the world, DeCarava's revolutionary fervor still smoulders from within his impossibly murky, dark prints. But his work resounds with love, jazz, and life. Perennially underappreciated, but not in these precincts. If I calculate correctly, he turns 86 this December 9th, a few days from now: Happy birthday, Sir.

4. Ray McSavaney. Why? The man has got no rap at all, and seems almost allergic to self-promotion or, indeed, promotion of almost any sort (which could be good things), but he's our modern-day heir to Ansel Adams: a classic West-Coast B&W Zone-System photographer whose work is gorgeous but nuanced, distanced, wide-ranging, probing, rapt, technically perfect and tonally ravishing—and did we mention gorgeous?

3. Edward Burtynsky. Why? The Germans are cooler, in several senses, but Burtynsky is the landscapist of the 21st century, the visual chronicler of humanity overrunning Earth. His pictures are monumental and appalling, delicate and dizzying, so deep they're flat, brooding and, yes, pretty (sometimes).

2. James Nachtwey. Why? Start with enough visual talent to make about three average art photographers, and combine it with hard-as-rock commitment, a work ethic that would burn most of us out in less than a decade, and awe-inspiring courage in the face of things like flying bullets and explosions in one's personal space, and you've got a journalist-photographer who is half a head above and one-and-a-half steps ahead of best of the rest—even though photojournalism is a field currently loaded with talent and accomplishment.

1. Elliott Erwitt. Why? Because, since M. Henri passed, Erwitt is the largest, most protean and outsized talent there is when it comes to framing life in little 2x3 aspect-ratio rectangles. Sardonic, self-deprecating, and (although it's hard to believe) actually kinda old, he ain't hot, particularly, but he's hip, and gawd knows we need his sense of humor and humanness. He's done it all, and he keeps doing it, and nobody does it better. Go, dog, go.

Disagree enough to want to nominate an alternate? Leave your comment below, and please don't forget the "why?" part.


Random Excellence

Jill Freedman


The '70s Quietly Live On

Jeez, talk about yer trapped in amber. Not only did Bob Dylan hit #1 (with the decidedly old-fashioned sounding Modern Times), not only did Neil Young release a protest album (Living With War), but did anybody have any idea that Bob Seger, Elton John, Peter Frampton, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and J. J. Cale (together, no less), and Meat Loaf all released new albums in the last year? Were there any ripples in the pond when the Who (minus Entwistle and Moon, of course, since they're, um, dead) released their first studio album in 22 years? Fine, but it's all trumped by this: there is a new Cat Stevens album out. No kidding. Under his not-so-new Islamic name, Yusuf Islam. (It's called An Other Cup).

Who knew? Apart from the first two, I hadn't heard about any of this. The closest thing I've heard to the '70s lately is Röyksopp on that Geico caveman ad and Sam Roberts on vinyl....

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, looking nervously over shoulder for Fleetwood Mac

Sunday, November 26, 2006

On Flatbeds

Digital solutions for film lovers—Flat bed scanner fustrations

by Ajaxnetphoto

A question I am frequently asked—"what flat bed scanner do you recommend I should buy?"

This is a nightmare of a question and one which is not easily answered without first responding with the question "what do you know about image post processing and pre-press?", followed, usually, in my case, by the whole book preamble on the history of photography. It serves little purpose. Most individuals in my experience of this subject, are impulse buyers who have swallowed the manufacturer carrot and purchase on the basis of product appearance and little understanding of the mechanics or specification. By the time I have gotten to Niepce, listeners are already bored stiff. You know the glazed eye look....

This aside, there are novices with a genuine interest and limited budgets to spend. So here goes....


Posted by: OREN GRAD, tip o' the hat to Colin Jago

Totally Random Notes, Dept.

I can't even say "three times fast" three times fast.


We Need a "Histogram Mode" for Camera Exposure

I was reading a nice article called "My Year With Digital Cameras" by Dave Beckerman, recommended to me by a reader called Wituniasty (thanks, W.), when I came across this paragraph:

And so—I ran into another digital issue that irked me. I was using the Canon 20D and I always had trouble with burnt-out highlights. I was always looking at the histogram to see if I had lost any data with a spike at the right side. So eventually you find yourself shooting 1/3 or 2/3rds of a stop under, just to be on the safe side—though what you really want is to approach the edge of the histogram cliff without falling over.

And the thought hit me like a eureka moment: why not have an exposure mode on cameras that simply puts all the highlight information just to the left of the right-hand side on the histogram?

I can think of a lot of technical reasons why this might be difficult, as I'm sure you can. Mainly that the histogram is an analysis function (post-exposure) and and exposure is a metering function (pre-exposure), and, second, that the mirror gets in the way of integrating the two. Fine, but camera engineers are remarkably clever folks, and they could get there if they tried.

It's what we need, anyway.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about (histogram, schmistogram), try this. When you open up one of your pictures in ACR, here's what it might look like:

Now I don't know about you, but I think the first thing pretty much everybody does is to take the "Exposure" slider and slam it all the way over to the left:

So that the picture looks like this:

...Which gives you a quick, positive, visual read (wherever a bright area remains) on where in the picture you allowed your highlights to blow out when you took the pictures. Meaning, for me, that if any of these areas are prominent or important (the cheeks and left forearm of the kid in front in this shot), these are going to be the touchy areas you're going to be struggling with during all the rest of the processing procedure, because those are the areas where you don't have enough information in the file.

The ideal, of course, is not to have any blown highlights at all—in Dave's words, "what you really want is to approach the edge of the histogram cliff without falling over."

It would be cool if the camera could be set to do that natively.


Comment by Carl Weese: Huh? "Take the 'Exposure' slider and slam it all the way over to the left"? Why would you do that? If you click on the Exposure slider while holding down the Option key, Photoshop shows you all the burned out highlights in a field of black. Slide the exposure to the left until the clipped areas merge into the black field and you've compensated. In the same way if the file is underexposed you can Option click the Exposure slider and move it to the right until clipping occurs, then back off just enough to get rid of the clipping. This is how ACR was designed to be used....

Mike replies: Well, you learn something new every day. Although I did figure out why I've never used this particular trick...when I hit the option key on my (non-Apple, non-standard) keyboard, it brings up a nice, bright display of which apps I have open at the moment. You know what they say: Oh well. When I tried it with the other option key, however, it worked. Thanks Carl.

Featured Comment by dcs: I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a sensor with enough dynamic range that I wouldn't have to worry about clipping the highlights and exposing to the right.

Having an exposure mode that keeps the histogram just to the left of clipping seems like a hack to get around the limitations in current sensor design. I imagine we'll see better sensors before any kind of exposure mode like that.

At least I hope so.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Four Slices of Pumpkin Pie, and Mirror Blackout Too

by Oren Grad

Thanks to all who responded to yesterday's little trivia quiz. An extra slice of virtual* pumpkin pie to readers Hank, Irv Williams, David Goldfarb and Paul who figured it out. It's true that there have been other large format technical cameras, SLRs and even TLRs. But I was thinking of an entirely different class of camera: the Polaroid conversion, and in particular those Polaroid conversions that result in a 4x5 camera with a combined, coupled range/viewfinder. All four of our pie-winners mentioned the Littman 45 Single, but Polaroid conversions are offered commercially by Dean Jones and by Eastcamtech as well, and it's also been a favorite hack for do-it-yourselfers.

I'm embarrassed to have forgotten these as I was writing the post, because I've actually been playing with a 110B conversion myself, and it's a memorably quirky critter. Then there's the, shall we say, fascinating history and culture of these things. Worth a full post sometime, perhaps.

I also wanted to pick up on David Goldfarb's point about mirror (or shutter) blackout. I didn't mean to imply that it's impossible to make good portraits with a Graflex. As implied by David's comment, as you gain experience with a particular SLR and its characteristic time lag, you learn to anticipate.

It is a different working "feel", though, and there's an element of personal preference in that. In my 35mm snapshooting, I've come to really dislike the mirror blackout of an SLR. For many years now I've gone pretty much all rangefinder, except for special purposes. But I don't know whether that will carry over to large format. Once I have the Gowlandflex tuned up, I'll dust off a quarter-plate Graflex that's been biding its time in the Asylum and set up a direct comparison. We'll see...

*Or real, should we ever meet in person.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Why Not Scanned Film?

Scanned film is sort of a worst-of-both-worlds scenario, with a few exceptions:

a) you want the pictures on film for archival longevity (not an automatic advantage with color materials, esp. color neg);

b) you know you might also want to make conventional prints (also not an automatic decision, since I know at least one photographer who burns digital images to film and then prints them conventionally);

c) you need your new pictures to match your old ones, which you'll be reprinting from scanned negs.

The disadvantage of scanning is that it's easy to get a mediocre scan but almost crazy-making (well, for me, anyway) to make a really good scan (using an older 35mm film scanner. You might have better luck with sheet film and one of the newest Epson pro flatbeds, which are rumored to do very well with sheet film).

The principle advantages of digital are 1. instant, faster-than-Polaroid visual feedback, 2. no per-image cost, and 3. no processing labor requirements. To give up all three of those advantages and add in the disadvantages of scanning would logically require that you have one of the explicit purposes mentioned (a., b., or c.) in mind.

I suppose there's a fourth reason, d) you like the feel of the old hair shirt, although I would question even that, because unlike the case with many alt-proc methods your work isn't badged with the hair-shirt logo....

I can name one more reason: highlight gradation. Scanning B&W or chromogenic film might be better than straight digital capture in this regard, and the Fuji S3's SuperCCD SR II sensor promises greater dynamic range, which may in some cases improve gradation; however, I question whether there is actually any way to get the rich highlight gradation of traditional B&W materials with any sort of digital setup. At any rate, I'd have to see it before I believe it.

I say this as someone who was an early champion of hybrid wet/dry methods and as someone who still periodically mulls over going back to 35mm Tri-X, scanned and then printed digitally, for reasons a. and c.


Featured Comment by Nicholas Hartmann: I found that scanning allowed me to pull more shadow detail out of a given negative than I could ever obtain with an enlarger, but often at the cost of compressed, pasty-looking highlights. In my experience, scanning was ideal for inorganic materials—landscapes, cityscapes, stone walls, architecture, etc.—shot in relatively low, flat light, i.e. thin negatives with little contrast. It yielded poor results for portraits and for any negative with appreciable density: a "correctly" exposed negative that would "fall" onto the paper all too often produced nasty, compressed, blotchy skin tones.

Nicholas Hartmann, Italy—Gubbio, Via Galleotti

So I have on my wall several pictures of old stone streets in Italian hill towns, scanned from negatives in which the thin parts would print under the enlarger as a sea of mud, that look absolutely terrific. But since I seem to have drifted very far away from pictorialism, and now care mostly about accumulating pictures of people so that I can be reminded some day of what they looked like at a particular time in the past, I find that digital capture, even using a small digicam sensor at, say, 7 megapixels, is ideal: much faster, much better results in terms of being able to fine-tune everything very quickly with a RAW converter, and more than adequate resolution for the 4x6" prints that I am now making. I especially don't miss spending literally hours of time getting rid of all the dust spots that I could so much more easily see on the scans—and therefore could not resist removing.

Featured Comment #2 by Mike Peters: I shoot with an EOS 1ds Mk2 for all of my commercial clients and for myself I shoot with either a Hasselblad or a 4x5 and color negative. I've been shooting for 30 years, scanning for 12, and shooting digital professionally since the release of the original EOS 1d.

I have to say that shooting digi is far easier to deal with than film when it comes to being productive under deadline. You can shoot anywhere from iso 100-3200 and get incredible results and images almost always look like they were shot with a larger format.

However, with digi, tonality and resolution are pretty much determined by the chip in your camera. I shoot raw exclusively with a pretty darn good piece of technology and fully expolore the limits of the medium on a daily basis.

My experience is that I can get much more from a color neg than from a raw file, if the neg is scanned properly with a good scanner. You cannot get all that a neg has to offer with any flatbed. For my own shooting, I use fuji z800 and have no problem getting good highlight or shadow details. I can scan these 6x6 negs at a resolution that allows uninterpolated printing 30 inches square with a film scanner at 4000dpi. I use a 1500$ Microtek 120tf, scan raw using silverfast, and get images of equal quality to an Imacon.

On the other hand, scanning is labor and time intensive, but when you are done, you have a perfect hi-res file that is ready for anything. The learning curve is steep, much steeper than shooting with a digital camera, but the results can be much more rewarding in the end if you take the time to learn how to do it correctly.

Black Friday

Today is "Black Friday" in America, so-called because it's the day that retail businesses go from the red to the black for the year. It's the biggest shopping day of the year; economists estimate that between midnight last night and midnight tonight, Americans will spend more than 27 billion dollars, or about $90 for every breathing homo sapiens sapiens in the land, the invalid, infant, and immigrant included. Naturally—although I'll eventually buy my loved ones Christmas gifts like everybody else—I'm celebrating the day by staying home and spending nothing.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Peter for the link

UPDATE: Turns out I'm wrong about Black Friday being the biggest shopping day of the year. It ranks among the top days in terms of shopping traffic, but the biggest day in terms of sales is more commonly the last Saturday before Christmas.

According to statistics published by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the top shopping days for the years 1993 through 2002 were:
  • 2002: Saturday, Dec. 21
  • 2001: Saturday, Dec. 22
  • 2000: Saturday, Dec. 23
  • 1999: Saturday, Dec. 18
  • 1998: Saturday, Dec. 19
  • 1997: Saturday, Dec. 20
  • 1996: Saturday, Dec. 21
  • 1995: Saturday, Dec. 23
  • 1994: Friday, Dec. 23
  • 1993: Thursday, Dec. 23
For those years, "Black Friday" held the following positions in the ICSC's rankings of year's busiest shopping days:
  • 2002: #4
  • 2001: #6
  • 2000: #5
  • 1999: #8
  • 1998: #8
  • 1997: #7
  • 1996: #5
  • 1995: #7
  • 1994: #8
  • 1993: #8

Every Picture Tells a Story

by Ctein

Recently I talked to two photographers about organizing their photos into books. Having been through this five times choosing the photos for and laying out my monographs I've learned some tricks.

You'll likely have more wonderful photos than should reasonably go in the book. There must be winnowing. How can you kill some of your children?

First look for duplicates, photos that seem to say the same thing. Be brutal about choosing one and discarding the rest, unless repetition is part of the narrative flow.

Still too many pix? Be merciless. You don't really love them equally. Only some are "must-haves," as in "I will just curl up and die if that photo isn't in the book." Take your stack of photos and run through them fast. You're after the photos you don't even have to think twice about, that you just know must be included when you look at them.

Don't linger; go with artist's instinct. Every time your little heart goes pitta-pat, put that photo in the YES pile.

Next is narrative flow: what the photos say when viewed in sequence. I don't mean a linear, monolithic prose narrative; it might read more to you like a poem or free association or a musical composition. Whatever; your photos tell the viewer a "story" (for some meaning of the word).

Lay down a big white sheet on the floor. Start laying down your must-have photos, the ones are in, come hell or high water, unless you find yourself backed into an absolutely inextricable aesthetic corner. It will happen on occasion. Do a scattershot layout—which ones do you feel should be near the beginning or end of the book. What's your opener going to be? How about the closer?

Stand back and see the entire book at once and how one photo leads into the next. Stare at, rearrange, play with them until you figure out what that story will be. Then, fill in the holes: where your "story" has gaps, add photos from your original stack that bridge them.

None of this is original with me; in fact, most of what I know of narrative flow I learned from my friend Laurie Toby Edison. I'm just passing on the wisdom. Spread it around, willya? And have fun!

Every picture tells a story. A whole bunch of them relate a narrative flow. Here's the sequence from my monograph Chasing the Sun.

Posted by CTEIN

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Tryptophan Day

Happy Thanksgiving to all fellow celebrants. And hey, there's an article about me in the local paper today! Although, for the record, I didn't say it was the family's "badge of honor"—I said I thought it was a badge of honor in the 18th and 19th centuries. Kind of a different thing.

Off to feast. I'll be back tomorrow.


A Big Camera

by Oren Grad

The latest new/old toy to find its way to Oren's Camera Asylum is a Gowlandflex 4x5 twin-lens reflex.

Why would anybody want a 4x5 TLR? It's a specialized tool that solves a specific problem in large format portraiture and candid photography. With a traditional view camera, there's a delay between the time you frame and focus the picture and the time you make the exposure, because of the need to remove the focusing hood or viewer and insert a film holder. It's easy to miss a fleeting expression, or to have the subject drift out of the narrow zone of focus of a large format lens used at a wide aperture.

There are other partial solutions. A technical or press camera with a rangefinder, such as a Linhof Technika or a Graphic, allows you to focus with the film in place. However, the rangefinder on these cameras is separate from the viewfinder, and it's often necessary to reposition the camera for final framing after using the rangefinder to focus. An SLR like the Graflex also allows you to focus with the film in place, but the view through the finder is blacked out at the moment of exposure because of the mirror action.

A TLR is the only solution that combines all three conveniences: focusing with the film holder in place, making the exposure without further shifting of camera or viewing position after focus, and viewing the image at the time of exposure. It's not surprising that the creator of the Gowlandflex, Peter Gowland, made his living as a glamor and portrait photographer.

This Gowlandflex is an early model with a body made of wood and leather, like an old Graphic. The depth of the body means that the shortest focal length it can accommodate is 180mm; that's a long normal for 4x5, consistent with the camera's intended use. I contacted Peter to find out about getting a spare ground glass and an extra lensboard. He looked up the serial number and reported that the camera had originally been sold in June, 1965, at a price of $560, including a Schneider Xenar viewing lens and Symmar taking lens. The handy Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator (link from here) tells me that this corresponds to roughly $3600 in today's money.

The 210mm Xenar is still there, but the Symmar must have been separated from the camera long ago. The photographer who sold the camera to me used it with a modern 210mm Nikkor-W. I'll probably try it first with a 210mm Rodenstock Sironar-N that I have on hand. Because the actual focal length of a lens is often slightly different from its marked focal length, it will be important to test whether the match between the old Xenar and the Sironar-N is close enough to allow for accurate focus across a useful distance range. If not, I'll need to look for a different combination.

In the meantime, best wishes to all for a turkey even bigger than my Gowlandflex, and a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday!

(More info on Peter's cameras, including Gowlandflex models, here.)

Afternoon Update and Trivia Quiz: In writing this post, I overlooked another 4x5 camera type that offers all three conveniences (focusing with the holder in place, combined viewing and focusing, and no finder blackout). An extra slice of pumpkin pie for the T.O.P. reader who can identify the cameras I have in mind.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The HP is Coming

I'm pleased (no, really, actually pleased, which is not an easy feeling to elicit from a jaded equipment reviewer) to report that the HP B9180 is on the way—I just received confirmation this morning.

I'll be writing a two-part review of the $699 pigment-ink printer for the English Black & White Photography magazine. The first part will cover the development and features of the printer, a general user report, and color printmaking; the second article will focus exclusively on the unit's black-and-white printing capabilities.

The B9180 has the potential to be a minor milestone in photography. One of the new generation of wide-gamut pigment-ink printers, it's the so-called "wide-format" or "wide-carriage" prosumer version of HP's new Z-Series (say it the European way, "zed series") professional printers, which are the culmination of an historically huge R&D investment. According to Henry Wilhelm of Wilhelm Imaging Research, the leading independent laboratory for color print permanence, it provides print permanence as good as, or better than, any other print medium in the history of color photography. And it's an accessibly-priced product, shrewdly judged to fit into an optimal slot in the market. Just based on the specs, it's going to be suitable for anybody from well-heeled casual photo-buffs all the way up to semi-pros and serious artists and even the odd pro or three. Clearly, HP intends it to be better than any cheaper printer and cheaper than any better printer. To me it just seems to have promise as a serious printmaker's tool. On both counts, we'll see.

Having high expectations is, of course, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's true, I'm predisposed to like it; on the other hand, I'm far more susceptible to being disappointed than if I were to come to it with no particular hopes in mind. I think I have the experience as a reviewer to balance my appraisal anyway. As ever, my strategy is just to be honest with you, so you can see for yourself where I'm coming from and adjust your judgment accordingly.

Although I won't be posting the complete reviews here, I'll post a series of informal updates as I go along, to keep you apprised of my investigations. This is gonna be fun.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

David Pogue Riles People Up

David Pogue's excellent adventure.


Mike Comments: As several people have pointed out, both privately to me and in public comments, Mr. Pogue's trial, though interesting as far as it goes, doesn't appear to mean much. The best interpretation of his test methodology, which he's not entirely clear about, is that he's taken one 13-MP file and down-rezzed it to sizes equivalent to 8 and 5 MP, then made prints of the same size—hard to tell from the above, but they look to be somewhere on the order of 15" to 20" square, something in there.

The real issue is not just "5 MP is as good as 13 MP"; it's a good deal more subtle than that. As is fairly well known by now, a number of factors play a part in image quality and digital image enlargeability. Not only the size of the sensor and the pixel pitch (i.e., the size of each individual photosite), not only at what point and to what degree Bayer interpolation is applied and how the up-rezzing or down-rezzing is implemented, not only the size of the final print and the interaction between the printer's resolution and droplet size and that of the picture file, but even the subject matter...a picture of a baby, for instance, has a much lower demand for resolution than, say, a landscape with a lot of bare trees at infinity distance. As we know, when you up-rez digital files you lose detail, but—unlike the case with film—you maintain perfect smoothness in areas of broad color. It stands to reason, then, that pictures that depend on areas of broad color will fare better when up-rezzed than pictures that depend on fine detail.

As with film, all the determining factors tend to define not one predetermined, set "quality," but a range of possibilities, from "fine" to "not-so-good." And all those ranges overlap. Mr. Pogue's trial is one possibility; another might be to make broad-daylight pictures of the same subject with a 1/1.8" 5-MP sensor digicam, an APS-C 8-MP entry-level DSLR, and a full-frame 24x36mm 13-MP sensor Canon 5D, then make three prints from each: one 4x6", one 13x17", and one 40x60". And then perhaps do the same, but with pictures shot at 1600 ISO. With exponentially more visual data to evaluate, it might not be possible to get good survey results from passers-by on the street, but you'd see a bit more clearly what the ranges of possibility are from each sensor.

And, I would venture to guess, the fact that ordinary people couldn't readily tell the difference between the 4x6" broad-daylight prints from the 1/1.8" 5-MP sensor and the full-frame 13-MP sensor would not be quite enough to conclude that 5 MP is as good as 13 MP. Nor would it be entirely defensible to compare the 40x60" ISO-1600 prints and conclude that 13 MP is better than 5 MP for all people and all purposes!

Also, it's not wise to forget the hidden "equipment" each of us now uses that is just as important as the camera: our software, coupled with our abilities to use it. A skilled technician with inferior software might be able to make better prints than a newbie with Photoshop. Even "leveling the playing field" by giving all the files to an experienced technician to print wouldn't exactly be fair, because what owner of a 5-MP digicam would be using the exact same software and printer as a high-end DSLR photographer?

The upshot, I think, is that it's impossible to compare "just" megapixels and nothing else, because every possible way you could choose to conduct such a comparison subsumes several other choices and assumptions. And those choices and assumptions will determine, as much or more so than the simple megapixel count, the outcome of the test. —MJ

Altman R.I.P.

Robert Altman died last night. He was one of the last of the true auteurs—the word referring to an artist who "authors" his films, creating them as if they were personal works of art. He directed as many flops as hits, if not more, but even some of his truly obscure films remain more worthy than a lot of ordinary, "successful" Hollywood fare.

He had his first commercial success with the anti-war film MASH, which was really about Viet Nam—although the book that inspired it and the TV sitcom that it inspired were both clearly set in the Korean war, nowhere in the movie does it mention which war it is, and Altman says it was the studio that made him put a disclaimer at the beginning establishing the setting as the Korean war. It remains a strange, opaque experimental film, the first film to incorporate what would later become the hard-drinking Altman's hallmarks—improvisation by the actors, overlapping dialogue, long, shambling tracking shots, and lots of loose ends and discontinuity. "Our mandate was bad taste," Altman said of MASH. "If anybody had a joke in the worst taste, it had a better chance of getting into the film, because nothing was in worse taste than that war itself."

Everyone has their own favorite Altman film. Mine is the brilliant, beautifully dark anti-western "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie as doomed lovers in a raw frontier town whose triumphs are emotionally gripping but decidedly Pyrrhic. (With cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond and music by Leonard Cohen. Pictured here are Beatty and Christie on the cover of Cohen's 7" single of songs from the film.) I'd personally nominate the farcical musical "Popeye" with Robin Williams, from 1980, as his worst, though that's of no account.

Bob Altman was also a rare bird in that he was a film director who was forthrightly anti-Hollywood—not an easy role to play even in the '60s and '70s, much less today. He was hugely popular with actors, who he both admired and trusted—his film "The Player," about the movie industry, from the early '90s, features walk-on and cameo appearances by a staggering number of famous actors, actresses, and other celebrities (it also contains what is supposedly one of the longest opening shots in film history). He even blamed Hollywood for 9/11, saying that Hollywood action-adventure films virtually serve as training films for terrorist acts, or at least as their inspiration. "Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they'd seen it in a movie," he said.

Like both Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorcese, Altman received five Oscar nominations for Best Director but never won (he was given an honorary Oscar last year, easily the high point of the ceremonies). His most recent success was "Gosford Park" from 2000, and he worked right up until the end—his last film was the recently released "Prairie Home Companion," and he was scheduled to start shooting his next one in February. Robert Altman was 81.


The picture at the upper right is "Robert Altman, London, 1993" by Steve Pyke (used with permission). Steve tells me his favorite Altman film is "California Split."

Monday, November 20, 2006

North American Photobloggers Meetup

The North American Photobloggers have announced the 2nd annual North America Photobloggers Meetup. Exact location is yet to be determined, but it will be held in Chicago, Illinois on the weekend of April 27–29, 2007. The Meetup is a friendly gathering for photobloggers past, present, and future, friends, fans, and anyone else who wants to come. All are welcome and attendance is free.

Friday Night: Meet and greet
Saturday Morning: The Bean, group photo, break into groups for Photo Walks
Saturday Night: Group exhibit / 2007 Photobloggies announced/ print swap
Sunday Morning: Brunch

[Times and locations TBA]

You can see a list of some of the people who will be attending at the link. If you're interested, bookmark the link and check back closer to the even for more detailed information.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with help from CHANTAL STONE

Bill Ford and the Siren Song of the Cash Cow

I first experienced image stabilization (IS) in a pair of binoculars, and I was suitably impressed. I was out on my late Uncle Cam's "stinkpot" (powerboat), watching a sailboat race, and he handed me his then-new Canon IS binoculars. As if by magic, the typical visual jitter of high-power binoculars was eliminated—the magnified image of my cousin Chris's eldest boy, also named Cam and a highly skilled champion sailor, was as steady as if I were seeing him with normal eyesight.

(Note that most companies have their own name for the feature—Nikon's is "VR" for vibration reduction. I'll refer to it here as IS, generically.)

The feature soon made its way into SLRs, also compliments of Canon. I believe the first IS lens was a 75–300mm consumer telephoto zoom, although I'm just going from memory. A couple of years later I remember reading a fascinating insider account of how MITI and the Japanese government brokered a deal essentially forcing Canon to share some of its technology with Nikon. I don't know if that included the IS technology specifically, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting.

Underneath most camera technology of Japanese origin is a complicated web of patents and trade secrets and an equally (if not more) complicated web of nationalistic cultural customs regarding the sharing and trading of those patents and technologies. I'm not privvy to the details of who owns what with regard to image stabilization, but, clearly, the feature is making its way into the mainstream. Several manufacturers have IS-type lenses and there are now a number of digicams sporting some version of the feature.

Some people don't need it much and therefore don't care for it. It's particularly important, however, to my way of working, since I like "available dark" yet don't like tripods; I wrote more about this in my review of the Konica-Minolta 7D in Black & White Photography magazine (U.K.) a few issues back.

Like so many technical issues in digital photography (in my view, anyway), IS is both partly resolved and partly still provisional and subject to change. That it's here to stay is undisputed. Whether in-camera or in-lens variants will continue to co-exist or whether one strategy will eventually win out over the other hasn't been decided yet. Proponents (read "owners and users") of in-lens IS point out that it works better in a long lens than a long lens on an in-the-body IS camera does. The opposite point is just as valid: by making an IS lens out of any lens, the in-the-body scheme is the only way to get IS with many shorter lenses, faster lenses, and most primes.

As I wonder whether "The Big Two," Nikon and Canon, will ever move to in-the-body IS, I'm reminded of a situation from the auto industry. Recently, as you've probably heard, Ford Chairman Bill Ford brought in more new management from outside to help run the company, and, with sales of big SUVs and pickups in the tank due to the high gas price scares of last summer, and losses mounting dramatically, Ford made Draconian cuts to its workforce and closed several plants, and Toyota overtook it as the #2 automaker in the U.S. The funny thing about that is that I distinctly remember an incident in about 1996 or 1997 it must have been, when this selfsame Bill Ford made some derogatory comments about the wastefulness and environmental unfriendliness of his company's largest SUVs and light trucks, suggesting that Ford shouldn't be making them. It was reported as a faux-pas, as if the wet-behind-the-ears young family scion didn't know what he was talking about, and he was reportedly quickly silenced by his money-men, who reminded him not so gently that big SUVs were the company's cash cow.

So how does that look now? If Ford the company had followed the impulse and direction of Ford the chairman back then, it seems to me that Ford would be in much less hot water now—and Bill Ford would be looking like a visionary.

Business is always a minefield, but one recurring motif is that when companies get too wedded to their cash cows, sometimes it misleads them into adopting the wrong strategies. Pentax, for instance, was the leading SLR maker of the 1960s, but it stuck with its trusty M42 screwmount for too long, and the makers of coupled bayonet-mount cameras overtook it. The same thing happened to Olympus when it decided in the mid 1980s not to make the OM system autofocus.

Anyway, my "educated guess" is that Canon and Nikon are happy for the time being to continue to implement IS in their lenses, because they are doubtless making more money off the feature that way. But they must also be nervous, too. Sony has not yet earned the right to make the "Big Two" the "Big Three," but it's got the potential—and it inherited from Konica-Minolta all the patents and implementation experience of in-the-body IS for DSLRs. I imagine there are people inside Nikon and Canon who are advocating that those companies develop in-the-body IS DSLRs, and there are probably other people in both companies telling them to stop rocking the boat because the in-lens versions are turning more profit.

Time will tell who ends up looking like the visionaries.

Photo credit: Bill of the ilk behind the wheel of a not-so-new Ford, from Le Blog Auto.


In Passing

I just got a catalog in the mail from B&H Photo Video in New York city. I note that in the entire 397-page catalog (although it does include things like audio-visual aids, home electronics, and keyboards), there are only two pages devoted to darkroom equipment.

I have to say I never expected the situation to change quite as quickly as it actually has.


Featured Comment by Bill: As a newspaper photographer I've spent 30 years in the darkroom printing in B&W and color. The newspaper has been digital for years, but my personal work was still silver-based. Since gaining access to an Epson R2400 I've finally reached the point where I really need to question whether the darkroom is neccesary.

I also teach a photo class or two at a university. Like I tell my students, the darkroom is pretty much for artists, cranks and wierdos. I consider myself part of all 3 catagories, but I have not made a silver print in nearly a year. The 120 B&W film I still shoot is now scanned and then printed on the Epson. I too, never thought digital would move so quickly.

Featured Comment by Gary Nylander: I echo Bill's featured comments. I have been a photographer for newspapers for the past 30 years or so also. The paper I now work for has been digital for the past 5 years. I would never want to go back to film for shooting my daily newspaper assignments. I like shooting digital. I also enjoy shooting black and white film on my time off though, mostly view cameras. I have been making prints with my Epson 4800 printer, which I really like using. I used to have a full darkroom in my house; now I have a small area in my laundry room for processing my sheet film. I quite honestly don't miss the long hours standing over trays of chemistry. I too would never have thought that digital would have made such a quick transition.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Yarn Duck and Other Local News

I had to roll out of bed and drive to the grocery store first thing this morning, because my son (teenagers!) neglected to tell me that he'd used the last of the dog food last night. Then I had a blueberry protein shake for breakfast, caught up on some chores, and settled down to watch football. I kept flipping between the Three Stooges and the Green Bay Packers, and I started to doze off. In my sleepy, stupified state, my mind started conflating the two programs, and confused images started popping into my head, like Larry jumping offsides (dressed in a suit of armor) and Brett Favre tip-toeing up behind an opposing player with a big piece of lumber, trying to conk him out.

I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods, but in mine, we've apparently made a group decision to ignore the traditional sanction against Christmas advertisements before Thanksgiving. I wasn't consulted. But everything's Christmas already—the stories on the news, especially. The piles of crap atop the aisle dividers in the local drugstore are so high they block out the light from the fluorescents and make the aisles seem dark. It's like we just have to forget all about the thankful holiday and get right to the greedy one. I have a new defensive proposition: no Christmas stuff until after Halloween. That one still seems to be in force. I wonder how long it will last?

For the record, I can't imagine wanting any material thing enough to stampede my way into a store climbing over, shoving, and elbowing fellow shoppers as I went. I suppose I'd do it for food if my son were starving, but the thought of doing it for a Play Station 3 is completely alien to me. Then again, I somehow live without cable, a gaming system, or a cellphone, so I guess I'm not exactly the ideal consumer of electronics. Rioters are preferable.

Meanwhile, back online: The Online Photographer turns one soon. A week from tomorrow, to be exact. As part of the gala celebration, all contributors will be flown to Paris for lunch at Maxim's, where the champagne will flow like water, and everyone will be given gold-plated limited-edition Linhofs and showered with praise. Well, not really. However, to mark our birthday, next Monday we are publishing T.O.P.'s list of the The Ten Best Living Photographers. Please tell all your friends, and please check in on Monday so you can help disagree with our list.

The defunct yarn duck, after a months-long second career. The pale green dacron seen at lower left is in local demand.

In other developments, the Yarn Duck is giving up the ghost. I have a sneaking affection for the Yarn Duck—clearly knitted as a cuddle-toy for little kiddies, it has survived an astounding second career as a favorite tug-of-war and fetch-it toy for my pit bull. Lulu, the dog, is as strong as a chimp (chimps, as you may or may not know, are five times as strong as NFL linemen, although I guess if I have to explain my simile it means it's not a very good one), and the Yarn Duck has absorbed incredible abuse. Alas, the Yarn Duck has a mortal wound in her side now, and is losing her stuffing. Lulu is very fond of the Yarn Duck too—when we put it away where she can't reach it, Lulu carries one orange yarn foot around in her mouth (I put it in the picture, there on the left) like Linus with his blanket.

Finally—speaking of stuffing—a local mystery was solved the other day. Something's been eating away at the cushion of an old wicker divan we have on our back deck. This has had me mystified, since I'm pretty sure the stuffing is dacron, inedible even for desperately hungry critters. The mystery was solved when I witnessed a large squirrel scurrying haltingly across the deck with a giant poof of pale green dacron in its mouth. It stopped, groomed the poof of fuzz into a neat pellet, and proceeded on. Somewhere, close by, there are some unusually well-insulated squirrel nests, in a happenin' shade of green.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON inspired by Monkeysquirrel

Friday, November 17, 2006

Outstanding in Their Field

On the right, Mike Johnston in a relatively serious mood; on the left, Phil Davis, the author of Beyond the Zone System, The Basic Photo Book, and the college-level textbook Photography.

Rumor has it that Phil is writing an article on BTZS for an upcoming issue of View Camera magazine; we'll alert you when we know more.

Photo by: OREN GRAD

Toy Mania (con't.)

Chantal's post about toycam photographers inspired our friend Dennis Mook to start a Holga site, and look what Eolake found—pictures taken with an organizer.


Everybody Chimps

Chimping: The Real Story


Museum Guards in Derby Hats

A big new retrospective of the work of surrealist René Magritte will open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Anderson Building next Sunday. But it won't be just any Magritte show.

The installation for "Magritte and Contemporary Art: the Treachery of Images" was designed by artist John Baldessari. "The entrance will re-create 'The Unexpected Answer,' a Magritte painting of a door with a cutout silhouette of a ghostly figure," notes the L.A. Times. "Visitors will walk through the open silhouette into galleries carpeted with a woven version of a Magritte-style blue sky with fluffy white clouds. The ceiling, where the sky should be, will be papered with images of freeway intersections. A big square window will be covered with a transparency of the New York skyline. The guards will wear derby hats."

The show features 65 paintings by Magritte and 65 works by 31 different modern and postmodern artists whose work was influenced by Magritte.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON with a tip o' the hat to D.E.

LightZone 2.0 Launched

The shipping version of LightZone 2.0 (it's been in beta for several months) was announced yesterday.

A powerful RAW converter that handles an expanded list of cameras and proprietary RAW formats in see-through fashion, LightZone is also a sophisticated image processing program. It can either be used in place of Photoshop or in addition to it. You can choose versions that integrate into Lightroom, Aperture, or other programs, or use it as a stand-alone.

LightZone has a large number of innovative and unique features, including the fact that it works in "stacks" that automates a "layers"-like function (preventing the accidental degradation of any file), always works in 16-bit color, and opens and uses RAW files as easily as TIFFs or JPEGs. However, the centerpieces of the interface and the user's experience of the application are the ZoneMapper and ZoneFinder, both of which are inspired by and based on the Zone System of Ansel Adams. No other program has anything like either one. Both tools are serious fun to use and can get addictive after you start to get used to what you can do with them.

LightZone is the primary sponsor of The Online Photographer. The new ad (top left), leads to a Holiday Special page that will give you a 20% discount on any LightZone program.


Thursday, November 16, 2006


Ya just gotta love an honest man.


Amazon Store Beta

Every time you buy a book on Amazon through a link on this website, we get paid for referring you—it's a program called "Amazon Associates." Amazon is now trying a new way to leverage sales, allowing individual Associates to construct their own virtual "stores." The project is currently in beta.

Frankly, it's of very limited usefulness to us as it stands, for two reasons. First, because, for the time being, each "store" can have only nine items in it. The only way I would see this as being useful to TOP readers is if it were to function as a sort of permanent but ever-changing list of endorsed products—chiefly, books—but naturally there would need to be a functionally unlimited number of slots available in order for that to work. Certainly more than nine, at least. A second problem is that not all of the products I've endorsed on TOP, or want to endorse, are available through Amazon at all, although I suppose Amazon can't be blamed for that.

I don't think that this is anything we're very likely to continue, but if you'd like to see the interface and a few of the "recommended" products I've chosen so far, you can either click on the "TOP Store" link in the left-hand column or go here.

Let me know what you think—if, that is, you care at all. (I know, a lot of people won't.)


Toys! Toys!

Speaking of toycams, as Chantal was yesterday in "Photobloggers Exposed," don't forget The Toycam Handbook, a 112-page, 4-color, 6x9" book you can buy on Lulu.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

'Camera Arts' Dirt Cheap

Camera Arts magazine is currently running a really good subscription offer in anticipation of its 10th Anniversary. Founded by Steve Simmons of View Camera magazine and named by unofficial advisor and regular columnist Jim Hughes (editor of the original, long-gone, early 1980s Camera Arts of sainted memory), the current magazine was purchased a few years ago by longtime editor Tim Anderson. Tim has done lots of good things: he's redesigned and reformatted the mag, started an excellent e-newsletter, is about to initiate a blog, and has some really good stuff in the way of editorial content coming up. From now until I don't know when (but not very long) you can get a year's subscription to the print magazine for a mere fifteen bucks.

No-brainer, if you ask me. An elegant, digest-sized, perfect-bound magazine, CA is one of the scant handful of print magazines still worth subscribing to (I'd tell you what the others are, but this is about Camera Arts). Personally, I would subscribe to it just for the regular dose of Jim Hughes, one of the best columnists currently writing. The fact that it's one of the few magazines that remains devoted to photography as an art form makes it worth supporting too. A subscription is a decent deal at $30. At half that there ain't no good reason not to sign on. To subscribe, go to the website and click on the Limited-Time Offer link in the upper left-hand corner.

Get it while you can—and don't blame me if you miss your chance.


UPDATE: I conveyed to Tim some of the problems people are having with subscribing. He replies: "At the bottom of the page on that PDF that pops up, there is a paragraph with a link. I think it’s the first line of that paragraph. That’s where they click to get to the subscription area."

As far as Adam's comment about "leveraging TOP's muscle," a picture is worth a thousand words:


Photographers and Their Toys: Meet the Toy Polloy

by Chantal Stone

These days, everyone is shooting with a digital camera. The new Nikon or Canon, the highest megapixels, the memory cards, Photoshop this or that—this is the talk of the trade among photographers. Camera companies are ceasing production of many of their film camera bodies, and film companies have noticed a decline in sales as well. But all is not lost to the surge of the digital era. Film is not yet dead; there are still legions of purists out there who recognize the nuance, beauty, and depth that cannot be replicated with any computer program.

Among these film users are a growing group of camera enthusiasts who use toy cameras. Armed with their Holgas and Dianas and various clones, homemade pinhole cameras, or even a vintage flea market Brownie Hawkeye, these photographers have established a niche in photography. They make images that are often blurry or obscured, rich with texture and unexpected variation. Toy camera photography is on the rise.

To showcase the beauty that can be created with these odd little cameras, Kentucky-based photographer Tread (GoTreadGo) has brought together 30 Toy Camera users for an international event called Toy Polloy. On Friday, November 17, 42 images from thirty artists will be displayed at the Icehouse in Lexington.

Recently I was fortunate enough to interview Tread and a few of the talented photographers who will be featured in Toy Polloy. Here's some of what they had to say about their cameras and their art.

Chantal Stone: Tread, what is Toy Polloy?

Tread: Toy Polloy is the name for an international photography show featuring work created with toy cameras. The term is taken as a play on the phrase "hoi polloi," which is derived from the Greek meaning "the many." The term is used in a more derogatory fashion to mean "the common people." Most artists wish to be anything other than common, so Toy Polloy is that push for the toy camera photo artist to be thought of as uncommon in the current world of digital media.

Tread, Sitting This One Out

CS: How did Toy Polloy come about? Where did you get the idea?

Tread: I've been lucky enough to have my toy-camera-produced shots end up in some good gallery shows: Krappy Kamera at the Soho Photo Gallery, for instance, and Toy Joy, in Houston, as part of FotoFest. The success and professionalism of these events inspired me to try to curate a show similar in scope, but a bit different, here in my neck of the woods, Lexington, Kentucky.

CS: What is your definition of a toy camera?

Tread: The $64,000,000 question, I guess, but I'd say any camera meant to be used by a kid. Cheap, plastic, not very durable. But the primary and consistent defining characteristic is a plastic lens.

Warren Harold (That Was My Foot): Ultimately, any camera that throws control out the window is a toy camera to me. You can filter that down to any camera that has a plastic lens and/or minimal controls. Beyond the Holga and Diana, I consider a lot of the mass-market cameras of the past to be toys as well. The Brownies, Imperials, Anscos, a lot of those.

Warren Harold, Spaces In Between

CS: What is the appeal of toy cameras for you?

Tread: The appeal to me is fairly simple and probably the same as most who regularly use these cameras as a tool for artistic expression. Toy cameras capture scenes in what I term "unrealism." Most moments are not reproduced as they were; there is a quality caused by the potential of blur, vignetting and less-than-optimal framing that can be classified as dreamlike. I tend to think that the toy is merely trying to capture an image akin to how my memory pieces together a single 1/100th-of-a-second scene from my past. You can think about what you are shooting and not about the camera or controls. There is freedom there that is undeniable.

Angie Harris (Pinky Style): No pressure! Just aim and shoot, basically. Everything is accepted with toy photography.

Angie Harris, Eiffel Tower—Columbus

Chris McLemore (Fotogeneric): The ease of use is a nice appeal. I can toss the camera in my bag and not worry about damaging it. It's also nice because the camera lets me worry more about the subject than the technique. With my digital camera I am much more likely to just start shooting. I'm much more deliberate with the toy camera.

Chris McLemore, Corner of the Apple

CS: What are some of the reactions you receive when shooting with a toy cam in public settings?

Bill Vaccaro (Out Of Contxt): The latest one was when I was in the checkout line at the supermarket. One of the clerks asked if my modified blue Holga was a digital camera. Also, I've found that people are a bit looser in allowing me to take their picture when they see that I'm shooting with a crappy camera.

CS: Do you feel that there is a niche for toy camera users professionally?

Bill: Absolutely! Just look at the work of photographs like Mark Sink, Nancy Rexroth, and Susan Burnstine, just to name a few.

Bill Vaccaro, Baby Legs

Chris: Certainly. Toy cameras can produce really unique images that can have the same impact as shots taken with any other kind of camera. Powerful images will make people forget the "toy" aspect really quickly.

CS: What is it that you hope to achieve through your photography?

Warren: Joy. Corny, I know, but that's the big payoff for me. And I hope that comes through in my images. I get behind the camera to capture those all too brief moments in time that make me stop. Smile or weep, it doesn't matter. Just to feel. I truly get excited looking at a fresh roll of film for the first time. If it excites someone else, that's all gravy. I'm flattered.

Tread: If world peace and/or domination is out of the question then I'd say my main mission is to build a body of work that when looked at as a whole says just a little about how I see my world. In my world there is an obvious dichotomy. Complexity masked in simplicity. Intimacy vs. desolation; cute kids vs. discarded items or places; love vs. distance and disconnect. It has to be about the picture at the end of the day and the camera is just the tool to get to the final outcome. Photographically my main influence is Ralph Eugene Meatyard, a part-time photographer from the town where I reside who really set "art photography" on the road to where it is today. He shot his surroundings and family and friends in ways that were not snapshot-ish yet still simplistic. The mystery behind the image was always there. I try for that in my work, that mystery of what is behind the moment.

CS: There seems to be resurgence in popularity for toy cameras. How do you feel about that?

Warren: The more the merrier! I encourage everyone to get one. I think this little boom has dumped a ton of creativity into the mix. There are a lot of people out there with these things doing some amazing work, creating fantastic images. That's nothing but a load of good.

Tamara Keever (Moments of Mine): I think it's great. I think everyone should try it. It's just a lot of fun. The "click" is addictive.

Tamara Keever (untitled)

CS: Where do you find your cameras?

Angie: eBay, thrift stores, antique shops, on-line retailers.

CS: What is your favorite camera to use?

Angie: No doubt about it, my Holga…or, as I refer to her, "Miss Holga."

CS: There are a lot of little techniques and tricks that can be done in Photoshop to replicate the "look" of a toy camera image. How do you feel about that? Do you feel like it's cheating?

Tamara: Well, I think that it's fine, actually. But, I don't really understand it. If someone wants a toy camera look, and they are a photographer, they should just go out and get a toy camera. It's not like it's evil to shoot film or anything. But, after all, it's the final image that people really connect with, not how it's created. If an image is created in Photoshop, and created such that it connects with someone, then that's all that matters. There are really many ways to get a toy camera look, without using a toy camera at all.

• • •

If you find yourself in the Kentucky area this weekend, make a point of stopping by the Icehouse at 412 Cross Street in Lexington to view this spectacular display of art, talent, and passion. If a trip to the Bluegrass state is out of your reach, then choice images from Toy Polloy can be seen on the web, where FlakPhoto and Light Leaks magazine have teamed up to feature select artists from Toy Polloy in a week-long display of their work.


Previous posts in Chantal Stone's Photobloggers Exposed series:

I: Daniel Seguin, David Desjardins, Dean Sherwood
II: Christian Wagner
III: Leeroy Gribbon, Dimitrios Pananakis, Emma Townsend
IV: Gavin Mullan, Gabriel Loeb, Azhar Chougle
V: Otto Kitchens, Faustina Black, Sebastian Shuster

Featured Comment by gravitas et nugalis: I have been a krappy kamera proponent from way back. As far back as the early 70s I created a photograph for an album (vinyl) using a Pentax 110 SLR—not exactly a krappy kamera, but the results of enlarging an ASA 400 110 negative to album size could be described as "krappy."

I do however part ways with the current mainstream kk crowd in as much as they seem to have a distain for digital kks. This puzzles me inasmuch as there are many krappy digital kameras out there with plastic lens, fixed focus, low resolution, very iffy framing/viewfinders, and absolutely no control over exposure (although they do operate on a very hit-and-miss "auto" exposure). They do lack the light-leak feature.

An added feature of digital kks that most "traditional" kks lack is diminutive size and weight that makes steady hand-held photography a real challenge.

Some of my digital krappy kamera stuff

Mark Hobson, The Night Before Christmas in Au Sable Forks