Thursday, February 27, 2014

Story Telling ~ in images

Last week I spent a wonderful hour and a quarter on the phone with Brooks Jensen, one of the editors of Lenswork Magazine.  I was being interviewed for Lenswork Extended #111, wherein my Hauntings of Gothic Ghosts will be published.

Somanathapura ~ Karnataka ~ India

I've since thought a bit about our talk and want to take a moment to expand a little on what Brooks and I shared.  It seems easier to come back later and think "I could have said that better."  So this is my chance to do exactly that.

To begin with, I teasingly blamed M. Jensen for starting me down the path using photographic art as a means of telling a story.  His editorials on using portable document format (PDF) to distribute electronic copies of one's work, as well as his thoughts on photography moving in the direction of producing many related images set the tone and direction for my own images.  M. Jensen neatly conveyed the potentials in using modern technologies to express one's creativity cleanly and clearly.

He shared something with me that I think is worth repeating.  He couldn't remember who said it, but the line goes something like this.  In former times, a photographer might be known, after decades of diligent work, for perhaps 12 images.  One of which could be called "famous."

Ansel Adam's "Moonrise over Hernandez", Edward Weston's "Pepper number 30", Robert Capa's "Muerte de un miliciano", as well as Steve McCurry's "Afghan Girl" all come to mind.

Somanathapura ~ Karnataka ~ India

We then talked about how technology is no longer a barrier to image creation and how this allows current artists to explore a broader range of possibilities.  One such possibility is, as I instantly understood it, to create bodies of work.  Each collection of work consists of many images.  While each image can be individually outstanding, in total they can used to tell moving stories.

I foresee a time when a photographic artist can move beyond being known for a small collection of images to becoming known for a small collection of bodies of work.

Later in our conversation I may not have properly expressed to M. Jensen the strength of influence Lenswork Magazine has had on me.  I've read and looked at the magazine for nearly a decade.

Of all the publications, electronic and printed, Lenswork stands out for a number of reasons.  They publish photographic _art_, not just a few possibly interesting photos stuck around a large gathering of camera equipment advertisements.  Their concentration on photography as art has such a laser beam like quality that one can't help be forget about the technology (cameras, lenses, software, printers, etc.) and think long and hard about what makes a wonderful image.  There is no advertising to influence or distract from experiencing fine photography.

Somanathapura ~ Karnataka ~ India

I've been known to rile against the on-line forums which do nothing but cater to the adoration and fetish-izing of camera gear.  This is why I tend to down-play what cameras and lenses I use.  For myself, I've long ago learned these things are probably the least important aspects to image making.

The magazine sent me a collection of works by Kim Kaufman.  I was instantly thrilled and my senses were overwhelmed by the beauty of her prints.  I understand the technology she used to create these fine images, but this knowledge does nothing to over-power my initial response every time I look at them.  In fact, how she made the images means nothing.  Certainly not when you realize how drop dead gorgeous her work is.

Somanathapura ~ Karnataka ~ India

"Hauntings of Gothic Ghosts" is my second publicized collection of images.  My first collection was titled "In the Railyard".  It has been published several different ways, including being featured in Lenswork Magazine (Extended #78) as well as in Volume 3 from the Center for Fine Art Photography.

Waiting in the wings are works telling stories about alchemy and it's relation to the Roman Catholic church, further explorations into the nature and power of steam and locomotion, a new work that takes a look at 12th century Hoysala dynasty south Indian spirituality, as well as a body of work related to death and preservation.

After my talk with M. Jensen I feel more strongly compelled than ever that I'm headed "in the right direction." I can't thank him and his crew at Lenswork Magazing enough for helping hone the focus and direction of my own work.

Somanathapura ~ Karnataka ~ India

Sunday, February 16, 2014


I have oft-times said here that I enjoy working with talented, creative people and that I enjoy working with these kinds of people on projects of duration, breadth and depth.  The bodies of work that can result are things that bring me happiness and contentment.

When we lived in the States, working with Eyerish and Nagasita as well as a host of other incredibly talented folks helped me find my style and to tap into that deep strong river of passionate art.

So... when someone in the local creative community suggested a subject and a project, I instantly threw my hat into the ring.  Some might say I begged to be included in the effort.  My insistent begging may have just paid off.  :-)

All I can say for now is that several wonderful avenues of creativity are being discussed.  When the venues are ready for public announcement I'll be happy to share the details.

Until then, here's a sneak preview.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Photography Around Pars ~ Retromobile

Off to the Retrombile!

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
Just the thing for blasting the long straights of Le Mans...

Even though we no longer own one, I enjoy photographing automobiles.  To get around, we walk, take the Metro, RER/Translien, and TGV.  It's amazing to feel free from maintenance, insurance, and gas costs.  This doesn't mean I can't appreciate the art in automobile styling.  Europe seems to have styled their automobiles with grace, charm, and sometimes brute strength.

Auto exhibitions here tend to be packed affairs.  It's hard to move around with all the people crowding the aisles.  I worried about using a tripod at this year's Retromobile.  It couldn't be all that bad, right?  I was inspired when I saw several photographers using them at last year's event, regardless of the crowds.

For camera equipment I had a choice between taking a Sony mirrorless and one of the big Canon DSLRs.

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
Such a pretty little thing, isn't it?

If I took the Sony NEX5 I would have light weight and sufficient detail to make some fun and interesting images.  Things like their HDR function add image creation flexibility that I don't yet have in my Big Canons.  They're cute and, after three years of very heavy use, somewhat battered. 

Cringing, I turning my thoughts to the Canon DSLRs.  They're old, heavy, and... um... why should I cringe?    They have more mpixels than the Sonys.  Not that that matters a bit for the kinds of images I make at these events. Canon lenses are much better built than Sony's low-end optics offerings.  Not that viewing the final results could tell any difference when printed to B+ size 13x19inches.

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
 Lamborghini Mura
I can still hear one as it lights up before
heading out into Sunset Blvd traffic...

The decision on what to carry was really an easy one to make.  I love the way Canon's Big Guns feel.  After nearly six years of continual use, I know how to work with them like I was born with one in my hands.  I know where all the buttons and functions and menu selections are.  I can work those cameras like there's No Tomorrow.

All I needed to do was remember to turn the lens' IS off.  You see, I forgot to do that at this year's la traversee and I lost several great shots.  The IS moves the image around as it "settles".  When mounted on a tripod and with a sufficiently long exposure, images are quickly blurred by the IS trying to Work it's Magic.

The kit ended up being this:
  • Canon 5D MkII
  • Canon 24-105L lens
  • Big Manfrotto tripod - legs set somewhat close together so as to not trip the crowds
Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
 Ferrari 246GTB Dino
Make mine Fly Yellow, please.  It'd be
Just the Thing for touring northern Italy...

The first images I processed were of red cars.  I've been drawn to the color red Italians seem to have used since the Dawn of Time.  Cars and motorcycles look great when draped in it.  Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Ducatis, and Moto Guzzis still turn my head when I see the flash of Italian red.

Pixel-peeping the processed files leaves a huge smile on my face.  They are sharp, sharp, sharp.  And I know that if I wanted to make a 40x60inch print, I could and that they would retain more resolution than the human eye could resolve.

Retromobile 2014 ~ in Red
Ferrari prototype
... be still, my beating heart... 

All of these things are technical details and do nothing to predict how a viewer might respond.

The real challenge is "seeing" something interesting.  That's where I get stuck.  I love the overall views of the show that place a subject in the middle of a swirling crowd.  I like seeing entire cars because I like to take in their lines as complete subjects.  This is what I "saw", right?

Is any of it "art"?  Probably not.  I'll just have to live with things as they are, because I like the results.  That should be sufficient.

[My Flickr set from Retromobile 2104]

Friday, February 07, 2014

The answers...

This blog entry will provide a few answers to the questions posed in two recent contests that I ran, where readers were invited to tell me what lens made which photograph.

Needless to say, no one was able to determine anything about the lenses that made each image.  That is my point. It is impossible to say what lens took what, except in a few, rare exceptions where lens properties are unique.  I'm thinking of portrait lenses like the Petzval, Eastman Kodak, or Wollensak series of very large format film lenses.

I wanted to turn the common question questions of "which lens is best...?" inside out and try to lead people to consider what they really need in a lens by looking at end results.  Common questions asked differently free me to look beyond "tests" which more often than not prove lenses are sharper than current generation digital sensors.

Liquid Light

It comes down to asking two simple, short questions -
  • Does the lens fit my need?
  • Can I afford it?  
It's as simple as that.  Except, most of us don't know what our needs are, do we?

If we want a "sharp" lens, just about any lens will do.  Cheap kit lenses are typically sharper than the sensor.  I've used my NEX5 at 200ISO with an off-center Sony 18-55mm kit lens (yes, Sony seems to have trouble manufacturing lenses) at f/5.6 or f/8 and the results are as sharp from edge to edge as anything I've ever made using "better" equipment.

If we want a lens that separates the foreground from the background, just about any large aperture lens made for 35mm film camera since 1960 will do nicely.  I have a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 pre-Ai that is stunningly sharp from wide open.

If we want to impress strangers with displays of "expensive taste" there are plenty of very expensive cameras and lenses that serve that purpose.

Liquid Light

Some of the on-line camera forums lit up when Sony introduced their A7-series and a rather expensive 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss branded lens.  People went to great lengths to show it is a stunning optic.   Well, it had better be, because I have a Nikon 35mm f/2 Ai where measurable optical performance is every bit the equal of the new Wonder Lens at a tenth the cost.

From the Beer Contest, I asked if people could tell which lens made which image.  Bonus points were to be given to those who determined the apertures of the lenses, with half a bottle of beer offered to anyone who could correctly guess who made the lenses.

I own many old manual focus lenses.  When available inexpensively, they tend to follow me home.  It's from this "collection" that I took two lenses.  One was a 50mm and the other was an 85mm.  The apertures or makers?  I'll leave that for readers to ponder.

Liquid Light

From the second contest, I broadened the number of lenses to include modern as well as truly old optics.  I thought it might be interesting to mix multi-coated zoom AF lenses with old single coated or non-coated manual focus. The only thing I will say is that it should be obvious which lens is the late 1800's Paris flea market dumped in the middle of a table of junk Petzval formula lens.  It's an unmarked 15cm f/3 taking lens that can only be shot wide open.  As you look at the images taken using that lens, remember that it's purpose is to cover a 4x5inch or 5x7inch sheet of film.  At those dimensions images are surprisingly sharp.  On full frame DSLRs it's an interesting lens that gives pronounced "portrait" effects, just like it was designed to do.

You might ask why, in the end, I won't reveal the names, focal lengths, and apertures of the other lenses.  To me these sample comparisons prove that the makers, focal lengths, and apertures don't matter.

What matters is the brain and heart of the person standing behind the camera.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Sony is in the tank...

CNN Money just posted this article about Sony Corporations on-going weakness in the electronics marketplace.  Here are a few things that struck me.

"Sony sells PC business, cuts 5,000 jobs...

...The Japanese electronics group said it expects to lose 110 billion yen ($1.1 billion) for the year ending March 31. The forecast was a surprise, and a sharp downgrade from its previous estimate of 30 billion yen profit...

... things are now so bad that Moody's has decided that Sony is no longer worthy of an investment-grade credit rating. The agency downgraded Sony to junk last month, warning that profitability would likely remain "weak and volatile." Fitch made the same move in late 2012..."

No mention was made of Sony's imaging businesses.

Sony is a huge manufacturer of digital sensors for imaging applications.  Their sensors appear not only in their own products, but in those of other manufacturers, too.  Nikon reportedly uses Sony's sensor masks, modifies them for Nikon's needs, then uses Sony foundries for production.  Olympus and Ricoh reportedly use Sony built sensors in some of their products.  Pentax and Phase One (who bought Mamiya) use Sony's 50mpixel CMOS medium format sensor.

I like Sony cameras.  I use a pair of their first generation NEX5 and like the bodies (but find their lenses just "OK").  Their recent full frame mirrorless A7 and A7R announcements seem rather interesting (though not interesting enough for me to leave Canon DSLRs behind).  If they can get their AF speed to match the phase lock AF systems of high end DSLRs, I feel they'd have a Market Dominator on their hands.  Leaving the mirror-box behind seems, on paper, to be a very good idea.  Though Canon's shutter assembly reliability will be hard to beat (300,000 clicks for pro-units, and 150,000+ on semi-pro bodies).

While it's hard to imagine that Sony Corps financial woes will cause them to leave the imaging market, it's hard for me to imagine their camera groups not being effected in one way or another by budget cuts and company reorganization.  Until specific announcements are made, what will happen is anyone's guess.

Liquid Light