the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

The way the land lies

splendid isolation

in Film , Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The latest edition of the online landscape magazine, On Landscape, features an article by Julian Barkway on challenging yourself to climb out of the rut of playing to the gallery and trying to create that perfect, wildly popular Flickr masterpiece. What he has to say certainly resonates with me, although I’m probably several miles further up Cynicism Street than he is. Although I might well see things differently if I were myself a wildly successful babe magnet on Flickr, based on a certain amount of observation and quite a lot of behind the scenes knowledge on content-sharing social websites, I’d say being popular on Flickr (or most other photo sharing sites) has more to do with who you are than what you photograph.  I could - but won’t - name a number of highly talented, successfully published photographers who maintain a presence on Flickr and get almost no “action”.  I could also easily link to others who’s mundane shots regularly gather 3 or 4 hundred comments.  And of course there are talented photographers who are very popular.  The dynamics are complex.

I am going somewhere with this ramble, and it is sort of related but different. Every now and again I dig out old photos, especially those on film, and re-evaluate them, whilst gradually building up archival scans of as many as I can.  And I come across more than a few shots which I’d discarded when they were fresh, because they didn’t fit the template I was looking for. It’s clear that I had a strong bias towards photos that were closer to those from photographers who’s work - and indeed lifestyles - I aspired to at the time. Since I was, even unconsciously, trying to emulate somebody else’s style, basically it rarely worked.  On the other hand, I’m beginning to discover a series of photos which I’ve always been conscious of trying to make but have never been satisfied with, which tend towards a subdued feel with delicate colour and just a touch of ambiguity. 

A bit like this.

Xpan iceland 02 01

The way the land lies: central Iceland, 2006



The Death of Film

Another one bites the dust

in Film , Saturday, March 10, 2012

The recent announcement of the demise of Kodak Ektachrome E100G - along with all other Kodak slide films - however predictable, came as quite a shock. At the time my stocks of E100G, in my opinion the best slide film ever, were 10 rolls. I’ve just ordered another 50 3 5-packs and whatever loose rolls my supplier can find, and in the meantime I’ve used 5. It will be interesting to see if Fuji are still making my second favourite, Velvia 100F, when I run out of E100G. It was never a very popular type, and that makes it a marginal product line in a very marginal product range. But if not Fuji, who else? Agfa? REALLY? The writing really seems to be on the wall now.

Of course this reopens the age-old Filme Vs Digital arguments. I’ve long had a foot firmly in both camps, and at the same time I’ve been an avid reader of the saner end of the ongoing debate. There are countless very persuasive exponents for and against fim, both making very convincing points. If you remember Paul Whitehouse’s character, Indecisive Dave, from the Fast Show - well, that’s me when it comes to film versus digital.

Apart from the overall arguments about image quality, film brings some practical issues with it. First of all, it needs to be developed. Since I really only work with slide film, then this means lab E6 processing. Long gone are the days of 24 hour turnaround - or even 1 or 2 hours in pro labs. Now it’s a week if you’re lucky. I recently discovered a convenient and remarkably well preserved local photo shop (no, not the abomination from Adobe) that would take charge of my films and could be trusted to ensure that the lab they get sent to follows my instructions and doesn’t cut them up. And sometimes even with 2-3 days turnaround. However, for the last batch of 5 I was charged CHF25 each. That’s basically $25. Each. Plus the initial cost, factoring in delivery, we reach CHF40 per film. That’s untenable, especially as one film had only 4 exposed frames due a mid-roll battery failure on my XPan.

Then there’s scanning. When all is going well, I actually quite enjoy scanning, up to a point. I’ve got a well tuned workflow, and things usually come out as I expect, but one thing I can’t easily fix are dirt and scratches due to careless processing. Processing that cost CHF40, that is. And as I’ve written before, my Minolta MultiScan Pro is showing signs of old age. Dust remains a constant issue, but a good supply of canned air - although good canned air is getting harder to find - and a VisibleDust sensor brush for awkward cases helps considerably.

The impatiently awaited new Plustek Medium Format scanner might be a god-send, at a price. But with no new film to feed into it, it might end up missing the bus.

But really, is it all worth it? Having recently seen what really high-end digital can do, the image quality argument is hard to make. Nevertheless, in my opinion, a correctly exposed piece of Ektachrome, or Fujifilm, has an immediate presence that (my) digital cameras can’t quite match. Of course the density and saturation of film can easily be replicated in digital post processing, but the sharpness of a good slide film is another matter…if, of course, you have a scanner and a scanning technique that can retain this sharpness into a digital file.

Essentially I’m not really fixated of film, but I am very attached to my XPan, and that doesn’t do digital. I’ve been having some thoughts about how to transition to digital panoramic photography - or perhaps transition back - but that’s the subject of another post.

In the meantime, I’m off to round up the last straggling rolls of Kodak Ektachrome E100G.

Goðafoss, Iceland, Feb 2012. A location that has “designed for XPan” written all over it. One day, maybe, I’ll finally get to see it in winter in good weather, having failed at the last 4 attempts. But I guess this is the last time I’ll shoot it on E100G.



Rauðisandur, by Rut Hallgrímsdóttir

Another Iceland book review

My bookshelves currently feature 16 books of Icelandic photography. I guess one way of describing that is “enough”. Another might be “obsession”. So much, that I decided that on my most recent trip to Iceland that I would not be buying any more. Absolutely none. That didn’t turn out so well…

I could claim that “Last Days of the Arctic” by Ragnar “Rax” Axelsson doesn’t count, because (a) it isn’t about Iceland as such, and (b) I bought it from Amazon because it was too heavy to carry. Not to mention costing half the price. Then again I did order it whilst in Iceland. Let’s say it’s a borderline case.

However, for “Rauðisandur”, by Rut Hallgrímsdóttir, I have no such excuse. I was snagged by it at the deadly trap of the Eymundsson bookstore at Keflavik airport, and with a few thousand kronur left in my pocket it was a foregone conclusion.


So why did I fall for it ? Well, “Rauðisandur” is different. So far, a very large majority of Iceland landscape photo books are generic. Basically they take the wide view, and take you all around the island. Different photographers have different approaches, but by and large they’re still working in the first generation of “serious” icelandic landscape photography books, which as far as I can tell only really got going around the start of the century. It’s a young market, and although it is beginning to mature, I’d say it isn’t saturated - yet. But it’s edging that way. So, it was interesting to see what could be a precursor of the next stage, a book with taking a deeper approach to a (much) smaller area.

This has been done before, in a way, but more as hybrid trail guide / photo books, such as Daniel Bergmann’s “Skaftafell National Park”, and even that seems to be a rare exception.

As far as I can tell, Rut Hallgrímsdóttir is a professional photographer living and working in Reykjavik, specialising in formal portraiture, so this is not a typical project from her. Rauðisandur, an area in the extreme West of Iceland, on the South-Western edge of the Westfjords, is an area she discovered through her husband. It’s an area well known for its vast, sweeping sandy beaches, a bit reminiscent of the Irish northwest coast, but little visited due to being really well off the beaten track.

Although it has a rich and fascinating past, Rauðisandur is largely deserted these days. The (relatively) rich farming lands are not much of an attraction compared to the (ahem) riches of Reykjavik, and the old farms are derelict and fading. This is the natural and human landscape that Rut sets out to capture, and in my opinion she does it very well.

To be clear, this is not classic landscape photography. While there are some decent shots in the book, and some of the seascapes are excellent, they’re not really in tune with the modern landscape ethos. Indeed, I get the feeling that more than a few were shot quite some time ago ... on film!! There are no technical details in the book, not that I care at all, so I’m just guessing. What the photography does do very well though is to convey an intimate connection with this small, faraway - but still quite awe-inspiring - corner of Iceland. The commentary is full of fascinating anecdotes, and spent ages getting drawn into the stories about the farm at Vellir, and the photos of the surrounding landscape.

The book also include a nice section at the end on the area’s history by local expert Ari Ívarsson.

The photography is largely split between wide angle landscape vistas and semi-abstract close-up rock, wave and beach details. Again, it’s a combination that works well in conveying a sense of closeness to the land, and the more abstract work adds a considerable touch of artistic weight to the book, which otherwise might end feeling a bit bland. It’s through these abstractions that I feel we get a glimpse of Rut’s true skill as a photographer. It would be interesting to see more of these.

I guess “Rauðisandur” isn’t going to win any major prizes: it’s not that kind of book. But in its own quiet way it’s a very interesting and worthwhile book, which might leave a more lasting impression than just getting Lost in Iceland.

As far as I can tell, you can buy “Rauðisandur” directly from from Rut Hallgrímsdóttir’s website. I guess you could also order it from Eymundsson. It doesn’t appear to be on Amazon :-)

APOLOGY: The following shots are, I’m afraid, very poor quality. I’m not really set up for product shots (i.e too lazy too bother…). But they should give a rough idea of the book’s direction.






Film is best for Iceland

says Páll Stefánsson

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, March 02, 2012

According to Páll Stefánsson

The combination of good film and medium format is still the best way to capture the Icelandic landscape.


Bugger. I’m doing it wrong.


Northern Lights

Obscured by clouds

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, February 25, 2012

Well after 8 days in Iceland I have maintained my perfect record of Aurora Borealis dodging. It has rained, snowed, and in between there has even been the odd patch of light illuminating iconic photo opportunities to which we have been delivered by our tireless guide, Daníel Bergmann. This has been my second ever group photo tour. I don’t usually find that I can really photograph in a group, especially with people I don’t know, but this time Marissa, Leslie, Ed, Patrick, Shane and Peter have made it a real pleasure.

I don’t know yet if I got any good photos, but my first experience with the Olympus E-5 has been pretty positive. There are a few things that I think the E-3 does better, but that might just be down to familiarity.

Hvitserkur, straight out of camera, with a nice big raindrop waiting to be edited out

We have a few more hours of potential photographing around the Reykjanes peninsula, but anyway, I think there already a few shots in the tin.


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