Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

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Exploring Malcantone

in Photography in Ticino , Friday, May 27, 2016

I’m very lucky to have lived for most of this century in the region of Malcantone, right at the southern tip of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, in Switzerland. Malcantone is mainly pre-alpine, apart from the Vedeggio and Magliasina flood plains, and sits between the Lugano (Ceresio) and Maggiore lakes. It borders on a similar region in Italy, and is actually a pretty beautiful area. It does have a certain level of tourism, but I’m always surprised at how little. With quiet, wooded hills leading up to mountain ridges, shaded valleys, rustic villages full of memories of faded glories, and plenty of history, along with good food and wine, it has a lot going for it.

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Malcantone pretty much means “bad lands”, and was a place to be avoided in medieval times. Unfortunately, that was tricky, as it was either that, or the plague-ridden marshes, if you wanted to travel north from Milan. A couple of years ago I discovered the ruins of the Miglieglia Castle, perched on a high outcrop over the Magliasina river. Although it was clearly pretty big, it seems to have been wiped from memory. Nobody appears to know anything about it. You can walk to it, if you follow the “Sentiero delle Meraviglie”. And then there are the silver and gold mines. And the remains of houses and villages deep in the woods. And the painfully photogenic villages of Sessa, Astano, Breno, and more.

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I guess it’s just a little too far off the beaten track, although considering in has a small, but international, airport (just) with its territory, and is easily accessible from the city of Lugano, it’s hardly remote. Probably Swiss pricing has a lot to do with it as well. But also the weird Swiss, and especially Ticinese, approach to tourism. Bars and restaurants close on Sundays and holidays, facilities like the Lema cable car which takes you up to a stunning viewpoint over Lake Maggiore stop running at 5pm, even in summer when it’s light until 10. Totally crazy.

Oh well, if it were different I’d be ranting about bloody tourists all over the place sticking their tripods in front of me and clogging up the roads and mountain bike tracks.

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Posted in category "Photography in Ticino" on Friday, May 27, 2016 at 06:27 PM

snowblown

in Photography , Monday, January 26, 2015

Last weekend, we went off for a weekend’s skiing in Andermatt, about an hour away. Due to combinations of fog, wind and headaches, we didn’t exactly overdose on the slopes, but a walk up the valley, initially in a snowstorm, but later in the afternoon with the sun breaking through, turned into a totally impromptu photo session.

The best camera, as they say, is the one you have with you, and in my case the Ricoh GR I had slipped into my pocket is quite possibly the best I have from a purely image quality point of view. Possibly even beats the Sigmas. But sadly, lacking an accurate eye-level viewfinder, in this kind of light and conditions, even with the very bright screen, composition often boils down to guesswork.

Anyway, I’m quite pleased with this little haul. Unexpected, and pretty satisfying.

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Posted in category "Photography" on Monday, January 26, 2015 at 09:15 PM

Opticfilm 120 revisted

in Scanning , Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The day I got back from Colombia, just after I stumbled out of bed, very jet-lagged, the postman delivered a large box. Inside it was a replacement Plustek Opticfilm 120. Back in October I had discovered that the month-old original was producing a long streak in the infrared channel, contaminating the “iSRD” dust and scratch removal. Plustek tech support identified the cause as dust inside the optics, and said that the scanner needed to be returned for servicing. Unfortunately Plustek do not have formal distribution in Switzerland, so it had to go back to the dealer, under warranty.  It took a while, but this wasn’t too noticeable as I was away for over 3 weeks. And eventually I received a completely new scanner, directly from Taiwan.

Apart from this issue, I was satisfied enough with the first copy. But the second seems actually to be better. Looking at film grain, the focussing, which was ok with the old one, is a little better. And the iSRD now works fine, also, so far (touch wood) with no alignment problems (possibly also thanks to improvements in Silverfast v8.2). Multisampling still doesn’t work, due to slight alignment (or possibly blooming) issues. But in any case, I don’t see any improvement in density with slide film.  The single sampling DMax seems quite adequate in this case. Possibly it is more effective with negative film - I’ll try again one day.

Anyway, at least this justifies one key argument in favour of the Opticfilm 120 over an old Minolta or Nikon scanner - warranty, dealer and manufacturer support.

I’ve been able to quickly deal with a small backlog of film to scan - editing digital files from Colombia will have to wait.

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Bachalpsee, Grindelwald, Switzerland

For now I haven’t got much planned, film photography-wise.  My stocks of E100G are almost exhausted.  Hopefully they will stretch until the first rolls of Ferrania’s new slide film turn up.

Posted in category "Scanning" on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 07:40 PM

The case of the Zürich handbag

in General Rants , Monday, August 12, 2013

I can’t avoid adding my CHF 0.02’ worth on the Great Swiss Racism scandal, in which an obscenely rich Americam woman was somehow prevented from buying an obscenely expensive handbag in a shop catering to obscenely rich people in Zürich. Given that said woman is of African-American descent, this was of course a clear indication of the endemic racism embraced and encouraged by the entitre vile, evil Swiss nation. Or at least this is what a formerly respectable British newspaper, The Independent, would have you believe, unquestionably delivering the line it was fed.

But, could there be an alternative, hypothetical explanation? Could it actually be a case of a flustered shop assistant reacting in a less than perfect way to yet another loud, arrogant, wildly self-entitled American demanding that everybody in the world speaks perfect American English? Or could it be a case of a very miffed celebrity not being recognised as such? No, it must be racism, especially when said celebrity just happens to need this as a prop in her latest prime-time TV self promotion.

Of course the story isn’t even questioned, and the shop assistant’s side of it is of no interest to anybody. Not even to the Swiss Tourist Authority, who shamefully issued a demeaning apology on the assistant’s behalf.

One would not have thought that an American had to travel so far to find racism. But I suppose Switzerand seemed such an easy target. I doubt most of her audience even knows where Switzerland is, but it’s cleary foreign hence bad guys. Especally as it has all those bad banks (largely run by Americans, but whatever).

Switzerland has probably one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, despite being largely rural and small-c conservative. A full 25% of the population carries a non-Swiss passport. Switzerland welcomes more than twice as many asylum seekers per capita than any other European country, and in recent decades has absorbed and integrated a huge number of immigrants from the traumatised Balkans. Is there racial prejudice? Well, yes, and unfortunately in my random experience, it tends to be directed by people in blue and black uniforms with “Police” written on them against other people found in possession of a dark skin. But casual, day to day racial prejudice? You’d find more of that in one evening in a British country pub than a whole Swiss canton. And as for Alabama, well...
Posted in category "General Rants" on Monday, August 12, 2013 at 03:35 PM

Minarets Nein Danke

in General Rants , Monday, November 30, 2009

So the Swiss citizenry has voted quite decisively to outlaw the building of minarets in their country. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the underlying issue are (for the record, I don’t find minarets any more offensive than church towers) what is interesting is the outrage from politicos around the world, especially those that habitually bang on about democracy.

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What we have hear is pure, unadulterated democracy in action. Democracy actual implies that the will of the majority (with, possibly, some degree of weighting) carries the day. This isn’t at all what the common perception is. When people say something is “undemocratic”, they usually mean “it’s NOT FAIR!” or it is “contrary to the policies of the US of America”. Now they have a clear illustration that democracy doesn’t necessarily produce the result they believe should have happened, or they want. Another example is the fair, democratic election of Hamas in the Palestinian State.

So, yes, it probably isn’t fair to deny Muslims in Switzerland the outward expression of their faith. But it is democratic. Very democratic.

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” - Winston Churchill.

Posted in category "General Rants" on Monday, November 30, 2009 at 06:45 PM