art & illusion
in Photography , Sunday, April 26, 2015
A little while ago, we spent a long weekend in the town of Pietrasanta, in northwestern Tuscany, a little way away from the millionaire’s playground, and capital of bling, Forti die Marmi. Pietrasanta is nothing like that hyper-sanitised enclave, fortunately, but a rather surprisingly well-kept secret outside of the flow of mass tourism. Although it has a rather shady past, these days Pietrasanta is a thriving artistic and cultural community, and home to some well-know names such as Fernando Botero and, until recently, Igor Mitoraj. It was actually through an interview with Botero that we found out about Pietrasanta.
Models for Botero’s Adam and Eve, in the Museo dei Bozzetti
Pietrasanta is just down the road from the Carrara marble quarries, which have provided the source material for notable artists and architects for centuries, including of course Michelangelo. And marble is much in evidence in the town. The old centre is perhaps a little tidier than the average Italian town, but is full of the usual nooks, crannies and idiosyncrasies which make these places so rewarding to wander around, camera in hand.
Here, then, are a few examples.
book of the year (so far!)
in Book Reviews , Wednesday, April 22, 2015
This is a book review I’ve spent longer than usual thinking about. I’ve wanted to get it out there, but at the same time not rush it, because the subject really is something quite special. And I’ve been busy with a lot of other stuff so finding time hasn’t been easy. The subject is Tiina Itkonen’s book, Avannaa, for which I was pleased to be able to contribute to the crowdfunding campaign.
Avannaa is subtitled “Photographs of Greenlandic Landscapes”, but it is much more than that. It is an expression of one person’s discovery and connection with a faraway world that most of us can only dream of. And unlike so much landscape photography, especially that in the polar latitudes, which largely consists of trophy hunting, this is the product of a long term, deep relationship with both the natural and human landscapes. Added to that, Tiina Itkonen as a photographer has a delicate, precise touch which brings alive the subject matter, and communicates her passion for Greenland, without falling into the trap of the over-processed, superficial quick thrill effects which are so commonplace these days.
These photographs are clearly born from patient observation, of clicking the shutter only when the moment demands it, rather than from rushing around snapping everything in sight and hoping that something can be made of it all later. They have plenty to say, but prefer to say it quietly. The strong visual and thematic coherence add to the sense of depth and meaning.
Uummannaq II, Greenland 2007 © Tiina Itkonen
You can dwell over the landscapes in Avannaa without them grabbing you by the throat. Every new visit reveals something else, and serves to increase appreciation for the photographer’s talent. This is not the kind of photography which is going to appear on the front page of “Awesome Digital SLR Photography Monthly”, or gain 1000+ faves on 500px, but it could well grace the walls of art photography lovers, which is probably why Itkonen is better known in the art photography world, with serious gallery representation, than in the camera buying world. Indeed, there is not one word about cameras or technology in either Avannaa or the earlier Inghuit. Having said that, the technical quality of the photography is flawless. As a large proportion of the photography is in panoramic format, with a ratio of 3:1, and has a very film-like palette, with remarkable detail, one could guess at the use of 6x17 camera. But it really doesn’t matter.
It takes a lot of dedication to complete a body of work such as this. Greenland, although reasonably accessible these days, is still a remote a difficult place to get to grips with. Many people would consider a quick summer flight to Nuuk, or even Kulusuk, as epic enough, but reaching the communities of the north-west coast, and living amongst them not only in summer, but also in winter, and repeating the experience time and again, well this ventures well into the territory of obsession.
Masaitsiaq 1998 © Tiina Itkonen
In her earlier work, Inughuit, Itknonen focused on the Greenlandic people, mainly through intimate portraits of daily life. In Avannaa the people are still there, but the landscape now takes centre stage. However, you still get the strong feeling that the landscape is shaped and given meaning by the people who live in it. This is the big difference between the High Arctic and the Antarctic. The Antarctic really is an alien place, survivable only in artificial circumstances. But the High Arctic, as terrifying as it may seem to a comfortable West European, is and has been home to many, many generations, and these people have given the landscape life through myth, legend, and everyday life. The landscape and it’s inhabitants are closely intertwined, and removing one or the other from any photographic representation removes the magic.
If I had to find something to criticise, it would only be a slight regret that the format isn’t a little bigger, so that the panoramic frames do not have to run across two pages. But the economics of book publishing these days probably push that kind of luxury out of the bounds of reason.
I guess you can tell I like this book. I’m looking forward to Tiina Itkonen’s next works. You can - and should - buy Avannaa here.
A couple of shots of the book, to give a general idea:
steel and glass
For over 15 years, the southern Swiss-Italian city of Lugano, and it’s immediate surroundings, has been my home. Lugano is a strange place. It benefits from an absolutely world class location, on a lake front flanked by two “sugar loaf”-like mountains. Historically and it is part of Lombardy and has passed under the control of Milano and Como before being grabbed by the Swiss Confederation in the 16th Century. Eventually as an aftermath of Napoleonic machinations it became part of the Canton of Ticino, a fully fledged federal state of Switzerland, but even now Ticino retains the joint title of Republic. Lugano was a favourite Belle Epoque destination, leading to the building of many classic villas and hotels. Historians and archeologists data Lugano back through Roman times, to the Etruscans, and Stone Age settlement. So one would expect a rich architectural tapestry similar to towns just over the Italian border. And one would be sorely disappointed. Lugano is, on the whole, a boring, sanitised wasteland where countless historic buildings, quarters, streets and landmarks have been, and continue to be, demolished to make way for more of the grim (but so gorgeously expensive) concrete cubes which the Swiss apparently cannot get enough of. And of course the ranks of steel and glass atrocities without which no self-respecting Bank can be seen. And there is no shortage of banks in Lugano.
I really do wonder what the tourists who descend on Lugano from Easter to autumn make of it all. It doesn’t stand up very well in comparison to Como, a few kilometres away, or even squeaky clean Luzern further north, if you’re into that kind of thing. Sure, the landscape is spectacular, and there are countless forest and mountain trails, but as a city, well, I guess it’s ok as an overnight stop.
It could have been so different. And there are plenty of Lugano natives who are pretty angry about what has been done, but the level of petty corruption and short term greed, in an area with a pretty small population, where everybody knows everybody else, has steamrollered in the property developers. Ironically, investing in reviving and repurposing structures given character by the passage of time has led to fortunes being made in many other cities. Here, instead, heritage has ben flogged off for the chance to buy the latest Porsche or Ferrari.
If you look carefully, you can catch glimpses of what might have been out of the corner of your eye. A few years back, photographer Barbara Dell’Acqua published a very nice book on exactly this theme, which for some reason I never got around to reviewing. Many of the scenes in “una citta dentro la citta” (a city behind the city) have already vanished.
Actually, this was supposed to just be a post with a few “clutching at straws” shots I took in Lugano over the weekend. Instead in turned into a rant. I guess I qualify as an outsider, but still, Lugano is home to me, and it really makes me sad to see what a mess money and politics has made of it.
extract, and apply!
in Silverfast , Wednesday, April 01, 2015
Lasersoft Imaging recently announced the release of Silverfast 8.5 at CeBit, and shortly after it became available for download. This is the most significant update since the complete rewrite which gave us version 8, and it has some interesting sounding enhancements. The first is a much enhanced Job Manager, and the second is the new “HDRi RAW” file format. I’ve been playing around a little with v8.5 Ai Studio, and v8.5 HDR Studio, and here are some very quick, and not terribly deeply researched first impressions.
In the past some new Silverfast features could perhaps be described as over-hyped, or poorly conceived, and on top of that were charged for. But I’m pleased to say that this time around, there seem little grounds for skepticism. First of all, it’s a free upgrade, and secondly, the new features are well designed, well integrated, and genuinely useful.
The Job Manager has gained a great time saving feature inspired by applications such as Aperture or Lightroom: the ability to copy and paste adjustments from one frame to one or more others. In Silverfast it’s called “Extract & Apply”. In Aperture, “Lift & Stamp” - whatever the name, this is really welcome and is especially useful when working on large batches of files in HDR Studio.
The new “Extract & Apply” dialog in Silverfast HDR 8.5
Apart from this feature, the Job Manager, which is at the core of Silverfast’s workflow, has had a thorough refresh, and is much nicer to work with now.
The new file format, HDRi RAW, as far as I can tell retains image adjustment settings with the “HDR” file, so that they can be retained between sessions. This is great, but so far I have to confess to being a little confused, as I thought that Silverfast HDR Studio already managed that. Possibly not, maybe it was only the case for saved Job Manager sessions. Anyway, it works, and there is also a right-click method to reset to default within the VLT thumbnail browser.
Also, the VLT itself seems to have had some behind the scenes attention, as it feels significantly faster and responsive. Overall the application appears to have received speed and stability enhancements.
There is another new feature, the forthcoming iOS job monitor app. This seems to be more into the quirky end of Silverfast’s range of features, but I guess it might be entertaining!
In conclusion, this is one of the most comprehensive and well thought out revisions I’ve seen Silverfast receive for quite a while. It’s a good indication of the ongoing commitment of Lasersoft to their customers.
One last thing, though. The original CeBit Press Release also mentioned the re-launch, with software and hardware enhancements, of the Plustek OpticFilm 120. I haven’t seen any follow-up to that…
...and not too many ideas
in GAS , Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Hello. My name is David. I’m a cameraholic.
The evidence is unforgiving. A list of the cameras I’ve bought since photography became my principal pastime makes for sobering reading, especially when set aside the productive output.
|1998||Ricoh GR1||new||Given away|
|2000||Hasselblad Xpan||new||Lost at sea|
|2000||Canon T90||s/h||Given away|
|2001||Ricoh GR1S||new||Retired, defective|
|2007||Ricoh GRDII||new||Retired, defective|
|2008||Ricoh GRDIV||new||Stolen in Buenos Aires|
|2010||Hasselblad Xpan II||s/h||active|
|2011||Olympus E-P2||new||Stolen by Spencers Camera, Utah, USA|
|2012||Olympus E-P3||new||active, converted to IR|
|2012||Sigma DP2 Merrill||new||active|
|2013||Lomography Belair 612||new||shelved|
|2014||Sigma DP3 Merrill||new||active|
|2014||Ricoh GR Digital||new||active|
This doesn’t include a couple of older, rescued film cameras, and several point & shoot digitals. And of course it doesn’t include the lenses, the tripods, the software, the books, the filters, the camera bags, the “workshops” and Lord knows what else. I’d probably have done better putting it all towards drink instead.
I did actually sell a good deal of gear last year, with the idea of consolidating and buying something new (and improved, of course). But I kept bailing out of decisions. At present even the sight of a camera shop makes me feel nauseous and jaded in equal measures. Of course there is a huge list of new, improved, sensational, must-have, deeply desirable cameras, but actually I don’t desire any of them. I certainly don’t need them. Even if I did buy one, I don’t know what I’d do with it. My interest in adding to my archive of somewhere between 50 and 60000 photos is flatlining.
On average, I appear to take some 3000 to 4000 photos a year which I don’t immediately trash. The big spike in 2010 correlates with two long trips to Costa Rica and Svalbard that year. There doesn’t seem to be much correlation with camera spend. And of the full total, there are only 800 which I’ve rated at 3 stars out of 5, or higher (at 5 stars there are precisely 7, although perhaps I haven’t been entirely thorough or consistent in my rating…
This year, so far, I have spent precisely half an afternoon dedicated to photography. It was ok, but hardly essential. In the past I’d be climbing the walls through frustration and not getting out and photographing, now I’m just relieved to be past all that. The only camera that I’ve actually enjoyed using recently is the OM4Ti.
A shot from my half-afternoon of photography
What is glaringly obvious, at long last, and to me at least, is that gear absolutely does not increase quality of photos or enjoyment of photography. I can’t say that I’m no longer interested in photography - I wouldn’t be writing this if I were - but I’m not much interested in photographing. I’m dedicating some time to assembling the first of what might be a series of Blurb-published book, and it is quite interesting that the photos I’m selecting - on the basis of interest and coherence - tend to come from over five years ago, and from the more humble camera/lens combinations I’ve used. In a way that’s encouraging.
Perhaps I’m a recovering cameraholic?