in Photography , Thursday, May 19, 2016
Michael Reichmann attempts to herd cats, Iceland, 2004
I was very sad to discover this evening that photographer Michael Reichmann, founder of the vastly influential website, The Luminous Landscape, had passed away at the age of 71.
The birth of the Luminous Landscape pretty much coincided with my rediscovery of photography, and I grew with it. I learnt a huge amount from Michael’s articles, especially in the pre-digital era. Pretty much all I know about using slide film and scanning originated in the Luminous Landscape. When Michael launched the Video Journal together with Chris Sanderson, I had to go out and buy my first DVD player to watch it.
Michael Reichmann was perhaps the archetypal photography workshop organiser. He set a pattern that many have followed since, but not all these followers are blessed with Michael’s charisma and charm. I broke my piggy bank to join his 2004 Iceland workshop, and while it was a whirlwind, exhausting experience, it was also hugely formative. Michael’s twin catch phrases, “there’s no shot here”, and “2 minutes, no tripods” still ringing my ears.
He was also a very aspirational character. It was notable just how many people turned up on that workshop with the exact same set of cameras Michael had recently been praising on the web site. It was perhaps a bit of a shame that he changed them so often though - the wannabes had a quite an expensive job catching up. I can even remember people wanting to know what kind of car he drive, so they could buy the same one. I’m fairly sure he would have had a chuckle about that: while certainly being very serious about his art and craftsmanship, he clearly didn’t take himself quite as seriously as some of his more ardent groupies.
Michael Reichmann accomplished a lot in his life, and helped a lot of people gain pleasure and satisfaction from their photography, however they approached it. He leaves a large void in the photographic community, but most of all, in the hearts of his family and friends. I offer them my sincere condolences.
I’m still trying to convince myself I don’t want a Linhof 612, even though I have my eye on a very nice looking one which I can almost afford.
The thing is, it’s a purely mechanical camera. There is no preview of focussing. No metering. It’s just a (extremely high precision-engineered) box with a (breathtakingly gorgeous) lens on the front. It’s heavy, a pain to use, and has this intriguing but rather eccentric 8mm fixed shift.
And I have a Sigma Dp0, which is not only a pain to use, looks plain weird, and draws attention like bears to honey. But it has auto focus, a screen (just about), and doesn’t need the film processing or scanning steps - albeit it does need Sigma Photo Pro, which rather evens the score. And it has a (breathtakingly gorgeous) lens on the front.
This is what the Dp0 can do:
Not bad - almost Ektachrome-like. The ratio here is 21:9, which is actually shown on the screen, allowing exact composition. Of course you can crop any image any way you want, but that doesn’t work for me. I need to see what I’m doing, and I need my composition to be preserved in the file. The Dp0 / Sigma Photo Pro combination does both.
If I’d shot this with a Linhof, I’d probably have framed it like this (although the lens field of view would be a little different, but I think the Dp0 17mm lens corresponds roughly to a Linhof 58mm)
Of course, had I shot it on a Linhof I’d probably have got the exposure and the focussing wrong. And then Silverfast and / or my scanner would have crashed trying to deal with the huge file.
Common sense says Sigma - and given how unlikely that sounds, in the general scheme of things, it says all I really need to know about the sense of buying a Linhof 612 in 2016…
smoke & mirrors
in Photography , Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Infrared photography is a curious beast. It can yield spectacular results, both in blacks & white and colour. It relishes the bright, contrasty conditions which are anathema to many other styles of photography, allowing those of us in sunnier climes to carry on clicking away during the long hot summer. And yet, how many famous infrared photographers are there ? I can actually only think of one well known photographer who’s core body of wok relies on infrared, and that’s the late Simon Marsden. Marsden’s work is so unique and recognisable that he successfully sued U2 for plagiarising him with the photo on their album The Unforgettable Fire. But most of time, infrared photography is basically just a shallow trick, a way of making unremarkable compositions look good purely due to the unearthly representation of light and shadow.
Simon Marsden needed the IR look to convey his vision of gothic decay and uneasy spirits. Some landscape photographers make good use of infrared from time to time, but sparingly. Personally I think that whenever the medium - infrared - is prominent in the description of a body of work, that work is going to fall flat. Either the work needs the look - in which case there’s little point in making great announcements about it - or the work needs to be salvaged by an unusual medium (quite often Kodak Aerochrome these days). Personally I feel Richard Mosse fits into that category, but I’m in a minority there.
I’ve played around with infrared for years, both on film, using Kodak monochrome and false colour, and on digital, using either a blocking filter on a normal camera, or more recently my Olympus E-P3 converted with an 830nm filter. Up until recently I’ve been quite unmoved by the converted camera, as the out-of-camera look is missing the appeal of film infrared. The key characteristics of Kodak EIR were high grain and strong contrast, as well as a strong glow around highlights achieved at a critical - and hard to master - exposure level. Actually getting a good exposure on EIR was very hit & miss. Of course with a converted digital camera it’s all far too easy - with Live View you can even compose in infrared. But still, the exposure can be a bit tricky, as the camera electronics are designed to deal with visible light JPEGs, and histograms and all that stuff can be a bit misleading. Also, some lenses are very prone to heavy flare in infrared, while being perfectly well behaved in visible light. I also get the impression that there is flare at sensor level too - apparently that is a thing.
Then, after you’ve got the shot, converting the purple/red tinged monochrome image to something that looks like IR as we expect it is also not that trivial. Actually Lightroom has got quite a good preset which can help to get pointed in the right direction, but it’s not enough. I’ve started experimenting with Silver EFX Pro to see if I can get a look I’m happy with. If that works out, maybe I’ll come up with some idea that actually benefits from infrared. But no graveyards - that’s been done.
in Photography , Monday, May 02, 2016
A few weeks ago I participated in the workshop run by Ragnar “Rax” Axelsson and hosted by Leica Fotografie Internal, in Hamburg. My motivation for attending was as a long-time fan of Rax’s photography, and at the same time a hope that a few days of mentoring by a dedicated black & white, people and storytelling photographer would give a useful nudge to my dedicated colour, people-less and non-storytelling photography. Oh, and add to that my total lack of Leica ownership. Well, spending a couple of days two years ago with Neil Buchan-Grant in Venice certainly expanded my horizons, so why not. Of course, in that case I had my relatively strong relationship with Venice to fall back upon. Of Hamburg I knew precisely nothing.
The workshop attendees were not exclusively wealthy Leica owners. A few were clearly ultra-wealthy Leica owners :-). And a handful were, like me, non-Leica owners, and a few people even confessed to prefer colour. So I wasn’t totally isolated. And of course I got to pretend I owned a Leica for a weekend, as I casually laid it on the table at Starbucks.
Unfortunately the weather on my first day in Hamburg was worse than dismal. Incessant, bucketing rain, empty streets, terminally grim. It wasn’t even that kind of bad weather which is good for photographers. Nope, it wasn’t even good for ducks.
We had a quite loose assignment. Apart from a directive to produce at least one selfie (Rax has a sense of humour), the general idea was to produce a coherent series of some 20 photographs, which could be edited down in one to one sessions to 6, together with a set of 6 from previous work which we were asked to bring along. Finally the completed work was to be presented to the group.
Well, most everybody else wandered off and produced some nice black & white street photography. You can see some of it here. I’m quite impressed with what some people managed to produce. I certainly didn’t manage to tune in to Hamburg street life in that what.
Instead I reverted to type and tuned in to waste and desolation. I fixated on a few hundred square meters around the new Überseequartier U-Bahn station, which emerges like a buried alien artefact in the middle of an area of mostly disused dockland being transformed into Living Spaces for Bright Young Things etc. I found the state of transition quite captivating, if hardly up-lifting. However it did offer plenty of opportunity for a formal approach to urban landscape.
The selection curated by Rax narrowed down to 5 photographs, as can be seen at the end of the LFI gallery linked above. I respectfully disagree with part of his selection - my own set is here.
Another €4000 bites the dust?
New camera! Well, sort of. It isn’t mine, but LFI in Hamburg kindly lent it to me for a weekend. As unlikely as it sounds, up until last weekend I had survived without ever using a Leica.
In camera forum land, Leicas are general the subject of scorn, being reviled as expensive, “under-specified” neck jewellery for poseurs and millionaires. I’ve never much cared for these debates, although there is a certain fascination in observing them. I’ve given a lot of thought to Leica, first because I can’t afford them, and second because there isn’t actually a model that particularly appeals to me. However the Q does, marginally, so given the opportunity I was happy to try it out.
So, the Leica Q is a fairly compact fixed focal 28mm camera, with built-in viewfinder. The lens is a fast f1.7 summisomethingortheother. I’d seen one once in a shop window, and it struck me as being pretty big, but in fact it feels quite compact, similar to an Olympus Pen, but of course a lot bigger than the Ricoh GR which could be considered to be a rival.
The Q feels very, very solid in the hand, and personally I find it very comfortable to hold, with the recessed thumb grip being a very astute piece of design. I guess some might describe the feel as luxury, but to be honest I’d go more with very well built precision engineering, and a good example of form following function. When you pick it up, it simply demands to be used. A bit like the GR, in fact.
It’s certainly an enjoyable camera to use, and the results are pretty good, too. Are they €4000 good ? Well, that rather depends just how wedded you are to a 28mm field of view, and how much disposable income you have. I could stretch to €600 or so for a Ricoh GR, but €4000 for a Leica Q isn’t realistic in this household. Please note, I’m not saying you don’t get value for money - by and large I’d say you do. Apart from the flawless construction, you get a fabulous electronic viewfinder, by far the best manual focus system I’ve seen on a digital camera, and of course a lens which apparently is practically worth €4000 on its own.
The Leica Q isn’t perfect though, and the weak spots in my opinion are in the electronics. There are some weird handling glitches, for example the digital horizon vanishes when you half press the shutter button - just when you need it most. And also with the shutter button half-pressed, when you rotate the aperture ring the aperture display in the viewfinder doesn’t update. The menu could do with a little bit of categorisation, and I could not find a way to configure playback to show the image only, free of distracting icons and clutter. I expect a touch more refinement in that department at that price. Nevertheless, I was sorry to have to give it back. Not so sorry to be really tempted, although a 35mm version could conceivably push me over the edge.
For a moment I could pretend to be William Eggleston... bet he could afford a Q. And put it to good use, too.
(All photos - except the first - by Leica Q. Somehow I had the ISO stuck on 800 all weekend. I could have sworn I had it on Auto)