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Adrift

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in General Rants , Wednesday, September 11, 2019

So here I am, sitting in seat 2F of an Icelandair Boeing 757, on my way to Greenland via Reykjavik, about 20 years and 1 month since I was doing pretty much exactly the same thing. Back then, I had some idea of what I was looking for. In fact it was two things: a life reset following a disastrous relationship breakdown, and a attempt to reconnect with the high latitudes. Photography was not really a part of it, which is just as well as 95% of my film exposures were ruined.

Twenty years later the world has moved on. I’m really not at all sure what my reason for travelling is this time. I’m neither the person of 20 years ago looking for a new direction, or indeed the passionate photographer of 10 or 15 years ago.

Twenty years ago we could sit around and wonder at the first public ruminations on climate change. Indeed these were nothing new to me as up until that point polar climate research had been my career. It was all a bit concerning but somehow a long way off, and anyway, surely “they” would see sense and Do Something. After all, even the Wicked Witch of the East, Margaret Thatcher, recognised that it was a serious issue. Then again, Thatcher was a scientist, and with hindsight, not totally evil. So we all waited. And waited. And here we are. I think that the correct description of our current status is “totally fucked”. Rather than stumbling towards at least some kind of enlightenment, we are hurtling head on to extinction, not only of our own miserable species, but also of the whole amazing biosphere we are part of. Led by imbeciles like Trump, Johnson, Putin, Xi Jinping, Bolsonaro, Salvini and countless others, along with the shady cohort of “advisors” and billionaires who pump in the money to enable them, we are accelerating into a brick wall. It is hard to understand what motivates these people. They’re not all stupid, far from it, and they surely must realise what the real situation is. But they don’t care. Applying Occam’s Razor almost leads to the conclusion that the Legions of Hell are a real thing, and these people are the vanguard. Do they really believe they can eat, drink and breathe money?

The not so slow-motion collapse of the Arctic ecosphere is not highlighted as a last chance alarm bell, as Thatcher surely would have done, but, unbelievably, as a chance for Trump, sodding Putin and Xi to drill yet more oil. Presumeably to throw onto their mate Bolsonaro’s fires.

And yet, here I am, ranting on about this, while travelling in splendid isolation, somewhere over France, in a Boeing 757 spewing out carbon dioxide, so I can take a few photos of what remaining icebergs we might find. By all rights I should not be able to afford this flight. The true cost is far more than I can pay.

I see no reason for optimism. None at all. Sure, there are a lot of good people out there, but there are no good sufficiently empowered leaders. The problems that need to be resolved are immense, and complex on all sorts of levels. The issue of over population needs to be addressed, because this is a root cause. The planet certainly can sustain the current and projected population, but not with the current wealth imbalance.  Us Europeans and North Americans cannot continue to grab 90% of the world’s resources. The misery in much of Asia and Africa, and to some extent South America, need not exist if we had equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Certainly our living standards would need to drop a little (actually not so much) and I would not be sitting on this plane. But is this going to happen, at least peacefully? Not a chance. And that’s before we even start to look at really bring greenhouse gas emissions under control. But hey, even if we solve THAT intractable problem, there’s that little issue we have with plastic pollution. And all the rest of it.

On balance I’m relieved that I don’t have children, and that I was born early enough that I will, probably, escape the worst of this.

And yet, the USA will doubtless re-elect Trump. After all, what alternatives do they have? The numbskull British will obey the Daily Mail and elect Johnson, because Johnson offers the Daily Mail’s billionaire owners, and the billionaire friends, more money. And they’ll come up with some way to bribe the populace with some baubles in exchange for a livable future. They won’t elect Jeremy Corbyn, a thoroughly decent chap with the Achille’s heel of being far, far too honest for today’s politics. Even though Corbyn could save them and navigate a path to a sustainable future. They won’t do that, because they might have to pay a smidgeon more for their beer, and maybe take the bus sometimes rather than the SUV. Of course this is all really Darwin’s law in action, expect it’s in action on us, not on some esoteric concept like the Dodo.

So what am I doing here? If I had a following, or were An Influencer, perhaps I could claim that my matchless photography will open the world’s eyes to these issues. But it won’t. We’ve seen enough photos of Scoresbysund - it is indeed a remarkable place, perhaps we should let it be. No, I’m going for purely selfish reasons. It will be great to meet up again with my friend Daniel Bergmann, although it says something about my ability to form friendships that I have to travel halfway across the Atlantic to do so. And maybe I’ll make some new friends, who knows. But I have no expectations of making any photography of any consequence, and certainly not of alleviating the problems that my very travelling is significantly contributing to.

One hour and twenty minutes out from the slow gentle descent into Keflavik gazing out over the pink tinged clouds shrouding the ocean, it all looks so peaceful and timeless. But when we go down, as we surely will, we’ll doubtless take it with us. All that remains is, for those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity, to enjoy it while we can. And take some photos.

 

Medium Dilemma

end of the roll?

in Film , Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This time last year I was fully into a major return to film photography.  In fact I hardly made any digital photos for the whole summer. Things like the reintroduction of Ektachrome (albeit late) and the ArsImago LabBox (ditto, very) were galvanising, as was the new (in English at least) dedicated film photography magazine, Fotoklassik.

And now? Well, so far I have just about managed to finish one of my 5 rolls of first batch Ektachrome E100, and I struggled to shoot a total of 4 frames (plus 1 screwup) of 120 film. I’ve just stopped finding film photography, and film cameras, particularly motivating. Instead I now find them clumsy and heavy, and the whole end to end process unwieldy, unreliable and a massive timesink. And although it’s certainly just me, I’m not finding the content of Fotoklassik very enthralling. The LabBox arrived but so far it has just sat in its packaging (actually I did shoot two rolls of the Ars Imago 320 roll film that came with it, to try out developing. The first ended up as a fat roll, the first I have ever had, ever, in my Bessa III. So that’s a great introduction to the world of Ars Imago).

Drm 20190505 P5050555

Film not dead in 2019

What is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo.  There are a few exceptions, in particular when it comes to using the XPan, but to be absolutely honest I think the last time I wasn’t forcing myself to use it was in Antarctica in 2012. I did use it somewhat extensively in Calabria last year, but it was a bit half-hearted. And I can still remember just what a pain it was carting a full XPan kit along with DSLR around Argentina and Antarctica. I can’t see myself doing that again - or maybe I can, that’s the great thing about being indecisive!

There are some glimmers of renewed motivation from my first roll of E100. It does look very good indeed, seems to have slightly wider exposure tolerance than E100G, and the same slightly muted neutral colour balance I like. And I still enjoy using the XPan, which for quite some time was my primary camera. But can I face packing it up and carting it all over the place? With boxes full of film in hand baggage? I’m far from sure. These days it needs to compete as a second system with my Sigma sd H, and honestly, that’s a competition which is most likely to have no winner. The Olympus stuff is much less cumbersome, and at least as if not more competent in most scenarios.

Drm 20190505 P5050554

Film service industry is big business in 2019

Still, I have two imminent trips. The first to Puglia in Southern Italy, and actually for that film really does work, in the shape of Portra 400 in my Bessa 667.  The next is Scoresbysund and nearby fjords in East Greenland. For this the Olympii are already packed: two bodies and three pro zoom lenses = 6kg, which is pretty remarkable. The question is, is this enough (well of course it is) or should I add either the XPan kit, the Sigma sdH, or even a kind of hybrid of the two, the Sigma dp0. This time last year the XPan would have gone in first, and I’d probably even be rationalising about taking the Linhof 612.  Now… I’m inclined to just accept that simple is better. And film, actually, isn’t simple.

Xpan 2019 01 10

XPan / E100 in 2019

 

 

Way off the reservation

everybody hates me, etc

in General Rants , Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Preface: I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to write this diatribe at this particular time. It is just one aspect of a growing dissatisfaction which I have with all this photography culture stuff. And irritation with pretty much everything that crosses my lawn.

A while ago, quite a while in fact, I made a conscious decision to choose photography as a hobby. Apart from the photography in itself, it seemed like a good excuse to get out of the house, and a way to meet interesting people and make new friends. And as the internet exploded it seemed to promise even more. All those websites, fora, photo sharing - a cornucopia of engagement with like-minded people.

Maybe it’s all my own fault, but it didn’t really work out that way. Over time I discovered that the photographic community, by and large, has the highest aggregation of snake oil sales(wo)men, frauds and egomaniacs in the known universe. In fact I’ve realised that I found very few like-minded people, and hardly community at all. Instead it was just a frantic souk milling with people shouting LOOK AT ME! ME! MEEEE!

Pretty much photographic blogging boils down to self-marketing and selling.  Most photography tweeters are plugging their own or their sponsors’ products. The number of people publishing quality material just for the love of it, be it photography itself or writing about photography is near zero. And as far as I can tell, in the increasingly vomit-inducing world of “landscape photography”, if you remove Guy Tal, it is exactly zero. And to be honest, you can probably have too much Guy Tal.

In less constrained themes there are a few beacons of hope. Andrew Molitor’s writings are largely way over my IQ threshold (no, not that IQ, the other one), but he writes very engagingly, and even when I haven’t got the faintest notion what he’s going on about, I enjoy reading him. The chap behind the Leicaphilia site is good too, and I enjoy reading his stuff even if I have very little interest in Leicas as such. And that’s about it - the other engaging writers gave up about 10 years ago. All the other sites in my bookmarks are full of regurgitated nonsense promising to make me such a better photographer if only I’d buy their workshop / course / ebook / presets, or buy that shiny new camera from the company that’s bankrolling their trip to Outer Wazookstan.

Sadly it’s pretty much the same thing at a personal level. I’m running the risk of upsetting a few people here, but frankly I don’t give a damn. Look at yourselves, people. Especially those of you who are my best friends forever when you want something, or when I buy your stuff, and then don’t write or call until that time you’ve got something else to sell. Fine, you’re in business to sell stuff, but just stop with being so fake about it. Only in the Photography World have I encountered this level of mendaciousness, and I’m getting so sick of it that it is getting close to putting me off photography altogether. The only solution I can see is to pull down the shutters and work in complete isolation, which is totally contrary to my initial motivations. I’ve always tended to believe in mutual assistance, but I’ve lost count of the number of photo buddies I’ve promoted, publicised, helped in other ways, only to see them pull the ladder up as soon as I was of no further use in the Quest to be a Master Nature Photographer. Sure, it could just be me - but really, it seems to be only photography as a pursuit that does this to people.

Why does photography drive such behaviour? Why do we accept that anybody with a camera and some ability in self-marketing can call themselves as “educator”? Is just because is it so easy? Does anybody have any theories?

Of course, there are a few exceptions, and I’m going to assume (if you’re reading this) that you know who you are, because if I included you in the above group, I wouldn’t be buying your stuff…

I’ll go and shout at some clouds now.

 

Some photography

well why not?

in Photography , Thursday, July 25, 2019

Summerbreeze is blowing through your window
And summerbreeze is blowing through your hair
Something in your eyes that took me by surprise
Don’t tell me that it ain’t there

Emiliana Torrini - Summerbreeze

Well, that’s a totally irrelevant quote. Although nothing is really irrelevant, is it?  There is no shortage of summer around these parts, even if the breeze part could do with some replenishment. So, I realised I don’t really write much about my own photography here these days, even if it is superficially the point of the exercise.

Therefore I would kindly direct you to some recent uploads. One, I’ve refreshed one of my “recent work” galleries here, with some, well, recent stuff.  It includes a significant representation of photos from Madeira, of which I have lots, and I’m still struggling to edit. The levadas of Madeira have capitvated me in a way that little else in quite some time, but getting that fascination across in photography is a puzzle.

In a very, very convoluted way the above quote sort of points to the next set, which is actually a refresh of a gallery I used to have here: Pyramiden, in Svalbard. A couple of weeks ago I was persuaded to do yet another backflip and agree to join a short expedition to East Greenland in September. Which means I needed to dust of some of “Arctic” stuff a bit. Maybe I’ll add some more.

Anyway, do please take a look. It’s free, it won’t hurt, and something may take you by surprise.

Lord it’s hot here.  Too hot to type.

 

Best Cameras For Landscape Photography

it’s not what you think…

in General Rants , Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Recently the photonet has thrown up a couple of pieces aiming to list the Best Cameras For Landscape Photography. Both DP Review and Photography Life have pretty much concluded that you must have a very big and expensive digital camera to do landscape photography, and frankly, if you don’t have a $10’000 Fuji GFX100, you might as well give up. I will say that DP Review have rebalanced things a bit with a video demonstrating that you can get excellent results with a basic DSLR, but the general theme, as ever, is that for some vague reason, “landscape” photography demands huge resolution.  Leaving aside the fact that neither list includes any camera I own, which frankly doesn’t bother me, this peer pressure pushing people to buy unnecessarily complex and expensive gear makes me angry.  Gear-oriented discussion of Landscape photography comes with a number of tired, ungrounded clichés, which apart from the ridiculous and ever increasing demand for megapixels, includes equating Landscape with “wide angle”, with ultra high end lenses, and huge backpacks.

Frankly it’s all rubbish. Just a couple of years ago people were salivating over 16 megapixel cameras, and winning awards with photos taking with 35mm film.  Those ancient cameras still work, and if your photos (or indeed my photos) are no good at 16, or even 6, megapixels, they’re not going to be any better at 100. You’re just going to have a lot less money to be able to spend on travelling around to actually enjoy photography.

And speaking of travelling, airline carry-on bag dimensions and weight are constantly decreasing. If you like to have a reasonable selection of focal lengths to chose from, even “full frame” is going to become troublesome.  There’s not much point in having that super mega camera or that super bright telephoto lens if you can’t afford to travel with them.

Of course sometimes the biggest and best is justified, but either because somebody else is paying, or because you’re wealthy.  And even then, the difference in outcome is often not much more than size.  Take Julian Calverly for example: while he does a lot of commercial work with a medium format system - where he actually needs tilt shift lenses - he also produces equally fabulous work using an iPhone.

Far be it for me to lay down the law, but I’m just passing on my experience - I spent too many years in the gear acquisition hamster wheel, and frankly it has bought me very little lasting pleasure. If I look at my favourite photos, there is no correlation whatsoever with the perceived quality of whatever camera I was using. Actually most of the few photos I have which have received external praise, and even generated income, were taken using a 5Mpix camera.  A camera which just happened to have excellent ergonomics.

And that’s the key really - the best camera for your landscape photography is the one you feel the most comfortable with, which will get out of the way and allow you to concentrate on the photography. The so-called “image quality” is close to irrelevant, as pretty much all cameras today are well past good enough.  And what differences there are are far from linear - a $10’000 Fuji GFX does not have image quality 10 times greater than a $800 Fuji X-T30. In fact in many cases you’d have to look very closely to see any difference.

My advice is simple - keep the weight down, and buy something digital with weather sealing. The rest will take care of itself.

 
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