photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Guru Fatigue

Mr Grumpy strikes again

in General Rants , Monday, April 30, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to have a bit of a clean-up of the various photography and photographer RSS feeds I’ve been following.  Although I hadn’t intended it that way, the ones that got the chop are, to be blunt, the self-appointed gurus. The ones that stayed tend not to be selling anything. I realised that I’ve been getting far too hung up on various people’s opinions that just don’t matter.  We seem to be going through some kind of bubble, where a whole slew of people who’ve owned a camera for about 5 years have set up websites left, right & center setting out their stalls and inscribing the Truth on their stone tablets. Usually there’s more than a whiff of cod mysticism involved, or some slightly nauseating goody two shoes humanism. And all wrapped up in one of three visual recipes: wild over saturation, fake cross processing, or long exposure complete with vignetting. And spread over countless e-pages in e-books, or even,

, print books.  Travel advertising as travel photography, IKEA prints as art. Sadly the amount of original thought is very low, and awareness of any kind of context or history of photography is even lower. It’s like the world was reset with Digital, or maybe with expired film in crap cameras.

About 10 years ago, things were a little different. I learnt a lot from Michael Reichmann’s Luminous Landscape - which started out around 1998 if I remember correctly, which took a rather different approach. No preachy tone, although plenty of opinions, but opinions, suggestions and pointers backed up with many years of experience. A few others are worthy of note, but none have had the staying power of the Luminous Landscape - even if, personally, both it & I have moved on, and we’re not really in the same space anymore. But actually after all these years it’s still the gold standard.

Much of the preachiness involves the exhortation to “Follow Your Vision (but give me money so I can tell you what it is)” (does that bring the same analogy to your mind as it does to mine) ?  But I’m cutting loose. You can’t buy inspiration in an eBook. Inspiration is all around, it’s free, and uniquely personal. Not everybody in the world can be a great photographer, but everybody can follow their own personal journey through photography. And personally I find it a lot more rewarding when I manage to forget all the gurus whispering in my ears.


Save Hermann Hesse’s legacy

Pull up the trees and put up a parking lot…

in General Rants , Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ever since I moved to Ticino I have been saddened by the apparent total lack of respect that planning authorities and property speculators (who by some wild coincidence may well be closely related) have for the history and beauty of the landscape.  It is incredibly striking to drive from Lugano along the lakeside road towards Porlezza and then Menaggio on Lake Como. As soon as you cross the border, the banal, ugly mass of concrete blockhouses gives way to a more gentle mix of older and newer building styles which blend in to the landscape and give true atmosphere, unlike the frankly ugly and increasingly soulless Lugano. Of course it’s not all black & white: Italian chaos and disrespect for the environment is alive and well even there. But 100 or even 50 years ago Lugano could rival comparable northern Italian cities for the elegance of it’s civic architecture. Now, well it would make a British 1960’s town planner blush.

But the ongoing march of the bulldozer, crane and cement mixer has plumbed new depths in Ticino. Property speculators now plan to cram a set of square concrete boxes (than you so much, Mario Botta…) into the small park in front of the second house Herman Hesse lived in in Montagnola, Casa Rossa.  This takes not only selfishness, greed and tastelessness to new heights, but it adds in a healthy dose of blind stupidity as well. Ticino lives increasingly from tourism, despite the fact that it does very little to deserve it, and somehow expects the Tourist Euro / Dollar / Yen as a Divine Right. But now to deface with legalised vandalism an important part of one of the richest tourist attractions on the territory to build a few extra lake view boxes (priced in Roubles, no doubt) is beyond shameful.

Even if Hermann Hesse’s legacy was not popular (which is not the case - visitor numbers to the museum are increasing), the lack of respect for a valuable cultural legacy of worldwide interest puts the responsible authorities somewhere near the Taliban in this respect.

There is actually a photographic angle to this, because the issue is being championed by veteran Swiss photographer Giosanna Crivelli, and she has created a dedicated website with further information and a multi-language petition which anybody can sign.

If you also feel that this is a step too far, please take a few minutes to add your voice.

Oh well, that’s blown my chances of Swiss citizenship. Again grin


Instant Goth

Black, white and little in between

in Film , Friday, April 13, 2012

And finally the truly awesome Polagraph. This film was intended principally for document reproduction (like, I believe, Kodak Technical Pan), but it was a match made in heaven for graveyards, crumbling ruins, etc. Admittedly it is somewhat limited in application, but, oh to have used it in Venice.

Anyway, I’m in a bit of a hurry today, so I’ll let the pictures Speake Their Dismal Wordes.


Both photos taken quite some time ago at the Mount Cemetery, Guildford, England.


Instant Colour

Polachrome emerges into the light

in Film , Wednesday, April 11, 2012

So, onto Polaroid Polachrome. This was Polaroid’s instant colour slide film, and a bit of a strange(r) beast. Rated at ISO 40, in terms of colour and saturation it looked surprisingly good on the light table, a bit like a cross between Kodachrome and Velvia. And as far as I can tell from what few slides I still have, taking into account that I never shot it seriously, it seemed to have reasonable dynamic range too.  But the really weird thing about Polachrome, which I’d forgotten but have now rediscovered, is that if you look through a loupe you see that the image seems to be made up from series of thin horizontal lines, a bit like a old raster display. This really throws my film scanner:

Polac lines

I couldn’t really get anything sensible from the film scanner, but the Canoscan 9000F managed a little better, being unhampered by high resolution.


This is totally unprocessed, a direct TIF from the scanner. It looks far better on the light table, and it might be possible to extract a far better file from it if I could be bothered, but there’s not much point really.

Here are a couple of shots which hint and what might have been possible way back then. Both direct from the scanner, nothing changed except downsizing to fit.


I seem to be permanently attracted by off-beam, marginal and downright eccentric solutions. So I guess I’ll never own a Canon or a Nikon DSLR. Polaroid instant slide film was fun, albeit most of the time totally impractical. At least the monochrome stuff was almost unique, but Polachrome had to compete with 24 hour or under E6 lab processing, and frankly it was never going to stand a chance, except in very particular situtations, such as a when living in a tent in the Antarctic. No, really.

Tomas Webb wrote more about Polachrome a while back.  The comments on his article are a bit painful: I threw out my apparently worthless Polaroid processor… seems I should have put it on eBay!


Instant Nostalgia

Revisiting Polaroid’s instant slide film

in Film , Tuesday, April 10, 2012

One of those things I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages, I’ve finally done: revisting my small collection of Polaroid instant slide film photos. Instant slide was probably not one of Polaroid’s better known product lines, but I was a fan until it was discontinued some 10 years ago.  I mainly used it during the late 90s, when my photography was beginning to take shape. Back then I was strongly influenced both by my then over-riding interest in illustration and narrative as opposed to photography for photography’s sake (which I considered a bit pointless), and by my then girlfriend, an abstract painter who’s artistic education and skill was way out of my league.

I was also exploring early “cheap” digital cameras as the time, and loved the instant feedback (well, except for the huge Fuji thing I had which didn’t have an LCD), but not so much the quality, or indeed the cost of the batteries. So Polaroid instant slide film, coupled with my pair of Canon A1s, was a great alternative.

Apart from illustration I was very much into the early stages of the multimedia explosion, and in particular QuickTime VR, and so a lot of my photography was providing input to labyrinthine (in several senses) assemblies of navigable, interactive panoramas (and anybody who’s being following this blog can guess where that led!)

Polaroid produced several different film types, including Polapan, Polachrome, and seriously contrasty Polagraph.  Polapan and Polagraph were, as far as I know, the only positive black & white slide films made other than Agfa Scala. As far as I remember there was also a high saturation colour film designed for graphics, like Powerpoints and stuff like that. Very Old People may remember that there was a big market back in the day for outputting direct from Powerpoint to 35mm transparency. Anyway, digression.

So here, for your entertainment, a couple of shots from a deserted Borough Market, South London, July 1998, shot on Polapan 125, in these examples with a red filter to make it even gloomier.


Check back soon for some examples of the actual quite remarkable Polachrome, and the seriously gothic, graveyard-special Polagraph!