photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Calle e Fondamente

such auspicious signs

in Photography , Friday, January 31, 2014

Venice: where street signs are just a hint of where you might be, where you could be, where you once were.


Crazy City

sentimental claptrap

in Photography , Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I guess the answer to the question “does the world need another photograph of Venice ?” is pretty obviously a resounding NO. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon, or indeed Iceland’s Jokulsarlon, Venice has been photographed to oblivion and back. And yet while I feel absolutely no desire to add to my archive of Jokulsarlon shots, I could happily traipse around Venice - with or without a camera - every weekend.

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Venice, of course, was one of first tour destinations offered by Thomas Cook in the mid 19th century, and has been a magnet for travellers of all descriptions for centuries. Venice long ago sold her soul to the tourist trade, but then again, trade is at the very core of Venice. And yet although seemingly every inch of the city has been described and photographed countless times, every trip there seems to be like a new discovery. The causeway which takes you from Mestre to Venice bridges more than the lagoon. It takes you from one version of reality to another. The mainland seen from Venice appears like a distant mirage, a fragmented memory of some other, irrelevant place. The train station, or the Piazza di Roma, are like decompression tanks where part of these suddenly foreign lands are allowed to crossover with Venice, and which allow a space for the mind to adapt to the disorientation brought about by the shifting planes of reference.

Venice for many is part of a “See Europe in 5 days” package. Tick off St Mark’s, blow €50 on a gondola, and you’re done. I have to confess I did, finally, visit St Mark’s last December, since there was nobody around and no queues.  I even dithered about visiting the Doges palace, because you have to, really, but on the point of buying a ticket (also no queues, obviously: I don’t do queues), I realised that I’d be losing several hours of quality wandering-around-the-city-getting-lost time, and beat a hurried retreat.

Because that’s what Venice is about for me. Exploring labyrinths within labyrinths, with new details and new mysteries being revealed every time, but never really repeating. Fascinating hideaways which I don’t know how I found, and I’ll never find again. My favourite parts of Venice are, unsurprisingly, away from the focal points. I can never avoid the further reaches of the Castello, but even the less ancient parts of Cannaregio draw me in. The list goes on. And at night, it all changes.

In literature, Venice is often associated with ghost stories, like Girardi’s “Vaporetto 13”, or with gritty, dastardly crime, or scary tales like McEwan’s “Comfort of Strangers”. Or on the photographic side, Marsden’s “City of Haunting Dreams”. Sort of entertaining, but I don’t really get that, myself. For me, there’s the tangible sense of layers upon layers of living history, and most of all the essential craziness of the whole concept of this fabulous, ridiculous city, the “Pure City” so well chronicled by Peter Ackroyd. And there’s comfort in Venice’s confined yet endless spaces, and just a feeling of pure joy which it can communicate. And it’s an island. I’m a total sucker for islands.

So, no, the world does not need another photograph of Venice. But I do, and if you don’t, you might be well advised to steer clear of this blog for the next few weeks…


Commercial Break

money for nothing

in General Rants , Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Today I received an unsolicited email informing me that “Getty Images is interested in ANOTHER 12 of your photos! Wow! Awesome! High Five!”.


So what does this actually mean?  Some algorithm, trawling through Flickr has picked a set of photos which have, for whatever random reason, picked up a lot of “faves”.  In order to benefit from the privilege of Getty putting them up for licensing, and, in the extremely unlikely event of getting a bit, grabbing pretty much all the paltry sum that would accrue, I’d need to spend several evenings uploading high resolution versions, filling in forms and generally being a part-time Getty slave.

I guess if they throw enough mud, some of will stick. They can’t really lose, and they cruelly raise many people’s hopes of making money from their photography.  But I’ve been on the other end of the licensing game, and what the vast majority of buyers want is well-executed, but neutral, bland imagery with can serve their brand. That’s what stock photography is about.

And while opinions may differ on the merits of my photography (recently I was told that it is “overdone technically and cold and sterile”), it certainly isn’t designed to please anybody except me, and looking at it from the perspective of a stock imagery buyer, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. The selection they’re proposing is, frankly, weird. I certainly hope no human calling themselves a photo editor was involved.

Oh, and that bloody puffin. Why does EVERYBODY choose that one??? Even Getty’s sodding algorithm.

So, yeah, thanks Getty, but don’t call me, I’ll call you. Real soon.


I STILL use film

Stubborn old git

in Film , Sunday, January 26, 2014

Of all the reward and enjoyment that photography can bring, for me there’s still nothing that can quite match seeing a newly developed, well exposed transparency on the light table for the first time. The digital alternative of downloading a file from a card, opening it up in some application, applying basic corrections and pixel-peeping it on a screen is nowhere near to the same league. The colours in slide film just leap out at you, the contrast is already there, there’s a delicate vibrancy and luminance that is practically irreproducible in the digital world. Of course that’s where the fun stops and the pain starts.


Some film, yesterday.

The long process of scanning the film, while trying to keep it dust free, of carefully storing it, of checking the archive scan, converting the scan into a viewable and printable version is just starting, while over in digital workflow world you could have munched through 30 files at least. But it’s worth it. There’s no misty eyed nostalgia at work here: to my eyes, a well processed and printed photo scanned from slide film still has a character which digital can’t match. Or at least my digital can’t.

Maybe $50,000’s worth of Hasselblad or PhaseOne gear might change my mind, but that’s not going to happen on my pay grade. It’s purely subjective, of course, and by most if not all technical measurements it makes no sense, but I still find that I get a far higher proportion of keepers from film than I do from digital (interestingly, just after I wrote this, I read a blog post from Ming Thein which makes exactly the same point). And then there’s also the point that there is nothing in the digital world like the Hasselblad XPan, which is now my only regularly used film camera.

But increasingly the end looks to be nigh. Film cameras have their needs, and handling film does too. The obvious risk is that the ever dwindling supply of slide film on the market will shrink to nothing. Just today I discovered 3 rolls of the now defunct Kodak E100G lurking on the back shelf of a shop. They expire this month, but I still grabbed them. Then there’s the scanning part. My Minolta medium format film scanner is still going, after 12 years of constant use, but it’s getting cranky. The only feasible replacement on the market is the $2000 Plustek Opticfilm 120, which may or may not work well for XPan format slides. I have my doubts, and there’s no way to check it short of buying one. Then there’s another vital part of the chain: the light box for reviewing and editing slides, and preparing them for scanning.


Slide film on the light panel

I have a high quality Cabin A4 size light panel which I bought about 14 years ago. These days the company doesn’t even exist, and the light tube is not going to last forever. I’m not sure you can still buy anything even vaguely similar. Even more trivial but still vital: residue-free canned compressed air for blowing dust away. Whenever I see a few cans on sale, I buy them ... as today, when I also found those 3 rolls of E100G. Exotica such as electrostatic dust cleaning brushes have quietly vanished from the market over the last 5 to 10 years.

Sooner, probably, rather than later, the weakest link in this chain is going to break. Maybe even the camera itself will pack up. And at that point, photography is going to stop being quite as rewarding.


Book Review: The Last Ocean

Antarctica’s Ross Sea Project

in Antarctica , Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I’m gradually building up quite a large library of Antarctica literature, science and photography books, but my most recent acquisition is easily amongst the best.

The Last Ocean - Antarctica’s Ross Sea Project”, by John Weller, caught my eye in a fairly highbrow Art bookshop, the sort that usually only stocks books with blurry, grim, preferably black & white photos.  Certainly nothing as common as nature photography.


But The Last Ocean _is_ nature photography. Actually, it is extremely good nature photography, possibly the best contemporary Antarctic photography I’ve ever seen. John Weller’s photography is restrained, giving the land, the sea, and its native inhabitants space to breathe. Unlike so much other work, these photographs are about their subject, not about where the photographer has been or how hard he/she can push the saturation slider.  They are sometimes dramatic, but it’s never forced. This photography draws you in and captivates you. It doesn’t make you go “Wow! Great Capture! You must have a great camera!”, but rather it demands that you linger and let you eyes explore. It’s meditative, subtle and thoroughly gorgeous.

But that’s not the end of The Last Ocean by any means.  Photography is only half the story. The book is full of excellent, reflective essays on the Ross Sea ecosystem, and anecdotes about making the photographs. In fact I found that I had to read the book twice, once for the essays, and once for the photos. And then I read it again, twice.  The essays are not of the clingy, preachy, hand-wringing variety one might fear, but rather are informative, scientifically literate and very readable.

The Last Ocean is associated with the wider Ross Sea Project, a voluntary organisation started in 2004 to promote the establishment of a marine protected area (MPA) in order to conserve the pristine qualities of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. There’s also a film. But start with the book. You won’t regret it.

And if you happen to browsing Orell Füssli’s art book section in Zürich, watch out, they may still have some copies. They’re near the blurry, grainy black & white naked ladies books.

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