Just some stuff about photography

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Some Guy bites back

in General Rants , Tuesday, October 04, 2016

This stuff I wrote the other day was picked up by Andrew Molitor on his blog "Photos and Stuff" (hmm, sounds familiar), and put forward as an example of what happens when a photographer lacks a firm goal. He’s put it in a benign enough way - God help me if I should get on his wrong side - but I think maybe he’s hung his coat on the wrong nail. I don’t lack a firm goal - the problem is that I have far, far too many goals.

I could say taking my Iceland photography as the focus is not the best idea. To be honest, for me photography is just an excuse to spend time in Iceland. But since recently I have actually evolved a framework that I might be able to drape some Icelandic photography over, let’s leave that aside. Generally, the problem I was rambling on about the other week is not that I don’t know what I want to express.The problem lies in the detail of how to express it. And by extension, coming up against seemingly diametrically opposed advice on how to do so.

There is something slightly odd about advocating someone to study photo books (you should see my bookshelves) read about Real Photography (ditto, and a pretty broad selection) but at the same time advising them to steer clear of anything that smacks of technique, especially, God forbid, post-processing. Technique doesn’t make you a good photographer, but lack of technique - applicable technique, that is - can prevent a good photographer from emerging.

Certainly it is all too easy to go overboard on technique - the web is overflowing with examples of dangerous idiot savants who’ll sell you their useless advice - but that does not invalidate technique in itself. It would be like saying that a writer has no need of vocabulary or grammar. And that is a useful analogy: I often feel like I’ve got a whole bunch of stories to tell, pictorially, but I don’t quite have the technique to tell them. Let’s not fall into the trap of taking that too literally - of course there is a storytelling aspect to photography involving the sequencing of and relationships between photos. But there is also a storytelling aspect to single images, and the language to tell that story has verbs like dodging and burning and nouns like micro-contrast and tone. It’s hardly a new observation. So just because I may be having some trouble reconciling apparently contradictory advice on how to apply the language of post-processing doesn’t mean I haven’t got a clue about what I’m trying to express.

There’s another trap easily sprung - Andrew picks up on the not uncommon advice to flip a picture to study the balance. It comes naturally to view camera photographers who see the world upside down on the ground glass. The trap Andrew stumbled into is this: he exclaims “Really, who gives a shit about balance? I don't. Balance is a thing, but it's not an unalloyed good thing any more than blue is a good thing. It's just a property of the picture”. Well, yeah. But, er, who said anything about it being anything else ? The point is the trick frees you up to consider the balance. It doesn’t say, anywhere, that the balance has to be “right”. It just IS. Balance can be harmonious, and serene, or it can be tense and uneasy. If you “don’t give a shit about balance” then honestly I wonder if you give much of a shit about photography, finally. But I’m pretty sure Andrew assumed balance, in this context, means nice pretty blue skies with unicorns jumping over perfect rainbows. His reaction to my mention of this idea, by setting up and demolishing a straw man, somewhat tainted the rest of his argument. Actually I think he’d rather enjoy reading David Ward’s philosophical treatise on landscape photography, “Landscape Within”.

I suspect anything hinting at Landscape Photography is a bit of a red rag to Andrew. Landscape has become the stamp collecting or transporting of photography. It’s what socially inept people in smelly anoraks do, which lets them conflate their longing for shiny toys with wanting to impress the girls by being creative (we’re pretty much all boys). Well, anyway, that’s a view which Andrew sometimes gives me the impression he may subscribe to. He’s hardly the only one, but this idea that Landscape Photography is just a crutch for DPReview or 500px denizens and not something real Real Photographers do is pretty prevalent. Hell, it’s not far from the truth. But it’s a generalisation, and generalisations cloud vision.

To quote another bit “So what was it like, David? (and not just David, all you folks in the cheap seats should follow along) Take some time. Get out a notebook. Write. Think. What was it like to be in Iceland?” - well, actually, I’ve done that. Quite a lot. It’s scattered all over this blog, and it’s starting to coalesce.

(note, all this is in good humour. Andrew Molitor seems like the kind of guy I'd be happy to buy a drink for). Read his blog - he's definitely wrong about one thing - I'm not an "an occasional reader here", actually I read pretty much every word he writes.
Posted in category "General Rants" on Tuesday, October 04, 2016 at 10:30 PM

Snippets #1

in Unsolicited, rabid opinions , Wednesday, October 01, 2014

This is the first installment of what might turn out to be a semi-regular series. Or it could just be #1 of a series of 1. Basically a bunch of mini-blogs (blogettes?) inspired by random stuff I come across while commuting. Even more flippant, sarcastic and opinionated than usual.

So here we go:

Absurd gear rambling of week. Geek idol Ming Thein declares the Sony A7r as “unusable” (quick, somebody warn Joe Cornish!) and parades another million dollars’ worth of gear he’s just bought while declaring he’s just in the pursuit of Higher Art. Well, he does make some nice photos, but, really, “unusable” ?

The truly unique wildlife photography of Vincent Munier is given center stage in this month’s edition of Reponses Photo. I devoured every page, several times. So far away from the usual so-close-you-can-see-the-DNA wildlife shots.

And I’m still trying to over the shock of discovering that my 20 year old Minox 35ML loaded with Kodak Portra 400 is aesthetically more satisfying than my Olympus E-P5, and is pretty much a match technically too in equal conditions.

I came across National Geographic’s Your Shot Iceland collection the other day. To say that Iceland has become a cliché for photography has itself become a cliché. And fittingly this collection is a soul-destroying sequence of clichéd clichés of pretty much every crushingly over-exposed photo-op on the island. The dream location is fast turning into a nightmare.

And finally, on a positive note, the hopeful resurrection of Ferrania, starting with of all things, an E6 slide film. Really, who saw that coming ? Hopefully the first batch will be ready in time for my next trip to Iceland.

Posted in category "Unsolicited, rabid opinions" on Wednesday, October 01, 2014 at 10:24 PM

The case of the Zürich handbag

in General Rants , Monday, August 12, 2013

I can’t avoid adding my CHF 0.02’ worth on the Great Swiss Racism scandal, in which an obscenely rich Americam woman was somehow prevented from buying an obscenely expensive handbag in a shop catering to obscenely rich people in Zürich. Given that said woman is of African-American descent, this was of course a clear indication of the endemic racism embraced and encouraged by the entitre vile, evil Swiss nation. Or at least this is what a formerly respectable British newspaper, The Independent, would have you believe, unquestionably delivering the line it was fed.

But, could there be an alternative, hypothetical explanation? Could it actually be a case of a flustered shop assistant reacting in a less than perfect way to yet another loud, arrogant, wildly self-entitled American demanding that everybody in the world speaks perfect American English? Or could it be a case of a very miffed celebrity not being recognised as such? No, it must be racism, especially when said celebrity just happens to need this as a prop in her latest prime-time TV self promotion.

Of course the story isn’t even questioned, and the shop assistant’s side of it is of no interest to anybody. Not even to the Swiss Tourist Authority, who shamefully issued a demeaning apology on the assistant’s behalf.

One would not have thought that an American had to travel so far to find racism. But I suppose Switzerand seemed such an easy target. I doubt most of her audience even knows where Switzerland is, but it’s cleary foreign hence bad guys. Especally as it has all those bad banks (largely run by Americans, but whatever).

Switzerland has probably one of the most egalitarian societies in the world, despite being largely rural and small-c conservative. A full 25% of the population carries a non-Swiss passport. Switzerland welcomes more than twice as many asylum seekers per capita than any other European country, and in recent decades has absorbed and integrated a huge number of immigrants from the traumatised Balkans. Is there racial prejudice? Well, yes, and unfortunately in my random experience, it tends to be directed by people in blue and black uniforms with “Police” written on them against other people found in possession of a dark skin. But casual, day to day racial prejudice? You’d find more of that in one evening in a British country pub than a whole Swiss canton. And as for Alabama, well...
Posted in category "General Rants" on Monday, August 12, 2013 at 03:35 PM

Northern Lights Extravaganza in Iceland

in Humour , Monday, March 18, 2013

Northern Lights Extravaganza in Iceland:

northernlights-breiddalsvik_psConditions for viewing the northern lights in Iceland last night were spectacular with exceptionally clear skies and high Auroral activity.

(Via Iceland Review)

Well I could soon put a stop to all that. All I need to do is just hop on a plane to Keflavik and I can guarantee 100% cloud cover, drizzle, and blown fuses in all Aurora activation circuits.

Of course they’d start up again the day I left.

Anyway what’s the big bloody deal ? For one, all Aurora photos look exactly the same, and for another, the sky’s not supposed to be that colour anyway. Load of fuss over nothing if you ask me. Which you didn’t.

Posted in category "Humour" on Monday, March 18, 2013 at 07:48 PM

las malvinas son britanicas

in politics , Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, and the Falkland Islanders have voted to remain British. There’s a surprise. It’s difficult to form an opinion on this. I’ve been both to the Falklands and Argentina, and it seems that positions are fairly entrenched on both sides, although in Argentina the average person doesn’t seem to be all that bothered about it, despite constant wild-eyed hectoring by Margaret Thatcher

Cristina Kirchner.

Drm dp2 20130112 0514

They haven’t quite got over that little incident yet…

The

Bennies Malvinistas

Falkland Islanders never struck me as a particularly pleasant bunch of people, and the place itself is as miserable as a wet weekend in, well, Stanley. But it has to be said there is no tenable position for the the Argentinian Republic to claim them.  I really like Argentina, and Argentinians, but collectively as a nation they don’t have a terribly good record of peaceful neighbourly relations. They seem just a little insecure, why heaven’s knows, they have no reason to be.

Everywhere you go in Argentina, you can’t get away from being reminded that Las Malvinas son (no they’re not and never were) y seran (unlikely, the way they’re going about it) Argentinas. It gets real, really tiresome and quite frankly detracts from the fantastic natural and cultural riches the country actually does possess.

I guess I could, maybe, be convinced of the geographical argument, but even then Chile might also have a valid claim. But when the looney element of the Argentine body politic also lays claim to South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands (not to mention Antarctica) they go way off the red end of the credibility scale. Why not grab Tristan da Cunha while they’re at it? After all that’s Imperialist Colonist British too! Or why not South Africa, it’s on the same latitude as Argentina!!

I can’t see how this is ever going to get resolved. It would require adult behaviour on both sides, and of course a British government willing to restrain itself from stirring the pot. Fat chance of any of that.

Posted in category "politics" on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 09:15 PM

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