Anybody into arctic landscape, travel and humanist photography should take a look at Tiina Itkonen’s fabulous work.
Her gallery of Greenland icebergs is pure visual poetry, and avoids the “all the gear and no idea” look that plagues so much of this kind of photography. The way she captures the light and ambience of polar regions can only come from really wanting to convey an emotional connection to her subject (rather than a desire to get likes on Facebook).
And, quite remarkably, the one other subject she exhibits on her website, other than polar regions, is Venice.
Clearly she’s actually quite well known, but it took a tip off from “Project Hyakumeizan” to make me notice. I’m glad I did. I’m an instant fan.
Although I might, I suppose, be classified as a “landscape photographer”, I’m finding published landscape photography more and more tame, repetitive, formulaic and sterile*. Certainly there are people out there pushing boundaries, but very, very rarely am I surprised. So despite being an avid reader, and least so far as online reading is concerned I find myself more attracted to other genres for inspiration. And one monthly digital publication I can strongly recommend is “The Inspired Eye”, now at Issue 6.
The Inspired Eye is the work of two American photographers, Olivier Duong and Don Springer. And when I say “work”, I mean it. They clearly put the hours on, setting and maintaining very high production values, keeping to a tight schedule, and apart from producing a monthly magazine of well over 100 pages, which quite easily matches the quality of printed publications - they also run a lively blog, podcast and informative email list.
The emphasis is on “street”, and black & white, neither of which are my thing as such, but the variety and quality of the photographers (many if whom are largely unknown) makes for some fascinating reading and some rewarding discoveries. And sometimes some other styles creep in, and sometimes (gasp) some colour, even clearly neither editor is a huge fan of a more polychromatic approach.
But this kind of publication is what is keeping photography, as oppose to camera acquisition, alive these days, and it’s providing some great exposure to some deserving, creative and very interesting characters. It’s gritty, full of life, and if not everything appeals to everyone, well actually that’s good too. And there is very, very little talk about gear (although I imagine you get a discount if you own a Ricoh GR).
At $19.95 for a 6 issue subscription, you’d get an absolute bargain and you’d be supporting a really worthwhile venture. Give a try, you can even get Issue 1 as as free trial.
Do I need to add “highly recommended” ?
* obviously I include myself in this wild, uninhibited tirade.
Earlier this week, I was fortunate to come across a captivating exhibition in Venice, called Isola Nova. Presented by the Wilmotte Foundation, “Isola Nova” is the work of French artist Philippe Calandre, who’s work is a combination of photography, painting and video. Isola Nova presents a series of imagined new islands, drawing on both the real and the imaginary, combining elements of the real Venice with steampunk-like industry, set within a lagoon of dark, restless seas and skies.
The work is also reminiscent of the original Myst game, with its small, mysterious islands hiding disjointed artefacts and baffling technology. But there is something fundamental about this vision of complex yet contained worlds which strongly appeals to me. I am always drawn to islands, wherever I find them, and the real islands of the Venice lagoon are mysterious enough to me, never mind the fantastic creations of Isola Nova.
The originals are printed quite large. The photography is meticulous, exquisite - ands largely irrelevant. This is photography as an raw material for creativity, not as the end point, and in my opinion this is truly deserving of the label “art” in a way which very, very little photography is. It’s also sort of the way I first got hooked on taking photography seriously, as an input to illustration.
I guess Isola Nova would not be to everybody’s taste, but if by chance you happen to be in Venice before Feb 15th, and you can find your way to Fondamenta dell’Abbazza in Canareggio (it’s not that hard, but it’s a bit off the tourist circuit) then really, the exhibition is well worth a visit.
Although I’ve tried very hard, I have to confess: I really don’t like Sigur Rós very much. In small doses, ok, by the problem is all their doses are pretty much exactly the same. They just do the same song, again, and again, and again, with Jónsi warbling the same gobbledygook over the top of it on infinite repeat. But they’re extremely hip, so everybody like them. Or pretends to like them. Actually I do like the Heima film, but probably because the visuals flesh things out a bit. Otherwise, I’m calling Emperor’s clothes.
So I was quite surprised, the other day, when I stumbled across Amiina, apparently originally Sigur Rós’ string section. Their 2010 release, “Puzzle”, is really rather good. Not too overly “Icelandic”, which is a good thing, but still with a touch of the exotic. Naturally, like all good Icelanders, they sing about coffee, but never mind. Not that Icelandic “coffee” actually merits singing about. Avoiding, yes. And their song “In the Sun” (which features coffee) does start off sounding an awful lot like Ólöf Arnalds’ “Vinkonur”. But nevertheless, “Puzzle” is a gem. Quiet without being ambient, inventive without being too clever, and tuneful - quite unlike their ex-employers.
Check out their website.
Lomography. The painfully hip (although probably not so much these days) trend for making photographs with hopelessly bad cameras, where the whole point is in the flaws and general eccentricities. Or, alternatively, a company in Austria making a nice little sum turning out garishly packaged plastic boxes promising aforementioned hipness. Either way, the argument seems to be that Lomography is especially creative. I find this somewhat hard to understand, as the artist (the photographer, presumably) has little to no control over the creative process, having a few wildly inaccurate, crude controls, and the random lens, light leak and framing behaviours to deal with. Fun, maybe. Creative, not so much. But what do I know, I’m not hip.
Having said all that, back in November, in a fit of retail therapy I ordered Lomography’s latest creation, the 612 format Belair panoramic camera. I’ve always wanted to work with the 612 format, and while a Linhof 612 would cost around $4000, the Belair costs approximately 1/20th of that. While their first attempt at a panoramic camera, the Sprocket Rocket, in my view verges on the insulting, they seemed to be sort of serious about this one. So what the hell.
So it turned up in January, and to be honest I took one look at it and shoved it in the back of a cupboard. I wasn’t in the mood for it. But last week, I took it for a spin.
The Belair 612 comes in various finishes. Mine is called a “Jetsetter”. It’s plastic with some kind of a metal (I think “tin” best describes it) shell, and boasts a plastic faux-leather wraparound. It looks cute from a way off. It comes with two interchangeable lenses, a 58mm and a 90mm, both with f/8 and f/16 settings (cloudy & sunny…). And it has automatic exposure, with settable ISO. Focussing is zone only. Both lenses have dedicated viewfinders. These are truly, truly awful.
As far as operation goes, it’s basically a no-frills medium format film camera, which is fine. However the film loading is unnecessarily tricky, as the take up canister has little wiggle room, and you need to be careful to keep tension on the spool. It’s not exactly a Hasselblad A12, let’s put it that way. The shutter release is a bit of angled metal sticking out of the front standard. It is almost impossible to avoid camera shake when triggering it, and there’s neither remote release nor timer.
So, ok, it’s not that impressive out of box. Even if it is a comparatively classy box. And even considering the price. So how well does it work ? I loaded it up with some Lomography X Pro Slide Film (Agfa RSX II, apparently) and tried it out, both handheld and on a tripod, with both lenses. I made a few standard mistakes that can catch you out with any camera of this type, including double exposures, and winding on the film too far. But generally it worked. Here are some results, scanned at 2400dpi.
A 100% crop from the centre of the second image shows pretty much what I see through a loupe on the light table: not exactly medium format resolution. Just mush, basically.
So, the results from the plastic lenses are as one could predict. I have got one of Lomography’s Russian-sourced glass lenses on order, but they have been repeatedly delayed. The camera does not seem to be too prone to light leaks, which will surely come as a big disappointment to the hipsters, and given that I was using slide film, the exposure was in general ok. But it would be safer to use negative film. On the plus side, it is sort of fun to use, and I could immediately confirm that I like the 612 format.
But with those lenses, no pressure plate to keep the film flat in the camera, and adding to that the relative difficulty of scanning 120 format film, sharpness is not a characteristic which is going to be associated with the Belair 612.
It’s got a certain allure, but it doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a “serious” camera or a Lomo post-modern toy, and given the expense of feeding it 120 roll film, I’m not sure it makes that much sense. You could get far better results simply by cropping an image from pretty much any point and shoot digicam - and then run it through Instagram or whatever if you really must.
In conclusion, I didn’t really get on with the Belair. But that’s just me - it may well work for you and inspire your creativity. There’s certainly no cheaper medium-format, interchangeable lens, panoramic camera on the market. I wish I could recommend the Belair 612, but I can’t. Let’s see what it can do with a real lens. If it ever arrives.