photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Introspection and Influence

still no idea, really

in General Rants , Friday, December 02, 2022

One way or another photography is obviously a significant factor in my life. I’m honestly not sure if I’m happy with that, sometimes it feels like a massive waste of time, complete trivia, something I’m actually really not very good at - but it is what it is.

I’m pretty much hermetically sealed in my photography practice. It is 100% amateur, I have no clients, I have no substantial contact with other photographers that would provide me with any feedback or interaction. I photograph alone, I process alone, and I largely publish to an audience of 1, myself. I do interact on a very superficial extent with a small group of people on Flickr, but interaction there dropped pretty much to “Like” level following changes years back which effectively disincentivised more engaged behaviour, and trivialised the site.  Instagram ... not my thing.

So how do I evaluate what I’m doing, especially in the light of my persistent nagging feeling that it is actually little better than rubbish? Well all I can do is compare. And then it gets confusing. Mostly I compare with photos printed in books, of which I’ve acquired a large number. For some reason, I find that the results of these comparisons fall into two categories: those that are vastly better than mine, and those which are nowhere near as good as mine. In the second group I also sometimes find photos which aren’t really very memorable, but of which I have near identical versions.  There is a smaller third group, where the photography may well have considerable merit, but leaves me indifferent. What I don’t really get is a clear orientation of where I actually stand.  Note, I have to say that the first group is pretty much made up of established artists, and the second more of YouTube bros.

While there is a lot of photography I enjoy, and admire, the list of photographers than I can genuinely claim as an influence is not all that long.  The most significant would be Andris Apse, Hans Strand, Harry Gruyaert, Frank Gohlke, Franco Fontana - quite an eclectic bunch, and perhaps a clear indication that consistency and clarity of vision will forever evade me.

I’m fairly stubborn in my outlook to photography, and quite impervious to instruction. Perhaps another way of putting it would be lazy. I rely on instinctive composition, I really do not have some inner voice rambling on about placing whatever on whichever magic circle intersection, like the YouTube bros do. I just go “oooh, pretty, point. click”. Sometimes I check the focus, or at a real stretch, the exposure. I have no idea what is supposed to be wrong with f/22.

Often I come home with a crop of photos that I’m quite happy with.  I download them, start fiddling around with them, filter out the complete duds, and get them into some finished form. A few I will upload to Flickr, where they largely sink without trace, and for whatever reason I usually realise after a while that I’ve actually uploaded the objectively weaker shots, for subjective reasons that my audience neither knows nor cares about. So from an external viewpoint, I’m really a terrible editor, especially in the context of social media. The (subjectively) better shots actually I usually print, in some cases quite large.  But literally nobody else sees these.

If I compare my “landscape photos in the style of Hans Strand”, I quickly realise that they are a million miles away from equal. It isn’t so much the composition, or the lighting, or whatever, but more the lack of depth. Really successful photos, not just landscape, work well at all levels. Attractive composition isn’t just found in the foreground elements, but all the way through the photo, down to the smallest detail. This, I think, is what accounts for their longevity, it’s the quality which allows us to revise and enjoy time and time again. I can’t achieve that. I would suggest Simon Baxter’s photography as a very good example of this ability.

Here is an example: I took quite some time over this shot, focus stacked it (which I hate), thought about the composition, yet the background is just chaos, nothing at all to rest the eye on.

If I’m kind to myself I might think that perhaps it isn’t so much that I’m not very good at landscape photography, but more that my twist on urban landscape is more my forte.

This, on the other hand, is a simple unplanned off-the-cuff photo I took recently, no tripod, point and shoot, and to me it seems much more coherent.

Probably the most compelling portfolios I could put together would be around urban landscape. Venice, perhaps, or several themes in southern Italy. But on the other hand, I really enjoy exploring and photographing the landscape. Perhaps if I had somebody to bounce ideas off and to exchange suggestions and experiences with, it might help. Then again, probably not :-)

 

Posted in General Rants on Friday, December 02, 2022 at 11:19 AM • PermalinkComments (0)

Architects may come…

...and architects may go

in Book Reviews , Monday, October 10, 2022

Last night I finally finished reading the epic “Venice, the city and its architecture”, by Richard Goy (Phaedon Press, 1999). Let’s say that again, epic. And heavy too, both physically and intellectually. Although not having any architectural knowledge at all, some of the terminology made it quite hard going for me, it is actually a very readable and quite fascinating book. I wish I had read it years ago.

I’ve tended to turn my nose up at the more monumental structures of Venice. I’ve only been inside St Mark’s once, and the same goes for Doge’s Palace, although in both cases that is in large part due to my aversion to queuing for anything (including ice creams). Not all that long ago there were still times of the year where Venice was not in the slightest bit crowded.

However having read this book cover to cover (which requires some dedication) has given me a significant new perspective. Understanding the human context under the skin of all these epic piles puts them in a very different light than that shed by the usual by-numbers guidebook commentary.

“Venice, the city and its architecture” was actually published over 20 years ago, and is not all that easy to find these days. I noticed a copy in the window of a bookshop in Venice earlier this year, but decided it was too heavy to carry around with me. I did try to get the shop to send it to me, but they adhere to standard Venetian passive agressivity and refuse to have anything to do with any concept invented later than the 18th century (then they’ll be whining they had to to shut down and sell to a Chinese tat vendor, but that’s 21st Century Venetians for you). Anyway. The type setting in the book is pretty weird. Very, very small paragraph text, with titles even smaller. This makes it uncomfortable to read, not principally because of the small type, but also because this leads to line lengths which are painful to scan. No pain, no gain I guess.  Also most photographs and illustrations are bafflingly small for such a large book. The editors did not do a good service to the author, which for a publisher with the reputation of Phaidon is really quite baffling. Still, I guess it was a miracle it was published at all, I doubt that it would be in today’s TL;DR era.

The book goes beyond a description of architecture, which is just as well, as I’m totally out of my depth when it comes to any discussion of pediments, orders and a whole bunch of terms which just as well be Martian to me. Particularly interesting is the extensive section on the Ghetto and the Jewish history of Venice. It also describes just how it was possible to build the city and especially these massive structures on a semi-submerged collection of desolate mud flats. The invisible foundations of Venice must be at least on a par with the pyramids or the Great Wall of China in terms of unimaginable scope and (manual) effort. It puts everything in a historical and political context, right until the 20th Century. And the author extends to a discussion of everyday vernacular buildings from the earliest days onwards, although this is one section I’d like to be a bit more detailed. For me the near endless cataloguing of churches did verge on tedious, but then again, the city’s ridiculous number of churches are fundamental to its social fabric.

Probably to get the full benefit of this book, you need to be better versed in the history of art, and perhaps certain basics of architecture, than I am, but nevertheless, if you, like me, are irretrievably hooked on the charms and mysteries of La Serenissima, then “Venice, the city and its architecture” is a must have. Next time I visit I’ll be looking at the city with an enhanced perspective.

 

Posted in Book Reviews on Monday, October 10, 2022 at 11:24 AM • PermalinkComments (0)

Hasselblad XCD 35-75 Lens Review

The Glass is always Greener

in Product reviews , Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I’ve always tended to avoid writing explicit gear reviews, for a number of reasons. First of all, I’m not really enough of a gear head or authority to write them, second, because it isn’t really about the gear, and third, because it’s too much like hard work. But on the other hand, reviews drive traffic, and finally what’s the point of running a web site if I don’t try at least a little bit to drive traffic?

I’m fully aware that me reviewing a high end object such as the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens is faintly ridiculous. Even more ridiculous, not to say foolhardy, is me actually owning one. Well, I’ve gone into my reasons for the extravagance of buying into Hasselblad medium format elsewhere, and my ownership of the 35-75 zoom came about by chance. I actually had no hope or even really desire to buy this lens, but earlier this year I stumbled across an almost unbelievable offer. Coming from a very reputable dealer, it was advertised as secondhand, without packaging, and nearly half retail price. But when it turned up it was boxed, still with protective foils, and indistinguishable from new - I decided not to quibble. But I still had a touch of buyer’s remorse. It’s big, heavy, and has very limited range compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to. But then I used it…

The other reason for writing this review is that as far as I can see there are no user reviews whatsoever online, apart from Vieri Bottazinni’s very thorough and detailed treatment, and a number of HeyGuysWassup YouTubes from talking heads who had the lens on loan for 3 days. What I want to try to cover is what it is like to use the lens day to day.

So, on with it.

This lens is the first and so far only zoom for the Hasselblad X system. Hasselblad claim it to be “the best lens we ever designed”, and various people with far more expertise and experience than me seem to think that this claim is justified. Using “full frame” as a benchmark, the range of the lens is equivalent to 28-59mm, which is a bit short, or very short when compared to the Micro Four Thirds zooms I’m used to using. This rather dampened my desire for it for a while. The aperture is not fixed, but the f/3.5-4.5 is perfectly fine for me. I’m not a narrow depth of field shooter, quite the opposite, and comparing again with Micro Four Thirds zooms, f/4 on that system is fine for me. So f/4.5 on the X system is easily enough. At 1115g, there is no getting around the fact that the lens is big and heavy, but it is surprisingly comfortable to hand hold, thanks to the superb ergonomics of the X1D body, along with the internal zooming mechanism.

Several reviews comment on the fact that the performance of the lens matches or exceeds that of XCD primes. This may well be the case, certainly I have no cause for complaint, but it is perhaps worth mentioning that the 35-75 range overlaps only with two XCD prime focal lengths, at 45mm and 65mm, so in terms of replacing a bag full of primes, it doesn’t do all that well. Nevertheless, considering it on its own terms rather than as a prime replacement, it is surprisingly useful. [as I write this, it becomes out of date. Hasselblad have now added new 35 and 55mm lenses to the XCD range]

Earlier this year I wandered around Venice for a couple of days. I took the zoom, the XCD 21 and the XCD 90 with me. Initially the 21 and 90 ended up staying in my bag. Later they ended up staying in the hotel. Of course, there is a degree of reluctance to change lenses on the X1D, partly due to the risk of getting dust on the sensor, and partly due to the relatively clumsy process of changing large heavy lenses.  But actually, even in some quite constrained spaces, the range of the 35-75 was not particularly limiting.

Here are a few examples taken with the Hasselblad XCD 35-75 zoom lens in Venice, all handheld except the night shot:

1/160 at f/8, 35mm

1/640 at f/8, 65mm

1/180 at f/11, 35mm

1/160 at f/12, 35mm

1/160 at f/11, 35mm

1/250 at f/8, 70mm

1/180 at f/7.1, 55mm

1/400 at f/8, 75mm

32s at f/8, 35mm

Beyond Venice, here are a few other sample photos. The lens was also a good companion for wandering around Tuscany earlier this year, and on short photo-outings close to home.

San Quirico d’Orcia, handheld, 1/125 at f/16, 40mm

That cypress grove…, handheld, 1/320 at f/16, 75mm

Below Pienza, handheld, 1/500 at f/22, 75mm

Val Redorta, tripod, 3.2s at f/16, 45mm

It is interesting to note from the above samples that I have a tendency to go full wide (35mm) or full zoom (75mm), which does rather indicate that the range is a bit limiting. Nevertheless in the field it really hasn’t felt particularly so. I would not have any reason to not recommend this lens, apart of course from the price, which at full retail is really crippling, at least for a non-ultra-wealthy amateur. There is also the issue of the weight and size, which, again, let’s not overstate, but for which Hasselblad’s announcement on 7th September 2022 of three new faster and (much) lighter primes raises some questions.  It seems they’ve worked out how to very significantly slim down XCD lenses while increasing features and maintaining the same superb optical quality. Perhaps they can do the same for zooms.

But anyway, setting aside these minor reservations, I find the Hasselblad XCD 3,5-4,5/35-75 Zoom Lens a real pleasure to use. I live in hope that one day I’ll produce a photo that goes someway to fulfilling its potential. So, I very much recommend it. Sadly, I don’t have an affiliate link that I can push you to buy it from to make me some quick cash…

 

Posted in Product reviews on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 at 01:04 PM • PermalinkComments (1)

Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic

pedal to the metal

in Product reviews , Monday, August 08, 2022

Although printing is a major part of photography for me, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything much about it. Still less about print papers. One can find interminable articles online about printing with this or that paper, along with intensely scientific charts and endless technicalese and associated geekery, usually authored by retired male rocket scientists with a talent for taking the most godawful dull photos known to mankind.

Well, I’m no rocket scientist, and I don’t understand charts, but I was sufficiently delighted by a few recent prints to try my hand at “reviewing” a type of print paper. 

Some time ago in a minor fit of retail therapy I ordered a box of Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic paper, a “silvery-shimmering FineArt inkjet paper with a specially formulated inkjet coating for FineArt use”. I’m pretty conservative with printing, and although I have have experimented wildly with stuff like Bamboo paper, I’ve never pushed it this far. The retail therapy having done its job, the box stayed on the shelf until very recently, when finally I decided to give it a go. Having offloaded all the technical stuff about colour profiles, print settings, etc, to Colorbyte Software ImagePrint, all I needed to do was select the photos, load the paper into the printer and press “print”.

The results were very pleasing. It’s very difficult to convey anything through a photo of a print, especially when the key characteristic of that print is a silvery reflectivity, but I’ll try anyway:

A Hasselblad X1DII shot from some months ago. Local creepy abandoned graveyard.

The bullring at Les-Saintes-Marie-De-La-Mer, Camargue, France. Ricoh GRIII, a few weeks ago.

A shot of the dunes at L’Espiguette, Camargue, France. Olympus E-M1 MkIII, a few weeks ago.

The paper can be interesting for colour photos as well. Hasselblad X1DII, at home

At 340 gsm, Hahnemühle Photo Rag Metallic is I think the heaviest paper I’ve ever printed on. It has a very marked texture enhancing the silvery finish. Obviously, it doesn’t suit all subjects, but when it works, it works really well, and everybody who has seen my sample prints has been very enthusiastic about them (mainly about the paper, not the photos).

If you’re into printing, it’s worth trying out this paper. It isn’t as radical or gimmicky as it sounds, and is a really nice alternative to have to hand.

Posted in Product reviews on Monday, August 08, 2022 at 04:50 PM • PermalinkComments (0)

Luca Campigotto’s Venice

a belated discovery

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Venice is a recurring theme on this blog, and always will be. I’m hardly the first person to be fascinated by the place, but it can become a borderline obsession at times. It is of course a subject for photography, but for me it is much more than that. What fascinates me is the essential unreality of the place, and what it must mean to belong to and live in such an unlikely city. I can quite happily wander around the streets and canals without a camera, and even with a camera, by and large the photographs I come back with are not going to interest many people.

I also have a habit of acquiring vast numbers of books about Venice, photographic and other. Venice photobooks have a very strong tendency the feature the obvious: the Rialto bridge, the Grand Canal (and the Grand Canal from the Rialto bridge), the Piazza, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs. Toss in a few gondolas and carnival masks and you’re done. Not that the photography in these cases is necessarily bad, far from it. But it represents the monumental and symbolic Venice, and to me that’s really not so interesting.

Somehow in all these years I’ve managed to miss the work of Luca Campigotto. Luca is both a high level professional photographer and a native Venetian, and has published a series of photobooks on Venice (amongst other themes). I happened to discover one of these, “Venezia, Storie d’acqua” in probably the last remaining genuine bookshop in Venice, Libreria Studium. Based on what I wrote above, the cover of Storie d’aqua, featuring a shot of the Bridge of Sighs, gave me reason to pause, but after a few seconds of flicking through the pages I was sold - big time. There is certainly a significant number of photos the standard scenes in the book, but these sit alongside some almost unbearably atmospheric shots of truly vernacular Venice, a lot from my favourite area of Castello. Throughout the photography is of an extremely high standard, both in composition and execution. This is without a doubt, for me, the best Venice photobook I have seen to date.

But wait - there’s more. This is not Luca Campigotti’s only Venice photobook, and of the others, one is an absolute must. “L’Arsenale di Venezia” takes us inside the largely inaccessible, forbidden zone of the Venice Arsenal. Even today the Arsenale is a military zone, and can at best be glimpsed and not visited. So apart from the high standard of photography in “L’Arsenale di Venezia”, it also reveals facets of Venice which are completely inaccessible to most. What does get revealed is a landscape of largely industrial decay. The book was published in June 2000, and if I understand correctly, access was in part possible due to a temporary opening of some areas to house Biennale installations. The photographic medium would appear to be medium and/or large format film, and it shows in some high contrast shots, although not to any detrimental effect. “L’Arsenale di Venezia” is more specialised than “Venezia, Storie d’acqua”, but it is equally beautiful, absolutely fascinating and I strongly recommend it to fellow Venice obsessives.

The third book I have is also the oldest (the price on the dustjacket is in in Lire!). “Venetia Obscura” was published in 1995, and is a book of nighttime black and white photography. Actually both black and white and nighttime are two more of the standard tropes around Venice photography, but “Venetia Obscura” again, rises above these. The content of the book soon shows that “obscura” can be interpreted in more than one way, dark, certainly, but also obscure, shadowy, hidden. At the extremes the photography verges on the eerie, but always atmospheric, and never forced. It’s another beautiful collection, and again if some better known locations are thrown into the mix, these are counterbalanced by some much less travelled areas, in this case including the Lido and even Marghera.

It seems to me that Luca Campigotti pretty much owns Venetian photography. I’m not sure why he doesn’t have a higher profile, especially in the city itself. Maybe he does, and I’ve been too blind to see. The depth and breadth, but most essentially the soul in his work goes way beyond the surface scratching that most accomplish. A lot of photographers use Venice as a means to show their skill. Luca Campigotti instead puts his skill at the service of Venice. For me his photography acts as some kind of validation - while my own accomplishments are way inferior, at least somehow I feel the direction I’ve been trying to go in is justified.

Unfortunately these books are not that easy to find. While I bought “Venezia, Storie d’acqua” from Libreria Studium (who are yet to discover the Internet), the other two I obtained directly from Luca. If you’re interested, the best place to start is his website, www.lucacampigotto.com.

Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, August 03, 2022 at 04:19 PM • PermalinkComments (0)
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