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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

The best camera is ...

... the one you don’t have with you

in Photography , Monday, July 12, 2021

My process of self deconstruction as a photographer continues. I’ve just returned from a two week vacation, on which I did not take a camera. Admittedly it was basically 2 weeks on beaches in the south of France, but still, that did include several days in the Camargue and a 5 days in St Tropez, both places I’ve roamed with a camera in the past. This time, I just didn’t feel like it.

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The Camargue, some years ago

Taking a camera seemed more like pain than pleasure. Having the camera (and associated paraphanalia) or indeed cameras, plural, would mean that I would constantly be looking for opportunities to use them, rather than just relax and let the world go by. I would not avoid stupidly taking a camera to the restaurant, “just in case”, and then having it hanging awkwardly off my shoulder all night.

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Also the Camargue, also some years ago

Of course it was hard letting go. Several times before leaving, I nearly lost my resolve. Indeed I even indulged in some tradition pre-vacation GAS, buying a new shoulder bag. It’s just over there, on the couch, with the sales tags still attached. Maybe it will come in handy one day. 

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Still the Camargue, not this year

But, I told myself, I’ve already got all the photos of St Tropez I’ll ever need. Les Saintes Marie De La Mer is actually not all that photogenic (really, it isn’t), and I’ve also got stacks of photos of the Camargue I haven’t even looked at properly. Any photos I would take would anyway be for an audience of precisely 1, so why bother.

For the first few hours, on the drive to France, I was practically in a state of panic, but pretty soon I got over it. I didn’t miss having a camera, in fact it was a genuinely liberating experience. Actually just before leaving I bought a new iPhone mini, but I didn’t even take that. I decided to wait until I returned to migrate from my old, battered and stumbling iPhone SE.

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Saint Tropez, some years ago

Fresh from this experience I’m just starting to feel a little more positive about photography, although I still haven’t discovered any purpose to it.

Leave your camera at home - you’ll see the world through new eyes.

 

 

Missing the shot

It’s not the end of the world

in Photography , Tuesday, February 02, 2021

I have just about finished reprocessing around 450 selected photos from last January in Antarctica (out of over 6000). I’m still unable to see the wood for trees, so I don’t really know if there are any genuinely good photos in there, but at least I am moving in the direction of more ruthless culling. Ultimately I want to try to narrow down the fruits of 5 visits to Antarctica down to a very small set. 

During the last visit, I finally got to see some orcas. And not just in the distance, and not just one or two. The ship was surrounded by a curious pod for some hours, swimming around, under and close to over us until they got bored and wandered off to look for some penguins to massacre.

Of course at this time it was all cameras blazing, while getting elbowed aside by the more dedicated wildlife photographers (everybody except me). I didn’t really get any good shots, not helped by my aversion to using continuous shooting, or failing to learn how to use the very clever Pro Capture mode of my Olympus camera.

So of course I was disappointed, I felt I’d missed the chance of a lifetime, I’m a hopeless photographer, woe is me, etc etc etc.

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About the best photo I got. Poor timing and poor focus”

But wait a minute…  Orcas! I’ve seen orcas! I’ve seen wild mother and calf orcas up close, but really close! In the Antarctic!  So, why on earth do I value that experience by the number or quality of photos I made?

As photographers we need to step back sometimes and take in the wider view. Sure, we want to make good photos, but it’s pretty sad if we let the quality of our photos dictate our enjoyment of life.

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Once both the orcas and the wildlife photographers had wandered off for penguins / coffee and downloading their memory cards respectively, I managed to get a few more environmental shots that I’m a bit happier with.

Of course it would have been nice to grab a prize-winning photo at the same time…

 

Snow what? Snow where?

what’s in a name?

in General Rants , Thursday, June 13, 2019

I registered the domain name “snowhenge.net” around June 2001. Although I had been running my own website since around 1997, this was supposed to be a step in a more ambitious direction.  The choice of the name “snowhenge” was a bit backwards looking, referring to an incident in the past where my somewhat strange sense of humour had been deployed. I don’t think I intended to be particularly meaningful at the time, although the initial site design had a strong “snowhenge” theme. Rather, it was fairly typical bit of misdirection.

When I walked away from Antarctic research and science in general, somewhat in disgust, I expected that polar regions were firmly in the past. Even though my involvement in research did eventually drag on for a few more years due to unfinished commitments, in my head I’d moved on. Well, more or less. In 1999, having already decided I need a major change of direction, I spent 3 weeks trekking in Eastern Greenland, back when it still had ice. A major motivation for that was wanting to rediscover the unique soft evening light which had enraptured me in the Antarctic. Photographically it was a disaster, as my camera’s exposure meter malfunctioned without me realising it, and my travel zoom lens fell apart. Actually at that point I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing, and photography was not my main objective. My objective was to find a quiet place to sit on the rocks and gaze at icebergs. It probably still is.

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Greenland, 1999

From then onwards there was little real connection to snow, or polar regions at all on snowhenge.net. I got much more into photography, but this was concentrated on areas adjacent to my my new home in Ticino.  There was a glimmer of a return when I embarked on a bit of an Iceland obsession from 2004 onwards (my first visit in 1999 having for some reason made no impression on me), but still, there was no real direct justification for my web site’s title.

But eventually things turned around. In 2010 I visited Svalbard with a private expedition of 10 people, and then finally in 2013 returned to Antarctic as a tourist, with a somewhat unexpected follow-up in 2016. This, along with beginning to write quite a lot more about the Antarctic, seemed to indicate that I was finally making thematic sense.  But recently I’ve noticed that the home page barely mentions anything polar, and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it is time for an identity shift. Actually the URL davidmantripp.com points here too, perhaps I should make it the primary name. Then perhaps people will not visit expecting to find a Snowhenge and immediately turn away disappointed.  Or maybe they do that because there’s not much to see anyway…  I’m certainly no Influencer!

I have to confess that I have another Antarctic trip lined up for early next year, something a bit different this time, which will leave me utterly penniless (but maybe also with a new sense of direction). But then again, I’m equally enthralled with other places, most recently Madeira. So I guess snowhenge.net will remain what it seems to have always been, a testimonial to my chronic appetite for digression.

 

My photos suck

...and I don’t care

in General Rants , Wednesday, April 10, 2019

From the vast amount of stuff I’ve read about photography, I can really only come to one conclusion: my own photography is basically worthless.  My take away from Landscape Photography pundits is that to have any worth, photos have to have some deep and mystical connection to the natural world. A photo of a tree is not of a tree, it is a representation of the photographer’s relationship with the landscape. Well, in my case, the photo is actually of a tree, and the reason I made it is because for whatever reason I liked the tree. There’s no message in there, there’s no whispered pseudo-religious revelation. There probably isn’t even any “pin sharpness”.

In the past few days I’ve been editing my latest haul of photos of Venice. Some are geometrically interesting, some have nice colours - some have both geometry and colour - and a few have people in them. Almost all are technically more than competent. All are, unfortunately, totally soulless. I’m not going to kid myself, they may look nice in “Lights Out” mode in Lightroom on a black background, but they have zero artistic or cultural value. They do not in any way communicate the emotions I feel when wandering around the outer zones of Cannaregio or the Giudecca. In the cold light of self-analysis, they’re worthless.

As for the technical side, well, actually, I think they’re ok, but perhaps I really don’t know. I’ve read about all this stuff on DPReview and countless blogs, but when I set the slider to 0 I still can’t see this infamous “noise” in the shadows, or all this (lack of) dynamic range. I guess I just don’t have the skill to see it.

I might once have aspired to reaching some sort of higher level of vision or something, but I got stuck at the snapshot stage, and that’s all their is too it.  There are so many other ageing white male engineer-types trying to pretend they have an artistic side by buying camera gear - some of them call themselves Fine Art Photographers, especially if they’re American - that I just got lost in the crowd.

This realisation that I really not any good at any kind of artistic expression has crept up slowly on me, so it isn’t much of a surprise. I’ve known about it for some time. It also impacts on wider things, sometimes in a good way. For example when thinking about places to travel to or go on vacation, these days I don’t start wondering about what gear to take, or how to get “the good light”.  I just go with the flow - I might take some snaps, I might not, but I don’t feel bad about not being that guy wandering the streets with 20kg of camera tech strapped to his back.

At the same time I’m getting more and more weary with all the photography chatter in Twitter and everywhere else. I’m not the only one who can’t take a meaningful photograph, but I seem to be the only one who realises it. Even more, I’m fed up to the back teeth of people who are convince that a totally dull photograph becomes a work of genius because it was shot on film (or even better, expired film).

So, does this mean I’m giving it all up? No, I like taking photos. But I’m not going to keep stressing myself reading all this stuff about how I should “take it to the next level”, “find a a philosophical basis for what I do”, make a rock be “more than a rock” or all the rest of the depressing psychobabble. I’m certainly not going to dive in some kind of ersatz conceptual art.  Vacations will be vacations, not “photo tours”. I’m just going to take (hopefully) pretty pictures of things and juxtapositions that grab my attention or resonate somehow, enjoy the process of doing so, and enjoy looking at them. And I’ll publish a few here on my website too, just in case they give a few fleeting microseconds of pleasure to others.

 

MMXVIII

focus, dammit, focus

in General Rants , Thursday, January 04, 2018

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote anything here. It’s not for the lack of anything to say, or to write about, but as ever, the lack of time. Or perhaps focus. Or motivation. Or all of them.

Recently I realised that in 2017 I achieved several things: I spent far more time shooting film than digital; I shot fewer photos than in any other year since I have a reliable count (around 2004); I shot less memorable photos than any other year, ever.

I spent a huge amount of time futzing about with film. I tried different film types, different cameras, experimented with film scanners, and got a bit caught up in the whole film revival thing. After a while I realised that the one thing that the #FilmsNotDeadBlaBlaBla movement is NOT about is photography. You only need to sample various social media feeds to quickly realise that it is about shiny toys, generally with knobs on. I am totally unconvinced that shooting with film makes anybody a more interesting photographer, per se. And I see no interest or merit in swapping an obsession for up to the minute digital cameras for an addiction to obsolete film cameras.

Seeing posts where people go on about how many cameras they’ve shot with, and how many identical black & white films they’ve used, all whipped along by cynical vendors hoping for a quick buck, just makes me feel nauseous. The actual photography produced is with very few exceptions extremely dull. I’ve ranted about this previously.

Still, if people enjoy playing with old cameras and film, and coaxing decrepit technology into life, great - there’s nothing wrong with it. But for me it is precisely the opposite of what I should be doing.

What I should be doing is finally finishing the website overhaul I’ve been working on, intermittently, for over 18 months. It’s become a total millstone, and probably I will never do it again. It would make much more sense for me to use an off-the-shelf service like Squarespace, and learn to compromise. Instead I’ve landed myself in a situation where I’ve got to completely rewrite code, redesign the layout and navigation, completely revise content, migrate everything to new versions of the underlying software, and finally ... for what?  I no longer have any professional involvement with web or interface design, so there’s zero synergy. It’s all fuelled by an obstinate and misguided desire for full control over my self-expression (for example, I hate photography hosting sites that crop thumbnails - and they all do it).

But it’s about 90% there. So it’s too late to give up now.

What I think I will give up though is film. I haven’t fully decided yet, but I’m very much leaning towards selling off all my film cameras (I have a ridiculous quantity: Linhof 612, Voigtländer Bessa III, Hasselblad XPan, Olympus OM4Ti, Olympus XA, Minox 35ML and Ricoh GR1s).

It’s hard to come up with a rational reason for persevering with film.  First of all, I’m a slide film photographer, not negative. I don’t much like negative film, really. And slide film really met its nemesis with digital. Negative film still has some advantages over digital, at least from my perspective. The main ones are highlight rolloff and exposure latitude. Colour as well to a certain extent, so long as you don’t care too much about accuracy. Certainly Portra 400, or Cinestill 50, in bright light, can look quite wonderful - but I can get a very similar look from digital. Slide film as well has a wonderful midtone density that is not so easy to achieve with digital, but then again it has serious limitations at both ends of the luminosity scale.

And then you’ve got to buy the film, pay for it to be processed, wait for it to come back from the lab, and then scan it. The novelty wore off for me around 1995.

The basic problem is one of two many choices suffocating creativity. I could of course go 100% film, but, well, I’ve been there before, and it is rather limiting. Even more so these days - ten years ago I could buy a roll of Fuji Provia 1600 slide film and get it developed overnight.  Five years ago I could buy a pack of Provia 400X, or Velvia 100F, or Ektachrome 100G and have it beautifully processed by one of several pro labs. Now I’m limited to Provia 100F and one lab with a turnaround time of at least 1 week. I don’t believe Ferrania will ever deliver their slide film, and I’m not that convinced about “new Ektachrome”. The #FilmsNotDead thing is about black & white and weird stuff like double-layer reverse-rolled stocking-elastic base expired pineapple juice emulsions cross processed in holy water. Not slide film.

The Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses I have are fantastic, and are vastly more flexible than any film-based solution. They’re not perfect, but they get out of my way.  My only real justification for retaining film remains the one I’ve been repeating for quite some time: I use film because that’s what the XPan needs. I hoped to add the Linhof 612 to that, but so far I haven’t bonded with it.  On the other hand, the Sigma DP0 is a pretty good digital panoramic camera, with a devastatingly good lens, and it’s quite endearing too.

It’s going to be hard to cut the cord, and I haven’t sharpened the knife just yet, but 2017 could well have been the swansong for film, for me.

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Possibly my favourite photo of 2017 - Hasselblad XPan, 45mm, Cinestill 50

 

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