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A ecumenical matter

Thou Shalt Shoot Film

in General Rants , Monday, July 26, 2021

Recently, one of my millions of dedicated, enthusiastic followers sent me a link to an article on a theology professor discovering that his life was being slowed down by film.  I had no idea that film has now graduated to becoming an ecumenical matter, but so be it.

I’m not a regular reader of the National Catholic Reporter, and I had no idea Film v. Digital had ascended to such lofty realms. It does seem they’re just getting started though, as the points presented have, well, to be fair, been covered somewhat extensively elsewhere.

I’m a bit perplexed by the Teaching that “(film) also challenges the photographer to cultivate a spirit of hope, because you will not know for a while whether what you had hoped to accomplish in your framing, focus and exposure will result in a successful image”. More like a feeling of dread, as far as I’m concerned. Like, “did I remember to take the lens cap off?”. Digital, rather, encourages in me a spirit of hope, as the small screen on the back of the camera is sufficiently saturated and low resolution that it allows me to believe that I actually have a shot with great colour and perfect focus ... until I see it on my computer screen. Fortunately nobody on Flickr knows the difference either.

Of course, we inevitably get to Film Slows You Down.  As the Lord tells us, Thou Shall Not Apply Undue Haste In Thine Film Photography (Paul’s Letter to the Batley & Spen Camera Club). This may well be the case (although not so much if you’ve got a Canon EOS 1v), but it isn’t always such a good thing. Tell Ansel Adams that it was absolutely great that he was slowed down by film while frantically trying to capture the moon rising over Hernandez. Tell Robert Capa that using film at Omaha Beach had “profound spiritual and practical implications”.

And who has not been slowed down way too much because they couldn’t find anything to photograph and therefore couldn’t finish the roll?

Oh, it’s easy to mock, isn’t it? Just as well, otherwise I’d have very little material. I don’t really have any view on whether or not photography brings you Closer To God, although since one of the two doesn’t exist, it does seem a bit far-fetched.  But the article itself just once again recycles all the tired tropes about film, conflates them with photography in general, and appears to exist only to attempt to cast what seems to be a guilty pleasure (a Franciscan friar fiddling with cameras!) as a spiritual revelation. It’s certainly an original take on justifying Gear Acquisition Syndrome!

 

Before Film Wasn’t Dead

nor Bela Lugosi for that matter…

in Film , Wednesday, October 18, 2017

While trying to put some sort of order into my jumble of slides and negatives from the past 100 years or so, I noticed a small grey paper envelope tucked away in a corner somewhere. Inside this were three frames that I shot on the margins of Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, way back in 1992.

These three shots were almost certainly the amongst first medium format photos I ever took. It was during a period of somewhat nerve-wracking waiting around, in gorgeous weather, but with rapidly decreasing temperature - the full story is documented here.

I seem to remember I had almost run out of film at that point. However, one of our little group, a technician attached to the Swedish oceanographic team who’s name I sadly forgotten, gave me a couple of rolls of 120 film (Kodak EPR 6017, which is apparently Kodak Ektachrome Professional 64), and lent me a camera to use them in. The camera was a vintage folding rangefinder, either an Agfa or a Voigtländer - its owner was clearly an early adopter in the FilmsNotDead scene, even before Film wasn’t Not Dead! It was also the first time I’d used a rangefinder, in all probability.

I’ve certainly got 6 or so frames somewhere around, but these three I think I’ve never scanned before. They’ve survived pretty well.

Antarctica91_66_1.jpg
Antarctica91_66_2.jpg
Antarctica91_66_3.jpg

Whatever the photographic merits of these three may be, I think they tell an interesting story. Together with other film-era photos I have of Antarctica, largely I think I could say that there is a good chance I would not have taken them in this way today. Certainly it has something to do with the cameras, and something to do with film, and possibly quite a lot to do with experience, but the overwhelming factor is quite different.

Back in those days, there was no Flickr, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, etc. The world wide web had barely got started, and probably the Mosaic browser had just started to support GIF images. This meant that the audience for anybody’s photography, apart from a small select group of professionals, was their immediate family and friends. I was taking these photos to show my mum what the Antarctic was like, and hopefully to impress a few girls (well, I was in my mid-20s). Today, it is extremely difficult to ignore the ever-present need for “Likes”, “Faves” and whatever, as well as conforming to guru-set standards and peer approval. And there is also an almost intolerable (to me) omnipresent feeling of competition.

The middle photo of the three is really the key.  It’s a photo of, quite honestly, nothing. It ignores the rule of thirds. It isn’t going to get approved by anybody, and it would sink with trace on Flickr. Today I probably wouldn’t ever bother with it.

And this is also probably why I have very little interest in the whole Film revival movement, because for me the golden age of photography was that innocent time when all this pressure didn’t exist, when the only way to “share” was to invite a few friends around for a slide show, and when there was genuine interaction between photographers sharing a hobby, not constant competition and fighting for visibility and approval. The fact that the cameras were (arguably) more interesting is just a coincidence. And frankly, at least so far as 35mm colour is concerned, film has no advantage at all over well-informed use of digital. All the various film websites, feeds, communities seem to be doing is to take the whole squabbling mess of internet photography and switch the veneer of digital with that of analog. I’m not sure I see the attraction.

Or maybe I’m just a miserable old git. It has been suggested a few times…

 

 

Some Guy bites back

large pinch of salt absolutely mandatory

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.
 

Snippets #1

opinions are like cameras

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.

 

Sort of about camera bags

It gets to the point, eventually.

in General Rants , Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I bought a camera bag today.

The trickle-like pace at which I post stuff on this blog has recently reduced to a drip feed without the drops. It’s not that I haven’t got anything to write about. I’ve got plenty of ideas in my head, but the effort to actually set anything down in words seems to get harder and harder, and the constant questioning of the actual point of it all regularly resurfaces.

I’m not sure where blogging gets us all really, either as readers or writers. Some blogs have a clear objective, like the fascinating and eminently readable One Hundred Mountains.  But most seem to be mainly about self-promotion, openly or under a thin disguise. Being good at self promotion is pretty much a pre-requisite for being a successful professional photographer, or a well-known amateur. But being an interesting and compelling writer probably isn’t, at least not on the evidence I’ve seen.

I’ve given up on photography bloggers who are basically in it to market their book / ebook / workshop and generally build up their business. Good luck to them, but I’m not terribly interested in endless repetitive marketing wrapped up in tidbits of recycled wisdom. Yes, I know, I should use a tripod. Thanks. Got that. I’ll shortly be updating my blogroll to publicise bloggers who actually inspire me with their words, images, or both. Although I’m open to offers to provide paid marketing links…

WARNING: you are now approaching The Point. Please do not undo your seatbelt until this rant has exhausted itself to a complete standstill

So, a certain prominent blogger recently wrote what presumably was a tongue in cheek, opinionated piece on camera bags. It can be summed up quite easily: anybody who has a Domke bag (or apparently a Leica branded sack… whatever) is a way cool dude, anybody who uses a camera backpack is a mindless, unfit moron who couldn’t tie his own shoelaces.

Well that makes me a cool, mindless moron (etc) because I’ve got both. A Domke F803, which is fab for leisurely wandering, say, the coastal paths and villages of Liguria with an Olympus PEN and a few lenses, but pretty ******* stupid for hiking across a glacier in Svalbard with a DSLR, several heavy lenses and a large tripod (to fight bears off with, you understand). For that I’ve got a pretty good huge, ballistic nylon, super-size-me bag LowePro backpack. As have several million others. I’ve also got a smaller but remarkably flexible Kata backpack for less rugged outings (sadly Kata is apparently in the “super crappy camera bag” category. Oh well.). Of course, if I were a studio photographer, carrying my gear in my big fat SUV to my next air-conditioned gig shooting flawless models in Downtown, USA, I might well use the Domke. Equally if I were to wander the streets of Laredo, coolly dropping in to photograph a perfect cappuccino with the camera I just bought, then, yes, the F803 would do nicely. But if I also had some perspective, I might realise that other people have different needs and compromises to make, and maybe, just maybe, their choice of a LowePro backpack doesn’t make them a total dongle. Or indeed an engineer.

Anyway, the author does of course state in his article that this is all just his own opinion, he doesn’t expect anybody to share it, bla bla bla. Which brings me to the real point. If it really is of no interest or relevance, why bother writing about it? This kind of article might make me question why I dedicate time to reading that particular blog, and whether the author is actually worth my time.  And indeed, what the sum total of this shouting from our metaphorical little islands is amounting to.  One might hope it is in part a building of relationships, and exchange of ideas, a conversation even, but when certain (other) A-List bloggers decided that reading and managing comments is just too tiresome, one must really wonder how relevant they are.

Rob Boyer has a far more convincing blog in praise of Domke bags, by the way.

I bought a camera bag today. It’s small and black, and lets me carry my PEN around on workdays without looking like a total tourist. It’s made by Crumpler and didn’t cost very much.

Drm 2012 05 25 IMG 0682

A small, brand new Crumpler bag, some flowers and a bit of my thumb

Marmalade! I like marmalade!

 

 

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