Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Updated 6/9/16!!! New Project II

Update on the New Project. Ongoing status is now moved to a "Page" (see sidebar on the left, on a grownup browser, or click here.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Something I rant on about sometimes is the idea that the "single iconic image" is effectively, largely, mostly-but-not-entirely (my position varies a little), dead as a form. That is a discussion for a different post.

As a book guy, though, I'm going to take a few lines to rationalize books as the Proper Format for photos, to see how that flies.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, video isn't a good home for still photos. By controlling the pacing, video/movie takes away from the viewer the ability to contemplate, or skim, pictures as they come. You're stuck with whatever the director thinks is the right thing. If the director wants to give you any real time to look at a picture, he or she is sure to Kens Burns the thing to death because it's motion right? Gotta have stuff moving around, or the primates will wander off!

I've argued that still photographs work better in sequences and collections. Each photo is essentially an instant, pulled out of the time stream and presented to us. It's hard to make a complete statement with that, and even if you do the viewer cannot help but wonder if it's an accident. This is different from a painting, in which (usually) it's all deliberate, and furthermore it's possible to construct the thing with whatever elements are necessary to make a complete statement.

Photographs also do extraordinarily well with accompanying information, such as captions, supporting text, that sort of thing. There may be other artifacts.

Enter the book, loosely considered (include pamphlets, magazines, flyers, a handful of prints stapled or bolted together, and so on). It retains the viewer-controlled pacing, permitting the contemplation and skimming so integral to our understanding of photographs. It permits, indeed it encourages, sequences of pictures. It allows supporting text in whatever shape and quantity you like.

I am abruptly convinced that the "single iconic image" is a stale holdover from the days of painting. This was explicit in the early days with the Pictorialists consciously copying the tropes of Victorian painting (allegorical pictures with tons of composited elements literally telling a story, hand-working, impressionistic camera usage, etc and so on). It was carried onwards to the present day under the banner of the Fine Print. The Ultimate Goal is a single large image which you hang on the wall like a painting; the single image that is self-contained.

This is absurdly limiting, at best, and I think one can argue (and I intend to!) that it's a poor fit to the medium.

Books are, in fact, the right end result for photographs.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hasselblad Notes

First let's talk about a couple ideas that the Internet Illiterati are thinking.

This could be a great MF rig for pros

This has several variations, including people pretending to be professionals stating that they intend to buy it. This is stupid on the face of it, it's a wildly incomplete system. Yes, yes, you can adapt these specific lenses, and if you're very careful about which ones and you update the firmware you can get full capability, blah blah blah. No.

Pros will use this as a second camera

Uh huh. Because what pros need as a backup system is something that uses different lenses, different batteries, has a completely different UI, and handles differently. No.

It's so light and tiny!

Well, it's small. And it's light compared with medium format kit, but good lord it's not light. With lens it's over two pounds.

Something I have not seen mentioned is that the ineffable "look" of medium format, which if it's anything is the way focus drops off wide open, is largely or entirely negated by the relatively slow lenses. I'm not sure why I haven't seen any comparisons to the Nikon Df.

This thing is aimed at the moderately well-heeled enthusiast, not the professional. Some professionals will buy it, sure, but it's not a professional system. It's prosumer, just like they say, and that's the industry standard term for well-heeled enthusiast. But this is a great thing. The well-heeled enthusiast has, literally, always been the actual market for expensive cameras. They have funded the whole photography enterprise, start to present! Hooray for the well-heeled enthusiast! You and I are probably well-heeled enthusiasts! Although I admit to being a cheapskate.

H is getting back to its roots here. When I was young, the Hasselblad was the camera we aspired to. It was actually within the grasp, financially, of anyone with a good paying job. You just had to save up and make some sacrifices, or buy used, or both. It was a dream camera, but an achievable one. As Kirk Tuck pointed out, that all went away with digital medium format. You had to be actually quite wealthy to afford these things, and the benefits they offered were (and remain, let us be honest) extremely minimal increments over the best of the 35mm-sized cameras.

This X1D thing isn't the luxury product I was predicting, but it is very much in line with Hasselblad's history.

It also provides a useful benchmark for Hasselblad's design capacity. This thing is, by all accounts, pretty much just the 50mp back wrapped in a box. Now, the design of a box is not to be dismissed, boxes are surprisingly complicated. There's also a slick new UI. But this is not a whole new system, as far as we can tell.

But, if Hasselblad had the engineering capacity to stamp out new camera systems willy-nilly they're not showing us that.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


We are, apparently, seeing more and more video "out there." This isn't something I have much of an opinion on, except as follows.

Allen Murabayashi, blogging over at photoshelter, has a couple of salient recent pieces, here and here. Allen is a sharp guy. I don't read his blog regularly because the content isn't consistently interesting to me, but he's always smart, and often writes insightfully about things I do care about.

I think he's missing it in these, though. At least partially.

There's this general idea that video is the new photography, as if it's kind of the natural evolutionary next step.

The essential difference between a video clip and a photograph is that the author controls the pacing, the rate at which you consume. The photograph, as I have noted endlessly, can be read in an instant, and contemplated at leisure. The video clip demands that you watch the whole thing, and once it's over, it's over. You can replay it, but you cannot contemplate it in the way you can a still photograph.

Moving on from video clips, those little singular elements of video, to a produced movie-like-object. These, as everyone knows, combine multiple elements. Clips of motion picture, text, audio, stills, etc. These are placed in a sequence. The effect is a little like a book, except that once again we find that the author controls the pacing rather than the "reader." Yes, yes, you can control things to one degree or another, but the default is simply to consume at the pace set by the creative who made the thing. The book, on the other hand, is paced by the consumer. There is a default ordering given, and some relative pacing set by the density of material on each page, but these only guide the reader's choices. You can read a book backwards if you like.

Video is, in essential ways, a more passive experience for the viewer than still photography. You can, if you choose, simply sit there slackjawed, consuming video after video. The smarter sites cue up new videos for you automatically. If you've made it all the way through one, you're properly stunned and should stay that was as long as the stimulation keeps coming.

Advertisers, of course, love video. Controlling the pacing is awesome when you want to control the message. Advertisers love online video regardless of source, because it's a natural home for video advertising to live in, and they love video advertising. Advertisers love the passive receptivity of the video viewer.

Video is simply different. It may become the dominant online medium, or not, or whatever. I neither know nor care. But it's not the evolution of still photography, it's something else entirely. It resembles still photography somewhat less than painting does. The fact that you make it with the same, or similar, equipment seems to be causing the collective consciousness to conflate video with still photography.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

So How'd I Do?

I made some specific predictions in April about a new product from Hasselblad. I will quote them here, and evaluate how I did:

General Notes

Must fully embody Hasselblad's brand and look the part. Strong branding, which implies 1) strong design notes from Hasselblad's history, 2) an imaging system with perceived very high quality.

Nailed it. This wasn't very hard, though. I didn't think it would look QUITE so much like a classic 'blad from the front, though. But the whole "they're just going to repeat the Stellar/Lunar debacle" people are dumbshits, and are proven to be so. Take that.

Object of desire/Status symbol. Therefore portable, sleek, beautiful. Broadly desired. Not a camera for camera nerds, but a mass-appealing (but not mass-available!) imaging system. Purse-sized, one hand-sized.

Nailed it. Nailed it HARD. This was not easy to see without thinking pretty hard about things. Nobody else, to my knowledge, was thinking "small" (but the damn thing isn't light).

Slick user experience, social media, cloud connected. Phone-like ease of use. Friction-less photo/video sharing.

Unknown. New UI, obviously, which looks quite phone-like.

A small camera, with excellent but not earth shattering technical specs. Definitely does video.

Nailed it.

Very Specific Predictions Design notes: leatherette+chrome/cube/space for a clearly visible logo/slanted-rear screen, non-removable lens that is nonetheless obvious, prominent.

Nailed the design notes, but a clean miss on the slanted screen and non-removable lens. Hasselblad went for photo forum credibility with interchangeable lenses rather than a non-removable zoom. Probably a smart choice?

Size: easily held by one hand, about 300 grams.

Physical size about right, but this damn thing's heavy. 725 grams, body only. One hand-able, but not for any length of time, and the delicate beautiful women won't like it.

System: Touchscreen, syncs with app on your phone (NFC/bluetooth?) for seamless "one-touch" (or nearly) connectivity.

Touchscreen (an easy guess) yes. A miss on the connectivity, although it does have WiFi.

Price: $5000 US.

In the ballpark, but barely. This might not be a clean miss, but it's a single at best. We're talking $12K for a system, ow. Mass-appealing, NOT mass-available.

Per wants to sell 100,000 of these things(?) in the next couple years. And you know, he might. Maybe. I think the gearheads at Hasselblad won this round, and that may prove to be a mistake. This camera is an enthusiast's camera, but there's very little to put it into the purse next to the dog. There doesn't seem to be anything to make professionals particularly want it, the video appears to be a joke (H.264, 24fps?!) and it's Yet Another Lens System, I think.

This is exactly what they say it is, a prosumer camera, aimed at the enthusiast with too much money. Which is a shrinking market.

Is this another halo product? Is there a baby brother coming along?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Whither Genius?

I recently read a remarkably dunderheaded blog post I will not share with you, in which some chap makes the perfectly correct statement that without a thorough grounding in music, Mozart would never have accomplished what he did, and then, incredibly, deduces from this that it's training alone that produces artistic genius. This is a fallacy my six year old would squint at. The guy wants to sell you photography education, natch.

It did cause me to wonder what a Mozart of the camera would look like, and I confess myself stumped.

So let's say you're making some work of Art or whatever, and that you're a genius. Where, exactly, does the genius show up?

First and foremost let's stipulate that in the really great stuff there's genius all over it. From the initial concept to the tiniest and most mundane details, there is, in the best work, a little flair of greatness.

That said, though, there's a lot of the work that's typically pretty close to paint by numbers, "Blah blah blah, fill in this bit with standard voice leading, you know how it goes", "this background is pretty much just green", and so on. A skilled technician could fill in various swathes of a symphony or painting or a sculpture with good quality boilerplate, imitating the style of the parts already provided, and complete the work perfectly well. It might not quite sparkly as if the master had finished it, but it's good.

The initial concept, at some point, isn't anything more complicated than "funeral mass, I need to write a funeral mass" which comes with a handy toolbox of tropes (minor key, lots of bass notes, march rhythms, and probably a 100 other things I don't know about) that you can get started with. There's no particular genius shining through here.

The bulk of the genius, it seems to me, actually goes in to what I am going to call "the riff", which isn't quite accurate, because it's more than just a musical motive. It's the part where you synthesize the idea, the tropes that go with the idea, together with some standard stuff and generate an innovative solution that fits, that explicates, the idea.

In music you might use, I don't know, maybe an unorthodox approach to resolving dissonance that makes the particular harmonic progression you're writing work especially well with your concept. You might choose to paint a night sky as a riot of swirling blues and yellows.

Once you've got "the riff" (or several of them) sorted out, a skilled technician can crank out derivative works pretty much ad nauseum. The results might lack a little sparkle, a little je ne sais quoi but history shows us that typically even the experts can't tell, when the technician is really competent. Indeed, the Great Masters themselves did this, they reached into their little box of "riffs" and recycled them, which is really why the forgers get away with it without necessarily having that spark of genius themselves.

How does this fit into a photograph?

The idea of a "riff" still fits in. For some reason Eggleston's tricycle comes to mind, the use of forced perspective makes this picture what it is. It's a "riff" in the sense I mean. It's more than a gimmick, because it's what makes the picture work. It's a visual trick that expresses the idea extraordinarily.

Still, it seems to be somehow basically small. There doesn't seem to be as much room in photography for genius to do its thing. It's not as if we can now use this idea and a couple more like it to really stamp this string quartet with the idea, develop it a couple of different ways, and really let that riff shine, maybe introduce a few more like it and develop them too. It's pretty much "there is it in the picture", done.

This doesn't mean it's not a pretty great idea, it's just that it has a lot less room.

You can get a little farther with a book or collection, but it's still not exactly a symphony, is it?

I think, in short, that a little flash of genius goes a lot farther in photography.

It is as if musical pieces were all about 4 bars long. How would we then tell the difference between Mozart and someone less gifted? I myself might have a momentary flash of genius and write a short jingle of real genius. Mozart, though, could produce these things apparently on demand and elaborate them into hours of music essentially as fast as he could write, and he could write very fast indeed. That is why I'm not Mozart.

So, my thinking, at this precise moment, is that while their [sic] might be a Mozart of the camera running around somewhere, it's going to be harder to recognize that work.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


It's not so much a thing you attach to an iPhone as a thing you plug an iPhone in to.