Thursday, May 28, 2015

Making Books

While I am not a particular expert in the field of bookbinding, I have made a few things over the last couple years.

When hand-making a book, I feel that I need to have it fully planned out, the design complete, before I start folding paper. This is not quite literally true, but since there's an investment of time and materials involved, it's psychologically necessary (for me) to have the plan clear in my mind before I start. There are inevitable adjustments as we go, of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

I'm doing a trade book (prices starting at $2.49 a copy, holy cow!) on blurb's platform now, and in a way it's very freeing. I've done things on the blurb platform before, but always had a pretty clear plan.

This time I just wanted to make something and I had a couple portfolios that I thought could be cut to fit, to be the raw material.

It was interesting. The design evolved as I mucked about placing pictures, and so did the idea, and somewhere in there the book became about something. And now it's about that, and the pictures support that idea, and here we are.

I'll be pressing Print some time today, most likely. Super fun!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I sent this thing I made to Daniel Milnor who, I may have mentioned, is a real inspiration to me, and I think everyone ought to listen to what he says, and read what he writes.

Anyways, he liked it enough to mention it on site!

I can't tell you what will work for you, but just making a thing and putting it out there works for me. Give it to someone, leave it in a coffee shop, or on the street. I find it incredibly satisfying to complete something and put it out there.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Punditry Gone Mad

Punditry is all mad, of course, and is mainly about confirming audience biases. Here's a particularly egregious example from the camera industry.

A popular column (essay, blog post), oft repeated by the internet-famous, runs thus:

The camera industry is in trouble, sales are dropping, fast. People are taking more and more pictures with cell phones and buying fewer and fewer real cameras. The solution for camera makers is to woo the cell phone users to real cameras, and the way to do that is to put such and such feature into a camera.

The fact that Nikon et al don't is evidence that they are stupid, and that I am smart.

This is unadulterated pandering. The implication is that the audience, being very much like the pundit, are also smarter than Nikon management. Then a jolly good time can be had arguing about precisely which mix of obscure features would save Nikon from the cell phones, and everyone gets to feel very clever and they get to have a great time talking about one of their favorite things, fancy cameras.

Somewhere in here is the planted assumption that cell phone users can be wooed, en masse, to cameras, if only you got the mix of features right. An essential part of this assumption is that cell phone picture-takers are dissatisfied with the phone's camera.

It fails them in low light. Sometimes it fails them shooting action. Therefore, the argument goes, the cell phone picture-taker is simply waiting for a better solution.

The problem here is that the cell phone picture-taker doesn't care. Oh, they're a little sad the pictures didn't work out, but they're not crushed.

Because pictures are disposable ephemera, and simply not important.

This is the vital point the average internet camera enthusiast cannot grasp. Pictures are not important. Image quality is not important.

To the average reader of Thom Hogan, LuLa, Ming Thein, and no doubt dozens of others, this is a literally incomprehensible attitude. No wonder the aforementioned pat bit of canned rumination, coughed up whenever there's nothing else to bleat about, always sells so well.

Without understanding how people understand photographs, in the mass, you cannot begin to understand how to sell photograph-taking equipment.

And the internet-famous pundits, mostly, don't understand.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The History of Photograpy, Beaumont Newhall

I want to make a few remarks about this book. It's the go-to history of photography, and it's fundamentally flawed (in my opinion). Newhall had some serious biases, and they show.

There are, more or less, three remarks I want to make.

Remark The First

In the 4th edition we have chapters named Pictorial Effect and Photography as an Art. In the 5th edition, we have the same chapters named Art Photography and Pictorial Photography, respectively. What's interesting that the the adjectives "Art" and "Pictorial" are reversed in the 5th edition.

On the one hand, in reality, these two terms are -- largely -- interchangeable, in context. The folks who wanted photography to be Art (respected by the establishment, as well as doing whatever it is that Art does) felt that the proper path was to make Pictorial photographs (photographs that look like paintings). So, they don't mean quite the same thing, but they describe much the same set of people and ideas.

On the other hand, we pay historians to name things properly and put them in the right buckets and so forth, so I think a case can be made that Mr. Newhall has fallen down on the job when he's moving things around in 1981.

Some time in the first half of the twentieth century the word Pictorial came to mean "photographs I don't like", more or less. My guess is that the naming change in the 5th edition was, somehow, a reflection of this, but it's very late. Certainly the later of the two chapters (Photography as an Art in edition 4, and Pictorial Photography in the fifth) is largely concerned with the era of fuzzy gum-bichromate pictures, the body of work we now call Pictorialism. The 5th edition comes along quite late to be driving, or even closely following, this usage. So, I am not sure what's up.

Newhall never seems to use the word Pictorial or Pictorialist in the pejorative "those buggers making fuzzy gum prints" way, in either edition. Still, the word "Pictorial" is fraught, and I think it was fraught in 1980, so Newhall was up to something here.

Remark The Second

P.H. Emerson. Both Newhalls (Beaumont's wife, Nancy, wrote a remarkably thin biography of Emerson, which appears to be about half apologies for not being able to find anything out about great swathes of time, and inventing fantasies for what might have happened during them) seem to want Emerson to be very influential.

He just doesn't seem to have been. Yes, he wrote a great deal, and got in to spectacular fights. He was, briefly, well known and either respected or feared, possibly both. But he doesn't seem to have actually influenced anybody.

I love Emerson. He was just my kind of grouch. But he was also a nutter, and photographers generally seem to have simply ignored him in the long run. One can argue that he was the first to seriously espouse a philosophy that was to become Straight Photography 20 or 30 years later, when the time was right, but it seems certain that the Straight Photography people came up with it on their own.

It's not at all clear that Emerson deserves as much as a line in a definitive history of photography, and he almost certainly doesn't deserve the kind of coverage Newhall gives him.

Remark The Third

In the 4th edition we find this remark attributed to Stieglitz: "The result is the only fair basis for judgement. It is justifiable to use any means upon a negative or paper to attain the desired end."

I cannot find this remark quoted in the somewhat larger 5th edition.

This fits rather neatly with Newhall's bullshit narrative of Stieglitz single-handedly lifting Photography out of the mire of gum-bichromate fuzz. The brutal truth is that Stieglitz seems never to have told anyone how they ought to work. He simply didn't care what methods people used. He never did. Stieglitz himself usually shot straight, his primary change in methods over time was simply to shoot on clear days rather than foggy and rainy ones. Of course there were other vast changes in his life, Stieglitz was always in flux, but his approach to the physical acts involved in making photographs was largely similar across his career.

Stieglitz' main philosophical positions seem to have been:
  • Pictorial Photography is the thing.
  • No it's not, photographs that look like photographs are the thing.
  • Aww hell, whatever works, Georgia's tits are awesome (which they were).

(the last in unfair, actually, what he was actually doing was: we should make distinctively American Art and stop aping the Euros, and who cares if it looks like a painting or a photograph.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review My Book!

I keep selling copies of this book, Intermediate Photography. Slowly, slowly.

Y'all buying it out there, write me a review, huh? Even if it's bad, that's OK. I'm vain enough to want to know what people are thinking. Heck, I might even try to improve it if I got some constructively negative reviews. Maybe.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


This is a prize-winning photo. Alison Postma, of the University of Guelph, won a year's tuition from the Art Gallery of Ontario.

And she should have. This is not a technical tour de force. This does not illustrate Mastery Of The Light, or any of that shit. What this is, is a razor sharp concept simply and clearly executed. This is the embodiment of an idea. What it is, exactly, is up to you. But by golly it's something.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Death of the Iconic Photo

I dunno about you, but I think of contemporary photographers and photographers from, say, more than 40 years ago quite differently. Robinson, Stieglitz, Weston, Lange, Adams, Evans, Evans, I can think instantly of one of two iconic photographs. Bam. These people exist in my mind, first and foremost, as iconic pictures.

Sebastião Salgado, Peter Turnley, Sally Mann? These guys do not.

These guys exist as bodies of work, sets of ideas. I can, with effort, think up single pictures from them, but there's no instant recall of these things. I instantly think of ideas and books and collections.

I think, although I am not sure, that this is a reflection of the modern trends in photography.

There's no such thing as a singular iconic image any more. There's an idea, a concept, and then a cloud of pictures around it. Pick any Salgado picture. It's probably crunchy black and white, of some subject or another. A desolate landscape, a desperate human, perhaps. I can find 100,000 similar photos online in a few minutes. Some of them will be excellent. Some of them might be better than Salgado's picture.

Does this mean that Salgado sucks? Certainly not.

His strength is in the ideas and in the bodies of work. Any fool can make a crunchy black and white photo of a poor South American child, and 10s of 1000s of fools have. 1000s of them have probably made excellent crunchy black and white photographs of a poor South American child. But only one has made important books, embodying important ideas, that contain such pictures. Ok, maybe two or three people have. But not very many.

Edward Weston's place in the history of photography rests, at least in part, on a handful of truly excellent photographs. Sally Mann's place rests on a handful of books. The pictures themselves are, of course, excellent. But the point is that they fit into carefully built collections, portfolios of work that embody something bigger.

It's not that excellent pictures are no longer being made, it's that they're being made in such quantity that the quality "iconic" is no longer applicable to a single photograph. Instead, we have an archetype and a collection of instances of it. These things, in and of themselves, have become less and less interesting.

In a way, I think we've grown up. Individual words were cool when they'd just been invented, but now everyone can read and write. What's interesting now is the sentences and poems and books and plays that a few of the most talented are writing.

The Future of Imaging

I got into it a little with Michael Reichmann the other day, arguing about what Camera Companies Ought To Do (like all pundits, Michael thinks they should build a special camera just for him). It got me to thinking about what the future will be like.

Not next year, but a few years from now. How would you get out in front of the market?

Here's my theory. Free business idea, if you want to take it on.

The problem is one of curation. We have no problem with tons of photos. Making lots and lots of sharp detailed pictures is a solved problem. This has created new problems, of curation and of preservation.

We are swamped in pictures. We are swamped in our own pictures, often. The current solution is to simply let the older ones go. They slide down some timeline, and get looked at less and less. Even I do this, and I am incredibly old school, and curate like the devil himself. I easily can get to photos from 5 years ago, 8 years ago. I don't, though, not very often.

So let's pose some problems that a typical person, someone who as I like to say just wants pictures might run in to.

  • I miss grandma.
  • Wow, the kids grow up so fast.
  • Do I have any pictures of my car before the accident?
  • What color was dad's house?

These can all be solved by something which can search for relevant files, sort them, organize them, and present them quickly and easily. Something that lets us easily:

  • select
  • organize
  • render
the right pictures, at the right time, from multiple large archives of pictures.

Selection is obvious. It should use, at least: face, scene, and object recognition, accompanying text, embedded date/time information, context (if any -- at least the other pictures nearby both in the sense of location of the file, and in the sense of time).

Organization should be similarly obvious, it's simply how we arrange the pictures (not necessarily in a linear sequence, by the by), and we need good tools for quickly and easily doing that. But this is a more or less solved problem, we know how to build tools for rapidly flicking through pictures, dragging, dropping. Still, automated solutions that give an excellent first draft are pretty much a requirement here.

Rendering is less obvious. We might want a movie with Ken Burns effects, we might want to populate a digital picture frame, or our computer's desktop background. We might want to print a book. We might want to show a friend, or share a slideshow or a movie. We might want to create a composite portrait. Queries like "what color was" might be simply a set of color swatches representing best estimates, with clickable context. We might want a 3D printed bust of grandma? I dunno. The possibilities, if not endless, are large.

It's an indexing problem, an image recognition problem, a big data problem. Ideally we'd have some automated simple composition tools -- some basic crops, color correction. Are we looking for portraits of grandma? Then make portraits of grandma out of whatever raw material is present.

Many of us have piles of photographs lumped into flickr, facebook, picasa, local hard drives, and so on. Many of us will have bigger piles as time goes on. It's obvious, I think, that any tools need to be able to go dredge out photos from all these sources and more, and should support plugins for arbitrary archives.

If we could solve the problem of managing immense heaps of pictures, then we could go really crazy. We could all wear wide-angle lapel cameras taking a picture every second, dumping it all into the cloud, and the result would no longer be a incomprehensible mess.

Now we can say "make me a shutterfly book of Susanne's birthday party from last week" and then we quickly flip through the mockup, make a few light changes, and press PRINT. Done. The software should find all the photos from the right timeframe that look "birthday party". It should identify all the unique people. It should construct a set of pleasing portraits with suitable croppings of suitably selected photos, and it should pick out a decent sequence of:

  • the piñata
  • the present opening
  • the cake cutting and candle blowing

based on some expert system's understanding of what local customs for birthdays are, and what they tend to look like.

Perhaps wrap up with a couple of collages.

I don't think the future of "imaging" is in imaging at all, although it may lead toward specific devices eventually. Lytro cameras, anyone? It would be trivial to integrate the ability to retask a given file as a shallow DoF portrait, or as a record shot of Sue At The Party. This, again, could be automated. Are we looking for portraits of Sue, or are we making book of The Party?

I think the future is in managing how we "use" pictures.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Internet Considered Harmful

I'm going to bust some guy's chops in this piece, but I want it understood that it's not about the guy, it's about the archetype. He's a kid who rolled in to an internet forum a couple years back, got taught a bunch of nonsense by the local illiterati, and has grown up into an arrogant little prat who's taking wretched photos. Dan's just an example.

There's lots of examples. This poor guy is just a Really Good one that I happen to have been paying attention to, because he started out with so much potential.

So, as usual, let me start out with this, some positives: Dan has grown up into a perfectly useful technician. He can grind out a certain kind of thing all day long, and while that thing is uninteresting to me it's probably somewhat commercial. So, good on him for that. He's mastered his equipment, and is doing just what he wants to do.

Here's a photo from two years ago:

He's got at least one terrible idea going on here (deliberately weak blacks) which some people seem to think is a fashion trope -- it's not, the only place I have ever seen this is in crummy bottom-feeder wedding photography, and online people who copy them.

But look at the rest of it. There's this dynamite diagonal thrust, these great textures, and this is the most important thing: The model is giving Dan something. The model is present, and rocking it. There's some chemistry here. Clip a little off the top, punch up the blacks:

Boom. That's fully legit.

So let me be clear, I think this is genuinely excellent work, with some very minor issues. Dan was churning this stuff out at a pretty good clip when he got started. Interesting people doing interesting things in front of the camera, with chemistry and dynamism. He got a raft of crap from forum idiots, because it looks nothing like low-rent retail photography. It doesn't look like School Pictures, or Senior Sessions, or Sears Portrait Studio. At All. And so it is wrong.

And here's some of his contemporary work:

This is an attempt at fashion. Dan can't style and hasn't got any sense of color, but he's clearly looked at some pictures in magazines and is aping some of the tropes. The model looks like she wants to die, or at least wants this terrible session to please end soon.

This was done to him by the forum members. They pushed and pushed, and then there was some socializing and Dan made some friends with other young idiots who can't see who churn out terrible Senior Sessions, and he learned that the only thing that matters is The Light and whether you can photoshop out all the crap in the background you didn't notice during the shoot.

So now he's got dead-eyed models glumly prancing through the frame, producing low-rent catalog shots.

Now Dan's an expert. So he's published a column of sorts, entitled Mastering Natural Light Photography:

This thing is just sad. First of all it could use some editing, ok actually a lot of editing, but that tells you more about the "magazine" than about Dan. Secondly, it seems a little light on content to be entitled "Mastering" anything. In fact, it seems a little light on content for anything.

His actual actionable advice seems to boil down to "watch videos on youtube that tell you how to light", followed up with "use soft light. or, harsh light, if you want a different look. also, shadows are fun!"

Really? Seriously? This isn't even One Weird Trick to Improve Your Photography, this is just blather. 

Stick around on the internet long enough and you too can be offering workshops and writing educational pieces. Are you blind? Do you want to lead blind people around? The internet has a job waiting for you!

I don't have a good answer for how to actually learn things, really, but the state of photography edumacation on the internets is terrible. Stay off the internets, kids.

You'll ketch the dumb.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Kirk Tuck, in a piece I cited recently, makes the claim that photographers are increasingly hanging it up. They're quitting. Or at any rate they're not using their fancy expensive cameras any more.

I don't know how true that is, but it feels likely.

We do know these things:

  • Sales of interchangeable lens cameras are dropping steadily.
  • Sales of interchangeable lens cameras are still several multiples larger than the equivalent film cameras ever were.
  • Sales are still greater than zero -- people are still buying these things.
  • Production of pictures has gone up over the last ten years by many factors that dwarf camera sales.

There's no question that some people are just getting exhausted and quitting, once they see just how many pictures there are out there. What we don't know is whether these people are a trivial minority, or enough to constitute an interesting trend.

There's also no question that tons and tons of people -- far more than in the days of film -- are taking pictures with cameras they're paying some serious coin for.

I've talked about people who just want pictures in the past. I'm pretty sure they're an interesting category, and I'm pretty sure they are all, 100%, using their phones now.

I also know that I am far more focused than I used to be. I basically never, ever take the camera out without a very specific purpose in mind. I might not have the exact shot(s) in mind, although often I do, but I have a very specific theme in mind.

The casual walking-around looking-for-pictures thing is gone from my life, there's simply no point. The casual day-to-day this-is-my-life photography is mostly the phone, although I do take the camera on trips or "occasions" of one sort or the other. These changes are to an extent wrought by my awareness of the River Of Pictures out there. I know I am not going to Ansel Adams my way to fame, just walking around with a camera looking for iconic pictures. Not gonna happen.

Kirk made a really interesting analogy, this idea of a sort of Art Capacitor. I think you can make a case that there really isn't any such thing as an iconic picture any more. There's an idea, and a sort of cloud of pictures that execute that idea to greater or lesser degrees. The single picture embodying the idea is now more or less irrelevant, since everything good (or simply brightly colored) is now instantly copied endlessly.

It's not even possible, usually, to identify a sort of Picture Zero to assign credit for, since every iconic idea is derived and intermingled with other ideas. It's not even a single ideal idea-point surrounded by a cloud of pictures, it's more of a branching tangled vine of ideas, with knots every now and then where the picture-cloud of executions get particularly thick.

It would not be at all surprising to me to find that Serious Photographers are hanging it up. It's depressing to realize that you're not a distinctive voice in the wilderness, you're more of a single cell in a vast picture-taking organism.

The attentive reader knows my solution: don't try to make iconic pictures. Make portfolios instead.

Friday, May 15, 2015

"Art" Photography

Many people seem to think "Art" Photography is inaccessible, pretentious, crap. Only critics can make sense of it, in their own weird little world-bubble.

This is false. What are inaccessible are artist's statements. They're not for you, anyways. They're mostly incomprehensible, mostly meaningless, and entirely social signaling.

The pictures themselves, just look.

Consider, say, Gursky's Rhein II. If you happen to know that it's something about Germany and her relationship to the Rhein River, well, it might help a bit. But you need none of that to make sense of it as some sort of abstraction of river-ness.

Cindy Sherman, well, she's witty at least. There's a bunch of subtext about.. feminist theory or something? Maybe? Knowing that probably wouldn't hinder your understanding (and frankly for some of her work it's not subtext much at all, it's pretty in-your-face).

And so on. You might not get all of it without being a critic and an artist and knowing how to decode International Art English, but you can get the important stuff just by being familiar with mainstream human cultures.

It might be bad art, but it's not inaccessible.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


In response to Kirk Tuck's piece.

The critical change which has occurred in photography, photography as an aspect of our society, is the duration of our relationship with a photo. In 1970 a photo was a permanent artifact. We might file it away, but it remained. Our relationship was essentially open ended.

With the advent of digital photography and - far more important - the sharing and social networking ethos, our relationship with most photos is very short. I see an amusing object, snap, edit, send. My relationship with the photo is measured in seconds, maybe a minute. That's a thing I actually do, albeit always as a single recipient transaction. If I shared on a social media platform there might be  a secondary life as multiple recipients interact with the photo for a few seconds each. Maybe I would get some likes and the photo would pop up in my consciousness for a few seconds in a day or two. But that's it. The photo lives on as digital detritus, but it is, in the collective consciousness of humanity, gone.

This is new. Photos become far more like the spoken word, the gesture, a live performance. A photo is like a joke or an anecdote told at a party. Photos are ephemera.

A printed photo acquires more weight, more solidity in our consciousness, even today.

This is a reason for books. By placing a photo in a book you render it literally solid. You demand more of your viewer: to see the photo you must touch the book, turn the page. It requires, relative to Facebook or Flickr, infinitely more commitment from the viewer.

This is, really, why I don't share online. Your zero-commitment evaluation of my picture is of literally no value to me. Multiply by the millions more viewers I could reach, and I get a million times zero, still zero, value. I don't care.

I value the judgment of someone willing to lift a book and turn a page. If there's nobody willing to do that, so be it. That won't make me value a worthless +1 a jot more.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kirk Tuck

Kirk has written a good think piece on the state of photography and culture.

Read it here.

I've been beating this little drum for a couple years. Kirk's got a good take on it, though.

I'll probably write some response thing in a few days but for now you can just read my comment on Kirk's blog!

Friday, May 8, 2015

History of Photography

I now own both the 4th and 5th editions of Beaumont Newhall's book on the history of photography. The differences between them are not so dramatic as I thought at first but they are, I think, telling. More on that later, perhaps. In any case, I do think his book is deeply flawed. He wants very much to lump photographers in to specific movements, and to connect them up in a lineage of influence.

As the art historian Janson had observed, this basically doesn't work for art in the modern era. It's every man for himself in an ever changing stew of ideas and influences - and that's how it has been for the entire history of photography. Attempting to organize by movements is a doomed effort.

I propose a different system of organization, which also might provide a framework for thinking about your own work, if you're in to that sort of thing. It's basic reportage: who, where, what, how, and why.

The who and where are basic facts. For thinking about your own work, it's just You and Here.

The Why I think of as a philosophy. Why are you taking these pictures? What's your purpose? To record your children's lives? To communicate your reaction to this scene? To represent Nature? To emulate the Old Masters of painting?

The What is, in my system, What does it look like? It's an the aesthetic or a visual style, perhaps. Great depth of field, sharp everywhere? Soft, painterly?

How. This is simply the methods. Do you use a big film camera or a cell phone? Do you retouch? Dodge? Photoshop extensively? Manipulate negatives? Collage?

These three facets interact and overlap, of course. They inform and modify one another.

Interestingly, breaking down and organizing the history of photography along the boundaries suggested by these three aspects, you get three completely different histories.

If Pictorialism is a set of methods, then these guys are the Pictorialists. If it's a philosophy or an aesthetic, you get two different groups. The same goes for straight photography, and so on.

Personally, I think straight photography is a philosophy, and pictorial photography is an aesthetic, so setting them up against each other as a sequence of competing movements is idiotic and wrong headed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Some time ago I stumbled over a forum posting in which a chap was asking for help using Farmer's Reducer. If you're not a black and white darkroom person this means nothing to you and that is OK. Anyways. It became clear that this chap does not own a copy of Ansel Adams' The Print.

This is the text. If you're going to do black and white darkroom work, you need to own a copy of it. It's not optional. You don't really need anything else. It's easy to obtain these days, and it's cheap.

So what?

This chap is unserious about darkroom printing. This is not a crime, dabblers are welcome in my world. I dabble.

The deal is, though, you should know when you're dabbling. Most self-styled photographers appear to me to be dabblers who don't know it.

Equipment is another angle of view on the same topic. People who rattle on about camera ergonomics, haptics, and how it's so terribly important to get a camera that just feels right are simply not serious about pictures. They are, almost without exception, inveterate gear hounds, always buying the latest and then selling it a few months later because they cannot adjust X in Y mode (where X and Y are two features the mere suggestion of which 20 years ago would have had you burned, justly, as a witch).

Some of these people are actually wonderful photographers (not many, but some) and are clearly serious about it. But at the moment they're going on about ergonomics, they are being unserious. They're wallowing in a bit of gearhead joy. They are, at that moment, dabblers in the land of photography.

It is not important to have a camera that just feels right. That is rubbish. For certain kinds of photography it is indeed necessary to have a camera that does not require a tripod. Beyond that it's all details. As proof, I submit.. the first 150 years of photography. There are, it turns out, some pretty good pictures in there.

Of course there are a few people on the edge, who will shoot with a comfortable camera but who won't with an uncomfortable one. If you are serious about pictures, you'll shoot with whatever you have. You'll figure it out, you'll find some pictures you can make with it, and you'll do that.

No crime being a dabbler. In our relatively affluent western society, we have that luxury, and we should feel free to exercise it. But please, be self-aware enough to recognize it.

So why not dabble? Because dabbling gets in the way. Dabbling gives you an excuse. I couldn't make anything of this negative because the instructions for Farmer's Reducer I found on the internet ruined the negative. I can't make the pictures I want because I need a different camera, or a different lens, or I can't afford to go to Africa, or whatever.

If you're serious you'll find some pictures you can shoot, and you'll shoot them. That's pretty much the definition.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

REVIEW: Leica M Monochrom

I hear that equipment reviews are a great way to increase traffic, so, here goes.

The Leica M Monochrom is a new object from Leica. The price is something over $7400, which works out to about $10.80 a gram. The object is mainly black. It's about 139mm x 42mm x 80mm in size, with some rounded corners. This makes is somewhat denser than water. It will not float.

The price is about $335 a troy ounce, making it quite a bit cheaper than gold.

On one of the 139mm x 42mm sides there are: a dial with numbers on it and the letter A in red; a push-button; a multi-position switch; another button.

One one of the 139mm x 80mm sides there is a large round hole, and some sort of mounting system. On the other one there is a rectangular shiny area, some more buttons, and a dial of some sort.

There is an opening in one corner that admits light through the object, for reasons I cannot discern.

There is a hole, threaded on the interior surface.

The finish is crinkly in some places, smooth in others.

I rate this a definite buy and feel that it will definitely improve your life.

Intellectual Property Blindness

People are oddly blind to intellectual property rights even when they ought not to be. Software developers downloading music and movies, and so on.

Today I ran across a bit by a photographer who is one of those Z-list senior session types who would be appalled at the idea of shooting for free. She's an obnoxious bitch.

And today she's ever so pleased to have her words and pictures on petapixel (a terrible click bait web site aimed at photographers).


It is vitally important to protect IP rights in my domain, but IP in your domain, eh, who cares.

If you're one of those photographers who's big on My Copyright (I am not), then at least try to be consistent. Intellectual property rights aren't just for you. They're either for everyone, or no-one.

Friday, May 1, 2015


One can, of course, talk about whether a photo depicts a true thing or not, as in journalism. I'm not terribly interested in that.

What I am interested in, at the moment, is whether a photograph or a body of them "reads" as "true". Is there some ineffable quality of truth-to-the-subject inherent in this body of work, or not?

This is, essentially, what P.H. Emerson disliked about H.P. Robinson's work. It's a subtle thing, and possibly a deeply personal thing. I find, though, that when I look over a collection of Robinson, it reads as stagey, not quite real. This is probably related to the fact that it is stagey and not quite real. Emerson, on the other hand, feels quite truthful.

Comparing any one Emerson to a a similarly themed Robinson, I don't see much difference. They're really quite similar. It's only in looking at the work en masse that this squishy feeling of truth/untruth steals over me.

I similarly feel this notion of truth in Paul Strand, and much of the Magnum corpus.

It is this sense of truth that separates, in my mind, a good portrait from a bad one. Most portraits are stagey awkward self-conscious crap. Good ones reflect a certain sense of honesty, of truth.

In this sense, I think I can firmly connect H.P. Robinson to the Pictorialists. In this sense, we have parallel tracks, with Robinson leading directly into the Pictorialists, and Emerson leading to Paul Strand, with the two big threads eventually colliding in Camera Work. The Pictorialists fade away, albeit temporarily.

(more on this later, by the way, I now have two editions of Newhall's History of Photography, the 4th and the 5th, and the differences between them on this subject are startling)

In contemporary photography I find almost nothing that reads true. The availability of cheap and flexible studio lighting, the ease of digital manipulation, and the basic disinterest most self-styled photographers have in these questions, mean that everything is stagey and unreal. We, the viewer, know it and can feel it in the results.

Landscape colors are a little too bright. Portraits are a little too forced and lit with too many lights. Urban photography is mostly forced exercises in abstraction, or equally forced exercises in finding the right craggy homeless face, and then processing it to a sort of corrugated bronze finish.

Contemporary standards dictate, arguably, that no photograph is finished until it's been ruined.

I don't seem to be able to shoot anything particularly truthful, for the record.

I think it's extremely hard. Adam Marelli can do it.