Thursday, March 31, 2016

Get Back to the Print!

Since this is a whole little series inspired by LuLa's (in my opinion) dismal failure to deliver anything on their "Get Back To The Print" series, I thought I'd put a table of contents here, to make it a little easier for the occasional visitor to make sense of it. This is just a series of links to the previous 5 posts, in the order they were posted.

Back to the Print, But Why?

The last few pieces covered some methods I use for handling hard-copy photographs, but I haven't really talked about the why. Why do I do these things? You might well think the question is dumb, but that's probably because you have your own answer, so it seems obvious. This is my answer.

There are really two separate things here that have pushed me down this specific path.

The first is the digital revolution. When I was a kid, the standard family photography film roll in the USA had a Christmas tree on each end, and covered one year. This was a common joke, at any rate, and rooted in reality. In my family, we shot a bit more than that. Nonetheless a few hundred exposures a year was a pretty high count for even a photographically inclined family. These days I shoot several thousand frames a year, and many people shoot a lot more. Even if you're not particularly good, you're likely to wind up with dozens of photographs of your kids, your family, your life, that are worth printing. These are the pictures that are good enough to get through every stage of culling, good enough to commit to that final endpoint: the print, the hard-copy.

So I have, simply by the vagaries of statistics, more pictures flowing out of this pipeline than did, say, my father.

The second factor is my movement toward project based photography projects. I no longer see particular value in chasing the single iconic picture, which I will then print out large, frame, and stick on my wall like a stuffed tiger's head. This is simply not something that resonates with me. It makes no sense. Therefore my "Art" such as it is consists of making groups of pictures.

These two factors result in my having quite a few pictures that I want to make a part of my life. Some of them need to enter my life in a group, not as a set of one-by-one pictures.

By entering my life, I mean being integrated into my life. I could use digital picture frames, I suppose, but that's a lot of money and probably hackers get into them and replace my pictures with porn. Probably not even good porn. I dunno. Digital picture frames also typically operate in a slideshow mode to show more pictures, and that's absolutely unacceptable to me. I am not going to stand around and wait for the picture I want to look at. I am not going to accept the picture I want to look at sliding away after the designated interval. Nope. This is a personal problem, but it's my house so I get to decide.

The computers are in designated areas, or small, or in-use, so that's out as a mode of complete integration with my life. Phones are too small.

Anyways, digital screens are awful. I very much need not to be able to check my email on my picture viewing system.

The prints on my wall are present, always. They don't distract me like a tablet, phone, computer. I can mass 20 or 30 prints (remember, I have a lot of pictures) for a few dollars a print using my cheapskate DIY mounting methods. The books are also present, portable, and single-purpose. I can take a book to bed and simply look at pictures without wandering off to facebook or email. A book doesn't need to be charged. It's tactile and beautiful in its own right. It simply suits me better, in so many ways. And, again, it provides a way to collect a number of prints, and to group them up sensibly.

These things allow me to integrate my pictures into my life, seamlessly, easily, inexpensively, beautifully, and without unnecessary distraction.

That's my answer.

And by the way, screw those guys at LuLa. The latest installment of their version of Get Back To The Print is literally Kevin Raber, Jeff Schewe, and an Epson rep standing around an Epson printer pointing out various random features of the thing and extolling its virtues. It is explicitly not a review, and not a tutorial. To be exact, it is literally an ad for the Epson P800, which you have to be a LuLa subscriber to watch. That's not just lame, it's utterly insulting. The sheer hubris of these men, their utter disdain for their subscribers, is staggering.

Back to the Print, PoD Books

Onwards to print-on-demand books.

This post will have no illustrations, you can find those out there on the webernet by the trainload. These things look like books, you make them with more or less intuitive software tools, and you press print. A while later a box turns up with books in it. I own several, but they're either too boring or too intimate to share.

These things have their own satisfaction, less in the making but more in the holding. I may be more likely to pull my own book from the shelf, everyone else is more likely to pull the Blurb book. They look and feel more like ordinary books, and are much more approachable. The page weight, while heavy, is within normal range rather than the massive chunky stuff I use.

Overall I have been pleased with the results I've gotten from blurb. At the cheaper end, there's a little show-through from back to front which can be a good thing or a bad thing, but knowing about it seems to me important. The blacks (and my photographs often have huge areas of black and near black) sometimes show a very slight mechanical pattern from, I suppose, inkjet printing. The print quality, while excellent, occasionally falls visibly short of the basic machine print. Not that I care, much, but again something worth mentioning.

Book design tools for print-on-demand books seem to be universally awful, I've test driven several. Blurb's deprecated program (booksmart?) was better on the design front. It had a library of decorative elements and so on, the newer one lacks these and has reverted to the industry standard "you can drag and drop photos one by one, and shove in rectangles of text". Blurb's text management is atrocious, by text editing standards, but I think fairly good in terms of PoD "book design" tools.

What they are good for, as Mike "Chiz" Holmes mentioned somewhere in my hearing a while ago, is in sequencing photos. Being able to slosh photos around, even clumsily, on a set of virtual "pages", is tremendously helpful. For making a basic sequence of photos bound into a basic codex, PoD is absolutely adequate.

For my next trick I am going to start experimenting with modifying these things. I have some slight experience popping paperback/perfect-bound text blocks into hand built hard cases. Daniel Milnor says, and he is right, that blurb books are an obvious starting point for cutting things up, for painting and writing on, for remixing, rebuilding, remaking. Getting a bunch of prints onto a decent "book weight" paper is powerful. You can treat it as a book. You can cut it up into a pile of lightweight prints. And anything in between. Go over to Daniel's site at Shifter Media to get some ideas.

I'm kind of excited to see where it goes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Back to the Print, Hand-Made Books

Apart from attaching my pictures to my walls, I make books containing my pictures. These books take, in the broadest strokes, two forms. I hand-build books and book-like objects containing physical prints. I design and publish books using Print on Demand services ( is what I use, but there are many).

This post has some remarks on hand-built books and the issues I find there. There next will cover, briefly, my experiences with blurb. Then I will attempt to wrap up with some summation and a something perhaps resembling a coherent statement of philosophy, once I work out what that might be. This is not intended as a tutorial on book building, just a discussion of some of the issues and benefits of one structure and another. If you're deeply interested in details, contact me and I will see what I can pull together.

There are some common themes in all hand-built books of the sort I make. The first is that I am putting physical prints into them, and physical prints have a thickness. This means that any pages separated by a print, or by many prints, need to hinge in a way that allows for that space. I will refer to this extra space, this looseness or whatever you care to call it, as "slack" or "slackness" in the hinge/fold. This is largely a non-issue with one of the structures, an easily managed detail for another, and an almost incredible pain in the ass for what seems at first glance to be the simplest structure.

The second common issue is paper weight. If you're sticking a physical print to a piece of paper, that paper needs to be tolerably heavy. I use 140 pound watercolor paper, or mat board, generally. Heavy papers present their own issues in the standard western codex (an ordinary "book" book).

Board Books

Have you any familiarity with the heavy books made for under 2-year-old children? The books where the "pages" are in fact rigid chunks of cardboard? These are actually a wonderfully ingenious device, and are absolutely fantastic for containing small portfolios. They're also a remarkable pain in the ass to build. This thing is 8 inches by 8 inches, 12 photographs, 13 "pages" in all (1 extra for the cover).

The basic structure is a stack of identical squares of cardboard. Imagine a stack of cards, neatly stacked, edges all aligned. Now between each pair of cards, insert a hinge along one edge, connecting the two. Normally this hinge is a sheet of paper twice the size of the card, folded exactly in half. This creates a bifold exactly the size of the cards. Glue the outside "pages" of this bifold each to one of the cards, with the fold forming the hinge.

Your basic children's book is precisely this, with the content of the book printed onto the inside (non-glued-side) of the bifolds. Each page will open to completely flat, without any forcing whatsoever, and will usually open slightly past that before any resistance occurs. The heavy cardboard "page" provides a natural feeling substrate for the photograph.

I have been known to use a smaller hinge, but have come to the conclusion that this is harder and less attractive, ultimately. Depicted below we see the Edsel book hinged with a strip of mismatching mulberry paper. I had hoped the mismatch would look rustic, but it mostly looks dumb. Quite strong, but not very attractive, and it didn't help with the hinge slackness problem at all to use the small hinge:

There are a bunch of issues here for hand-building these things. First, exact alignment is absolutely required on the spine, the hinge side, otherwise the whole thing looks ridiculous and does not open properly. Second, the thickness of the inserted prints screws everything up unless you are careful. The hinges formed by the bifolded paper need to have sufficient "slack" to accomodate the thickness of prints. So, I have a system in which I align the spine carefully, and build the book up with shims between the pages to get the hinges properly slack. The bifolds are cut too big, and trimmed on the three non-spine edges, and then the whole thing is sanded to evenness on those same three edges.

Essentially, when building the book up, I get the spine as exact as possible and let the other three edges go where they want, and then "fix it in post". I embrace a little roughness in the final product. Then I reinforce the spine by gluing a sheet of bookcloth around the outside of the spine (this is not standard child's book technique, which relies entirely on the bifolds for strength, but with the "slack" I am forced to build in to accommodate print thickness, a little more support seems indicated.)

Finally, the cover is a glued-on sheet of heavier paper, creased just so, and glued on very very cleverly. Also, this is what it looks like when the shims are not right, and the hinges don't have enough slack, note how the "pages" at the spine bend together, as the spine is narrower than the main body of the book.

Hinged Foldouts

My second, and I think my favorite, structure is the hinged foldout. I cut identical squares (although any shape is possible, within certain broad limits) and fasten them together with hinges of mulberry paper. For these I design the folding-up pattern first, which tells me roughly how much slack I need in each hinge. Sometimes one hinge brings a page down flush onto another (so, no slack required) or over a print (some slack) or over a whole stack of folded pages and prints that have been folded in first (lots of slack).

The biggest design limitation here is that the folding pattern should never fold a print face-against another. With these sorts of physical prints pressing them face-to-face invites adhesion and ruined prints. So this book is designed to fold pictures against paper, always.

Then I glue up the structure, guessing at the degree of necessary slack in each hinge. Extra doesn't hurt in this design, it turns out, but not enough would be a problem. Then I attach prints, write in text as necessary, and finally glue on the cover.

This creates a compact book-like structure when folded up, but has the potential to unfold into a wall hanging, if you liked. Structure can follow the flow of the book, as you can build non-linear structures this way. The cover is a sort of big matchbook made of a single piece of heavy paper large enough to wrap around, with a slot and tab closure arrangement. Variations, endlessly, are possible. Manifesto is 6 inches by 6 inches, and contains 6 pictures and some text.

It may not be obvious, but one could make the sideways-foldout be many sections long, turn corners, and so on.

Here's a probably not very visible hinge detail. It looks very much like the not-very-pleasing hinges I used on the Edsel book above, but the paper match is better and it works a lot better as well:

A smaller version of this design (2x2) can be seen in this post from the past.

Sewn Codex

This is a basic hardbound book. I use 140 pound watercolor paper for the pages, almost exclusively, here. Covers are several layers of mat board (2 or 3) laminated and covered in the usual way shown in any number of internet tutorials. The issue of print thickness is least for this structure, I find, as the natural flex in the pages simply allows the prints to fit in. The spine of the hardcover does need to be sized properly for the finished book, with prints in it, and it doesn't hurt to sew the thing a trifle loosely.

This is a book I made as a memorial when my father died. Some basic documentary photos of things he owned or made, and some of my crummy calligraphy with little snippets of things I learned from Dad. It's roughly 8 inches by 8 inches.

Endpaper detail (that's the thin purple stuff), also showing the stiffness of the 140 pound paper pages.

The biggest problem I have discovered is with the sewn book is in the heaviness of the paper. These things really have to be "backed" to make the book work well, otherwise the turning the pages is always stiff, and the book won't open particularly well. (Backing is a process by when you literally hammer the spine of the sewn and glued block of pages into the classic mushroom shape you see looking down on the top of an older book). I am still working on my backing skills. The book works well, but the back doesn't look too great.

This is the very first photo book I ever made. The prints in it at 4 inches by 4 inches, for scale. Again, you can see the stiffness of the pages, and you can probably get a sense of how stiffly the book "opens" and lies from the fanned out pages just standing there. I did not "back" this volume, and it shows. I used a single layer of mat board in the hard covers, which isn't stiff enough. I do like the torn paper edges, still.

The most useful resource I have ever discovered is Conservation Book Repair by Artemis BonDea. A quick google search ought to turn up a downloadable copy from the Alaska State Library. It has a host of material on tools and techniques. I learned a great deal about simply handling paper from this book. While it does not actually tell you how to make a book, it gives you a lot of useful grounding. Then even the slapdash tutorials you find on the Internet for actually making a new book will be much more useful.

There are no actual rules of book-making. You can do anything you like. If you're thoughtful and make appropriate tests and prototypes as you go, you can build most anything you put your mind to. If you're clumsy, like me, it probably would serve you well to embrace a sort of rustic, rough-hewn, look!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Back to the Print, Wall Mounting

I'm going to cover, essentially, the variations on a single method of wall mounting here. My approach is wildly cheap, and can create a number of pretty appealing looks.

Tools and Materials

I do pretty much everything with an Exacto knife, a large cutting mat, and a good quality 24 inch steel ruler. Any standard cutting mat is marked with a good grid, allowing easy cutting of right angles and fairly exact dimensions. For more precise cutting, I measure with the ruler and use light pencil marks. It may be necessary to first correct any un-squareness by recutting materials to exact right angles using the grid on the cutting mat.

With a little practice, cutting papers, mats, and other materials by running the Exacto knife along the edge of the ruler becomes easy. Hold the ruler down firmly. More firmly than you think you need to.

My go-to glue is pH neutral PVA glue. It's essentially just Elmer's white glue, but you know what you're getting. Cheap white glue could, in theory, be something quite different, and might not bond with things you want to adhere. I've never actually seen this occur, but I always buy actual PVA glue because I know it works. It bonds, somewhat to my surprise, to the back side of standard drugstore machine prints perfectly well. For gluing wood, I will often use a designated wood glue, but I see no reason PVA would not work just as well for these applications.

You will want good paintbrush for spreading glue. I have a synthetic bristle brush I favor. The synthetic bristles seem to clean up more easily. When cleaning glue out, first remove as much as reasonable with a paper towel, then wash thoroughly, then leave it in a cup of water overnight. PVA glue is remarkably persistent. Minimize the amount you wash down drains, unless you're at a friend's house.

I use foam core board, decorative papers, heavier papers (I generally keep in stock a 70-80 pound paper, and a 130-150 pound paper), and scraps of wood 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.


I have transitioned almost completely to using foam core board for wall mounting purposes. It's incredibly light, easy to cut, takes glue well, and is both stable and stiff. In the past I have used mounting board, which is really a double-weight mat board. This material is incredibly difficult to cut without some fairly robust tools, which I do not have. Wrestling this stuff down with an Exacto knife and a ruler is fairly tough sledding. If I want some sort of heavy mat board in future, I will likely cut standard weight mat board to size, and them laminate 2 or more layers up at the proper size with PVA glue. Mounting board and laminated mat board does have the advantage that you can sand it, with ordinary sandpaper, to create a clean edge. As we'll see my preferred methods tend to conceal that edge.


You're going to be using an increasingly glue-covered brush in this process. Plan where the brush gets put down, and always put it down there. Be mindful of the gluey brush end, and don't let it touch anything it's not supposed to touch. Have clean rags or paper towels handy to clean your fingers, and then clean your fingers obsessively. Be mindful of what has glue on it, and what does not. Keep the two separate, and have a plan for this. Perhaps you put some newspaper on the ground, and glue-covered scraps, rags, etc, get dropped on that? That sort of thing. Glue gets everywhere unless you're quite disciplined.

... to the Edge

In general I will glue prints out to the edge, to create a clean glued-down edge where the print meets the backing material (substrate). Holding the print carefully, back side up, run a small bead of PVA glue around the edge, and then a squiggle or X of glue in the center. Working fairly quickly from the inside out, brush the glue out to the edge, and spread it around in the center. You can tilt the print to see the glisten of glue, to ensure you're got the entire edge glued. You will likely find it hard to keep glue off your fingertips and thence the print, so practice a little.

You will almost certainly use too much glue the first few times. The glue bead shown below should be brushed out to the edge, but also into the interior, as it is a little too heavy:

Brush out toward the edge, to bring the glue all the way out:

Now turn the print over and position it carefully, one edge down first, laying the print gently down into position. PVA glue does not cure instantly, so you can reposition. Be ruthless about lifting and repositioning, it's OK. Once it is in position, gently lay a clean sheet of paper over the print and, working from the center outwards, press the print firmly down trying to work out any air bubbles under it. If you've used too much glue, it will squeeze out around the edges at this point. Regardless, assume your scrap paper has glue on it now, and dispose of it appropriately.

You will ruin some prints early on. You will probably ruin the occasional print later on as well, but less frequently.

This whole exercise is somewhat fraught, and altogether too often results in glue on the front of the print, so I really prefer to apply glue to the substrate rather than the print. This will result, however, either in glue appearing beyond the edge of the print, or in the print edges not being glued. Either must be dealt with.

I glue to the edge when the background material, the substrate, will extend beyond the print's edge, to create a matted look. This can be simply the white of the foam core, or you can dress it up a bit.

A design I employed once, as much to entertain my then five year old daughter as for any other reason, was to glue strips of decorative paper around on that mat area. I used a torn edge for the strips, and tacked them down with deliberate crudity (designs that embrace clumsiness are a boon when a 5 year old is helping you), and let the edge of the paper overlap both the edge of the substrate, and the print's area. I am still very pleased with this approach.

This is what it looks like. The whole thing is floated 1/2 an inch or so off the wall. The detail shows the print glued out to the edge, overlapping the strips of decorative paper, and also the wrinkled look of the paper. The torn edge is obtained by painting a narrow bead of water onto the paper, letting it soak, and then tearing along that weakened line.

There is, under the print, a bare rectangle of mounting board. The decorative paper in this case is four overlapping chunks of the same stuff, but there's no law you have to use the same paper on all four edges.

..."Floating" the bare print

I'm rather fond of the floating print look. Here I cut the substrate a little too small. 1/8 to 1/2 an inch too small in each dimension, depending on the look I am going for. If you want the print to float quite flat, you'll want the substrate very nearly the same size at the print, so cut it perhaps 1/8 inch too small each way.

Place the print face down on a clean, smooth, surface. Apply glue not to the print, but to the substrate, as indicated in the previous section for prints. You can be more careless, because the front surface of the print is safely face down and will remain that way, so a few glue-blots here and there will not be as big a deal. Position the substrate on the print, just as you positioned the print on the substrate in the previous method, being careful to let the print slop over the edges of the substrate very slightly.

This is part of an installation I made for my wife's office space. 13 small prints (4x6, 4x4) of our kids in an arabesque wrapping around her monitor. Total cost, under ten bucks.

Rear view of one of the prints. The print floats off the wall by the thickness of the foam core board, which itself rests against the wall:

For a somewhat different floating look, cut the substrate a bit smaller, 1/2 inch perhaps, in one or both dimensions. This will allow the print to curl. Do not bring the glue all the way out to the edge where you want to see some curling. After you position the substrate on the print, allow to cure completely (24 hours), and then gently curl the print up and away from the substrate. This creates a slight "scroll" flavor to the floating print.

This isn't a photograph, but the idea is the same. The whole is floated 1/2 an inch or so off the wall (see below):

Wall Mounting

I use two approaches. The first floats the whole assembled object off the wall by some distance, and consists of, essentially, just gluing wood scraps to the back of the piece. This is how all the pieces shown above which are floated 1/2 inch or more off the wall. The tulip photograph with decorative paper, and the Japanese print are both mounted this way. I use wood glue, and put a weight on the whole assembly for the glue curing time, but I see no reason PVA glue would not work just as well.

The upper block is simply rested on a nail driven into the wall. The lower block is merely a standoff, to make the print hang parallel to the wall. For more security, you can bevel the lower edge of the upper, supporting, block, to let it "hook over" the head of the nail. Here is a side view, with the blue outline indicating the wooden block and the green indicating the nail.

For a mount closer to the wall, especially with very small and hence light pictures, I simply pop a hole in the back of the foam core board, exactly half-way across the top. This hole is pressed over the head of a finishing nail (a common nail type that has nearly no head) driven into the wall and slightly protruding. As a final touch, I apply a dab or two of ordinary caulk to the bottom edge of the back, to give a little grip. Foam core board is quick slick, and the dried caulk's texture helps the print stay put on the wall. This is how the collection of small prints of my daughters is mounted.

For additional reinforcement (or if you botch the hole up) you can glue a piece of heavy paper over the hole. Use one of the finishing nails you'll be using in the wall later, punch a hole in the paper the right size to admit the head of the nail. Apply glue to the back of the paper, and slip it over the nail. Put the nail-head into the hole in the foam-core, and slide the gluey, sticky, paper in to place. The holes will be aligned by the nail, and will be the right sized to accept the nail's head.

And that's all there is to it!

No need to worry about museum glass versus anti-reflection glass or any of that.

Back to the Print, Introduction

Luminous Landscape is rolling out, with all the dizzying speed of a glacier bounding down its mountain valley, a series entitled "Get Back to the Print." This was launched, supposedly, in response to Kevin Raber's experience with a box of photographs, with the tactile feel, the longevity, the sense of history. It had the potential to be an interesting series, but of course it's turned in to a series of reviews of software and printers. This will presumably allow you to make enormous prints with hyperactive detail and precision color of whatever it is you've shot merely by spending enormous sums of money and time.

You know how else you can get prints?

Any number of online services. The local drugstore, grocery store, department store.

You know what else?

The prints are pretty good. If getting the shade of green to exactly match what you see on the monitor is somehow vital to your vision of your soulless interchangeable landscape, then by all means subscribe to LuLa and start wading through their incredibly boring videos (why they insist on overlong badly made videos full of ums and ahs instead of writing I do not know.) If you can muddle through with a little less precision, consider spending 17 cents a print instead.


Why do I print? I print for a couple of reasons. I print because a physical print defines an endpoint, a place where I can stop mucking around with the picture and call it Done. This is surprisingly important in this era of digital imaging and software. Sitting in front of a computer fiddling endlessly with something, anything, is an incredibly compelling activity and incredibly bad for us. I print also because the physical object has a purpose. I can look at it, I can put it on the wall, I can put it in a book. I am interested in presentation, and the print affords me possibilities for presentation. The computer, ultimately, does not. Yes, I can embed the pictures in an eBook or a Gallery or whatever, but ultimately it's always the same thing: a glowing picture on a screen.

I don't print for longevity, for future generations. I know perfectly well that my children will, at best, treasure a small handful of objects from my life, possibly including a 2 or 3 or 10 photographs. The generation after that will winnow the stash down to 1 or 2, and then it's gone. I am OK with that.

My approach to print and presentation embraces the ephemerality of it all. One of the beauties of the digital world is that it is, at least in theory, trivially easy to bang out a new print whenever I want. My presentations need not be robust, preservation of the physical object is simply not a priority. I don't even need to preserve it for a year, let alone for future generations.

In the following pieces I'm going to break down some details of how I stick things on walls, and how I stick things in books.

Now is the time to step out for a smoke and a coffee if you're not that interested in the details of cutting and gluing.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Innovation II

Here's some more basic Business 101 stuff about Innovation, and maybe a little blather about what it all means to Canon and Nikon and all those dudes.

This is the first thing:

When something genuinely new turns up as a product, the acceptance of it occurs in very distinct phases. Roughly, we start with a bunch of so-called early adopters who buy it. They're typically enthusiasts who enjoy things that are novel (this applies both to people and to businesses). They may or may not have problems that are different from the mainstream's problem, but they are largely identified by essentially social/personality as entities predisposed to try novel things.

Early adopters often make a lot of noise, but there generally are not enough of them to actually sustain a business.

Then there's a pause. The early adopters are often making a big fuss about the new thing and how great it is, and yet, mysteriously it seems, the new thing is not flying off the shelves. Sales are flat or even dropping, despite the apparent hue and cry. This where innovative companies die. Almost all of them. This is sometimes called "the chasm" but it has other names. It always happens.

Then, finally, sometimes, the mainstream market begins to shift and accept the new thing. Sometimes the unique problems that the early adopters experienced begin to afflict the mainstream, demanding the new solution. Sometimes the mainstream simply gathers itself to move away from the status quo because of the now very obvious benefits of the new thing. And so on. Sales begin to pick up, slowly. After a while, nobody can remember a time when the new thing wasn't ubiquitous.

The mechanisms vary but the pattern is weirdly constant. There's some sort of Central Limit Theorem in here. Early adopters, chasm, mainstream. Then there's some stuff at the end, too, "long tails" and whatnot that we're not concerned with.

This is the second thing:

The major players at any given time are actually not permitted by the market to innovate. Nikon and Canon are constantly innovating, and everything they do is reviled and dismissed. The Nikon 1 was innovation, but conventional wisdom is that it sucked, and that Nikon, having built a D5 that is a very safe evolution from the D4, is simply not innovative. Say what?

The only companies that the market will "allow" to innovate are the new players, which is why Sony is innovative and Canon is not. It hasn't got anything to do with the products they're building.

The Nikon 1 is indeed a useful case to look at. The usual crowd ridiculed it because of one flaw or another. The innovative new company is permitted to roll out almost any kind of wildly limited product, because they are by definition innovative and of course there will be bumps. Sony, Olympus, Fuji, have all rolled out dogs but since they "get it" the dogs are seen as mere evolutionary steps along the way to perfection. Nikon, who doesn't "get it", cannot roll out anything less than perfection. The flaws in the Nikon 1 are proof of Nikon's cluelessness.

And that's not to say the pundits are bad people who have it in for Nikon. This is how it always is for the established players, the pundits in this case are simply following their appointed rounds.

So the standard game plan for the majors is to wait and see. They experiment, they roll out new products, but they don't get fully behind any of the massive flock of Wild New Things. They leave that up to Lytro, to Light, to Sony. These companies are trying out tons of innovation. Most of those innovations will die in The Chasm. Many of those companies will die in The Chasm. A few things will gain traction in the mainstream.

Then the major players, having kept their hand in with the small products they've been rolling out here and there, swoop in and attempt to dominate the now-established market. There are now one or more established "innovative" players who have to be knocked out of the game, so it's harder for the majors to take control.

It's not easy, but at least it's possible. Nikon and Canon actually cannot be that innovative player who ushers in EVFs or whatever to mainstream acceptance. No matter what they do, it's just going to be the Nikon 1 story again. These guys know where they fit in the minds of their customers, and they know perfectly well that if they diverge too far from that the reviews will fall in to lock step "it sucks, they fucked it up." Nikon cannot invent the next new camera paradigm any more than IBM could invent the home computer or Microsoft could invent the web browser.

Step back a few steps and take in the whole mirrorless camera market.

There's been endless fuss, all the pundits have been rolling their eyes about how this is SO OBVIOUSLY the way forward and what's UP with all those old optical viewfinder cameras? (early adopters). This goes on for a while. MILC sales remain mysteriously flat, despite the obviousness of the solution (the chasm). Nikon and Canon are widely reviled for sticking with their horrible optical viewfinder cameras and not jumping on the mirrorless segment despite the fact that they are constantly rolling out mirrorless cameras in various segments.

Today, maaaayyyyyyybe, we're beginning to see actual mainstream acceptance. The very real problems with mirrorless cameras are legitimately being shaken out right about now.

If we see an actual substantial uptick in sales coincident with a substantial corresponding downtick in SLR cameras, then look for Nikon and Canon to start positioning to crush the remaining MILC manufacturers. Sony knows this, obviously, and is without question girding their loins for battle. This may be why they're hurling new models out at such a blistering pace. They need to establish the strongest beachhead possible because D-Day is right around the corner and those fuckers at Nikon and Canon are gonna hit the beach with extreme prejudice, and loaded for bear.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Innovate or Die!

Ming has another one of his remarkably uninsightful "state of the industry" analyses up, in which he repeats the conventional wisdom that the only that will save Nikon and Canon is if they "innovate more" along with a bunch of other stuff that he may or may not have simply gleaned off of other pundit's blogs. He might as well have, because there's nothing that hasn't been said by the usual suspects, and his synthesis is either missing or ridiculous.

Thom Hogan repeats the same "innovate or die" routine constantly. Michael Reichmann has been known to repeat this now and then, although he apparently is too busy counting his money to write much any more. And then the cry is taken up by the smaller fry, and it is simply obvious as the nose on your face to everyone except the people who are actually in a position to know. The marketing guys at Canon and Nikon actually do this as a full time job and have access to a lot of proprietary information, and have the knowledge, the budget, and the motivation to actually do research rather than just guessing based on what the boneheads at the last PhotoWalkMeetupThing said over beers.

The hardwired telephone has essentially not changed in a while. The last substantive innovation here was DTMF ("touch tone") dialing, which came about starting in 1963, more than 50 years ago. The shape of the box changes, but the device itself works in exactly the same way as it always has. People have, in the last decade or so, started wanting to use telephones in completely different ways, ways that make the hard-wired connection problematic. This has led to the gradual, but inevitable, replacement of the wired phone with various wireless solutions. Note that the wired telephone is being replaced not by a fancier wired telephone with stereo headphones, but by not one but several different products, none of which are anything like a wired telephone.

The gun hasn't changed one goddamned bit in more than 100 years. I don't think anyone has made a serious effort to replace this thing in ages. The "innovations" are designs of the same damn thing reworked so that a blacksmith can make the things out of truck parts with a file. There's a reason the TV show Serenity depicted people in the far future shooting at one another with six-shooters. It's because in 500 years or 1000 years or 10,000 years there's an excellent chance they will be. The gun is the perfect instrument for violently poking holes in things (e.g. people) from a distance.

The point is that there are products which have simply arrived. They are fully optimized. They do a job as well as that job can be done.

Quite frankly, the DSLR is damn near there. The basic SLR body was tuned and tweaked and figured out over a period of many decades, with features introduced cautiously, carefully. Metering. Automatic exposure modes, Autofocus. And then the digital sensor. Each of these went through a bunch of iterations before arriving at a pretty solid solution. You could make an argument that EVF is a the next step to be carefully iterated until it's bang on, and then it becomes the standard and nobody really remembers when DSLR-type cameras didn't have EVFs.

The DSLR, from either Nikon or Canon, is the perfect embodiment of itself. Yes, you can fiddle with this or with that, but my father used to say that the reason a recipe calls for 1/2 a teaspoon of salt is because the author tested it with 1 teaspoon, and with 1/4 teaspoon, and the 1/2 was the right amount. Small changes to a well-tested recipe will invariably make it worse. Similarly, taking the DSLR and tweaking a couple of things with some "innovation" is far more likely to throw the whole balance of the thing off and make it simply worse, than it is to make a better product.

Yes, there will be a small and vocal group who insist that the NoseBall control was the innovation Canon needed to save themselves, but they will be wrong. They will appear to have numbers behind them, but those people are all sock puppets.

The way forward is almost certainly not to screw around with little fiddly bits, to "innovate" around the existing product set. An existing, mature, product like a DSLR is evolved, carefully and in small steps, otherwise you just wind up with a cake that has too much salt in it and tastes kind of gross.

Yes, the DSLR market is contracting as the soccer moms just use their phones. The glory days of the DSLR bubble are wrapping up, and we're reverting to something a lot more like the 1970s.

The wired phone is being replaced by SMS, cell phones, wireless phones, Skype, and a dozen other lesser players. It's probably going to vanish, living on only in the general shape and user experience of the Ethernet-connected telephone which is practically ubiquitous in business environments already. It's too bad, because the very best end-device ever invented for making phone calls was the wired analog telephone. Remember when phone calls just worked, every single time?

So quit looking for Canon or Nikon to "innovate" in the DSLR product line. They're smarter than that. Look at their other product lines.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Seeing Photographs

I skimmed a thread in a forum recently, which began with the question, essentially, can anyone who applies himself sufficiently produce work as good as Ansel Adams.

Predictably, it veered instantly off into idiots explaining that Adams wasn't really that good, darkroom wizard of course but.. you've seen it all before, no doubt.

It occurred to me that loads of people think they are in fact replicating Adams. Shoot some rocks and trees, screw around in your software until the sky turns black. Done! This is obviously wrong, to anyone with a modicum of acuity.

I rather think I could do better. I can, and any competent technician can, replicate pretty much anything. The trouble is that you've got to be able to see it, you have to be conscious of it, before you can replicate it. Doofuses look at an Adams landscape and see black skies with fluffy white clouds and figure that's about it. I look at an Adams landscape and I see the bootprints of a red filter, but also a general sweep of tone from dark to light across the frame. I see a pattern of lighter and darker tones, often, which clarify the relationships between the planes -- one ridge is dark, the next ridgeline is light, and so on. I see repeated shapes, I see unity, variety, and balance.

That much I could certainly replicate with diligent effort.

But. There are surely different ways to see these photo. Tavis Glover no doubt sees them either as examplars or failures of Dynamic Symmetry and judges them accordingly while, most likely, missing the "Victorian" sweep of tone. Ming Thein would likely see and judge in terms of his Four Things. Others would look for rules of thirds, or golden triangles, or something. Are they wrong? That is a separate discussion, and irrelevant here. The point is that they've got systems of seeing which dissect pictures quite differently from mine. Surely there are many more systems, producing many more completely different dissections.

What am I missing? Surely I am not only failing to see these pictures in any sort of universal way, but just as surely, I am failing to see these pictures in a complete way. I am missing things.

In portraiture, I could probably duplicate anybody's lighting setup, or close enough. That's because I know how to see light sources and, to a lesser extent, light suckers. With diligent effort, I could replicate pretty much any setup quite closely. Portraits are much less complex, structurally, than a landscape. It's a person, some lights, a background. I could get the last two. It's that magical alchemy of the person that I know I would have trouble with. There are aspects that I can see that I would struggle with ("her expression is.. too forced, I think") and there are just as surely things I literally cannot consciously see. Something that is not the lighting, not the expression, not the posture, but perhaps some alchemy, some combination of them. The light is good, the expression is good, the pose is good, but somehow, perhaps, there's something in the combination that's wrong or weak, something I not only have no name for but something I literally do not see.

If none of it hit me unconsciously, it wouldn't matter. But it does. There is a reason the idiot with the black sky is producing pictures that are certainly not Adams'. Anyone can see it, whether they know a lick about "sweeps of tone" or not. Adams' methods affect how anyone reads the picture, whether they can see the individual effects or not.

This is probably why I like dissecting pictures, and why I spend a lot of time reading about other people's ways of dissection. I'm not a savant, I have no more than average innate ability to produce excellent pictures. By learning and thinking and internalizing, I rather fancy I am building a workable substitute for inborn talent. Here's hoping!

For extra credit, go find some older posts on this blog that this one contradicts directly! I am almost certain that there are several. I decline to make excuses.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Dynamic Symmetry and Jay Hambidge

Man, this article just keeps getting the traffic. Is it all just one of you true believers checking back to see if I've issued a retraction and acknowledged my wicked ways, or is this thing turning up in web searches, or what? - Andrew 5/24/17

I've been reading more about this to see what the heck it's all about, and I have to say to a mathematician with pretensions of understanding a little about Art, it's comedy gold. This is a guy who either started, or was deeply embroiled, in the early 20th century fad of "explaining" Art with simple geometry. He's all over the Golden Mean, and he's got this glorious system of drawing lines all over the place. He also gets in to spirals, but I couldn't face reading any more by the time I got there.

Mr. Hambidge began his career attempting to explain the beauty of the greek vase, and wound up unlocking the Lost Secret of the Greeks. My father was a classicist, and I can assure you that the ancient greeks were literate and had, indeed, a complete system of writing. The fact that Hambidge cannot refer to a single line written by an actual Greek on this subject, and has to resort to a single line of rather vague allusion written by a Roman which he himself allows is pretty suspect renders the whole Rediscovered Secret business ridiculous. While it's possible that we have, somehow, lost every relevant text, while it's possible that the secrets of Dynamic Symmetry were held closely and never written down, Occam's Razor dictates clearly that this is not the hypothesis we ought to be working with.

In actual historical work, Lost Secrets are generally either Not Lost, Not Secret, or Not Real. Sometimes all three. This one falls clearly into the Not Real category.

But let's look at Dynamic Symmetry itself. Mr. Hambidge is remarkably obscure on what it actually is, but it seems to come down to using proportions which include square roots. Rather than boring Static symmetry based on ratios like 1:2 or 2:3, we go for the more exciting of 1 to the square root of various things. Sadly, any irrational number can be approximated as closely as you like by a rational one (that is, a ratio of whole numbers), so the whole premise falls apart instantly. If you're willing to fudge a little, and Mr. Hambidge is, then the difference between his "root-two-rectangle" (sides in the ratio of 1:1.41421356...) and a 2:3 rectangle becomes negligible.

Mr. Hambidge has this lovely system involving a variety of rectangles, which he then adorns with various diagonals:

First draw the diagonals (orange) and then you drop perpendiculars to those diagonals to the opposite corners (green and blue). The rectangle with ratio of 1 to the square root of two has the pleasing property that the blue perpendiculars and the green perpendiculars land in exactly the same place on the long side (please forgive my shabby drawing, the circled area shows where the two lines ought to meet exactly on the side). It's a perfectly pleasing shape. Here's the same deal on the 2:3 rectangle that was standardized by the 35mm frame:

As you can see it is totally different from the Dynamic root-two rectangle, being only boring old Static symmetry. Or, no, wait. That's insane. They're actually pretty close, and if we're slopping things into a frame with a paintbrush or a camera, they're going to come out indistinguishable. If we refer to Mr. Hambidge's explanations of How This Explains Everything, we find him introducing at least this much slop in order to force pictures to fit his model. If you're willing to go as far as 7:5 (boring, Static), the difference becomes virtually invisible. On, say, a 20 by 28 inch canvas, you can draw that same mesh of lines to be, on average, 0.14 inches off of the "perfect" ones from the root-two rectangle.

Notice that the perpendiculars are starting to land on that long side with a little gap, which gets larger as the rectangles get longer and skinnier. Don't worry, Mr. Hambidge has a solution, which is to shove in some more lines:

This isn't even a complete set. I am moderately certain that at least some statements of Dynamic Symmetry allow you to draw in a lot more diagonals, but let us take this as the basic set. As if this was not enough, you can chop his rectangles in to smaller ones, and draw the lines in those instead. Imagine, if you will, 5 copies of the rectangle above stacked on top of one another. The result is a rectangle with the same ratio of sides, but instead of merely 12 diagonal lines, you have 60 of them to play with. If that doesn't work, you can rotate the whole mess 90 degrees. Since most of his rectangles are too skinny to actually describe much actual Art, Mr. Hambidge also introduced a system by which you can shove his magic rectangles into other shaped pictures by padding them with squares and rectangles. This allows you to shovel his bewildering nets of lines around almost arbitrarily in the frame.

Now, it is worth noting that the square root rectangles are exactly the ones where this business of drawing that perpendicular to the diagonal will land on the long side in a good place. In general, a 1 to square root of N rectangle can be divided up in to N equal rectangles, like a loaf of bread. Each of those N rectangles will have the same proportions, and that perpendicular thing will land as the diagonal of the new, smaller, rectangles. Each of the five rectangles in the thing above is similar in the strict geometrical sense to the surrounding one.

Which is neat, but seems to be apropos of absolutely nothing. Who cares, ultimately?

The general method for Explaining Art a la Jay Hambidge is to locate any sort of diagonal things in the frame. These can be actual diagonal elements (the girl's arm, the pier, the fence) or you can just look for single objects (the face, the urn, the flower). Then you sift through the family of magic rectangles seeing which one gives you the most near-coincidences when you slide it around to best-fit. Then you pad it into place according to his remarkably flexible system of compound rectangles and if that doesn't quite work, you crop the original a little to get things to line up a bit better.

In a pinch you can just give up padding entirely and shove the magic rectangle of choice into the frame in the right spot, and hope nobody notices.

See, for instance, Bellows' painting of Dempsey and Firpo, which places various legs and things per the "root 5 rectangle". This painting was allegedly designed by the painter to fit, and it sort of does. But the magic rectangle in question has to be placed just-so in the frame, and even then the alignments are somewhat vague. It's certainly credible in this case that it was deliberate, since we (apparently) have the painter's affidavit as it were, but that doesn't make the alignments any more precise.

This is, essentially, a variation on the same game whereby the golden ratio is found everywhere, but being much more complicated, it really feels like you're uncovering something.

In short, Hambidge was a complete humbug. I suspect that he believed his own nonsense, but only because he lacked any of the right sort of precise critical thinking. He was clearly in love with simple geometrical constructions, and also want to Find The Secret behind making things look good (there is no secret, it's just good taste and practice).

As noted, this particular flavor of quackery was quite popular in the first half of the 20th century. Mathematics and Science were going to explain everything. Photographers, gravitating naturally to methods, systems, procedures, adopted this sort of thing with a glad cry, and continue to do so. Note, for instance, this fellow who appears to be trying to make a business out of selling, at a rather handsome price, a system invented by other people (he's also buying amazon reviews, oops, but don't worry I turned him in already). Tavis doesn't seem to be buying reviews any more, good for you, Tavis!

This doesn't seem to be a terrible system for organizing things, if you're trying to make Art. There's some pretty nice looking diagonals going on there, which you could choose to use. Myron Barnstone has a whole system of drawing that's probably less crazy than Hambidge's full system, and he can draw just fine. I dare say some of his students can as well (incidently, what Tavis Glover, the chappie buying amazon reviews, seems to be selling is pretty much a retelling of Barnstone's system, which begs the question of "why not buy Barnstone's?")

I would ditch the square root business, though, that's just silly.

Still, there ain't no substitute for taste.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Victorian Composition: Examples

Here's some samples of what I'm talking about in the previous post. I've put in a jump because my regular readers might, again, find this boring and off the path they expect on this blog.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Victorian Composition

This piece is a bit off the path for me. It's a rough summary of my little book, really. It exists because I intend to make a half-hearted effort to place it someplace, and it's easiest to simply point web publications to an existing blog post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Academic Art

A reader (hi!) sent me this link, Mum's Not The Word, expressing interest in my take on it. NOTE: The pictures are not safe for work, the text may not be safe for your brain.

To summarize quite roughly, an artist is taking some pictures of 40-something-ish women lying down in a fetal position, as some sort of statement about women who don't have children. There's an interview, of sorts, with the artist.

I suspect that my reader will be slightly disappointed by my reaction, which, while negative, is not wildly so. The artist in question actually managed to dodge many pitfalls. Notably lacking are certain things I expected, seeing the subject matter:

  • A demand, implied or actual, that I, as a man, find obese women attractive
  • A claim that nobody is talking about these taboo issues
  • A lot of blather about how brave the subjects are

This is the kind of project we see all the time. Usually larded up with a bunch of crap as listed above, and I dare say I missed a half dozen bits of nonsense. This particular artist, as noted, doesn't pull the usual rubbish about taboo and nobody's talking about these things.

The artist also is working pretty hard to communicate a concept. There's the fetal position of the women and the implied bed, with all the stuff that goes with those symbols. Great. The portfolio, being a bunch of more or less the same picture, sure hangs together. The concept is OK, I think. This is something we could reasonably be talking about. Women do feel pressure to have kids. The jumbling of child-free (no kids by choice) together with childless (no kids despite wanting them) strikes me as an error, but whatever. I have no problem with standing up and saying (again) that it's OK not to have kids. That's something people ought to say.

What this does not do is read. You'd never have the faintest idea that these women are childless, or child-free, or whatever you want to call it, without the labored text accompanying the work. The actual point seems to have gotten lost in translation, or perhaps the artist really wants to talk about the point rather than to photograph it. As a photographic work, it's an abject failure. As a bunch of words, illustrated by some pretty ordinary genre pictures, it's probably fine? Maybe? I'm not much of a judge of this sort of thing where the execution is so uninteresting, but the concept might have some legs.

And this is where we tie this to a larger theme.

There's a whole genre of Art, which I will call Academic Art for lack of a better phrase. These artists are interested in getting grants, awards, and academic positions. They seem to be surprisingly uninterested in actually making Art.

Of course, the way you persuade some grant-giving corporation (and they are all essentially corporations, or at the very least bureaucracies) to give you money is to talk about your Art. A position at a University is not obtained by silently showing some superb work, but by talking about the work (and that's as true in Mathematics as it is in Art -- you've got to be able to talk about your work). It is therefore no surprise that this group of artists mainly natters on about their Art rather than actually buckling down to the business of smearing paint on canvas, or running indiegogo campaigns to fund their latest book project.

Academic Artists rarely rise to the higher ranks, but the more facile ones can claw their way into some sort of a safe berth from which they can pontificate to a new generation of Academic Artists. The main reason they don't rise higher is because they're not very good. They stick to safe subjects which they can sell to bureaucrats as avante-garde because they were 20 years ago, and they work much harder at the talking than the doing. (Wait, is Molitor talking about himself or what?)

What is striking about these people is that they think they are the Art world. They don't even know about the scruffy bastards fundraising online to publish books, they don't know about the people operating their own galleries. I have no idea what they think about the top-tier people. Probably they think Sally Mann talked her way to the top, which is an utterly hilarious notion.

If you read Lewis Bush's blog over at Disphotic you'll see a lot more of these people. Also, you can observe Lewis himself scrambling around, talking about his art and other people's art in what is a pretty transparent effort to claw his own way into some sort of safe academic berth. He's making headway, has some little teaching gig already!

Good luck, Lewis! But you and your ilk are not the Art World, or even, really, an important slice of it!

Friday, March 11, 2016


Here's a "photoessay" from my BFF Ming: After the establishing shot which is, well, in my opinion obviously, just a random bunch of grab shots of nothing. He's an absolute master at coming up with a convincing-sounding bunch of bullshit to support almost any collection of random shots he's pulled out of his lightroom repository.

But he does have a point. Movies do insert these sorts of things, and they're not random bullshit (well, sometimes they are, but they're not supposed to be, usually). When there's a narrative in play, that insert shot of the scooter handlebars takes on meaning. If you don't have a story, it's just a random horizontal shallow DoF snap with half-assed "filmlike color grading." Inside the film, you recognize it as Mystery Girl's scooter, since this was the third cutaway to her and her scooter. Later, Mystery Girl plays an important role.

There is a precise analogy in portfolio or book construction. Sometimes some random and relatively uninteresting picture is exactly the right thing to glue the sequence together. Out of context it's worthless junk. In context, it can be a vital component which holds the whole thing together.

A not particularly good example. In my Vancouver project, there's a photograph of a building crane against the sky. This is a nothing shot. Standalone, it's got a certain flickr-ish appeal, a sort of minimalist blah blah bullshit thing. But it's just a stupid cliche.

It's in the portfolio, and to my eye it's pulling its weight. As follows:

Later on there's the red wall with the twig against it. That's a very conscious nod to a sort of generally Asian aesthetic, and the water droplets and light give a connection to the wet chill that is so much of Vancouver. The saturated red connects to some of the other pictures with strong color, the twig+color connecting the B&W forest pictures to the color urban/people pictures. And I could go on, but you get the idea. So that red picture makes a lot of deliberate sense. Although it is itself a bit of a cliche, it's one I am happy with. The crane shot is included (and was flipped around) to reference the red-wall picture, and to connect that to the growing forest of glittering towers that is the Vancouver of now. And thence to the pictures that include towers, and so on. The crane fills in one (and perhaps more) pathways of citation, of reference that make up the sequence.

It functions in the portfolio, and carries a real freight of the meaning I am aiming for.

Outside of the portfolio, it's garbage.

Perhaps I should pull together a bunch of random crap and talk about how each of these is a sort of linchpin of some imaginary portfolio, and then I could create a bunch of sock puppets to write comments about what a genius I am.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Future of the Photograph

I've talked about where I think photography as a whole might be headed, and I've admired people like Lytro for trying to redefine the photograph. Now I'm going to talk about the future of that single object, The Photograph. Not as an Art object, but just as an object in its own right.

First, what it's not. Lots of people are getting behind the idea of Short Little Videos as a replacement. These are certainly a Thing. There's tons of apps and whatnot that, basically, take short video clips and then manage them in a fashion somewhat like a photograph. These things are not photographs. They demand time from us, we have to wait for it to start, to run, to finish. A photograph is, I maintain, essentially a static thing which can be apprehended in an instant (although one might, assuredly, spend more time with it). The photograph demands nothing from us.

Another dimension of this is the object one manipulates. Lytro suggests that photographs should be digital objects that we rotate and tinker with.

Again, these are digital objects that make demands on the viewer, they ask us to poke at them in order to apprehend what it is, what is there. That's not a photograph.

It's possible that something along these lines will ultimately supplant the photograph, but I doubt it. Still pictures are still pretty popular, and I think it's precisely because they are undemanding. We needn't read, nor wait, nor interact. They're there, we glance, there it is.

So where might this object actually go, without losing itself and becoming something else? Here's an idea.

A photograph could become a digital object that renders itself contextually. That is, depending on context, it renders itself as one thing, or another thing. With the multiple-sensor camera yielding 3D information becoming, soon, standard, editing the objects in the scene will become easier.

The photograph of my apartment renders itself without all the beer cans when my mom looks at it. The ex-girlfriend simply drops out of most of my pictures when I change my relationship status to Single. Color temperatures in all the pictures I look at change according to my mood. All my friend's pictures are cropped to place me in the center of the frame, when I look at them (and they crop differently when other people look at them). And so on.

Photographs retain that essential no-demands character, they remain a static 2 dimensional picture that can be grasped in an instant or studied in depth. And yet, they better suit my needs on a day to day, moment to moment, basis. They reflect my reality better, or anyways they better reflect the narrative I wish to publish, true or not.

It's an idea. If I was looking to do a startup, I'd think about it. Many of the problems are hard, but there's a lot of stuff that's either doable or on the cusp of doable, right now.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Collaboration Project

I have finally had a chance to sit down and just take a little while to flip through all the great content I've received.

Everyone but one has sent in, and both that one and I have been having Life Issues which always slow things up. I hope to get something from him, but I am pleasantly surprised at the percentage of turnout even now - hitting 100% would be awesome, but I know how life goes! Pick it up the next go-round.

Some of you have been quite tentative, even a little sheepish, and I want you all to know that I love all of it. It's all different, but it's all interesting and cool. Flipping through your submissions, I am seeing connections virtually bursting out at me, I am overwhelmed with ideas for fragments of sequences, ways I can fit all this stuff together to make something cool and wonderful. I am vibrating with excitement. Next week I will have a substantial chunk of time to work on this, and will hopefully get a couple of ideas roughed out then. It all seems to connected already, I may wind up having trouble finding any "glue" to shoot myself!

You are all, every single one of you, awesome. I love what you've given me. Thank you all, so, so, so much. This is a wonderful gift, and I hope I can do justice to it.


In what follows, I am pretty obviously just trying to rationalize dismissing a bunch of photography that I don't like. Let's see how I do!

I'm not sure, but I think that photography may be unique in that there is a whole classification for work that is judged by the community as "good" for no particular reason at all.

Long ago there was a guy with a show on PBS, Bob Ross. He taught you how to paint in 30 minute TV segments. It was wonderful. He had a whole basket of methods which, when combined, produced pleasing, pretty, landscape paintings. He had a method or two for trees, for clouds, and so on. Loads of people learned to paint from Bob Ross's TV show, and churned out mile after mile of paint-covered canvas. It was great fun, and very rewarding on a personal level.

No sensible person ever thought much of the output was "good", though. That wasn't the point. This was explicitly a personal journey, a personal craft one could learn and then decorate ones home with. One might even give paintings away to friends. Of course some people tried to sell their paintings, or get them in to museums, or whatever. These people were gently directed.. well.. elsewhere.

Photographic pedagogy is dominated by a seething horde of Bob Rosses, who seem to have missed the memo about "personal" and "pleasing hobby" and "mildly decorative" and "... but definitely not good in any meaningful way."

There is a rough equivalent in semi-practical crafts. One can make a "good" pottery bowl which isn't particularly creative or artistically enriching. Here we have the objective criterion of holds soup inside reliably which can be used as a definition of "good". Something like forensic or other documentary photography could be said to have the same sort of criterion and definition available. That's not what I am talking about.

What I mean is the endless parade of photographs judged "good" by other photographers on their presumed artistic merits.

I think what it actually comes down to is that there is a sort of Bob Ross notion of a photograph out there. There's an idea of an ideal kind of landscape thing, an ideal kind of street photograph thing, and so on. What people really want is to be able to accomplish this sort of semi-art thing on their own. You know, the beautifully saturated landscape with the tree balancing the waterfall just so, and the shadows and the highlights and so on. Or the street shot with the crowd looking left and that one kid looking right with the strange expression. It's a combination of hitting the technical bits and the forms right. It is, essentially, a personal goal. And right up to this point, it's a beautiful thing.

The next step is where we get into trouble. You hit the elements, more or less, in some picture, and you shove it out there for your peers to admire. Look, I have hit the right notes here, and I am pleased with the results!. Then your peers judge it, essentially, on the grounds that they wish they'd shot it themselves.

A notion of "good" has grown up which is really a measure of how much personal pleasure one person would have had in making such and such a picture.

This turns in to a pile of Likes, Favorites, or +1s. The picture bubbles up, it gets "Explored" or whatever. Strangers come along and read the comments and see the likes.

Over time the community is trained to treat this sort of personal pleasure generating picture as Objectively Good.

Then there's endless discussions about why hoi polloi don't much like these things, and how well, they're just not educated, and you should shoot for yourself which really means our little community of photographers is the arbiter of what, ultimately, is good and not good.

I have no problem with loving your Bob Ross style paintings. They're personal things, and you worked hard at them, and they're great. For you. The trouble is when this deeply personal standard leaks out into the world and gets confused with some objective notion of goodness. That is, well, it's wrong. Personally gratifying exercises in technique together with the power of the internet (and before that, but to a lesser degree, photographic clubs and magazines) have taught a generation, essentially, that Bob Ross and Leonardo da Vinci are pretty much the same.

I just saw Jeff Schewe, author and well known internet asshat, cut down Henri Cartier-Bresson on the grounds that his shadows were sometimes plugged up and his focus was off. With this sort of blather going around, it's a wonder civilization stands at all.

In a world where the perceived value of a photograph seems to be dropping daily, surely it helps nobody to keep crapping out endless picture-perfect postcard landscapes, endless empty pictures of guys in funny hats and lovely silhouettes sweeping across lighted doorways. Each of these, seen for the first time, as some of the quality of Art, but seen for the 1000th time merely cheapens the whole enterprise.

Perhaps we should hold the personal closer, and limit what we place under the public's eye to things we think might actually work like Art, things which have a chance of actually enlarging the viewer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

B&H Photo Discrimination Lawsuit/Issue

There's a thing going around, B&H is getting some government action applied to them based on reports of discrimination in, I think, their warehouses. It doesn't matter.

We're seeing a pretty substantial groundswell of happy customers saying, essentially, I've never seen any discrimination, and I don't think they do it! which isn't any different from saying I have eaten in that nice Mr. Corleone's restaurant several times, and I never saw him shoot anyone. It's simply not relevant. Your opinion is just not that interesting, here. People who engage in criminal behavior are generally at some pains to conceal it, so the fact that you have not, in the ordinary course of your day, noticed it, provides no information whatsoever.

What is in fact going on is that the happy customers are a little freaked out that their access to cheap gear might get cut off if B&H gets litigated out of existence. Not gonna happen, don't sweat it, kids.

That is all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Public Service Announcement

Here's something of interest:

Ming Thein Anniversary Sweepstakes.

This is almost certainly an illegal sweepstakes. At best it is improperly announced, as it lacks the required "no purchase required" (US law) and the required laundry list of people who are excluded from entering. (but see updates below)

If B&H is indeed sponsoring this, someone's about to get their job examined carefully. B&H doesn't need more trouble. If B&H isn't sponsoring it, well, a host of other questions get raised, don't they? I'll keep my opinions to myself.

Since I know there are Ming fans reading here from time to time, I am passing this along. By all means, pass along your affliate dollars to Ming. However, if you're allowing the chance to win $500 tip your purchase decision, I urge you to dig a little deeper and perhaps hold off a little while waiting for things to be more sure. I have placed an informative comment in to Ming's moderation queue, which he may or may not choose to do something with.

EDIT (to actually state a conclusions): In short, I cannot see any way in which the $500 prize award is not at risk, and I recommend caution. note that with the addition of the link to the sweepstakes rules, in my opinion, this caution can be relaxed. I may enter myself!

UPDATE: Ming's post now includes a link to BH Photo's web site with sweepstakes rules. All now appears to be, in broad strokes, kosher. I am not a lawyer, however. Note that you can also enter by sending a postcard to BH Photo, and not spending any money.

Also note that there is no limit of the number of entries per person. As far as I can see I can send a parcel containing 10000 properly filled out postcards to B&H and get 10,000 valid entities.

Curiouser and Curiouser: Customer service at B&H denies that B&H is sponsoring it. "His contest" and suggests that Ming bought the gift card. I can't tell if this is just that B&H is big and customer service isn't aware of what the social media team is up to, or what.