Friday, September 30, 2016

Here's a Thing

This guy has an interesting idea, of sorts. The conceit is that there are subjects which are best encapsulated as a sequence of pictures. His example seems to be a sunset or sunrise, but I can readily imagine a sequence of pictures that show a scene with, say, changing seasons or something. One could make a case that, let us say, such and such a valley cannot really be boiled down to one image in any one season, but must be understood as a series of 6 or 7 pictures spread throughout a year.

This fellow then proposes that the proper presentation for these pictures is digital, as a sequence of displayed pictures on a high resolution screen. I think he feels the spacing between the pictures should be quite long, minutes at least, so it's not really a looped video clip, it's something like a slide show, but perhaps slower. Since he does use video to illustrate his ideas, its not clear to me that he actually has a particularly coherent idea here.

Let's assume, though, that he does have a coherent idea. Let us suppose further that what the idea is is this: some subjects demand a sequence of pictures, and there is a natural and correct pacing for those pictures to be show to the viewer.

Ok, well. My stock response is that this sounds a lot like a book, so why not do a book? I think his answer more or less has to be that the book does not particularly enforce pacing, which is true. One can pace things in relative terms, by placing multiple pictures on a single spread, and then a blank page, and then a full-bleed two page presentation of a single picture, etcetera. But one may always leaf through quickly or slowly. One can back up, or dive in at random.

As a personal preference, I despise video and slideshows. Those formats demand my time. Enforcing pacing is just a way to irritate me, and if you want me to slow down, you should make more compelling pictures.

All that said, I do think there's something original and interesting here. The idea of a singular subject, presented as a slowly updated loop of pictures, each just subtly different from the other, does feel like an interesting medium for some subjects. I am torn between thinking that this might be something very good, and thinking that it's jolly well the photographer's job to pick the 1 or 2 or 3 pictures that summarize the essence of the thing and that this is a scam for avoiding that duty.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What's an F-stop?

Here is a quote:

What's an F-stop? Who cares what an F-stop is? Don't worry about the F-stop. I never did.

Who is this manic saying such things? Why, it's Robert Rodriguez, a film-maker, um, of some note. His point is that there are more important things than F-stops when you're making a movie. The same applies to making a still picture. Sure, the aperture is a thing, and it has an effect and so on. But ultimately it's usually not the thing that makes or breaks the film, or the picture.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Getting to Know You

I have long held the belief, and blathered about it, that one can't really shoot a thing without having some relatively long exposure to the thing. You can't really shoot a credible portrait without getting to know the subject, you can't really shoot landscapes or urban studies without having been on site for a while, and so on.

It stands to reason, I think. If you have not managed to put together your own personal idea of the subject, your own fairly clear set of ideas and opinions, then what can you shoot? You can shoot Standard Portraits of a person you have no idea of, but the pictures will look like Sears Portrait Studio pictures. You can shoot landscapes anywhere, and they will look pretty much like landscapes anywhere else. You can make the cliched shots of The Place (the Eiffel tower, a gondola passing under a bridge, the fair copy of Ansel Adams). Or you can shoot your own thing. If you do semi-abstract urban things, you can probably shoot them almost anywhere urban, and they'll look pretty much the same (and you might just as well have stayed home).

It's only when you've formed an idea of the subject that you have anything in particular to express that involves both you and the subject.

Now, with people, you can formulate an idea in a few moments, sometimes. Or a few hours. We're wildly social animals, and most of our brain appears to be devoted to the process of forming opinions about other people.

Places aren't as easy. Places are big, and have many facets. The exist throughout the day, through the seasons. There's a lot to, say, Chicago. Getting hold of Chicago in any meaningful way is likely to take years.

In between, there are things. This flower, that car, the other shed. These too exist at night as well as the day, in winter as well as summer, but they are less far flung at least.

I've recently been experimenting with this Buddhist idea of presence, of being present, and of some sort of thing related to suchness which for our purposes we might as well read as the essence of the thing. These are ideas that loads of photographers have written about in one way or another, usually not using these Buddhist terms. Meisel's gesture is much related to suchness, just as a single example. Other photographers speak of the essence of a thing, and so on. The Buddhists, at least some of them, have actually written down methods for getting at these things, which makes them interesting to me.

Breathe. Be aware of your breath. Be still, be calm, clear your mind. Now look, and see. Keep breathing.

I was in a new place recently, and gave it a whirl. I spent 10 minutes or so breathing, and looking, trying to find some little slice of the suchness of the place. I didn't really succeed in making any pictures that work for me, but I certainly saw much more deeply than I normally would. I almost felt like this could be possible. It was really just this experiment, done over again, in a place.

And so, I back off slightly from my militant Adventure Photography Sucks position.

You're not going to grasp Ethopia in one 10 day whirlwind tour of 6 different areas. No way, no how. But you might, you just might, grasp a little bit of the essence of this thing, this building, this person, this alley, and shoot a couple pictures that are worthwhile. Pictures that include you, and the subject, that express some sort of personal idea and opinion.

I do think you might need to be silent and breathe for half an hour, though. Being hustled back into the Land Rover is probably not optimal. Maybe I will revisit my workshop and draft a new schedule.

Maybe if you get really good at it, it takes even less time?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Photography IS SO Art!!!!

I cannot enumerate the number of contexts in which I have seen, or the crazy statements rationalized by, the statement that photography was struggling to be recognized as a True Art. It is used to justify things people do and say today as if the question were still open. It is used, quite a lot, to justify why the speaker is having trouble getting in to Art Galleries.

It's why Adams has to rage against Mortenson, it's why Pictorialism had to arise, it why Pictorialism had to be destroyed. It's used to justify and explain anything and everything. It's also completely wrong.

To be sure, there have always been and always will be voices that claim photography is not Art, whatever that statement might even mean. But the battle was over and won before the year 1900. Robinson and his crew put the spear into it in Europe, and Stieglitz did the same in the Americas not much later. Nobody thought Photography was Painting, any more than they thought it was Sculpture, but it was certainly an Art.

There were certainly questions about how one ought to go about it. Which processes were better than others? Should one hand work or not? These questions roiled from the very beginning. Well, at least starting from the moment there was more than one process to chose from. The acceptance as An Art was gradual, but essentially complete by 1891. PH Emerson (having been on the opposing side for decades) suddenly switched sides and declared photography to be Not An Art at all, just in time to be once again in disagreement with the establishment.

Across the water, in the twenty years following, Stieglitz did "Camera Work" and the 291 gallery, the MOMA started showing photography by its 16th exhibition, in 1932, and never much altered the pace at which it shows photographic Art thereafter.

The anti-pictorialism displayed by f/64 wasn't about Art at all, it was about trying to get Stieglitz' attention, partly by pissing in his breakfast cereal and partly by loudly being a Western avant garde.

Photography is an Art. It's been an Art for more than 100 years. Anyone who claims otherwise is trying to sell something.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

An Exercise

This is just an idea I had, so I tried it out. The results were interesting. It takes five minutes.

Get a subject, something small, convenient, and easy to love. A flower. This is a little broccoli flower in a tiny glass. We have a lot of these, our garden is going to seed now. Start by taking a picture of it:

Now breathe, 10 times, slowly. Be aware of your breath. Be aware of the flower. Turn it slowly, examine it as you breathe. Be present, here and now. Let other thoughts go. What do you see? At the end of 10 breaths, take another picture:

The unopened buds at the tip of the stem form a starburst, almost like a little face, peering back at me. This might do better in black and white, to separate the starburst better from the background.

Do it again. What else do you notice? Breathe, be present here and now let the past and future be. It's here, it's now, you and your flower. Take another picture:

The droop of these stems feels a little dolorous to me, a little sad.

And again. This is my last picture, but you could go on forever, I dare say:

My gaze drops and I see the glass, the water. The flower sips the water. Also, I am reminded of Fox Talbot, for some reason, because of a photograph he did not take. The picture I am actually thinking of is Baron Adolf de Meyer's "Still Life" from 1907, which appeared in Camera Work #24.

Sorting that memory mess was a hassle, not very Buddhist, but worth it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Photokina Announcements!

HOLY SHIT! New cameras! From Fuji and Olympus and stuff, I think! They're bigger, better, more powerful than before. World peace is nigh. Some of them are great, but I hate others. This product will save that company, the other product will surely sink the other one. They are mainly black and digital. There are also new lenses, I think. That's basically the hole on the front where light comes in.

The long standing rumors that someone will announce a product that lets you feel more deeply, to see more intensely, and to more easily translate those into actual pictures seem, alas, not to have come true.

The consensus is that there were some engineering problems along the way, and it may be 1 to 2 more quarters before these products are ready. We may see something for Christmas, but more likely nothing will be officially announced until 1Q17.

Buddhism and Photography

I am reading a little of Thich Nhat Hanh on someone's advice, by way of learning better to deal with some stress I am having in my life, which is neither here nor there. This fellow is a Vietnamese monk known, apparently, for writing masses of books which render some facets and ideas in Buddhism accessible to westerners. I'm not going to become a Buddhist, but I do need to learn better how to relax.


The constant theme in this little volume Peace is Every Step is mindfulness, being aware of the present moment, and of being at peace with it, being connected to whatever is here. Being, if you will, a little in love with whatever is present in this moment.

Wow, I said to myself, that's photography.

If photography is anything, it is about now and here this very moment, this very place. That's kind of the point. No other medium is like this (well, video, something something, let's move on)

The connection between photography and Buddhism seems to me two-fold. First, to take a picture that's much of anything, you do need to be present in that mindful way. You can't be dwelling on the past, thinking about the future, lost in the far-away. You have to be here, right now. You have to be fully aware. Nhat Hanh's idea of presence is a little different, in that it's in all directions and all senses all at once. It's a full-body experience. The photographer typically refines it down to a little rectangle, and mostly sight alone. We might, though, do well to open up and consider the other senses, and other directions even as we shoot in this one.

The second point of connection is the notion that you are part of the world, that you are one with what surrounds you, that you naturally love it, if only you open yourself.

I had an interesting experience recently on this front. I am working on a thing for another venue, about inspiration and eureka moments. I decided to do a "worked example" and write about it. My subject was an empty beer bottle, and I wrestled my way through a concept and some photographs and came up with a perfectly reasonably, if somewhat Artsy, series of photographs.

But I didn't much like the pictures, after a while. Couldn't put my finger on it.

Finally I realized that I had no particular love for the empty (fill it, now, and we have a different story!) and so the pictures were kind of dead, to me at any rate.

I went and found an equally mundane object in the house, one that I do have an emotional connection to, one that I love, and re-did the exercise. Lo, the pictures were much better.

Now, I am not convinced by Nhat Hanh entirely. I'm not sure that it's actually a worthwhile goal to be at all times filled with peace (although we could all surely use a bit more of it), and I am likewise not convinced that love is the only emotion that will make your pictures good.

What is true is that love is the easiest one to use. If you love something, or someone, it's easy to look at them, you want to be near them, the whole process of taking the pictures is eased and pleasant. If you hate something, you don't even want to be there, you don't want to forge the necessary connection -- and the connection must be forged.

This is something to ponder, I think. Perhaps even experiment with. To shoot something I hate, must I find something in it to love? Or can I find a way to the picture by some other path?

The one thing I know is that if you don't care much either way, the pictures aren't going to be worth anything.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"going pro"

I had this peculiar epiphany the other day, or maybe I'm all wrong, who knows?

Photographers do tend to start out just shooting everything. Much as I detest the "stages of the photographer" style pieces, they generally get this one right. I vaguely remember it, shooting anything that caught my eye. These days we see it even more, because digital makes it free to shoot just anything, there is no pressure to be even slightly mindful.

At some point, not too infrequently, a budding photographer looks at his or her work and finds dissatisfaction with it. I believe that, often, the dissatisfaction stems from a vague realization that these pictures have been made without mindfulness. They're all over the place. Flowers, cats, landscapes, cars, everything and anything. The budding photographer often can't figure out what's wrong, though, because they have learned about photography from the usual sources. Checking their work, they see that:
  • Focus is good
  • Exposure is good
  • Strong use of leading lines
  • Ditto rule of thirds
  • etc

What am I doing wrong? asks the befuddled photographer. The answer is you're not shooting mindfully, to any sort of purpose but nobody tells them this. Asking around will produce a collection of terrible advice from dunderheads.

At some point, not infrequently, the solution is to "go pro" which, weirdly, works. Now you're not just shooting any damn thing, you're shooting Senior Sessions. You're shooting mindfully, you're shooting one thing, you're focused on a goal. The results are still entirely gruesome, and you're almost certainly losing money hand over fist because your "accounting" is a mess and you don't actually know what it costs, but at least you get a new lease on your passion.

Which, I guess, is actually kind of a good thing, right?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Wheat and Chaff

Ming Thein has another think piece up, and as happens from time to time I have a response.

Mr. Thein's problem here is that he's unable to separate wheat from chaff. He asks if the Great Photographers of yore would be well known today, and he asks if this generation will even have any great photographers. He recognizes, as do we all, that there are a lot of pictures being made and that most of them are weightless fluff. Chaff. His concern, which is not completely unfounded, is that with this quantity of chaff, perhaps the wheat will be lost forever.

In fact it's not clear that he fully realizes that there is wheat in there. Obviously he thinks his work is special and deserves recognition, don't we all? But it is not clear to me that he recognizes the more general truth that there still is wheat among the chaff, and what, exactly, would distinguish that wheat from the chaff.

There is wheat.

And to some extent, it will be surfaced, criticized, pushed out there, and remembered. Not all of it, maybe not even most of it. It's probably unknowable how much will be "lost" in this sense, but rest assured that we'll be granted more excellent work than we can consume. The critics and curators are always at work, digging and remarking, and pushing. I try to do my bit down here in the lower sub-levels of the mine, pushing the slightly richer ore upwards a few feet, and the poor ore down.

Most of the chaff is easy to identify, and vanishes without any help at all. Only a very small percentage of total photographic output is shown to us with some hope of longevity. We have people like Lewis Bush and Ming Thein who really haven't much of anything to say, but who are working hard and are hopeful. With respect, my judgement is that this is poor ore, to be buried slightly deeper. My judgement is not final, I am but one very minor voice.

Others who do have things to say, who can pull together truly meaningful bodies of work (e.g. Mssrs. Carnet and Kravik) I push upwards. I have by no means guaranteed anyone's success, I am but one very minor voice. Still, the process cannot help but work. While I do not scour the net for hours each day, I do try to take a serious look at some random body of work every few days or so. Other people like me do as well.

People who speak coherently, with earnest intent and some notion of what they are about, will read one another (even if only to disagree). Names and portfolios get passed around, consensus gels, names are repeated. Where do you think I get these names and portfolios to look at, after all?

I can't tell you what form the final result will take, we're in a time of flux. But surely the inevitable loose consensus around this name or that will produce some lasting result. The Vivian Maier story gives us, perhaps, a hint. While she was working long ago, her fame is largely a product of the digital age, and that consensus building.

Certainly we'll wind up with lots and lots of disposable kickstarted blurb books of naked girls as well, but they will be disposed of. The consensus will gel around some duds, many duds, as well, surely. So it has always been, But at the end of the pipeline, a manageable train of names and bodies of work appear, a manageable train that history can then usefully judge. Many of them will, in 50 years, be consigned to the dustbin.

Perhaps, I can hope, Mssrs. Carnet and Kravik will make it through the gauntlet. Perhaps, I can hope, someone with a larger voice than mine will slum it on my blog for an afternoon, loudly mocking me from her chair, and will stumble across some of the artists I happened to like and think to herself that putz is actually right about this one and the name and portfolio get passed on.

The point is, though, that serious people (you may include me in that list or not, as you see fit) are actively looking. They will find. They will do what is needful to surface what they find, and we, all of society, will enjoy the fruits of their labor.

It's all gonna work out OK.

Friday, September 16, 2016


Lewis Bush has a piece up that has been making me itch slightly for a while now, and I think I finally put my finger on why. There's a few things going on over there, whatever, but one of the themes is this idea that Artists can Appropriate and Subvert things, like photographs. The conceit in this case is that politicians publish photographs of themselves that project one image, and the brave Artist subverts that image and changes the message to something else. One imagines the Artist changes the message from False to True along the way.

What does it mean to subvert something? Well, some dictionary says: to undermine the power and authority of an established system or institution which sounds about right.

Here's a tip, retasking a few campaign photos for an Art Gallery Show that will be attended by you, your friends, a handful of random walkins and, if you're lucky, some of the Art World Elite isn't going to undermine a goddamned thing.

This reminds me of that stripe of activist who feels that it's a great use of time and money to "make people aware of the issue" which mainly means talking to one another about the issues. Making people aware of the issue is great, but you've got to reach people who are not currently aware of the issue and then, of course, you need to actually make something happen other than blathering.

Lewis actually provides us with another wonderful example with his downloadable ebook War Primer III. This this started out as a book by Bertolt Brecht, with some words and pictures that boil down, I think, to "war is hell". Some chappies made a limited edition of this with pictures and text replaced with their own, contemporary, pictures and texts with a somewhat different slant. Lewis took their book and did it again, with a new contemporary, and some efforts made to implicate the usual list of world leaders.

Sure, war is hell, Obama and Merkel aren't doing enough about it, and so on. Whatever. The book is specifically designed to be accessible and interesting only to people who already agree. The book is structurally incapable changing anything, or of doing anything beyond preaching to the choir. It's an Artsy-Cute Collage Thing that's incomprehensible and uninteresting, and probably slightly irritating, to anyone who isn't already in the Art Club.

When you're talking to people about stuff that you already know and agree on, you're not consciousness raising. You're not teaching. You're not effecting change. You are engaged in social positioning. Period, full stop. You are merely confirming to your social group that you agree on these things, and that perhaps you agree harder than Bill and therefore deserve higher status than Bill.

Now, if you're going to make a living doing Art in the Art Community, then social positioning is the name of the game. All the politics are just for show, you're not interested, really, in changing anything except how much of the capitalist lucre flows into your own pocket. Fair enough.

Banksy, while he might be despicable in many ways, actually reaches out to people who don't agree. He sticks his art on public walls, where everyone can see it, sometimes with fairly blunt messages. Of course he too is attracted by the capitalist lucre, but at least he's not hiding his politics in cute little galleries where he won't attract the wrong sort of attention.

All of this comes around to the question of whether Art should be political, whether it should be an agent of change. I suspect strongly that Art with a capital A cannot be, since in its current incarnation is it so much about social positioning, it is so insular. Art with a small A, though, that might be something.

Both of them can be a lot more than that. Perhaps aiming to change the world isn't the only goal, perhaps we just want to change a person. One person at a time, show them something new, enlarge them a little this way or that. Maybe that's enough.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Frédérick Carnet: The Last First Day

Frédérick Carnet is a french photographer of, well, I have no idea what repute. For all I know he's huge and I am years late to the party, or perhaps nobody's ever heard of him. Regardless, I ran across this work he did, and I liked it, and here we are. The portfolio on my mind is here.

I am not familiar with "The Road" particularly, in either of its forms, but it's a post-apocalyptic and somewhat distopian story.

I don't think you really need the antecedents, though. The pictures speak for themselves. What struck me about them is how completely banal each one is. They look like crummy underexposed snaps, taken one by one. "Here is my girlfriend on the beach in the fog, sorry it's so dark", "here is a cool looking stick", and so on. Many of the frames are graphically the same, some sort of vertical object centered in a largely blank frame, or a massed shape in the middle of a largely blank frame. They feel not only banal, but naively framed, which feels even more vernacular. If we did not have the group of pictures, and the sequence, and maybe even the accompanying text, we might dismiss this stuff as just a lame bunch of underexposed snaps. With the group, the sequence it's presented in, I think we feel the idea, that dismal, abandoned flavor of someplace, somethings, some people, after something has happened.

You could almost believe this as the roll of film shot by the Last Man Out after some disaster, who happened to have an Instamatic in his pocket. Not quite, though, it's slightly too mannered, too deliberate feeling, for that. Put in a slight tilt to some of the frames, a thumb over the lens here, a blurry mass of accidental button-press, and you could have that. Mr. Carnet doesn't want that, though. He wants to mannered, careful, but with that flavor.

One picture stands out to me, a little, as an odd-man-out, the spilled paint. I think it functions well as an accent, though. The splattered liquid feels to me as if it's making the apocalyptic flavor more explicit. It's not blood, but it might remind of of blood. It hints, perhaps, that there is more here than simply a place that people have mostly left behind. It hints, I think, that there might be a reason this place was left behind.

All up, I like the work. Quite a lot. It's the sort of murky obscure stuff I like, after all. But it's more than that, it's an accretion of minor details, of little unimportant bits and pieces that adds up to a fairly potent whole. A discarded beer bottle. A person in the distance. A car pulled over in the fog. Various objects and places, each of which might, or might not, be abandoned or lost -- but taken together one feels that they are surely abandoned and lost after all. Finishing with a nearly empty frame. The End.

It's well sequenced, I think, and well done overall. Mr. Carnet's other work looks interesting as well, but I haven't spent much time with it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Whither Nikon?

Kirk Tuck recently took a swing at this one so now, of course, I cannot resist.

First a little review of some market realities. In the olden dayes of yore, there were a lot of people who Just Wanted Pictures. They used Polaroids and Brownies, and they went to Sears for portraits and so on. A lot of them just shrugged and decided they didn't want pictures that bad after all. Then there were enthusiasts and professionals, who needed or at any rate wanted a "real camera" with knobs and dials and stuff you could adjust. Full control, etcetera and so on. Two quite different markets.

When digital photography came along, the major "real camera" makers jumped in early and were able to deliver some products that hit the right sort of nerve with the "I just want pictures" market. People of that stripe could buy a Rebel for a few hundred bucks and snap away endlessly and effortlessly. Nikon wasn't able to nail that Rebel vibe quite as well, with stodgy things like D3000 instead, but they followed along and made a ton of money as well. There was, briefly, a bubble experienced by the mainstream makers of "real cameras" with knobs and dials and stuff.

Then phones arrived, and that was that. The "I just want pictures" people now have phones and they're out. One could argue that a lot of those buyers are now somewhat more sophisticated, having held a Rebel. They have some slight notion of what differentiates "professional looking" pictures from phone camera pictures. But don't worry, the future is here. We have two different phones out there now that use two lenses to construct a 3D model. Right now they're doing a second-rate version of simulating fast lenses, but there's so much more. In a year or two we'll see "soften light" sliders as well as "more bokeh" sliders (yes yes I know what bokeh "means", but it's just Mike, you, and some guy in Iowa who are fighting that battle now).

So even the newly more sophisticated "just wants pictures" mom is going to remain satisfied with her phone, as will many enthusiasts.

So Nikon's market is contracting. I've been over all this before. The name of the game is to defend and grow market share in the shrinking (back to 1970s levels, or something like that, not to zero) market, and to look for opportunities to expand into new markets.

Nikon is a more or less storied name. Canon means printers and copiers and cameras and all kinds of shit. Nikon means Photography.

So, this is extremely obvious, but I have not seen it said. Nikon ought to be working on a product that is Very Very Much Nikon, but also Very Very Much the Future, For their core market, yes. Screw the consumers, they're gone. Nikon shouldn't care what moms who just want pix want. Making the perfect buggy whip for a market that wants cars is idiocy. Nikon also cannot follow, they cannot just pump out the Perfect MILC and seize command, that's just dumping another hybrid crossover semi-SUV thing into the already crowded hybrid crossover SUV thing market, and way too late.

Remember the Df ad campaign? Note perfect. Too bad the camera was a snore, eh? Retro, it turns out, is not Nikon. We sort of think of them as Retro, because we remember the old Nikkormats and the FE2 and so on, but those were not retro. They were entirely contemporary. Nikon has always been entirely contemporary.

Nikon basically has two choices. The first is to stay the course of endlessly refining the existing products, and hoping to manage supply chains and manufacturing costs and so on better than the other guys, and so survive to the new, future, smaller world. The second is a moonshot kind of thing. Something radical, something new, something Nikon, which is to say, something Photography. It can be a bit fiddly, the target market likes fiddly. They'll probably do the former, it's safer. But what if?

Grab that 100 megapickle Sony sensor, bang a light-field microlens array on the front of it, and deliver me a box that looks like a big MILC (cf. Hasselblad X1D) but yields 3D models that can be rendered out usefully big. With a 3D model backing up my picture, a huge amount of crap becomes trivial. Drop out backgrounds, erase objects, compositing, this is all trivial now. Relight the thing, at least in theory and within certain limits.

Don't give me the actual model unless I ask for it. Give me a 24 megabit flat image file with a set of perfect layer masks, for starters. It's just like a DSLR except you never miss focus, the lenses are as fast or slow as you want them (since you do all that in post), and you get perfect masks for every object. Roughly. I think the implementation would be slightly more complicated, but that's the sizzle you're selling.

I can practically guarantee you they're not doing this, since it doesn't protect the F-mount lenses, but that's the class of move we're looking for.

With that in place, a line of products built around this Nikon/Photography/Future system which, with luck, solidifies their position with the enthusiast, then they can start to look for oppostunities to actually grow. Note that they don't have to actually sell a camera to every enthusiast, they merely need to be on the radar of every enthusiast. As long as everyone's Uncle Bob sighs and says "man, that new Nikon.. I wish.. someday" then maybe, just maybe, you can make something of a Nikon branded phone camera, or a Nikon branded anything else that makes pictures.

Then you can start asking yourself "if every Thing is supposed to be on the internet, why shouldn't every Thing also take pictures?"

Saturday, September 10, 2016

This is one Weird Essay

Here's a piece from some guy, A Crisis of Purpose in the Age of Instagram, which starts out pretty well. Anyone who pays attention to this kind of thing has seen this sort of essay. Rarely do these pieces come to a satisfactory conclusion (but if you read on, I will restate mine, which satisfies me). Shooting for Likes? Followers as the measure of Quality? It's a terrible world! How superficial!

Then the conclusion, which is at least half weird. Go shoot authentically, take risks, make something meaningful, so you can go get a bunch of Likes and Followers.

His rationale isn't completely insane, he justifies this weird conclusion by asserting that popularity is the metric, and we're stuck with it, so go optimize the metric. But he's flat out wrong, here.

Number of followers has almost nothing to do with how good your pictures are. He even gives us this clue in the piece, all the pictures that "did well" are of hot girls. The ones that didn't aren't. You can grow your following organically, to a modest degree, by shooting hot girls (and probably one or two other subjects, but mainly hot girls). You can grow your following in meaningful ways by actually socially networking. Follow other people, comment, like their pictures, and so on.

All of which tells us that this metric, your popularity, hasn't got anything to do with the work. This is obvious, surely? Does anyone even need me to say this? Taking risks isn't going to make you popular, shooting meaningful work isn't going to make you popular, unless you also stick a lot of hot girls in the frame and network like crazy.

So, for any newcomers, my stock answer:

There is almost nothing that can be done one picture at a time. Almost nobody serious works that way any more, and it's insanely difficult to succeed by by any measure at all (unless you count paper and ink consumed, or something, perhaps). We've seen all the photographs that can be shot, roughly. What we have not seen is every combination of photographs.

It is in the essay, the portfolio, the body of work, that profundity, meaning, and excellence can be attained by the mortal. Find something that matters to you, something with powerful emotional impact for you, be it a joke, a tragedy, or pure unadulterated love. Shoot it, over and over and over. Find a way to express your emotion, experiment, find another way, build up a body of work around whatever it is, and then cull that ruthlessly, and shoot it all over again.

In the end you won't have one picture, you'll have 4 or 6 or 50, or 200. In the end you'll have a body of work in which anyone with enough sensitivity can find meaning and power. Each picture will probably look a lot like something we've seen before, but the subtle differences between your picture and Frederick Evans' picture will bind your picture to your other pictures, will reveal your meaning, or at any rate some meaning. The combination of pictures, each most likely sort of familiar to us, will be itself a new thing, unique. If you've put enough into it, if there's enough meaning put in, the odds are good we'll be able to get something out.

It won't fly on instagram, but who cares? Instagram has nothing to do with this kind of photography.

Modern "Street" Photography

A fun thing to keep your eyes open for. A huge percentage of "street" photography in these degenerate times consists of pictures of pretty girls on the street, shot from waist level. I dunno about you, but that's kind of messed up.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Personal Style

I revisit this topic from time to time, I guess? I swear I've written a lot of this before.

To review, my opinion of a photographic style is that it's a set of photographic choices you make the same way every time. Same lens, same film, same point of view, same whatevers. There are things you do differently, of course, as well, but if you've got a good set of choices you make the same/similarly every time the pictures will cohere visually.

To review further, a singular personal style is probably not something you actually want to develop, as such. In my opinion, what you want is to shoot each project in a photographic style that suits it. If your projects tend to work the same sorts of themes and ideas, well, these styles may overlap, and a signature style may emerge. Fair enough. But just because you always do gloomy black and white with a slightly long lens (err, who, me?) doesn't mean you should stick to that "because it's my personal style" when it doesn't fit a project you want to pursue.

Ok, now look at this guy on instagram. I think he's an actual commercial photographer, with tear sheets and everything. I don't know or care if he's successful. The instagram is interesting, though.

There's a very strong photographic style in here, which is executed mainly through something we rarely think of in these contexts. It's done through the styling. He's got a classic fashion color palette going on, pale blues and browns, occasionally a green accent. He's on top of his color, by golly. I think he might spell it colour, though. Either way.

What he strikes me as doing with this instagram account is illustrating to his clients that he can indeed do this. Are your corporate colors magenta and green? Got it, I can shoot that. Do you want a profoundly coherent look for your campaign? Got it, I can shoot that. The pictures seem to me quite good, which is astonishing since so many of them are pictures of the guy's coffee. But he does it so well, and the brown is the right brown, and he's got a whole suite of chromatically related fashion-ish stuff to go with it, that it actually works.

Anyways, I found it interesting because I have never thought of this kind of styling as a tool for a photographic style in my sense, but of course it is. What you shoot is perhaps the most important photographic choice, right? And if you choose to shoot things mainly in a given color palette, well, there you go. This also illustrates the exact opposite of something I said recently -- in many ways Mr. Gumbatron is simply shooting the same old shit, but by managing it as a portfolio under the aegis of a style, he makes it fresh and interesting. At least a little bit.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Thom Hogan demonstrates for us, in spades, that he's a lazy complainer, who wants to throw around technical-sounding ideas like confetti and get respect as a major commentator. Here's his whiny remarks about an update to EXIF, at which let us look a little bit. To be honest, you can pretty much burn most of his commentary to the ground, but this one is particularly easy, and I am particularly lazy (why yes, I too am a lazy complainer!), so here we are.

This will be a bit technical, sorry. You can skip to the last two paragraphs without missing much.

First he details the updates, which I agree are minor, incremental updates. Ok, so what?

Then there's a complaint about how not enough tags are mandatory. Say what? There's literally no rationale given for this complaint, and I cannot think of one that has any weight whatsoever. I wrote software for a while, and I assure you that I can almost certainly destroy any rationale you come up with for this, but let's keep it short. Will your software accept earlier versions of EXIF data: (of course it will) well then, you've already solved the problem of what to do when there is no Humidity information in the file. Therefore, there is no compelling reason to make the Humidity tag mandatory.

Then there's his usual very very thinly veiled racism, the Japanese control EXIF (no, Thom, a set multinational corporations, each headquartered in Japan, do[1]), as if that was remotely relevant to anything. Honestly, the dude's racism is probably the most tiresome thing about him. Then we get a complaint about how the basic problem is that EXIF is trying to be backward compatible "to a group of CE products mostly defined by these same companies" because, one is forced to deduce, the only things that read EXIF are Japanese built Consumer Electronics (whaaaaat? it's puff puff pass, Thom, not puff puff puff) This is blended with some complaining about 8.3 filenames and the use of ASCII.

These two are actually fair complaints. It is, however, clear that the filenames in EXIF are used, in the general case, not really intended as actual names of actual files in the long term, as the images move around. The fact that path information (what directory/folder the thing lives in) is elided is a clue to this. "File name" in this context should be taken as "a key we can hopefully use to find the thing referred to" (e.g. the Audio file connected to the Image file). The complaint about ASCII is more serious, but honestly I am not seeing any way around this. There's tons of legacy software that is going to choke and die if it runs in to Unicode. As a guy who has actually managed real transitions from one generation of data format to the next with both forward and backward compatibility, I can tell you this ain't no cakewalk. It's doable, but it's a tad complicated and it's not clear that anyone would bother to support it.

In short, while the filename and ASCII complaints are legitimate gripes, it is not at all clear that CIPA could do a much better job, given the very real constraints they operate under here.

Then he wraps up by saying, as nearly as I can tell, that EXIF is fine, you just have to use the optional extended tags for any new kinds of data you might want to attach and then get some industry consensus on what tags mean what. Ok, Thom. But then.. what exactly is the problem?

Hilariously, in all the bitching about supporting new kinds of data, failure to, he comes up with exactly one (1) example. Likes. I cannot, to be honest, make out if he thinks Likes should or should not be in EXIF (they should not: Likes go with a specific copy of a picture is a specific context, they are not intrinsic to The Picture). God knows what all the mysterious metadata "Smart devices of all forms" are generating that "should be in EXIF", but it seems clear that while God does, Thom does not. In reality, nobody really gives a shit about anything Thom is yammering about.

Thom is not a serious commentator. Thom is just a guy who has some sort of problem with the Japanese (or something?) who wants to rail at them, and can't be bothered to think up anything sensible to say.

Sure, Thom knows a tremendous amount about Nikon system technical detail. But it's clear that his grasps of software development, of data architecture, of business management, of new product development, all these things he loves to pontificate about, are very weak.

Plus, let's face it, he's a goddamned racist dipshit.

1. Yes, I know that the J in JEITA (a group that co-authors the relevant standard) stands for Japan. Not relevant. The point is that Thom persistently uses "the Japanese" and "Japanese Culure" as broad brush explanations for all the flaws he perceives in Nikon, CIPA, et al, and that is simply not how grownups talk in this country. Not in public, anyways.

Annie Leibovitz

I've always had mixed feelings about Ms. Leibovitz. I still do. I've been spending some time with her massive A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005, which I got out of the library to look over her treatment of Sontag's sickness and death. It's a strange mix of family snaps (often quite good) and professional work. She claims that there is no delineation between the two which... well. I'm not sure. The for-pay portraits certainly leap without possibility of mistake off the page. There's other for-pay work which blends in with the personal, though.

In particular there are two groups of pictures that I want to talk about briefly.

A couple pictures from Venice appear in the book, which are of mostly water and fog, one has some buildings enshrouded in mist. I cannot find copies of these things online, which seems to me incredible, so you'll have to settle for this terrible repro from the book. While terrible, the repro is adequate to the task, yes, it really is just a wash of tone and texture.

These Venice pictures strike me in two ways. First as a gigantic Fuck You to everyone else who ever shot Venice and gave us bridges and gondolas and that one piazza. Second as a, perhaps, personal true impression of Venice. These few photos are very convincing as an illustration of early morning, or perhaps late evening, when the world is covered in mist and things are moist and close and cold and that's how it was.

It may be worth your while to compare with Mike Chisholm's pictures from Florence

The second group of photos was apparently shot on assignment for "Condé Nast Traveler" and dates from the same era. I can find these pictures online.

Again, it's a weird goddamned thing, shot from a helicopter, all blurry and whatnot. And yet, again, I feel like it might be something genuine. "Condé Nast Traveler" by her account did not love the pictures, which I can understand.

Anyways, there's more to Annie than I had guessed.

All the cited pictures yield a similar answer to the old photographer's question of How can I shoot the same old shit and make it new and original? which is, obviously, don't shoot the same old shit at all.

Obvious, in hindsight, at any rate.

Monday, September 5, 2016


Kirk Tuck is on a roll lately. I wonder if I took a few weeks off, would I suddenly get smart? That sounds cool. Anyways, he's got a nice piece on the business of portraiture up, in which he makes the point that basically his primary deliverable is a good experience for the customer. That is surely true.

I'm going to take this short note, though, to remind us all that what he's talking about also makes the work better. Part of the reason Kirk's portraits are so good is that he is at pains to deliver that excellent customer experience, in a genuine way. The sitter is happy, engaged, Kirk is happy, engaged. They're connecting as personalities, as people. That's one of the baselines for excellent portraiture.

There's a lot less dialog with a bridge, or a mountain, but the idea is the same, Connection, emotional involvement, genuine and specific delight and interest on the part of the artist makes the work better.

If you're just generically happy to be shooting this person, this mountain, this tree, the work might be OK. If you're genuinely happy to be shooting not just some person, some tree, but this specific person, this specific tree, at this specific time, right here and now, the work can be a lot better. Love the person, love the tree, love the mountain!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Compare and Contrast!

Here we have a profoundly wise essay by an experienced and successful man, about where photography is, where it's going, and what the point is. I'd like to think he's simply repeating things I say a lot, but in reality there is overlap but it is by no means complete. Go with Kirk, not me, where we differ.

Here we have the hapless Anthony Thurston, who works with or possibly for Chris Gampat, representing the modern up and coming enthusiastic youngster Kirk mentions. I'd like to forgive the inaccurate headline, which describes as a "Complete College-Level Education" what is clearly at most one college level course, but I am a pedantic jerk, and also spent 9 years taking approximately 72 courses all up in order to get my College-Level Education (admittedly, I stuck with it a little past the Bachelor's degree).

Anyways, Thurston, exemplifies the "photography is really mainly about mastering techniques and tools" philosophy. You can look at any number of several thousand web sites (at least) for this same theme. Thurston is just the victim who happened to stroll through my gunsights at the wrong time today. Sorry, Tony.

Honestly, the accompanying pictures pretty much summarize the situation. A beautiful, expressive, idiosyncratic portrait of Renée Zellweger versus a muddy picture of a camera and a tablet on.. I think someone's pants rumpled up on a bed. Technique aside, I am not sure what the hell Thurston was going for here. You can do this at home without even putting your pants on perhaps?

Interestingly, Milnor is going off on almost the same topic himself over on shifter. There's some sort of stellar alignment. I feel like I ought to take a run at it myself, by why accentuate my stupidity by going head to head with people smarter and wiser than I? I'm going to wait until the clever guys leave for the bar, and then start ranting, I think.