Middle School Kid.
The inaugural post for the Visual Science Lab was uploaded on January 26, 2009. The recession was upon us, photographers were shuttering their studios in droves and, paradoxically, it would be the "golden age" for new camera introductions and innovations in the digital imaging marketplace.
Over the last seven and a half years I have written many more than 3,000 posts but some were culled before they hit the web and others, of a timely or topical nature, were pulled down when they became irrelevant. There are now exactly 3,000 posts resident on the blog site and I thought this would be a good milestone to note.
During the course of my writing, and showing photographs here, my son, Ben, has transitioned from middle school, to high school and on to college. I've sprouted more gray and white hairs. The economy for some commercial photographers has recovered while, interestingly enough, the market for cameras has been tanking inversely. (Note to self: that might make an interesting relationship to research...).
I've tried to do a good job presenting an authentic story about my continuing relationship with the art and business of photography, and with not too many tangents tossed in to muddy up the process. One exception is the consistent discussions, from time to time, about swimming. I know the audience for swim stories is a small one but I bring up the swimming because it's an integral part of my daily life and it affects the way I think about life in general. If we are to excel in our work we have to be in good enough physical shape to participate.
The market for photographic equipment seems to be shrinking and the web has done a thorough job of demystifying every process, every lighting technique, every post processing technique and every ounce of inspirational storytelling seemingly possible. That there is anything really interesting left to write about is questionable. My take is that dedicated cameras will be incrementally improved but most people will buy an iPhone 7 and their casual interest in photography will wane. Most business advisors will make a continuing case that the business of photography is in a death spiral and so will advise their clients, and anyone else who will listen, to shy away from pursuing the taking of pictures for a livelihood. Instead, society in general, and the advisors in particular, will continue to push each new generation into the modern equivalent of soul-robbing factory jobs.
People will continue to bitch about the wordiness of any article over the length of a paragraph. Generations who never read for pleasure will increasingly interpret all writing literally, and progressively fail to understand irony, sarcasm, metaphor, analogy, etc. and, at some point the idea of writing about photography for the pleasure of writing, and for the sake of the few readers still interested in reading for pleasure, will come to its conclusion, replaced by nothing but endless, overly enthusiastic reviews of equipment. Equipment that will move from the grasp of pride-filled owners to the used shelves of camera stores in shorter and shorter time frames.
At this juncture I don't feel elated or defeated by the market but, more like a Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. Jousting with the ennui of a contracting cultural passion. At this point I don't feel like giving up the podium here to spend more time in the working isolation of the studio or stabbing at the word processor for longer projects. We'll just take it day by day and continue on in the hopes that there might be some sort of renaissance in imaging that doesn't include making everything painfully simple and obvious.
The Elliott Erwitt Show at the HRC in Austin, Texas.
Elliott Erwitt is one of my favorite photographers. He's been working steadily since the 1940's and is still current and relevant today. He is 86 years old. This past August he was on an assignment in France. Still taking photographs for clients. Amazing and inspiring. I mention him here to tell you about a very comprehensive show; a large retrospective of his work, that is currently being hosted at the Harry Ransom Center in our fair town. The HRC is the steward/repository of one of the largest and richest collections of photography in the world. The HRC sits on the Southwest corner of the University of Texas at Austin. It contains the Helmut Gernsheim Collection of 20th Century photography as well as the Magnum Collection. I have spent many happy days in the archives (during my teaching years at the University) personally handling vintage Paul Strand, Edward Weston and Henri Cartier-Bresson prints, along with works by many other wonderful photographers.
The current show takes up the entire downstairs gallery space at the HRC and is a deep dive into Mr. Erwitt's work. The show is laid out more or less chronologically and the all the work is masterfully printed. For photographers who enjoy a documentary style of photography it's well worth the drive of a couple hundred miles to spend a cool afternoon at the HRC. Here are some images from the venue that I took when I went back for a third look at the show this afternoon:
Giant Poster on the exterior wall of the HRC.
"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."Elliott Erwitt
Today was "Museum Day" in Austin. It's a Sunday when many of the local museums throw their doors open to all comers at no charge. It's a great chance for families to take in some art and culture without raiding the piggy bank. The HRC, which I mentioned above, is always free but today both the Blanton Museum of Art (also at UT) and the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum were also available to the public for free.
I stopped into the Blanton for a few minutes but I have seen both shows there several times and didn't feel like waiting in lines to see if something new would jump out. The upstairs galleries, housing the permanent collections, are closed until January for a refresh.
I walked across the street to see what was new at the Texas History Museum. Apparently a crafty curator took the pulse of the country in this contentious election year and produced a very powerful show called, State of Deception, which is a survey and investigation of Nazi Propaganda (and propaganda techniques) leading up to and during World War Two. The show carefully shows how the Nazis enflamed hatred of minorities and foreigners to rally ordinary Germans to their cause. How they leaned heavily on patriotism and nationalism to rise to power and then wield it with such horrible and devastating results. For a few moments the resonance of the past with the events of the present led me to a deep sense of depression and hopelessness. That a show can affect someone as cynical as I shows its power. I only hope we don't repeat the same mistakes here and now that the German people made only a few generations ago....
I recommend this show to every adult of voting age in Austin. And I hope they are able to see it before November...
After my experiences at the Museums I headed across the UT campus to see what's changed since my last visit. I did my undergraduate work at the school and also spent years as a T.A. and then a Specialist Lecturer here. It was nice to see that the campus is constantly improving but that there is still a generous inventory of the buildings I roamed in and out of in my happy youth.
I can't pass up the "Boat Sculpture" without snapping a few images. It always looks different.
I took a constitutional today both to cross train for swimming (grueling sets of workouts yesterday and today... 9,000+ yards combined...) but also to experiment more with the Picture Profile settings in the Sony A7ii camera. (You may remember that a reader informed me of the potential to fine tune the black and white rendering of the camera via these picture profiles a couple of weeks ago). It was also a chance to test out a lens that I maligned a month or two ago but (almost) inevitably ended up buying this last week. It's the Sony FE 50mm f1.8. Operationally it is as bad as most reviewers have indicated. It's slow to focus and it focuses at the aperture you have set instead of opening up to focus and then stopping down to take. This causes some hunting as the apertures shrink and less light hits the all purpose sensor. I knew this information going into the purchase but had recently read on DXOMark.com that the lens tested well and got a mark of 37 which is easily ten points above most really good zoom lenses. Further, the tests indicated that it could out resolve the 24 megapixel cameras on which I intended to use it.
I didn't find the handling too obnoxious when using the AF but came to the conclusion that the lens's true strength is as a quick and convenient manual focusing lens that is remarkable sharp and detailed anywhere but wide open. By f3.5 I'm a happy camper vis-a-vis its optical performance. The new price is currently around $200 and for a lightweight, high optical performance lens I think it's a decent (but not great) value proposition. The only improvement against the Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7 I already owned is that touching the barrel of the Sony lens automatically triggers the focus magnification and that makes for slightly faster MF operation.
I like the Picture Profile Black and White film emulation. I think it works.
One or two final notes. Work seems to have slowed down in August and September for nearly everyone in the creative services industries. This happens every time there is a contentious presidential election (and when isn't an election contentious?). I think that companies, investors and individuals go into a holding pattern before elections that are so binary because they are unsure which set of policies will prevail, how those policies will affect their tax strategies and overall business planning, etc.
In the past I've seen this pattern over and over again. It's worrisome but always seems to resolve in the weeks just following elections and then clients become eager to make up lost ground and lost momentum.
Photokina begins in earnest this week and by tomorrow we should start to see whatever new product announcements coming from the show. Zeiss and Tamron have announced new lenses dedicated to the Sony e-mount and I am sure this is the tip of the iceberg. I know many people are waiting anxiously to see what the specs for the new Panasonic GH5 will be, what new tricks the Olympus EM-1 mark 2 will bring, and what new lenses Fuji might have up a sleeve.
Closely following Photokina will be Photo Expo (East) in NYC and maybe the stuff that gets announced in Germany will actually be touchable a month later in the U.S. show.
I hope you have enjoyed reading some or all of the 3,000 posts I've put up over the last seven and a half years and that you will (gracefully) join the ongoing discussion of photography here, via the comment section.
A reminder that I want to keep the blog politics and religion free so don't spend a lot of time crafting a brilliant attack on whatever politics you think I ascribe to because passionate or propagandized arguments from either side will almost certainly be expunged before they hit the blog. It's the only way to maintain some level of civility. At any rate, it should be some comfort to about 50% of you to know that both you and I are probably absolutely right. (Smiley face suggested).