The Visual Science Lab Celebrates our 3,000th blog post. It is this one.

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. 

College Junior.

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). 


Unknown said...

Hi Kirk,
Congratulations on your 3,000th blog. I rarely comment, but have been reading your blog for around 5 years now. I want to thank you for your insights into your life as a working photographer and your really practical blogs on the business of staying in business. In addition, I also enjoy being an internet tourist though your eyes and camera and hearing about your life in and around Austin. Cheers from Canberra, Keith.

HR said...

You wrote: "Generations who never read for pleasure will increasingly interpret all writing literally, and progressively fail to understand irony, sarcasm, metaphor, analogy, etc..."

Boy, how I know that. :-) I have pretty much given up on posting on forums because of exactly that reason. It all gets so tedious and annoying when even things that seem pretty clearly not to be totally serious are met with outrage (faux or otherwise) and great gnashing of teeth, angst, anger, and so on. For those who have the inclination though all may not be lost:

How to Have a Sense of Humor


Goff said...

Congratulations, Kirk, on your imminent tre mille tre. Texas, not Spain.
I have a suggestion for your future in fun photography, whether family, events or places..
I'm thinking mainly about the pictures you create from what you see as you stroll around town.
They are great but seem to have plateaued.
So I suggest you do what you have successfully done with your professional photography. Introduce videography.
When I felt my still photography had reached a plateau, I made the switch to shooting video clips for short films of whatever amused me.
Recent example: vimeo.com/goff/nectar. A murder movie.

Paul said...

Congratulations on the milestone - your blog is the only blog I seem to read every post, it's definitely on my compulsory reading list.

I don't envy anybody in the USA with the choices for President, from an outsiders viewpoint neither of them seem to be a great choice.

Bassman said...

Congratulations on your milestone. If it helps you stay motivated to keep writing, shooting & posting, remember that we really really enjoy what you share with us.

Unknown said...

Congratulations. I usually keep your articles saved for later and savor them for entertainment reading. I enjoy almost everyone of them.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kirk,

First of all, congratulations on your milestone 0f 3000 posts! My hats off to you, I've only been reading for about a year now, and do wish to dive into your archives. I have no doubt that I'd find every post very entertaining and knowledgable, and thoughtful. Appreciate your work!
Also have studied the work of Elliott Erwitt and very much enjoy his style. He says he doesn't have a style but there's humor, with content and composition. Makes a very strong image. Again content trumps technical perfection. Sorry to have used that word! He certainly had soul in his images, something I think we all aspire to. Or should. Cold images are soon forgotten.
Thanks for all you've done and continue to do!
Doug O.

TMJ said...

Well done on your 3,000th blog, which is as stimulating as all the others that preceded it.

I have been thinking about making black and white digital images in camera and at present you are at the mercy of the camera companies and software designers in how well they implement a black and white mode.

There is another solution though. In the same way that software like PS, LR, et., allows the use of filters as plug-ins, then if camera software/firmware was coded to allow a protected space, using an agreed standard, then it would be simple for say DxO or others, to produce filter packs for different film emulations including black and white. I could see Sony, Olympus and maybe Fuji and Pentax collaborating, but unsure about the other big two.

Dave said...


What a cool journey! Maybe the term photography will change, or even cease, but I think the art will go on. Perhaps calling it media is more relevant given that the combination of photo, video and sound rolls around our culture like Arizona Thunder during monsoon season.

Maybe "photographers" will be this century's telegraph operator, but I doubt it.

At any rate, I still reach each and every VSL post. That isn't true for most photography sites. I gave up on DP Review years ago. If you set up the same kind of blog as Bob Krist (oldmaninmotion.com), I'd be all over it like stink.

These days I could care less about ISO measurements, or pictures of brick walls, but will spend days over microphones, preamps, audio recorders/mixers, etc.

Thank you for being out there on the edge!

crsantin said...

Thanks for all the thought you put into the blog Kirk, I enjoy it now as much as ever. As always, more portraits please...and more squares. All the new gear is starting to pop up over on that other website with all the forums. It is all very shiny and beautiful but I will not be purchasing any of it. I have been looking inward, reading and walking, sometimes with a camera and sometimes not. Wonderfully relevant quote from Erwitt, at least for me and where I am at in life so thanks for that. I wish I could see the exhibit. Looking forward to the future here at VSL.

Gato said...

Congratulations. Keep up the good work. At least as long as you enjoy doing it.

I'm hoping to make it down for the Erwitt show now that the temps have fallen off a little. Any tips on the best (or worst) times to brave the campus and traffic?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hi Gato, the best time would be to drive in on a Sunday morning (but not a weekend with a home football game!!!) and arrive around noonish. The HRC opens at noon. Admission is free. There is no coffee shop in the museum but there is a Caffe Medici just off campus across the street. After you've spent time looking at EE's work you could walk the five to seven minutes over to the Blanton to see the two shows there. This week is supposed to be very hot but October would probably be just right. I'll be out of town the weekend of the 13-16th of October but if you come on any other Sunday you should let me know and I'd be happy to meet for coffee and see the show again. You'll love the show!

Anonymous said...

The Best Blog on The Internet. At Least About Photography. Swear.

Richard Alan Fox said...

Thank you Kirk for all that you have shared with us.

dasar said...

May I ask you the detailed setting of the B&W picture profile you used ?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

dasar photo: here is the info: http://magiclanternshooter.com/get-fuji-jpeg-look-sony-mirrorless/ I followed the author's formula.

Gary said...

Mazel tov.

scott kirkpatrick said...

With 3,000 posts it is getting hard to find old things that I only partly recall. During your M43 period, you had a sequence of posts in which you sorted out gradeable HD video from the E-M5.2's. Could you provide a link to those posts?

Your blog seems to be the place for KISS approaches to quality video that has lasting value but immediate web application. Looking over the recent Fuji XT-2 and Olympus E-M1vii announcements, I see that both offer dual card UHS-II support and extended 4K shooting with the extra batteries in the vertical grip, which also allows headphone monitoring of the sound levels. My son comes back from video school telling me that really good synchronized sound is what distinguishes professional video production. With the equipment schools can afford, this means boom mikes, cables, external recorders run by a sound person, and a clapper (with a third person) for synchronization. I've seen good work done with wireless lavaliere mics and 4K HDMI video out cabled to an external synchronizing recorder with a small video display as a cumbersome but still one-person solution. Do you think the time has come for doing it all in the camera?