9.18.2021

A New Fashion Brand Launches at the Austin City Limits Theater. Much hoopla in front of a temporary graphic. Fun.



 

Hey! Somebody in Austin. Give this guy a break.

Mr. Raymond Sundvall, Artist. 

I was walking around yesterday and I took a left on Congress Ave. and started walking toward the Capitol building. I was about to cross the intersection at 4th St. when I saw this guy (above and just below) walking around with this sign over his shoulder. No way I wasn't going to stop and chat. He's finished with art school in California and moved to Austin to work in the advertising/graphic arts field. He admitted that the reason he's out with the sign is that he has no real contacts in the Austin market and has had little luck getting traction. 

I quizzed him about his capabilities and he seems solid. Also has experience with video editing. I always like an underdog so I thought I'd put his (short) story here and give shout out to my Austin folks and have them at least consider giving him a shout and seeing if he's got some skills they can use. I know some of the agencies I deal with are a bit short staffed and having trouble finding freelancers for various tasks. 

If you want to see more you can check out his Instagram he's at @RAMENPABLO. 

It was a novel approach to job hunting but I didn't have the heart to tell him that no one is in the downtown offices right now; they're mostly working from home. But he's taking some initiative and that counts for something. 


Everyone in the arts has to start somewhere. Right?














 

Why Photography is a poor spectator sport. Why watching street photography videos is a waste of time. How can you tell if a lens is a good match for you? Goodbye to loyal shoes.

Man. A day goes by and one of my favorite bloggers doesn't refresh his site with some new work and I get frustrated and unsettled. Someone makes a video review of a new camera and it suddenly dawns on me that the work I'm watching the reviewer make sucks and doesn't tell me anything about the camera. I click on a video from a landscape photographer and instead of getting an explanation of why he points his camera at certain scenes and not others I get a long video segment of the photographer boiling water with a small camp stove to make tea inside a cramped van. Which does absolutely nothing to elevate my understanding of either the craft or the aesthetic of photography. I watch a camera review and the speaker spends a lot of time talking about his latest breakup with his significant other, and then how they just got an endorsement from a company that makes running shoes but all they can tell me about the camera is that it's: "lightning fast to focus on my (largely stationary) dog. Whose name is Otto-Focus." 

As a group we seem destined to spend way too much time figuring out what kind of gear other guys photograph with and then very, very little time coming to grips with whether or not we actually like the work they make with that gear. Most of the YouTube photography channels with better production values (not just a talking head in the basement....) are done by landscape photographers but the way they use their cameras and the lenses they choose has very little relevance to the work I like to do. What compels me to watch them talk about yet another carbon fiber tripod that they've taken out into the field? I hardly care about whether or not the tripod is tall enough to work well for a six foot, two inch tall photographer. I'm five foot, eight inches tall. If I want to watch a relevant review about tripods I guess I need to find a photographer who is as right-sized as me. Or someone who photographs exactly the same stuff I do...

And even when we come to videos about actually making photographs I'm not sure, beyond pure entertainment, what value we derive from watching a young female photographer coax a young female model wannabe to lie half naked and half submerged in a pool, trying to make a another titillating visual reference to Hamlet's Ophelia. I'm afraid the synergy required between model and young, hip, same gender photographer is not within reach for pot-bellied, middle-aged camera warriors of the wrong gender...

To be quite honest I find most photography downright boring. Even the big names wear quickly on the eye. Strip away the big name and the presumption that anything by a Magnum photographer is worthy, and the skeleton of the work; the actual work, is mostly a boring rehash of everything you've seen before. There are a few hundred images that stand out but they are pretty much universally appreciated so we've already seen them a thousand times. And the poorer imitations millions of times.

I am mostly bored by gimmick photography as well. I have a friend who is obsessed with making vast panoramas by shooting with highly technical camera movement rigs and super high-res cameras that can shoot hundreds of separate frames, each at X degrees apart, which are them carefully married together in the computer to create images with gigabytes of visual information but, of course, they are almost always of banal, immobile objects or scenes which don't move. And they don't move me. Why should I care how many trillions of pixels the final file contains if I will only ever see the image writ small on a computer screen? What's the point beyond proving that one has the infinite patience to make an image composed of hundreds of frames that's a tiny percent better than what could have been done nearly as well in one frame, or a couple of frames?

There are photographic works that stop me cold, rivet me in place and make me longing to have been the artist who shot them. A show of Arnold Newman's work, seen a couple of years ago, had that power. While a more recent show of Alec Soth's work had me, for half an hour or so, considering selling off every stitch of photo gear and trying something else. His work had sucked the life out of photography for me, in the moment. Never, in my mind, redeemed by even the most sincere and amazing written manifesto, and no matter how many curators publicly insist that they "like" his work. It's Photo Secessionist work of this century and will probably have the same staying power as all but the best of that ancient genre. 

I have an acquaintance who spent much time and treasure to photograph Texas Cowboys with a giant view camera, using tintype technology. I would never tell him this directly but the images look no better than countless sepia toned, dress up photographs, the likes of which were often offered at state fairs. You know the kind. People get to don on western wear costumes and six shooters and cowboy hats and have their images made on (mostly) a cheap digital camera hooked up to a fast printer. The operator snaps the images, tones them sepia in Photoshop and then prints out a dye sub or ink jet print and minutes later the customer leaves with his "old-timey" photo in a period inspired, cardboard folder. Someone should have done an intervention for my acquaintance because I am certain, given the subject matter, he could have done much better work with a 35mm style camera and some current print processes. But thousands march through his site and leave specious comments because the process "looks different." "Nice Capture!"

Somehow, in our useless search for the secrets of photography, which we are certain someone else has figured out, we've acculturated ourselves to a passive search for this supposed cache of knowledge which we hope will make our own work more "meaningful" and technically correct. Instead of going out onto the street, out into the mountains, down the highway to an event, further down the highway to look for aliens in Roswell, we've learned to settle in and be transfixed by this faux "quest for knowledge." But what we're really doing is turning photography into some kind of sad spectator sport. With only couch participation.

Were we as smart and rational/logical as all my commenters always profess to be (especially compared to me...)  we would buy the one camera and small set of lenses we KNOW would be best to help us make the kinds of photographs we love (but which almost everyone else will find mundane) and we would turn off the feeds and the blogs, and even the magazines, and we'd go out in our free time and make photographs that don't even have to be good. As long as the process is satisfying. It doesn't even have to be fun; just satisfying. 

You can laugh at me or shake your head when you have found out that I've bought a new camera or lens. But I can guarantee you it's rarely the results of months of listening to nattering nabobs on the web and has more to do with my own curiosity. But even though you may make jokes about me changing camera systems more often than I change underwear you may have noticed that I work with the cameras in my hands for hours and hour every day. Not almost every day. Every day. 

And mostly I don't care if anyone likes the bulk of the work I produce. I do photography to give me an excuse to walk around and look at the world. To look at gestures. To look at how the sky changes when a big thunderstorm rolls in or when twilight turns to gray. I look at what people wear and how they stand in relation to each other when they stop to talk. I watch how people drink their coffee alone in the outside chairs of a coffee shop, re-reading the same page in a book over and over again and hoping that someone will notice them and engage in some human conversation. Sometimes I make photos of these things but sometimes I just walk through and notice them. Maybe years from now the things I see today will make up the descriptive texture of a novel or just a poem. Maybe I'll use visual references I learn from walking and looking when I construct the next lifestyle photograph for a client. Or maybe I'll just make a visual record I can show myself a long time from now to jar my fading memory about the way we used to live. What our lives looked like away from celebrities and disasters.

But for whatever reason I am strongly resistant to letting photography become just a spectator sport for me and I encourage you to at least think about prioritizing your active involvement in this satisfying craft over becoming a passive audience for legions of online people who know little more (and probably a lot less!) about photography than you do. Just because a person can walk down the street with a new Leica rangefinder or a Canon something in their hands while a friend videotapes them you can be certain that the whole construction has very little to do with the actual craft of making pictures. Making pictures only requires picking up a camera and going out for a walk. Better yet, a walk with no firm agenda. Just a soft intention of coming home satisfied with the way you spent your time with your own camera. Becoming more and more aware of your point of view. 

Goodbye shoes: I hate to say "goodbye" to a loyal pair of shoes. Since I walk three to five miles a day, in all kinds of weather, I learn which shoes I like and which are burdensome pretty quickly. About ten years ago I took a chance and ordered two pairs of Croc's Swiftwater, leatherFisherman Sandals. They were immediately comfortable and even more comfortable after I broke them in a bit. They've been a constant companion on my walks whenever the weather permits. I have other shoes for cold, wet weather but this being Texas the Crocs got more than their share of pavement time. One pair wore through about four years ago and I switched to the pair illustrated above (same model). I realized one day at the pool that these were also "aging out" when I slid around on some wet tiles. When, like a practiced ninja, I regained my balance and looked at the soles of the sandals I saw that all of the tread was worn off leaving slick, smooth surfaces. Fine for walking dusty trails but not very optimal for slick pavement on warm, rainy days. Or splash soaked pool decks.

I searched for replacements and even tried a pair of Keen sandals that were of a similar style ( closed toe ) but over twice the price. The Keens are okay and I'm still trying to like them more but another couple of slips on the way to the curb, in the old Crocs, when taking out the trash convinced me that I needed to go back to the original source of happiness and get my preferred choice of footwear. 

After a few failed attempts I found the same model of sandal on Amazon. While the price had gone up (but not severely) the style and build remained identical. I chalk it up to a company smart enough to get a design right the first time and even smarter in that they left them alone and just kept selling them, unchanged, for over a decade. 

The Crocs were scheduled to arrive next Tuesday (today is Saturday) but on Thursday I got a note from Amazon that the package would be arriving a few days early. It would now be here in Saturday. Imagine my surprise when I got an update on my phone yesterday ( Friday ) telling me that my package had just been delivered to my front door. When I got off the road and walked through the entryway I grabbed my box, popped it open, shucked off the old pair and tried on the new pair. Perfect. Just exactly what I wanted. I'll walk in them this afternoon. I can hardly wait. 

Here's a tip from a long term walker: bring along two bandaids on the maiden walks. Sometimes, with brand new shoes, some things rub until the shoes are broken in. Nothing takes the satisfaction out of a walk quicker than a spot on your foot rubbed raw just at the furthest point in your ramble. 

But what about those darn lenses: I think we're all guilty of judging lenses on how well they perform when we look at the results on a monitor, and I think that's valid but I would suggest that, over time, we're more impacted by how good a lens feels when it becomes part of a system. Meaning how good it feels when it's attached to your favorite camera and they become one unit. I thought about this a lot in the last week. Currently, I find that my favorite camera is my most beat-up, worn, Leica SL. It's a great casual camera because it works perfectly but it has some scrapes and wear marks that make it a camera I worry less about accidentally abusing than the newer, and almost pristine version, or (higher stakes) my brand new SL2. In comparison with the SL2 I think the SL menu interface is regally fabulous. 

But the real question, when I'm headed out the door to become an active participant in photography is always which lens to use. If I'm photographing or videotaping for a client or for one of my own more defined projects I know which lenses I will need to use to do the work well, but if walking and looking around at life is as important as taking random photographs I know I want to settle down to one lens and then I hope it will cover the different scenes I'll come across. If it doesn't it's okay with me to let the camera hang back on the strap and walk on past what might have been the shot. 

Usually, on the non-lazy days ( which are getting fewer and fewer ) I want to take a standard zoom lens. On lazier days one of those Sigma 45mm lens is just fine. But when it comes to the zoom lenses I have two choices that I usually narrow down to. One is the big Leica 24-90 and the other is the fast Sigma 24-70. Sure, the Leica is heavier but not by much when you consider the whole package. But what is it that makes me decide one way or the other?  (more below)

There seem to be more than a few "branches" to this decision tree. Since both are weather resistant that's rarely an issue. There are some rowdy and crowded events at which it just makes sense to leave the most expensive and valuable lens at home and to take the alternative zoom. For Halloween Night on the already rowdy Sixth St. the Sigma would take precedence over the Leica. Most of what I'd be shooting falls into the focal range of both lenses and at five times the cost I'm not sure that in "off the cuff" shooting the difference (if any) in quality versus the money sunk into the luxe lens makes taking it worth the risk. 

On the other hand, if I'm going to an event (not during Covid, level 5) where there are lots of glamorous and civilized people I'm quick to take the Leica lens for the extra reach it gives me. The same with careful and considered landscape or ex-urban shooting. It's nice to be able to go to 90mm for isolation and compositional consideration. 

Whether or not a lens is a good match for you, personally, depends on a number of things. Are you the kind of person who writes to me and tells me that, for you, wide angle starts at 16mm and goes to 12? Or, are you the kind of person who wants and needs to get closer and more intimate with your subjects? The basics of focal length choices are probably first of any number of concentric circles of rapport with your lens. The next thing for me is just how good the lens feels when I hold it in my hands (attached to my camera) and how solid the operation of the unit is. Does it feel balanced? Is the manual focusing ring well balanced and easy to use when the image in the finder is magnified? If the lens has an external aperture ring does that ring fall naturally to the location at which your hand expects to find it? Does the ring turn smoothly and yet have enough resistance not to wallow around and change your settings without your knowledge? Is the girth of the lens uncomfortable for your hands? A lens has to be comfortable to handle to make you want to take it out into the field over and over again. The overall feel of a great lens should seduce you.

You might suppose that you desperately want the absolute best and fastest lens in whichever focal range you've decided fits your vision. But what if that makes the lens a monster with a huge 82mm filter size and a diameter that only a professional basketball player could get his hands around? You might find that going by specs or performance alone delivers to you a camera/lens combination that is just uncomfortable; even if it does deliver excellent bragging rights. Handling a lens for a while will let you know if big is too big. If heavy is too heavy. And if you really need to shoot everything at f2.8 all the time. 

In comparing lenses I've found that some people who thought they wanted the Sigma Art 24-70mm zoom lens were surprised to find that the newer, 28-70mm f2.8, which is lighter and smaller, was more comfortable to work with in spite of having to "sacrifice" 4mm of reach on the long end. Some are happier with Panasonic's constant aperture f4.0, 24-105mm lens because they get more range and less weight; even though they have to give up a full stop of light gathering performance. 

It's all so personal. I've really warmed up to the Sigma 24-70 Art lens over the Leica lens when it comes to enjoyable and random street and social photography. It's a good companion when I'm out for a "no intentions" walk. But the confidence and extra reach of the Leica make it a better choice for me when I'm doing serious work. Just like swimming a sprint you learn not to leave any performance in the camera bag when big money or emotionally valuable projects are at stake. 

If the camera and lens choice is very secondary to the walk or activity on the schedule it's easier to make choices. If the camera and lens is an afterthought I'm more prone to go with a much slower zoom or one with a more limited focal length range; or both. Recent choices had been the older, adapted Leica 28-70mm f3.5-4.5 or an older Contax 35-70mm f3.3. Both those are gone now and I lean more on the combination of the Lumix S5 camera and the small but sharp (and slow) Lumix 20-60mm. (more below)

But the important thing about lenses is to either become comfortable in their use or to get rid of them at the point in time where you realize that they don't make you comfortable, happy or as productive as you want to be. We tend to think about the sunk cost over the advantage of pleasant and productive use. To torture oneself because "you've already paid for it" is a false economy if it keeps you from being satisfied with your craft and your leisure time in the pursuit of a fun hobby. So, size, weight, use parameters, intelligent interface design, good hand feel, how well it integrates into the camera package, and finally, does it give you the results you crave?  (more below)

You'll notice that all of the top priorities in the real world, not in the "researching new lenses world",  have to do with how you'll ending up carrying, handling and actually physically photographing with your lens and that things like sharpness, contrast, the number of glass elements, and the focusing speed are, for most of us, quite secondary when deciding if a lens is a good match for us. Nearly every current lens is within a whisker of every other similar lens when the optical performance is evaluated in the real world. All those tech specs are meaningless if a fat lens means it's so close to your camera handgrip that your fingers are contorted every time you bring the camera up to your eye. A lens that's too heavy for you and your use is less valuable than a slower (but equally sharp) lens that weighs much less, and has less bulk. And costs less.

I learned back when I was shooting with Canon DSLR cameras that their lowly, non-stabilized, 70-200mm f4.0 L lens was at least as sharp at every available aperture as the faster, f2.8 version. Since almost all of my use of the longer lens was in good light or outside in great light the advantage of f2.8 over f4.0 was completely erased (from a performance perspective) but the weight and size of the f4.0 lens made it much more valuable to me. Nikon currently makes two 24-70mm lenses for the Z series. One is a very expensive and very big f2.8 lens while the other choice is a small and light f4.0. According to everyone I know who have shot both the f4.0 is the better lens in almost every regard. It's also half the price and weight. Perfect for most of the uses a lens like this will be put to. And good stuff to think about when "online research" seems to have you by the throat.  (more below). 


These images are all from a two hour walk yesterday. The Sigma and Leica were set up for my continued training in "back button" focusing. I shot in .DNG and also Large Jpeg because I thought I wanted to see everything in black and white, but I was wrong. The world was alive with color yesterday. I just had to go out and see it for myself.



But I did keep one in black and white because it seemed so mysterious to me in that guise. 

If the Leica lens is sharper than the Sigma you'd have a hard time telling so just by looking at handheld photos. I guess you'll see it at those times when your technique switches from 
casual to serious. When a tripod is involved. But really, at f5.6?
Between really good lenses? Probably a wash. 


A second angle. An hour later.