Day Two. High Altitude Photography. With eggs.

So this is the first thing I see in the morning when I get up in my campsite in Balmorhea State Park.  It's this wonderful tree against a cold blue sky and it sets the pace for the day.

I didn't bring along real food or cooking equipment so I figured I'd get some coffee in Balmorhea and then head off on the day's adventures.  Silly me.  There's only one restaurant in town and it only opens for lunch and dinner.  It's called "The Bear Den" and it serves pretty good Tex-Mex food.  The first real coffee will be in Ft. Davis which is 45 minutes away through the mountains.  For those of you who know me and are convinced that I can only sleep in a four star hotel room that a client is paying for, here is my campsite:

I shook myself awake.  Put on my wrinkled and frozen Khaki pants and revved up the car.  I'm not use to mornings without coffee but I figured that this was supposed to be an adventure after all.  I was not so comatose that I failed to see how beautiful the light was along the road so early in the day.  As mine was the only car I saw during the entire drive between the two towns I thought nothing of stopping alongside the road, at random, to take photos like these:

After driving all day and then sleeping in my car I would like to take a moment to praise it.  In over 1200 miles it never missed, coughed, surged or otherwise provoked the city boy anxiety of getting stuck in the some desolate place.  The seats were comfy, the drive was stable and sure and it housed my cameras like a giant Pelican case. (Not currently sponsored by Pelican!).  In fact, I promised it (while talking to myself near Sonora) that I would show you its photo:

The noble and long suffering car.

The trip thru the mountains was wonderful.  Forty five minutes of photo-Disney.  Big ridges, raw cliffs and energetic fauna.  But I was getting hungrier by the moment and beginning to fantasize about what the world would be like with a Starbuck's shop every ten miles or so.  ( I would be a bad world dictator because I would mandate silly things like:  There must be a good coffee shop within twenty minutes of any destination.....)  But I finally pulled into Ft. Davis and started looking.  If you aren't a local it sure is hard to know what your options are.  This time it was dumb luck.  The writing on the door said, "Nel's Coffeehouse" but a handwritten paper sign also added, "Hot Breakfast now being served".  I parked the dynamic beast/car and went in with much trepidation.  The first person I saw was a state trooper right out of central casting, with a Stetson hat, a big belly and a pair of black, ostrich skin boots.  He nodded that authoritarian nod right when I came in the door and then settled back in to his coffee and the skinny newspaper.

Luck was on my shoulder that day.  Nel's had inaugurated hot breakfast that day!  And to paraphrase Ernest Hemmingway,  "......and it was good."

Doesn't look like much in the photo but that was the best biscuit I've ever had.  Foreshortened by the wide angle setting of the 14-42, it was really ample.  Just to the left of the biscuit and the potatos is a portion of refried beans.  Just thought I'd explain that for any of my readers from the great northern reaches of the country.

This is what happens when the camp out is chilly and the food is delicious:

Nel's was a contrast at every step.  The food was great and the service was disorganized.  The coffee was incredibly good even by Austin or Seattle standards but it was served with pre-packaged dairy creamers......

And lots of them.........

Stumbling into Nel's was dumb luck but three days later I am still congratulating myself for not judging a book by its cover.  In a small town, with limited resources, it's not always possible to build the most impressive infrastructure.  But believe me, if you are headed in that direction you'll have one of the best "regular guy" breakfasts that you can imagine.  If you are traveling with hoity toity people be forewarned that there will be no eggs Benedict nor will there be scones.......at least not until you get to Marathon. But that is a story for another day........

Yes,  This is Nel's.  Love the signage?

All images done with the EP-2.

Getting Wet In The Desert.

I always promised myself that when I went to West Texas on my trip I would take an afternoon to swim in Balmorhea Springs.  So I did.  I started my journey west from my parent's house in San Antonio.  We'd eaten a great dinner the night before at a wonderful restaurant called, Bistro Vatel, in Olmos Park.  I hoped into my old 2003 Honda Element and headed out to highway 10 about 8:30 in the morning.  Six and a half hours later I pulled off I-10 into the tiny, tiny town of Balmorhea and went looking for the springs.  Now, I should preface this by reminding you that I am from Austin.  I swim year round in a heated pool and even on the worst weather days we have anywhere from 15 to 20 hardy swimmers show up for swim practice at seven in the morning.  We also have Barton Springs, where urban rumors tell constant tales of the beautiful sirens who, in the days of Janis Joplin and blotter acid, used to sun topless on the banks of the mystic waters.  Even in the crisp chill of January Barton has it's faithful crowd.

When I got to Balmorhea Springs I walked into the pool area and took a look at a really magnificent fresh water pool.  Clean, crisp water fed in from an underground spring.  The pool is huge and goes to a depth of 25 feet.  Catfish swim lazily along the bottom.  As do black puffers.  And schools of little Mexican tetras zip along and try, enthusiastically but unsuccessfully, to nip at your with their tiny mouths.  But there were no swimmers.  The only public swimming pool for miles and miles in any direction and not other swimmers!  Eventually a tourist came.  Looked at the pool and floated around for a bit before getting out, drying off and heading out for some other adventure.

(Do you see the vicious tetras just under the surface?  They wait to feast on the unsuspecting...well, maybe not.)

I put on a swim suit, grabbed a pair of goggles out of my swim bag and hoped into the pool to swim some laps and spend some time unwinding from my manic drive.  And the surprisingly good latte from McDonald's a couple hundred miles back in Junction.

The water was a pleasant 72 degrees.  No lifeguards on duty.  No teenagers doing cannonballs from the edge.

After a bit I got out and dried off and started taking images for my "project".  I used all three cameras in a short period.  I started with a Canon G10.  No matter how good the new EP-2 and its compact cousins are I just can't give up the G10 yet.  It charms by its industrial design and it's huge and detailed files.  It's the camera to have if you can have only one and you're not allowed to have lenses.  Thankfully, there are no rules like that so you can have any dang camera you want.

I was amazed at the pool.  So clean and clear.  So unused.  The things that make it endearing are the archaic touches light the design of the railings. And the wonderful signs warning against diving in shallow water.

I started out using the G10 and it was good but I segued into using the EP-2 and, in fact, that camera and the humble kit lens account for 85% of all the photos I took on my trip.  The ability to do instant visualizations in the near perfect EVF adds something magical to the process.  It's fun to see, in real time, how the shift of exposure or the change of a color temperature setting will affect the image before you even trip the shutter.

I also used the Olympus e30 and my favorite Oly optic, the 14-35mm lens.  But no matter how alluring the optical qualities I couldn't resist the EP2.

I shot a lot in the afternoon sun and then left to search out the ONLY restaurant in all of Balmorhea.  Don't like Mexican food?  I can only suggest  that you consider driving the 40 minutes to Ft. Davis if you crave some variety.......

After dinner I came back to see how the light looked.  I stayed shooting until the sun tucked under the collaring mountains and the last of the light was extinguished.

At one point a motley crew of scuba divers showed up and spent some time lurking on the bottom.  They seemed to have the same sort of "gear nut" mentality that photographers sometimes evince.  They talked about their tanks and their regulators and how cool their neoprene suits were.  I could tell that the whole process tickled them and made them happy.  One college couple came and walked around the pool making art of each other with their shared point and shoot camera.

It's a long way to go just for a swim but it is one of the nicer and more organic pools I've been in.  If you have to go to Marfa or El Paso or some such city you could do worse than to pull off the highway and cool down a bit.  Just don't expect lifeguards or concession stands.  No lattes after this swim.  Not for another 45 miles at least......
You might notice the ducks in this image from late evening.  They weren't their when I swam my laps but the scuba guys say they are pretty territorial.  I'd hate to say I lost an encounter to a mean duck.....

All the hardware is this kinda crusty, WPA feeling stuff. Overengineered and under maintained.

Of course, I love the square.  That's so cool being able to set the aspect ratio that works for you.

Once the sun goes down the park shuts the pool.  No night swimming for these people.

After the pool closed I walked back to camping space number 19 and got my bed ready.  I flipped up the back seat and spread out my orange sleeping bag.  Then I started a small campfire in the little cinder block circle next to the campsite.  I sat cross-legged and drank a glass (styro cup) of red wine and watched the giant white stars pulsing against a nearly jet black sky.  The fire burned down to white dusted red embers and the wind picked up.  As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped like a rock.  I wrapped up in a sweat shirt and a parka shell and finally got up, kicked dirt over the last of the embers and went to sleep.  The wind picked up and, at times, rocked the car.  When I woke up in the morning every breathe I exhaled made white clouds of steam even inside the car.  Damn it was cold....

That's it for day one.  More to come.


It's all about the Ruby Slippers.

    Red shoes in a museum thrift store in Marfa, Texas.  EP2.  Kit Lens.

I drove 1200 miles.  I froze my butt off in the Davis Mountains when the temperature dipped to 15 degrees one night and I was camping rough.   I ate protein bars while nudging the wheel to keep within the faded lines on the most desolate roads I've ever seen.  I woke up and drove 45 miles one morning in search of good coffee.  Or hot coffee.  Or any coffee.  I sat, bored in a coffee shop in Marathon as the rain moved in, thumbing thru my withered copy of Jack Kerouac's, On The Road.  And I discovered the thing I missed when I went off on my half baked desert driving adventure.  I discovered why it all works and it all doesn't work.

My revelation was put into words for me by the movie, Buckeroo Bonzai, when Buckaroo says, "Wherever you go, there you are." and, of course from, The Wizard of Oz.  I convinced myself that I needed the Ruby Slippers to transport me back to the land of "Art".  But on my whirlwind visit to the Oz of the great southwest I came to understand something very important.  Vital.  Art isn't some place, it's some thing that you carry around inside of you.  If the art isn't working it doesn't need a change of venue it needs a change in you. Art isn't a camera or a wide open landscape --- it's a way of seeing.  And art definitely isn't something you pick off a low branch.  Doesn't matter where you go because the firmware is already uploaded.  Only the scenery changes.

And the further I drove the more I felt that I was running from something and not towards something.  I went out expecting to find exciting things to see only to find that the endless and picked over landscape felt, for me, all used up out here.  But this process of discovery and re-discovery was important.  What did I really see?  What did Jack Kerouac see on his sad series of desperate journeys back and forth across the United States? The sadness he carried around with him.  The journey gives you time to look into your own heart.  If the images you create aren't good it's because you've given in to the conformity that pushes us all down to some mediocre baseline.  I've gotten good at technique but lousy and lazy at looking for something that means something to me.  The journey was like a mirror in a cold, dirty Exxon gas station restroom.  You look in the mirror in the morning, after sleeping hard on the floor of your car the night before and you see the tired eyes of truth look back at you with the recrimination that you could have done better.  You should have looked harder and felt more.  You should have ignored what everyone else was doing and stuck to the work that gave you butterflies in your own stomach and a sense of anticipation every time you thought about it.  But I didn't.    And you get two choices.  Or a thousand choices.  I only get two choices.  Try harder and better or hang up those magic boxes and quit.

So here's the deal for me.  I traded normal for photography many years ago.  While my friends marched into jobs as doctors and lawyers and bankers and engineers I marched into the chaos and candy of being a photographer.  An artist.  But over the years I reached too far.  I tried to make photography into the same secure path that my friends enjoyed in their career paths.  How to do that?  By making the thing you love into a business.  By slowly and systematically sucking out the life from the art.  Chasing a dollar by giving the people what you think they want.

And you know what?  You end up not pleasing anyone.  You don't have art.  You don't have product.  You don't have equity and you can't sell your practice.  If you didn't do art you screwed yourself because that was the only prize on the path you chose.  And the sad thing is that there may always be a market for the people that ignore the perceived marketplace and do the art even if they think no one will like it.  Even if they think no one will notice.  Because they will have, at least, pleased themselves.

What I learned from Sal Paradiso's journey was this.  We count up our losses.  But there are also gains.  The overwhelming journey is the important one and we're constantly learning those lessons.  I learned that, at 54 I can still sleep on the floor of a Honda Element with an old orange sleeping bag from Costco.  I learned that waking up at 6 am on a freezing morning means that I alone can watch the sunrise from my austere angle, miles from anyone else.  It's like water in a fast moving river.  You never step into the same water twice.  I watched the sunrise over nameless peeks and hills and I knew that no matter how good my craft the photos would never equal the experience of just watching quietly and soaking it all in like rays of new energy.  I didn't take a camera out of the bag as I watched the purple and blue and yellow of the sunlight slowly work its way down naked mountains and into valleys of valiant scrub  brush and bustling Javalinas.

There's no long term project here.  No book.  No shared quantum of revelation or wisdom.  There are no masterpeices among the 1200 images I stuck onto little memory cards.  But there is an overwhelming joy in knowing that I can still feel wonder and curiosity.  That I still have time to rescue the second half of my life from the mindless conformity of image making that I expected I needed to do to make a living instead of making a thriving.

I guess what I realized most was that the first half of most lives are about mistakes and enthusiasm and lessons learned and time spent in the raw pursuit of mastery.  The second half of life can be about whatever you can take from all those lessons and leverage into sheer, exuberant happiness.  And if that comes in your art, so much the better.  Shared or unshared.  It's the one things that's totally yours.

When I set out to do a roadtrip project I was in talks with a publisher.  After weeks of negotiations we'd worked out a contract that was workable.  We had agreement.  Right up until I saw their writer's guidelines.  They were so regimented.  How to deliver chunk by chunk of the writing on a factory schedule.  What program to use. What operating system to use.  Precise and required formatting.  It turned a creative idea and a creative process into a Sinclair sweatshop.

We parted ways.  And I decided to go on and do the project my way.  Only what I found out on this trip is that trying to teach creativity is like trying to do anything else.  The teaching is not the art.  The idea of a book is  like a life preserver for people whose industries are in trauma.  It's a way of delaying the need to change.  It's not change.  I may never do that particular book.  Or I may find a better way to get the ideas across.

But I did come away from the last six days with one firm idea.  I really love taking photographs and I'll do that until I can't do it any more.

(This is the only philosophical rambling I'll post from the project.  I do have images to share and discussions to put out here in the blog about what worked for me on the trip.  I am happy with the outcome of the adventure and ready to jump back into photography with more passion.---Thanks, Kirk)


The mechanics of hitting the wall.

I don't know about you but the last three years have sure taken a toll on me.  I sublimated the fear and feelings of anxiety and career desperation by writing books.  Lots of books.  Four in a row.  And the time in between was jittery and uncertain.   Lately, it's starting to seem as though a long drought is breaking and photographic work is starting to flow.  But you can't live through a social upheaval like the last two or three years without a certain amount of the residue sticking with you.  I confess that I feel burned out.   And really, it's the waiting and the indecision and ambiguity that wears a person down.

I just finished two photographic projects with a great ad agency and I feel comfortable enough to take a solo vacation.  Really more of an extended weekend.  Baby steps.  I'm leaving today for points west.  I'll be visiting friends in Marfa for a day but for the most part I'll be cruising around with a bag full of cameras and no real agenda.  I'm leaving today and I'll be back next week some time.  I asked the boy if he wanted to drive through the desert and mountains for five or six days with me and he gave me that kind yet sad teenage head shake.  Didn't relish the role of free assistant/talent.

I'm not testing any lenses.  I'm not focused on making technically great photographs.  I'm sure not writing to a template and a tight deadline.  I'm just going to take it mile by mile and snap a few pics of things that make me smile or make me frown.  I'm not taking a computer.  I won't be checking e-mail.  I don't have an iPhone.  I won't be checking texts.  I have a rudimentary cellphone and I'll call home to make sure the wife and the boy and the dog are fine.

There's no client for this trip so I'm doing it like a Texas, college Spring Break trip.  Toss a sleeping bag in the back of the Honda Element, pull a couple hundred bucks out of the bank and go with a vague schedule. Sleep, eat, drive, shoot.  What-a-burger?  Dairy Queen?  Bag of granola?

Cameras?  I'll take some.  All little pixie sensor cameras.  A small bag of pixie system lenses.  A tripod.
A bucket of batteries.  No studio flash.  No stands.  No umbrellas.  Nothing that feels like work.  It's the new Pixie Camera Aesthetic.

Remember all that stuff about Minimalism?  That's what we're aiming for.  If I make it back I'll start blogging about it next Thurs. As they say on Star Trek, "Kirk out."

Check out the fourth book.  Click Here


Sunday Rants and Opinions. March 7, 2010

     It's Sunday and I'm celebrating the end of the week with a walk around downtown Austin.
     (and a vegan chocolate chip cookie at whole foods).

This note from a kind reader:

In your 'The Visual Science Lab/Kirk Tuck' blog, you first wrote nice
provocative piece called 'Sunday Rants and Opinions. March 7, 2010'.
After you got some bad comments, you edited to much milder version and
later regretted that you had done the editing and started to wonder,
if someone would have copy of it. Here is what I was able to find from
Google's cache (search your blog article from there and then selected
Cached version from search results).

And the text of the original post:

[quote starts]
The image above comes from my favorite new lens.  It's a lens I've
grown to respect in the two weeks that I've had it.  It's the lens
that Nikon and Canon will never be able to make.  It's the Olympus
14-35mm f2 zoom lens.  And it's wonderful wide open at f2.  I say that
Nikon and Canon will never be able to make one but that's mostly just
an inflammatory statement on my part. You wouldn't want them to make
this lens for the full frame systems.  Getting an f2 maximum aperture
that covered 24 x 36 mm at high sharpness would probably result in a
five pound lens with an enormous front element and price tag
approaching five figures (US).

And full frame fans will be quick to tell you that because their
cameras have incredible sensors you'd never need the extra stop on the
lens.  Finally, someone with an engineering-compulsive disorder will
also step in to tell you about "equivalence".   A lens designed for
the smaller 4:3rds crop can be opened up 2 stops and have the same
depth of field, when compared to a lens designed to cover the
traditional 24 by 36 inch sensor.  We can all understand that as the
depth of field depends on both angle of view and focal length. But the
"equivalence truthers" would also have you believe that this makes
smaller formats inferior.

Every choice has it's trade offs.  Bigger formats require greater lens
coverage which requires bigger glass elements and most optical
engineers will tell you that every doubling of the size of a lens
element requires 8x the quality control and engineering to get the
same sharpness and overall performance when compared to smaller
geometry optics.  Making lenses that cover smaller sensors gives
optical engineers many more options for speed, zoom ratio and
sharpness.  And that gives photographers more choices while they are

I had an interesting conversation with a photographer I really respect
this past friday.  He'd temporarily bought into the whole mass
hysteria that would have you believe that we should be shooting every
image with the minimum depth of field.  In a sense he was looking for
every image to be a clear example of exemplary "bokeh" ( the smooth or
unsmooth look of out of focus areas in a photo) but he finally
conceded that many times the narrow depth of field really marred the
overall integrity of an image.  Many times, in retrospect, he wished
that he has stopped down one or two more stops so that the fall off of
focus would be gentler and more convincing.

The Olympus 14-35mm f2 gives a photographer the same kind of DOF wide
open that you would expect to get with a lens of equal field of view,
but made for the 35mm sensor size, at f4.  But when we take into
consideration the ability of optical engineers to optimize smaller
lens geometries you end up with a lens that is as sharp or even
sharper than its larger equivalent.  The bottom line for me is that
the 14-35mm f2 SHG lens is one of those rare optics that people rave
about.  I didn't understand the passion until I  put one on the front
of my camera and took some images.  Once I'd seen the results I had to
have one.  In many ways it's the same feeling I had when I made my
first print from a Leica M series 50mm Summicron lens.  There was just
something  different about the way that lens rendered edges and
contrasts between tones.  Hard to describe but you'd know it when you
saw it.

If you've read some of the stuff I've written here at the Visual
Science Lab website you'll know that I love to "burn in" my equipment
by using it a lot in the wild before I trust it fully for assignments.
I broke that rule with the 14-35 by using it as one of my two primary
lenses for the TED Conference, here in Austin.  Today, I had the
chance to walk around town with it for the first time since the
conference.  I took a couple hundred photos with it, using the e1
camera body as its mate.  Here's a little gallery from an gray,
drizzly and dreary day.  I didn't care about the drizzle.  Both the e1
body and the 14-35 are splashproof and handle rain with aplomb.....

[quote ends]

The old state comptroller's building on 6th street.  A detail of the steel siding.

    The offices of Simmons, Whatever and Graeber, just off Sixth Street across from Whole Foods.

    Posters on the side of Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop.  Lance Armstrong's establishment.
A confluence of corrugation and stucco.  Rendered large and saturated.
Xeriscaping meets downtown night club.  Fused with racous blue.
Another detail in the old comptroller's building.  Brick meets brick meets space age metal.
Old buildings were so cool with the interior being millimeters from the exterior.  All the office buildings I see today are behind buffers of wall and implied space.  Wow.  Nice geometry on the edges.  Good correction for a zoom.  No correction on my part, or on the part of the camera.....
This is one of those "downtown regents of UT" offices that are built like 18th century Regency palaces.  Complete with columns and arches and a preponderance of bigness.
Did I mention the big, regal, University of Texas presence in the middle of downtown Austin? This is where the elite meet to decide what happens at THE university.....and a string of lesser schools.  No offense intended to graduates of Texas A&M...
    It's fun to walk around without a care in the world and snap whatever catches your attention.  At f4 I don't worry about what might or might not be in focus.  I'm looking for intersecting planes and intersecting realities.

Speaking of reality.  I'm heading out this coming Friday for a long over due road trip.  I'm heading West through Texas.  I plan on stopping and shooting whatever I see in Del Rio, Alpine, Marathon, Marfa and all points in that area.  If you live there or know someone interesting who does, could you drop me a line?  I'm planning to do art so I don't need someone to "show me around" but I'd welcome a few contacts who might help me stay on the right track.  You can leave a comment here or you can always reach me at kirktuck@kirktuck.com

That's about all for today.  When I finalize my packing I'll do a quick blog  to let you know what I'm taking and why.  When I get back I'll put up a quick blog to let you know which gear choices were a disaster and which ones were genius.

Best, Kirk


A Youth Misspent at the Printer.

When I ran an advertising agency I spent a lot of time doing press checks at the printers around town.  Never done a press check?  Sounds more glamorous than it is.  Or to quote early Ian Fleming, "It reads better than it lives."  Most printed pieces aren't very chic.  They tend to be utilitarian and straightforward.  You go to the press check to monitor quality.  It's your job to make sure that the guy whose responsibility it is to make sure all four colors line up together, and that there isn't a color cast or banding or weak colors does his job correctly.  And, as most veteran art directors will tell you.....most press checks happen in the middle of the night.  After a nice dinner and a glass of wine you tend to sit around the house waiting with a certain amount of dread for the phone call that lets you know, "We'll probably have your job on press around 11:00 pm."  When you get there you'll find out that printers have a whole different way of telling time and it's usually an hour behind whatever watch you're wearing.
So, you're a photographer, why should you care about the four color printing process?  Well, isn't this where you'd ultimately like your images to end up?  Are you content seeing them at 1200 pixels, splashed across Joe IT Guy's uncalibrated Dell monitor from 2002?  If you're like most photographers you dream of seeing your work in wonderfully rich magazines, in books and in annual reports and brochures.  And on that ultimate of two dimensional reproductive porn, the poster.  Well this really won't help much because photographers are rarely asked to do press checks unless they are good friends of the art director or they are paying for the job themselves.  

I didn't intend this to be about the nuts and bolts of four color printing anyway.  It's just that I came across this DVD in the archives and I'd forgotten all about this job I did for Hixo back in 2005.  We were illustrating some technical software products that were meant to bring tight and repeatable color management to the wet and sloppy craft of super high quality printing.  I never did find out what happened to the job but I did get paid and I did file these images under, "completed".  Which meant that I did my part.  (But here's a wretched secret I need to share with all those people dreaming of joining into the remarkable fun of freelance photography-------half the jobs you shoot get killed.  The best of the best rarely see the light of day.  Some concern or shift in the marketing strategy kills them as quickly as cyanide.....thought it only fair to warn you).   

I spent a day at the old Lithoprint printing plant just off IH-35 near downtown Austin.  We shot all the steps of having something printed in four or five or six colors.  I love the industrial ethos of the forty or fifty foot long Heidelberg presses.  I love the smell of the custom mixed inks sitting next to the giant grey machines in gallon sized paint cans.  And I love the guys who master the craft and, after years of training and apprenticeship, fire up these big monsters and get every step perfect so that spinning blankets and wet colored goo end up making discreet spots on paper with no shift from color to color.  Fast, wet color.
 While we always hated and feared the press check because of the big monkey wrenches it could throw at us we always walked out satisfied and proud of the work.  Going back as an observer.  A paid observer felt in some ways, privileged.  As though I'd skirted some recurring rite of passage and been invited into the lion's den without being hazed.
The thing I always forget is how loud it is in the busy print shops.  Big presses make big noise and the sound of large, thick press sheets being sucked off their tray and into the gaping maw of the German presses had it's own unique quality.  It's cliche but most of the time presses run like....well oiled machines.  None of the nozzle clogs that used to vex us ink jet printers.

So, I needed to use cameras that I could depend on for good available light performance and high sharpness.  I also wanted thick, rich colors.  For me, back a few years that meant two cameras that I loved using.  One is the Olympus e300 with it's 14-54 lens used at 400 ISO and the other camera, the one I used predominantly, was the venerable Kodak DCS-760 with a whopping six megapixels.  AND ABSOLUTELY NOISELESS AT ISO 80!!!!!  While everything moved we learned with slower camera to pay attention to the peaks of action where momentum would stop and people would freeze.  We also learned how to put these miracle cameras on tripods, making them as sharp (indeed, in many instances, sharper) today's 24 megapixel cameras.  
I will confess to loving a mix-matched lens/camera combination back then.  Nikon had just come out with the 10.5 mm fisheye lens for use on their DX cameras.  I disregarded protocol and jammed one on the DCS 760.  Look!  It vignettes on the edges.  And especially in the corners.  Of course I could crop that out but I really like the look.  

Most of the shots done here were shot at shutter speeds ranging from 1/2 a second to around 1/30th of a second.  No crazy 10 frames per second needed or wanted.  And white balance was all over the map.  But amazingly both cameras could be custom white balanced on the spot and this made post processing a snap.  That being said, I wanted the cyan and yellow mix that I got in the unbalanced photo below because it was more emotionally exact while being a bit dramatic.

Shooting on site, at someone else's office, by their grace and patience means that you can't be demanding and you can't be insistent.  You learn to be like water in a Zen koan and learn to divert around the rocks in the stream and find the paths of least resistance that move you forward on your path.  If you don't know how to make friends quickly, and show an honest interest in someone's daily work process, then this kind of work isn't for you.  Me?  I love industrial documentation almost as much as I love portraits and I love to do portraits more than most people love chocolate or money.  We got what we wanted. Made few friends.  Burned no bridges and didn't spill any ink.  It was a day well spent.

 We always talk about cameras and lenses but I must give an ample share of credit for the quality of these images to my noble tripod.  it's a ten year old Gitzo with a lot of miles on it but it's never gotten loose or shaky and it handles everything I throw at it.  It's nice to have a piece of gear that can actually freeze motion.....and freeze time.  All the best, Kirk

The Olympus SEMA-1 Arrives.

If you've read this blog for a while you know I've been an Olympus camera fan for a while but I've been critical of Olympus for shipping a really nice crossover video camera (the EP2) without shipping the one attachment that every video user needs/wants/craves.  That would be an attachment that would allow us to use external microphones while recording video.  Today I came home to find a Fed Ex package by my door and I was so happy to find that it contained the SEMA-1.

It's not a big thing but every video maker worth their salt wants to be able to use the right microphone for the job.  On my last video we made good use of a Sennheiser shotgun microphone to get decent sound without showing the microphone. The SEMA-1 consists of two parts.  The important one is the EMA-1 adapter which has the same plug interface as the EVF finder.  It replaces the EVF finder and provides you with a mini plug that accepts stereo microphones.

Some will wail about the tragic loss of the beautiful EVF finder and while I will mourn the loss while making videos I knew that was the deal when I purchased the camera.  With one of the Hoodman 3.0 Loupe wedged up against the back LCD it's not really that big of an imposition.

The other part of the package is a nifty little stereo microphone with an extension cable and a tie clip for attaching the microphone to people's clothing.  Nice touch.  I used the microphone to record some audio in the the studio with the mic clipped to my shirt.  And while there is some hiss this comes totally from the ALC (auto level control) on the camera side.  Canon's 5D was also ALC when first launched but yesterday they announced a firmware upgrade that brings up the camera to professional standards by adding manual level controls.  I don't expect that Olympus will do that on a consumer level product but we can always ask.......

In my mind it will be enough for countless crossover video/photographers to consider using the EP2 as a professional video tool.  In my mind I'll be able to use the  EMA-1 and my choice of microphones for most of my interview jobs.  If something is really "sound critical" I'll record it on a separate digital audio recorder, just to be safe.

The cable supplied is only six feet long but it's a standard termination on both ends and you can always pick up a longer and better shielded cable at you closest Radio Shack or from Amazon.com's endless resource of vendors.

Below is how the SEMA-1 looks all packaged together.  My take?  I think it is a simple and elegant solution that let's me get back to work.  If you are at all interested in recording good sound with your EP2 or EPL you'll want the EMA-1.  I'm almost certain that it will only come packaged with the microphone but that seems to be the way marketing committees work.  I may come to like their little microphone.  Time will tell.
When you've got everything on a fluid head tripod it works pretty well even without the best EVF finder around.  Tools are just tools, after all.  Here's my brief review of the microphone sound after my brief test, described above:  It's not bad.  It picks up a lot of room resonance and echo and is a little weak in the bottom registers but the overall effect is clean and crisp.

Now I'll get to work and put the camera and a shotgun mic through the torture test and report back.  For now we have achieved a state of happiness.  Of sorts.


A video about the Magnum Print Collection.

The Magnum Photo Collection from kirk tuck and will van overbeek on Vimeo.
An interview with Harry Ransom Center curator of photography , David Coleman, about the Magnum Photo Collection which the Harry Ransom Center will be working with for the next five years. David talks about the contents and significance of this collection which includes some of the most important journalistic photographs of the twentieth century.

Imagine standing next to curator, David Coleman, on the quiet fifth floor of the Humanities Research Center, as he carefully opens an old Ilford photo paper box and starts to leaf thru a whole sheaf of vintage Henri Cartier Bresson work prints.  We turn one over and see the penciled signature and the appended, typewritten caption on the back.........

Let's rewind for a second.  A little history.  In the 1940's thru the 1970's most photojournalists  shot their assignments on black and white film and the medium of delivery to clients (mostly magazines and newspapers) was a black and white print.  The prints were intended to be returned to the photographer or the agency after their use.  Over the years the world's preeminent photo agency, Magnum, stockpiled nearly 200,000 work prints by the greatest names in documentary photography.  Now, in an age where most intellectual properties are digitized for delivery, they no longer required these prints to do their business.  What to do with two 18 wheeled tracker trailer trucks full of the 20th century's most important prints?

The answer came from Michael Dell.  He purchased the collection and is loaning the entire inventory to the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin for the next five years.  Students and academics will be able to study all aspects of the prints.  I'm anticipating some really great shows of the work at the Center.

That's the background.  How do I fit in?  I got a call from brilliant advertising photographer and sometime video shooting partner, Will van Overbeek, who asked if I would help him shoot a video about the new collection for online magazine, Glasstire.  When I heard the details of the project I was in. (I would have been in anyway for another chance to work with Will..).

We hauled our usual assortment of gear over to the Humanities Research Center and found a fun location amidst stacks of portfolio boxes with labels like, "Henri Cartier Bresson: China",  "Joseph Koudelka", "Yugoslavia", "Gill Peress".  We interviewed David Coleman, the curator, in the middle of this rich treasure trove of images.

I was amazed to see dozens of new prints from masters whose work I thought I knew well.  Many had never been presented to the public before.  It was a rare privilege.

Will and I shared directing and editing duties.  We used his Canon 5D mk2 for capture.  

Will is no stranger to the Humanities Research Center's photo department.  His 2008 show of Barton Springs is in their permanent collection.  

If you are in Austin the HRC is a must visit.  The first two exhibits when you walk in the front door are the Gutenberg Bible and the first photograph.  Amazing.