12.21.2011

A break in our usual programming for a commercial announcement.

Yes. I am an opinionated curmudgeon at times and you don't always agree with me.  But I've worked hard to put up over 800 articles that are at least tangential to the art/craft that binds us all together here: Photography.  Like most freelance photographers in our modern milieu I have to wear several hats to keep the home fires stoked, keep sustenance on the table and afford running shoes for our in-house cross country runner.  I do this in a fragmented and multi-threaded way that requires me to be passably good at several things and to mix them all together at once.  It's not enough to write about concepts and trends and favorite cameras without some "proofs of concept."  Namely, photographs. I write the articles and I'm also the VSL staff photographer.  I spend a lot of time chasing new and existing clients because I forgot to sign up for the trust fund.  I also make money by writing books about photography and that's where this commercial announcement is headed.  If you would like to support the VSL blog it would be great if you would consider clicking on the links below and ordering one, two, three, four or all five of the books I've written.  You'll get the usual hefty discount off the cover price and what I hope you'll think are valuable books.  I'll get a commission from Amazon (that won't cost you a cent) and I'll get a royalty for each book sold from my publisher.  

Now,  if you are the marketing director of a multinational (or national, or even local) business that uses photography and you've already purchased the books in the past, please consider hiring me for your next project.  I promise to do a really nice job for you. :-)

I've also tagged on three books from Texas based photographers who are all good friends and wonderful photographers.  Michael O'Brien's book, On Hard Ground, sold out in a little over five months but you can pre-order now to be sure and get a copy from the next printing, which is already in progress.  My LED book is also at the printedrs and I'll let you know when we get close.  It's generating lots of interest and I've had numerous requests for review copies from magazines and large, photo oriented websites.  It seems that using LED panels for production lighting is now coming on to everyone's radar.  In a big way.

That's it for my glancing commercial message.  Help move VSL forward if you can.  If you can't, or don't want to don't worry, the content is free and you are always welcome here.  Happy Holidays from the "management."


My Lighting Book



My Location Lighting Book


My Studio Book


The Business Book







I also wanted to throw in links to my two favorite cameras of the year:  The Nikon V1 and the Olympus EP3.  I bought both, with cold hard cash, and have no regrets about either purchase.  Both are great "system" carry anywhere cameras.  You might want one for the holidays....



Thanks for your support.  Kirk











12.20.2011

The Work Print.

This was a test print that didn't get washed very well.  It was rescued from the trash and re-washed and I love the way it looks.  It's naturally, chemically and physically distressed.  It didn't happen randomly.  It happened over time.  


I like stuff that's part of the thought process.  When we process on the computer we rarely save the interim steps.  With prints they are all interim steps because, if we like the actual image enough, we're always trying to reprint it to get everything just right.  We never get there and that's part of the joy and challenge of the process....

Portraits and space.


When the days of large studios for every working photographer came to an end it changed my style of doing portraits.  I always liked the look of long lenses for portraits and even longer distances between the subject and the background.  The further back from a subject that I could put the background meant two things:  1.  I could keep all the unwanted light off the background and I could light it as a totally separate plane.  And, 2.  I could place just about any surface or texture in the background and be able to render it totally out of focus if I wanted to.

My last "real" studio was in a music warehouse in east Austin with a shooting space that was sixty five feet deep.  I shot many of my portraits with a 250mm lens on a medium format camera and routinely placed the background 25 or 30 feet back from my sitter.  This gives you an awesome control over the intensity and depth of your shadow areas and goes a long way toward creating drama in a photograph.   Now, when I'm scouting locations I'm always looking for the longest unencumbered space I can find.

My dream studio would have 24 foot ceilings and a shooting space that's 30 feet wide by 100 feet deep. I'd paint the ceiling matte black and the floor a neutral, battleship grey.  I'd leave the walls white so I don't go crazy but I'd make sure I had lots and lots of black drape to put over them as needed.  Then I'd spend all my time trying to do portraits like the one above.  And that would make me pretty happy.

Hope the holidays are coming along well for you.  Keep in mind that not everyone does well with holidays and give them some extra space or some extra love.  Whichever they need.  And if you can swing it, consider setting up a simple, temporary studio in your home for the holidays.  It's so rare for families to come together and it might be nice to get some small group shots and individual portraits.  Maybe even print them out and give em away.  You'll find that people love portraits more than they think....

I turned in my last job this morning and returned all the props.  I had my first afternoon totally free from work today.  I swam at noon with my master's team, had lunch at the vegan bar at Whole Foods and strolled around town with both the Nikon V1 and the Olympus EP3 stuck into a new, little Lowepro Sling bag.  Comfy.  The Pen for high speed lenses and the Nikon for the zooms.  Not a bad way to decompress.  Cappuccino at Caffe Medici on 2nd Street and Congress Ave. and then back home to nap on the couch with the dog.  Happiness is a warm dog.


Prints. Sharing. Archiving.

Lou.  Printed on Oriental Seagull Warm Tone Paper.  From a 35mm negative shot in a Contax RTS 3 camera with an 85mm Zeiss Planar lens.  

Back in the hallowed days of yore we needed to share the images we made with our friends, clients and collaborators.  But we did not have a thing called the "internet" that was useful in any way to artists of the time because simply loading a scanned image (if we'd had scanners that could do great file from negatives.....) would have taken forever because we used a process called, "dial up."  A one meg file might take hours and hours to upload.  And where would we have uploaded it too?  There was no Flickr or Shutterfly or Piccasa.  Nothing.  

Put it on our website?  Pre-1996 very few of us actually had websites.  Very few.  

No, we shared in a quaint and inefficient way back then.  We made paper prints.  

Here was the process:  We'd photograph our model or subject in the studio and when we finished and had exchanged pleasantries and promised each other that we'd do this again "real soon" we parted company and I would get down to the other 95% of the work.  First I'd go into the darkroom (we called it that because it really was dark.  It had to be dark for the processes to work) and I would carefully open a canister of film  and even more carefully wind it on a metal reel.  If you didn't do it just right the film would stick together in the developer and become ruined.  I'd do this with four rolls of film at a time.  Once the film was on the reels I'd stick it into a metal developer tank and make sure the light tight lid was firmly on top.

I'd mix developer and water and then, with a baggie of ice cubes or a baggies of microwaved rocks I'd raise of lower the temperature of the solution to 68 degrees (f), figure out the time needed for development in the style I wanted and then pour the solution into the tank.  Suppose my process called for eight minutes.  I had to pay attention the whole eight minutes because the tank would need to be agitated every 30 seconds. (If you were using a highly dilute solution of Rodinal for better edge effects you might only agitate every minute but your developing times would be longer).  

As soon as the timer hit the right time I'd open a little cap on the top of the lid, quickly pour out the developer solution and replace it with a solution of glacial acetic acid and water.  This was called stop bath and would stop the developer activity.  A thirty second time period, with constant agitation was usually just right.  Then I would dump that solution and replace it with a fixer solution, which also required manual agitation.  Joy of joys.  Once the film was fixed I would open the tank and rinse out the fixer with fresh water.  Then the film would go into a series of wash steps intermixed with a dunk into a fixer neutralizing solution.  Once washed (an hour?) the film would be dipped into a dilute solution of a Kodak product called, Photo Flo, which helped the film dry without water spots.  The wet film would be carefully squeegied between my fingers and placed to dry overnight in a dust free cabinet.  The film would just hang there like bats...

If I shot more than four rolls I would need to repeat the whole process until all the film was developed.  

In the morning I'd carefully take down the dry film, cut it into strips of five negatives each and put it into archival pages.  We did this both for storage and because it was a great was to hold the film in place for making contact sheets.  I won't bored you with the construction of contact sheets but it was just like printmaking and it gave me a thumbnail of each image on the roll.  Very helpful for editing.

Once I'd selected an image I would put the negative in the enlarger.  But I need to step back and say that each film format used a different negative carrier that would hold the film flat and in place in the enlarger.  It was the fashion (for about 50 years) to cut out the negative carrier so you could see the edges of the film.  This was to ensure that the negative carrier didn't encroach into the "live" film area so you could print all the detail on the negative.  It was also an artistic affectation which was, when used, meant to show that you had not cropped any part of the negative in your print making.  Attesting to the fact that you had "seen" the final image at the time of capture.

The carriers generally did not come filed out and this meant that each practitioner would sit around in the evening after buying his new enlarger or just a new negative carrier and file out the sides.  Too much and the negative waffled in the gate.  Not enough and the carrier covered a small portion of the frame.

So the line you see around the image of Lou is raw light shining through the clear edge of the film negative.

To print you needed three basic chemical solutions.  Developer, stop bath and fixer.  You also needed a print washer.  Especially in the days before RC coated papers which required shorter wash times.  I won't bore you with the techniques for getting exactly the exposure you wanted or the manual and largely unrepeatable process of burning and dodging but it was a skill acquired by hard experience and there was never an "undo" command.

All the actual work was done under red lights that limited your ability to see the actual tones you were producing on the paper.  You were, for some intents, flying blind.  After developing (with agitation) and stop bathing (with agitation) and fixing (with agitation) you would then wash the print very, very thoroughly.  Think hours.  And I won't go into selenium toning because the pleasures and pains of the process are still vivid to me in an uncomfortable way....

Once you made your double weight, fiber paper prints and they turned out alright (ask me about "dry down") you would need to dry them face down, on clean screens, overnight and then, if you wanted them to live life flat you might also need to smash them between pieces of smooth art board in a hot dry mount press.

Now you were ready to show off your work.  Well, not quite.  No matter how much you tried to eliminate dust it found its way to the negative and became little white spots on my prints.  Just like dust on your camera sensors now.  With "modern" technology we can just clone those nasty little suckers but, back then, we had to do yet another time consuming process.  One that, if you haven't done your own darkroom work you won't even believe.....

We took little bottles of dyes and tiny thin brushes and actually "spotted" our prints.  It was painstaking and took remarkable patience and hand skills.  And since every paper emulsion had a different color tone or color cast, and since the spot toner had to match the emulsion color, you had to become an expert at mixing colors for the papers you'd use.  Think months of practice and hours per print for perfection (rarely fully achieved).

Now you could put them in a box, use a land line telephone to call a friend and meet for coffee so you could show them your prints.  And given how difficult the whole process is we were very careful to keep our coffee cups far way from the box of prints.  We might even wash our hands before sifting through the two dimensional treasures.  And when our friend, client or collaborator had finished looking at the prints we'd carefully put them back into the box where they would wait for the next showing.

That's the reason I scanned and put the results of an actual print on the top of this post.  I thought it would make a nice decoration for the short process history lesson.

As you can see photography was a very intensive process for the people who wanted total control.  Certainly I could have taken my film to a commercial lab but what most people didn't know was that black and white development was/is a very sensitive process and different times, different developers and even different agitation methods produced remarkably different negatives that looked and printed differently.  We didn't do our own stuff because we wanted to, we did it because we felt we HAD to.

I know, I know you spent a whole weekend calibrating your new monitor and making profiles for your printer.  Now you're a craftsman.  Well, maybe so but the next time you hear a photographer talk about how frustrating it is to have learned so many techniques and skills only to find them out of fashion in the current milieu you will understand how arduous the processes once were.

And if a photographer from the 1930's read this he'd laugh and call me a "wuss" for not mixing my own chemicals from scratch or having to depend on super fast, ISO 100 films.  And he, in turn, would be called a "dandy" by practitioners from the 1890's for not handcoating his own glass plates.... and so on.

The real bottom line is that the only important thing is the vision....and yet, the process, to a large degree, determines the vision of each generation and that's what we are constantly building on.

Digital has done much to make photography accessible to an enormously great percentage of the population who, in earlier times, would not have been able to afford either the time or the materials needed to undertake imaging as a hobby.  That they can do so now at the touch of a button is a two edged sword.  Efforts are always more focused the more skin you have in the game.

Anyway, that's how it was and is still done in the traditional film space.  Just thought the younger photographers might find it interesting.  The hardest part was and is finding the right models and figuring out what it is you want to say.



12.19.2011

Well...the weather outside is frightful but the fire is so delightful...

Paris.  Late October.  Contax S2.  135mm Sonnar 2.8. Tri-X film.

It's turned colder in Austin.  The city is bustling with holiday shopping and the frantic last minute attempts to finish out business and bill it before the calendar comes to a close.  I've been working on a wonderful job shooting books as three dimensional products and then shooting the same books in lifestyle situations.  Books with gardeners.  Books in coffee shops.  Books in art galleries.  Books in your new home.

I've been working with one camera and one lens for the lifestyle images.  That would be the the Canon 1ds mk2 combined with the Zeiss 85mm 1.4.  We shoot all of it at ISO 160 and if there's not very much light we go "old school."  We use a tripod.  Amazing, the quality you can get if you do your techniques correctly.  The client was looking for narrow depth of field so we spent two days shooting at f2.5 to f3.5.  Occasionally we'd get all nutty and shoot at f4.  I've spent most of the day working with the files.  The client chose 38 for their national campaign.  The images are amazing.  A core central area of extreme sharpness that slides smoothing to totally ambiguous and romantic areas of soft focus in the backgrounds.  The side of an iPad in razor sharp relief and three feet away the arm and hand of a beautiful woman almost abstractly out of focus.

In the studio we were aiming for absolute sharpness.  I used a Canon 5Dmk2 on a sandbagged tripod and shot the books with big LED panels.  You could see every nuance of light and reflection.  Making corrections to optimize the light was child's play compared to the same set ups using flash. (Believe me, I spent two years and shot thousands of books for a national bookseller, using flash and large format film back in the late 1980's).

I used the camera's live view settings to set up the shots and to counter any mirror slap.  My lens of choice was the 90mm Tamron 2.8 SP macro.  Amazingly sharp.  And it doesn't fall apart at f16 like other optics.  I used a remote trigger to make it all go without ever having touch the camera.  The hard part was determining the correct distribution of focus over the book.

After I shot all the books I went into Photoshop and carefully, using the pen tool, created clipping paths for the art director.  We did 70 books over the weekend.  We clipped and retouched irregularities in the book's surface and did stringent color corrections.  In fact, I had the books right next to my work station just to compare color.

The client is happy and I'm happy.  It was the last job of the year.  I'll deliver the final images on DVD's tomorrow.  The year is wrapping up.  It's been so much better, business-wise, that the three that proceeded it.  Billings are up.  The quality of jobs is up and my satisfaction with the jobs is commensurately higher.

On a personal note it's been a good year.  I'm swimming with people like Lance Armstrong and Olympians, Shaun Jordan and Aaron Peirsol.  I can't keep up with them but I'm doing the same workouts.  I've finished all the work on my best book yet, the one on LED lights.  The more I use the LEDs the more convinced I am that they WILL become the dominant light source for working photographers and videographers.  My book will (hopefully) be the very first one to market with in depth information about using the lights to their highest value.  Belinda is busy working on many design projects for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Ben is excelling in academics and holding his own in cross country.  In fact, his school swept all categories in their district this year for all levels of cross country.

I could complain about things that are not perfect but it would be churlish and silly.  Life is wonderful and I hope it's the same for you as well.  

My plans for the rest of the year are to shoot as many fun images as I can and to write about photography here on the blog.  I hope you'll come along for the ride.  Can't promise it will all be sweetness and light but if you've been here for a while I don't think you'd expect that....

Best, Kirk

The final blog about phones here at VSL. That would be "mobile" phones...

No photo for this one....


Can we talk frankly for just a minute? Thanks. I wrote a thing last week about iPhoneography and I pissed off everyone on the web. And I finally figured out why. As human beings we love the idea of freedom. We love the idea of individuality and charting our own destiny. It's hard to admit that we sometimes sabotage ourselves. The biggest problem for alcoholics and substance addicts, when it comes to kicking the bad habits, is being able to admit that they have a problem in the first place. Most addicts get angry whenever someone points out how their addiction is ruining their lives and the lives of everyone around them. They lash out. They write angry comments to bloggers.

I was temporarily blind to the big problem. Sure. The cameras in current phones are great. And there's no reason not to use them for lots of different imaging stuff. I guess I'm just hard wired to think that when we go from easy usability to cult status that something's out of kilter. But that's just me. If you can only afford "just a phone" or "just a camera" I think most people probably will take the phone. Especially if it has a camera inside. But most people living in the U.S. never really have to make that choice. Dump your cable or satellite TV fees and you can have....pretty much anything you want.

The camera caught my attention and I lashed out. But it was the wrong target. The reality is that it's cellphones themselves that really piss me off. iPhone-ography was just collateral damage for my rage. But why do I hate (yes HATE) cellphones?

Because of everyone else. Not you and me, of course. We're perfect gentlemen and ladies with our communications gear. No, I hate that woman who just drove her Chevy Suburban through the red light because she was glued to her phone. ("Sorry!" kids in the cross walk. Good dodging skills. Nobody got hurt). And I'm pissed because I met a famous photographer for lunch and, out of the hour we spent together 45 minutes of it was on the cellphone giving directions to his assistant or taking random calls. And I'm pissed because I went to see a movie and it seemed like half the people in the audience popped on their cellphones to text. And instead of the singular glow of the big screen we also had the multiple glow of dozens of hot little light spots in our field of vision. Very, very distracting. And I'm pissed off that I had to wait twice as long for a cup of coffee at Starbucks because the very important man in front of me was....on his cellphone having an inane conversation while the coffee person was trying to use mime and mental telepathy to divine the nature of his order. And I'm pissed off at the cop who ran into the stopped car in front of him because.....he was on his cell phone. And lets not forget the five or six people who literally ran into me at the grocery store while keeping their heads down, texting on their cellphones. And how about the guy who pretty much ruined our night out recently at a very nice restaurant who took a call and talked really loud about his real estate deal at the table next to ours? I was very impressed by his business acumen. But I was trying to use the dark side of the force to choke him with his own steak. And then there's the couple who came to see the one man play in a small, intimate theater, who actually took a phone call in the middle of the play. Oh, and let's not forget the people on Congress Ave. last week. One was so engaged in her cellphone call that she walked out in to traffic when the light was red and caused an accident as cars braked to prevent killing her. But let's also not forget the meeting last month where three "under thirties" and one "over fifty" had their cellphones in their laps so they could read texts while we discussed pre-production. That didn't hurt anyone but all three called, individually, to "get caught up" because they were "pre-occupied" during the meeting. That was an extra hour out of my life.

Of course we've all heard that talking on a cellphone while driving is as distracting and dangerous as having two or three beers before driving. And we know that thousands of people in the U.S. were killed in the last two years by people who lost control because they were.....talking on their cellphones or texting.

So, back to the idea of freedom. We live in a free country and that means you can do stupid stuff to yourself. You can go massively into debt and spend a third of your life working just to service debt you'll never be able to pay off. You can eat yourself to death. You can buy stupid stuff. And you can enslave yourself to your gadgets. Remember the days before cellphones? Your mind was clear and you understood your purpose in whatever moment you were in. There were so few distractions you were able to complete complex tasks in one sitting. You had real friends and you cherished your time together. You were able to look into your lover's eyes without thinking about who might be texting you.....right now.

I watch people and I've read studies. The average person with a smart phone seems to check for text messages every seven minutes. More often if they are not with friends. The average user seems to call "just to check in" with someone every fifteen to seventeen minutes.

"As long as they're not hurting anyone...." Oh, but they are. Men are earning less than ever before. Why? Because they can't multi-task. And women complain about not having enough time in the day. Why? Because studies show they are, on average, consuming 240.9 minutes of media a day. Yes. A day. That's roughly six hours, divided between their computers (non-work related) their iPads and their smart phones. This is time away from family and work. Time spent not exercising. Time not photographing or dancing or painting. Time not spent reading to their children. Time not being productive. Time not earning taxable income. And, recent studies show doctors getting much more involved in practicing malpractice by cellphone chatting during surgery. Pilots talking instead of paying attention to flight control. Police texting while driving. And construction workers texting and talking in unsafe areas. So, no one is getting hurt? Not so, according to statistics.

And I'm mad that we, as a culture, want to give people yet another reason to keep a cellphone in their chubby little hands by encouraging them to use it as a camera. It's already boyfriend, girlfriend, family substitute, time waster, traffic catalyst and social retardant. What more damage can we inflict with a few cubic inches of plastic and circuitry?

So, to me the whole idea of encouraging yet another use of the cellphone (as in photography) is like adding extra nicotine to cigarettes or extra alcohol to your can of hard lemonade. We are enabling a flood of addictive behavior like never before. In fact, if you can disable the voice, e-mail and text capabilities of cellphones and use them just as cameras then.....I'm all for it.

Does the application of technique, de facto, make everything it touches "art"?



Gary Winogrand taught photography at UT when I was a student there.  He would stroll the main drag looking for interesting people to photograph nearly everyday.  He would also stop into the stereo (home electronics) shop where I worked part time to listen to the exciting audio gear that was hitting the market at the time.  He generally carried two old, banged up Leica M's with him.  A 28mm lens on one and a 35mm or 50mm on the other.

He is widely quoted as saying that he "photographed things to see how they would look photographed."  Which implies that photography itself changes things and it does so, sometimes, in interesting ways.  But he didn't manipulate his images in post processing.  He presented straight black and white prints to his audience so they could share the slice of the past that he captured and hence, owned.

He was a voracious shooter and left behind thousands and thousands of rolls of film that were shot but undeveloped.  And more film that had been developed by not contact printed and examined.  He was obviously in a hurry to shoot as much as he could.

In a very real sense we've made an enormous aesthetic and theoretical schism from the photography of Gary's time to present work.  A current and powerful aspect of photography is the routine post processing and random manipulation of images we take.  Since many of the applied effects are supplied in a random fashion by the software used I wonder if the thoughtful practice of either previsualizing or conceptualizing the final effect is still in play.  Or whether the idea of "satori" and instant recognition at the time of capture is still relevant.

But, at the core, the question really is this.  Does the random and yet nearly statistical homogenous application of effects (canned or otherwise)  bring value to the core image or, through its overuse does the same manipulation actually devalue the image?

The analogy that pops into my mind is hot sauce.  Lots of people like the tang and bite of good salsa and, taken in moderate quantities it adds a special flavor and spice to regional foods.  But there has become of subset of hot sauce fans who, having burned out their taste buds through egregious overuse, look for hotter and hotter versions of the sauce and take delight in their ability to ingest it without running for a huge glass of water (best to try milk instead).

It almost seems to me that instead of working to find more interesting things to see or more interesting ways to express the things we can already see that we have developed an immunity to subtlety and grace and are on the "hot sauce" search for more and more "heat" in our images.  And we apply liberal canned manipulations like salsa fans dumping more and more habanero sauce over their plate of enchiladas, huevos rancheros or even meatloaf.  At some point the power of the spice and pepper overwhelms the dish we're trying to savor.  The salsa becomes the quest rather than being the adjunct to fine foods.

People move through their lives quickly and I'm guessing that the fragmented quality of modern existence requires more and more stimulus in order to capture attention.  And the preponderance of images also demands that ever more "hot sauce" be applied to make them "burn" and stand out.

At some point we realize that the "wrapper" has taken precedence over the content.  We're buying the shiny aluminum foil and not the chocolate.  I don't have any answers.  I just know that we're heading in a direction where style trumps meaning.  It's nice to be able to perceive intention and direction in content, not just in the wrappers.

I get that every new art form is challenging at first.  But the real question is whether the application of glitter to the canvas really counts...

The joy of ambient light portraits...

...even if the ambient light is well controlled.  We did this portrait of Heidi for book #2.  That's the one about studio lighting.  We (Amy and I) bounced light from the morning sun in the east off a 4x4 foot silver panel sitting ten feet up on a stand outside the studio, in through the bank of west facing windows, thru some soft diffusion and onto Heidi's beautiful face.  A little bit of passive fill to the opposite side, with a piece of white foamcore, and we were done.  Can't do it today.  It's gray and cloudy now.

12.18.2011

Prove it.

I love to read the forums.  Everyone's an expert.  They dissect photography like it's physics.  It's all talk and conjecture.  Looking for the magic bullet that will make their pictures something more than sharp whiskers on a cat or an ultra-fluffy HDR sunset.  They talk about "per pixel sharpness" and "nyquist" and "Fournier" and "Bayer Array" this and that and all sorts of other stuff than means something if you are making a camera and absolutely nothing if you are shooting a camera.  They stake their hopes on DXO and math.

And if quantifiable analysis created art we'd be surrounded by masterpieces.  We'd be begging for mediocrity. We'd be overwhelmed.  But no matter how cool and sharp and noiseless the cameras become it's all just so much bullshit until we put something wonderful in front of the lens and push the button at just the right time.  That's the only set of metrics that matter.

You're a photographic genius?  Show me the work.

Agfapan 25 APX.  Hasselblad 2003.  150mm 2.8F.  

My most interesting camera purchase of 2011.

I've been working on an advertising project since last monday and while I don't really want to go into detail about it right now I did spend all day yesterday and most of today doing clipping paths on 70 images that my client would like to get tomorrow.  I had an internal deadline of sorts.  I wanted to finish in enough time to have some daylight left for walk through downtown.  It seems a bit counterintuitive to push a photography project out the door so that you can go and do more photography but, in truth, my walks through downtown are more of a walking meditation with a side order of looking at things further away than my monitor.  

It was gray and sulky and flat by the time I got down to 5th St. and Lamar to park my car but I didn't care.  I try not to have conscious agenda or intention when I start out and that goes for the weather as well.  For today's walk I decided to take my favorite camera purchase of 2011 with me.

I've bought some interesting cameras this year.  I bought an EP3 which I use on a fairly regular basis and find to be a very comfortable and workable rig when combined with any number of older lenses.  I'm especially partial to the feel and operation of the EP3 with some of the older manual focus Pen FT lenses that I've written about.  For about 90% of my Pen shooting I've used the 40mm 1.4 FT lens that was part of the kit Belinda gave me last year for the holidays.  I also love the look of the 60mm FT lens when I use it well at its maximum aperture of 1.5.  Pretty snazzy for old tech......

But much as I enjoy both the look and feel of the Pen EP3, and its older sister the EP2, that camera didn't make it into the car for today's adventure.  I know you're probably mentally jumping ahead and figuring that I took the new, little Nikon V1 and a pocketful of lenses.  And I really considered it as I was zero-ing in on the last five or six tedious, point by point clipping paths.  I've used it a lot lately and I'm really getting comfortable with it.  It's always on my short list for its tremendous and tenacious image stabilization alone.  But today I was in the mood for something with a little more meat on the files.  Something......depthy.

That last statement might lead straight to the assumption that I talked myself into a film frenzy and dragged out on the two Hasselblads that came back home, so to speak, to roost.  Nothing really beats the image one can massage out of a nice 500 series body, some Zeiss glass and a few rolls of ISO 100 transparency film but, with the low light of late winter and the afternoon growing long in the tooth I would have needed to haul around a tripod and after a turbulent week of being beaten up on line I hardly had the energy to leave the house, much less to go out in full equipment-nerd regalia.  No, the Hasselblads stayed all snuggled up in their drawer, surrounded by their lenses for company.  While the 250 boxes of Tri-X tugged at my heartstrings I just couldn't do it.

So I went semi-old school and tried to walk the middle path.

The camera that has consistently interested me the most this year, and the camera/lens combination that's returned the most income and the greatest number of images that make me smile for 2011 is one of those choices that I have a hard time explaining to most other photographers.  The camera is heavy and "outdated" and the lens is inconvenient to use.  But there's something about the images that come from the combination that work for me.  It's not the ISO performance because, frankly at 1600 I'd do just as well with the Nikon V1.  And it's certainly not the pocketability  because there's no pocket big enough to swallow this combo.  And it's not the AF performance because, well, the lens is manually focused.  I'd love to say I chose this camera for the incredible LCD screen on the back and its amazing live view chops but.....the screen is tiny, sucks and is probably my least favorite thing about the camera.

I took the Canon 1DS mk2 that I bought from my friend, Paul.  I coupled it with my Zeiss 85mm 1.4 ZE lens.  And I felt a calmness come over my shooting that's totally different from the smaller or larger cameras I've used.  Here's the deal from my point of view:  Even though the 5Dmk2 is supposed to have a totally superior sensor I'm not buying it.  I like to shoot at 100, 200 and 400 ISO and I find that the ancient 1DS mk2 is wonderful and rich right there.  Couple it with a fast lens and the imaging world is your oyster.  Unless you're allergic to shellfish.  The camera does a good job of letting me know when the monster big lens is in focus and the lens, in turn, does its part by slamming out sharp images even wide open.  By f2.8 it's a pixel peeper paradise and by f4 the same pixel peepers think they're being tricked because they've never seen anything as sharp.

If I could go back in time and do my odd camera shopping all over again this year I would do things differently.  I'd pass on the Nikon system  and use the same slice of budget pie to snap up the new Carl Zeiss 25mm f2 ZE.  I'd have passed on all the Pen stuff and bought another mint condition, used Canon 1DS mk2 body and I'd have forgone the Hasselblad stuff and bought the 100 Makro Carl Zeiss lens as well.  Of course, I never plan things out this well and if I had done that it would all be for naught in a few months when Canon finally launches the 1DX and it turns out to the be the most amazing thing with a Canon logo ever built.  I'm always second guessing myself and regretting one decision or another.  

I really like the sharpness and depth of field one gets at f1.6 with an 85mm lens.
It seems to mirror how older eyes see.

 There's a wonderful joy in just standing in front of rotating doors and lining up a shot.
A little to the left. A little to the right. No, just a bit more to the right.   Yes.
I've walked past this building for over thirty years and never looked up from the sidewalk.
It's like a giant, inverted, square pipe organ.  And the repeating patterns are fun.

I've turned off the blog comments for the rest of 2011 which is only really a week and a half but looking on the bright side I won't have to read through comments that tell me what a moron I am for using X camera instead of Y camera.  Or being labeled a fascist because I feel random "art" generators don't really make art. (And Susan Sontag concurred).

What is sillier than a jewelry store window after closing time?  Just naked semi-necks looking forelorn in the show windows.  I liked it better when they kept the watches in the windows all the time.
I guess that kind of trust went out with film.....






Austin is in such a state of transition right now.  We have scads and scads of new high rises put on a checker board next to all the old bars and music clubs and historic buildings.  We're caught between new wealth and the previous generation of eccentric, casual and inexpensive existence.  Cyclists and drivers of vintage pick up trucks vie with Aston Martins, Maseratis and Bentleys for lane space and parking.  The cost of everything downtown has sky-rocketed while everything outside the magic two mile radius of the state capitol is largely unchanged.  I'm reminded of the schism every time I walk through downtown.  My favorite coffee shop is in the bottom floor of one of the poshest high rise residence towers extant.  Lucky's is a few block away.  I watch the valet parking staff whisk away the shining chariots of the lucky few while the musicians who play at Lucky's sometimes arrive on the bus.  Or in a van that's almost as old as I am and even more creaky.

So, what counts as "real" photography and what doesn't?  How the hell should I know.  I've heard a lot of differing opinions this week.  But the best thing I read was about 2/3rd of the way through Susan Sontag's book, On Photography.  She made the point that a photograph is an art form but photography is not an art form, it's a process.  During her life newer typewriters and then word processors came to market but good writing remained as illusive as ever.  It echoes a quote that my friend, Bill, posted recently from the Guardian.  It goes like this: The strange thing about photography is that although it's been revolutionised by digital technology, at heart it's the same medium that entranced Louis Daguerre, Eugène Atget and André Kertész, to name just three of its early masters. And although it's become much easier to take photographs that are technically flawless (in terms of exposure and focus), it's just as difficult to capture aesthetically satisfying images as it was in the age of film and chemicals. It turns out that technology is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for creating art.
I would conjecture now, as I have repeatedly, that the creation of anything approaching art takes a lot of practice, a lot of trial and error, a good dose of heading in the opposite direction from the rest of the crowd and a lot of time in the water.  When you put it all together the catalyst seems to be actually doing the art.

By trying and trying you find out what works for your creative heart and what needs to go into the wastebasket.

I want to thank "Richard" for suggesting that I ditch the comments.  
His argument included the pitch that, if Hemmingway were alive today
there's no way in hell he would solicit feedback from strangers about his writing.
I'm no Hemmingway but it sure was a good way to suck me into the 
premise........

More to come.  Peace and love.