Photographs are physical manifestations of opinions. Opinions about what looks interesting and what doesn't.

Of the nice things people say about photographs (beautiful, balanced, long tones, great composition, wonderful color, outstanding technique, lovely bokeh, etc.) the one aspect that ultimately makes a photograph interesting or not is the content. And, with the exception of pure documentation (here's is an exact photographic copy of your painting...), all photographic content is the expression of an opinion from an artist about what to include in a frame of what to leave out. Once the image has been framed there is an opinion expressed again about how to express the framed content. Will it be black and white? Will it be color? Will the color be accurate or reflect some nostalgic affectation from yesteryear? How big or small with the final photograph be? How contrasty should the image be?
If one takes multiple images of a person how then will the final frame be chosen? What parameters will be used in that process? In the taking of the photograph will the photographer attempt to impose more or less control over the event of the photograph? Will he suggest or demand a certain pose? Will he infer the pose or expression by subtly mirroring what he wants to see in the final frame to his subject?

And where did all these intermingled opinions come from? When we first embark on making art we have a certain amount of life experience and, to be honest, it's the subjective life experiences (and the reactions to the experiences) of each artist that makes work unique. Uniquely interesting or uniquely banal.  

For most of us being young means that we've seen fewer things which might inform our vision. As we grow older we hope(?) that life has unveiled many, many interesting things to us, and those are the touchstones we use to decide what to include in our art and how to include it. But each person comes from a different collage of experiences and studies. And the counterpoint to this wealth of experience and exposure is our self-censorship as we are certain that we've seen something like this before and we're beaten down (by repetition) until we are convinced that our variation of the thing already seen can't equal the samples we've seen from the masters of old. We see the overarching opinion instead of our alterations and additions...

I think we are profoundly affected and trained by so much of what we've seen when we were young and didn't understand anything about the constraints and clich├ęs of art. My earliest visual memories come from a time when my own father was in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis. We lived in a two story apartment and I must have been all of four or five years old. My first visual memories are of light and shadow. The cold, blue, winter light that came in through the living room windows to bath the aging, borrowed furniture in a Sven Nyqvist sort of illumination. Austere and precise light. It was a bright, cold light that rendered soft, thin shadows. Another memory of the time is of me stopping just to stare at the way light came though the spindles on the railing that ran up the stair case and projected shadows on a soft, pale and pastel, yellow wall. It was the same year I really looked at leaves on a tree as being both part of the tree and separate from the tree.

I was not an early age photographer. I only came to photography in my last years at college, and then only as a hobby or a pass time. My training was in literature and, for me, images have their own words attached, even if they are just gratuitous descriptions of what already exists in the photographs. 

I'm sure that the things we see early on are the same things that become part of our process and make up the bulk of our personal work in photography. When I make a portrait looking at the completed images reminds me of the feeling of the session and the words we exchanged while the subject and I collaborated in the making of the portraits. The words intermingle with the graphic-ness and objective content of the images in front of me. My whole endeavor in creating portraits is to first feel deeply attached to the subject and the moment, and second, to try and share the whole feeling, encapsulated precariously onto two dimensions. The experience and the actual piece of art are inseparable to me if it's work that means anything to me. 

This will seem odd or embarrassing for me to admit but I will write it anyway. I have always been captivated by beautiful people in my world. Not a mundane, classic beauty like the blond movie starlets but a deeper and more compelling beauty that flows from the eyes of a subject and from their projection of grace as they move or alight. It's a combination of some inner energy that is resident in some and not in others along with engaging features. It's that kind of beauty that overwhelmed me when I first met my (now) wife so many years ago. And here is the embarrassing thing to admit:

After practicing portraiture and living through the endless process of just living as a photographer I came to my conclusion that your vision is molded by your experiences. If you see beauty around you then it becomes part of your subconscious context for your future existence. For your intellectual choices. When my son was born I made a point to hire the most beautiful baby sitters possible. People already in my sphere of life because of my work or my conscious efforts to be surrounded by interesting people. When we left my son in someone's care in order to go out to a show opening, a reception or an adult dinner, I wanted him to be able to look into the eyes of someone with whom I had photographed and had witnessed the sort of grace and energy I'd experienced from them. For his first three years he spent most of his time with his mother. Of all the people I've photographed she exemplified to me those attributes I had come to value. But his other caretakers were beautiful in their own way as well. You've seen and commented on many of them here on this blog when I've displayed their portraits. In this way I consciously tried to prejudice my child toward an appreciation for a certain kind of beauty. 

If he ever embraces photography, or some other expressive visual art, I hope that grounding will serve to prejudice him to see in a certain way and create opinions that share his internalization of my early efforts to surround him with interesting beauty. 

In some ways it's no different than painting a nursery with soothing colors or supplying plush crib toys for tactile pleasure. 

So, in the end, all compelling photography is nothing more than well seen subjects selected and enhanced through the opinions, created by the life experiences, of the artist. Since that is so it stands to reason that the more richly you experience life and the more widely you travel the richer these visual opinions become. The secret is in sharing them without the attendant cynicism of age/experience intruding upon or retarding your joy at making the art, and understanding that it resides in an ever changing continuum of opinions. Some opinions widely shared and some springing to life because of private experiences that were not as widely shared. Those are the ones that make much good work interesting.  

Just a thought. It goes along with the idea that "to make more interesting work you must become a more interesting person."   Understanding the mechanics of writing a love poem is less important than being in love. At least when attempting to write that love poem. Maybe that's what we are doing when we make good portraits. Even if the feeling is temporary.


Another Portrait from Yesterday's Session. Michelle.

The A7Rii is a wonderful portrait camera. The enormously detailed files allow one to soften parts of images in order to enhance the look without losing the plot. The ability to punch a button with my thumb and have the camera focus specifically on a eye is also a huge sigh of happiness and relief for any photographer vexed by years of DSLRs front and back focusing on beautiful faces, rendering hours of work ultimately unsatisfying. I wish Adobe's Camera Raw would read the correct camera profile I've set instead of defaulting to Adobe Standard, but it's simple enough to change.

The nice realization for me yesterday (and working with the files today....) is how much I like the look and feel of the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. I know everyone reflexively ponies up for the faster, f2.8 lens but I think they'd mostly be happier with a lens that's half the weight, much smaller and at least as equally sharp. I can't imagine that the difference between f4.0 and f2.8 is critical in zooming applications. If I wanted to get less depth of field and still keep things sharp I'm pretty sure I'd be reaching for something like the 135mm f2.0 instead...

At any rate working with the files of someone you really like is such a pleasure. Especially considering that most of our work is the business of meeting strangers, trying to find some sort of connective intersection in mere moments, and then handing off finished images to someone you might never see again. This is, of course, the antidote to that, and the kind of pleasurable occurrence that keeps me making portraits. The most important tool in making portraits might be conversation.

Warning!!! Delicious Food Photographs. Do Not View Before Lunch Hour if your planned destination is fast food. NSFW: Late Afternoon Hunger Alert.

I did this to myself. You know that time when the lunch hour is creeping up and you only have one more appointment for the morning? It's 11:30 a.m. but you get a plaintive call from the person who is supposed to be sitting in the studio in front of you right now. They've got a great excuse. It's an 18 wheeler stuck under the overpass between you and them. It's the flat tire. It's the meeting with the CEO that ran into overtime. Doesn't matter what. The excuse is generally followed with...."I'm sorry but I am on my way. Shouldn't take more than 10 minutes...." And you can be pretty sure that the ten minutes will turn into a half an hour, but you love your customers so you say, "No problem. I've got lots of stuff to work on. Drive safely and I'll see you when you get here..." You put the phone down and the first rumble of hunger echoes around in your belly like marbles in a blender. 

You told a small lie. You finished your pressing work while waiting for the last tardy client. You are bored and you were looking forward to making a nice portrait and then heading over to the house for quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich on that fabulous seven grain Ezekiel bread, along with a big glass of Horizon whole, organic milk. Maybe you'd top it off with a piece of dark chocolate and a fragrant little coffee with a dollop of fresh cream.  Sneak some time to re-read a chapter in that novel you've been sweating over. But now you are chained to your workspace for an indeterminate time. And the second hand on your watch is arguing with the laws of relatively because you definitely know that you are not going the speed of light. Why is the hand moving so slowly? Would time go quicker on a digital watch?

So you commit the error. You browse your image galleries. And then you land on the one with food photos in it. And you scroll and scroll as the acids in your stomach churn in time to the Rollingstones' song you've got playing through the sound system. And you see the food you could be eating. Right now. 

Wine Bottles brought to you by the Sony RX10ii. 

Food above provided by David Garrido and absorbed into the realm of photography by 
a Sony A77 and the 70-200mm f2.8. (The "A's" are making a comeback?).

Or time for a cocktail delivered two dimensionally by the Sony A99 and a 
Rokinon 85mm f1.4.

A dessert from Hudsons on the Bend imaged for you by the Nikon D300 and 
a 6o mm macro lens. 

Another Sony a77 shot from the Rainey Street area. With a cheap 30mm macro.

Maybe some Ravioli at Asti via an ancient Canon 5Dmk2.

And something sparkly from the Hilton. 

But just as you are about to give up, ditch the boring sandwich idea and head to Cantine Italian Grill and Bar for a juicy lamb burger and some spicy brussel sprouts you get the next phone call. "Is your studio on the east side or west side of highway 71?" And you know you're going to spend some quality(?) time as a ground traffic controller for a lost and wayward client while you search around the studio, looking for old Power Bars that aren't too far out of date.... Ah, the glamorous career of photography....Just don't click on the food folder before lunch, it doesn't help anything.

A Portrait of my friend, Michelle. A lovely afternoon in the studio.

One of my goals going forward with the blog is to make and show more portraits. It's something I love to do. I used to worry that my best days as a portrait photographer were behind me but every once and a while a friend whom I photographed twenty years ago will drop by and we'll make fresh portraits. Then I can look and see that the portraits are somehow different than the ones we took years ago but not worse or less emotive to us.

Michelle and I spent an hour talking before we started making photographs. Once we got started we just went with the flow of the afternoon and had fun catching up and being with each other. This image was the very last one of our hour long session. She seems fresher than when we started.

I won't belabor the technical details other than to say that I used a Sony A7rii and took advantage of the eye detection AF. I used the 70-200mm f4.0 FE lens and, contrary to recent practice, lit the session with one large and more small softbox and electronic flash. The only other modifier was a soft, white reflector used to one side.  Fun.

Added a bit later: Here is original color image this black and white rendering is based upon: 


It's Photokina Week. I should be waking up thinking of cameras and lenses. But really, I mostly just thought about swimming.

The Fuji MF camera announcement was fun and interesting. The new Olympus EM-1 mk.2 looks like a really nice upgrade. The Sony a99-2 look promising but engenders some marketing confusion. It's all interesting to someone.

But when I woke up before my alarm clock this morning the dog looked at me incredulously then turned over and went right back to sleep. It was still quite dark outside; like, maybe minus 10 EV. But all I could think about was getting to the pool and jumping into the cold, clear water. I was anticipating the pure joy of fast paced swimming while watching the slow sunrise over the bathhouse and the first brush of the golden glint of fresh sun on the water.

My friends are pretty excited about the new photo stuff. They burrow down into their own system stories and geek out about things that I think are small evolutions. But I haven't touched a camera today and it's almost lunch time.

I've been working on finishing up some marketing postcards (real, physical, paper cards delivered by the post office), and doing the accounting for the state sales tax payment. Answering correspondence, responding to requests for bids on LinkedIn's Pro-Finder program and paying bills. All the stuff that goes on all the time in small businesses everywhere. The stuff we do when we don't have cameras in front of us.

This afternoon I'll address and stamp mailers. I might take a look and see if anyone has posted any breakthrough camera news. But then, at sunset, I'm heading back to the pool to work on some unhurried stroke mechanics. I'm finding that as we get older our technique has to get better and better in order for us to stay competitive.

It's exactly like photography. When we no longer have the advantages of youth, and the connections gained by age parity with art directors and assorted creatives, the thing we can bring to the table is polished vision and deep technique. The stuff you learn the hard way --- with the experience and the passage of time.

In the water, behind the camera, it's all the same. A perfected flip turn saves you time. Having lit a thousand portraits well also saves you time. Daily practice. Unwavering focus. Seems to pay off.


Fadya in the studio. An exercise in lighting with HMIs from K5600.

I know a good percentage of photographers are wed to their flashes. They use em for everything. I'm more promiscuous with my lighting choices. At any one time we'll have racks of professional florescent fixtures, boxes filled with various tungsten lights, SMD LED lights, as well as three different flash systems in the studio. And that doesn't count the inventory of battery operated portables.

The fact is that different lights have a different affect on a photo shoot. Repetitive flash feels bouncy and staccato to me while feel of tungsten puts me into a time machine and takes me right back to the 1950's. HMIs are different. The light seems more liquid and at the same time its color response on sensors creates a look that's different from other sources. Color correct but a stretched out color range. The constant glow doesn't interrupt the give and take of the subject and the photographer. It's well mannered light.

There is a shutter speed, and it's different for nearly every situation, where constant HMI light gives a shutter speed that's fast enough to give the impression of frozen time but shows micro motion in the details that to me more accurately resembles the way our eyes see things. Sharp and soft overlayed on each other in a wonderful way. The faster the speeds the lesser the effect, and vice versa. I love the look I get with the shutter around 1/4th to 1/8th second. It's not a blur but it's not the sort of actinic sharpness that signals techno-fiction.

And, of course, everyone looks best in black and white.

The Sony RX10 ii was a perfect reporter camera for documenting the construction of Cronuts.

The public relations agency that represented  New York City celebrity chef, Dominique Ansel, hired me to cover an event at which the chef created and shared both his world famous Cronuts (a combination croissant and donut) and a new dessert which was a chocolate chip cookie baked in the shape of a small glass. The cookie cup was filled with cold milk and served as a combination dessert/beverage. In a reversal of typical consumption the cookie cup required the lucky recipient to first drink the milk and then eat the remaining cookie... hmmm.

At any rate I covered the event with several cameras but quickly came to rely on the Sony RX10 model two. I used that camera mostly with a bounced, manual flash but the images above were done in a well lit hotel kitchen. The camera easily handled the required ISO 800 setting and the automatic white balance was right on the money.

The beauty of that camera for this kind of work resides in a  combination of strengths. First, it is small and light and requires no ancillary lenses. The range of 24mm to 200mm is ample for most event work. The image stabilization of the camera, in combination with the deeper depth of field, makes handholding in low light a pleasure. And the EVF, in combination with bounced flash made shooting manually a breeze. The instant feedback in the EVF allowed me to fine tune the fish exposures in stride.

While I am happy with the two RX10 models I currently have I do have a suggestion for a future RX10 product which I hope Sony will consider. I'd like to see a model with a much more limited focal length range that is optimized for low light by having a lens that would cover 28mm to about 105mm (equivalent/35mmm) but which would be an f1.8 throughout the range.  I can't imagine that I'm the only event documentarian who would enjoy the extra light gathering ability combined with still decent depth of field when used wide open.

Did I have a Cronut? You bet I did. It was delicious but it required me to swim and extra 15 minutes the next morning to shed the calorie load...  Sacrifice, sacrifice.

A frustrating day. Thank goodness I had nothing urgent booked.

There is street photography and then there is escalator photography. The vintage version (above) includes escalators in European capitols with wooden slates on the steps...

I woke up this morning with a list of things to get done. One was to get my car inspected. In Texas one must get one's car inspected before the registration can be renewed. Seems easy enough. There's Chevron gas station down the road that does state inspections. Usually takes twenty minutes; tops.

I answer my urgent (?) e-mails, read the news, have breakfast, walk the dog and now I'm ready to tackle car stuff. I find my proof of insurance, along with the paperwork for the registration and head out to the car. Which does not start...

It started yesterday but, to be honest, I seem to remember that the car was a bit hesitant to turnover. One of those realizations that only hits you when you are confronted with a ton or so of useless metal a bit later.  The starter motor made the feeble sound commensurate with a dying battery and, after several attempts, went mute altogether. Crap. Battery. Time suck.

I borrowed Belinda's car and drove to my friendly, somewhat convenient, Costco to buy a replacement battery. Oops. My Costco membership had expired. Goodbye another $50 bucks. Now, newly re-upped and in good standing, I followed through on the battery purchase.

Upon returning home I Googled once again, "How to safely replace a car battery." Then, intellectually armed, I grabbed my tools and popped the hood of the Honda CRV. The battery inside described itself as a "100 month" battery and yet, we were only 26 months into its service, as of today. This was my second "100 month" Honda branded battery but have only owned the car for a total or 36 months. By my rough estimate Honda still owes me another 44 months of battery-ism. But given their track record I am happy to suck it up and replace it with a different brand from Costco. At Costco, when one of their 36 month batteries gives up the ghost earlier than expected (or promised) they just give you another one. Honda, and most everyone else "pro-rates" battery life. Which means they'll give you some small percentage credit for your next faulty and too expensive replacement.
No thanks.

So, I jostle around in the heat and humidity and change the battery. But wouldn't you know it? Honda uses some sort of clamping structure on the negative terminal that I've never seen before and, try as I might, I can get it quite tight enough to stop from moving easily if I pull or push on the cable. Something new to fix....

But the car starts right up and finally I feel as though I'll be able to make progress, get the car inspected and then registered. Today.

I drive over to the Chevron station and hand the keys and my proof of insurance form over to the grumpy mechanic. He drives off in my car and comes back a few minutes later. "Your car failed." he said. "Wha?"

"Did you just change the battery?" he asked.

"Well yes..." I stammered.

"When you do that it erases all the emission information. You fail the test."

"But what can I do now?" I am baffled. Is this a permanent condition? Will my car ever be inspectable?

"You need to drive it for 50 miles or so and then come back and we'll test it." says the mechanic. Then he adds, "You owe $18.50 for today."

I pay up and then get back in the car. I won't be getting my inspection today. Well, I guess I could drive around in circles and then head back but it seems a bit pointless. Instead I take the old battery back over to Costco to get a $15 cash payment for recycling my old battery. I eat a slice of pizza and it's pretty good. Then I decide I've already wasted the whole morning, why not drive to the Honda dealer and see why the heck the negative battery clamp won't tighten.

Two mechanics work on it for twenty minutes and figure out the brilliant and complex engineering that will keep the electrons flowing. And I am home by 2 pm. About $150 dollars poorer and still no closer to having a car with an inspection or a new registration sticker.

I think two things. 1. Thank God I didn't have a big shoot scheduled for this morning. 2. There's always tomorrow...

Car stuff sucks. If I had a personal assistant this is the kind of crap I would make them do. Then I'd have more time to read all the new product announcements from Photokina on the web.

Hello to the new age of medium format cameras. The potential sweet spot? That would be the Fuji GFX.

To be honest I really wasn't expecting to see so much good stuff coming out of Photokina this year. I'm a little puzzled by the Sony a99 mk2 because I thought they were abandoning the "A" system in favor of the E series cameras. I owned the original a99 and think that everything they fixed was exactly what needed to be done. I'm still not sure about the depth of Sony's support for that family but the camera looks to be a good choice for photographers who also do video; especially those who stuck with the A system over time. The two SD card slots appeal and I would be interested to see if they have gone with a hardier HDMI plug than the micros on the FE series cameras....

The GH5 intro from Panasonic was more or less expected. It will be great.  I thought Canon might show a vague prototype of a medium format camera and I hoped that Nikon would show something, anything, mirrorless. My personal wish was for an update to the Sony A7ii.  I wanted to see an A7iii with the same shutter technologies as the A7rii (silent please!) and an update to the video capabilities. 

But the thing that makes this show memorable, and the one product that inspires desire in me, is the new medium format camera being introduced by Fuji. No one has had a chance to play with the camera yet but looking at the specifications and the overall design I'm willing to call this camera the smartest entry into the medium format digital market to date. 

There's nothing to make me stand up and shout, where the sensor is concerned. It's probably a Fuji tweaked version of the same sensor being used in the Pentax MF and both lines of 50 MP sensored Hasselblads. The thing that makes this camera exciting is the combination of features that makes one system superior to another system. While Hasselblad is dicking around with consumer-focused, moderately wide lenses for its initial foray into the markets the folks at Fuji get that these cameras will be used by real, live professionals (at least the ones still standing) and that they want something more (a lot more) that just some point and shoot optics. That Fuji will be rolling out the initial system with a 120mm f4.0 Macro lens (95mm equivalent in 35mm-speak) signals to me that they know how vital portraits are to the commercial practice of photography. You could buy this camera and that one lens and get to work trying to make enough money to pay for it. Not so with anything announced for the mirrorless H-Blad...

The second Fuji lens that makes me sit up and take notice that Fuji intends for this system to be taken quite seriously is the 110mm f2.0. I owned the 110mm f2.0 Planar in the Hasselblad system and the combination of the focal length and the very fast aperture made images that were hard to duplicate in any other way. I can only assume that Fuji's version of the lens will be at least as good. Their current track record, when it comes to lenses, seems pretty much unimpeachable.

Of course there will be wide angles. There are always wide angles. Architectural photographers need them and landscape photographers love them. But the meat and potatoes of any system is the existence of a great normal focal length, fast short telephotos, and beautiful portrait focal lengths. It was the 150mm f4.0 Sonnar that drove the original Hasselblad system. I don't know a single pro who didn't own one in the day (presuming they used Hasselblad). With Fuji's recent track record one can buy into the system with a good degree of confidence that their line of lenses will quickly be fleshed out with outstanding (and useful) products. They've watched the stumbles at Sony and learned that great camera bodies are only part of a successful system equation. You've got to have the lenses buyers want.

I was also happy to see that Fuji's camera  will give us the choice of different aspect ratios; including the blessed and holy 1:1 ratio. It seems that in one fell swoop Fuji has given me most of what I've been asking for and musing about in a medium format system. If there is a shutter in the body, which will allow for an open system when it comes to third party lens choices, it will be sweet icing on the cake. 

This is one of the first cameras to come along in a while that pushes me to start saving for the actual launch. I wish the sensor was larger (spatially) to give more ramp to the focus fall off but it's not a "deal killer" in this situation. The roadmap of future lenses is already enough to make me smile. 

No pricing has been announced yet but my hope is that body stays around the $6,000 or less range while the lenses stick under the $3,000 per range. Less is better. My first system construct? The body and the 120mm. I'll buy the rest of the lens I might want (but not necessarily need) with the money I'll make shooting portraits with this combo.  Well done Fuji!!!! 

The 120mm Macro f4.0 is the lens that signals to professionals that Fuji is serious.


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

Middle School Kid.

The inaugural post for the Visual Science Lab was uploaded on January 26, 2009. The recession was upon us, photographers were shuttering their studios in droves and, paradoxically, it would be the "golden age" for new camera introductions and innovations in the digital imaging marketplace. 

Over the last seven and a half years I have written many more than 3,000 posts but some were culled before they hit the web and others, of a timely or topical nature, were pulled down when they became irrelevant. There are now exactly 3,000 posts resident on the blog site and I thought this would be a good milestone to note. 

During the course of my writing, and showing photographs here, my son, Ben, has transitioned from middle school, to high school and on to college. I've sprouted more gray and white hairs. The economy for some commercial photographers has recovered while, interestingly enough, the market for cameras has been tanking inversely. (Note to self: that might make an interesting relationship to research...). 

I've tried to do a good job presenting an authentic story about my continuing relationship with the art and business of photography, and with not too many tangents tossed in to muddy up the process. One exception is the consistent discussions, from time to time, about swimming. I know the audience for swim stories is a small one but I bring up the swimming because it's an integral part of my daily life and it affects the way I think about life in general. If we are to excel in our work we have to be in good enough physical shape to participate. 

The market for photographic equipment seems to be shrinking and the web has done a thorough job of demystifying every process, every lighting technique, every post processing technique and every ounce of inspirational storytelling seemingly possible. That there is anything really interesting left to write about is questionable. My take is that dedicated cameras will be incrementally improved but most people will buy an iPhone 7 and their casual interest in photography will wane. Most business advisors will make a continuing case that the business of photography is in a death spiral and so will advise their clients, and anyone else who will listen, to shy away from pursuing the taking of pictures for a livelihood. Instead, society in general, and the advisors in particular,  will continue to push each new generation into the modern equivalent of soul-robbing factory jobs. 

People will continue to bitch about the wordiness of any article over the length of a paragraph. Generations who never read for pleasure will increasingly interpret all writing literally, and progressively fail to understand irony, sarcasm, metaphor, analogy, etc. and, at some point the idea of writing about photography for the pleasure of writing, and for the sake of the few readers still interested in reading for pleasure, will come to its conclusion, replaced by nothing but endless, overly enthusiastic reviews of equipment. Equipment that will move from the grasp of pride-filled owners to the used shelves of camera stores in shorter and shorter time frames. 

At this juncture I don't feel elated or defeated by the market but, more like a Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. Jousting with the ennui of a contracting cultural passion. At this point I don't feel like giving up the podium here to spend more time in the working isolation of the studio or stabbing at the word processor for longer projects. We'll just take it day by day and continue on in the hopes that there might be some sort of renaissance in imaging that doesn't include making everything painfully simple and obvious. 

College Junior.

The Elliott Erwitt Show at the HRC in Austin, Texas.

Elliott Erwitt is one of my favorite photographers. He's been working steadily since the 1940's and is still current and relevant today. He is 86 years old. This past August he was on an assignment in France. Still taking photographs for clients. Amazing and inspiring. I mention him here to tell you about a very comprehensive show; a large retrospective of his work, that is currently being hosted at the Harry Ransom Center in our fair town. The HRC is the steward/repository of one of the largest and richest collections of photography in the world. The HRC sits on the Southwest corner of the University of Texas at Austin. It contains the Helmut Gernsheim Collection of 20th Century photography as well as the Magnum Collection. I have spent many happy days in the archives (during my teaching years at the University) personally handling vintage Paul Strand, Edward Weston and Henri Cartier-Bresson prints, along with works by many other wonderful photographers. 

The current show takes up the entire downstairs gallery space at the HRC and is a deep dive into Mr. Erwitt's work. The show is laid out more or less chronologically and the all the work is masterfully printed. For photographers who enjoy a documentary style of photography it's well worth the drive of a couple hundred miles to spend a cool afternoon at the HRC.  Here are some images from the venue that I took when I went back for a third look at the show this afternoon: 

Giant Poster on the exterior wall of the HRC.

"To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them."
Elliott Erwitt 

Today was "Museum Day" in Austin. It's a Sunday when many of the local museums throw their doors open to all comers at no charge. It's a great chance for families to take in some art and culture without raiding the piggy bank. The HRC, which I mentioned above, is always free but today both the Blanton Museum of Art (also at UT) and the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum were also available to the public for free. 

I stopped into the Blanton for a few minutes but I have seen both shows there several times and didn't feel like waiting in lines to see if something new would jump out. The upstairs galleries, housing the permanent collections, are closed until January for a refresh. 

I walked across the street to see what was new at the Texas History Museum. Apparently a crafty curator took the pulse of the country in this contentious election year and produced a very powerful show called, State of Deception, which is a survey and investigation of Nazi Propaganda (and propaganda techniques) leading up to and during World War Two. The show carefully shows how the Nazis enflamed hatred of minorities and foreigners to rally ordinary Germans to their cause. How they leaned heavily on patriotism and nationalism to rise to power and then wield it with such horrible and devastating results. For a few moments the resonance of the past with the events of the present led me to a deep sense of depression and hopelessness. That a show can affect someone as cynical as I shows its power. I only hope we don't repeat the same mistakes here and now that the German people made only a few generations ago....

I recommend this show to every adult of voting age in Austin. And I hope they are able to see it before November...

After my experiences at the Museums I headed across the UT campus to see what's changed since my last visit. I did my undergraduate work at the school and also spent years as a T.A. and then a Specialist Lecturer here. It was nice to see that the campus is constantly improving but that there is still a generous inventory of the buildings I roamed in and out of in my happy youth. 

I can't pass up the "Boat Sculpture" without snapping a few images. It always looks different.

I took a constitutional today both to cross train for swimming (grueling sets of workouts yesterday and today... 9,000+ yards combined...) but also to experiment more with the Picture Profile settings in the Sony A7ii camera. (You may remember that a reader informed me of the potential to fine tune the black and white rendering of the camera via these picture profiles a couple of weeks ago). It was also a chance to test out a lens that I maligned a month or two ago but (almost) inevitably ended up buying this last week. It's the Sony FE 50mm f1.8. Operationally it is as bad as most reviewers have indicated. It's slow to focus and it focuses at the aperture you have set instead of opening up to focus and then stopping down to take. This causes some hunting as the apertures shrink and less light hits the all purpose sensor. I knew this information going into the purchase but had recently read on DXOMark.com that the lens tested well and got a mark of 37 which is easily ten points above most really good zoom lenses. Further, the tests indicated that it could out resolve the 24 megapixel cameras on which I intended to use it. 

I didn't find the handling too obnoxious when using the AF but came to the conclusion that the lens's true strength is as a quick and convenient manual focusing lens that is remarkable sharp and detailed anywhere but wide open. By f3.5 I'm a happy camper vis-a-vis its optical performance. The new price is currently around $200 and for a lightweight, high optical performance lens I think it's a decent (but not great) value proposition. The only improvement against the Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.7 I already owned is that touching the barrel of the Sony lens automatically triggers the focus magnification and that makes for slightly faster MF operation. 

I like the Picture Profile Black and White film emulation. I think it works. 

One or two final notes. Work seems to have slowed down in August and September for nearly everyone in the creative services industries. This happens every time there is a contentious presidential election (and when isn't an election contentious?).  I think that companies, investors and individuals go into a holding pattern before elections that are so binary because they are unsure which set of policies will prevail, how those policies will affect their tax strategies and overall business planning, etc. 

In the past I've seen this pattern over and over again. It's worrisome but always seems to resolve in the weeks just following elections and then clients become eager to make up lost ground and lost momentum. 

Photokina begins in earnest this week and by tomorrow we should start to see whatever new product announcements coming from the show. Zeiss and Tamron have announced new lenses dedicated to the Sony e-mount and I am sure this is the tip of the iceberg. I know many people are waiting anxiously to see what the specs for the new Panasonic GH5 will be, what new tricks the Olympus EM-1 mark 2 will bring, and what new lenses Fuji might have up a sleeve. 

Closely following Photokina will be Photo Expo (East) in NYC and maybe the stuff that gets announced in Germany will actually be touchable a month later in the U.S. show. 

I hope you have enjoyed reading some or all of the 3,000 posts I've put up over the last seven and a half years and that you will (gracefully) join the ongoing discussion of photography here, via the comment section. 

A reminder that I want to keep the blog politics and religion free so don't spend a lot of time crafting a brilliant attack on whatever politics you think I ascribe to because passionate or propagandized arguments from either side will almost certainly be expunged before they hit the blog. It's the only way to maintain some level of civility. At any rate, it should be some comfort to about 50% of you to know that both you and I are probably absolutely right. (Smiley face suggested).