It's New Year's Day, a time for Bowl games, maybe a little more overeating, maybe some time for recovering from last night, and for many of us, generally a coda to the holiday season. Every year about this time we at T.O.P. cast our idiosyncratic net wide across the previous 364 days and see what still strikes us as remarkable or unusual. No one cares about our awards, which helps keep them both light and fun. Without further ado, here are our year-end plaudits as we usher out the photographic year that was.
T.O.P. Photographer of the Year 2007: Chris Jordan, for "Running the Numbers: American Self-Portrait." It's very seldom that photographic means, artistic ends, and social/economic/political meaning come together in work that looks and feels like nothing you've seen before.
Chris Jordan's tableau have the beauty of abstractions and the significance of specificity. (Prison Uniforms is just one example.) They address one of the persistent failings of the human mind: our inability to conceive adequately of extremes of scope and scale. Jordan found a way to address this "scope and scale blindness" with our most acute and natural sense, sight, and in so doing has opened our not just our eyes but our minds. Brilliant, and bravo.
Reviewer of the Year: Rob Galbraith, for uncovering the autofocusing malfunction in the Canon EOS 1D Mark III. As reviewers and former magazine editors, we understand only too well what kind of work it takes to discover a flaw like this, which only pales in comparison to the cojones required to go public with it and stick by your guns while the big corporate battle wagons train their sixteen-inchers on your little butt. Rob's tests were thorough and rigorous and his presentation of his findings calm yet unflinching. After some initial, um, confusion by giant Canon, the company buckled down and found the specific technical problem causing the specific malfunction—and fixed it. Meaning, everybody who bought one of these cameras or who will buy one owes Rob an enormous debt. We kowtow in RG's general direction, chanting il critico miglior.
Photo Product of the Year: Harman Gloss FB AL paper. A fine baryta paper equally suited for black-and-white or color that mimics the look of air-dried glossy fiber-base paper. "Images look sharper on this paper than on any other paper we have seen. This means you need quite a bit less of sharpening for output." —Outback Photo. See the reviews on Outback Photo and The Luminous Landscape. This paper is already spawning imitators, such as Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta, Epson Exhibition Fiber, and Ilford Gold Fiber Silk. At some point during the coming year we hope to offer you a low-priced example print made on Harman Gloss FB AL, as well as examples of a few other outstanding materials and techniques. Workin' on it.
(Note: the link is to a 5-sheet sample pack that costs less than $5. Add it to your next order and give it a try.)
Comeback of the Year: Olympus, for finally following up on the ghost of the E-1 with the new E-3. Better late than never, as they say—and that's true, although it's also worth remembering that it's better to be on time than to be late.
Photo Book of the Year (popular): Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs. No book was more popular this year with our readers, who ordered more than 200 copies through our links, far more than any other title. Not only is this book surprisingly cheap—we would normally expect to pay twice to four times its price for a book of this quality—but it adds usefully to the Adams canon in that it functions as a virtual catalogue raisonné of his works, from the beginning to the end of his long career. Not the best Adams book, but a good reference work to have whether your collection of other Adams titles is small or large—and a great place to start if your collection was previously nonexistent.
Photo Book of the Year (esoteric): Henry Wessel by Sandra Phillips, Thomas Zander, and Henry Wessel. A long-awaited and well-deserved retrospective exhibition catalog by this significant lesser master. Wessel has been true to his simple methods and his artistic vision over decades of assiduous work, and no book this year gave us greater pleasure than this one. The pictures may not be to everyone's taste, but on the other hand they are mercifully free of the styles 'n' fashions o' the moment in the always-fickle art world.
Photo Book of the Year (Technical/Historical): Nash Editions: Photography and the Art of Digital Printing by Garrett White (actually came out just a few days before 2007 began, but we're not finicky about stuff like that). In our post about it we called it "...a mandatory purchase—for anyone. It's basically the first universally important book of photography's digital age. Nominally it is a contemporary account of original history, a documentary of digital printing's "incunable" period and one of its biggest early influences, Graham Nash. And it's important enough just for that. But it's also a wonderful collection of pictures, bringing together a large, beautiful, and indeed inspiring portfolio from the seminal work of this studio. It looks modest by its cover, and its title doesn't hint at its true importance—but don't let that fool you."
Photo Book of the Year (reissue): The Photographer's Eye by John Szarkowski. MoMA has made it possible for a new generation of photographers to acquaint themselves up close and personal with its former Photography Department Director's didactic little tour of photography's essential mysteries. Not a book to love, possibly, but one to ponder for anyone who has ambitions. The reappearance of this essential little gem was made all the more poignant by Szarkowski's passing, in July of this past year, at the age of 81.
Camera of the Year: Nikon D3. A balls-to-the-wall pro model camera isn't perhaps of the greatest usefulness or relevance to most non-pro shooters, but there's little question that Nikon's new pro flagship takes top honors as the product of products for '07. The D3 outpoints its also-brand-new Canon rival in a number of areas—including high-ISO noise, apparently, long thought to be Canon's strongest suit. The tandem of the D3 and the D300 have been widely considered to be the strongest arguments yet for the resurgence of Nikon as it attempts to establish its historic position, held over several decades, as the #1 cameramaker, a title it ceded to Canon in the 1990s.
Runners-up: Olympus E-3, Sony A700, Nikon D300.
Digicam of the Year: Ricoh GR Digital II. A clear favorite (along with the original GR-D) of our readers, the GRII is a photographer's camera, with a fixed lens (modifiable by converters if you don't like the f-l) and high image quality. It's customizable, though its operational settings are direct and controllable. Although it doesn't beat a DSLR as a low-light camera, it's also a lot more pocketable, and a camera you have with you is a better camera than a camera you left at home. The GRII (available in the USA from Adorama) is the leading indicator that the "street camera" of the future may have a small sensor.
(Joint) Lens of the Year: Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16–80mm ƒ/3.5–4.5 (24–120mm-e) and Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 12–60mm ƒ/2.8–4 SWD (also 24–120mm-e). Two all-purpose lenses of impeccable pedigree and faultless performance. Not our favorite genre of lens, although the market in its infinite wisdom hath spoken: big, slowish 5X zooms are the wave of the moment in standard lenses.
Truth be told, the time for really enthusiastic lens connoisseurship has probably passed; the image remains malleable in important respects after being reported by the lens to the recording medium, on the one hand, and on the other, the standards of design and manufacture have been mastered by the world's lensmakers to a point where most good lenses serve very well for photography without serious limits. We're in an age when some budget lenses (for instance, the Olympus 14–42mm) and lenses with downmarket names can perform at a very high standard. Still, there is something pleasing about a fine lens. Both of these are excellent examples of the art, highly competent and with admirably minimized shortcomings. Either one would do well as an only lens for most photographers on any of the cameras they fit.
Cartoon of the Year: Hey, we still love this! Can you blame us?
Worst Camera of the Year: Fuji FinePix S8000fd. Want an inferior itty-bitty sensor without the convenience of point-and-shoot pocketability? Want an absurdly long zoom range so you'll be sure to suffer optical inferiority at both extremes, with lots of colorful purple fringing? And, you say, you want all this wrapped in a package with all the industrial stylishness of a videogame controller? Look no further than the Fuji S8000fd, which also recognizes human faces for you, in case you're not sure where in the absurdly tiny EVF viewfinder they might be.
There were, let's face it, a number of products vying for this award this year, and the S8000fd doesn't necessarily deserve to be singled out over all these others. But it's as good an example as any of "the camera as appliance," with too many features but limited controllability, and it's a paragon of several directions in camera design we just don't want to encourage. If you're thinking of this camera or one like it, please just come to your senses and buy a D40, Rebel XTi, or another solid entry-level DSLR instead.
Disappointment of the Year: The continuing emptiness of the "DMD" small street-camera category. The Sigma DP-1 didn't appear, and neither did anything else like it, despite several other important voices on the web (most notably, Thom Hogan's) joining me in calling for it. Let's hope we're not all bemoaning the same thing at the end of 2008.
Discovery of the Year: Photographer Bill Emory, who's been working for a long time—we just didn't know it. His beautiful, sad, and touching photo-essay "Sun Dog" was certainly one of the memorable ones of 2007 for us.
Magnanimous Gesture of the Year: The Luminous Landscape Endowment, established by Michael Reichmann with a portion of the profits from his and Jeff Schewe's epic video instruction series From Camera to Print. "The sole purpose of this not-for-profit foundation will be to provide a source of otherwise unavailable financial assistance to creative photographers. This funding may be used by photographers like you to pursue a special project, further formal photographic education, finance project related travel, or to mount an exhibition or show. Almost any worthwhile project associated with fine art photography will be considered." Despite being on the Selection Committee for the Endowment, I haven't heard anything more about it since its inception, and I do question whether such a foundation can really be viable in the long run without the services of a full-time grant writer. But I'm sure it's only a matter of time before applications are accepted and funds awarded, and in any event it's a fine, even noble, idea—whatever becomes of it. This is just the sort of thing I talk about a lot, and never do anything about. All props to MR for taking this particular bull by the horns.
New Year's Day is a time for taking stock: looking back, looking forward; making plans, clarifying ambitions, and, of course, setting resolutions. It's a time to be both hopeful and grateful. 2007 was a fun year for me, and you and all my readers here on T.O.P. helped make it so; thank you. I have high expectations of the year to come. I hope you do too, and I wish you and your loved ones health, happiness, accomplishment, and many good memories to come. And now, off I go, to continue writing "2007" on my checks until about the end of March.
- —Mike J.