One of the most discouraging aspects of modern computer photography and its newfangled distribution models, to me, is the extent to which new audiences for photography insist that fakery and visual cant are unavoidable, that "it's always been done" and therefore it's not worth bemoaning or even considering. It's tantamount to insisting that photographs are essentially decorative and trivial and can't be expected to contain truth, and thus that it isn't worthwhile to try to decode them.
It seems to me that the online investigations of Errol Morris into specific pictures—most famously the Roger Fenton picture of the Crimean road littered with cannonballs, and more recently two photographs from Abu Graib in Iraq—serve as much-needed antidotes to this tendency. The Fenton discussion ran to more than a quarter of a million words, longer than the average novel these days. It's inconceivable that a print newspaper would have indulged such length. On the web, it's simply optional.
At any rate, Morris's latest can be found here. As usual, it's long; as usual, it's fascinating. Rainy day reading, possibly, but to me it seems very important to observe a thoughtful analyst putting this much close attention to decoding a photograph; it implies an intellectual stance, a mode of approach to photographs —and a much-needed one, in my opinion.
The world's fastest lens
Marco Cavino's extensive and interesting lens website has a great page about the famous Zeiss 50mm ƒ/0.7 (block diagram, above), one of the fastest lenses known outside of the defense community. Written in Italian, so it's slow going for me, but then maybe you read Italian.
This is a scene from Stanley Kubrick's classic film "Barry Lyndon," shot by candlelight alone with the Zeiss 50/0.7. After seeing so many movie representations of candlelight, it's interesting to see what life by candlelight really looked like.
The visually ravishing "Barry Lyndon" is still unique in my movie-going experience; I was totally engrossed the first time I saw it—I might even say "enraptured"—carried away, fascinated—and fairly bored the second time around. (Some of my friends had told me they were bored by it and I went to see it a second time to see if I could understand their point of view. I did.) I don't think I've ever had two more different experiences watching the same movie. Then again, I have somewhat the same reaction to reading Thackeray, too.
I really need to see that movie again.
And that's not counting the pigeon-cam
And speaking of Italians, an Italian man was arrested in St. Mark's Square in Venice, one of the top tourist destinations in the world, when he was observed acting suspiciously with a shopping bag. Police found he had a camera in the bag. They also eventually discovered a collection of more than 3,000 photographs of what they politely termed "women's bottoms," taken by the perpetrator in the Square over a nearly two-year period. The article notes of the industrious voyeur that "...he is married with two young children and has a professional job in the nearby town of Padua," adding, with considerable understatement, "he might have some explaining to do when he finally gets home."
Those who like to follow camera introductions probably already know that the Olympus E-520, successor to the E-510, has been officially announced. The E-520 is slightly larger than the tiny E-420 but has in-the-body Image Stabilization. However, I also note that our friend Gordon Lewis, who reviewed the E-510 for this site not so very long ago, has said farewell to his.
So you think you want to be a sports photographer?
Not long ago I annoyed some of you by posting an article about horse racing, and was surprised that a number of people seemed to ignore the reason for the posting, which was, as usual, a picture—an action shot by Morry Gash of winner Big Brown and Eight Belles racing side-by-side with all eight hooves off the ground. Now comes a fascinating article by Jason Reed on the Reuters Photographers' blog about how the Reuters team set up to photograph the Preakness Stakes last weekend. If your vision of a sports event photographer is one guy crouching by the track peering through one camera, I think you'll find this a fascinating glimpse into the world of big-time sporting event photography.
And you should have seen the guy who got in the way of the shot-put
At a championship high school track meet in Utah, photographer Ryan McGeeney inadvertently wandered into an off-limits area that, unfortunately, turned out to be the landing area for the javelin throw—which, doubly unfortunately, was taking place at the time. He responded to warning shouts just in time to see an incoming javelin pierce his leg. McGeeney, a veteran of the Marines who served in Afganistan, knew instantly he wasn't seriously injured.
Javelin tosser Anthony Miles of Provo High, who later said he "felt terrible" about the accident, was awarded twenty extra points for the hit. (No, just a joke. He did win the championship, though.) For his part, the stalwart McGeeney documented his own wound because, he said, he knew his editors would question him about it if he didn't.
McGeeney was back on his feet within a few hours and is expected to make a full recovery.
What's old is new
Our friend Pete Myers has an article in the current (May/June 2008) issue of Camera Arts magazine called "The New T-Max 400: Teaching an Old Dog a New Trick." Pete says, "There are a lot of 'goodies' in the article, including 50X magnifications of grain from the old TMAX 400 film and the new TMAX-2 400 film. There is an exclusive interview about the film with the head of World Wide Film at Kodak. And I also managed to get Kodak to make me an exclusive scanning electron microscopy image of the film surface—and seeing is truly believing in the technology of this film," which he concludes is "exceptional."
Ilford's Rescue of a Polaroid Film Fails
And speaking of films, Ilford (Harman) and Polaroid had been in discussions about Ilford Photo taking on production of Polaroid's black and white professional instant sheet film. Despite their best efforts, the prospective partners reported in April that they could not find a commercially viable way forward.
Harman Chairman Phil Harris said, "The processes involved in the manufacture and assembly of professional instant sheet film products are very demanding, and it would require substantial investment to re-establish them at Harman technology's site in Cheshire, England. When compared with current and projected sales for the products, it was clear that such an investment could not be justified. While we had hoped to work together on continuing the production of instant sheet film, it is cost prohibitive to meet the declining demand. As a company, we are saddened that such an inspirational form of expression will disappear. But we will always remain staunchly committed to the long term future of monochrome photography in all its facets and we will continue to do everything we can to support it." (From an Ilford press release, quoted on the APUG board by Simon Galley of Ilford.)
Some people are just way smarter than me
And on a final film note, a man on flickr has posted a number of photographs of his friend's homemade, do-it-yourself film coating machine. Apparently the machine is up and running and working well. Me, I'm still thinking about how to fix the basement stairs.
Ever wanted to actually see a digital sensor Bayer pattern? Our friend Marc Rochkind has put together a little free app that will open a NEF file so you can see the pixels, and he's written a short article about it. And don't worry if you don't have a NEF file to open: the app will open one it has built into it.
I was very sorry to hear that Flip Schulke has died at the age of 77. Flip was a major photojournalist of the 1960s. I first heard about him while sorting through the inevitable avalanche of PR materials sent to the magazine I used to edit. An odd one that I almost tossed aside touted customized bank checks decorated with civil rights photographs, of all things. The pictures turned out to be Flip's. I ended up having a couple of long and animated phone conversations with him about his pictures, and we did a feature about him in the "News & Products" section of the very first issue of our relaunch.
Flip had a full and rich career, with several iconic photos to his credit, including the famous picture shown here of Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) supposedly "training" underwater. Evidently Ali, with his genius for publicity, had heard that Flip liked underwater photography and essentially conned him, despite not knowing how to swim and having never before actually trained underwater!
A passionate man who wore his concerns on his sleeve, Flip befriended, and was especially devoted to, Dr. Martin Luther King and King's family and activities. When we talked, he sent me his book about his friend Dr. King, which is still in print. It's called He had a Dream. (He also made a nice book for young adults about how he became a photojournalist.) Flip's picture of the late Coretta Scott King, the LIFE magazine cover of April 19th, 1968, was later named 'Portrait of the Year' by the magazine's editors.
Rest in peace, Flip. You left your mark.
Mike (Thanks to dyathink, Sébastien Lallement, Edward O'Mahony, Clayton Jones, Judy Kiel, Oren Grad, David Emerick, and Bob Zimmerman.)