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Friday, 01 August 2008


Mike J. Wrote:

"There's a commercial ("advert" in Britspeak) on TV right now for a product called "Aveeno" (evidently some sort of moisturizing lotion) that opens with a young mother carrying a child and an old film Hasselblad through a halcyon meadow."


She's gorgeous (camera too)! Just hush your mouth or they'll give us more of those Bob Dole ED adds.

BD's ED is just what I don't need at dinner time as I'm admiring Brian Williams yellow pancake make-up in wonderful HD ;-)


PS. I like that safari photographer gal too! The one hocking the Transitions lenses...........

I have been noticing that, too. My wife and I have been watching The Wire recently and the narcotics cops take surveillance pictures with an old Nikon film camera. That's all well and good; however, many times, when they use it, the sound effect is of a motor driven camera firing 3-5 frames per second. And there is clearly no motor drive on this old Nikon.

My personal peeve is that people using the cameras obviously have no idea how to use them. I also hate how people using computers do things no computer would do. Given that those are the two fields I have most expertise in, I'd guess airplane pilots, lawyers and doctors are probably just as peeved about the depictions of their professions too.

However, that said, I've noticed in a number TV shows, scenes of red carpet events with lines of photographers. Evidently, the way to set off your flash, is to press the test/pilot button on the flash. Why they do this makes no sense to me. Why not just shoot a picture -- the flash will go off, and you'll be holding the camera correctly (or closer to correctly).

Call me a pedant, but it's not just the odd assortment of (mostly) vintage kit that jars... but the way that the extras drafted in to wave it all around handle it, often holding the camera body (not supporting the lens) with both hands or - worse - focussing with the right hand before popping off a single shot. And these are usually scenes supposedly depicting a gaggle of press photographers. They'd all be out of a job.

If it's any consolation, photographers aren't the only group to spot the mismatch between real life and screen depictions. My dad, a retired doctor, still refuses to watch any medical dramas on TV. It's not much fun watching, say, House with him in the room - he'll be quietly harrumphing away to himself and disagreeing with the on-screen diagnosis...

I know what you mean, although my brother actually liked "ER" in the early days--he'd been an intern at Cook County Hospital, on which the hospital in "ER" is based. I should let him speak for himself, but my memory is that he thought they did a passable job, especially of indicating the sense of chaos that often reigned at the real place.

He doesn't watch any TV any more, apart from the periodic family movie on DVD.

Mike J.

Not just cameras or medicine either; as any programmer--and perhaps anyone over the age of ten, by now--could tell you that depictions of computer systems not so much left reality as never touched down in the first place. And a onetime friend who is a firefighter went with his colleagues to see the movie "Backdraft"; they were laughing so hard in the theater that they had to be asked to quiet down by the usher.

Well, it's just entertainment after all. But when you see what seems to be perfectly realistic things in a field you don't know much about, just remember the quality of depictions of things you do.

I always get a kick out of the CSI techs manually focusing. I don't think cops would be doing that in real life, especially with af-assist ringlights and all that, unless they were, you know, serious about their art.

You can tell an art director/production designer is involved (and there probably isn't a product-placement issue) when they sneak in a thing of beauty like a Hassy or similarly cool retro thing.

And speaking of cool retro, and since I'm seriously late to the vintage stereo thread, Mike, I'm surprised no one asked if it goes up to E-leven.

There is a picture with a high end real estate ad in the WSJ today that is a beautiful woman in lounging PJs adjusting a Sinar Norma with the view of the development in the background.

They also always use the Canon AE-1 shutter as the sound effect for cameras in movies. If you know that they are shooting, for instance, an autofocus Nikon it's really jarring to me to hear an old AE-1 shutter banging away as they "shoot".

Has to be the ultimate, the Photoshopuser web site has a video with Scott Kelby promoting the Wescott Spiderlte TD5. Surely that is the noisiest digital camera I have ever heard. DP Review needs to check this one out

Think that's bad? For 10 years I was in law enforcement. Although no longer involved, I still cannot stand to watch any of the absurdly idiotic police dramas on TV. The cops do more illegal things (searches etc) than the criminals. They destroy evidence through incompetence at crime scenes, they only occasionally observe chain of custody rules, and often use deadly force when it would not be legal, (I remember one old cop show where the cop saw a guy in a clothing store. The guy saw him and ran. The cop chased him for blocks before finally ordering him to halt. The runner did not so the cop shot and killed him. The only thing the cop knew at the time is that some apparently unarmed guy ran away when he saw him, so naturally he chased him down and shot him to death. No investigation followed.)

Then they solve cases by denying suspect access to lawyers, and by making promnises that they are in no position to make, either of which would get a case thrown out in a heartbeat and the suspect would walk away.

I have seen parts of CSI and it is about as nonsensical as the rest of them. Never paid much attention to how ridiculous any photography work is because the entire plot is so laughable.

One should never watch a TV show or movie (or news report) about anything that they have any expertise in. It guarantees illness and headaches.

In the same manner, don't you just love it when the "shutter release noise" of a cellphone camera or similar potentially noiseless digital camera resurrects the sound of a Nikon F2 complete with mirror slap and motor drive winding on the film?

Worse than the improper pseudo-use of still cameras in police dramas, is the absolutely unreal lighting used in the whole show. The CSI franchise always uses soft sidelighting on every police staffer's face. Since when was the office lighting in police stations and forensic labs mounted in the walls rather than the ceilings? It looks nice, but it's such a severe departure from reality that it becomes a distraction.

Thanks for that. I was never involved in law enforcement, even, and even I can tell that a great many cop shows map very bad police behavior. The narrative problem is the "omniscient overview," i.e., the viewer is allowed to know with certainty who did what, and this a) frustrates the viewer when the police are depicted as not having the power to catch/punish the known wrongdoer and b) functions as justification in the narrative for righteous vengefulness, even if it goes past propriety and legality.

A particularly bad set of shows is the inaptly named "Law and Order" series, where the police are constantly shown jumping to extraordinary conclusions and going to extra-legal means to pursue the case and the known (to the audience) wrongdoer. This is always portrayed as "dedication," but it's in essence unconstrained authoritarianism.

Evidently audiences have a hankering for that sort of thing. My least favorite TV cop, the red-haired jerk on "CSI Miami" who compounds the sins of ludicrous narrative by being a wretchedly bad actor, is portrayed as an omnipotent agent with no limits to his authority, his purview, his jurisdiction, or his discretion. He's seldom shown as being even slightly answerable to any superior, and almost never shown being meaningfully constrained or even guided by rule of law or the courts. (If present at all, those things are depicted as frustrations he has to overcome.) He's more like an unchecked gangster lord than a real law enforcement officer--except that even gangsters are constrained, either by police or by rival gangsters.

And let's not even get into shows like "The Shield" where the depicted heroes are cops who are active criminals shown committing an ever-escalating series of unambiguous crimes.

If people would look at these same shows, but the other way around--as how they would want law enforcement behaving if, say, they were unjustly compromised or falsely accused or unjustly arrested--it should scare the daylights out of them. The bottom line is that even with its inevitable faults, American law enforcement is far better than it's depicted on TV.

Mike J.

Being somewhat involved in the cop-entertainment business, I can tell you that if you made cop shows real -- or computer programming real, for that matter -- nobody would watch the shows. Nothing like watching some guy grind away at C++ for twenty-four hours, while drinking six gallons of Diet Coke and throwing nacho bags on the floor.

The point of these shows is to sell commercials; to sell commercials, people have to watch the shows. I can see CSI spending a half-hour doing chain-of-custody reporting on an evidence bag...not. Most police murder investigations go like this: the complaint call comes in, the cops go to the scene, where they find the old lady dead on the floor, her husband drunk on the couch, and he squeals, "I didn't mean to do it" or "The gun just went off," or something equally intelligent. This does not make for high drama. If you want realism in your entertainment, you'd have to go to, uh...well, Monty Python, I'd say. ("She turned me into a newt!")

One of the basic mistakes that amateur entertainment critics make is to say, "That couldn't happen," rather than ask, "Did that make the story better?" It's a blinkin' story, not a documentary. How much of the Iliad do you believe? Homer dressed it up a little by having Mars himself out there in the tumult, slashing away...

More interesting than the faults in entertainment (Hey! They're friggin' comic books! Get a life!) in my estimation, is the effect that entertainment has on cops. In the movie Zodiac, supposedly based on actual information, one San Francisco cop had started carrying a .44 magnum in a shoulder rig, because he believed he was the model for Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. I know from my own experience that after Miami Vice went on the air, you began seeing pastel sport coats in Miami police stations.

I believe most of the current anti-photographer hysteria in Britain is created by media-generated, but police-reinforced, views of pederasts and terrorists. It's when the cops start taking tips from the media that you have to be worried...maybe if the media started running kinder, gentler cop shows, cops would be..nah.


I guess Peterson's Law of Movies and TV still holds true -- the more you know about any given subject, the less you are going to like a movie or TV program about it.

I would argue that there's a difference between cinema verité with poetic license and patent absurdity. And the real issue as far as that goes is that the absurdities are reduced to mannerism and formula, by screenwriters (present company excluded) whose reference point is not research but rather other TV shows and movies. I wouldn't mind absurdity if it were *original* absurdity. But a show like "Law and Order" is so formulaic that the same plot devices are recycled endlessly. That becomes truly annoying when the plot devices are just plain wrong.

(When they find, say, a partial boot-print at the scene of a crime, my son will pipe up and say, "Fortunately, that brand of boot is only sold in two places in the city, and they've only sold one pair that size!" Etc.)

Mike J.

P.S. I don't like the Iliad, either, and I've read two different translations. A crappy book, IMO.

Yeah, on any TV show the "computer expert" can hack into the CIA computer faster than I can get into my work network with a known password.

For a while there on CSI, thy would take double pictures of everything. The sound effects made it sound like two shutter actuations.

When I see that I wonder if the sound guys are mistaking the preflash and the flash in the video, thinking that the actor took 2 pictures, and so they dub in two shutter trips. Or is it misunderstood advice from forensic photographers who actually did take two pictures of everything back in the film days.

George Burns, I believe, said, "Honesty is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made." Words to live by for some people.

I'd be curious to hear what Mike, David, John and the others who (rightly) take issue with the patent absurdity of most cop shows think of The Wire (aside from the shutter issue). The show seems to be able to find the middle-ground, telling an interesting story but sticking mostly to the realities of law enforcement, bureaucracy, routine and all.

You're a helluva optimist Mike; reading a second Iliad!

"You're a helluva optimist Mike; reading a second Iliad!"

Well, the second one was the Stanley Lombardo translation of 1997, which was supposed to be rendered in plain modern English, vs. the first one I read, the verse translation of Richmond Lattimore which I believe came out in 1951.

Consider: Here is Lattimore--

My husband, you were lost young from life, and have left me
a widow in your house, and the boy is only a baby
who was born to you and me, the unhappy. I think he will never
come of age, for before then head to heel this city
will be sacked, for you, its defender, are gone, you who guarded
the city, and the grave wives, and the innocent children,
wives who before long must go away in the hollow ships,
and among them I shall also go....

And here is the same passage as translated by Lombardo--

You have died young, husband, and left me
A widow in the halls. Our son is still an infant,
Doomed when we bore him. I do not think
He will ever reach manhood. No, this city
Will topple and fall first. You were its savior,
And now you are lost. All the solemn wives
And children you guarded will go off soon
In the hollow ships, and I will go with them.

You can read my review of the Lombardo translation at Amazon, although I should warn you, only 12 out of 22 people found it "helpful." (The other ten...oh, never mind.)

Mike J.

I'm afraid I've never seen "The Wire," although it sounds like I might like it.

Mike J.

I'll just come out and say it. I really like the original CSI, cheesy lighting and all. (what bugs me more than anything on those shows is the "can you enhance it?" question. I hate those.)

Does enjoying CSI make me a member of the ill-educated, unwashed masses? Maybe.

Do I still smile inside every time the character Grissom makes a overly dramatic one-liner? Oh yes....oh yes....

Both Iliad and Odissey are better learned re-told as prose. :-) Especially if the translations are so dull and lifeless as those two. BTW, there's a couple of translations online that look a bit better. Here's the relevant part of Andromache's lament:

Now you go to Hades’ house deep underground,
abandoning me to bitter sorrow,
widowed in our home. Our son’s an infant,
born to wretched parents, you and me.
No good will come to him from you, Hector,
now that you’re dead, nor will he help you.

You are now going into the house of Hades under the secret places of the earth, and you leave me a sorrowing widow in your house. The child, of whom you and I are the unhappy parents, is as yet a mere infant. Now that you are gone, O Hector, you can do nothing for him nor he for you.

As to the veracity of TV shows...

On one hand, it _is_ kinda like people who complain that Xerxes in _300_ was nothing like the real Xerxes. Of course he wasn't. It's a friggin' comic book!

OTOH, did Frank Miller try to create a historically accurate story like the cop shows supposedly try to do? No, he didn't. Just like the character in those shows don't try to drive with their feet or drink through their noses, they should try to do other stuff true to the real life. Especially if doing so really doesn't take so much effort.


I enjoyed your review! It prompted me to have a good look at all the other reviews for Lombardo's Iliad and the reviews for the his Odyssey. (I've read both in various translations and a few passages from both in the original.) I agree with your point, better to read selections from a quality translation than all of a dumbed down pop version. I thought the lines you quoted showed the translator in better light than the examples quoted by others, Athene and Odysseus on the beach at Ithaca is cringe-making. Lombardo is definitely off my reading list!

If you listen carefully then you often can hear the sound of a film being transported inside the camera even in those cases where a DSLR is used. I reckon since most of us grew up with that sound it just happens to transport the idea of a decent camera way better.

"Can you enhance it?" is my favorite too. Before that there was "Let's see what we can do in digital".

Sergey Botvin

Why do films set in the future alway have a bad connection on their video phone?

Has no one here ever discovered their Off button. Or go take/print some photos and leave the wife watching CSI, like I do.

Mike, if you fancy one last try at the Iliad, and want the best taste of the original, you need to discover Christopher Logue's "War Music" series -- the one "translation" that reeks of bloody Bronze Age power plays and not the classroom.

I do like the idea of a mother wielding a Hasselblad in a "skin product" advert -- perhaps the target market segment is the likes of Sally Mann ("medium to large format female photographers whose children's skin receives greater than average exposure to sun")...

I agree with the other posters here about the absurdity of the way cameras are handled on most shows. But I kind of enjoy watching vintage gear on TV. It jives with some part of my brain that still resonates with romantic notions of photographers with their Leicas and Spotmatics and Rollei TLRs in the '50s and '60s.

On the other hand, laptops drive me crazy on TV. People have these boxy old computers from the mid '90s, open them up, and do things that those computers obviously wouldn't have been able to do. "Lets use the built in web cam in our Powerbook 520c to do live video conferencing." Sure.

This has been a pet peeve of mine for some time.

On Nikon: I can't remember ever seeing Canon gear in a movie or on TV.

On photogs: worst offender is Peter Parker (alter ego: Spiderman). The things he can do with that old film camera are incredible. He can even change lens between shots in the same scene without carrying any spare gear!

As to other professions: I'm in oil & gas: turned "Armageddon" into the funniest film of all time (it was either laugh or cry). I bet the armies of the world cringe, too.

Perhaps we should vocally support the well-portrayed. Kick film-makers into taking notes. I thought the use of a Leica in "Blood Diamond" a couple of years back was particularly good. She (the photog) even seemed to know how to use it (zone focus and all!).

"My wife and I have been watching The Wire recently and the narcotics cops take surveillance pictures with an old Nikon film camera."

Exactly! It was watching this which made me buy an old F2 just to have around.

At 15 I made a pact with the devil that I'd give up sex for another ten years just to get a Nikon F2. And what did I get? No sex and no F2.

What I don't understand is why 'they' don't hire a consultant, an experience working photographer. They could then retire the potato mashers they use. Someone should tell them flashes, for the last 20 years, are on camera flashes...

A fascinating (and entertaining) set of comments on the veracity of TV and film. I actually don't think much has changed in the entire history of these media, as a quick look at any movie or TV show from the middle of the last century will demonstrate. The technologies may have shifted, but the departure from reality is as rampant as ever.
As several commenters have pointed out, the greater loss may be how life has come to imitate art, so that news, documentary, and other "factual" presentations have all fallen to the same level. It is very painful to watch any so-called factual report on a subject about which you are knowledgeable. Perhaps even more sadly, the same is now true of most print media. I cringe every time I read a newspaper story about a subject with which I am familiar. The errors, misstatements and just plain dumb mistakes are so jarring that I often can't bring myself to finish the article.

"And what did I get? No sex and no F2"

That's the Devil for ya! [g]

Mike J.

Regarding Homer, I thoroughly enjoyed FitzGerald's translation of the Odyssey once I stopped trying to declaim it (mentally). As far as I am concerned the description of Odysseus trying to get ashore on a rocky coast after his shipwreck, leaving skin on the rocks as the waves tear him away, finally going ashore at the mouth of a small river, and covering himself in dry leaves before falling into an exhausted sleep (good survival technique!) is spot on.

Mike J - I think we've found your epitath: "The Illiad's a crappy book." Actually, I was shocked that you said that, until I remembered that you were a Packers fan; then it all fell into place. Speaking of Homeric tragedy -- or maybe Shakespearian farce -- we've got the Bret Favre thing going on. People here in the Twin Cities think there's an actual chance he'll be playing for the Vikes next year...

Rick said: "I cringe every time I read a newspaper story about a subject with which I am familiar." Yes. A presidential press secretary once said (I'm paraphrasing), "The dirty little secret about newspaper stories is that every one of them has an error."

I could write a very long piece about this, but the problem derives from situational ignorance. An event happens, and the newspaper sends out a reporter whose expertise, if he has any, is in reporting and writing. But he's ignorant of the exact situation -- if he makes any assumptions at all (and everybody makes assumptions) it's almost guaranteed that they'll be wrong, in some aspect. For example, newspaper reporters in general know very little about guns, so every time you see an article on gun control, there'll be "facts" in the article that are simply wrong -- they'll have magazines in revolvers, or revolvers with the safety off, or automatic rifles, or whatever. Many times the problems involve nomenclature specific to the facts of the story, which the reporter thinks he understands, but does not. In my home town, there was a nasty fight over the proposed construction of a short road, and it was covered by the local paper. The reporter did not understand, and nobody told her, that the road fight was simply a proxy for a personal feud that was going on between two segments of the population...so virtually nothing she reported had anything to do with the real issue.

Mike J said, "And the real issue as far as that goes is that the absurdities are reduced to mannerism and formula, by screenwriters (present company excluded) whose reference point is not research but rather other TV shows and movies. I wouldn't mind absurdity if it were *original* absurdity."

I think you're right. I had a sheriff tell me one time that he thought the most accurate cop show he'd ever seen was "Barney Miller," which was a comedy. That said, there are uses for formula, though I guess I wouldn't defend them too strongly -- but formula acts as a bridge, and gets you from here to there with a gesture or a wisecrack, and without having to show development that otherwise would take time and be boring. In "Dark Knight," there are several places where Batman goes that you wonder (briefly) "How'd he do that?" How did he get to the top, and on an outside ledge, of a giant Hong Kong skyscraper, without anybody noticing? Well, you know, they could have shown him doing that -- sneaking through offices, carrying his Batman suit in a duffle bag -- but it would have taken a long time, and really, who cares? So the director didn't even bother with a cliche -- he simply jumped to the scene on the ledge.

Really, if you try to think about stories and logic, they don't have much to do with each other, and that's especially true with dramas of all kinds, where they simply don't have time to go through all the grinding detail of life to get to the point. So, they jump-cut, or they bridge with cliche.

A classic example of somebody making fun of this is in the original Indiana Jones movie, when a Nazi submarine is about to cross the Med, submerged. You see Indy leap for the back of the sub as it departs, and then there's a jump, to the sub's arrival on the other side, and there's Indy, wet. "Whew, what a ride."


"'The Illiad's a crappy book.' Actually, I was shocked that you said that...."

Well, they also say that many people are either 'Iliad people' or 'Odyssey people.' I would say I'm an Odyssey person...except I haven't read it yet. (Still worried about what translation to venture forward with.)

Mike J.

The icon looks a lot like a a koni omega to me:

Advertisers think very carefully about all the signifiers in their ads. One reason film cameras are still chosen is that cameras often signify nostalgia or capturing that special family moment in ads, and digital still has that "techy" signification with it that is often not what advertisers want, especially when the ads are aimed at women (I don't mean this to be sexist myself, but often the ads are very sexist!) Using medium format adds more meaning to the scene--Aveeno is considered a higher-level product so they are aiming at a higher educational and income demographic, or at least to attach that meaning to the product. Most people won't know it's a Hasselblad, but most will associate it with professionals. With that camera she appears to know what she is doing and that she is creative, things many people aspire to.

Steve R.

'And let's not even get into shows like "The Shield" where the depicted heroes are cops who are active criminals shown committing an ever-escalating series of unambiguous crimes.'

I grew up in Queensland (Australia) - this sounds fairly true, at least parts of the past.

I believe that the reason so-called "old film cameras" are used in such commercials is that people associate them with the same warm feeling as the product being spruiked. Try using a digital camera to create a feeling of nostalgia? No chance.

(I'm probably posting this too late, but ...)

Of all the possible "technical flaws" related to photography on CSI, the one that annoys me the most is how one of the CSIs on the original series *always* took photos with her SLR while looking at the back LCD ...

Its a Rollei 6000 series SLR with bellows!

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