I will be off until Monday morning in order to put in some work on a photo-related project. (But one that will interest you once it's done, promise.)
—Mike, TOP's Head Homunculus and Sometime Slacker
I will be off until Monday morning in order to put in some work on a photo-related project. (But one that will interest you once it's done, promise.)
—Mike, TOP's Head Homunculus and Sometime Slacker
T. J. Mapes owns a company called RIPT Apparel that sells T-shirts online. Every day they offer a new shirt design, and only for 24 hours.
The design for today (February 26th), by the Italian artist Saintgraphic, features a camera theme. $10 in men's and women's sizes.
I like the design-a-day concept. (And you thought a picture a day was hard....)
Featured Comment by Marc Rochkind: "The artist has good taste. The still camera is a 1940 Kodak 35 RF. The external RF contraption was added to the Kodak 35 to compete with the Argus C3. Here's mine, bought for $17 at a local swap meet.
"There's more about the camera at basepath.com.
"(I ordered the shirt, too.)"
...By the way, apropos the "Auction Watch" post, if I had to pick one single lens as the best camera lens it's possible to buy, for any camera, for any money, it would be the Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm ƒ/5.6. I know many people don't shoot with view cameras, but I'm just sayin'. It's tiny (note 49mm filter size); it's light (250g, not quite nine ounces); it covers 4x5 nicely; the angle of view of a 150 is perfect; and its performance is as good as your daydreams. Bokeh too, even. And although you pay for what you get, the price is just a small fraction of the old 150mm Schneider in the other post.
Best price I could find is from Wisconsin's Badger Graphic Sales, a specialty view camera supplier.
Anybody have any good example pictures from this lens?
MikeADDENDUM: Don't forget there are lots more opinions in the comments here.
In the comments to my last column, Jason asked what kind of situations I thought I might run into where digital wouldn't be able to do the job. Understand that I don't actually expect to run into any such situations; but I can never say never. My training in physics makes it very hard for me to claim anything with absolute certainty. Ask me if the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning, and I'll feel compelled to answer, "very likely."
There are certainly situations where digital makes things difficult, possibly to the point of impracticality. Of course almost any photographic problem can be solved by throwing sufficient amounts of time, energy, and money at it, but I'm trying to be practical here. I ain't solving a digital photography problem by buying a Phase One back, any more than I'd solve a film problem by hauling around an 8x10 view camera. So, if you want to nitpick my examples, please be realistic in your nitpicking.
Medium format color negative was exquisite at rendering fine detail and texture, and I could record exposure ranges far in excess of 10 stops with excellent linearity. I'm also fond of night photography.
Digital cameras are great for doing long exposures, because they have no reciprocity failure. But they're lousy for doing long exposures, because they build up noise. You can eliminate much of the noise if you're willing to let the camera do automatic long-exposure noise reduction, which doubles exposure times. Sometimes that's impractical. If I were the kind of photographer who liked to photograph multi-hour star trails (happily, I'm not) digital would present some real difficulties, while film takes it in stride.
My photograph of the Transamerica Pyramid required more than a 30-minute exposure, because I had to stop way down to get enough depth of field (a view camera would have made life a lot easier). Absent very expensive gear, a 30-minute digital photograph would not come out anywhere as well. Fortunately, it wouldn't be necessary. Without reciprocity failure, the exposure time would drop down to about three minutes. I could likely make this photograph at ISO 400 digitally, with the exposure time under a minute. Running automatic noise reduction will then work fairly well and won't add excessive amounts of time to the endeavor.
Some situations are tougher. Digital cameras can capture very long exposure ranges, but they tend to lose good separation in the darkest detail, and heaven help you if you clip the highlights. That makes a photograph like this one of the floodlit space shuttle Columbia extremely tricky. Almost all the important detail in the scene is in the extreme highlights or shadows, and this subject uses up absolutely 100% of the range of the color negative film. If faced with such digitally, I would probably bracket like mad and merge the photographs together.
Understand this is not an easy photograph to make under any circumstances; while I could (barely) record the scene on a single frame of film, it took me weeks in the darkroom to convert that into a good print. Silver or silicon, this would end up being a lot of work.
The most difficult case is my Jewels of Kilauea book project. This subject matter is a worst-case scenario. The shiny lava gets really, really black; the iridescent highlights are really really bright. Like the shuttle photograph, what's aesthetically important about this subject matter is in the extremes; mid-tones are often irrelevant. Complicating the issue further is that this is subject matter for which texture is extremely important, and fine texture is something that digital has a lot of trouble dealing with. (There are technical reasons for that; I may devote a whole 'nother column to it, some time.)
Making satisfactory digital photographs of this subject is tough enough. Making ones that would blend in with the film photographs I've already made is not an impossible job, but it is dauntingly difficult. This one project has likely been a major factor in keeping me from coming to a decision to go 100% digital.
What changed my mind? First, I admitted that after a half dozen years of stasis, the odds of this ever becoming a book were quite small. Next was realizing that the portfolio already has well over 100 utterly dynamite photographs. That's more than enough for any exhibits or shows. If making any new digital photographs fit well with the film ones turns out to be too tough a job, I can simply decide that those photographs will never be exhibited together. Finally, in the unlikely event the book was revived, it's 90% photographed; I only need 10–20 additional photographs. What winds up on the printed page is sufficiently denatured from the originals that I'd have no problem making the book look like a seamless whole.
No photographic medium can be all things to everybody. Looking for perfection in the arts is worse than a fool's errand. I've decided that the ways in which digital is not perfect will present as little obstacle to my art as the ways in which film is not perfect. I lived with film's warts for 40 years; digital's won't faze me.
Ctein's column appears on TOP every Thursday morning.
This nifty Schneider Xenotar 150mm ƒ/2.8 large format lens (emphasis on "large"—that's a standard-sized Linhof board!) sold for $38,988 on Ebay today.
My question is, how would you bring yourself to use something like that?
I once had a collapsible 50mm Summicron which a collector had paid $1,000 to have modern coatings (well, modern single-coatings) applied to. (Thus decreasing the value of the lens, but that's another story.) It was therefore a unique lens. (Although I hear Cartier-Bresson's collapsibles—his favorite lenses—were similarly modified.) I ended up getting rid of it because I was bothered by the thought of becoming dependent on it for my work and then losing it to accident or theft. I don't want to use a rare, unique lens. I'm personally more comfortable using something I can fairly easily replace.
(Speaking of which, my Mamiya 7II arrived today. Turns out it's new—just imported. I'll add it to the insurance policy, and if something happens to it, I'll just get a'nurn.)
How does one blithely go out into the world and put wear on a $39,000 lens—or get comfortable using a lens that would cost that much to replace? I couldn't do it.
I'm aware that this is most likely a moot point. What will probably happen is that this Xenotar will be put on display, like the museum piece it is.
Perfectly appropriate, in this case.
(Thanks to Oren-san, Il migliore conoscitore)
Featured Comment by Seth Glassman: "Musicians are often faced with the same predicament—do you take an expensive instrument out to play at the risk of having it damaged or stolen? Do you somehow shortchange your audience by using cheaper instruments that you have no emotional attachment to? If you're a professional musician and you own an instrument that's been assigned a value of $25,000 by primarily amateur collectors, do you take it to a $250 gig? What if you're a violinist with an instrument worth more than most houses?
"It's a totally topsy-turvy world: I had a classic instrument that I hated; it was a real dog. I have another classic, the same model and year, that's an incredibly good instrument but it's worth substantially less than the dog because the finish is not original. I sold the dog for what I consider a stupid amount of money to a dealer who considered that he got a bargain, and I earn my living with the 'less valuable' instrument."
Speaking of new looks...as part of a complete graphic and editorial makeover, the British Journal of Photography—the oldest continuously published photography magazine in the world—says it is "returning" to a monthly format. I love that "returning"—the last time it was a monthly was in 1857!
It's been a weekly for quite some time now—since Victoria was Queen of England and the American Civil War was still being fought.
An article from around the time the BJP went weekly was auctioned at railsplitter.com last October, with a pre-auction estimate of $60–$80. Railsplitter's interest is Lincolniana—the issue recounts that "A New York photographer has published a portrait of President Lincoln, which is likely to prove acceptable to all parties. At first glance it appears to be a photograph of 'Old Abe,' taken when he had the smallpox a few months ago; but on a closer examination the seeming pustules are found to be minute photographic likeness of the distinguished generals, statesmen, politicians, literary and scientific men, actors...The likenesses, which are scattered all over the physiognomy of the President, number upwards of 400...and are so exceedingly well executed as to be at once recognized...yet, taken together, they constitute as ugly a picture of 'Old Abe' as any of the others that have been published."
A change in publishing frequency is generally enough to be considered a "relaunch" in magazine publishing terms, and a relaunch is a fraught period for a publication—the old business models cease to adhere and the new ones are not yet tested and established. Unfortunately, an annual subscription works out to upwards of $300 in the States, so not many American photographers are likely to see the new old publication. But we wish those at the BJP much success.
(Thanks to Oren)
Featured Comment by Simon Bainbridge, Editor, British Journal of Photography: "Hi, surface mail to the U.S. is £118 (around $180), but we are negotiating with U.S. distributors such as Borders and Barnes & Noble. Thanks for your interest."
I got some sixty submissions today when I asked for help in changing our header. To those who made submissions that weren't selected, thanks very much for your kindness! Sixty alternatives proved an embarrassment of riches—virtually all of them were better than I could have done, and thus would have served the purpose. There were some very interesting interpretations and variations.
The one I chose is by TOP reader Jesse Speer, a nature photographer and graphic designer from Bozeman, Montana, USA, who photographs mostly in the Rocky Mountains. His website is extensive, and gives you a good idea what he's all about. Lots more pictures as good as the one above.
Jesse tells me he's been reading TOP since 2007.
For the record, I guess I should apologize for the "contest" casting of the original post. I should have just made it a straightforward appeal for help. Several readers objected to the "for spec" call for work. No offense—I just thought it would be more fun letting someone else do it than doing it myself again. I did try, initially, to work with a graphics firm here in Wisconsin, but basically my budget is just too small. What I paid Jesse is about all I comfortably could have paid, so this wasn't an attempt to get work for free or "on the cheap."
Anyway, thanks again for all the good submissions—I literally could have used any of them, and about ten were really excellent. And thanks again to Jesse, who says he's going to use the money to help pay for a new GF1 kit. Good man!
UPDATE: And we have a winner! Thanks to everyone who gave it a try—we got some nice ones. I'll post the relevant details when the new banner goes up.
The "contest" is now over, so no need to send any more. Thanks!
I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of our header—the box at the top of this page that says "The Online Photographer."
I keep puttering with new ones, but I gotta face it, I'm not a designer. I don't seem to have any decent fonts, either.
So...any amateur (or slumming pro) designers out there? Want to try your hand at designing a new header for TOP? (I got a few offers of help last year, when I mentioned this the first time, but I can't find the emails any more.)
Doesn't have to be anything terribly fancy. Just something dignified and not too stylish. Here are the specs:
Needs to be 870 pixels wide. The current one is 140 pixels high, but that's not set in stone.
Has to go with our current color scheme, which I can't change. (Actually I can change the sidebar color, just not the main column color.)
I'd like it if it featured the letters "TOP" somehow, in addition to the words "The Online Photographer." But that's not required. It should also say "Edited by Mike Johnston" somewhere on it, but small.
It can contain images if you want to, but beware, the specific implications of any images would have to be very appropriate, and I just don't know what they would be. Images of current cameras will not make it. Images would be more likely to hurt your chances than help them, I'm guessing. But it's up to you.
Eschew cliché: Please, no stylized apertures replacing the "O" in "TOP"!
First Prize: a $250 Amazon Gift Certificate, sent to you by email. You won't get a permanent credit on the page, but I'll write a post saying who designed the winning entry and linking to your website.
Contest lasts until: we get one I like and want to use.
Send to: my email address, linked in the right-hand column. No jokes, please: I have enough to sort through as it is.
Whaddaya say—give it a shot?
(Definitely the creepiest part of the essay: "'I think at the time Jackie became my girlfriend,' Galella muses. 'I wasn't married, I didn't have a girl friend....'" I'm just sayin'.)
(Thanks to John Clifford)
Featured Comment by David Zivic: "I remember Galella from my youth and still love his results. His methods, which seemed humorous and entertaining at the time, are giving photographers a somewhat negative image today.
"I accidentally confronted Pierce Brosnan and his family in a restaurant and my camera was on the table. He stopped and considered his next move. I pushed the camera to the other side of the table. He gave that 'ladies first' motion and his wife and two young daughters walked right by me and into the restaurant. As he passed, my second favorite 007 put his hand on my should and said 'thanks man.' much better than a punch in the face or a restraining order. But of course that's not how I make my living."
A Sony Press Release contains the following announcement of what it will be showing at PMA (I quote):
End quote. The Sony mirrorless cameras will apparently not be part of the Micro 4/3 standard, but will use Sony's APS-C CMOS sensors. And how about that last item? At long last, a fast "normal" lens that would be slightly wide on APS-C (although I don't know whether it's a full-frame lens or APS-C only). Can't say I photograph too many sweeping vistas, but I sure am interested in an example of the notorious "missing normal" that has been so conspicuously lacking in modern digital lens lineups.
dpnow.com has some pictures of mirrorless camera mockups, for what that's worth. They look to be wooden models, so don't expect the look to survive into production cameras.
Woo-hoo! Amazon's "Gold Box" Deal of the Day today [link removed—offer has expired] is the weather-resistant Pentax K-7, no less—$900 for the body or with the (also splashroof) normal kit lens for $100 more. As of this writing they're advertising it as "! Only 19 hours left (or until they're all gone)."
You've probably noticed that Pentax is now a sponsor of TOP (which I'm very happy about), although that doesn't have anything to do with this...I usually post Amazon's deals of the day when they're products I think people might be interested in.
(Thanks to Kevin Schoenmakers and Inaki Arbelaiz)
P.S. In (somewhat) related news, Pentax Japan today announced a silver edition of the K-7, limited to 1,000 units, made specifically to match the cosmetics of the silver Limited lenses (note that the camera actually is a limited edition, but the Limited lenses are not). The camera features a reinforced glass plate on the viewing screen and a special finder scribed with lines for the rule of thirds, which they're calling "golden section ratio." (Don't kill me, I'm just the reporter.)
Without knowing anything one way or the other, I'd say this is unlikely to be exported. Contact Dirk if you can't live without one.
I copied the title of this post from Ken Rockwell. Speaking of Ken: you might not have him to kick around for much longer.
So let me just ask you: do you think you don't have to pay sales tax on mail-order purchases you make from other states? If so, you're not alone. But it's not true. Actually, the difference is that you—the buyer—are personally responsible for remitting the sales tax on items you buy that way—the seller is not responsible for collecting it from you. The reason nobody actually pays it is because states have no feasible way to track what you owe them and no jurisdiction to punish you if you don't pony up.
And therein lies the rub. A battle is brewing. (Actually it's been brewing for a while now.) California is making a second attempt to force giant internet suppliers like Amazon to collect state sales taxes. Amazon, and other mail-order discounters, are relying on a 1992 Supreme Court decision which held that retailers do not have to collect sales taxes in States where they have no physical presence—stores, warehouses, offices, that sort of thing.
This frustrates California lawmakers, who want the "e-tailers" to collect the state's taxes anyway. So they're trying an end-around: they're saying that the presence of affiliate websites in the state amount to a "physical presence." That means people like Ken, who lives in California...and, over here in Wisconsin, me. Ken puts a link to an Amazon product on his website, a reader of his buys it, and he gets a "commission." The commissions are small, but they add up. That's how websites like his (and mine) provide us with a living, or part of one. It's a nice system for us. And for you, because only sites that attract lots of readers are able to generate appreciable income. So, by definition, it's only the popular sites—the sites lots of readers like—that become effective affiliates.
I don't have any problem with people paying taxes. The problem is how Amazon and other "e-tailers" are intending to fight the battle. If the California legislature passes a law saying affiliates amount to a physical presence in the state, then Amazon is just going to cancel its contracts with all its affiliates in California. No more affiliates, no more "physical presence" under the new law, and Californians can keep ordering from Amazon without Amazon having to collect sales taxes from them. The new law is neutralized.
Trouble is, California affiliate sites would then become "collateral damage." People who previously cracked their personal nut with affiliate income would be out of business. Lots of Californians who have painstakingly built up internet businesses would be suddenly out of work. Bye-bye KenRockwell.com. And, if Wisconsin follows suit and is similarly cut off by Amazon—or if Amazon just decides to stop its affiliate program nationally because of headaches with conforming to a patchwork of state laws—bye-bye TOP.
I'd have to go get a real job. Wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I'd survive; people survive worse things every day. (To quote Yitta Schwartz, from this rather astonishing article, "When there are so many problems in life, I should put myself on the scale?") The main thing that would make me sad is that I feel I'm kinda good at this job, and probably wouldn't be contributing as much to other peoples' happiness if I were spending forty hours a week selling shoes or used cars. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. I've worked worse jobs.)
Let's just say I'll be watching developments with...interest. Gulp.
(Thanks to Lynn Burdekin)
Featured Comment by Hudson: "Part of the problem is that there are 11,000+- sales taxes in this country. Okay Mike I just bought a thingy from you, I live in State, County, City, School District, Mass Transit District, Billionaire Sports Owner Stadium District, Development District how much sales tax do you collect? In my state we have to only keep track of about 4 sales tax rates, and they do not match up with zip codes (idiots). If there is going to be a tax on internet sales, it needs to be one tax for the whole country, if I had to keep track of 11,000 tax rates, I would just give up and go out of business."
Featured Comment by Patrick Henry: "This push is actually coming from Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is lobbying heavily for this. You can imagine why. The Wal-Mart lobbying is subtly mentioned here. Yet another reason not to shop at Wal-Mart."
'Teach a man to fish...': PDN (Photo District News) has documented in two articles the curious case of Canadian photo-plagiarist David Burdeny, who has evidently decided to forge a career as an art photographer by, well, by doing exactly what a couple of other art photographers (Sze Tsung Leong and Elger Esser) have done...only a little differently. Not much differently, either.
One example you could excuse; after all, some standpoints and treatments seem "obvious," and it's understandable that, with so many photographers now in the world, motifs will be repeated. But...that much? See both the first article and the follow-up second article for more.
Seems Burdeny even hung his show similarly and used similar language in his artist's statement.
When I was young we used to refer to this as "standing in so-and-so's tripod holes." I once heard a story—probably apocryphal—of photographers with 8x10 view cameras waiting their turn at a famous spot at Point Lobos where Edward Weston made one of his famous pictures.
Not to make too much of this, but this is really one of the major problems of innovation in photography. If you have a really good idea that no one's ever had before, that's great, but the chances are very good that, if they can, people will copy you relentlessly until your original achievement is buried and all but invisible. I think this is what happened to Ernst Haas. He was a very innovative photographer, whose ideas and strategies were new and original at the time he came up with him. But his example showed other photographers how to think the same way and deploy the same tricks, and his achievements were buried under an avalanche of copycatting until it virtually became the normative style of amateur 35mm color slide photography. We don't tend to think of Haas as a great innovator today, but my sense is that he was at the time.
This is yet another way in which photography is different than art, and why applying the same ways of thinking to both, interchangeably, is not quite a fit.
(Thanks to Albano Garcia)
Featured Comment by Gary: "A year ago I'd have tut-tutted with the best of 'em, but I had a sobering experience recently of completing a black-and-white portfolio from several Nazi concentration camps. Only when I'd shot, printed, and edited the material did I chance upon Michael Kenna's Impossible To Forget. I was shocked to discover that I could easily be accused of plagiarism, as so many shots were strikingly similar. As a consequence I've very mixed feelings about my portfolio, and have kept it mainly private for fear of being accused of a crime I genuinely did not commit."
Featured Comment by mani: "I find it fascinating that so many comments under those articles basically say: 'So what—the two guys happened to stand in the same place and take a photograph.' The fact that people interested enough in photography to be reading the article, see the artistic vision inherent in the process as being limited to just pointing a camera at the subject and pressing the shutter. In effect, 'any fool could do it, if they stand in the right place.' The images, the gallery hanging, and not least the blatantly ripped-off accompanying texts are shameful and deeply pitiful at the same time."
Featured Comment by Player: "Ah, yes, 'photographic cover songs.'"
Featured Comment by robert e: "Surely, a consistent half stop difference in exposure counts for something. Plus, Burdeny ripped off Sugimoto as well, which differentiates his work from Leong's.
"Okay, now that I got the jokes out of my system:
"I think mani hit the nail on the head.
"Debating whether, or how much, photographs resemble each other, or ought to, is missing the point. The tripod holes at Yosemite are cliche, but irrelevant. How and why two works of art resemble each other is a little closer to the mark. Whether two artistic projects resemble each other is a little closer yet, but still not quite there.
"The situation Gary describes is a matter of coincidence or synchronicity; either way, it's something quite common throughout the history of many arts (and sciences), and something reasonable and knowledgeable people expect and understand.
"Homage, theft, parody, coincidence and synchrony are all different things, even if they can produce identical results. Intent is everything.
"So, in the first place, taking the two exhibits as a whole, it is clear that something's up. It's not a matter of technical issues or tripod holes. There is clearly conceptual and visionary similarity between the two presentations.
"Were this intended as homage or parody, the artist and exhibitors would have somehow communicated that intent. If it were legitimate artistic engagement and reinterpretation, the intent needs to be known so that we may appreciate the challenge, gauge the accomplishment and try to understand its import.
"I think the denial and obfuscation on the part of the artist and the galleries are telling. That's too bad, because I think the later work is derivative but good—valid (if not particularly important) reinterpretations or syntheses of one or more artists' visions. And they are good photographs.
"Regardless, my non-lawyer eyes see nothing actionable here. There's no crime or economic harm that can be proven. Whatever their motives, artist and exhibitors can hide them behind the idea of artistic license. And they do seem to be hiding.
"But I think there is another matter of ethics, or professional misconduct. In this case, it behooves the professional community—artists, art photographers, curators, galleries, critics, buyers—to assess what's happened and, even if a judgement is impossible, at least declare a general position on such things.
"If I may try to put this in the context of recent TOP discussions: as a matter of strictly photography, this is nothing at all; as a matter of art, it's a bigger deal."
Hard to believe, but it's been twenty years since the Knolls let the genie out of the...er, I mean since Photoshop first came on the scene.
Thomas Knoll, John Knoll, Steve Guttman and Russell Brown recently gathered to share some "Startup Memories" and toast their creation on AdobeTV. (I was tempted to Photoshop myself in peering over the railing in the screen grab, but I held off. Photoshop, the product that's now a verb.)
Congratulations to the granddaddy of image editors, and its progenitors.
Featured Comment by Matthew Allen: "I'll never miss an excuse to link to this. (Make sure you mouse over the comic for the alt-text.)"
Featured Comment by Kevin: "'granddaddy of image editors'—really? When I were a wee sprog the wisened old gurus (they must have been at least 20) all boasted about their work in Lumena and Ron Scott's QFX. My first photo editing programme was something called Lorraine, IIRC, which Letraset took up and marketed as ImageStudio. Great fun for black and white photos, even if it choked on files bigger than about 50mm square and there were no good, affordable, printers until years after the event. It later begat ColorStudio, which made the serious mistake of coming out about the same time as a half-priced competitor called Photoshop (the developers picked up the wreckage and rebuilt it into what is now Corel Painter). There was also a French programme called Live Paint that came out about the same time which was way faster than Photoshop, although it was more useful for compositing than regular image polishing. But Photomac was pretty comparable to the original version of Photoshop for basic photographic-type work, as opposed to groovy special effects. Point is, in many ways Photoshop is not so much the granddaddy of image editors as the big tough who kicked all the other kids out of the playground. Sadly, its success has made for a much more samey, predictable digital imaging world. Sniff."
Featured Comment by Erlik: "And here's how you do it right: Photoshop masterpieces, from deceptively simple to terrifyingly complex. Not a single overcooked, oversaturated and overly-contrasty image in sight.
Canon has introduced some big rebates for the Rebel XS, which takes it into the sub-$500 territory for the basic kit. The rebates get bigger when you add telephoto lenses to the kit.
The rebates of $70 and $170 for the various kits lead to the final price points noted below. The instant rebates expire on March 13, 2010.
I don't want to steal Ctein's thunder or step on his toes*, but his post yesterday inspired me—I took the money I earned on his recent print sale** and bought a Mamiya 7II and an 80mm ƒ/4 normal lens, and 20 rolls of Tri-X 400. (The link is to a new camera, but I bought a used one, for about half that price.)
No decision, though.
Frankly I already have several medium-format film cameras—just nothing that's really "taken." Maybe the Mamiya will. (If not, I'll turn it around—pace my comments about Leicas a while back, I figure the most I'm really risking is a few hundred bucks.) I just keep feeling the urge to get back into film again in a serious way.
I can find no reason to say goodbye to digital, though. I've been enjoying the Panasonic GF1 which is now my #1 digital camera. (How could I not? It's the DMD, the camera I said I wanted way back in 2005.) I'm even slowly learning how to use it, despite its absurd overabundance of features...I really do pine for simple, stalwart devices that are more controllable. (The more features something has, the less in control of it I feel.) I'll probably never not fumble with that horrid dial + button kludge, but meh, you make do. Nothing's perfect.
The one feature it doesn't have that I really miss is IS. I consider myself committed to the lens—the lovely Lumix G 20mm ƒ/1.7 ASPH. hits the sweet spot for me—but I'll replace the body as soon as something just as good that has IS comes out.
A more serious decision has been looming for me—the decision to get back into darkroom work. Not for the future, though—for the past.
For better or for worse, I shot 35mm black-and-white for some 20 years, from 1980 to 2000. (I was in art school from 1982 to 1985.) I have no idea how to count accurately, but I probably have between 50,000 and 80,000 negatives from those years, all told. And yet I've never truly redacted that work in any meaningful way. Of course I have great junk heaps of prints hither and yon, but nothing consistent enough to call a portfolio, never mind a single portfolio that truly stands as the Best Of all that shooting.
Until recently, photo paper had become a problem. Most of my negatives are Plus-X and Tri-X, and there aren't a lot of papers any more that "fit" the curves of those two films. My last "standard" (i.e., favorite) paper, Agfa Multicontrast Classic, is gone. But ever since the new Adox MCC (a clone of the Agfa paper) came out, it's been looking like an opportunity to me—possibly even a rather urgent opportunity—the chance to print a "master set" of the best 60 or 80 pictures from my 1980s and 1990s.
So here's what I've been thinking: set up a darkroom in the basement. Over the course of a leisurely year or two, print small editions of my best 60 or 80 pictures, maybe eight or ten of each. Of each batch, keep a handful, and offer another handful for sale on TOP.
I won't flatter myself that the world will beat a path to my door to buy my old snaps. But if I offered, say, five prints of each picture for a low enough price, maybe there'd be enough interest to keep the project solvent.
And then, at the end of that road, who knows? Maybe a book of some sort.
Ironically, the biggest problem I foresee when I contemplate this project is whether I'd have the discipline to stick to the task. I've always been curious, and I'd rather learn something from a failure than rehearse a success. I tried to do just about exactly what I'm talking about here in the mid-'90s—make a master portfolio of my life's work—but I couldn't stick to the hits. I'd get interested in negs I'd never printed, even if I knew they weren't great, and go exploring. Who knows whether another decade and a half of maturity—and the de facto end of my film photography in 2000—are enough to focus my fundamentally wandering mind?
No decision yet. But the idea is certainly percolating.
Mike*I've always loved the "block that metaphor!" tidbits in The New Yorker. The most recent one: "'When someone really gets their back against the wall and a white knight appears, the tendency is not to kick the tires as much as you should.'" Funny.
**I get a "gallery fee" of 20% for publicizing the sales here. The rest stays with the artist.
Don't panic (or rejoice, if that's your pleasure). It's not what you think.
A little less than a year ago I wrote "Transition State," the last installment in my chronicling of my steady migration from film to digital photography. I noted then that it had been nearly two years since I had made a film photograph, but I wasn't ready to decide I wouldn't make any more. As a friend concisely and eloquently put it, "You've stopped, but you haven't quit."
Last Wednesday a bit finally flipped in my subconscious. I went from indeterminacy to decision: I am done with film photography. In other words...I quit.
Why did the brainbit flip just now? I suspect something that entered into this was me thinking about what I'm going to be doing with my art and my work over the next year or so (between my Contributors and the recent print sale, I should be able to devote an awful lot of time to art). None of that thinking involved picking up a film camera. The decisive process isn't happening on the level of conscious thought, so this may be merely the highest brain function rationalizing what the rest of the brain has decided.
Here it is, Ctein's very last frame of film, file number 040807-C#12 (indicating it was exposed on April 8, 2007). Technical information for those who care—camera: Fujica GA645; film: Kodak Portra 800-2. Th'th'th'th'at's all, folks!
I've told a few people here that I'm close to, and, to my surprise, they've been startled by my decision. They've known that I've been doing nothing with film and that this rough beast has been slouching towards Bethlehem for years. I'm not sure why it should come as any surprise that it finally arrived.
There've been three questions I've been asked repeatedly:
Q: What if you change your mind?
A: Not very likely. There's a reason it took me three years to come to this decision. It's not one I forced; it's one that's arisen spontaneously. I know what I feel. More importantly, I have learned over the years how to pay proper attention to what I feel and what I really want. I want to move on, and so I am going to.
Q: What if you see a wonderful photograph that you need film for?
A: On the very rare occasions if/when that happens, it'll be the same as when I saw a wonderful potential photograph that I needed an 8x10 view or panoramic film camera for. Neither of which I've ever owned. Shrug, move on, and find a wonderful photograph that I could make. I've never lost sleep over the few percent that got away. I'm not about to start now. Honestly, I'm not even sure it's ever going to happen.
Q: Does this mean you're giving up your darkroom?
A: Well, if you're talking about conventional printing, I already have. I don't do Ektacolor printing any longer, and I have no interest in ever doing so again. I very rarely do black-and-white silver gelatin printing, for clients. The reason I keep the darkroom up and running is because dye transfer is still a substantial part of my business. I can print dye transfers from film or digital originals. Anyways, I've got three times as many unprinted portfolio-quality negatives in my files as I have dye transfer materials to print them on.
The decision is mostly of psychological significance; I haven't made any film photographs in now-approaching-three years. I'll clear a little room out of my deep freeze when I get rid of a couple of hundred rolls of film. I'll get some very modest amount of money for my 35mm and medium format equipment. A buyer from Columbus Camera Group is supposed to be in town the early part of March and I'll find out what they're willing to offer me. Coincidence, by the way; I found out about that the day after the bit flipped. Maybe the gods are telling me something.
If I sold the stuff on eBay I'd possibly get more moolah, but I sincerely doubt it's worth my energy and time to dispose of the gear. If I think CCG offer's way too low I'll take my chances on eBay. Now that I've made my decision, though, I would rather just be done with it. I'll probably hang onto my Pentax 67 lenses, on the off chance that Pentax finally comes out with a medium format digital body that I care about. (I'm not going to give them too much longer; I will only wait so long for vaporware to condense.)
So what's my next step?
I don't have a bloody clue. Isn't that fun!
Ctein's column appears on The Online Photographer every Thursday morning.
Every now and then I look into new cars. Not that I need or can afford or even want a new car, only that my old one is getting pretty old now (if it were a human, it would be on the verge of puberty—why is that way of putting it vaguely gross?) and although it continues in fine health (knock on my wooden haid) presumably it won't last forever. I should be prepared, I figure.
Plus, it's fun to go on test drives. A few months ago I drove a Honda Civic Si, which was a little barn-burner with a free-revving engine. With so much of its power so high in the powerband, it would force me to throw it around like I was a teenager. That would be my excuse, anyway.
But it had an odd, awkward flaw—for me. The seats. The front seats seem to be designed for 20-year-old Asian guys, who are presumably on the short side and shaped approximately like sticks. I am a 52-year-old overweight white American. I am on the tall side, and I am not shaped like a stick. More like a sack. The hard side bolsters of the narrow seats catch me strategically in a very wrong place: they jab right into my kidneys. With the coupe's taut ride, the evil side bolsters effectively transmit road harshness directly to my kidneys as though that's what they were designed to do. I indulged in a rather longish test drive (the Si really was fun), and my kidneys ached for 24 hours afterwards, like I'd been worked over by a couple of weak midgets who knew exactly what they were doing.
I could never buy that car. Not with those seats. Looks good on paper, though.
The principle is the same with cameras: you can only do so much of your shopping on paper. You've got to hold a camera in your hand, at the very minimum. And it's better if you can use it for a while before you commit to keeping it. That's why B&H Photo and Amazon have liberal return policies. You never can tell when the camera that looks perfect on paper might have something that's just obviously not a fit for you.
Everybody knows that, though. What I wanted to mention, before I forget for the nth time, is that there's a happy sort of corollary to that, too: we tend to learn to love the cameras we use a lot for work that's important to us. Even if it's a klunky piece of junk that requires loving workarounds. Take any tool you've got and use it every day when the nice weather finally gets here (it's coming, here in the northern Hemisphere, rumor has it). Spend a few minutes practicing with it every night; learn its features and foibles; take pictures even when you don't have anything to take pictures of; find a subject that interests you and pursue it. By the time you hit twenty or thirty pictures you love—when presumably you'll be up into the multiple thousands of frames shot, that is unless you're some kind of freaky prodigy—you'll have conceived a real fondness for your little picturetaker, even if it's a kludgey antique or a sorry-lookin' blobby black box way overstuffed with nanny features.
See if it ain't true.
P.S. Nanny Feature, n., a feature or functionality on an electronical camera that looks after you, on account of you're too ig'nant to know how to do it yourself or just too weak-ass 'n' lazy to do it yourself.Featured Comment by Martin: "This post came at just the relevant time for me. In December 2008 I upgraded by old, beloved Nikon D70 for a D90 with an 18–200mm VR. And it's taken me until now—14 months—to get to know (and love!) the D90 as much as I did the D70. The catalyst, predictably, was loads and loads of shooting, both for a new fashion blog and the longest single-day job I've done (13 hours, 998 exposures).
"To be honest I was beginning to despair that I'd never feel as comfortable with the D90 as with the D70 that I used so heavily, but simply logging the hours of shooting did the trick. It's wonderful to have that feeling back—that of the camera being merely an extension of a limb."
There's not a lot of point to polls like yesterday's. The bell curve is right where I thought it would be, right where it should be. (There's even a little shelf in the bell curve at 22–24 MP, representing D3x/A900 aspirations.) All I was wondering was whether 18 MP in a Rebel is really going to be a significant draw. That premise looks a little soft, but still safe.
Polls like this one basically represent people saying "What I've got right now is perfect for me...right now." Thom Hogan uses polls for projections—that is, he knows that the curve would have peaked at a lower number if the poll had been taken five years ago, and he knows it will peak at a higher number five years from now. He looks at the rate of change. Because really, pixel counts (given today's technology continuing unchanged) are almost arbitrary numbers—like computing power and drive space, the numbers are normalized only for now, only in terms of this point in the march of progress. At one point, six megapixels was the bleeding-edge aspirational number, and now, only 2.7% of poll respondents would pick that level. (And I'm kind of surprised it's that high.) The number has moved all the way through the bell curve.
Complicating the projections for cameramakers, though, is that the bell curves don't move infinitely. At some point every sensor will have enough resolution, and people will stop caring. Then, the manufacturer who invests in a bet that more megapixels will continue to move product down the road (just because more megapixels have moved product up till then) will be out of luck. Predicting that point of sufficiency and not investing too much in overshooting it is one of the dicier tricks of product design. (An egregious example of that kind of overshoot on the part of manufacturers: APS. Pronounced "oops.")
Looks like most people are pretty happy with what they have now, though.