Well, this is interesting. For the first time in a long time I have near-total writer's block. Just can't think of a thing to say.
Anyone got a question? Maybe I can be reactive, since I can't seem to be creative.
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Reader Question from:
David: "Do you ever feel the need to walk down to the store wearing nothing but a pair of boots and a towel around your waist? My next move hinges on your answer."
Mike replies: I always drive to the store.
John Hagen: "I am submitting a couple of my digital fine art photographs for artist grants. Maybe I am over thinking it this, but what is the best way to describe a digital photograph printed on fine art paper with an archival inkjet printer? Is there a fancy 'gelatin silver' name that describes the process? I bounce around between archival inkjet print, digital photograph, digital photograph or inkjet print. Maybe I am over thinking this. I am trying to figure out the best, artsy fartsy term that would describe a fine art digital print. Maybe I just need to describe my process and let the viewer decide whether it is fine art or not. Is that too long-winded a question?"
Mike replies: Well, to start with, never use the term "artsy fartsy," even among friends. It doesn't have even a whisper of irony and immediately pegs you as a barbarian.
And as to your question, I'd call them "archival inkjet prints"—but maybe someone who has been on the receiving end of grant proposals has a better suggestion?
Joe Holmes: "I'd like to second Mike's preference for 'archival inkjet print.' That's the most honest and accurate description, and I think the time has passed that 'inkjet' scares most people. I also sometimes see 'archival pigment print,' but that feels like you're ashamed to use 'inkjet.' It's 2014—embrace it! Just be sure to avoid the euphemism 'giclée,' a word coined in 1991 to avoid the early stigma of inkjet prints."
Eric Brody: "I use the term 'archival pigment prints' in the hope that everyone with a desktop all in one printer fax copier will realize they probably cannot make a print of equal technical quality. 'Inkjet,' while honest, sounds...not fancy enough, while the old 'giclée' sounds hopelessly pretentious. 'Pigment' is at least honest also. The archival part is as much hope as anything else but I'm not sure anyone will want my prints in one hundred years."
Michael Perini: "'Archival inkjet prints' is honest but not completely descriptive, as there are dye prints that have good longevity and are referred to as archival. Michael Reichman (I believe) uses 'pigment on paper.' If you are using pigment inks, I would get that in there somehow. You don't want to sound pretentious but you do want to be completely descriptive. Pigment on paper inkjet prints (I use this one). Archival pigment inkjet prints works too."
Mike replies: I think I like "pigment inkjet print" for the reasons you mention. Maybe even "pigment inkjet print on archival paper" if the paper is sold as being archival. That sidesteps the issue of an implicit warranty for the print's life expectancy.
HT: "Do you have even a perfunctory interest in this year's Oscars or are you in curmudgeon mode?"
Mike replies: Lots of interest theoretically, but I need to make an effort to see some of the movies. Which ones do you think I should see?
Manuel: "Sorry, Mike. My mind is blocked. I can't think of a single question to ask you. I'm embarrassed."
Mike replies: At least you see what I'm up against.
Andre: "How about: Most landscape/cityscape photography advice really pushes the 'wait for golden hour' approach. As I do the bulk of my photography when traveling, and as photography isn't the main purpose of the trips, waiting at a site until dusk (or getting up and out early enough to catch the dawn) often isn't an option. Also, to me, endless parades of 'golden hour' shots get pretty tedious even if each of the individual images are quite good. So the question is: Are you aware of resources that are aimed at helping you get the most out of the lighting conditions you find rather than waiting around for them to become optimal?"
Mike replies: No. Just as there are no meaningful guides to composition aside from (maybe) looking at successful work. I'd tend to argue the opposite of the "golden hour" approach—the lighting is always optimal and also, it never is. That is, certain pictures work in certain lighting. It's not the lighting and it's not the picture, it's how the two work together. In most kinds of lighting you can find something to photograph; the lighting might tend to dictate what it is, but you find it by looking with your eyes, not following little aphorisms that can be put into a sentence.
By Rui Palha
By Bernd and Hilla Becher
By "wenzday01" on flickr
By Scott Stulberg
In which one is the light best? Maybe you could argue, but I would say the light is "right" in all four cases for the picture each photographer found...and I'd also venture to say that the light in any one of these pictures wouldn't have worked very well for each of the other three scenes. (For example, the last picture in full sunlight wouldn't be the same picture at all, would it?)
The number of possible pictures is infinite. In every light, there are some that work. The trick is not finding the "right" light. The trick is finding the right picture in the light you're in.
zaan: "I'd love to see your best jazz albums of 2013 list. I greatly enjoyed last year's list for 2012."
Mike replies: Enticing notion, and it would be fun for me, but it wouldn't draw in the eyes. I need to write about photography or visitors go elsewhere.
John Krumm: "Why do I take fewer photos the longer I participate in the hobby? I still read about it as much, I listen to the same number of photography podcasts, and when I do go out I always enjoy it. But something is making me less likely to run out the door in search of photos as time goes on.... And can I replace 'I' with 'we,' making it a general tendency?"
Mike replies: Sure, everybody narrows down as time goes by. Strand did, Adams did. You take fewer pictures because you've taken them all before...why repeat your old hits, play your familiar tricks again? There's nothing wrong with working less. You're probably working smarter and more deeply too.
Dave Kosiur: "And why do you feel you need to write something every day?"
Mike replies: Same reason most people keep working. Because it's what I do for a living and I need the money.
Arg: "How did you first meet Ctein?"
Mike replies: I was in San Francisco representing Darkroom & Creative Camera Techniques at the Photo West show and Ctein, who I knew from his photo-writing of course, had invited me to dinner. We were scheduled to meet near the Convention Center on the street at a particular time, and I asked Ctein how I'd recognize him. Ctein said, "I look like a radical gay Jewish hippie cross between Rasputin and Jesus Christ." And I thought, hmm, and what does that look like? But when I saw him walking down the sidewalk, I thought, "Well, that's got to be Ctein"—and sure enough, it was.
Ben: "What is/was your favorite camera store, ever in the history of ever, and why?"
Mike replies: I have lots of good memories of camera stores. Baker's and Penn Camera in D.C., Ferrante Dege in Boston, Industrial Photo in Maryland, Central Camera in Chicago, Mike Crivello's here in Wisconsin. Never really walked into an old-style camera store I didn't like. But my favorite would have to be Gene Fara's old Oak Park Camera in Oak Park, Illinois. I liked a lot of the people there, although I never knew Gene very well. They let Zander zoom around behind the counters when he was little, and when they had a raffle for a giant stuffed bear, surprise, Zander won. The bear was as tall as he was and he used to box with it, with me providing the animation behind the bear. Zander took the bouts very seriously and always won, but the bear sometimes beat him around a bit with its big stuffed paws. And they were a revolving door of lots of used gear—continual entertainment for a camera geek like me.
Trecento: "Can you tell me what's going on with how the lens is drawing in this photo? It's hosted by Shorpy. What I see is that the foreground, in-focus area has great local contrast (acutance?), and the background, while not softened to a complete blur, has very little, causing the motorcycle cop to "pop" forward. How is the lens doing this, and more importantly, how can I do this?"
Mike replies: That's lovely, isn't it? Looks to me like it's more the tonality and the negative size that are creating the effects you're responding to. Get yourself an old Crown or Speed Graphic with one of those 127mm lenses and use a medium yellow filter, some Ilford FP-4, and a compensating or soft-working developer like D-23. With some experimentation, I'll bet you could come pretty close to that look.
Daniel Evan Rodriguez: "Considering your history with Contax, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Leica R range of cameras and lenses."
Mike replies: I made many attempts with the R series, starting with a used R3 and then a rented R4. I bought two R4s's and both were faulty. I bought a 35mm Summicron-R (a Mandler design) from Michael Hintlian (a very good photographer) and then years later sold it back to him! I got some wonderful results with that lens and a 90mm Summicron-R and the R4, and Tri-X. I used the R8 for one afternoon at a camera show and while I didn't care for the odd body shape, I certainly couldn't complain about the results. For years afterwards I looked at R7's but could never quite afford the camera and lens at the same time.
My biggest beef with the R cameras is that the viewfinders have 93% coverage which is supposed to show the area of a slide in a cardboard mount. As I printed B&W full-frame, it was a bit of a headache for me. It wouldn't have been a deal-breaker; it was just an annoyance.
Rory O'Toole: "As a penniless student, in the early '90s, I bought three books secondhand—Time-Life's The Camera, The Art of Photography and The Great Themes. These were the bedrock of my photography knowledge, and I love them still. Have you an opinion of them?"
Mike replies: Absolutely, I loved the Time-Life Library of Photography and read every word of every volume. A product flowering from the years of the "Photo Boom," so dubbed by A.D. Coleman. There were 17 books in the series, published from 1970 to 1972. The titles were The Camera, Light and Film, The Print, Color, Photography as a Tool, The Great Themes, Photojournalism, Special Problems, The Studio, The Art of Photography, Great Photographers, Photographing Nature, Photographing Children, Documentary Photography, Frontiers of Photography, Travel Photography, and Caring for Photographs. And there was an Index. That was the original set with the silver covers and black cloth spines. The set was revised and republished from 1981 to 1983, with black buckram covers, but I think there were fewer volumes in the second set.
Jayson Merryfield: "Quickly: what was your worst photography gig ever. Define 'worst' however you please."
Mike replies: I had a girlfriend who knew I liked Miatas when they came out, around 1990, and she took me car shopping with her so I could drive one. The car was bright red so I threw some color film in the camera and took ten or twelve shots of it. But because I didn't care for color and hated it when I had color film "clogging up the camera" (which made me feel like I couldn't shoot for real), I rewound the partial roll leaving the leader sticking out and stuck it back in the camera bag.
A year or so later my mother's whole family was gathered and I had a chance to do a family portrait. It was spur of the moment and I was extemporizing anyway—I had to perch the camera on a bookshelf and use the timer, and the lighting was iffy so it might not have been much anyway. Everyone said they wanted color rather than my usual B&W so I rummaged around in my camera bag to see what I had and found that roll of color film. I hadn't marked the roll and I thought it was a fresh roll. So I shot the family pictures over the exposures of the damn car without realizing what I was doing. Dumb, dumb mistake, and one that counted—within a couple of years, several family members present for that failed group portrait attempt had died. I felt ashamed of that for years afterwards, and to be honest still do. Probably shouldn't even admit to it—but hey, in the words of David Vestal, I'm in the disclosure business.
And I even had some personal rules to prevent that kind of thing—never let anyone else touch your camera, and never change your regular method when it counts. I was very careful about keeping my B&W film organized and I don't think in 20 years I ever double-exposed a single frame of B&W accidentally. But I just didn't care about color so I was much more casual about it.
Richard Swearinger: "Do you consider what you do a blog? If not, what is it?"
Mike replies: The nicest description I've heard was provided by my friend Jim Schley: it's a "vertical photography magazine." (Um, in blog format.)
Jim Schley: "Here's a question, Mike: Have you ever seen Chris Marker's film La Jetée, a cinematic work but made entirely of still photographs? I'd heard about this for many years and finally watched it. This work has clearly affected other filmmakers (and probably photographers) profoundly."
Mike replies: Never even heard of it, but I will put it on my list. (Jim introduced me to Tarkovsky's The Mirror, an important milestone for me with movies. He also got me to see Groundhog Day, by telling me he thought it was one of the ten best movies ever made, an astonishing statement from him about a rom-com...but now I agree.)