working with the Salton Sea: unlike portrait sessions, a visit to the Salton Sea demands many cameras to be brought. each camera has a given function of format and viewing angle. handy all the time is the phone, and the ease to work with phone apps means that the photos are ready first. these are such photos. they hint at what the other cameras were seeing.Read More
« The severe portrait that is not the greatest joy in the world to the subject may be enormously interesting to the reader. » — Irving PennRead More
sometimes crazy things are done, and one of them is to coordinate European trips to attend concerts. I had never been to Berlin, and the chance came up to visit the city with a friend (from another city) and see Sad Lovers & Giants for the first time. I brought the massive gear, after all, some clubs are (practically) candle lit.
a big surprise was how much I came to like Berlin (over just four days), and that the concert photographic experience was to be so defining.
by then, I had a few ways to approach concert photography:
- don't take too many photos.
- need to photograph over the entire concert.
- stand in one place, and stay put: concert attendance first, photography second.
- look for the performer's "decompression moment" [ link ]
- in low light, just fixed-focus on the microphone and let all else be as it will be.
- think that a portrait is much better than kerrang! moments.
the downside for this concert was to have close-enough and unobstructed view only for Garçe and Tony, so they dominated the photos. luckily, the photos gathered the attention of Garçe, and I was able to secure a better vantage point later in the year when they played London. (did I mention how sometimes crazy things are done?)
selected photos posted to the Concert Portfolio [ link ]
and of course, we listen to feedback.
a realization came into being that, yes, social-photosites were not of great interest to me. blame facebook. why? because I was "contributing" to social-photosites as a currency to maintain a social interaction, but it was not seeking anyone new. frankly, the facile opinions of the internets would hardly be useful in terms of enjoying or pursuing photography. as I read in a post from a friend (on facebook, of course): "telling me I'll never be successful at instagram if I don't start using hashtags."
and that is it, isn't? if one does not want to be socially/internets successful, then we have to use such sites for another purpose. that is, they are a clutch for us doing things differently, in a way that, say, mobile photography can alter what we photograph, and how we photograph it.
with this realization, it was obvious to close my flickr and 500px accounts, and then figure out what's next. at the same time, there was some feedback that this site was not pushing the photography hard enough: it was confusing to find the photos and see what was the new work.
the irony? the new work was very much mobile-focused and very suitable to the social-photosites. that is, it is experimentations with the phone and compact camera in a laissez-faire way, as in pointing to a direction, but then exercising some control. then quickly process within the mobile platform and upload. there would be interruptions to use other cameras at concerts and for portraits. but seriously, it was more about studying with the phone and compact cameras.
* behold the new site *
now the landing page Works is an index to the categories of photographies that are pursued, and in some cases, some projects. the photos can be readily browsed through the sampling at each gallery presented. for better assembled works, the Portfolio section has the works of portraits, series and concert photography.
the first item in the thumbnails at Works is Singly. that is, the idea of posting with increased regularity a single photograph with a single paragraph (if needed) that hints at random pursuits, or a series being gathered. in other words, Singly takes the place of all the social-photosites into one location, with no worries about faves/likes, views... or hashtags.
the blog remains for collected works, or gatherings from trips.
for all that San Francisco has to offer, it has always been a challenge to photograph. there is much unique to San Francisco that is not offered in other prominent cities, but to "see" has been a little harder. I have been familiar with San Francisco for many years, and lived in it only for a few. I always viewed it as very photogenic, yet, in how I see photography functioning at this point, I am at a loss on how to photograph San Francisco.
most unexpectedly, viewing the city through a sliver in the prism of New Topographics, which is neither about how photogenic the city is, nor is it about how I see and experience the city, seems to offer some hope.
the issue with this approach concerns its lack of intuition. meaning, it is an approach that I can "toy with", but it is not intuitive present on how to photograph it. this is very obvious when I look at the photographs, and then I am stumped on how to process them to represent the mood — which is what the intuition should be feeding at the moment of taking the photo.
it is also the case that it is too much of examples from Lewis Baltz and Paul Strand, in the way that I see them. Mr. Baltz is the sliver to New Topographics, but not in his vision of it, and the Mr. Strand is in bringing a visceral/intuitive and mono no aware** aspect to the photographs. yet, because they remain separate, it fails at its purpose: a cohesive view of San Francisco.
the Presidio and other corners
the Presidio grounds, while they are going corporate-gentrification, and other improvements, remains a photographic haven. it may be tempting to put the Golden Gate Bridge in some small detail, but like with the speech at the beginning of a flight: "the nearest exit may be behind you." that is, the appeal of the Presidio lies within itself, behind one's view of the bridge, and not as a foreground to the it.
these are all part of the mobile photography approach, with photos processed in Snapseed and CameraBag2.
** I am wondering: what would be the term for this in photography?
I cannot recall walking the tracks around the reservoir before this visit, though I recall crossing the park to get to the UWS... ooops, Upper West Side. you know how it goes, one visits NYC for a few days, and one wants to feel like a local, and use local terms. the above photo was my principal tourist photo.
the original idea was to visit NYC for the Guggenheim's Italian Futurism exhibit in June. however, things change, and a long weekend in June turned into a week-plus in late April. a regular city to visit, now it had become rather erratic, but the frequency keeps increasing.
in that, this visit was the first time to spend much time walking, and making as many observations as possible. well, there was the work days too, so that meant watching NYC walk into cafés rather than me walking about to see the same people.
as with Kyoto and Paris, the time photographing was taken by looking for a composition that highlights a mono no aware, and an impermanence wearing on a surface. while I tend to think of Paul Strand meets New Topographics, a friend came up with a better way to describe it: Surface Mapping.
the intent remains the same: showing a representation of how I see, and not to capture the most awesome of photos. in this sense, mobile photography remains a way to sort this new way of photographing a city, which hopefully evolves into something also understood, rather than just visceral.
after all the photographs are taken, after all the walking is done, however, the lingering thoughts are the conversations had, the conversations wished, and the hope for more of them surrounded by photography, writing residences at cafés, working at cafés, and sensing how life is actually lived.
in Black & White
[ ps ] amidst the conversations, a phrase was morphed into Détant de Servants to make it sound different. a day after, one of the many appealing building façades in NYC had the "Service Entrance" sign. the title for this entry was set.
[ pps ] the quick-and-dirty postings were made to facebook [link] as they were taken. the photos here are re-selected and processed with Snapseed, for crop/tuning and B/W conversion if done. then, I use CameraBag2 for final presets and resizing for the web.
one of the curses of following a certain type of British, and European, bands is that they never make it to the USA for tours. and, some of them just come over sporadically — looking at you Tindersticks.
I am still holding out hope for the reunited Slowdive to make it to the USA, but I never thought that the reunited Loop would come to San Francisco. despite a bout with the cold/flu/crap-feel, it was a concert to attend. that it was three bands (+ Carlton Melton and White Fence), and it would start at 9pm was the worst to expect when sick, but hey...
an unusual situation was that there were no other people with cameras up front. there were more headbanging people, and that was great. so I was the only one with a non-phone camera up front, and another person with access taking some photos here and there from the side of the stage.
the concert was grand, and lived to all the desired experiences of seeing live music that was some 23 years since it was first heard, when I stumbled upon the release of Fade Out. then came Arc-Lite, which is actually the album I play the most, and the band disbanded soon after.
photographically, this was the first time that I would have brought out the Canon with all the fast lenses for the proper capturing of a favorite band live. however, I opted to use the since-the-last-time expanded suite of lenses that go with the Fuji X-Pro. also, while I have a 24mm lens with the Canon, for the Fuji I have a 12mm (18mm equivalent) Zeiss lens — I am not too wild about wide-angle lenses. the drawback, compared to the Canon system, is a ƒ2.8 vs ƒ1.4, but the ISO performance of the Fuji could make up for it, and I hoped that Loop was not a we-run-on-stage band. so the Fuji arsenal is a nice range: (Zeiss) 12mm ƒ2.8, 23mm ƒ1.4, 35mm ƒ1.4, 53mm ƒ1.2, and (Zeiss M-mount) 85mm ƒ4. this was the first time trying out the 53mm (x1.5 crop factor), and it is excellent.
I was also glad that I am dwindling down on the number of photos I take. certainly just getting a couple of shots that, because of the fast lenses being at full aperture, it is to get the microphone in focus and see what happens. this is a peculiar way to approach the composition and focus, which was forced as a solution to very poorly lit concerts, but now I do it regardless of the lighting condition.
this was the second time I caught Carlton Melton, and I have to see them more often, and get some of their music. rare is the opening act that makes me take notice — and I wish it was quite different to that common outcome. they had opened for Wood Shijps in late January, and I forgot the name or to do something about it. this time, it will be more proactive... and a great opening band for Loop.
it is great to bring gear on a trip, and then to gather it, get all enthusiastic about the photowalks and what can be found. that is not what happened here. yes, yes, I packed 3 cameras, a suite of lenses, a tripod and they were not used.
well, except for the compact and the phone.
not surprisingly, Los Angeles traffic ate up most of my time, and it was after a quick lunch, and before heading to the airport, that the industrial neighborhood (where the lunch Café is located) offered some 37 minutes to walk about and take some photos. the Walt Disney Concert Hall photo was taken while attending a concert, and was the only photo taken prior to the photowalk.
here are the fruits of it. the photos were taken with the iPhone 5S or the Fuji X20, and then "developed" with Snapseed's (Tune and Crop modules) on the phone or iPad, then applied the Film NC-1G* preset from the CameraBag2 app and adjustments made with the controls offered.
as usual, the photos are framed square (with the phone) and 16x9 with the Fuji. with these photos, and the 16x9 it is about simple subjects with a 1/3 layered framing — either vertically or horizontally. thus, industrial and people-less scenes are perfect for it.
the photowalk is not about taking amazing photos, but to think differently, execute and provide a challenge to the confined photograph that present the area, but also abstract it into something that belies its industrial nature.
* the Film NC-1B for black and white conversion
[ ps ] the post on facebook open for comments [ link ]
if I knew what hatred felt like, then perhaps I can say: I hate wedding photography. then, a few seconds later I would say that I love it because of the people involved.
I am not sure that I experience anything as draining as photographing a wedding. of course, the weddings that I have photographed are very low-key. the groom** makes it very clear that they are not interested in many photos — which may be, or not, what they mean, but it is good to hear. so, I think to myself: "great, this is going to be easy."
perhaps what is fatiguing is trying to achieve the "zen" of observing, imagining and composing, while at the same time anticipating what comes next. perhaps this is something that comes with a bit of practice, and even then, it must require a type of uncommon talent.
in no instance have I been asked for "classic" photos: the poses de rigueur that constitute the foundation of a dream wedding as indoctrinated by countless wedding albums. for one, I rarely like to tell people what to do: I just observe, imagine and compose. because of this, I must say upfront to any request for wedding photography that I will not be doing those kind of photographs, though I certainly can give it a try and hope that the orchestration — the weak point in execution — somehow comes together.
the biggest stress about wedding photography is to have the critical photos turn up in the way imagined. there is no correction in post-processing that can help the critical photos gone wrong. ok, there are some ways to recover something if one is adept to altering what was imagined, though this is not something to anticipate.
in the digital age, the results can be anticipated to be available faster than quick. something I tried in this instance was to create a small set of draft-work photos that sampled the entire span of photos taken, and to apply commercial presets, instead of processing them in my custom way (as shown in the slideshow below, and the book at Blurb). so the, I applied presets from VSCO Film 03/04 and uploaded the drafts to Dunked [ link ]. it is interesting the difference, and how after a week of "sitting on the photos", the presentation was varied, with some photos changed to colour from black & white.
the stress always turn to elation while looking at the results. that is because, even when people are recent acquaintances, by the time the wedding is done, a level of empathy has been developed and the photos are a way to re-live the wedding with that empathy in place. it makes the presentation of the photos so much easier to perform.
a selection: the wedding took place on 10 March 2014 and San Francisco's City Hall. in keeping with modern aesthetics, the first photo is from a phone, and the album is online. no trees have been harmed in the distribution of these photos. yet.
** this is for the weddings for which I have been hired as a first photographer.
[ ps ] on a personal note, this wedding was significant in that I had not voted since the disappointment with Clinton in 1992. however, because of the close polling for Proposition 8, and wanting to enjoy a vote for Obama, I registered and voted in the 2008 election. it did not have the immediate result I hoped, because of what turned out to be out-of-state meddling, but I like to think that this wedding was a reward for that vote... and all the Jury Duty calls I have received since.
all photos are up for view at the Blurb store [ link ]:
below the classic arguments in an internet forum of Canon vs Nikon, or PC vs Mac, it can be said that the use of watermarks on photos is well-placed. not too distant from watermarks is the way that photo-hosting social sites should do for photographers — for example: An Open Letter to Vic Gundotra and Google+ [link]. these two topics are related in terms the attitudes and goals that people have.
from long ago, it was a comment on a flickr group that I read how people would join a group and then ask that rules be changed according to their prerogative. this was insightful: flickr has it that anyone can start their own group with the rules as one sees fit, but of course, this does not satisfy the underlying need, quite possibly generalized as:
" I want to share my photos here because there is a large audience, but I want it to be comfortable to the way I think they should be shared (or things ought to be). "
— not said by anyone in particular, or literally
it is not unreasonable for people to provide feedback to sites on features, and perhaps even on the underlying behaviour possible. this takes on a greater aura by sites that depend on users to provide content, and there is something to be balanced there. however, it is always a site's decision based on their entire user-base and their assessment of users gain/lost.
the most absurd request is to prevent users from downloading a photo. well, it is the fundamental workings of the internet that the photo has to be downloaded in order for anyone to see it. these days, with bigger-is-better, sites are encouraging to upload big-sized photos. yet, the controls demanded by content-providers to popular sites can include such requests.
the consequence of this lack of control is that some people will watermark their photos. like all things internet with photography, the dials are set to "11" and watermarks can be rather intrusive when looking at a photo. this brings a backlash from photograph viewers whose enjoyments is being disturbed, or for whom watermarks signifies a misunderstanding of creative work and sharing. parallels are then drawn to many uses of art, and forum discussions get lively.
I do watermark my photos**, but not as a deterrent against people grabbing the photo and re-uploading elsewhere. my consideration is that most people are lazy and will not remove the watermark. then, the watermark is a "message in a bottle", for the rather rare chance that someone wants to look up the photo creator and then is able to track me down.
since my uploaded photos are not going to pop-up in some stream of gorgeous photographs with a sudden disturbance to the viewer of my photo with a watermark, but rather, it will be that they see a page with only my photos on display, they can easily click away if so shocked/disturbed/annoyed. alternatively, a photo print without a watermark can be ordered.
as for sites? instead of demanding so much care for one's photos, just view the internet as an ocean and the photo as a bottle tossed into it, and the watermark is the note inside. however, we can create the bottle: make it 800 pixels and use the JPG compression as severe as possible... and then it is gone forever. it is the gift to the internet.
changes to a site are a bucket of water tossed to the ocean. companies and teams that create the sites are well aware of how the internet works, how the users behave, and what draws the users to the site. the onus is on the user, and potential content-provider, to determine if the site is for them, and not to request that the site changes for their perception of fairness.
[ link ] public post on facebook to comment within facebook
** an exception is VSCO Grid, since the uploading to the Grid is directly from the app, and the extra steps of watermarking is something that is not worth doing given the controls VSCO provides against the casual image downloader: screen caps is the easy thing to do.
a few days ago there was flickr's 10th anniversary, and the site has made quite a splash — good and bad — with their recent changes.
granted, flickr was not designed for photographers. rather, it was designed as a web-based shoebox. to this day, it serves that purpose with very few glitches, more so at present when one Terabyte of storage is allowed for free.
however, people have a knack to cast websites into their own needs. likely with the advent of the democratization of photography — thanks to digital cameras, and the boom of the internet to a wider audience — flickr was able to serve as the gathering place for people that wanted to pursue photography beyond a shoebox holder.
unfortunately, flickr would break at the seams. the site never really pursued a photo-centric presentation of one's work:
- photos were cropped to a square thumbnail at the center without user selection.
- an emphasis on meaningless statistics, such as views/faves.
- a one-solution-to-all approach to explore the site via Explore page.
- dormant development/update of groups, which still has a late-90s functionality.
some of these failures are easy to fix, but others may require a site overhaul. one of the great difficulties with users appropriating the site to their needs was the high-levels of confusion that was created. for example, Explore is not a sort of critical/curated selection, but rather a social-metrics based photo selection that does not have a correlation to merit. but this confusion generated so many of the site's ills. elsewhere, groups such as the (infamous) Help Forum and Flickr Central gave the impression of official involvement, with users being confused for employees. more recently, even in the rollout of major changes, there was a failure to explain these changes. most sites make a short video to explain the changes/clicks and how the functions being rolled out work into a vision. instead, the site's changes had some good (bigger images, no more thumbnails), and great failings: no cohesive design, but one (seemingly) driven by ideas on coding prowess. it also showed that flickr was trying to follow the evolution taking place at other sites, rather than pursue a vision that was based on its years of experience.
for all of these failings, during the golden years, many photographers managed to learn in their own way and propel themselves within, and outside, of the internet. a number of groups, such as Utata, provided a sensible instigation to do more than take photos that were hoped to make it to Explore.
so then, in personally having been on the site since 2005, and active (uploading) through 2009**, what would be the features that would make for a good photography site? by this, I do not mean a we-are-all-artists site, but one that fosters the art of photography, and not a social site with photographs as its currency: the currency should be the pursuit of photography, not the photographs themselves. here are some notions:
• forgo all metrics, but allow for some tracking features.
most sites these days provide means to use tools such as Google Analytics, and that should be useful to photographers, if they want it. if the photo pages gets a lot of views from a website that may have, without permission/attribution, linked to the photo, then it is good to be alerted. views and faves counts are useless because of their unreliability, and lack of control (e.g., people are not at the site at all hours, it is the nature of a global base).
• remove the contests/competition
the idea of a ranking algorithm in photography is antithetical to the pursuit of photography, and drives an unhealthy pursuit for attention. it is rather clear that this is also what drives traffic/users to a site, and it is an easy temptation to make a site profitable.
• devise a site-exploring algorithm
with the hype over big data, one of its perfect uses is to tailor the site's exploring for a given user. on flickr, there was the Greasemonkey script that would show one's contacts faves. provided one would add contacts on the merits of their photographs, rather an a social passive-aggressive duty, then the script offers a superior result to a socio-metrics based algorithm.
• be big and small
a big site is great for exploring its photos, but useless for promoting one's photography needs: one is overwhelmed if not lost (e.g., 500px's lack of groups). a structure for groups and discussion is essential to the site, and rather than anarchy (as in flickr), something grows with time. in this instance, lessons learned from many discussion-based sites can be adopted.
• love the comments, hate the comments
the user must be given control over comments on the a photo page. many comments are vapid ("Great Capture!"), others are passive-aggressive cut-and-paste useless words with links to their pages. Instagram and 500px have taken measures towards this problem, while flickr still allows HTML tags to be part of comments. in some ways, the user has to be fearless in "curating" the comments on a photo page.
on the one end there is the fiasco of MySpace customization, and on another, there is the unwelcome rigidity from flickr. yet, Tumblr thrives relatively well. a site can control the templates and their customization features, and with time allow for users to apply their CSS talents to make further template designs.
• precise site management groups
while it is very unlikely that flickr's programmers designed the site, the impression gathered is that of an absent design team: any sort of integrated aesthetics are absent, and instead it is about what can be done with today's software, and what other sites are doing. it is imperative that the user experience be given the utmost effort towards a sensible design and functionality.
as part of the process to learn photography, one must be able to pursue the means to curate series of photographs. flickr has provided this functionality through their Gallery pages, though it has to be made possible to energize them and make them points of interaction and discussion. a greater power for its use would require access to photos outside the site, and this is a harder problem to solve. presently, Tumblr offer such an opportunity, while an integrated functionality to a site offers greater potential.
in general terms, the new site developers would have to overcome the hi-tech malaise of "flickr killer" mentality. even for less photographic-centric sites, this thinking requires a replication of flickr-features, which may not be of service towards a successful site.
in closing, the design of a site such as this requires quite a bit of algorithmic and social know-how that builds on the usage of the sites developed so far. there is also a major problem to solve about the financial success of such a site. ideally, the site should have a sizeable functionality be free, with some customization at a fee. yet, it is unclear if a "free+" site could survive financially. further, the structure of how to balance user feedback and the "lynch mob" activity that besieges the Help Forum on flickr has to be avoided. also, users cannot be confused for the site's staff. this is not to imply that a group can be structured, clearly, that it is a user-based to assist with questions.
the simplest question, once all the ideas are in place: is there a need for such a site?
[ link ] comments can be made on facebook post
** I was encouraged by the changes rolled out on May 2013, but the execution was extremely flawed, and soon after beginning some uploading frenzy, it had to stop.
the current internet boom and the way that it is being carved — like apps and micro social networks — still leaves a general trend with insidious persistency: the democratization of certain art forms, and the talents that are lost.
the starting premise has to be that at any time, true talent is rare. this notion would not have been difficult to accept a few decades ago, and could have eroded with time, and now fully distorted under the bubbles of the internet. however, if thirty years ago it was easy to accept that 3.17% of the population was talented at photography, then nothing has changed to increase that rarity. there is no technology that can (arguably) affect an innate talent. yes, technology has increased the number of people that can be competent at a craft, but that is not the same as being... well, creative within that craft. « Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere » said Albert Einstein, and in creativity, we are looking for the (rare) presence of imagination. at the same time, we can welcome the increase availability of the "logician" that can execute the craft.
a casual perusal of social networks demonstrates that there is a given currency within a site to draw attention. in the case of photography, we can point to flickr, Instagram or 500px as sites where a photograph is the social currency for attention. in some instances, the photograph is not a means to pursue art, and in other cases, the originator does pursue a form of art to be validated by the social interaction. unlike "old media", there is no curator to filter the art. this can be viewed as a freedom gained by the internet, but Andrew Keen argues otherwise [ link to YouTube interview]:
« ... problem with democratization: it's so soft, so ordinary, so lacking in innovation, so unshocking. [...] so the democratization ethos of the internet is of ordinariness... of boredom... of garbage... of shit. »
and in this context, Moby expands with [ link to YouTube interview ] the insidious democracy offered by the internet :
« sacrificing rare creativity that has depth for ubiquitous creativity that's very shallow »
in no instance do they offer a solution, and a solution would not be easy to forment, as in the assertion from Andrew Keen that we need the curator of the pre-internet age. and thus, for the photographer with a talent that could have been brought to prominence in the old system, it is now to be lost in a sea of shit.
Jörg M. Colberg offers the following modification on a Thomas Mann quote about writers:
« a photographer is a person for whom photographing is more difficult than it is for other people »
in which it means to Mr. Colberg that: « Photographers, stop whining about Instagram or the "flood of images." It's hard to be a photographer not because of any of that. It's because what it means being a photographer. » and there is a point to this: a photographer should be so busy with their quest and fostering of their rare talent, that what happens on the internet should not play into their concern with their pursuit.
while the quote is quite fundamental to the pursuits of a photographer, there is the problem for those people that pursue photography as profession to highlight their talent: there is a sea of shit still happening, with a complacent/vapid mass which lends credence to the idea that likes/faves/followers correlate with talent.
thus, we are still left with Jean-Paul Sartre's notion that "hell is other people." or should we modify it too for the photographer world?
personally, I am lucky to be in a position where photography is a tool for an inner quest, which does not rely on the externals of the past — seeking representation — or the present: navigating a vapid sea of complacency and quid pro quo magnification via passive-aggressiveness "social actions." however, this trend is one that piques my interest as many other ways that the masses trivialize what is good photography to maximize the inclusion of a greater number of people under some misperception that there is more talent available under the guises of technological advances.
"pontificators of grandeur**" are relegated to blogging, or curating, but with a lesser effect due to a "tl;dr" audience that processes too much information. on the other hand, there does not seem to be a means to coalesce those people that can educate, and properly curate bodies of work, to offer a new means of utilizing the internet to sustain the discovery of talent within photography. instead, there are the bubbles of the "internet photography" and the "gallery photographer." the latter seem to use the internet solely as a means of advertising, rather than a tool to further the foundations of its pursuits.
** this label came to mind in a snark-reply to one of the famous internet "photographers", and I am still fond of the term: it is endearing in some ways.
[ link ] a nice discussion has happened on this article on facebook (public post)
from nothing to nothing, the journey is celebrated for its imperfections, and in some way, the transitory markings we make, or impact upon, other people and things. within this impact, one can realise the concept of Mono No Aware, or the pathos of things [ link ].
« The phrase is derived from the Japanese word mono (物), which means "thing", and aware (哀れ), which was a Heian period expression of measured surprise (similar to "ah" or "oh"), translating roughly as "pathos", "poignancy", "deep feeling", or "sensitivity", or "awareness". »
Japan is not the only place to observe the impermanence of things, though it offers a contrast to Western art and design, where minimalism and perfection are intertwined.
these days, it is not a foreign concept that any given culture is going to discover everything it needs, nor is it going to have all encompassing definitions. rather, we are born into our personalities, and in some cases, elements of ourselves must find a definition outside our native culture and/or language. intuitively, we can understand a persence, or a way we do things, which have yet to be described properly. we can successfully go through life without finding out these succinct terms, or definitions, and appreciate when we do find them in greater measure with age. in language, we readily adopt foreign words to describe succinctly a modern emotion, action, or term.
in visiting Japan, and coincidentally beginning to watch movies by Yasujiro Ozu, the terms of wabi-sabi and mono no aware were as innate as the concepts of breathing and drinking water: they just needed to be alerted, recognized, and then conveniently found in the same physical location. once recognized, it provided a means to offer an imperfect description of such an implicit understanding present throughout life. thus, Japan is a protagonist in this book project in how it offers impermanence and imperfection in everyday objects.
more importantly, it becomes a form of "street photography" in which the presence of people are photographed for their indelible mark and implicit presence; all the while the emotion of that transitory — even fleeting — presence is sought to be represented in a photo.
what is harmonious in Japan, as attempted in these photos, can be seen as highly contrasting elements in outside cultures. this contrast is then an underlying concept in the sequencing of photos, which is best approached in book form. as many other cameras were used during the trip, it is the case that more photos need to be integrated and/or replaced in the project as it stands right now. thus, the gallery samples photos in this project are curated from a mobile photography perspective, and all selected photos available Dunked.com site [ link ].
the not-so-greatly-named iPhoneography was great while it lasted. the problem? stagnation. but what about the Megapixels? inorite?
long live mobile photography!
mobile photography did bring about a new way of carrying about with some aspect of photography: mobility, self-contained and social interactions. in effect, a compact Polaroid system with replication for sharing among people. beyond Polaroid, it offered many ways to present/process a photo to make it "warm" by applying processing that made it be more like film. one fallacy of new technology, for a while, is to think it terms of replacement: dSLR replaces SLR, and digital sensor is a replacement for film... and it takes a while to think of the new technology as something new with different limitations that are inherited in our minds by the imitated medium.
the issue with iPhoneography is that the platform moved into other brands, so one could argue for Phoneography instead, but even that is not that appealing. yes, one can pursue a photography that is enabled by one tool: a film camera with a single lens (e.g., Leica with a 35mm, or a Hassy with an 80mm, or a Rolleiflex with 75mm), and we have the work of Daido Moriyama with a compact camera. but for most, photography is about flexibility and being able to take the best photo at any given moment.
the appeal is greatly based on the speed of photography offered by something like a phone's camera. snap the photo, and process it within in the camera. for the most part, compact camera makers have forgone this revelation as to what is popular with people. instead, the compact camera remains a photo, upload, process and share. these days, the ability to upload from a compact to a mobile platform, as in a phone or tablet, is becoming much more easier. for some people, for varying reasons, the speed has to be nearly immediate — snap, app to process and upload.
I personally do not have such speed requirement, though I do like the disposability of mobile photography to approach photography in new ways. such is the case with photography styles and subject matter that I would not otherwise consider when focused on a project with "the better cameras." I also like the processing limitations of a phone/tablet to get me past any push to make the most of the photo via post-processing.
however, iPhoneography stagnated. just like compact cameras failed to move into the closed system of a phone for snap/processing/sharing, the phone cameras have remained stagnant in low-light performance, and more importantly, fixed lens**. (there are kludges to change field of view.) with mobile phones migrating into data devices, and less about talking, then solutions (if physically possible!) that offer some variations on the lenses would increase the versatility of phones in photography.
Sony has offered their QX-10/100 devices to keep the phone connected/interactive with an improved lens/sensor, and this may be the first step into improvement of the usefulness of a phone.
by considering mobile photography, and not thinking just of a phone, one can use the convenience of a phone and the greater flexibility (and performance) of a compact camera. the idea remains that "mobile photography" is about the speed of snap/process/share, and the compact camera retains that ability.
in that sense, the phone camera is now for me about "social" sharing, rather than considering photography, and I have embraced the compact camera as my mobile way of recording photographs, and using the phone/tablet for the mobile photography constraint.
with that in mind, I have done the un-mobile thing, and uploaded the iPhone photos to Lightroom, made corrections to distortions, and processed all photos using VSCOfilm. in a way, it is a means to give these photos a final respect and to think of the phone's camera as being on par with any other camera, rather than a disposable/ephemeral usage. the slide show contains highlights of these photos.
while iPhoneography now settles into its limitations — which can still serve a purpose, and its nearly-fixed perimeter remains a means to enjoy photography + social interactions — mobile photography is really the next step into widening a photography that is convenient and offering much more overlap with what was previously considered "serious photography."
iPhoneography 2007 - 2013 (selection)
iPhone photos 2007-2013 by Kodiak Xyza
the use of Lightroom was limited to the Basic Module sliders and applying automatic perspective corrections, which are not (readily?) available within mobile platforms. this way, one of the major drawbacks of the iPhone lens made some photos — especially architectural ones — become sensible in terms of quality. noise reduction was also key, due to the poor noise vs. ISO performance of the phone. nothing could save the pixelation of night shots, so those are best left as ephemeral social-sharing photos. VSCOfilm helped to keep the processing to nearly as fast as can be done in a mobile platform.
[ link ] iPhoneography 2007-2013 at Dunked using Lightroom + VSCOfilm
(sectioned by USA/California/Europe/Japan/Abstract/NewTopgraphics)
[ link ] iPhoneography 2007-2013 at VSCO Grid using VSCOcam phone app (ongoing)
** there are physical limitations, with current technology and perceived form-factors, that would limit these features from being implemented in phones.
in the previous entry, I closed with this aphorism:
« quite simply: the idea of the photographs is not to tell a story of the scene, as most people like to praise a photo by such an accolade, but for the photographs to tell a story of how the photographer sees the world. »
and in the documentary by John Walker Paul Strand: Under the Dark Cloth [ link ], he quotes Paul Strand as saying:
« you have to have to say something about the world. »
— Paul Strand
which is a one way to look at why one wants to take a (series of) photograph(s). this also calls for a selfishness which may not suit a social-photo site's best use.
however, there was another comment in the documentary about Strand's photos in Taos, New Mexico. the photos were about the New Mexico light. principal among the photographs from Taos from Strand is the church wall, which I consider among his best and most inspiring.
the Taos church photograph has some relation to some of the photos presented within the New Topographics genre. many examples can be found within Lewis Baltz's work, in which New Topographics propels the photographer(s) to say something about the world — perhaps in a collective quasi-anonymous sense. the work from Bernd and Hilla Becher also promotes a composition similar to the Strand photo.
it strikes me that, by looking at many photos in the New Topographics style, that "the light" is not of great concern, and that more commonly, the photo is very bright and shuns the presence of dark shadows, with some shadow welcomed to highlight the geometries present. (examples can be viewed in this tumblr blog
[ link ] .)
the contrast of Strand's "typographic" work to anything similar from New Topographic has been a question that has propelled me to find a way to photograph in that style. particular to their respective styles, Strand's are more emotive — in the same way that Orson Wells and Gregg Toland brought composition to Citizen Kane — while New Topographics are very cold and not engaging, with a heavier emphasis on information.
"mobile photography" was/is a great means to bring out the intuitive ideas, by thinking of disposability and constant access to a camera to enable new styles and ways of seeing the world. while this was done with many phone-snapped photographs.
it was not until a few days in Kyoto (and Tokyo), in which this way of looking at city topographies: combining the idea of the compound of time by manmade, and/or arranged, objects and the proper distance/magnification that a consistent result was to come of it. while mobile photography is meant to be prompt and mobile in its creation, there is also a need to revisit the work after some time, and with greater care. still, the idea is not to linger too much in the processing, and to that end, I used VSCO Film set of presets to carry most of the weight in finishing the work within a short amount of time.
the title for this latter collection Impermanence comes from a Wabi-Sabi notion, and what is seen in the photos. further to this concept of impermanence, it is an attempt to voice the play of this impermanence as it interacts with the surroundings: be they objects or "panels" which co-exists with the main focal object/panel. like with Strand's work, the hope is that the impermanence of the object(s) bring about an "pathos of things" to the viewer.
in the context of Strand's suggestion of "having something to say", this series is not designed to say something about impermanence before they were taken, but rather, like Wabi-Sabi, it is about finding more concises/known terms that describe how I have been seeing things all along and are converging into something more intuitive and innate.
[ ps ] a newer post delves into the work on Impermanence [ link ]
the democratization of photography via digital cameras is not quite finished, as people move from compacts into dSLRs and/or phone cameras — for example. it would not be a stretch to think that most people in this wave, myself included, did not do a formal training in photography. nor its history.
when I started, at the end of the last century, there was no easy way to view a vast amount of photographs. (books! but you know, I am busy learning the gadget I just bought.) actually, I did not start looking at photographers until the later part of the last decade. yes, some photos are famous beyond the art, but I could not name photographers, let alone know about styles and famous photographers. to this day, this is a big gap in all things photography for me.
while I took photos at the beginning of the last decade, I would post some photos in Livejournal, and then I made the move to flickr in early 2005. when I got to flickr, it was a huge shock in two ways: I could see what others were doing in vast amounts of photo being served, and what I thought was my not-too-common way of viewing the world was quite clichéd. I mean, the raindrops on glass, and so many others. with time, flickr was a teaching tool that was missing... on what not to do.
people wanted to "develop a style", and have unique photographs. but it is rather obvious that photographs are hardly unique when it comes to some styles. long exposure minimalism? New Topographics? overly-yellowed portraits in an open field? most famously: wide open ƒ1.4 lenses bokeh photos. photographs to be enjoyed, but hard to escape them on the site.
it was hard not to imagine that all photos were taken already. so what to photograph?
except, that is the wrong view. the problem is not repeating photographs, but immersing oneself in anonymity. whoa! how can that happen? one can look to New Topographics, and the minimalist long exposures, to see that, for the most part, it is very difficult to discern who took the photo. that is, the implied rules/aesthetics of the styles govern the photo's composition and printing/processing that it is (generally) difficult to discern between photographers immersed in that style. in some instances, one can discerns the photographer if one is presented with a series, but a single photograph makes it difficult — unless one recognizes quirks about the photographer. in some ways, I think I can discern some photos by Lewis Baltz [ link ].
these two photo styles can be readily "plagiarised" with some equipment knowledge and placing the camera in the another photographer's "tripod holes". there was the case of David Burdeny versus Sze Tsung Leong a few years ago. (many links to PDN and other sites are now 404 Errors.) is this a problem? I do not think so, as it is more indicative that photos are not unique, and some styles more than others are susceptible to "plagiarism." the market/internet will deal with how acceptable plagiarism is tolerated.
aspiring photographers would become popular on flickr by servicing a consistent style. to me, this was not a style that was presented, but a persistent photograph and/or post-processing and/or theme — something new for the internet age in terms of frequency and almost industrialization of the results. flickr users seem to love that consistency and flock to the account to provide (mostly) platitude comments — which rarely exceeds three words — and rack up the fave/like count. this social currency is quite effective to move into a commercial realm of photography, so it is not to be dismissed. now we can see the same behaviour in Instagram and 500px. in the latter, the "style" is pervasive through the entire site, casting a sort of anonymity to the entire site.
ok, so we take photos others have taken... and?
the refuge for others is to take the photos that we want, and realize that what is missing from most of these trends in photography is an indelible mark that, after some time, makes an impression on the viewer of who the photographer is. this is not unreasonable, as we can consider that if we converse with someone, we need to speak for some time before the other person gets a sense of who we are.
quite simply: the idea of the photographs is not to tell a story of the scene, as most people like to praise a photo by such an accolade, but for the photographs to tell a story of how the photographer sees the world. to some extent, some photographers in long exposure minimalism and New Topographics achieve this mantra.
encapsulated in time, the B-movies posters from the 1950s can be comical in today's context. it is a time capsule, and one can enjoy their exaggeration in their bylines. yet, today we are being hit with the same approach to internet "articles". it used to be that blogs were meant for personal pontification and make claims as one would see fit. now they have gone mainstream and there is an impending overriding need to have it go viral by means of trolling. in all cases, these articles lack the heft to make the headline worthy. at least in B-movies, we could be entertained.
the headlines are part of the daily dosage of articles served by Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Petapixel. however, The New Yorker has now come to the same disposition in as far as one of their online articles: Goodbye Cameras by Craig Mod [ link ]. The New Yorker is a magazine with infallible reputation for fact-checking and context. that does not mean agreeing with the articles, but that they carry a certain weight when published. maybe this is not to be the case for their online-only articles. about Mr. Mod's article, one comment summarizes the state of affairs in discussing cameras:
what is unique to the present times is the explosion of camera use, and its rapid evolution in digital capabilities. thus, of course, there is going to be consequences to fad, and what kind of camera performance is required by the masses now involved in taking photos.
a good parallel is to the music industry. in the last decade, the music industry pushed hit-wonders, with very weak albums. consequently, the advent of single-song download purchases brings down albums sales, and the catalog of albums in the rock era become essential to sustain a business that was feeding faddish music and anchoring industry growth on it. likewise, business decisions in the camera business were propelled by the explosion of compact cameras, and the margins of dSLRs that were sought by people beyond the professional user. so then, we have an article like Camera makers are desperately trying to stay a step ahead of smartphones—and failing [ link ], which has a bit more relevance in content to the title, while the use of "desperate" may not be based on any facts.
the fact that the internet can offer more voice to opinions does not mean that the number of people able to write well-opinionated articles has magically increased. this is the same reasoning that applies to photographers: the democratization of cameras does not increase the percent of the population that have an artistic talent for photography, and the internet only amplifies this ratio instead of making it better/easier. it seems that among all the articles, which includes a prognosis for the death of Olympus this year, a well-written piece can be found in The Online Photogrpaher [ link ], authored by Thom Hogan.
people in the market for camera and photography can be spectators to the mechanics of the industry, but we are mainly governed by a simple (and simplified?) dichotomy of photography:
• if you see a photo that you want to take, reach for the most suitable camera and compromise the result because of camera shortcomings; OR,
• if you want to use a camera, then compromise the photos that are possible because not all photos can be taken with a single camera**.
and thus, we just need to be aware of what cameras are being manufactured, when they are available, and how they fit into what we like to do photographically. the trends in photography are of little consequence, because I cannot dictate that, for example, a Micro 4/3rds system be designed for my needs. I am still waiting for a sensibly priced digital camera with a B&W sensor, but I will not get any company to make it for me.
** this second part is what most blogs, including the entry by Mr. Mod, has to offer. he wants social media immediacy? a camera to always have with him? then reach for that mobile device... and the implications are nil for the rest of the world. so then, why make it into an article and/or pontification, if it is just relating an experience.
the seminal song by Nick Drake, with lyrics not relevant to the life of Saul Leiter, has a title which is one of the most wonderful way to label what is bigger than life to me.
I suppose the term for Saul Leiter is the rarer form of "a photographer's photographer." like few in the field, there is also the qualification of a photographer as a whole person, and not just a collector of scenes.
« I’ve never been overwhelmed with a desire to become famous. It’s not that I didn’t want to have my work appreciated, but for some reason — maybe it’s because my father disapproved of almost everything I did — in some secret place in my being was a desire to avoid success. My friend Henry [Wolf] once said that I had a talent for being indifferent to opportunities. He felt that I could have built more of a career, but instead I went home and drank coffee and looked out the window. »
— Saul Leiter
this could be assessed from his body of work, principally the work collected for his breakthrough book Early Color (2008). the quietness of his life, and the active evasiveness of fame. in a way, a contradiction of life is that of how well we can observe, and how loud we can be... at the same time. while he deserved immediate recognition and "fame" (whatever form that would have been) since his work in the 50s, one can only be grateful that he chose the way to live that he did.
in a lack of education about photography's many aspect, I came away impressed when discovering Paul Strand's "Wall Street" (1915) photo in the second half of the last decade — well into my photographic journey. Strand's take on photography was one rang true to the way I saw the interaction of architecture and life. soon after, Paul Strand became a photographer to discover. subsequently, it was Bill Brandt's portrait of Francis Bacon that began to inform me how to have an alternative look at the pursuit of portraits, which would have to wait a few years.
then, there was Early Color. this was not about a single image, but so many things at once that it was overwhelming. there was the form that so impressed me about Paul Strand. there was the portraiture, more in a "street photography" sense, that really came to enhance the impression of Brandt's approach. then there was the color... well, nobody had showed me a way. yes, there is Ernst Haas work, but Saul Leiter's approach to color had an awareness and sensibility unlike others. this also extends to the lesser discussed sense of composition, which is as strong as any other photographer.
in some ways, Saul Leiter, I could now describe, offers a mono no aware quality to the presentation of color: "the pathos of colored things".
the elusiveness of this talent must certainly be among the things behind the sun.
Don't be shy you learn to fly
and see the sun when the day is done
if only you see
— Nick Drake, "Things Behind The Sun"
something about Mr. Leiter's patience for life let him see... and feel.
[ link ] Nick Drake "Things Behind The Sun"
[ link ] "Appreciation | At 89, a Pioneering Photographer Finally Gets His Due" — NY Times
[ link ] "Utata's Sunday Salon — Saul Leiter" by Greg Fallis.
[ link ] "Saul Leiter's Retrospective Opens in London" — Telegraph UK
[ link ] "A Casual Conversation with Saul Leither" — Time
[ link ] "The Colour of Genius: Saul Leiter" — Faded and Blurred
[ link ] obit at The Guardian by Sean O'Hagan
[ link ] obit at The New York Times
[ link ] "POSTSCRIPT: SAUL LEITER (1923-2013)" — the New Yorker
[ link ] "Photographer Saul Leiter Has Died" — British Journal of Photography
PS looking at Early Color for the first time is not to dissimilar to this scene from Amadeus
there are many changes that digital photography is bringing to photography genres, and a very noticeable one is concert photography. the high ISO performance of modern sensor, the compactness of cameras, and the aspiration of many to get "the shot" at a concert has drastically changed the experience to those attending concerts — with, or without, cameras.
I never took concert photos with film, so I am in that group of people polluting the concert venues, and definitely started looking for "the shot" — whatever that means. the first self-inflicted disturbance of my concert-going experience was the idea of audio recording. after a while, getting annoyed at the "talkers" really impacted my enjoyment of the concert experience. however, taking photos seem to be much less intrusive.
in having an allergy towards big venues, then it also became a challenge of how to take photos (starting in about 2005, at a Judge Smith concert in London) in such dimly lit clubs. this technical challenge, plus the increase in "concert photographers" disturbing others, began to inform my approach. at the time, I was not taking portraits of any note — still avoiding people in my photos, actually.
by 2007, things started to come together. a set of aesthetics, and "principles" began to develop, and the first pleasing result came at a Bill Callahan (Smog) concert. in October of that year, he played The Independent in San Francisco, and there was a clear "callahan" moment. although taken before the Bill Callahan photo, at a concert at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, there were similar moments by Matt Berninger of The National that I could not recognize at the time, but did in revisiting the photos years after. in both instances, there was something about a pause between songs, and at times, a pause within the song. in some ways, these moments were more like a portrait, rather than what I call a Kerrrang! moment.
there were "problems" if I wanted to promote the concert photos: I took my time to process the photos — namely a delay before I looked at them — and the photos that I liked were not like what I saw elsewhere in style. the style being developed by the use of digital cameras was that of overly bright, overly saturated, long depth of field, and overly sharpened wide-angle crotch/face shots.
perhaps the missing link between what I saw in online concert photos, and what was happening with my camera, is the photo by Pennie Smith of Paul Simonon that made the cover of the The Clash's seminal London Calling. a definite Kerrrang! moment, coupled to all the effects transmitted by a performer which belies an impression of the music being played. it is with some humour that, like much of the commentary in today's comments about photos, she considered the photo not to be good enough for the album cover because it was out of focus.
in the ensuing years, I was able to attend a few concerts by Oakland's Winfred E. Eye. they played at small venues in San Francisco, and the lighting situation was rather poor. the lens had to be used wide open (ƒ1.4, or ƒ1.2), the shutter speed struggled to be above 1/30s, and I had to be close to the stage due wider-than-usual lenses to be used. the aesthetics got further changed because I began to notice that I could not track the focus with the performer. the solution? focus on the microphone that was stationary, since the bands' singers also played the guitar.
in 2011, I was fortunate enough to attend a rare reunion concert by Sad Lovers and Giants. during some correspondence with singer Garçe Allard about the photos I took, there was a question about what I sought with my concert photos. for me, even to this day, the best concert photo I have taken was of Garçe, at some swanky small Berlin venue. I finally managed to express what was it that I sought in a concert photograph in a mail to him:
« this photograph is what I strive for in concert photography, and I am so glad to have caught it. while I enjoy the "energetic" concert photo as anyone else, I like that "decompression" moment of a performer, which happens ever so rarely, and few performers can express it as well as the moment of energy. wonderful that you wear your emotions while performing in such a full range. »
while it is hardly rot work, concert photography is the search for the Decompression Moment, and to keep the camera focused on the microphone. the good thing is that, when it actually happens, it is typically in-between songs, and that is when it least disturbs the audience to wield out the camera.
another element in my concert photography is to pick a spot and stay put. beyond the use of flash, and all the arms raised throughout a concert, the worst thing is to keep moving through the concert, and on the front row, to make way for "the concert photographer".
• [ link ] Sad Lovers and Giants: they are featured in a retrospective on The Big Takeover issues #73 and #74. the photo above may be included.
there are surely more places to not wanting to be an accidental book buyer, and surely this is hardly an odd chance. this time I met Frank Horvat by chance.
back in May, I was walking by the usual places — I am not an accidental tourist, but just one not very adventurous by must-see standards — and came to a notice at the Tachen store in the 6th Arrondissement that Sebastião Salgado was going to be signing his latest book at the store. by chance, this was the same day I returned to Paris from elsewhere, and then return to San Francisco a couple of days after. I had never bought a bought at a signing before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to do so. there is not much interest in autograph either, but the "why not" takes over.
on the last day of this recent trip, the temperature was a little warmer, and no rain, so a walk to Jardin du Luxembourg was required for yet-more-photographs of a tree "hedge". I soon remember that I wanted to stop by Le Chambre Claire photobooks store, and check it out. magnificent store, and discovered the book by Sergio Larrain, who I never heard about — which is the most common instance. unfortunately, his work was not part of the Latin America exhibit at Fondation Cartier, but the person at the store told me that it was an exhibit at Fondation Cartier-Bresson. argh, I did not have the time. got the book anyway.
there was an announcement for a signing later in the day by Frank Horvat. ah, yes, I should say that I never heard of him either. see the pattern? I glanced at a copy of the Pochet edition, and thought it was interesting, so it was good to plan to pick up the purchased book while Mr. Horvat would be at the store.
on returning to the store, I took a careful look at his latest book La Maison aud Quinze Clefs, and thought it was worth owning. I still knew nothing of the man... nor that, like my recent interest in photographers, he came through the ranks of fashion photography. his disposition was also like that of Saul Leiter: calm and understated. I like that very much in a photographer, and it translates into the photographs that I like. I can relate to the quote:
« photography is the art of not pushing the button »
the accidental book buying is also accompanied by the coincidence of having the same fountain pen to get the books signed. that pen is getting more expensive with time.
• La Chambre Claire [ http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-chambre-claire-paris ]
• Frank Horvat [ http://www.gallery51.com/index.php?navigatieid=9&fotograafid=59 ]