imprisoned

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.

presidio_duct.jpg

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?

iPhoneography R.I.P. (2007-2013)

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 LightroomVSCOfilm
(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.

that time in which Paul Strand backs me up

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. »
— KX

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.

© Aperture Foundation, Inc., The Paul Strand Archive, Millerton, NY  (via  PRweb )

© Aperture Foundation, Inc., The Paul Strand Archive, Millerton, NY (via PRweb)

Lewis Baltz   © Orange County, 1970   From the series The Prototype Works   Vintage gelatin silver print   (via  Artnews.org )

Lewis Baltz
© Orange County, 1970
From the series The Prototype Works
Vintage gelatin silver print
(via Artnews.org)

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.

to that end, the photos at VSCO's Grid [ link ] present the mobile-platform work, while the photos with greater consideration are shown at Dunked [ link ]. 

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 ]

mobile photography: “don’t you worry, I will photograph my way out”

the quote is from Harry Callahan, and it is in the context of working within limitations. in his case,

« the diminution of the silver content in the paper made for, in most peoples’ mind, less beautiful prints — the darks just weren’t there. knowing this, Harry started to making pictures that would exploit the diminished values of the papers commonly available. [ ... ] the point is that when there were limitations, Harry worked right through them. as he said, “don’t you worry, I’ll photograph my way out.” » — Peter MacGill. [1]

in terms of searching for creativity, photographers may seek limitations as a way to notice scenes differently, and thus, promoting a direction to take from their current status: either drastic, or ever so subtle. one can think of instant film as a limiting medium: if one considers the aspect ratio, and colour shifts inherent in instant film, and in some cases the overall softness.

a modern take on these limitations is “phoneography”. by restricting the recording and processing to be within a phone, and a (false) sense of urgency to share a photo, then phoneography definitely can alter a photographer’s way of looking at scenes or moments. while digital, there are the limitations of lighting, dynamic range, long depth of field, and a fixed (typically) 28mm-e focal length. in a way, the phone became one “complete camera,” the way that Polaroid was, and unlike an SLR that requires the uploading of photos to a computer for processing. other advantages for finer work presentation are available with this SLR approach.

while on a recent trip, the narrow streets and the expansive canvas of what I seeing — regardless of camera — translated into an increased frustration with the phone’s camera. the lines were distorted, as the usual way of working with a square-frame restriction was not a good aspect ratio, and working with the more sensible (for these photographs) 16:9 aspect ratio meant that the lines were very distorted. 

the “style” to be pressed upon all that I was seeing was a sense of panels, either geometrically flat, or “3D”. the phone camera became woefully inept at acquiring the proper detail and angles I was seeking. 

however, I still wanted to retain the small-camera size/weight — as I could return later with other cameras to retake the photos — and I wanted to get to the envisioned result with the least amount of hassle. for this, it was still very much appealing to process the photos with the phone and/or tablet. also, the vast number of apps for processing photos was pretty much reduced to two: Snapseed and VSCOcam.

that’s it: I photographed my way out... to what mobile photography should be for me. photograph with a compact — which I had never purchased before — and a sensible speed to sharing results online. though more importantly, a quick route to results that help me consider a more “serious” return to the scene for re-shooting. (it must be said that, by the very nature of the city's layout, and other factors, it was impossible to find my way back to some locations, or they had an ephemeral element to them.)

consequently, two series (so far) stemmed from this pursuit/rework. mainly, the Lines of Japan, which has a result that would have never been possible (for me) from a camera phone like this first photo below...

kyoto, japan

kyoto, japan

and night photography, which otherwise would be riddled with bad results from a camera phone, such as the second photo below. this second photograph is based on a pre-conceived observation that was borne by the constraints of camera phones: New Topographics, in particular, the work from Lewis Baltz [ link ]. these other photos are collected in an on-going project called Topographies of Japan.

Gion District, Kyoto, Japan

Gion District, Kyoto, Japan

another consequence is a shift from 1:1 aspect ratio with camera phones to a predominant 16:9 with this new style of mobile photography.


resources

[1] Harry Callahan Retrospective, Kehrer Verlag, 2013, pg. 13. 
[2] Lines in Japan, mobile photography by Kodiak Xyza [ link to project ]
[3] Topographies of Japan, mobile photography by Kodiak Xyza [ link to project ]

[4] New Topographics photos from Lewis Baltz [ link to image web search ]