Eliminate the Negative

Two rolls Kodak 100 dropped at the lab. Start to cut one up for scanning when I realize that I'm in the shot... hey, this is Kodak 200! Courtney....! Ah, she's got the right one.

I've had no luck finding good C-41 lab services here in the Santa Clara area. In Hawaii, the Kailua Long's Drugs would run C-41 process-only for 99 cents. I knew the lady at the counter and talked to her a bit about her beloved shiny new Noritsu print machine. The negs I got from Long's were as good as the ones I could get from the $7 pro lab downtown in Honolulu. I could even leave her my 6x7 negative-sleeve pages and she'd use them in place of the drugstore 4x sleeves they normally used.

Here in the glamorous South Bay, no one I've found will do a process-only for less than $2.99 and they all seem to be equally miserable, even the local pro labs. Whose idea was it to roll-up the negs and shove them back into a plastic 35mm can after processing, ensuring that there are cinch-mark scratches on every negative? It's always that or cut into odd shapes with scratches and (worse yet) little plastic tabs taped-onto the strips. This practice seems nearly universal, and no local lab seems gracious as my Long's Drug lady, who would cut negs to my specification for free.

The first roll today is socked-in with dust — not the casual sort of dust you get while handling or sleeving or scanning, but dust that's glued-onto the neg, big clumps that adhered when the negs were drying. Pec-12 and air blasts are helpless against this sort of thing. *sigh* No wonder I still like doing B&W myself. It's just too hard to get C-41 films like XP-2 processed in a way that's as clean as my kitchen or bathroom.

Posted May 30, 2003 | Comments (0)

Shopping Channel

One of the oldest columnist's tricks is to write a column about how hard it is to write a column when you can't think of anything to write about in your column. Fills up those column inches quick, doesn't it?

No wonder journalists are so keen on blogging, then, where now instead of writing an occasional blog entry about how to write devoid-of-genuine-content blog entries, they can simply provide a few links to other blog entries that are pretty much the same thing, and yet still appear to have written something. Sweet! It's almost like winning a Pulitzer Prize based on the uncredited work of an unpaid stringer.

Rannie Turingen of photojunkie : remix spoke a couple of days back at the Canadian Association of Journalists 2003 National Conference. He cited the "quality of links" as key to the sucess of "being a good blogger." And this is where I get stuck.

Certainly Rannie isn't alone in his focus on links — sites like PhotographyBlog are more collections of press releases than anything else — a blog not on photography, but camera marketing. It's an important distinction.

At the crux of this problem may simply be the the definition of a "good" blog (and to be fair to Rannie, he does mention including some content among the clickables, as his own site shows). How can one rate success? The blogging "community" certainly seems obsessed with ratings, rankings, and valuations. Everything a number. How do you rate on photoblogs.org? On blogshares? How many blogroll clicks have you received?

This focus on counting clicks saddens me because it seems to be deeply opposed to the idealistic notions behind words like "personal publishing." The minute you start counting clicks, have you subverted the subversive idea of blogging itself? To worry about ratings and market share is to imply some sort of crucial commerce, though bloggers pride themselves on their sites devoid of popup ads and sales banners. "Personal publishing," one might idealistically think, could bypass all that worrying about appeal to the least common denominator, focusing on ideas and content that were truly personal, measured by their intrinsic importance and relevance — not ruled by PR mechanisms, the arthmetic of the calendar, or worries about whether you're rated #86 or #87 in the top 100 MT sites within a five mile radius.

Sadly, not. So many clicks to count, so much energy foisted on popularity. Yet another example of a little rule that I call:

The Principle of the Universal Secondary:

Given time, everything eventually degenerates into High School.

Posted May 28, 2003 | Comments (2)

2 l337 4 u

Courtney posted a link to the geek test. So I took it. Scored a 55-ish value, which I guess is "Extreme Geek." Okay, I can live with that, but as I was going through the many, many checkboxes, I came to a realization or two about the general state of geekdom.

It's hard to really know how the test is scored, but clearly it's anime-deficient — no Belldandy in the "I Want..." list? What were they thinking? Seems hard to believe considering the source of such prime geek canon as Otaku No Video.

Likewise, it's too TV-centric. Anime doesn't count as TV — if you're watching anime properly you're seeing a fansub on VHS (okay, DVD fansubs are sort of okay). But not on TV. Buffy? 7 of 9? Feh! Why would you watch TV when you could be trying to see how high Aeris's level can get before she's kakked? Or better yet arguing about how she's better (or not) than Yuna? Too many splinters to geekdom, and hard to coalesce into a single score.

What's more sobering, I've realized, is how much geekdom (at least as measured here) involves complex patterns of consumption but very little creation. One can write fanfic and still be an accepted geek, but if you write new novels (other than ST licensed-ones), you've wandered off the path. So: Jim Cameron? Not a geek. Steven Spielberg? Jerry Pournelle? Patrick Stewart? Joss Whedon? Nope, too busy creating new things for fans to get geeky about. Gene Roddenberry? Sadly, yes — his later, fallen works show true signs of geekfestation, as he came to believe his own geek hype (obvious example concept: V-Ger) The very people who create the things most-prized by this definition of geekdom are probably not geeks. There ought to be some new definition for the state of meta-geekdom, where the annointed, Boddhisatva-like, can rise above the cloud of normal geekiness to a new state of blissful geek-creation.

(And likewise we need a term for the antithetical examples like Harry Knowles — not at the zenith of geekdom, but its nadir, bound and determined to suck the creativity out of everything that could possibly be cool)

Posted May 28, 2003 | Comments (0)

The Best Picture Frame

...is one that helps make the picture.

For some time I've been scanning rolls (or downloading digicam sessions) and then, before doing any further editing or selections, playing the fresh photos as a random slideshow in GraphicConverter on the Mac. Not only can I watch them over and over at a large size, but the randomizing can reveal new connections and collisions on each cycle. I often leave it running for hours.

I've recently switched to a different slideshow program — Mac OS X itself. The "Pictures Folder" Screen Effects (screensaver) module not only cycles through folders of fresh-scanned pictures randomly, but it zooms, pans, and glides across them in a host of ways, revelaing even more possibilities as they lap-dissolve back and forth. The one fault: it won't display empty areas, so the Apple screen aspect ratio, 4::3, is used. It doesn't show 35mm images full-frame — only as cropped, panning slices.

Still, it's a terrific picture frame. Tonight I've set it on a folder full of old contact sheets — hundreds of photos, old shots seen again for the first time. It is captivating, nostalgic, hallucinatory.

Posted May 27, 2003 | Comments (0)

Nada

Three rolls Delta 400, 11.5 mins X-tol 1::1.

Another Streetphoto Salon Monday arrives and me without a thing to wear. Topic: Void.

Slam together something in the last half-hour before the cutoff. Toss-in a couple of alternative selections, too.

Posted May 26, 2003 | Comments (0)

Threes

Three rolls TMax100, 9.5 mins @ 20C. They all look a wee bit thin, though the occasional dMax peeps through. Left in the fixer far too long (like by a factor of 3)? Hmmm.

I've realized that over the past two years, I have purchased, in order: a Canon G1, a Contax G2, and a Canon G-III. Ironically, each camera is older than the previous. I guess the next cameras in this pattern would be a 4x5 and a 6x7, if I can find any that start with the letter "G" (thank goodness for Fuji Medium-format cameras, heh). Or does my highschool-vintage 124G already count?

Shot about six rolls yesterday, trying to make the most of the three-day weekend by running up to San Francisco to visit an ill friend, his family, and other friends. We then jotted up to Marin for a bit of nostalgia around Mill Valley and the forests flanking Mount Tam and Bolinas.

The G-III is light and fast, easy and quiet, though I fear that it's autoexposure may be reading a little bit too hot. Fine by me, since my initial belief when I bought it was that the meter would be inoperable due to a lack of discontinued mercury batteries.

One negative surprise: On my second G-III roll I had a misfeed about eight frames into the roll. Once processed it showed a krinkle, and I had to stop and rewind the mustly-unused roll. Subsequent rolls went on without a hitch though. I actually suspect I may have cut the leader in the wrong way.

The mountain was deep in fog and I felt apprehensive about shooting there, knowing perhaps too well how the photos would look. Then again, I shot them for myself, not for my ever-present imaginary art critic. The fog is beautiful. It was in a place that I love and rarely visit any more. Sometimes that is enough, as long as the photos aren't posed, neighborhood art-fair fashion, to pretend that the simple presence of fog is enough to make the photos mysteriously meaningful.

Posted May 26, 2003 | Comments (1)

X'd

As usual I'm late to the party when it comes to seeing the Big Release films. No, I'm not about to talk about The Matrix but the latest XMen movie, X2, which we watched yesterday. Since the movie has been out for weeks I'll be quite happy to issue a single

Spoiler Alert

and get on with things.

I'd been hyped-up by many emails, bearing titles like "X2 Rocks!!!" and so forth. I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who have worked on the show, from the VisFX supe on down. So many people, in fact, that even as the film was rolling through the second act I was keenly aware that there were simply too many hands on this thing. By the time the end credits appeared, it was spelled plainly — the credites were long, drawn-out, as numbing as the Vietnam Memorial in scope, and just when you thought they had ended, then the visual effects credits begin to roll, one company after another, each house providing a little smoke here, a colored eyeball there, and none of them with enough stake to ever really grandstand and amaze the audience. With so many voices at play, none of them really get heard; one is only aware of the dull roar from their presence.

My typical response to this sort of filmmaking has been protective — it's hard not to imagine that producers prefer to contract-out many small bits to effects houses, because it keeps any one house from being powerful. It keeps the market ghettoized through excess competition, and crushes the aspirations of all. Effects and animation may be crucial for a film's success, but producers want to ensure that effects are just a commodity item — they could really care less whether they are suppiled by Cinesite or Peter Kuran or Pixibox, as long as the schedule is met and the bids are low. Even if spectacular animation and imagery were the only reason for an audience to see a film (and on occasion, this is quite true), the producers still see animation as a "below the line" cost — one that has little impact of the Real Business of Hollywood, the great celebrity mechanism of movie stars and licensed properties.

But in X2, even those qualities are buried. The mechanically-predictable story lacks any sort of inner life, its surprises are only surprising because they are preposterous. While actors' names may appear on the marquee, there are no leads in X2 — with the possible exception of Hugh Jackman no actor seems to have more screen time than they might have gotten from shooting a half-dozen TV spots.

The first movie had exactly these worthy qualities. Wolverine hurled out the truck window — brilliant, personal. But in this lumbering bus of a movie we get Alan Cumming's ridiculous attempts to look devout and a Jean Grey who needs to be carried to the airplane, yet a moment later sprints out of it to her nonsensical doom.

Professor X asks in the film's introductory narration if mutants are step in humanity's evolutionary chain or a whole new species. Hello? Isn't evolution the creation of new species? Did you consider that maybe when Darwin wrote Origin of the Species that maybe the two ideas had some connection? Is this the theme of the movie, or is it what the movie's about?

There are a lot of dead bodies left in the wake of X2's plot. We see a number of small children witness Wolverine methodically murdering members of the SWAT team. Policemen are incinerated, guards shredded, soldiers detonated, pulversized, and drowned (their bodies and body parts are conveniently missing when the X-Men return to the same parts of the set a few moments later). Eventually, Professor X is duped into using a secret military copy of the Cerebro computer to launch a mental attack on every non-mutant on the planet. We see footage of them screaming, holding their heads, lying on the floor foaming. Fortunately, of course, the attack is halted at the last second. The X-Men escape before the whole place is swept away beneath a bursting dam.

The first of two epilogues caps the insults to credibility. The President of the United States, who has already been nearly assasinated by a mind-controlled Nightcrawler, is about to go live on the air with a speech in response to the global attack on people everywhere (oddly, the introductory shots, of the President walking through halls and having a conversation constantly peppered with distracting "good morning" greetings, is one of the better moments in the show, interesting and credible). He sits down in the oval office, surrounded by media and stage lighting, his speech already prepared and loaded into the teleprompter. He will announce, one assumes, the re-introduction of the Mutant Registration Act, or perhaps something even more severe.

At this moment, the X-Men arrive, and through Professor X's trickery they freeze the lights, the camera, the action. The throng around the President are as still and unconscious as statues. Only the President himslef sees the X-Men, and they give him paperwork revealing that Stryker and his military minions are to blame for both the assassination attempt and the subsequent worldwide "event." The President glances at the papers — Professor X tells the President that "we will be watching" and advises him to do the right thing. The X-Men leave, the lights come back on, the people are re-animated, and the shaken President resumes his speech while fingering the documents. Everything will be All Better, so the X-Men go home to tell the (gee, not traumatized at all!) children fairy tales.

Okay, now if you, like us, have already been squeezed for $15 on this picture, stop your thoughts right here and place youself in the President's chair.

  • Every non-mutant in the world has fallen over in screaming pain for a few minutes, just hours earlier. Hospitals are overloaded, cars and airplanes have crashed, construction has halted, surgical patients and the infirm have died, swimmers have drowned, this is a catastrophe like the world has never seen.
  • One assumes that they have noticed that mutants were unaffected, or at the very least have connected the notions that fantastical, physics-defying stuff like this is associated with mutants. After all, mutant Public Enemy #1 is a known escapee, and two F16's have already been lost, in domestic airspace, attempting to defend the United States against some unknown adversary. The number of persons injured on the ground is perhaps unknown.
  • The one unit of the government responsible for the handling of mutants like Enemy #1 is missing or known to have been slaughtered in the disaster at Alkali Lake Dam.
  • The "incident" was caused by a machine supposedly built by taxpayer money, now submerged beneath the suddenly much-larger Alkali Lake. However, a superior version of this supposed machine is known to exist beneath Xavier's mansion. In fact it has already been examined by military operatives.
  • You have the original documents showing all this, right in your hand.

So in other words, the President is left with two public scenarios:

Sorry about that, I authorized a lot of secret military projects, as did my predecessors, and one of them got a little out of control and nearly killed everyone on the planet. Gee, guess I should look at those papers a little more closely when I'm signing 'em, huh? Anyway, no problem, don't worry about it, nothing a few million gallons of water can't fix. Carry on. Hey, it was just an innocent little boo-boo, put down those bombs painted "Death to America," we are so on top of this thing!

or

Mutants committed this terrible evil, and we must band together to ensure that this sort of terrorism never occurs again. We must not live in fear of the random annihilation of our families, loved ones, and way of life. We will institute a police state to ensure that everyone feels safer from this hard-to-identify threat, even as we accumulate more and more power. We know the mechanism used to perpetrate this heinous act, and we are working quickly to seize this terrifying weapon (strictly for humanitarian purposes, of course).

Gee, as if there was any doubt about that one. Sorry, Charlie.

The second epilogue is just pure marketing pitch masquerading as mystical profundity, the camera traveling over the now-still waters of Alkali Lake under a narration voiced by... Jean Grey? And in the rippling reflections we can see the faint outline of a Dark Phoenix logo. Oh joy, a sequel.

Posted May 25, 2003 | Comments (3)

The Ultimate PhotoBlog

Hewlett Packard has a plan. And if they complete it, we can pretty-well forget about little side-issues like privacy, photoblog signal-to-noise ratios, or how to keep Springer's Jerrycam busy....

Posted May 23, 2003 | Comments (0)

Small Packages

So I scanned the first roll from the Canon QL17. Ta da! Not half bad. Side-by-side against the Contax, it lacks the last 5% of detail and doesn't match in terms of contrast — but for a price slightly less than that of a single Contax lens hood, it's pretty solid.

The play in the lens is real enough, but seems constrained to a side-to-side movement, and has only marginal effect on focus (even wide-open). The case gets a good stiff dose of Febreze. Maybe it needs two doses.

The only real problem today — where to get a 48mm lens cap on short notice? The Canon slip-on won't last, knowing how I treat gear. A check of B&H showed even Sky filters were scarce in 48mm — most more-expensive than the camera, heh.

The focus lever turns in the opposite direction from Leica (and my other Canon RF). There are no DoF markings. Can't have everything.....

Posted May 20, 2003 | Comments (0)

Old and New

One roll Ektachrome 100G from Calypso. Three rolls TMax 100, Xtol 1+1, 8mins @ 23C

Summer is fast approaching — hard to get the water temperature down to 20C. Today saw several new technical features — first roll of 100G (more on this as I examine the scans), first use of the new version of Fototimer, and finally a new 30-year-old camera, a little Canonet purchased on EBay for $38, as a camera I can leave in my backpack without fear of it getting knocked around by books and notepads.

Visually, the Canonet is perfect. Even the battery check (and the battery itself) are spot-on. The rangefinder is crisp and bright, the glass looking good. It's smaller than the Contax and of course the leaf shutter is beautifully quiet (though my TLR is still quieter). There are only two problems that I see so far. Actually only one I can see.

First, the camera case has apparently been used as a humidor. The whole kit smells like an ashtray. I have never experienced anything like it! It made my car smell like tobacco after a three-minute drive. I can try to romanticize it, imagine a cigar-chomping Weegee smearing spit on the back of my New Toy. Yeah.

The second issue I didn't notice at first, but there appears to be play in the lens mount. This roll of TMax will tell the tale, once dried and scanned, but I'd hate to find out the camera was unable to focus. Grrr.

Posted May 19, 2003 | Comments (0)

Face Time

With all the connectivity the net allows, it still can't match the Real Thing of F2FF2F — that's "family to family face to face" for those still living in the twentieth century.

Last night we finally got my folks to come to terms over Chinese food with Courtney's — I think the Hunan chicken was the real clincher on the evening's success (I mean, the day my mom actually eats one of those dried red peppers and then still has some more...). We were quite happy to see everyone at ease and likewise happy and involved.

The weekend has had only one negative element, and that's its lack of time, even waking at 4AM. Friday night out to dinner, most of Saturday was filled with a 9+ hour CPR class, then quick dinner, then additional houseguests until 1AM, then Sunday making a big breakfast at 7AM and all day in San Francisco and the East Bay. Finally caught up with me this morning... started working around 6:30AM and found myself falling asleep again by 8:30. Got to work around 10 or 11AM and stayed dazed until after lunch. Oy.

I brought Rebecca, age 12, to the CPR and First Aid class. They say that you're far more likely to end up using your Red Cross training on a family member than anyone else. I couldn't shake that thought as we worked through the exercises, imagining the victim as one close relative after another (or imagined Rebecca having to rescue me). In the tradition of the actor's studio method it gave me an added incentive to make sure I did everything right, imagining a familiar face in place of the dummy's rubber one — but it also surprised me at the feelings of desperation and terror, and the frustration I felt at human frailty.

Okay, I know that I'm often more-emotional in the morning, especially if I've had little sleep. I can get teary-eyed over almost any movie if I'm tired enough. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Really. The class incorporates videos for each section, and began with a scene of a bicycling dad and daughter getting flattened by a car. The neighbors run to help, the paramedics are called, but the tape fades out with one bystander biting his knuckle over the small pulse-less girl. The video never returned to this scene... the cruelty of the filmmakers, to never give this little fictional dead(?) girl a chance or even any resolution.

Later, our friend Asa (a nurse at UCSF) opined: "You know, you'll never use CPR." I can only hope he's right.

Posted May 19, 2003 | Comments (0)

The Old Shell Game

A couple of days ago I got a mailing list post from Bee touting this pic. Of course I had to respond with this pic and before you knew it there was a minor explosion of similar wrong-headedness in the streetphoto list, which in turn led to this message from John Brownlow:

Okay, we're going to have a shell game. Here's a totally raw pinhole photograph.

http://www.pinkheadedbug.com/misc/shell-original.jpg

Download it and process it in the image editing application of your choice in the manner of your choice.

Let's say the deadline is midnight tomorrow. Post your results on the web and send the link to the group with the heading: 'Shell Game - Manipulation - [YOUR NAME]'

On Friday, once the deadline has passed, we will make a heap of all the shells (pictures) and Fritz will examine them, pair by pair, discarding the least beautiful of the two, until only one remains, which will be declared the most beautiful shell in the pile.

If Fritz doesn't want to compare the shells, someone else can. But he will, of course.

While the thought immediately struck me that I should layer it onto another photo and transmute those lemons into melons by placing them across the chest of some hapless woman, the first few entries gave me pause for thought (besides, I'd have to find an appropriate underlying photo....):

So with a slightly less-than-knee-jerk response, I've placed my submission here.

Posted May 15, 2003 | Comments (0)

Overblogged

Cleaning-out my blogroll, especially entries that weren't really blogs anyway.

All good, but none of them blogroll material.
Posted May 14, 2003 | Comments (0)

Cheat Sheet

Magazines r us: an article I wrote a couple of months back is the cover story for the current issue of Develop magazine in the UK. "Hollywood GamingWatch and learn: cribbing from cinema's cheat sheet."

Posted May 14, 2003 | Comments (0)

Night & Day

Tonight was a busy one: first the main Windows XP machine got a graphics-card upgrade from Quadro DCC (built on a GeForce3 core) to a shiny new GeForce FX 5600. Total change, and it's all about the pixel shaders. Instantly, all of my grooviest realtime shaders worked! So long, DirectX8. Or as the Japanese slogan for SGI used to read: "Hello Brain Performance!!!"

I upgraded the other PC (the game machine) a few days ago to a GeForce 4400 Ti, not only for games but to run the Maya Personal Learning Edition — tonight I was using the PLE to teach a small clutch of Cub Scouts how to animate on computer and to compare it against their previous animation projects, flipbooks and then stop-motion animation made using toys and the Canon G1. They were excited about making video game animation; but disappointed that we couldn't make an entire video game ("with zombies?"), there in the 40 minutes between start time and snack time.

Rebecca was my lab rat for teaching kids animation using Maya — and she's all over it! Of course, this is the girl who at four years old figured out, unattended, how to start up a nurbs modelling package and build vases and furniture.

Posted May 14, 2003 | Comments (0)

Cereal Box

Print Exchange — printed, editioned, signed, annotated, packed in a folded cereal box, Tyvek wrapped, and sent to Glasgow, thanks to a daytime PO run by Courtney.

When I arrived at home in the evening she was burning cyanotypes in the backyard. *ping*

Posted May 13, 2003 | Comments (0)

Crystallizing Method

This is a very long entry. I think I may move it to its own page after a couple of days, so it won't overwhelm the rest of the journal.

In one of Mike Johnston's first installments (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/columns/sm-02-04-31.shtml) of his column Sunday Morning, he writes that working methods are the most important thing that photographers never talk about. He then seems to stop talking about them in almost all subsequent columns. Go figure.

I've written-out my basic workflow and suite of working methods here — mostly the technical bits, to get them out of the way and let my mind worry about the more problematic bits. Or who knows, maybe writing this down will reveal some hidden hypocrisy, and removing it will help me leap forward. Or not.

This is not a manifesto, just a current assessment. YMMV.

As I see it, working methods divide into two major parts — why you are making pictures and how you are making them. Hopefully one leads to the other. I have been trying to keep my working process consistent and methodical, which gives me a steady reference point. I don't spend a lot of time struggling with changes to my method or in dealing with technical uncertainties. By reducing change in areas I think are just necessary evils to the picture-making process, I think I can be more open to change in the other areas. At least thatís the theory.

I like pictures with at least a little meat on them. Iím not much interested macro, in landscapes, in flowers, colorful birds, sport, sailboats, rustic barns, old cars, sunsets, architecture, classic airplanes, driftwood, crosslit nudes on black backgrounds, politicians, celebrities, or other inanimate, emotionless objects. As a momentary diversion, sure. But not day in and day out. I want something with verbs.

I like to photograph people, and to photograph people in an emotionally responsive way requires speed and favors a simple, low-impact profile. So I use 35mm cameras for almost all of my shooting. They are small and always ready. I've used Nikon and then Canon manual SLRs, and a variety of rangefinders. These days I usually carry my Contax G2, though I also use an ancient Canon IIIc (a Leica clone) or the Canon A-1. The A-1 has been in continuous service since around 1980, never once in the shop (but my F-1 was stolen). I have two old AE-1Pís as backups and the Yashica TLR I had in high school, along with a Canon digital camera. DSLR's are still too big and clunky for me, to say nothing of expensive, and all but the top ones are lacking at the wide-angle end of available lenses.

I've joked that my technique in street shooting is to just keep pushing-in until someone takes a swing at me. Itís not really true, though I do like that 20mm lens.

I shoot black and white film partly because I am cheap and like to do the work myself, and partly because I think that B&W gets at the essence of what I like in a photograph — to add more just confuses things. Color rarely adds emotional content to the sorts of pictures I make, unless it's a controlled studio context or one is using an orange sunset to enhance the sort of sentimentality that I dislike anyway. I currently like Delta 400 and have been shooting more TMax 100. I buy them both in bulk and have been recycling the same film cartridges for several years. I keep two loaders, one with 100ISO film and the other with 400ISO film.

The worst thing to do with B&W film is to court nostalgia, to attempt to recreate old photos and styles. If I had to go shoot a Civil War re-enactment, Iíd be incredibly paranoid about recreating Matthew Brady. It's been done, by Matthew Brady, and with considerably higher stakes. I can imagine shooting quite a bit at such an event, but it would be to see the people and their interfacing of the present with the re-enactment of the past; trying to get at the real package, not the wrapper. Not just the obvious ironic images of a Confederate officer talking on a cel phone from his Mini Cooper, either; though I can easily imagine myself taking such a shot.

The pictures I take today, I'm convinced, are today's pictures. If you look closely at your pictures youíll always find something in them that will be gone tomorrow, and that wasnít there yesterday. This specificity of time is a key element of the power in photography — not only for the fleeting expression that comes and goes in 1/60th of a second, but all photography. Ansel shot Halfdome on just one perfect-for-him day. My friend Rich shot it on a different, perfect day. Neither day is likely to return.

Over and again, I've told myself that I'd come back to such-and-such for the photo I wanted — only to find the people gone, the place boarded-up, the sun uncoöperative. Even if those stars all re-align, am I still the same person who first experience the thrill of seeing what I failed to photograph when the excitement was most potent? Shame on me.

I carry a camera every day, though mostly itís unused — but it's there, and ready.

If I know I am going to be shooting outdoors, I have a coat from Eddie Bauer that is both warm and well-supplied with pockets. It can carry a Canon SLR with a 20mm lens in one pocket, two Zeiss lenses, several rolls of film, cel phone & PDA in the other pockets. On warmer days I can carry a small Domke bag, or just the loose camera on a strap. If possible, I carry the camera in my right hand with the strap wrapped around my wrist — not on my shoulder or neck.

The Contax has AF and I ride the focus-lock button quite a bit. It took me a while to hit the rhythm of it but it's eventually become second nature. Aim, lock, recompose, shoot, release. I had my doubts about using an AF camera because I think that there's a lot of value in having a physical relationship with the actions of shooting. Holding the camera at arm's length is not conducive to immediacy. I've gotten over it once I figured out how to have control of the AF lock. I used to do zone-focus hipshooting. Now I sometimes do AF hipshooting, but I've done progressively less in recent months.

The Contax has no DoF markers. This is too bad, though it makes mechanical sense for the camera's design. I made a little Excel spreadsheet for the DoF of each lens and f/stop, printable at wallet size — I carry copies of it around in my bags, wallet, etc. Always at hand somewhere.

I have the 28, 45, and 90mm Zeiss lenses but use the 28mm 70% of the time and the 45mm 25% of the time. When I first had my Canons I used to use an 85mm most of the time, so Iíve been trying to understand what changed in my tastes to change this. I have Canon lenses from 20mm to 200mm, and likewise lean to the wide end. The SLRs are definitely better for long lenses, the 135 f/2 Canon is a terrific portrait lens but heavy and hard to focus quickly.

I have a Sunpak 555 "potato masher" strobe with TTL metering for the Contax, but have recently used a tiny un-dedicated Metz more often. The Sunpak is very bright, which can be a good thing outdoors (even in daylight). I really wish I could find a slick wireless package for the Contax. I have Canon's 550EX with the wireless controller for EOS, and itís really excellent for the digicam — small and very flexible. It's great to be able to just put a strobe in a carefully-chosen corner and subsequently forget about it while working.

I keep written records of all my shooting. Sometimes when I'm shooting rapidly I screw up, but generally I have an exposure log for every roll. The rolls are indexed by date, and easily identified when processing because I keep recycling the cartridges. Each little can has a different ID written on it, so I can quickly figure of that undeveloped roll "FF" corresponds to roll "May03b." I keep my records using a Palm PDA program called Go-Pix. I like it because it's flexible — you can be very detailed per-exposure or very loose per-roll or per-session.

Each roll is tagged as a "session" and given a category — "unfiled" are rolls in progress, "pending" for rolls that await processing, "processed" and then "scanned." I saved these records to my desktop computer and try to print them for storage alongside the printed contact sheet, if any.

I have been using Xtol developer which is also flexible. I used to be a big fan of Ilford HC & Rodinal but when we lived in Hawaii they were almost impossible to obtain — no local Ilford vendor and a $25 hazmat charge added to each $6 bottle of Rodinal. When we returned to the mainland I promptly got some Rodinal but now its too late, Iíve become an Xtol convert.

I change the film in a bag and process it in my kitchen. If the roll was commercially spooled I open the cartridge with a beer-bottle opener. I dilute Xtol 1::1 and use Ilford stop and fixer, probably because Ilford comes as a liquid Iím too lazy to mix Kodak fixer from a bag. I time my development using a PDA program called fototimer. I usually agitate constantly for the first 30 seconds and one or two inversions each 30 seconds thereafter. The later agitations are very mild — I might even skip one or two.

I have both metal and Paterson tanks. I almost always use the Patersons because they are easy and can be used for both 35mm and 120 film. I have a 35mm single-roll tank and a three-roll (or 120 double-roll) tank. When I used the little stirring rod I got surge marks so I just cover the tank and agitate
normally.

The film gets rinsed in the kitchen sink then transferred to the bathroom for a final rinse in Photo-flo and then hung in the shower to dry, typically overnight. I use a hanger that I bought at Daiei for $1. Itís designed for hanging wet nylon stockings. I weight the film with clothes pins so that it will dry flat, and I try to angle the film slightly when hanging so that any residual moisture will run to the edge of the strip. Once dry it's promptly cut into strips of six and placed in Print-File pages before scanning.

For the past couple of years Iíve scanned all film rather than print it on silver paper. We have just started reconstructing the old silver darkroom, however. I use a Minolta Scan Dual film scanner, it has no Digital ICE but ICE doesnít work on B&W film anyway — no loss. I've done comparison scanning, and the little Minolta produces bigger files, with better color, than I could get from a commercial-lab PhotoCD only a few years ago. I save to 8-bit jpegs, if I need more bit-depth on a particular shot I can always come back later and rescan it. I have a cabinet containing binders full of archived negative sheets and proofs, indexed by date.

Though I do most of my regular work under Windows XP and linux, I do almost all photo work on the Mac — mostly for historical reasons. I have a G4 tower with a very nice 21" flat pro Sony monitor that I run at 1600x1280 for both Mac and PC — the monitorís switchable between two different computers, each with their own mouse and keyboard on the same desk.

Once I scan each roll it's catalogued and every few months I burn the catalogs to CDs, but leave the JPEG contacts sheets on the HD so I can find things more easily later.

Unless Iím impatient to print a specific frame, I scan the whole roll using Vuescan and then cycle through it as a slide show in Graphic Converter — the closest thing in digital to going over contact sheets with a loupe.

I pass over rolls with Graphic Converter to build icons and bulk-rotate them, but all subsequent computer work is done in Photoshop, and printed on my aging Epson 870. I like printing B&W using Epson's color inks, I tried the MIS quadtones but got spattering. I've spent quite a lot of time building up RGB curves to reproduce a good continuous grayscale that reasonably matches my monitor. It took many test prints. Metamerism can still be a problem.

I like Epson's Archival Matte paper. I really like Crane Museo paper, but it's pricey and not right for all photos. I've used Ilford's Galerie and some other similar papers but prefer the matte. It seems right to make an image that's a different sort of image than a pearl or glossy silver print. In some ways, inkjet on art paper is similar to using art paper for processes like cyanotype or Van Dyck.

For larger prints, Calypso Imaging is just down the block from my office, Iíve taken files to them for 16x20" Lightjets which are truly 100% predictable in their exact quality.

So thereís the basic workflow. I could go on. In fact I guess I have.

Posted May 13, 2003 | Comments (0)

NVIDIAģ GeForceô FX 5900 Ultra

Is Announced Today.

Nuff said! Click the link.

Posted May 12, 2003 | Comments (0)

Short Ends

Most of the weekend was spent away from home but a few small things got done. Prints for the print exchange are done. I like them but prints from the 870 (a slightly-old Epson) still have some metamerism issue between incandescent and sun light. I've built curves to give myself a good grayscale but some mixes still reveal faint traces of green or magenta at certain angles and grays. Could fine detail also play a part, shimmering in a subtle color shift across certain frequencies? Fortunately, the effect seems to fade as the print dries.

Scanned the rolls from yesterday. I shot a couple of rolls with the 90mm almost exclusively, forcing it onto myself. The hardest part for me to accomodate has been the idea of being much farther from people to photograph them. The best thing about it isn't the "tele" reach but the perspective flattening, which gives an apparent coplanarity to things (though the DoF will be a lot thinner).

Tomorrow is another Michel Daniel-adjudicated streetphoto salon, topic "Voice." Beats me what to post.

Posted May 11, 2003 | Comments (0)

Formulae

Three rolls Delta 400, 11.5mins Xtol 1::1 @ 20C

Got my new bulkroll of TMax (and a new pack of PrintFile pages) and found that I still had a good 30 feet of it in the loader all along. Doi! Spooled-off six rolls to potentially use in San Francisco today.

Paul Graham says Hackers and Painters just want to be loved.

Outta here.

Posted May 10, 2003 | Comments (0)

Seven Days in Romania

Not by me, sadly.

Cosmin Bumbut and six photographer friends of the 7 days photoclub have been spending just such a week annually for almost five years, in the more-traditional and remote parts of their country. The 2003 version, set in the village of Harnicesti, is due soon. The variation in styles is particularly interesting — each photographer has a different take.

(Followup Entry....)

Posted May 09, 2003 | Comments (0)

Fragility

Hoped to do some printing Thursday night for the second Contax G Print Exchange. I had planned to make silver prints for this but there's been no time for the darkroom & a dozen prints are due in Scotland in two weeks. Back to the Epson.

I thought of using the photo at right — already posted in this journal once. A few days ago I posted it to Contax G and to my surprise it proved terrifically popular, rapidly attracting kudos and the highest site ratings I'd ever had there; before the jpeg was corrupted by a database glitch a couple of hours later. Only a handful of people ever saw more than a 150-pixel thumbnail. After two days of struggling and failing to be allowed to replace the file, I ended up deleting it.

An object lesson in impermanence, pride turned quickly to humiliation by a few errant lines of bad code.

Putting it in a print, I thought, might make some faintly-ironic statement about the fragilty of the web, its mercurial nature and the perhaps unfounded faith we place in it — replaced by a stiff archival chunk of heavy stock.

But I've since realized that it would be an empty gesture. Few had seen the photo in the first place, the irony would be lost. Pick a different shot.

The incident has, however, once again indicated to me that shared gallery sites are not always a healthy place for photos. I'd already abandoned placing photos on photo.net a long while back — too much emphasis on high volume and a demand for banality, photos that confirm and conform to the Kodak-brochure norms. I think from this point I should just keep my web photos on my own site, save for special situations.

Posted May 08, 2003 | Comments (0)

Maya Fun

We released a set of Mel scripts that I've been developing and using with Maya 4.5 and the NVIDIA Cg Plugin: http://developer.nvidia.com/view.asp?IO=cgfx_mel — you can get the free plugin etc from the same site.

Unless I'm mistaken, the plugin should work with the Maya 4.5 Personal Learning Edition, also free from Alias|Wavefront — should make for a pretty cool way to get into high-quality realtime 3D graphics for a very low price (read: $0).

Posted May 08, 2003 | Comments (1)

Thimk

Eeek, this journal got labelled "the thinking photographers' weblog" by Outwardly Normal 2, an apellation that's already meme'd its way to joe jenett's dailywebthing.

Guess that means I'd better get on the stick and add those extra twenty or thirty new entries to the strobe information page, huh.

Or maybe update the search dada page, which is also fallling behind by several weeks. Looking at today's logs (how I noticed the link above), I find this lovely gem: "instrucions how to make a homemade bomb." I am so happy to know that search term gets you here. I'd better pencil-in some time for visits and interviews from the FBI later in the day.

As a much easier way to merit this title, I'll just post a link to Bee. He has some new stuff that I recommend highly. See it now, before you end up having to pay $40 to see it a Barnes & Noble.


Speaking of Bee's site, he was the one who got me to realize the only sensible way to design web pages with slideshows — click on the picture to get to the next picture. Web designers, please take note of this very simple notion. Forcing the reader to hunt around for a "next" link (often disguised cleverly as a doorknob or some tiny arrangement of » signs), a link that usually jumps around the screen from page to page, is an unnessesary RSI-inducing evil, and one that's easily avoided.

Posted May 08, 2003 | Comments (1)

Advice

A young photographer shows his work: pictures of gratings, crosswalks, curbs, textures, grids, faultless exercises in graphics that seem to repeat all of recent American photography. What can we say about it? Mention the quality of the prints? The precision of the framing? What can we do to not appear inattentive? Looking at the photographs twice, go through them again slowly while we feel the other's presence near us, tense, pretending to be looking somewhere else? And then, why can't we say that we have nothing to say, that this work elicits nothing in us but a dreary impression of quality? "You should photograph the people you love with the same precision as you photograph your gratings." That's what we should say.

-- Hervé Guibert,
        Ghost Image, 1982

Posted May 07, 2003 | Comments (1)

A Matter of Proportion

How has Kodak managed to sell 8x10" paper, 5x7" paper, and 11x14" paper, for year upon year upon year, and none of them have the same aspect ratio? 8x10 at least matches the aspect ratio of a 4x5 camera, but none of them match the aspect ratio of 35mm, 6x7, 6x6, 6x9.... then digicams come along and almost all of them are the aspect ratio of a video camera, 4::3, and digital printers come along and expect everyone to switch from 8x10" to 8.5x11", or 13x17", with each printer having a slightly-different printable area within those fields. Only the humble 4x6" quickie print actually gets the aspect-ratio game under control.

It ticks me off.

Pretty much, you're guaranteed not to be able to use some significant portion of the expensive paper you've purchased, or some significant portion of your (probably more-important) photograph is going to get cropped. Paper waste: borders to adjust, or chunks trimmed-off, or both.

Yeah, you can always add borders to the image, but that's really just a way of shuffling the waste around to make things seem better. In fact it's more wasteful, given that you end up having to print smaller. A 4x6" print with a half-inch border all 'round is 5x7" but it's silly to call it a 5x7 at that point, no? Almost a third of the paper is just tossed-away as white.

Which leads me to the actual reason that I have time tonight to rant about aspect ratios. I was going to process three rolls of Delta 400 tonight, but I ran out of PrintFile pages. My film scanner takes six-neg strips of film. A 36-exposure roll therefore can fit onto six strips — maybe seven if you get an extra frame or two, and neg sleeves that are seven strips by six negatives are next to impossible to find — so I've run out, and have to wait until I get the next batch from B&H, which seems to be the closest supplier who normally has the right kind in stock.

Why are these sheets so hard to find? My guess is because they're not wasteful enough, which is simply UnAmerican. With 6x5 or 7x5 sheets, you need at least two sheets to handle a single roll of film — and two sheets of paper to contact-proof it, to boot. Smaller sizes are everywhere, but 7x6 is rare — a specialty item among specialty items (oh, and here's a little endorsement: VueAll bad, PrintFile good).

A 7x6 neg sheet, proofed on 8.5x11" photo paper (which was already hard to get before, but now seems to have completely dried-up) let you proof a whole roll in one page, on one sheet. Having 8.5x11" photo paper that matches the print size used in business and photo printers, that matches the size used by binders and file cabinets everywhere, makes perfect sense. Who is benefiting from all this waste and confusion?

And how come frame shops only have a tiny selection of "document" sized frames? Or if you want to matte your document-sized photo to 11x14, forget about finding a precut matte.

I blame globalization. It's gotta be.

Posted May 05, 2003 | Comments (0)

Black

...and a little white.

I've read it a couple of times in the past, but today I re-read this interview with Ralph Gibson.

"But anyway, the big emphasis in digital photography is how many more million pixels this new model has than the competitorís model. Itís about resolution, resolution, resolution, as though that were going to provide us with a picture that harbored more content, more emotional power. Well in fact. Itís very good for a certain kind of graphic thing in color but I donít necessarily do that kind of photograph."

Sounds much like what I wrote about computers a couple of days ago — and Gibson is a big fan of digital, at least on the printing end of preduction. Surely his comments were a subconscious influence on my thinking.

At one time, I used a Canon 85mm lens for nearly everything. Now it (and my Zeiss 90mm) sit at the bottom of the bag, largely unused. Tried forcing myself to use the 90 today — if only, as Duchamp said, "to avoid conforming to my own taste."

Posted May 04, 2003 | Comments (2)

The Desert

One roll TMax 100, 8min + a little more in Xtol 1::1 at 22C

Shot a lot from the passenger seat of Courtney's car today. Lots of ideas about the banality and almost ritual sameness of the actions of each passing motorist.

Dang it, out of TMax after the next roll.


Checking the catalog, I realize that the local library has one Jean Baudrillard title (America), and 252 titles matching "Star Trek."

Posted May 03, 2003 | Comments (0)

Computers, Cameras, Colors, & Caravaggism

Okay, so if I'm so hot on digital imaging, why do I still lunk-around a film-based camera? What? No color?

I get asked this regularly by people in the offline world. It's usually a lead-in to a recommendation that I buy a digital camera, often tied to a specific recommendation to get one just like theirs, which they recently purchased and like a lot. They're usually surprised when I say that I spent almost a year toting around a digital camera all day most every day, that I have a digital photo enthusiast site, and that after that experience I dug-out the old 1950's style gear, expanded my 35mm equipment, and have been quite pleased with the results of that choice. I still use the digicam at times, but mostly it stays home. I waver at moments, but usually have no desire to grab at the latest generation of DSLRs.

How can this jibe with my day-to-day work, daily pushing the envelope of useful computer imaging tools for games and movies? How can I be supervising imagery on films like Final Fantasy and simultaneously be such a Luddite (partial quick answer: I'm not a Luddite)?

I ask myself this regularly, and have decided that it's all about the "C" word.

The "C" word is Control.

Back when I was in school it's the same reason I gave for my interest in computer graphics, when asked about it by my review committee at CalArts, where my official focus was not on animation but live-action filmmaking and theatre (there was no CG curriculum at that point). I said that I liked the idea of controlling every last pixel in the frame, and felt that the level of control CG promised was greater than that of movies — that the computer would eventually become the ultimate movie-making tool (this was right around the time of the widely-panned and widely-hailed Tron).

And it's true. CG has become the dominant means of exacting image control in films. Every last frame of any new movie you see is likely as not to have been at least digitally color-graded before you see it. We don't blink — we expect — when movie characters can get into fistfights with dinosaurs, and it's all because of the control that the computer brings to imaging. And movies are positively tame compared to the intensely-processed imagery of TV commercials and print ads.

I've become more convinced over time that Computer Graphics is Photography. And that both are forms of painting, which is an elaborate form of drawing. Cinematography (and video gaming) is to crossbreed drawing with theatre and music, introducing the explicit use of time. Titian is said to have declared "all art is one" — and Garry Winogrand was reputed to have said to Joel Meyerowitz, when perusing a book of Titan at a NY bookstore: "Hey, look, another great photographer!"

Within this grandly-broad definition of art, then, so wide as to include XBox, fingerpaints, and oboes, there seems to be a fairly-consistent distinction between the notions of "color" and "line" (in music, one might call it the distinction between tone and melody). And while some might attack me for this notion, I always feel that of the two, line is superior. Our eyes, and our minds, just work that way. Line is the story, the melody, the shape, the edge. You can like a record, but sometimes you've got to be able to dance to it.

Studio shooting on set is in color, because color is usefully descriptive to show us our favorite stars. We expect it. But the lighting and staging is deliberately made to augment and accentuate line — rim lights, backlight, TV cameras (and digital still cameras) with edge-enhancement hardware, fog on the stage and polarized light sources. These are all hacks borrowed from studio portrait photographers who borrowed liberally from the traditions of painters before them, as recent as Leighton and back to the Caravaggists if not before. The lighting guys on Shrek saythat they reviewed every shot on a black-and-white monitor, because as important as color styling was to the film, it was the line — the modeling of form by light and dark — that ultimately led to the success or failure of each shot's lighting.

Motion itself is a kind of line too — like melody, it's a line through time. In games and films it's easier to let color into the picture without the danger that color's emotional, sentimentalizing influences will trash what is essential in the image. And motion, like line, is inevitably stylized, even if only by the timing adjustments inherent in editing. So in films, in games, in animation, I feel comfortable with color. But in still work, it seems more an obstacle than a tool.

For me, a camera is a solitary sketchbook. Film cameras (so far) are the quicker in the hand, lighter, and more flexible and controllable in sketching at the B&W essence. The computer screen is a detailed, communal painting. Infinitely tweakable, thoughtful, textured. I feel priveleged to be comfortable working in both.

Posted May 03, 2003 | Comments (2)

 

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