The leaves have decided in the past week to flip their colors from green to Halloween orange and dump themselves everywhere. A season of transformation.

PhotoBlogs.ORG seems to have taken a hint from nature and has similarly changed colors and flushed-away their database of sites. The addresses are still there, but the indexing has been stripped away, leaving only the bare branches. If you like botzilla, click here now and tag it as a "favorite" to be shared on's front page. Think of it as your good deed of the day.

The leaves drop to make way for new growth over the winter and spring. In a similar way, I'm going to be selling some of my 35mm Canon equipment. Like many shooters I've come to be buried in gear, with Canon FD, EOS, old screwmount rangefinders, Nikon AF, and Contax 35mm kit. I'm keeping the A-1 and a couple of lenses, along with the Contax and EOS, but will be placing a fair amount of FD gear on Ebay or Craigslist in the next few days. If you'd like first shot at any of this gear, email me now:

  • Two A-series bodies, both recently CLA'd by Karl Aimo who is definitely the guy for Canon FD (just check if you don't believe me):
    • One Canon AE-1
    • One Canon AE-1 Program
  • Several FD lenses, all with hoods:
    • Canon 20mm f/2.8 (New)
    • Canon 28mm f/2.8 (New)
    • Canon 35mm f/2 (New)
    • Canon 50mm f/1.8 (Breech)
    • Canon 50mm f/1.4 (New)
    • Canon 85mm f/1.8 (New)
    • Canon 200mm f/4 (with a Tokina hard case)
  • Canon Motor drive MA, with battery pack (for AE1 Program or A-1)
  • Canon Power winder A1
  • Canon F-1 (original) Angle Finder

Et bonne fête y'all.

Posted October 31, 2003 | Comments (1)

Quotations in Today's Emails

Such a literate bunch today.

• Street Photography is Link Number One

"To photograph is to hold one's breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It's at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy."

"Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important."

"Photography appears to be an easy activity; in fact it is a varied andambiguous process in which the only common denominator among its practitioners is in the instrument."

"Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again."

"Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we're working, we must be conscious of what we're doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we've taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole."

"Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes a precise moment in time. We play with subjects that disappear; and when they're gone, it's impossible to bring them back to life. We can't alter our subject afterward.... Writers can reflect before they put words on paper.... As photographers, we don't have the luxury of this reflective time....We can't redo our shoot once we're back at the hotel. Our job consists of observing reality with help of our camera (which serves as a kind of sketchbook), of fixing reality in a moment, but not manipulating it, neither during the shoot nor in the darkroom later on. These types of manipulation are always noticed by anyone with a good eye."

"Avoid making a commotion, just as you wouldn't stir up the water before fishing. Don't use a flash out of respect for the natural lighting, even when there isn't any. If these rules aren't followed, the photographer becomes unbearably obstrusive."

"In photography, the smallest thing can become a big subject, an insignificant human detail can become a leitmotiv. We see and we make seen as a witness to the world around us; the event, in its natural activity, generates an organic rhythm of forms. "

"The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt."

"What reinforces the content of a photograph is the sense of rhythm & the relationship between shapes and values."

"To take photographs means to recognize — simultaneously and within a fraction of a second — both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye and one's heart on the same axis. "

"As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It is a way of life."

"The photograph itself doesn't interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality. "

"Think about the photo before and after, never during. The secret is to take your time. You mustn't go too fast. The subject must forget about you. Then, however, you must be very quick. So, if you miss the picture, you've missed it. So what?"

"The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera. "

"Inside movement there is one moment in which the elements are in balance. Photography must seize the importance of this moment and hold immobile the equilibrium of it."

"We pass judgement on what we see, and this involves an enormous responsibility."

"Sharpness is a bourgeois concept."

   — Henri Cartier-Bresson via Michal Daniel

"Whatever I say about photograhy is in relation to my photography, I'm not talking about photography in general." — HCB

Or, to put it another way, there's an awful lot of bullshit which you can safely ignore.Jawed Ashraf

And these from Luis:

Gradually, I set myself to try to discover the various ways in which I could play with a camera. From the moment I began to use the camera and to think about it, however, there was an end to holiday snaps and silly pictures of my friends. I became serious. I was on the scent of something, and I was busy smelling it out.

— HCB, Intro to The Decisive Moment

Success depends on the extent of one's general culture, one's set of values, one's clarity of mind and vivacity. The thing to be feared the most is the artifially contrived, the contrary to life

— HCB, interview Harper's, Nov '61

Photography is an adventure just as life is an adventure. If one wishes to express himself photographically, he must understand, to a certain extent, his relationship to life.

— Harry Callahan 1946, An Adventure in Photography (pp 28-29)

The work of two photographers, Bill Brandt of England, and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans' photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: "To transform destiny into awareness". One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself, but how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort ?

— Robert Frank, 1958 US Camera Annual, p. 115

"There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment."

"It is difficult to describe this thin line where matter ends and mind begins".

— Robert Frank, 1961 Aperture, Black and White are the Colors of Robert Frank

.....I saw my "Steerage" framed and hanging on the wall amongst etchings and lithographs. "What's the price of "The Steerage ?" I asked.

"Four dollars".

I was tempted to buy it. It looked so handsome, and how ridiculously low the price. I remembered that I was living on fifty cents a day for food and that four dollars meant eight days' food. Did I have a right to buy my own picture under such conditions ?

— Alfred Stieglitz "Four Happenings", Twice-a-Year, edited by Dorothy Norman, No. 8/9, pp 135.

Posted October 28, 2003 | Comments (0)

Pumpkin Time

Blog listing of the day has to go to Jörg at Conscientious. Conscientious, like PhotoRant, looks for good photography on the web; though unlike photorant, Jörg spends no time crabbing about how barren the desert is, and actually doesn't seem to spend much time, if any, digging through photoblogs — only photography of established artists. Also unlike photorant, Conscientious is more than happy to post other people's photos as he finds them — given that he can then choose freely this makes Conscientious a very pretty site. And since he blends his own photos into the mix, this gives them an added haute association, as if we had discovered them hanging at SFMOMA.

Speaking of photoblogs, is set to release the long-publicized new version of their site later today. I've been assured that the new software will restore one of my favborite features, which was to be able to search for similar sites, based on self-assigned keywords (now if only it could display a map of similarities, a la kartoo....).

...and speaking of SFMOMA, KQED Forum ran a program on Friday, hyping and discussing the new Diane Arbus: Revelations exhibit, which officially opened there on Saturday. Clicking on the Forum link above will let you listen to the entire program, with the curators of the show, a writer from Vanity Fair (apparently certifying Arbus's status as a "legendary" photographer), and a number of call-ins, including the lady who wanted to know why SFMOMA wastes so much time on photography.

Posted October 27, 2003 | Comments (0)


Finally replaced the battery for my G1 yesterday morning — once again able to run more than three or four shots before it poops out. Ran a couple of hundred frames through it since then.

Picking through the World Press Photo 2002 book, I realized: despite a ton of assurances that journalism has gone digital in a deep deep way, you might not know it looking at this "best-of-the-best" collection. What I was surprised at was the persistence, if not of film itself (hard to say for professional gear these days, really), but of Black and White Photography.

Looking through even the abbreviated top story listings on the WPP website, it's quickly evident that Black and White holds its own against color — to my surprise there's not just a healthy thread of B&W, B&W is actually more than half of the work represented there.

The questions I ponder: is this really representative of most photography made for press publication in this day and age? Are the judges simply predisposed to prefer B&W? Are PJs and editors just more inclined to send B&W for "best-of" competition? Are these downsampled color digital shots, or are the best shooters still toughing it out with their M4's and rolls of Tri-X? Will the onslaught of over-equipped embedded PJs in Iraq and the growth of digital delivery turn the tide to color for 2003? Or are we, as I suspect, seeing something fundamental in photography that is unlikely to change, regardless of the variations in technology?

What appeals to me most about this is that B&W is being used in an immediate way, without an appeal to nostalgia or pictorial cuteness. Now if only I could get a predictably-decent monochrome print out of my Epson.

Posted October 23, 2003 | Comments (3)

Hidden Qualities

Three rolls of Fuji 1600, 7:30 Xtol 1+1. Three rolls Delta 400, 15:30 Xtol 1+1 for ISO 800.

Standard Resize Nearest Neighbor Split

When photos appear on the web, they both prosper and starve. The range of brightnesses far outstrips anything you could put into a print, rivaling what you can see on a slide. At the same time, the number of perceptable colors can be poor, especially given that the web viewer may have a monitor that's uncalibrated or set up completely differently from the photographer/publisher.

At a minimum, your monitor should be able to distinguish these individual tones

Worse, the pictures are small.

One of photography's best qualities is its ability to render lots of small details simultaneously. The web destroys that. A photo may show hundreds of figures, toiling in the mud of a Brazilian gold mine, each laborer with a unique and specific posture, load, and expression. The reduced web thumbnail shows only a dark mass of random arms, five pixels each. Eyelashes, baby peach fuzz, the subtle curl of an eye in either contempt or love... even a full-face portrait can and will suffer from being reduced to a 400-pixel JPEG.

One quality that I like, yet which is almost always eliminated from web photos, is grain. The three photos in the table show some example experiments, trying to hold onto the feeling of a photograph's original grain while still blowing it down to a small, web-happy size.

The original source image was a 35mm negative, Tri-X processed in Rodinal. Lots of clean edges, high contrast, and a fair amount of lovely grain that's abundantly evident in a ~3700×2500, 2820-dpi scan (You can click-through any of the samples to see a 50%-scaled detail).

The first small example image is resized by what I've been using as a "standard" method — what I call a "resize/sharpen cascade." Resize first to an even factor of the final size, then resize down in even steps, sharpening at each stage — a lot on the large pictures, and progressively less on the smaller versions. The sizes I use most often I've reduced to Photoshop actions, based initially on some mail conversations with Wilfred van der Vegte. The results are sharp, smooth, great for many images but they lose the texture that I love.

The middle image is resized with a dead-simple technique — turn off bicubic filtering. Resizing directly to 270×400 with the Photoshop sampling set to "nearest neighbor" preserves the random contrasts and some of the pattern of the original grain, but at the risk of overwhelming the image.

The third example uses a trivial hybrid that's been the most-successful for me so far. I use nearest-neighbor sizing to twice the target size (i.e., 800×540), then size down one more half-scale using the bicubic filter, and then finally a light pass of USM for crispness (around 50%, 1.0 pixels, threshhold zero). While all of the samples lose details that I feel are important to the photo, like the teeth and the faint, tiny hairs on the face, at least this one carries one of the large-print qualities that's important to me but usually unseen in web photos.

Posted October 18, 2003 | Comments (1)

Expecting the Rapture

Salon day. Theme for the designated period: "transcendance."

Before I picked a shot for submission (and frankly, nothing from recent shooting came readily to mind until the last hour or so), my mind catalogued the likely shots to be seen — religious iconography, motion-blur ghosting, the brilliant light of inspiration. Got it all in spades, once I had made my shot, sent it off, and then surveyed the field. Hosannah! The only thing I didn't see, that I had expected, was a rogue Ansel Adams knockoff. Maybe next time.

Expected images — to confirm and conform — are the bane of the single-shot salon, I suspect. It's hard not to end up shooting along one or two predictable axes: either the picturesque or the ironic (and in the latter, I'd include the "surreal"). At this point in history, when even the smallest of children are bombarded with sophisticated imagery, it's hard to imagine any great value in any single image. It takes a host of them if you really are hoping to make anything but a very well-worn point.

Posted October 13, 2003 | Comments (0)


Three rolls TMax 100, Xtol 1+1, 9:30 @ 20°C.

This one was shot early on the 10th of September, as we struggled to get ourselves functional before heading to Narita for our long return from Tokyo. About a week later I processed the roll, and the very next night, I ran across a similar shot by Japanese Photoblogger Samourai. Given the time of the post he may have shot his at the very same time, over in Nagoya (I have one even more like his, but I like this one better).

I suppose I could write-up a little diatribe about how everything that can be shot has been shot, and yet how nothing is ever really the same as any other shot, both before and after the moments of exposure. Yeah. I think I'll just leave it as a little shout-out across the Pacific, yo.

Posted October 05, 2003 | Comments (0)

Blinded Eye

Tomorrow, "officially," is the day of election-like activities in Chechnya.

I'm surprised — alarmed, really — at how many Americans are blissfully unaware of the situation in Chechnya. We think the war ended half a decade ago (if they were even aware of that), and are unaware of the second war. We remember the Moscow Theatre Massacre, but are completely unaware of the human rights situation in Chechnya. We are unaware of how many Russian soldiers die there every week, in greater numbers and with far less conviction than the U.S. victims in Iraq. We're unaware of how the fighting has spread to Ingushetia, where now the number of Chechen refugees is as great as the original population of the republic, and how the separatists have fanned-out to neighboring states like Azerbaijan (recent new site of U.S. air bases), Iraq, and Afghanistan.

It's easy to wring one's hands over the evils of the world, or to earnestly hope that Somebody will do Something. But even this doesn't seem to happen — these events go on daily as non-stories, not just under-reported but unreported.

People in Spain and Germany march in the street against the US coalition in Baghdad. It's certainly their prerogative — it's great fun to wear a grotesque Bush mask and complain about the oil business. But why do these people say nothing about Grozny? Who has decided that these people, Chechens and Russians alike, are worth so little?

Posted October 04, 2003 | Comments (1)


Three rolls Neopan Super Presto 1600, Xtol 1+1, 7:30. This photo from the same roll of Rodinal'd Tri-X as the previous shot; made perhaps 20 minutes after that portrait.

A few years ago most of the Japanese anime production business leapt into the digital age. Gone were the inks, gone were the cel painters. Had the quality and cost ratios finally reached the magic level where producers were ready to embrace the future?

No. What happened was that Fuji, makers of many things besides photographic film and Finepix cameras, was also the primary maker of blank animation cels for the Japanese industry. The business was weak, couldn't bear higher prices, so they shut it down. Bang suddenly digital was a great idea.

There was no nefarious plot to change things, they just made a rational business decision about something that seems like an incidental product but that had ramifications far down the industrial food chain.

I was thinking about this today when I got my latest bundle of neg storage sleeves. I'd been unable to process anything for days, while I had waited for them to arrive from NYC. Such a trivial thing, but what if PrintFile's owners decided tomorrow that they day of the 7x6 page was over?

People worry about not being able to find film in five years, or ten. That's not what worries me. Heck, you can still buy Super-8 film.

What worries me is going to be the steady consolidation and loss of infrastructure, until some camel's back will be broken by a catalytic straw that will force even the diehard film users into resigning themselves to a 100% digital work environment. I expect the day's not far off when you can't process black and white unless you do it in a homebrew developer or you use D-76, and the only darkroom equipment you can buy will be third-hand on ebay.

At that point, of course, wet silver processes will finally have dropped into the ranks of daguerreotype and collodion process — a pricey, eccentric fringe art. The worst practitioners will jsut rehash the glories of the past, mired in nostalgia. A few good ones, we can hope, will be still finding new purposes and meaning in their stinky fixer fingers.

Posted October 03, 2003 | Comments (0)


Three rolls of TMax 100 and another roll of Tri-X, Rodinal 1+25. TMax from around 6 minutes, the Tri-X for seven. Out of Rodinal, and out of fast film. Out of negative sleeve pages. Will have to sit tight until the next B&H box appears.

I observed here a while back that when I first started using my Canons, I used to use my 85mm almost exclusively. In recent years, I've switched to the wide end and use the 90mm Zeiss very little, stressing the 28mm and 45mm. I've been trying to understand/deconstruct what in my own tastes had changed.

Today I shot the latest in a few rolls I've been making completely using the 85mm. The experience was magical.

With the rangefinder, the 90mm feels like a real tele, and it's difficult to use at wide apertures or close (or both). The depth of field can be less than a centimeter, and without much preview.

With the SLR, the 85mm is made for close, tight work. It handles like the 45mm on the Contax. The comfort zone is a quarter-step back but the result still feels intimate without being pushy. Combined with the crispness of Tri-X in Rodinal, it's a thing of beauty.

Posted October 01, 2003 | Comments (0)


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