The Cantax

Today's (linkless) photo is for Eddie, who tragically turned down a 300D because he didn't like the color and it didn't look "Reuters" enough.

C'mon man, your Contax G2 is silver too (and the Leica as well? Tsk!) You know darned well that the camera body is just a little dark box at the back of the lens, with an extra little hole for peeping through.

It's also for Michael Johnson, who has rollover pains with regards to cameras that aren't made of metal. (You should subscribe to his newsletter anyway — here's hoping he can manage to keep printing it!)

Now to doctor-up a logo...

(Sorry for the obvious pixel noise in this quick snap — shot with my old Canon G1.... which has been recently borrowed often by my daughter. A mere 8MB card? Not a problem when you're enthusiastic as she is....)

Followup, March 2005: More here about that shiny silver body and some lessons after a year of use...

Posted February 28, 2004 | Comments (0)

Happily Depressed

As Courtney recently wrote, we have succumbed to the evil that is TiVo. While the kids were quick to set up Seaon Passes for their favorite cartoons, TiVo finally gives me the chance to for more esoteric exploration of whole channels at a time, rather than whatever's on between the hours of 11:30PM and midnight (normally my only times for TV watching).

The two channels I've finally managed to get a good look at are the news-junkie specialty channels, Discovery Times and Link TV.

Discovery Times is currently running (and re-running) a short series on war reporting, particularly broadcast reporting and photography: Reporters At War. This was the series that drew me into the channel. It's also been running a recent series on North Korea, a place that seems more bizarre with every look (anyone have hints on how to see the movie Pulgasari?).

Discovery Times is the only commercial news source that seems to bother with covering anything other than today's top stories. After a couple weeks' worth of watching I'm happy to report that I still haven't seen a single snip about Kobe Bryant, Paris Hilton, or the final episode of Sex and the City. While much of the news is, bluntly, depressing — it's hard to feel "entertained" by tales of Korean cannibalism or an analysis of skyrocketing American traffic congestion — I'd rather see that than another season of Friends-related advertising masquerading as "news" to satisfy the increasingly-lax requirements of the FCC.

Link TV is more-or-less non-commercialized and goes one step further, running news that Americans would otherwise never see, except as filtered snips through CNN or Fox; they run bits of Al Jazeera, locally-made documentaries on the innovative Indian computer industry, isolated Jewish settlers or the Palestian families behind the miserable Apartheid containment wall (which the American corporate media only grudgingly mention at all), teenagers in Sarajevo and Belfast... material that's normally never seen in America because of the US's terrible provincialism (and corporate sponsorships).

Depite all America's other legitimate claims to diversity, American media-driven mental culture is sadly closed to any voices but the familiar ones. And what American commercial network would run a documentary about how McDonald's is using and abusing the courts to crush dissenting opinions about their fraudulent advertising in third-world countries like, say, England?

Finally, the TiVo found a show I'd previously been completely unaware of, on a network I'd never known existed — Nature's Best Photography, a six-year-old documentary series profiling nature photographers hosted by Bob Krist and sponsored by Nikon. It's waaaay up in the 600's on a channel called OLN ("Outdoor Living Network"). The quality of the show is uneven, but with the occasional nugget of interest, particularly when they are interviewing successful shooters about their work and work processes.

I'm not a huge fan of the "Outdoor Photography" aesthetic, since so often I feel it lapses into a collective hallucination — a world of unspoiled beauty, somehow free from the hand of humanity (and safely contained in a photo or TV screen). On most episodes some interviewee will wax at length about how wildlife and landscape photography are crucial tools to promote conservation and protection of the natural world. How ironic, then, is this show on OLN, interupted every seven minutes by another SUV commercial or an ad for other OLN shows on ATVs, high-speed logging, or dirt biking. It seems that the average OLN viewer, like many Americans, measures their enjoyment of the outdoor world by how much noise and violence they can personally impose on it. This morning I watched an episode (the first one?) on Joe and MaryAnn McDonald and the Valley Land Fund Wildlife Competition, where the organizers and photographers repeat the theme of conservation at each shot setup, even as they are interupted by an ad for DR Chipper — an ad composed almost entirely from images of "outdoorsy" people feeding large chunks of forest into the shredder.

Posted February 26, 2004 | Comments (1)

The Only Good Macintosh... a live Macintosh, which mine was not for the past 24 hours. To be fair, it was the IBM disk that spontaneously failed, not the Apple hardware — so it was Apple's OEM purchasing managers who were twits, not the manufacturing folks.

My last backup was at New Years, so essentailly all mail I've recevied since December and before yesterday is gone — I especially apologize to a couple of folks who were bidding on some older camera gear, whose names and mail addresses I've now lost. I've swapped out the old G4 for a dual-G4 tower, and the disk was fresh-formatted today — really starting from nearly scratch.

Fortunately almost all photo stuff — and all original files and/or scans — were already on CD and/or on the hardy and dependable Windows machines. Never thought I'd say that.

Posted February 18, 2004 | Comments (3)

Out with the Old, in with the... Old

So I've almost finished selling my Canon SLR gear, to pay for my... Canon SLR gear. That is, the old-school manual-focus SLR gear to pay for... well, old-school manual-focus SLR gear, in the guise of old-style AE/MM Zeiss Contax lenses mounted on a digital Canon EOS. Monday I was lucky enough to snag a new 28 ƒ/2.8 for less than the price of a nice used one, by following up on someone else's Ebay transaction gone wrong. Hurrah.

I've noticed in practice that I much prefer using manual focus with my EOS 300D, despite so many earnest users telling me that it's a bad idea, that the screen is hard to focus on, the AF is terrific, etc etc. The only thing lacking, really, has been manual-focus lenses that are built to be focused manually, with a longer throw on the barrel for exacting manual control, combined with a hardy, solid feel (Canon's 50mm ƒ/1.8 Mk II is a lens that, while inexpensive, is built to keep margins low — in other words, it's lightly built, and the front elements wander). The Zeiss, built for cameras like the Aria and pro-level RTS, has that solid feel in spades.

Even better luck, I hope, on the 50mm ƒ/1.4, a lens that's sharper than either Canon version and yet cheaper due to the small demand from Contax shooters. Used ones usually run $150 to $200. On a hunch, a few days ago I started looking to see if I could get a better deal by simply buying an old Aria or 167MT, with a 50mm attached — lucky me, I found a 50 for a low-end price, complete with an attached RTS! If it's at all in good shape (particularly the shutter, which is impossible to service these days) I should be able to turn the body alone around for nearly the cost of the lens. Or consider it a free camera :)

On the subject of how few Contax users there are — 'twas ever thus, even in the beginning days of the Japanese Contaxes. A tragedy, really. It's not easy to find much about them on the web, either — which is why I tried to pile as many links as possible into this entry. My friend Knut, while tossing back Tuborgs a couple of months back, opined that he was the only Contax user he knew of in Denmark.

Posted February 17, 2004 | Comments (3)

The Message

Emese asks: "Is photoblogging good for photography?" Though it's not clear if she means her photography or the general world of all photography (or more likely, some particular slice of it, like advertising photography).

Here on PhotoRant, Dirk asks: Is the chef with three Michelin stars getting upset about people cooking their daily meals?

These two questions are facets of the same stone and at the heart of why photorant exists. Joerg over at Conscientious writes about a similar trend in this short essay on digital photography (and he mentions a trend toward digital toy camera photography — though I'm not sure what to make of it. Does it really make you a more free photographer, or is it, like "lomography," simply a different brand of equipment fetish?)

All of the links above are filled with pertinent, and timely, crosslinks. Perhaps it's their timeliness that bothers me most. Why must the opinions of some random BBC reporter be considered heavier, than, say, those of the Victorian John Ruskin: "If colour does not give you intense pleasure, let it alone; depend upon it, you are only tormenting the eyes and sense of people who feel colour, whenever you touch it; and that is unkind and improper." Just because yor new digicam can stamp out "automatically balanced" color doesn't make its results superior to those from any other process. The recent Beeb report proclaiming digital superiority for all, given its provenance and short life, should surely be considered capricious noise until proven otherwise. Yet I've seen it posted and crossposted everywhere over recent weeks, even on APUG.

The answer to Dirk's question is quite simple. Such a chef would not object to the cooking of others in their homes. Indeed, he depends on consumers being able to tell the difference between what comes popping out of their microwaves and what he will serve in his restaurant. But surely, what he would object to would be an explosion of cheap, greasy, and sythetic fare being sold to the public and billed as equal (or even superior) to his own.

Photoblogs are free to look at. The more of them I saw, the more I came to be convinced that for the most part, they are wasting my time, a commodity far more precious than any usage fee. There are far more bad photoblogs than I have time to pick through. I will learn little from them, and they are insular and uninterested in any "improvement" that doesn't lead to more complements from their blog friends for the most banal, expeced sort of work — work that's usually driven not by any artistic desire but by raw consumer fetish and self-indulgent groupthink.

Yet from this morass I do believe great work has the potential to arise — which is why photorant exists, to shine a light toward sites and trends of merit and also to shine that same baring light on the hazardous swampland.

I love quotes, especially when I can quote myself, from a forum post earlier today:

Self-indulgence is a betrayal of the realities of art, which by definition are an enterprise involving more than just a single person. Artists are involved in transactions between themselves, their subjects, and their audiences, small or large. To present your art is to ask the audience for their trust — that somehow they will be enriched for their investment of time and attention. This is as true for contemporary artists like, say, Sally Mann or Martin Parr, as it was for those of the past, such as Caravaggio, Weston, or Ruskin. Lewis Hine wrote that he wanted to capture not only those things that must be stopped, but those things that ought to be seen. In his photos he recognizes the dual nature of existence, pairing brutal factory conditions with gentle portraits of the children who work there. Likewise in a modern vein we have Salgado & Bravo & Luc Delahaye's sense of splendor at the sight of a dead Taliban, laid out in tableau. In all of these works we see the idealism and values of the artist not in isolation or removed from their social context and the greater world, but in full engagement with the environment that surrounds them.

Some years ago I heard or read the comment "every great photograph is about a relationship." That relationship can occur within the frame or back and forth between the image and the viewer, the photographer and the subject.

The simple photoblog challenge, then — to engage those relationships with as much passion and force as so many newly-minted digicam users put into the flowers in the backyards and the stripes on their neighborhood pavement. To squeeze in a little quality among the quantity.

Posted February 10, 2004 | Comments (1)

Contax G, Reprahzent

In the past couple of days I've run across notices for two established and Contax-related sites — based on photos, not gear.

An interview with Luc Delahaye talks about his experience shooting, among other things, his series "Wintereisse," which was reputedly made with the G2. Delahaye also is no slouch when it comes to kicking over a few cans around the Magnum Agency crowd, with comments like "Cartier-Bresson... didn't really need to put the film in the camera — the importance for him is the act of taking pictures ... being in the right position and being fast."

(Supposedly Josef Koudelka had a similar moment of Magnum-founder-busting, leaning into frame during a Cartier-Bresson TV interview to say "Henri, you are so full of it!")

Or again from Delahaye: "[Salgado]... is a cliché-maker. He is producing what everyone has in mind." Another good healthy Photo Rant.

Best of all, the photos are terrific.

On the other side of the planet is our own Contax homie Eddie Ng, whose website I've just found featured in the December issue of the UK Black and White Magazine. I've known enough to mark his site (even without an RSS feed) on the PhotoRant blogroll for a long time.

Posted February 01, 2004 | Comments (0)


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