The Calm After the Storm

So there was a civil trial this morning that slightly shifted-around the schedules of the children but left most everything alone, at least in day-to-day terms. We'll finally have entire family weekends, for the first time in eight years. As I often say, the domestic courts are upside down. Eight years of court appearances as punishment for the sentence I've already served. Frustratingly, I didn't get a chance to report today on half the abusive, ridiculous crap that we've had to go through — no time, water under the bridge, I'm just a big crab you know. Bleah. I could go on about biases in "the system" w.r.t. dads or religion or any number of things but in the end it's just a lot of running around and running up bills for very little accomplishment.

Now that it's over (again), for the first time in weeks (actually, since January of 2003) I can feel comfortable sitting down to read a book or a newspaper and not be worrying that I should really be working on evidentiary documentation or writing declarations and statements. And if this crap ever comes back, I've got plenty of information ammo already stacked up in the garage.

I also learned an extremely valuable lesson: always call the police. Giving people any slack for abuse is not ever an acceptable option. Ever. And never again.

Posted June 28, 2004 | Comments (4)


Three rolls TMax 100, Rodinal 1::25

Picking through proofs I've found a stretch of photos that I'd essentially forgotten — the ones that were made in the weeks immediately preceding the arrival of my DSLR. Like this one. Funny how I can tell myself that materials are secondary to ideas but it's surprising, looking through these shots, how many ideas that seemed important at the time were completely dropped when the New Toy came along.

Posted June 27, 2004 | Comments (0)


I've been using strobe more and more. Outdoors in daylight especially.

Looking at Briank Finke's website (thanks Jörg) reminds me that with enough strobe anything can look fantastical. The same saturated color can be seen from Martin Parr, for example.

Not just in color, either -- strobe is clear in Diane Arbus, Bruce Gilden, and Jeff Mermelstein.... strobe is like no other light. You can make it look "natural," sure. Should you?

A collision of "what I saw" and "what I made" is at the heart of its charm, no doubt.

Posted June 23, 2004 | Comments (5)

The Monster

...has arrived, the big "popeye" Sigma 12-24mm zoom. It's a full-frame 35mm lens, though on my digi its range is 19-38mm. Ran a bunch of shots through it right away, anxious about reports that some copies were soft in the corners. Not this one! It performed well for every aperture, with a minimum of barrel distortion too.

At last, a proper wide angle view for the DSLR. I am so digging it. But the size — yeow!

The 300D with the twin batteries and the Sigma weighs in at 1630 grams — compared to the Contax G2+21mm which is just barely coat-pocketable (if you take off the accessory finder) at around 700 grams. A different animal, I know, I know. And it's less weight than a Nikon F5 (a little). Kinda of the same feel when it's strapped on your hand, though. It could be a camera, or it could be a cudgel. It sure isn't going into any coat pocket I own.

In fact I can't get it into my camera bag, either. On its side, it's 2/3 the length of my Domke F6 and too tall nose-down to fit. I can't believe I'm going to have to bring back the big lunking Domke F2 bag, which I'd put away, to accomodate just one lens and body (okay, I should be able to squeeze a strobe and another lens in there too). I will not buy another bag just to house this thing!

Biggest difference between photography, live-action filmmaking, and computer graphics:
       in CGI, no schlepping.

I swapped-in the infamous Russian hack firmware for the 300D last week – ISO 3200, 1-shot focus, Flash Exposure Compensation, and a working Av-mode flash (10D-style custom function, locks the shutter at 1/200)... what's not to like?

Three rolls TMax 100, 6 mins in Rodinal 1+25. Maybe a little thin. One dated back to December.

Posted June 15, 2004 | Comments (0)

A Good Day

This past Friday was a good example of the sort of day I enjoy most at NVIDIA — spending it both creating fun cool stuff with the latest hardware and more importantly getting a chance to talk to artists and programmers on lots of different cool projects, finding out what they're doing, getting excited by their ideas, and hopefully playing a helpful role with ideas of my own. It's one of those jobs where the most productive days are also the most exhilarating and thought provoking; Friday was just such a day.

It started in the morning as my Friday alarm clock reminded me of my to-do list for the week — with everything major completed and some extra besides. I'd had some simple ideas on Thursday night for Microsoft HLSL FX shaders, had roughed them out in a few minutes. On Friday morning I started thinking about applications for these ideas, and within a few minutes had started roughing-out some GeForce 6800 code prototypes in FX Composer. I had it well on the way to a fun demo by lunchtime.

At lunchtime, we had the privelege of meeting a suite of programmers and artists (and "the marketing guy," no less important) for a Big Name game studio — they'd gone to the trouble to collect their best and brightest from Europe and locally for a visit to NVIDIA, looking for ways to enhance the look and play of their upcoming games. It's always encouraging when studios do this — it's easy for a studio or publisher to give-in to complacency and the lowest-common-denominator level (usually Playstation 2 graphics) on new games, especially sequels to already-succesful titles. These guys were working on new games and sequels games and had lots of ambitions for both.

So we talked a lot about rendering and tricks to get their art departments up to speed on the latest ideas; how to incorporate new tricks and features into their games without having to revamp old artwork or make major changes to their existing game engines; how to move processing to the GPU to leave the CPU with more time for physics and AI and audio; and best of all they told us about cool stuff they were doing, from audio and music to video and physics and on multiple games. Hearing how other groups hit the same problems, and how their ideas develop, always has great positive effects on my own thought process.

Once we'd seen them off it was back to my demo code, massage it a bit more into shape and then zoom off (or so I thought) for a late-afternoon graduation — Courtney's brother Brendon was done with High School, last of the siblings. I was already in a great mood and even the two-hour Hwy 880/680 crawl to Walnut Creek didn't damp me down. When I arrived the day was sparkling, warm but with a cooling breeze and a great time was had by all. Even made some pictures. Then home again (the traffic thankfully lightened) and another stop at the office to touch-up some ideas and tests and then home. An hour or two later & I was done — Kids asleep, Court having a grand time with her brother and family, and I faded out reading a book and woozily dreaming about anti-aliased highlights.

Posted June 13, 2004 | Comments (0)

every man for himself

A few years back (okay, a bunch of years back), I attended a session at the University Film Society, at the Bell Museum on the University of Minnesota campus. Guest for the evening, Werner Herzog, I think to promote Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, though that night we watched Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

I was hanging out afterwards with some friends and Herzog. The topic of the Jonestown People's Temple mass suicide came up — it was still very much in the press. What did Herzog think?

"I think that's great, 900 fewer assholes in the world."

Ka-ching! Another one of those bang-on quotes that has resonated for many, many years.

So imagine my surprise when I discover this morning, on Werner Herzog's own site, a little manifesto he calls:

The Minnesota Declaration:

  1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.
  2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. "For me," he says, "there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail."
            Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.
  3. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.
  4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.
  1. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.
  2. Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.
  3. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.
  4. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: "You can´t legislate stupidity."
  5. The gauntlet is hereby thrown down.
  6. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn´t call, doesn´t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don´t you listen to the Song of Life.
  7. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.
  8. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species - including man - crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota April 30, 1999
Werner Herzog

My hero.

Posted June 09, 2004 | Comments (0)

The Gray

The Kind of Blindness post has had me thinking further about color perception, cognition, etc etc — of the many interactions that drive the life of any sort of image (or performance): interactions between the world and the artist; between artist and their tools and medium; between the image as made and the artist; between the image and an external viewer; and sometimes even between that external viewer, as part of the world, back onto the artist (or their dealer). Wheels within wheels.

As written earlier here (and elsewhere), humans have two different sets of vision circuits in our brains, handling color vision (photopic, cones) and monochrome vision (scotopic, rods) separately. The color system also handles a lot of our fine-detail vision near the very center of the eye (called the macula). These two parts of our vision are continuously intertwined, like the B&W and color signals of a television transmission. We don't think about their separateness in day to day life (*). Here's an important distinction, though: the scotopic system's neural routes are faster than those of the photopic system. So we use mostly monchrome information for navigation, for avoiding predators (such as bad drivers approaching from a cross street), and for quick glances. Cones dominate the center of our vision, while rods own the periphery.

Color: slow and focused. Monochrome: fast and wide. It's functional, in an evolutionary sense — the objects around us move, often quickly; but they don't change color very often.

This distinction obviously can have impact for quick, impulsive seeing and making pictures. The color system lags behind — it's harder to work intelligently with color if the colors are in a state of flux. Color vision needs a more relaxed pace. The "blindness" I mentioned in the previous post (my choice — ymmv) is to deliberately ignore the color lag, and attempt to let the scotopic system take the reins.

Of course, if the pace allows, color is manageable (here's a recent almost-monochrome pic that would look wrong, imo, as pure monochrome). Or you get lucky. Or you choose an environment (e.g., "magic hour," interesting costumes, studio sets) when the colors will be pre-managed so that you can ignore them while making pictures.

These picture-shooting considerations are radically altered when viewing a picture, which is a static object. Scotopic vision can relax — a still photo can be casually consumed by the color and detail-intensive macula (likewise, computer displays are deliberately built for photopic response). In the contex of viewing photographs, our photopic system has all the time it wants to absorb and process colors, or to pore over the revealing minutiae from a large-format negative.

I'll even go so far as to say that the crossover from immediate, scotopic-dominated vision to the lingering, detail-oriented macular vision is probably a subtle and nearly universal part of the pleasure in looking at photographs (and many paintings) — our eyes are hungry for detail whether it be the image detail from a large negative or crisply-defined grain. And the further descriptive detail of color.

It also implies that the images we see when playing video games and watching films have important differences from static images — not just the obvious superficial one (still images don't move) but that the experience of seeing these sorts of images are handled by different parts of our brains. When we see the hours spent by cinematographers, managing contrast and rimlighting and other "cinematic" lighting effects, it's hard not to think that DP's and game designers, aware of it or not, are ensuring that their audience's monochrome vision is well-engaged (in fact many will come right out and say: if it doesn't read in B&W, it shouldn't be in the movie).

A B&W print, therefore, could be interpreted as more "honest" to the experience that lead to its creation (one might make a similar argument for "lo-fi" cameras like the Holga, though I have a harder time buying it). It's difficult to unthread the influences of of visual anatomy from social ones (like 100+ years of B&W journalism), but they seem hard to ignore. People have been drawing in monochrome since the beginnings of art, though multiple colors were available to them during most of that time. The persistence and universality of B&W indicates strongly that it's a natural complement to our inescapable human physiology.

But like everything else in the arts, it depends on what you're after. Ya makes yer choices, and ya takes yer chances.

(*) If you have ever read Betty Edwards's Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, you know that there is much hay made there on the topic of "R-Mode seeing." Thinking about my own subjective experiences w.r.t. the drawing methods in her book, it seems to me that "R-Mode" might actually involve temporarily shifting the emphasis of your neural attention from the photopic to the scotopic. At least in my experience of "R-Mode," assuming I've gotten it right, I experience a sort of decentered fish-eye sensation, as if my peripheral vision had become stronger — about what you'd expect during such a shift. I often attempt to have a similar "relaxed" vision when shooting. Not always easy. Maybe it's why I like wide angle lenses so much? "R-mode" = "rod mode"?

Some people use color mental processing when doing mathematics. Bizarre. But the research might indicate a connection between language processing and color cognition, which also would fit well with the "R-Mode" abstraction — to draw directly, to see what's really in front of you, it's easier once you're free from predefined symbol systems and language (and also indicates the usefulness of color in building visual mini-languages within individual works — say, a game or film).

Posted June 06, 2004 | Comments (3)


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