Photography Made Difficult

Jealousy, it's pure and simple jealousy.

An hour north of here is fotovision. But not in San Jose.

In Boston they have the Boston Street group. But not in Santa Clara.

So here's a possible tonic: The Photography Made Difficult Meetup Group. A chance to talk about pictures, and process, and what's going right and what's going wrong and are the pictures good enough and maybe just have too much coffee.

As an initial location I chose Barefoot Coffee Roasters because they're convenient to the highway, the people there are great, the space art-friendly and the coffee top-notch (we go through bags of their Sweetness Espresso with great regularity). At this moment the date for the first meetup is set for the evening of Wednesday, the 9th of February — subject to change as folks who've expressed interest let me know what would be a good time for their own schedules.

(PS: Yes, the name is a reference to W. Eugene Smith. He earned it.)

Posted January 28, 2005 | Comments (1)


Hey, everyone loves to see cold people.

In high school I read that perceptually, the human eye sees at around 30fps. This has a big ramification not just on movies and TV (where 1/60th of a second is perceptually "smooth" because it's within the Nyquist of the optic nerve's sensory rate) but also photos and sculpture and painting and maybe even music because that 1/30-ish number represents what we humans perceive as "momentary." It defines our distinction between moving and still, both in images and life (and everything in between, like video games).

A kid once asked: How long does it take to become a photographer? To which the smartass wise man replied: 1/125th of a second, kid.

I've stopped worrying about the size of images on this journal — rather, I've come to worry that the size I usually see, even on some picture sites, is just too small and crappy to really know what I'm seeing (or supposed to be seeing) (or supposed to not be able to see).

Ken Kobré over at SFSU seems to agree, at least with regards to web pictures on news sites:

"Mr Kobré is scathing about how most news sites approach photojournalism and much of his frustration is focused on the inflexible formats sites have adopted. When pictures are used, he says they are often only thumbnails, or are cropped into pre-sized boxes..."

"...that makes it easy to get the page out every day — but the reverse is that it is not good journalism."

This might not be journalism, but I get his point. So sorry in advance to you folks with the 1024×768 screens.

Posted January 27, 2005

Rambling Under the Radar

Over on Coincidences, Robert has occasionally sung the praises of ContaxG.Com. It's one of a few sites centered around equipment that actually seems to function well not as a site of LUG-like arguments over esoteric attachments and SKU numbers, but as a site about pictures, which just happen to have been made with a particular kind of camera. concentrates primarily on pictures made with equipment, rather than equipment first and picture galleries second. In this respect it's unlike other brand-centric sites like Nikonians or the Nikonian proxies Canonians (which seems to function as much as a venue for the shooting of its owner as a Canon resource) or the Minoltians. Great sites, but let's be honest — they're about branding first and foremost.

Part of the character of ContaxG probably comes from the apparent reality that while still sold by Contax, the G system is approaching obsolescence — 35mm film-based and without a new item in the line since the year 2000 or so. Without a continuous stream of new products, it's immune to the usual flood of equipment marketing announcements with hardly any real photo content. It's all below the consumer-products radar.

At the same time, the G1 and G2 haven't got decades of history like some other brands, so they're immune to the rampant collector-dom of sites like LUG or Rolleigraphy. Instead of fretting over storing Tele-Rolleis, NOOKY-HESUMs or PLOOTs in airtight anti-humidity cabinets, G users are just left talking about a few canonical bits of kit and... making pictures.

Part of its success is surely due as well to Glen Campbell's SiteFrame CM software, which stresses mixed graphical content to a far greater degree than sites like Rollei-Gallery or Leica-Gallery or higher-traffic sites like

Siteframe has grown with ContaxG and has permitted (encouraged) the experience of members to grow and change the software. In fact it ran through a complete redesign after Glen took over the original Contax G User page... (arguing once again for the validity of doing software rewrites, once you figure out what you really wanted the software to do!) The emerging-usage-pattern has spread to other SiteFrame photo URLs beyond the G, whether it be for other Contax cameras, Fuji MF and XPan rangefinders, or for anything but the G.

Despite its potentially-fading technological edge, the Contax G still does its job like the professional tool it was designed to be, and the cameras already extant are likely to keep operating for a long time. And it keeps attracting new converts. The G site had over a thousand new members in the past year alone, many of them from eastern europe and asia but also more than a few from the US, a fact I realized while looking at the portfolio of one of my favorite new members Jason Hupe. Good to see the old G1 finding such able hands.

It's also good to find collections like Jason's on a site like ContaxG, not in yet another photoblog — not everything needs to be reduced to a photo per day, even when much of it's diaristic like Jason's photos.

The Photoblog format is, like blogging itself, a little too easy to hide behind — easy to feel like you've done something constructive simply by staying close to the comforting convention.

I'm also a bit perplexed at the habit, on so many photoblogs, to index their entries according to the equipment used (This post is the first I'll try using MT's cross-index posting: three topics at once!). It feels like a blog version of license plates that read F150 or BLUCHVY. I wonder if I should start doing the same...

(Started on a dual-processor Mac G4, refined on a Honcad P3 system, and a Dell M60 before returning to be posted from the Mac; all machines running Firefox)

Posted January 26, 2005 | Comments (0)

Winter Harvest

Somewhat as a by-product of my filing system and just due to the nature of the season, I spend a good deal of January picking through all the files on my various computers, burning many CDs, collating pages of negative sleeves, and reviewing proof sheets by the dozen.

I have some ideas about what I have learned and where I have improved artistically over the past year — and importantly where I think I may have faltered, and what I can do better. It's a worthy exercise, to assess what's come and better understand what can come tomorrow — and an exercise that, at the risk of narcissism, I should really do more than once each year.

Posted January 25, 2005 | Comments (4)


One roll TX400-120, Rodinal 1::50 13 mins.

On Friday afternoon I received my newest toy, a Rolleinar 3, a big $6 ebay purchase and much cleaner than my Rolleinar 2. How could I resist? So I sat Courtney down in the late Saturday light, scattered by tree branches and the wavy clear plastic above the back door deck.

By coincidence, last night after processing and hanging that roll I cracked-open a copy of the British mag Digtial Photography User, their current issue 76 labeled Black&White in type much larger than the journal title. While aimed at digital, their two featured black and white "master" interviews were both with shooters who continue to use film cameras: photojournalist Jack Picone and portraitist Steve Pyke. Pyke's perhaps not as well known over here in the US but big enough in the UK to have been awarded the chivalrous award of MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) — Pyke's photos of British musical figures for The Face, starting back in 1979, have reached iconic status. Discovering Pyke's ongoing use of the Rollei at close range only further confirms my belief in the beauty of the method, despite its violation of portraiture norms ("don't you know you should be using a tele lens?").

Scanning these negs with Doug Fisher's MF Holdermuch improved over the holder provided by Epson, faster and less fuss (and dust), though not without its own quirks. The little "T-Locks" sometimes slip, and my old TLR's film advance isn't the most even in the world, so negative spacing always needs to be tweaked by hand (and occasionally the negs are too close to fit a T-Lock between them — though so far just leaving one out and placing it on the end has done enough to ensure flatness). I wish the holder was just one or two mm wider so I could get the entire neg scanned. Can't have everything?

Changing my standard 6x6 filing method from three strips of four to four strips of three helps too... funny that just this week my supply of 3×4 negative sleeves bottomed out, but an unused pack of 4×3 had been sitting unused at the bottom of the supply box for years.

Square format photos have presented a potential problem for the journal — are 807×807 images too big for web presentation?

Posted January 23, 2005 | Comments (1)

Moving On

A few days ago on PhotoPermit.Org I posted about Matthias Bruggman's run-in with El-Al over their refusal to let him fly while carrying a big, scary, Canon 1Ds.

As a pleasant surprise, Matthias's blog entry from yesterday, "on the way back," is a fine slice of topnotch photo ranting about images, their potential for meaning and perception (whether it was there in the moment of photographing or not), on violence, romanticism, and Sebastaio Salgado. No wonder people are afraid of his sharp lenses and perceptively hi-res sensor.

Posted January 22, 2005 | Comments (0)

Supply Chain

It seems like Ilford is back from the edge of the dissolution abyss, at least for now. Despite all the anxiety over the "death of film," it seems to me that it won't be film that will dry up. It'll be other parts of the expendables supply chain that will first disappear and make life difficult.

In my own experience, the most problematic supply item has been acquiring decent negative sleeves. And right this moment, I'm completely tapped out.

Sure, there's a pack on order from B&H. It'll be here Monday or Wednesday. Some time soon. But at the moment all film processing is halted, because the only negative sleeves I actually like — Print File 35-7BXW — are already next to impossible to find without driving for 40 minutes or waiting for a week's worth of shipping delay.

As I've already ranted about sleeves, print, and framing sizes, for some lame reason negative sleeves are always too small for those of us who typically get 37-40 frames from a 36-exposure roll (it's not that I try to be extra-frugal in my film winding — it's automated). So I can buy 35-7BXW (seven strips of six frames, total capacity 42 frames) or two of the typical 6x6 or 6x5 pages (that I could just buy at the local Long's drugstore) to store a single roll. Grrr.

Don't even get me started on the local Rodinal supply situation....

Posted January 21, 2005 | Comments (1)

No Real Secret

Three rolls of Tri-X rated ISO 3200 in Xtol 1+1; two rolls of Portra 400UC.

I keep wanting to stop mentioning Henry Rankin Poore so here's a last (?) chance to diss his opinions just a little more (not that he deserves it in general).

In Poore's later books he keeps hammering on his own little drum "art is thought passed through emotion and frozen into form." As opposed to emotion passed through thought and frozen into form, or most any other handy definition.

For a long time I've been answering the question "what is art?" with a line told me by the late Nick England (there is a memorial concert for Nick this weekend at CalArts, BTW):

[Art is] Whatever you can get away with.

Which is evasive enough to be humorously appealing and unassailably true. It goes hand in hand with Hans Abbing's "art is whatever people say art is."

In the footnotes of Poore, however, I found another definition, one that Poore apparently discards, a throwaway from the Edinburgh Review:

Art is the revelation of the individuality of things.

Which in my book just about nails it.

Posted January 20, 2005 | Comments (1)


Three rolls 35mm Tri-X at ISO 3200, 13:30 in Xtol 1+1.

Two links on the front page of the blog have been bogus for a long time: the street photo postcard page, which randomly indexed a slice of the pix from the StreetPhoto salon; and the matching blogshots postcard page, which randomly indexes photos from this journal. I'm happy to say that as of today thos pages are a bit less bogus.

They'd previously been maintained and updated daily by a linux "cron" job — but when botzilla's service was changed to "virtual hosting" via EnSim... well, cron jobs were a thing of the past. So the pages languished.

Tonight there's a new set of scripts for maintaining these pages. The pages' level of bogosity is still somewhat high; their input content hasn't been maintained for months. The blogshots page needs display copies of all the photos it indexes (which have had their directory structures changed as well) and a listing of descriptions; both pages also have dedicated directories packed full of hand-made thumbnail postcard images — thumbnails I haven't bothered making for a while. So the page indices are functioning again, but so far they're up to about November 2003 functionality. Give it a few days before the content bubbles-up to the current state.

Posted January 19, 2005 | Comments (0)

Another Slippery Slope

Six rolls of 35mm Tri-X, Xtol 1+1.

I have to admit that I'd been stalling on processing these rolls, dreading them just a little bit. I've grown spoiled by the ease and clarity of digital, and by the tonalities of larger negatives. But I went ahead and ran them and started to slide them into the scanner.

What had I been I thinking? The negs are exactly what I could have hoped for — well-toned, sharp, snappy, clean. Chalk my anxiety up to an infinite fickleness and an easily-suggestible nature.

I keep grasing at a better definition of why, but in the end I still really love the way black and white film looks, and no digital sensor has yet to match its properties, particularly in tonal range (detail and smoothness, yes — and then some). The whole package: light weight, durable cameras, the feel and smell of it with the fixer on your fingers, the latitude and the grain and the direct physicality of it — it still calls to me in a way that newer media, lovely though they may be, have not yet called.

With that in mind I stocked up this morning on a wee bit of Neopan 1600 for Nicole and Brandon's upcoming wedding, in February. Courtney & I will be shooting photos of the event, I'm starting to work-through the initial various bits of typical logistical planning: when, where, indoor, outdoor, who is who, what kind of ceremony, which relatives need to be seen, staging areas, electrical power, the whole usual list.

The wedding is intended to be "casual, quirky, fun" — I wouldn't expect less. Yet how that translates into photos is open question, so the basic banal issues — intended to reduce the number of undesired surprises — are more or less the same as (or more than) a more traditional wedding (of course I'm not expecting a "give me a #2 with an over-the-shoulder of the bride at the window" sort of session... there are plenty of people around who are much more amenable to that sort of thing. But it's funny how every guest inevitably asks if there are any photos of them with the bride and groom....). The experience will surely help Courtney & I get our own nuptial ducks lined up as well.

I'm still not sure if the event is indoor, outdoor, or mixed — if it's outdoor the Neopan will get swapped-out for some of the HP5+ I've been collecting. It'll all get used in time, regardless.

Posted January 18, 2005 | Comments (2)

Soul of '78

Thanks mom!

Over the past few days a number of boxes have arrived in the mail, the result of my mother cleaning her basement. In them, various treasures, like an original unopened Batman: The Dark Knight poster, a manual on BASIC for the IBM 360, and hundreds of photographs that I'd left behind when attending CalArts. I've only opened the first box, and hardly begun to even sort them, much less print or scan.

Posted January 16, 2005 | Comments (0)


I finally got around to setting up a news aggregator that I intend to actually maintain in just one place, on one machine (NetNewsWire, on my desk mac at home). Too many recent crashes and disparate bookmark lists on different computers under vaying OS's.

I also did a keyword search on Photoblogs.Org looking around for... well, stuff, and came across what looks like a fairly-recent blog belonging to Gordon Stettinius, who for a while had been publishing a magazine called EyeCaramba. I'd recently been digging through Gordo's website anyway, while looking for interesting work done in 6x6 format. Some of it was familiar -- maybe because of a Minneapolis connection, or his collection on — even without this new blog his website would have rated a mention here some time soon.

It's annoying that his blog can't be linked to my newsreader — what gives with blogspot and blogger, anyway? None of their sites that I'd like to link up have feeds, nor do some other notable blog sites, sometimes inexplicably: Consumptive, the A Photo A Day Blog (doubly surprising since it's a Moveable Type site), not Leon Taylor, not Tread, not Eddie, not... well, many.

I admit: though I've always provided a feed from Botzilla, I'd been sliding on the whole RSS/Atom feed business, waiting for it to gather more steam; yet it seems like some major players are deliberately moving to block. If Blogspot and Blogger were promoting their own alternative mechansims, that would be one thing — but they are not. Instead, their actions seem designed to suppress a technology intended to increase the S::N ratio and reduce bandwidth demand... I don't get it. Doesn't "bandwidth demand" == "operating expense" to these providers?

On a similar note, it's funny that the Photoblogs.Org keyword search feature is essentially undocumented, and (as far as I can obviously suss out) not directly accessible from their regular search field — though it's my favorite feature. Instead, you need to edit the URL yourself, unless you use this botzilla-exclusive magical search tool:



Posted January 15, 2005 | Comments (1)

Same Flavor

As a comparison, here's a digital snap I made quickly as an exposure test before making the photos in this post.

Posted January 14, 2005 | Comments (0)


Poore again. This page was in his last 1933 book, the long-out-of-print Art Principles in Practice — a sequel to the only book of the series still in print (the first one, oddly enough), Pictorial Composition and the Critcial Judgement of Pictures. Pity this little taxonomic chart isn't part of that still-popular paperback.

I call this the AMOT*SL chart.

Okay, I know. It's hard to suppress some 21st-century giggling when we see the cute correspondences he assigns between shapes and Roman gods, or a po-mo shiver of dread when he uses words like "truth" and "eternity." Yeah, yeah, yeah. We are so much smarter now.

Whether you like his chart or not, Poore nailed a large share of the constructive principles in renaissance and Academie painting on a single page. He even applies it to cubism and futurism, then examines Japanese and Chinese painting and tracks the changes in eastern and western art making through the 19th and early 20th centuries as these traditions collide.

I find it a handy set of considerations when viewing older art and photos, if only because the people who made that art believed it. It's a bit like religion: you need not believe in Jesus's divinity to appreciate Leonardo's Last Supper, but if you don't know the Lent story at all, you've missed a lot of what's in the painting. Leonardo seemed to believe it. His clients did. Viewing that art after reading Poore is to realize your eyelids have been brushed by the magic wand that lets you know what to look for.

Sargent? Rubens? Goya? Steichen? Disney? Check, check, check, check, check. Conscious or not, their pictures were built on the foundations of AMOT*SL.

Recent years have brought changes. Movies and video games challenge compositional strategies by adding motion and editing multiple images into the same frame through time. The snapshot asthetic defies all compositional planning and in the extreme leans far to the left to rest soley on content — no one talks about the savvy cropping and distribution of forms and gradients in a photo of Wolfgang Tillmans's bar escapades.

But AMOT*SL is with us every day, in the quick-to-read snappy advert image, the layouts of our books, our TV shows, computer desktops, the camera-club ribbon winners, our relics and icons. Indeed there are no true relics and icons so new that they defy the classic suite of AMOT*SL principles.

Photographers may notice that a few well-worn standards (or naïve crap, depending on what sort of day you're having) seem to be missing. Where's the golden mean? The rule of thirds? The thrust of a diagonal line, ascending or descending across the frame? What about square format, selective focus, perspective, and filling the frame?

Here's one answer for now: "diagonals?" Poore subclassed it from the "L" or rectangle composition — using the shape of the frame as a compositional element (a corner-to-corner diagonal is one part of the "golden triangles" construction rule). The others... I'll leave for some other posts.

(People who have anxiety about other kinds of restrictive rules — like where to place vowels — may prefer the spelling "AMOTS*L")

Posted January 11, 2005 | Comments (0)

Xmas Gifts

Four 220 rolls of TXP, two 120 rolls of Neopan 400, two 120 rolls of TX400 (sometimes you use what yuou can find, on the road...). All in Xtol 1+1.

(Extra note, 14 Jan 2004: see a digital exposure test version of the same shot as a comparison)

As Courtney has wisely reminded me so often, the best gifts are the unexpected ones that you realize really ought to have been on your wish list (though the couple of gifts I received from my wish list are most treasured too). I'd place as a close second the gifts you give to yourself to share. Thus the best gifts of the season have been the trip to see our family in Minnesota, and as a happy side-effect, a chance to make pictures of my parents and brother's family in their own homes (note to my sister, who lives nearby in Oakland: you're next!).

Another related experience (though not a relation) was a chance to meet up with Todd Deutsch over coffee, including a chance page through a preliminary version of his book Family Days. The experience was both uplifting and humbling — which in my estimation is just about as good as you can get. Todd's take on the family snap is a sensitive and vivid one. His children are at the age where they are still unguarded both physically and emotionally, but he's able to turn his camera just as effectively on the adults around his household. Having reached the last page I was glad to have had the experience to view these photos, they have made me a better person (a feeling I already had before reaching the close of the first section). If only I had half the talent to do as much with my own.

Posted January 09, 2005 | Comments (2)

Holidays Enough

As usual for when I'm out of town one or more of the computers are running — fetching mail, sometimes monitoring the house via webcam, that sort of thing. During the break a curious thing seems to have happened: the rate at which I was receiving spam actually started to exceed the rate at which Eudora could accept mail. At least the way I had Eudora set up. The result was that Eudora crashed sometime after Christmas and when I checked Botzilla again on New Year's Eve, I had close to 80,000 messages awaiting receipt.

It was more than my Eudora could handle at that point, and it just croaked when trying to load that many messages. Or maybe some message was killing Eudora. Either way, I couldn't proceed and by my estimation I was receiving another message on the server every second or two. So I did two things:

1. Made my mail handling on MUCH more strict about sending undefined mail into /dev/null

2. Switched my mail handling at home from Eudora to Apple Mail.

The switch was precipitated by Apple's famous anti-spam techniques, which Courtney's been using for some time. I found that they were at first ineffectual but as the collection of junked messaged grew it became very effective indeed — easily hitting the promised 98% tag rate. Of course, 98% of 10,000 messages still leaves 200 spams in the inbox, but 9800 dismissed messages about cut rate pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, looks like it tends to bog down when mail boxes get really large — including the "Junk" mailbox. With some 20,000 junked mails under its belt, did well on filtering but was reading very slowly. So I followed some errant web advice and set the Junk mailbox to start clearing itself. Big mistake! The mail-reading speed increased, but the spam-filter success rate when right into the floor again. So I spent another good chunk of a morning hand-junking mails, until the filter was back up to fighting strength.

It's still not done. At the time I started this post still had 35-40,000 emails left to process, after a long full day's run. Oh joy.

Posted January 04, 2005 | Comments (2)


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