Simple Tools

(C)2004 K Bjorke

Three rolls Tri-X, Rodinal 1+50, 13 minutes.

So after much anxiety in the end it’ll be the DSLR with a minimal complement of lenses and a film rangefinder loaded with Tri-X for this trip — enough is enough (besides, Courtney will bring her camera, and we have the DVcam). Using the Contax over the weekend reminded me just how much more fluid and easy it is to handle than the digital. It also hammered home to me just how crudely abstract Tri-X and Rodinal can feel after many weeks of smooth, digital color. Which is a good thing.

Off to Florida and the Caribbean for a week, then — we leave the house and web in the able hands of the fantastic Elke.

~1 min read

The Picture

(C)2004 K Bjorke

Six rolls Tri-X, Rodinal 1+50 13 minutes.

A pair of children run headlong across my view, and their keeper shouts after them: “kids, you stop that! Can’t you see the man is taking The Picture?”

I glance at him and gently shake my head with a smile: no problem. Another tip of the head to let him know the rest of the family can proceed, they’ve done no harm, even as the klaxons are sounding furiously in my head: Kevin you idiot, you’ve been sucked into taking The Picture again. I look at the shot I was setting up: late cerulean sky, distant shops, their lights reflected on the lake, a row of matching beach chairs. Balanced, placid. In a few seconds a canopied ferry will appear below the bridge. A speaker hidden in a rock nearby plays an instrumental medley of songs from The Lion King. It’s all been laid out carefully for me, which is just the point. It’s ready-made. The lake itself was sculpted by a design team. It’s beautiful, but it’s not really my picture. It’s The(ir) Picture.

3 min read

Winner Take All

Tokyo (C) K. Bjorke

Three rolls Tri-X, Rodinal 1+50, 12:45.

Mason Resnick, who put together the now-fairly-dormant website Black and White World, is today busy as managing editor over at Popular Photography & Imaging Magazine. This month the magazine contains a feature on Street Photography. As a web-only extra feature, Mason sent out a short questionaire to the featured photographers — the answers amount to a set of short interviews with nine street snappers (Mason included himself in their number). Among the nine were two from the StreetPhoto mailing list — its founder John Brownlow (who also included a pitch for Bee in his answers) and John Beeching. All of the rest, save Resnick himself, were photographers whose work can be found on in-public.com.

One question in the interviews concerned sales. To no great surprise, there’s not much of a market for street and urban photography, even as the prices of prints by shooters like Diane Arbus and (not really a street shooter, but how would you describe him?) Andreas Gursky go through the ceiling. Everyone in Pop Photo’s list was subsidizing their “real” photography through other jobs, ranging from photojournalist to courier to screenwriter. The few people who were actually selling (a few) street photos seemed to be doing so entirely through in-public.com’s visibility.

2 min read

Wake Up Call

Demilitarized Zone, 2003 (C) K. Bjorke </a>Yesterday I intended to write about some vague notion connecting suburban anthropology and focal lengths. It’ll have to wait — a day of illness knocked me down and I barely left the house.

I did have the computer around though, and between working on some 3D models I got a chance to look at the April issue of The Digital Journalist, which contains a few items about the new New York Times contract for freelancers. As recounted in the American Socitety of Media Photographers analysis and the letter to NYT from freelancers who say they cannot sign the new contract, the basic consensus for most shooters is clear: the contract simply appropriates all value for NYT and leaves the photographers with all the expenses and legal liabilities. Great. Editorial Photographers, mentioned here only one entry ago, has also entered the fray, urging its members not to sign.

And staffers at companies like NYT, who make more than freelancers, have got to be watching their backs now too. The future for them looks grim. Read Greg Smith’s core article to work-out the numbers for yourself.

5 min read

The Devil You Know

Santa Clara, (C) 2004 K. Bjorke I’m hardly the only one struggling with the hidden expenses and travails of digital. Read this recent Digital Manifesto from Editorial Photographers. The very group whom camera companies love to promote as users of their top digital equipment are, in fact, getting powerfully squeezed as a result of that equipment. Or at least by people’s attitudes about it.

There are a number of factors in play here, regarding the relationship of fee structures and technology. There’s plenty of polarization in camps, plenty of confusion, and (as EP members have discovered) plenty of opportunity for abuse. Perhaps not surprisingly, these occurences are not new to other fields that have been diffused with digital technology.

As Paul Strassman has become famous in Information Technology circles for pointing out, digital technology alone does not make anyone more profitable or more productive. On balance, it may even be hard to economically justify the existence of the entire computer industry, in broad terms of enhancing the overall economy. His 1997 book, The Squandered Computer, brought many of these issues into sharp focus, though its message was (at the time) drowned-out by the dot-com boom (even as his message presaged the later dot-com crash).

Strassman (and other economists) asked: what’s the Return On Investment (ROI)? Where’s the beef? As Nobel winner Robert Solow observed: “We see computers everywhere but not in the productivity statistics.”

4 min read