It’s in There

San Jose, (C) 2003 Kevin Bjorke At long last, the library has re-opened in San Jose.

A good library is one of the most useful photographic tools. Here in Santa Clara we’ve been a bit starved. I had an excellent library just at the bottom of the hillside block from the house in Mill Valley — the state (formerly royal) library was a five-minute walk from my office in Honolulu. But here we just have a local suburban library packed into house trailers, while the city is building their own new building. It’s been a long dry spell.

Almost no individual can have a collection to match even a minor library. Robert Bergman’s A Kind of Rapture? Got it. Every issue of U.S. Camera from the 1950’s? All volumes of August Sander’s portrait books? Got those too. de Tolnay’s History and Technique of Old Master Drawings? Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook? Check and check.

2 min read

Computers, Cameras, Colors, & Caravaggism

Santa Clara, 2002 (C)2003 Kevin Bjorke Okay, so if I’m so hot on digital imaging, why do I still lunk-around a film-based camera? What? No color?

I get asked this regularly by people in the offline world. It’s usually a lead-in to a recommendation that I buy a digital camera, often tied to a specific recommendation to get one just like theirs, which they recently purchased and like a lot. They’re usually surprised when I say that I spent almost a year toting around a digital camera all day most every day, that I have a digital photo enthusiast site, and that after that experience I dug-out the old 1950’s style gear, expanded my 35mm equipment, and have been quite pleased with the results of that choice. I still use the digicam at times, but mostly it stays home. I waver at moments, but usually have no desire to grab at the latest generation of DSLRs.

How can this jibe with my day-to-day work, daily pushing the envelope of useful computer imaging tools for games and movies? How can I be supervising imagery on films like Final Fantasy and simultaneously be such a Luddite (partial quick answer: I’m not a Luddite)?

I ask myself this regularly, and have decided that it’s all about the “C” word.

4 min read

The Grind

6 AM. (C)2003 Kevin Bjorke Three rolls of Delta 400, 15:30 in Xtol 1+1 — ISO 800 to bring-up some underexposed frames on one roll. The rest can deal with it.

My 90mm Sonnar seems to have developed “the grind.” It focuses smoothly when the Contax is held normally, but vibrates noisily when the camera is held vertically (or upside down) when focusing at near distances. Hard to tell if it just needs to distribute the lubricants or if there’s something more seriously awry. sigh just a week before leaving town. Then again I use the 90mm rarely.

The Canon is a different story — I still enjoy using that old FD 85mm, the oldest SLR lens I own. As much as I would like to consolidate entirely on rangefinders, the SLRs still have a few spots where they excel, albeit noisily. One of them is closeup, wide-open. The 50mm is also excellent for this sort of shooting.

In the morning, the world is a blur. I’ve worn glasses since the age of eight and to me, soft-focus wide-open closeup work is how morning looks. Until the glasses go on, the world within two feet is clear and the rest… a study in smooth bokeh.

Professing the Faith

During my visit to San Diego I stayed at a seafront hotel and above my bed was a large frame holding four photographs, 11x14 color prints. The matte board was signed and numbered: Xxxx Xxxx, 1/250. The photographs were unremarkable — simple graphic triangles of spinakers, probably from a boat or ship in the local harbor. 1 of 250... I wondered how many of those 250 had been purchased by the hotel.

I got my answer the next morning, walking down the halllway and seeing several more similarly-unchallenging photos of ropes and anchors, with the same signature and bearing numbers like 34/250 and 387/500 — the same set of four sails from my hotel bedroom also adorned the lobby shoeshine stand. 177/250. So the hotel had likely purchased all of these prints.

2 min read


Center of Attention, Santa Clara (C)2003 Kevin Bjorke …and a little white.

I’ve read it a couple of times in the past, but today I re-read this interview with Ralph Gibson.

"But anyway, the big emphasis in digital photography is how many more million pixels this new model has than the competitor's model. It's about resolution, resolution, resolution, as though that were going to provide us with a picture that harbored more content, more emotional power. Well in fact. It's very good for a certain kind of graphic thing in color but I don't necessarily do that kind of photograph."

Sounds much like what I wrote about computers a couple of days ago — and Gibson is a big fan of digital, at least on the printing end of preduction. Surely his comments were a subconscious influence on my thinking.

At one time, I used a Canon 85mm lens for nearly everything. Now it (and my Zeiss 90mm) sit at the bottom of the bag, largely unused. Tried forcing myself to use the 90 today — if only, as Duchamp said, “to avoid conforming to my own taste.”