In The Garden With A 55mm
Saturday, October 16, 2010
At the height of the quality of the content of Vancouver Magazine
(mostly in the 80s and early 90s) when the editor was Malcolm Parry and the art director was Chris Dahl I was often amazed by the following statement that Chris Dahl would make:
“Mac, Alex has provided us with a very nice photograph that has to be a double-page spread. The piece by… has to be shortened to make room for the picture.” I never did reveal this to the writers, whose articles were edited for length because of me. I was a photographer so I could not understand the anguish of having one’s writing edited in that manner.
When I began to write I experienced a personal and new anguish which was that of a writer in which what was written was poorly illustrated by someone else's photograph. This happened to me for the first time when I wrote a profile on writer William Gibson. The art director, not Chris Dahl, but his predecessor, Rick Staehling told me, “Because you as a photographer have written this essay on Gibson I think it would be neat to assign the photograph to someone else.” In theory the idea may have been a good one. In fact it was a terrible idea. The resulting photograph was so bad that I never did put my piece in any of the portfolios that I had at the time. The photographer had made the motions and never did find out who his subject was or what his subject did.
Once I began to write more I began to understand that preoccupation of writers in having their work edited. I remember telling Les Wiseman to mention some quirk about a situation involving a rock musician he had interviewed and I had photographed. His answer was always the same, “I’ll try but I cannot promise as I don’t know in which direction my piece is going.” It was then that I began to understand that you write without taking into consideration how what you write will be illustrated. The illustration is most secondary in one’s preoccupation. This knowledge helped humble me a tad when I realized that the photographer was not as important as most photographers
think they are.
The idea then is that if one takes pictures but also writes, the second ability will take precedence over the first one. Yet to this day it rankles me when someone will call me (not so frequent) or write to me (a bit more frequent) to say, “I liked that piece you wrote,” or “That was a fine blog you wrote the other day.”
It rankles me that nobody seems to appreciate (as if they took them for granted) that many of the pictures that illustrate my blogs are really good. And (subjectively) I must add that in the age of Flickr and pristine Photoshopped images, in this age of diffuse glow which renders nasty skin pores invisible, my pictures look even better.
As work diminishes, and I have more time too look through my files, I find that in this age of the internet, through this blog, I can post some of the pictures that I never gave much thought about because venues for them have all but disappeared.
It was around 1996 that I went through a series of photo sessions in my garden that involved undraped women. The third and last session involved L. I had just purchased a used Mamiya 50mm wide-angle lens so I told her that I would photograph her only with that lens. The theme was going to her body, my garden and one lens.
I counted how many images I took. I took 10 in colour and 57 exposures in b+w. These are very beautiful, but, alas I have that commitment to now show bit and pieces in this blog. And would you know, as I looked through the pictures with my loupe I only found two that meet the self-censorship requirements of this blog.
If I had any guts I would publish (a much diminished verb in our age of self-publishing) these two pictures with no copy. Then you might just notice that the pictures aren’t all that bad.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Some weeks back I discovered some unintended scenes
in pictures I had taken in my studio. For most of my professional photographic life I have depended on the predictable and accurate effects of my studio flash system.
This often occurred at the expense of my ignoring beautiful natural light. My use of natural light came in short shifts and I always would go back to the flash. But I did manage to take quite a few pictures with the window light of my Robson Street Studio which had light coming in and being reflected from the Eaton’s/Sears building across the street. In photography the control of contrast is the most important aspect of what I notice before I press any shutter. Of late I have discovered that my iPhone can take beautiful pictures if contrast is low. In the past for magazine photography, contrast was always a big enemy and this is why I so often resorted to the reduction of contrast by using flash to fill in the shadows.
In the taking of portraits (even these skimpy ones I consider to be portraits!) by a window one has to decide what is more important, what is outside the window or the face and skin of one’s subject. For me face and skin win every time and these black and white negatives I shot exposing for L’s luminous skin. But with the advent of the good scanner (an Epson V700 Photo) and some rather easy work with the shadow/highlight tool of Photoshop I was able to bring in the detail of the over-exposed window scene. I also purposely darkened L’s body to somewhat diminish her overt and most beautifully erotic body and leave it a bit to my viewer’s imagination.
While I can no longer return to this wonderful studio which I let go in September of 2009 I am so glad that I did take these and others. They have a quality that a backdrop and a studio flash could never in any way replicate.
I have been reading a lot about facebook these days so I decided to go search through my blog files and see what I had previously written about it. After reading it I have decided to bring it back and let it stand exactly as I wrote it in July 2008
Since March 9, 2008 I have been haunted by an image that was published in the New York Times Book Review. I removed it and put it on my bedside table. The image is a modified Edward Hopper painting. It made me think of a couple of painter friends who seem to be interested in that period of American art. Both my friends Tiko Kerr
have an affinity for Thomas Eakins and the latter also loves Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargent. And I would suspect that the three of us would include American painter Winslow Homer
in our list of American favourites.
A month back Tiko Kerr and husband Craig Shervey visited Philadelphia and made it a point to go and see the paintings, sculptures and photographs of the city's favourite son, Thomas Eakins. I wonder if they saw his wonderful but disturbing Crucifixion (1880).
The painting with Christ's facial features obliterated by shadow makes it the most lonely ever interpretation of the fact that we all die alone, even God.
Much has been written about Hopper's near obsession with displaying solitary figures in his paintings. His paintings remind me of Neil Wedman (and some of his own work) who lives a reclusive life. I've seen him every once in a while, smartly dressed, walking on South Granville. He lives nearby. Wedman dresses in the clothing of the 50s and 60s and almost looks like one of Hopper's figures in 3D. I once commented to Wedman, that dressed as he was he could be on the street selling apples and looking very much the part of the apple sellers of the American Depression.
All the above serves as a long winded introduction to my theme for today's blog which has something to do with sharing an opinion with David E. Corbin from Omaha who sent the letter to the New York Times Book Review.
My friend Nina Gouveia
, an ex photographic subject of mine who now lives in Spain insisted I become a member of facebook so that I could see her photographs. I resisted for a long time. I had no interest in becoming a member of a social networking site. In the end I joined under my legal first name in Spanish and my mother's maiden name. Within hours I was getting friend requests from Spanish men who were intrigued by my mother's Basque surname. Of course I did not respond as I have no wish to make friends with people I don't know (as strange as that may sound).
These social networking sites like facebook further disturb me by the fact that I am able to see who Nina Gouveia's friends are. I am even hinted at the idea that I might know some of her friends. This of course is a distinct possibility as she lived in Vancouver for a few years. Both she and I know animator artist Danny Antonucci. I don't have to resist and urge to communicate with him by sending him a facebook friend request. He would not know me by my surrogate name. I can simply call him up with a telephone.
I have been thinking about the internet, social networking sites and communications in general for some time. Recently I broke a friendship (He told me, accurately I would suppose, that I could not do it) that began when both of us were 21 and in college. The final nail on the coffin was when he told me that he hated phones and my attempts to talk to him via Skype. He told me that it was sufficient for him to read my blog to find out what I was doing.
After years of having lost touch with my friend Felipe Ferrer Junco
, the ex chief the federal police in Acapulco I located him in Houston where he survives respiratory problems (he smoked a lot) with an oxygen tube in his nose. The result of our Skype talk is that he now communicates with me via MSN and has sent me 150 very large files of Powerpoints on pink horses, Bush conspiracy theories, etc. I don't have the heart to write to him and tell him that a short communication telling me his health is better would suffice for me. I delete his sendings without even looking at them.
My participation in photography forums have resulted in accusations that I show off my knowledge in my posts (not hard in an age of photographic mediocrity). These forum back and forth communications remind me of having exchanged a science fiction book with a neighbour in Mexico City. Months later we both discussed the book while I was certain that neither of us had read each other's book. The photographic forum postings are all one-sided.
Some years back while waiting for our airplane to take off in the very busy Chicago airport I noticed that there were airplanes in front of us and airplanes behind us. We would move up as soon as a plane had taken off. Each plane had its position. In the same way I have a friend who answers emails in the order that he gets them. But because he must have many email pals that roster of lined up emails is so long that a reply will come perhaps in a week. I sent my friend some music CDs and these were also put on a pile with their correct standby order.
All of this reminds me of the essay a woman wrote for Playboy during the pre-AIDS gay period and from San Francisco. She dressed up as a man and investigated glory hole venues in the city. Men would stick their private organ through an orifice of a private booth and someone would anonymously service them from the other side. It strikes me now as an example of intimate communication (of sorts) with a perfect stranger.
I remember in my youth writing letters to women. I had inherited not only from my father but from my Aunt Dolly the ability to write good letters. My letter relationships with these women were distanced by the time it took my letter to get to them and for them to reply. Sometimes it took me time to reply as I could not and cannot write legibly. It was frustrating to write knowing that half of what I wrote was unintelligible even to me. Or the placid machinations of the Mexican or Argentine postal services would delay or lose the letters. With Word, a computer and email it has all changed.
With email, communication is instant. And "kissing on that first date" is now more common. Within a couple of emails you are told intimate details you would be embarrased to tell anybody else. There is a paradox here of exchanging intimacies while not looking at the other person in the eye. Perhaps in all this, a reader of this blog might just understand why I loathe Flickr, facebook and the like. I can think of one image that I took of a mentally disturbed woman on the mend in front of the Vancouver General Hospital some years back that conveys the loneliness and frustration so many of us are forced to suffer.
Some 38 years ago I had a student in Mexico City with whom I have kept in touch since. Only recently this friend sent me a communication (a whimsical and lovely one) about her marital troubles. I wonder if face to face these details would have been so forthcoming? Perhaps yes because of our long record of exchanging both conventional letter and emails all these years. Here it is:
I went on a date this week. My first...friend of some friends..Widower, 65, lived in Spain, Moscow, Paris..retired..sails, reads, cooks and spends time with his granddaughter for fun. Great sense of humor...which is the sexiest thing in the world for me. Asked me for a kiss which was very awkward..its like asking me if you can take my picture..."deer in headlights"...told him I needed a little more "smelling" time...we'll see if he calls again.
Intimacy on the Net - Not
Just A Click Away
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Some years back in this
blog I wrote:
For me the common thread in Dumas, Sabatini and others is lasting friendship. This theme has cured me from ever wanting to read another American serial killer novel. From 1625, when The Three Musketeers
begins to 1673 when d’Artagnan is shot dead in The Man of the Iron Mask
in the battle of Maesticht, the saga follows the friendship of four men. They grow old; individually change loyalties and political sides but they always follow the dictum, “All for one and one for all.”
It was best put by Robert Louis Stevenson who read the Vicomte de Bragellone
at least five times. Of his second reading he wrote, “I would sit down with the Vicomte for a long, silent, solitary lamp-light evening by the fire. And yet I know not why I call it silent, when it was enlivened with such clatter of horse-shoes, and such a rattle of musketry, and such a stir of talk; or why I call these evenings silent in which I gained so many friends. I would rise from my book and pull the blind aside, and see the snow and the glittering hollies checker a Scotch garden, and the winter moonlight brighten the white hills. Thence I would turn again to the crowded and sunny field of life in which is was so easy to forget myself, my cares and my surroundings: a place as busy as a city, bright as a theatre, thronged with memorable faces, and sounding with delightful speech. I carried the thread of that epic into my slumbers, I woke with it unbroken, I rejoiced to lunge into the book again at breakfast, it was with a pang that I must lay it down and turn to my own labours; for no part of the world has ever seemed to me so charming as these pages, and not even my friends are quite as real, perhaps quite so dear, as d’Artagnan.”
Up until last night Rosemary and I have seen 15 (out of a total of 22) episodes of Foyle’s War
. We have not seen them in order and all of the videos we have taken out from several branches of the Vancouver Public Library. Rosemary and like the fact that this British series, featuring Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), in charge of crime investigation in the coastal town of Hastings during WWII, has sparse dialogue. Sometimes the accents are so thick we cannot understand them but we like that the cops do not carry guns.
It would be an understatement to say that we have become addicted to the show. In the evening we sit by our Trinitron-not-so-flat TV and enjoy the comfort of a difficult sometime impenetrable plot with characters who are predictable. They are like family much like Stevenson saw the four musketeers.
In the middle of the night a few nights ago I thought of why Microsoft Windows is called Windows. Until I spend the money to get another monitor (not likely) where I would have the ability to look at two different windows (Photoshop on one screen and Corel Paintshop Pro 10 on the other) I have to juggle multiple windows on one screen. It can be confusing but fun nonetheless.
It occurred to me in the middle of that night that Windows’ windows are much like our very own existence. Rosemary and I on Athlone Street in Vancouver are one window. Rebecca and I at the Santa Fe Ranch in South Texas was another window. Come June 2011 when Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren and I visit Mike and Letty at their Santa Fe Ranch that window will be enlarged to encompass two more human beings. My life in Buenos Aires, in Mexico, in Texas are other windows (if you consider time to be seamless) I can conjure here, as I often do, when I like.
When we were in Texas in June, the heat, the ranch, the proceedings there, were so separate from our existence in Vancouver. It felt (as I see it now) as if I had definitely clicked on my screen to minimize my Vancouver existence and clicked on another, Texas, a somewhat alien but still comfortable new existence.
These clicks, back and forth, from one reality to another make it seem like even our evenings with Christopher Foyle, his driver Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and Detective Sargeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) are but another window into another just-as-real world.
What makes the series different in my eyes is that series creator and writer Anthony Horowitz bypassed the novel (such as the elegant and excellent Inspector Morse series based on the equally elegant and excellent novels of Colin Dexter). Since I had read all of Dexter’s novels, when I saw the series I had to mix my memories of the novels with the new “reality” of seeing Inspector Morse in the flesh as played by John Taw. It was easy for me to point out to my friends (in a critical manner) how the novel’s plot had been changed or how the TV Inspector Morse would not have done this or that.
In Horowitz’s series what you see is what you get and there can be no previous preconception of who the characters are. Horowitz has Sam Stewart drive Christopher Foyle because Foyle “does not drive”. Why he does not drive we never know. It is such little bits or holes of information that keep Rosemary and I glued to the screen. We are living in Hastings. And as we see one episode today and one tomorrow these characters are real people in a real world made so by fewer special effects, reduced violence and best of all by glances, smirks, smiles, the raising of eyebrows that replace the unending dialogue of most of contemporary television.
When I went to teach my photography class at Focal Point on Tuesday evening (Focal Point is right next to a branch of the Vancouver Public Library on West 10th Avenue) I entered the public library and to my delight I found two, yet unseen episodes of Foyle’s War
In some way the window of my teaching and the window of Foyle’s war meshed for an instant and I am almost unable to decide which of all the windows of my life are the most saliently real. They must all be, musn’t they?
Just a click away.
Taking The Plunge & Hands
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Sometime in 1960 I had become a fan of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. There was one album I had not been able to get in Austin before I left for my summer vacation in Mexico City. I had ordered it but it had not arrived. I do not know or remember the details except that an upperclassman at St. Ed’s where I was going to school, offered to pick it up at the record shop and bring it to Mexico City where he also lived. Somehow he was coming home later than I was. His name was Milton Hernandez and even then I thought it funny that a Mexican young man was named after a British poet and lived in a street called after the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras. It was there that in haste I took a bus (I remember the line was Mariscal Sucre) and I soon had in my hands The Dave Brubeck Quartet –Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.
Of all the records and CDs I own this one has to be one of my favourites.
I brought the record home and listened to it. It was pure excitement. It was the excitement of listening to something for the first time. It was just a couple of years later that I had the same experience when I heard Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd’s Jazz Samba
. The sound of both albums, heard for the first time was like electricity going through my body.
Amazingly even today I get that thrill when I play both these albums (the records have long worn out so I have replacement CDs).
All this is but an overture to the theme of this blog which is all about the excitement of things first experienced. Yesterday I taught an evening class at Focal Point, a local photography school. The course is called The Contemporary Portrait Nude. This was the second class which was an all shooting in the studio class. It followed the first one which was all lecture. The course follows this plan alternately.
The studio has no windows and few props. In my studio I had windows, a couch and several types of chairs and fabrics. There is nothing more liable to cause little inspiration than the idea of a wall (or backdrop) a subject, your camera, a light or lights and you. This is a formula almost guaranteed for failure unless you realize it before you begin and plan accordingly.
But I cannot forget that for most of my students (6 of them) this will be a first time experience in the photography of a nude human body. They will be nervous as they approach the unknown.
I tell my students that just like there are two methods for entering a cold swimming pool (an instant plunge or a torturous dip of the feet and a little by little easing into the water) one can approach the nude figure in the same way.
Within rules (I give my students and models something called The Model Protocol
) one way is to tell the model to take it all off right then and there. The rules I point out is that the model must change in a changing room or screen. Good photographers will ask their models to bring house coats. This means that the model (if the house coat is put on upon arriving) will have few underwear marks once the coat is off. You don’t tell the model to disrobe from her street clothes. It just doesn’t seem right unless…
You go for the little by little approach. I tell my students to take several pictures as the model disrobes little by little and to then make a five picture narrative for the next class. This method gives my students a smaller jolt in facing their first nude!
I tell my students that when their model arrives (be it a man or a woman, we use both) there is the excitement of not knowing who the model is, what they are like. The slow undraping is exciting.
But I also tell my students that as the model removes clothes they must study the model’s body strengths and weaknesses and figure out how to hide the latter and promote the former. We use lighting and posing skills for this. One of the toughest of all posing skills is what to do with hands.
So I yesterday began with the hand. The hand can make or break a good portrait, be it clothed or unclothed. As an example I display here three photographs (all three are shown exactly as I took them) of one of the best models (and most beautiful) I ever photographed. Her name was L. These three pictures are from our first session in 1995. This was a shoot of discovery and wonder, much like that Jazz Samba. We went on to many more sessions including this most satisfying one in a black Celica
Hands are most important and I hope my students realize this early on as they go from hands to other parts of the body, without ever forgetting than even when you crop out a model’s face you can never forget their humanity.
A Lesson From Viveca
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
A Guest Blog by John Lekich
A Lesson From Viveca.
Recently, Alex asked me if I ever wrote letters anymore. I told him I rarely do – barely enough to keep in letter-writing shape. Still, it’s a beautiful form of communication and I miss it. Deeply felt letters of any kind tend to stand up well over the years. Even when the ravages of time have altered the sentiments on the page. This is why I can never throw out an old love letter or a note of thanks – many from absolute strangers who have been kind enough to admire something I’ve written. After all, someone has taken the time to craft their feelings in a way you don’t find on social networking sites. A way where words grow into sentences by virtue of patience and trust.
Not long ago, I watched a documentary called Trumbo. It was based on the life of blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who, among many other accomplishments, wrote the original story for Roman Holiday. The documentary consists largely of archival footage and hundreds of letters Trumbo had written over the years. They’re read with great conviction by the likes of Donald Sutherland, Liam Neeson and Michael Douglas. The correspondence during Trumbo’s long, dark years of unemployment brought me to the edge of tears.
It reminded me of the brief correspondence I shared with the late Viveca Lindfors – a veteran actor whose long career encompassed the Hollywood blacklist era of the fifties. I came to recognize her as a woman of extraordinary passion. Brought in from Sweden by Warner Brothers to become the new Garbo, she simply refused to be pigeonholed. Starring opposite such leading men a Ronald Regan and Errol Flynn, she would later work with a list of directors that included Fritz Lang, Robert Altman and Woody Allen. When Alex and I met her, she was working on a low-budget Canadian film. “They’re nice,” she said. “But they’re treating me like an old lady.”
This from a woman whose Actor’s Studio classmates included Paul Newman and Marilyn Monroe. When I asked her why she kept working, she looked at me as if I were too young to understand. “What am I going to do?,” she said, gently. “An actor acts.” We got to talking about Sterling Hayden. A co-star of hers who was deeply affected by his decision to “name names” in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. She told me she had never read Hayden’s The Wanderer. To my mind, the most heartbreaking biography ever written on the guilt-ridden compromises of a Hollywood life. It was long out-of-print but I became determined to find a copy and send it to her.
A week later, in one of those serendipitous moments, I found a pristine copy in a used bookstore. Later still, I was rewarded with a note in the huge, handwritten letters of someone with failing eyesight. “Thank You!” she wrote. “I thought I knew him but...” There were other letters, always ending with: “Remember, an actor acts...and a writer writes!” I sometimes re-read them, just for the wisdom of that last line. The older I get, the more I appreciate exactly what it means.
Here are three more guest blogs by John Lekich
Monday, October 11, 2010
Guest blog by Parksville portrait photographer Gordon Lafleur
A moment of silence for the passing of an era.
I learned recently that Leitz quietly ceased production of film cameras this past spring. Leitz
invented the modern 35mm camera in 1925, and while they are not the last to produce them, their ceasing production certainly marks a milestone.
I am 63 years old. I've been making photographs since high school, and have made my living as a photographer since 1971. For the past 26 years I have had a portrait studio . I have had a darkroom continuously from the mid sixties until 2004. From '84 to '04 we printed both colour and black and white. Even though I had a full time printer for much of that time, I still spent countless hours in the darkroom.
I have to admit being dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age.
Before the digital age, my professional work was done with medium format cameras and either black and white or colour negative film. At the studio, the work flow consisted of shooting 120 or 220 film, sending it by courier to Vancouver for processing, and then making 35mm transparencies of the negatives on Kodak Vericolour slide film. The slides were shown to the client and the order taken, then the appropriate negatives would be printed in our darkroom.
Hand printing colour negatives is a demanding process. It involves filtered light, an understanding of the process, how to shift colour (if your print is too red, you add red filtration, which is yellow and magenta. If a print is too green, you subtract magenta,.. kinda hard to explain.) It also involved expensive equipement. My 20" Hope paper processor cost $14,000. I took a second morgage on my home to buy it. When we shut the darkroom down, it went to the dump.
Finally, it took a lot of time. Sue, my printer, could print from 6 to 10 negatives on any given day. That often included multiple prints in multiple sizes. Now multiple prints from multiple sizes may sound simple, but consider that to print the first print from a negative, one would first, make a test strip, like you do when printing black and white, only you are guessing on the initial colour filtration. Feed the test into the processing machine, since it takes 15 min or so to process, (used to be an hour) you go to the second enlarger, where you are printing another negative, and do more testing, and on to the third and fourth enlarger. This is all done in the dark by the way. No safelight when printing colour. Now go collect all the test strips, evaluate colour and density, note changes, go back into the darkroom and make the changes, test again...you get the picture. Five or six tests were not un-common, nor were two or three prints before the final print was deemed perfect. "dodge here, burn there, slightly darker overall, add 2.5 yellow". Getting back to multiple prints, Change size, from 8x10 to 16x20, it all changes. Even in the un-likely case where your 16x20 paper and your 8x10 paper have the same emulsion number (every emulsion number has a different colour balance), you have to re-test. Even a change in exposure time gives you a colour shift.
Back to kicking and screaming. On my last 100 ft roll of Vericolor slide film 5072, the film we used to make slides from the colour negatives, a small sticker announced "this product has been dis-continued"
Now, without 35mm slides, the only way to show clients their portraits would be with 4x5 paper proofs (not a good idea), or with a digital projector. No problem, Kodak had, at the same time as dis-continuing the film, sold my photofinisher a stupidly expensive high speed scanner, and, who, for an outrageous fee, would provide me with low resolution scans of my negatives, which would allow me to show my clients their portraits with a digital projector. At that point, it made no sense to shoot film. Why shoot film, then scan it when it would be easier and infinitely less expensive to just shoot it with a digital camera. I had no choice but to go fully digital.
Fast forward to 2010.
This year, I finally gave in and sold my Mamiya RZ system. Camera, three lenses, four backs, meter prism, more than $10,000 new, I was lucky and got $1000 for it. I also sold the last of my three Pentax 645s with four lenses and accessories for $500, a tiny fraction of what it cost. Neither of these cameras had seen a roll of film since Jan. 2004.
There are several mis-conceptions about digital photography. The main mis-conceptions are that it is easier, cheaper, and faster. It is none of these. Digital is photography made hard. The learning curve is huge. It took a year to finally learn how to "make it go". It is very expensive, we just give our money to different people now, computers, software and cameras need to be updated constantly. And it is SO not faster. There is the instant feedback, but because we can take an endless number of photographs without expense, and because there are an endless number of ways to interpet those photographs, we spend an endless amount of time sitting in front of computer screens.
So, is it BETTER?... In a word, yes, it is.
It has changed the way we, I, photograph. There is the instant feedback. In the days film, we had to use Polaroid to check lighting set-ups, re-assure clients, etc. Now , we KNOW whether or not we have the shot or not. It is instant feedback, all the time. It encourages experimentation. We can shoot infinite variations, take chances. That little voice in the back of your head whispering "play it safe and cover your ass" and "there goes another dollar" every time you press the shutter button is now silent.
After the fact there is the post processing. Every RAW file can be interpreted an infinite number of ways. This is very liberating, but at the same time adds to the workflow. It is somewhat like the people in East Germany and other eastern bloc countries who, while complaining of the oppression of the state controlling their lives, found themselves floundering when the communist era ended. Kodachrome gave you what it gave you, no chance to change anything once the exposure was made. Now, as in liberated East Germany, there are infinite possibilities. This is too much for some to deal with. It is overwhelming.
Now, my former darkroom is a computer/printer room. I print with an Epson 24 in printer, which costs a fraction of what my Hope paper processor cost, and makes prints that are far superior by any measure. Modern inkjet prints not only look better than conventional photographic prints, but as a bonus, will actually last longer than the average human life-span. Prints on Kodak Endura photographic paper, (Kodak re-named Ektacolor to "Endura" to make you think it would last longer, but never actually changed the paper), will last a whole ten years under average viewing conditions according to tests by the Willhelm research folks. Prints made with pigment based prints with modern ink-jet printers are projected by Willhelm to last from 100 to 200 years, depending on the paper they are printed on.
Do I miss the darkroom? Well, in a perverted way, yes. You disappear into a dark room, stereo on, your own little universe. Black and white?, yes, if I had a lot of time, didn't need to earn a living, I'd love to print some of my huge un-printed archive of 35mm negatives on some of the few good papers still available. I still have my ever so elegant Leitz Valoy and one of my medium format enlargers in storage. However, I'd be better served to invest in a good scanner. Many well known photographers are re-printing their entire archives with the far superior digital technology.
What are we missing? Mostly, the beautiful cameras, and what it felt like to use them. Cameras with no light meters, never mind no auto-focus. They are beautiful objects. There is a whole ritual involved in shooting film, part techno, part intuition and part alchemy. And then of course for black and white shooters, the whole magic of watching an image form on a piece of photographic paper in the developer tray.
My first serious camera was a Rolliecord Vb. A twin-lens reflex camera that made negative that were two and a quarter inches square. I bought this camera new as a teen-ager for $159.00 in the sixties and still have it. Over the years I've owned and used Bronicas, Hasselblads, Leicas, Topcons, Calumets, Sinars, Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Topcon,..etc etc. I've owned and used a lot of cameras. The experience of shooting film is, well, different. I do miss it. More than the film, it really is the cameras I miss the most. Do we go back? No.
While I use a Canon 5d or 1Ds for, work
These cameras make spectacular photographs, any size you like. I've had commercial clients make billboards from the files.
I do most of my personal work with an entry level Canon Rebel XS that cost less than $500.00. On Program mode, with auto white balance, auto ISO, and auto focus, I can raise the camera to my eye and make a sharp, well exposed picture in any situation from bright sunlight to dimly lit interior at will. The quality of images this $500.00 camera makes eclipses any 35mm at at least equals any medium format camera I've ever owned. My tiny Fuji f30 point and shoot makes photographs of astounding quality.
Photography has been democratized. When I was young, the average person took photographs with a box camera, or an Instamatic camera that took 12 pictures on a roll of film. It was always a mystery as to whether or not the pictures would "turn out". There were often photographs of Christmas and summer holidays on the same roll of film. Developing and printing was very expensive. Contrast that with now, a capable digital point and shoot camera can be had for under $100.00 with which anyone can produce sharp well exposed photographs of anything you point it at, then see instantly if it "turned out". This is not even mentioning phone cameras. The digital revolution has also created a huge interest in serious photography. Sales of digital SLR cameras have overtaken the sales of 35mm SLRs. There is an astounding amount of amazing work being produced, and available on the internet.
What remains to be seen, is how the marketplace for photography will evolve, and how photographers will be paid for what they do. While it is true that the digital revolution combined with the global economic situation has lead to a vast change in how the photographic industry operates, I believe that we are entering a golden age for photography. Photography has been re-invented. Photographers now need to figure out how to re-invent themselves.
Digital photography has re-kindled my love for making images.
Portrait of Gordon Lafleur by wife Martha. Portrait of Martha by Gordon Lafleur.
Addendum (Alex Waterhouse-Hayward): Since I use film (with the exception of my iPhone) my views on digital photography cannot be objective. It is my hope that Gordon Lafleur's essay will tip the balance in the right direction.
Thanksgiving With Hydrangeas
Sunday, October 10, 2010
We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving yesterday. Our oldest daughter Ale drove from Lillooet so all the girls were present for dinner. Rosemary decided to cook two chickens (Fred and Sally) with roasted potatoes, onions, carrots and her trademark stuffing which we all love. She also made her Pavlova which was served with California strawberries and whipped cream. Hilary and I both eschewed the strawberries and indulged in Argentine dulce de leche
. To drink we had my last batch of iced tea for the season. The Russian Caravan tea that I used for this concoction is now officially retired until next year.
The garden is a fall garden and with the sun out the Cercis Canadensis
‘Forest Pansy’ is glorious in its fall colour. Rosemary’s aconitum is in full bloom with its deep blue (and extremely poisonous) flowers. The Japanese anemones are in bloom all around and my roses are in a wane. But I was able to find enough roses to cut to decorate our Thanksgiving dinner table.
It might be easy to discount the generous contribution (understated, perhaps?) of all our hydrangeas. We must have at least 30 different ones and at least 6 specific species. They bloom faithfully in the middle and late summer and just about now the spent blooms again give us a show. Here you see Hydrangea quercifolia
‘Snowflake’ (commonly called the Oak Leaf Hydrangea) and the one with deep pink overtones is Hydrangea paniculata
‘Unique’. For me our garden hydrangeas define our fall garden.