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Photography

This section is still under construction. I have been putting my latest photos here. The old pages are still here:

Introduction

I haven't written a formal biography of my life in photography (that would make a gripping read, I'm sure!), but it turns out that I have written a few paragraphs about myself. In December, 2001, I joined the Philadelphia Leica Users Group. That's interesting partly because I don't own a Leica camera (it's explicitly not a membership requirement), but also because I felt compelled to unburden myself of my psyche via an e-mail to the group's founder, Kyle Cassidy. For now, this will serve as my photographic autobiography:

As for my agenda, here's a summary that I hope will give you a sense of my interests, biases, and predilections. I've been "serious" about photography for about a year and a half. As far as equipment goes, I am interested in 35mm and larger formats using both black and white and color. I have no interest in anything that automates picture taking (auto exposure, auto focus, TTL flash, etc) and enjoy "controlling" everything myself manually. Well, at least some of the time. I also have almost no interest at the moment in digital photography. Notwithstanding my "interests," what I actually own are two Nikon bodies (FM2n and F3) and four prime lenses, all AIS: 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.8N, and 105mm f/2.8 Micro. My discovery of Leicas is the result of my interest in street photography. Being a timid soul, I've never attempted doing any street work myself, but it fascinates me.

As for film, I shoot slides primarily (almost always Fuji Astia with an occasional roll of Velvia). For print film, I like Fuji NPH 400. I have also begun to work with traditional wet darkroom techniques through courses I've taken at the Abington Arts Center. I develop my own black and white, but don't have equipment for printing. I've used Tri-X 400, Ilford Delta 400, and Fuji Neopan 1600 so far, but black and white is such a huge area; there is so much to explore. I feel like I barely know anything.

At this point, I feel confident with the mechanics of picture taking, although I am rather slow and deliberate in technique. I am looking to grow artistically in the sense of discovering what I want to say and exploring ways of expressing it. I enjoy looking at other photographer's work very much, and I am discovering new treasures all the time. If I had to pick a single favorite, it would be André Kertész.

Even though I don't actually own a Leica myself, I feel a kinship with Leica users (except maybe the collectors. Oh, wait, they're not users, are they?). Of all the myriad kinds of cameras, the way a Leica handles seems to put up the fewest barriers to achieving a photographer's vision. It's like there's less machine in the way and more of a direct connection. Likewise, it may also be the most revealing of a photographer's strengths and weaknesses. If you take a bad picture with a Leica, it's not the camera's fault. I'm not sure I can explain it any better than that.

[December, 2001]

An interesting footnote to my interest in Leicas: Brian Reid, the list admin on the Leica Users Group mailing list, conducted a random survey of 50 subscribers sometime in 2001 and found that only 50% of this group currently own a Leica. With approximately 1200 subscribers on the list, I probably have a lot of company. If I weren't so shy, I'd probably use the handle "Ivana Leica."

Archive

The entries below originally appeared on my home page.

Monday, November 4, 2002

I've been having some problems with Ilford HP5+ recently. The negatives show what I consider to be excessive grain. Maybe this film has always been grainy and I'm just getting fussy, but I don't think so. I remember it being more fine-grained than Tri-X, which is one reason I switched.

I've been thinking a lot about the Zone system, and it's actually starting to make sense. The point of it all, I mean. Something else I've come to realize that's related to this is the old adage, "Expose for the shadows. Develop for the highlights." Uh, okay, but why? Well, for one thing, the longer film is developed, the more highlight density builds up. The densest areas build up the most, while the shadows change least of all. This makes me wonder how short a time I can use and still get full development of my shadows.

What prompts all this is noticing (and worrying) that I have to use filters of 2 or below or my shadows block up. In other words, my negatives have too great a density range (I think).

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Big day for me. Our Conifer Quarterly (the house organ of The Conifer Society) arrived today. The editor had used some of the pictures I had taken to illustrate an article about the annual meeting. I was surprised (and pleased) at how many she used, including some color slides on the inside and outside back cover. Wow. My first published photos! I was beaming.

Monday, July 1, 2002

I reached a milestone today in my PAW (Picture-A-Week) project: 26 pictures. Halfway there. Check out the latest pictures.

I've been craving a Leica M rangefinder since I first found out what they were a couple of years ago. Because these cameras are very expensive even bought used, I had given up hope of ever having one. Today my fiancée, Anne, surprised me (that's an understatement!) with an M4 (built in 1967) and a Summicron-M 50mm f/2 lens! All I can say (besides that Anne is the most wonderful woman in the world) is: "I'm not worthy."

May 20, 2002

I developed my first roll of Delta 3200 tonight using Xtol 1:1 with a time of 12 minutes at 75 degrees. I couldn't find much in the way of firm times for this film, but I decided on this time (which, if anything, is on the short side) since I exposed the film at an ISO of 1200 in mostly contrasty light. It's hard for me to tell how things turned out just by looking at the negatives with a loupe, but at least the negatives don't seem underdeveloped. The grain of this film is quite prominent, but has a very pleasing "look" to it.

May 1, 2002

I developed my first roll of Ilford HP5+ this week and made a contact sheet and one print last night. Maybe I shouldn't have done this with the first roll of a new film, but I rated it at 200 and underdeveloped it (10 minutes instead of 12 in Xtol 1:1 at 68 degrees). Underdeveloping provides a host of benefits, including reducing grain and increasing sharpness, although chiefly it reduces contrast. The penalty (every gain in photography involves a tradeoff) is a loss in speed, hence the need for overexposure. I had been processing Delta 400 this way for some time and was pleased with the results. In fact, the Delta negatives had plenty of contrast (so much so that I wondered if I was accomplishing anything by underdeveloping). Not so the HP5+. Most of the negatives were distinctly "flat." At least I was accomplishing something by underdeveloping! I will definitely rate my next roll at 400 and process "normally." So far I am very pleased with this film. One of the shots taken in very contrasty light looks great, so I think if I have low-contrast lighting and subjects, I should use normal development. Based on this limited experience, I think I prefer the tonality of HP5+ to the other films I have tried (Tri-X, Delta 400, and Neopan 1600).

April 30, 2002

I have updated my PAW, although I am still about a month behind.

April 21, 2002

I added a number of sections and pages to this site, mostly to remind me of the direction I want to go, not because there's any new content--there's almost nothing on those pages at the moment. The new pages are: Macintosh and AppleScript development, Restaurants, Photography Technique and Resources, Literature and Music.

My PAW was up to date as of a month ago, but it hasn't changed since then. I've been shooting, but I'm behind in everything else.

April 10, 2002

I photographed the tree crew Monday for a while before I left for work. I used a Nikon A2 (81A) warming filter, which I bought because I had heard it recommended to restore a natural color balance to subjects illuminated solely by blue sky (as in full shade) or on overcast days. I had taken any number of shots made in full shade that were spoiled by a heavy blue cast. Yesterday was overcast, so I thought I would try it. In this case I think it was a bit too much; flesh tones were unnaturally "warm." I now believe that the diffuse illumination from a light overcast doesn't need any compensation from a warming filter. Live and learn.

April 9, 2002

What's the deal with fast lenses? Do you have one? Do you really need it? Do you ever use it wide open? How often do you use it wide open? (Hey, this is turning into a rant!) I used to think I needed fast lenses, but I've changed my mind.

When I began acquiring prime lens to supplement my original 35-105mm zoom, I steered toward the fastest lens available in that focal length. Beginner though I was, I was still aware that fast lenses weren't necessarily the best lenses, but I needed to use the same lens for both "available darkness" conditions and sunlit landscapes. I thought a fast lens would benefit the former without compromising the latter. I did enough research to satisfy myself that the faster lenses were as sharp as slower ones. So I acquired a 50mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4 (both AIS) with the idea that neither of these lenses made any major optical compromises for their speed. (I wanted an 85mm 1.4, too, but this was simply too expensive. I still don't have an 85mm.) I understood that these lenses might not be stellar performers wide open, but the rest of their range should be fine, and you had f/1.4 if you needed it.

I was wrong about all this.

For one thing, it's my feeling that the 50mm f/1.4 isn't so great even stopped down (although maybe it's just my sample). I became dissatisfied to the point that I now own the much cheaper and lighter f/1.8 (It's AIS, but looks like an E series. Admittedly it's more plastic-y than the f/1.4--you can't have everything.) I'm very pleased with it.

More importantly than the performance of these lenses wide open, I discovered that for my purposes, the widest aperture wasn't really usable (at least handheld). Besides being the least-sharp aperture, the narrow depth of field makes focusing so critical that the inevitable focusing errors just contribute to the softness. I find myself longing for a dream world where I would never need to go wider than about f/4, which is still open enough for a nice selective focus effect, but giving up three whole stops of light isn't helping get the shot when light is dim. Giving up three stops means I would have to rate my 400-speed film at 3200. Not a good idea. Nevertheless, I'll be experimenting with pushing some 400 speed films and trying some faster films to decide what solution I want to use, but I don't think opening up all the way works for me.

I realize that your mileage may vary when using lenses wide open. I've seen wonderful work that was shot wide open at even wider apertures than f/1.4, for example using a Leica Noctilux at f/1.0, so I think the problem is just with me. On the bright side (pun intended), one thing a fast lens does provide is a bright viewfinder image (in an SLR), although I only notice that the image is "dark" when the aperture is smaller than about f/2.8.

April 4, 2002

I habitually underexpose my black and white negatives. This is surprising because I learned exposure by shooting lots of slide film, which has, basically, almost no room for error. I'm pretty confident figuring out an exposure for most scenes using slide film, so I know my technique and equipment are adequate, but somehow this experience doesn't carry over into black and white. Part of the problem is that I tend to shoot black and white in poorer (dimmer) lighting conditions, and I am overly optimistic about a film's ISO rating as well as the way I meter the scene.

In some recent pictures taken in good light, I've tried placing the scene's values more or less in the center of the film's curve, regardless of where they were in life. For example, for a low-key scene I would "overexpose" and for a high key scene I would "underexpose." The theory I have is that I'm placing the scene's tones on the flattest part of the curve where I should get the best gradation. But I don't have enough experience to know whether this works or not. For my last two rolls I have also rated Ilford Delta 400 at 160 and reduced development time by about 15% (9 minutes in Xtol 1:1). The negatives seem fine, but I haven't printed any yet. We'll see...

What's confusing me is some advice I've read in Anchell & Troop's Film Developing Cookbook. I gather from them that proper exposure of a black-and-white negative is just as critical as it is for slide film. They write:

If there is any secret to obtaining high sharpness and fine grain, it is to ensure that the negative has a low density range. Maximum density should not exceed 0.9 above base+fog for small negatives... [page 3]

With small formats, it is necessary to give the minimum possible exposure that will still record adequate shadow detail. This means the negative needs to be as thin as possible. The thicker the negative, the more grain and the less sharpness when you enlarge. However, the penalty for minimum exposure is slightly poorer shadow gradation in the negative. Special printing techniques like dodging and burning are often the only way to get a thin negative to show shadow gradation as rich as a thick negative. [page 6]

But for conventional films, thin negatives (density range 0.9) will be sharper and less grainy, both objectively via measurement and subjectively. [page 54]

They also refer to the "cardinal rules of minimum exposure and minimum development time" [page 59].

So what does this all mean? I thought a thick negative was a good negative. I have plenty of thin negatives and I don't like them (although mine are a little too thin). I guess I can take them at their word and try to achieve "minimum exposure," but I'm not sure how to meter for this.

April 3, 2002

I started a new course at the Abington Arts Center tonight: "Intermediate to Advanced Black and White Photography." It was good to get back in the darkroom again. I can't print my black and white negatives at home, and so I had accumulated a backlog of negatives I had never seen.

This is my fourth course at AAC in the last year, having taken the Intro to Black and White course twice before. Four of the five students in tonight's class were returning as well. I think we all find the teacher (Bill Kelly) an inspiring influence, gently guiding us toward fulfilling our creative potential and achieving the highest level of darkroom craftsmanship we are capable of.

March 29, 2002

I had decided earlier this year to stop hopping from one type of film to another in some futile attempt to find perfection, and instead choose one film and one developer and try to learn the combination well (pushing, pulling, different dilutions, etc.). I finally decided on Ilford HP5+ as the film and Kodak Xtol as the developer. Ten rolls of HP5+ arrived today. The first roll is in the camera.

Why HP5+? Well originally, I considered choosing three films, actually, to cover all speed requirements: medium (ISO 100), fast (ISO 400), and very fast (ISO 800+). But after thinking about it, I decided that I didn't need the medium speed film; at the size enlargements I make, the grain and resolution of a 400-speed film aren't a big problem. At the other end of the speed range, I thought I would try to push the 400 speed instead of using a faster film. After all, the 3200-speed films (Ilford and Kodak) both need to be pushed when used at 3200.

As for my choice of HP5, I decided on this film in part because it's a traditional film (as opposed to a tabular-grain film like Delta 400). I had started in black and white with a traditional film (the venerable Kodak Tri-X), but I was disappointed with it, at least initially. I think it was mostly because I had no experience or basis for comparison. My first impression of Tri-X was that it was "gritty" and a little harsh-looking. At an 8x10 enlargement size, grain was also clearly visible. Looking back now on my first Tri-X prints, I think I misjudged the film. Sure, it's grainy (I never tried shooting and developing it for minimum grain), but it does have an engagingly rugged, honest personality. It's just that subtlety is not its strong suit. On the other hand, HP5+ has a reputation for subtlety and smooth tonality. I also expect its grain to be finer than Tri-X's; I hope somewhere between Tri-X and Delta 400.

March 23, 2002

Slowly but slowly, I've been workin' on my PAW (Photo-A-Week). Finally, it's sorta kinda basically up to date. Wooooo doggies!

February 24, 2002

I've been reading Barry Thornton's "Edge of Darkness" and find his obsession with sharpness fascinating. Suddenly I must have a Rollei SL66! And all those developers (DiXactol, etc) to try... In case you didn't notice, I'll go to any length to avoid actually taking pictures. Must do more testing...

Seriously, in the back of my mind I am looking for the "ultimate" film/developer combination (who isn't?), which in my case has led to a sort of "developer of the week" syndrome. I keep wanting to try a new combination before testing the last one. This is crazy, of course, and goes against what most wise photographers advise: pick a sensible combination and use it until you understand it inside and out. Then if you want something it can't do no matter how you tweak it, try something else.

I've about decided to limit myself to two or three films, a "slow," a "fast," and a "really fast." I haven't decided on the slow, but I think the fast will be Ilford HP5 and the really fast will be Neopan 1600. I've already used Neopan 1600 a bit and started by rating it at 1600. It seemed that at 1600, this film has virtually no leeway on the shadow end. You have maybe two or three stops below middle gray and that's it. Of course it could be the way I developed the film, but for now I think it's more like an 800 speed film. I'll find out when I do some controlled tests. It's promising, because for a fast film, it's not grainy at all.

Meanwhile I've developed several rolls of Neopan 1600 and Delta 400 in my very first batch of Xtol. If I ever do a PAW, these rolls will provide the January pictures. To be strictly chronological, I may have to skip a week here and there. What the heck, I'm already a couple of months behind.

January 7, 2002

I was looking forward to Thanksgiving vacation for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to take some pictures for class (Photography 101 with Bill Kelly at the Abington Arts Center). Unlike some holiday vacations where every spare moment is committed to catching up with chores around the house, I didn't have that many commitments. Instead of feeling liberated, however, the empty time felt like a weight on my shoulders, so I procrastinated until vacation time simply ran out.

What happened? I realized that I have reached something of a dead end. Since turning "serious" in the spring of 2000, I have been concentrating on developing my technical skills in photography. In other words, I was on a quest for a technically "correct" photograph--one that was properly exposed and that had the subject in focus. (If the composition was pleasing and the light was nice, that was a bonus.) Now my photographic skills had progressed to a point where I felt a sense of responsibility to make a good photograph instead of just a correct one.

But I wasn't sure what to do next. Usually I would sally forth full of enthusiasm restlessly searching for subjects. And I usually found some. But now it was nearly winter, and I missed the long hours of daylight and the abundance of made-to-order subjects among the lush growth of spring and summer. But more importantly, I realized I'd grown weary of random, senseless photography as much fun as I was having with it.

So here it is 2002 already, and I haven't made much progress except that I want to try some things with "studio lighting." I read "Light Science and Magic" and am eager to try some of the exercises in the book. With my flash and a roll of tracing paper I decided to run some tests.

Posts in “Photography”

January 5, 2009

Best of 2008 in Black and White

Last year, I went through my photos to choose two for the Leica User Group Yearbook (and put a few others up on Flickr). This year was different. I missed the deadline for the yearbook, and it’s just as well. 2008 was a terrible year for my photography. I didn’t shoot much and still have half a dozen rolls languishing, undeveloped. From the ones I did develop, I chose two for the yearbook, before I realized I had missed the deadline. These were both taken on St. Patrick’s day in Jim Thorpe, PA.

St. Patrick's Day, Jim Thorpe, PA St. Patrick's Day, Jim Thorpe, PA

Comments

I have many fond memories shooting black and white photos with my Nikon F2 and being in Drexel darkroom for hours developing the prints after a big show. I still have the FM2 but it now gets little to no use anymore. Sad!

Don't feel bad - I still have an undeveloped roll of 120 film from a Holga phase from about 15 years ago. I have a feeling that roll is no good now.

Those are both fine pictures, in particular the top one. I love photos where everyone has a cup of "cheer."

@iConJohn An FM2 was my first serious SLR; mine is in terrible shape, but I love it.
@Mrs. Harridan There's lots of cheer in Jim Thorpe on St. Patrick's Day. :-) If I ever go medium format (as I often threaten to), I would be happy to soup that roll for you. I would bet there is something on it.

Hey Tony! I passed the permalink along to Chris - he's the guy in the top shot. Great stuff! Hope you're doing well!

I am doing well, just not taking a lot of pictures. :-) Hope Chris likes the shot, and thanks!

May 21, 2008

“The Americans” Reissued

While I may hedge about who my favorite photographer is (most days it’s Andre Kertesz), I can safely say that my favorite photography book is The Americans by Robert Frank (first published in 1958). I have the fourth Scalo edition of 2000. I wanted to give a copy to a friend last year and discovered that it was out of print. Bummer. Last week I learned that there is a brand-new edition issued in celebration of the book’s 50th anniversary. The book has not just been reprinted, but remastered—all the prints have been re-scanned by the publisher Steidl under the supervision of Robert Frank himself. I looked through my copy the other day, and it still takes my breath away. More at The Online Photographer.

January 23, 2008

Armed America: Lecture and Signing

Philadelphia-based photographer Kyle Cassidy will be giving a lecture with slideshow and signing copies of his book Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes at the Penn Bookstore (3601 Walnut Street), Thursday evening at 7:00. I’m going because some of the photos have cats in them. Well, that’s not the only reason; it’s a remarkable book.

Comments

that sounds great! but i'm already going to the ASMP show reception at UArts and then a state senate forum tomorrow night. arg.

You have really share wonderful skills with us...

You have really share wonderful skills with us...

You have really share wonderful skills with us...

December 31, 2007

Best of 2007 in Black & White

Last year, Jim Shulman of the Leica User Group volunteered to compile a yearbook of photos by the members (printed by blurb.com). I didn’t know about it (I’m not on the LUG mailing list), but this year Jim got in touch with me and invited me to participate (as an honorary member, I suppose). The yearbook deadline gave me the motivation to finish developing my unprocessed film, and I spent some time yesterday reviewing the year’s meager output. I started with an initial edit of 11 photos, my “Best of 2007 in black & white,” and finally chose two. I put the set up on Flickr. All were taken with an M4 on Ilford FP4 with either a Summicron 50mm or Zeiss Biogon 35mm. Last I heard, 98 photographers had submitted photos. That’s a lot of Leicas.

UPDATE: 112 photographers participated, and the book is on its way.

St. Patrick's Day, Jim Thorpe

St. Patrick’s Day, Jim Thorpe, PA (March 11).

Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC

Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, SC (April 18)

It’s fitting that my “year end” post is about photography. I wish everyone a safe and happy New Year.

Comments

Awesome!

I shot all of 2 rolls of film in 2007. I barely squeezed in the last few frames into 2007 on NYE. I have a sinking feeling the film didn't advance properly though so the second roll may be blank.

Albert, I hate when that happens. I lost half my pictures at Laurel Hill because I misthreaded the film on one of my bodies. Now I always make sure the rewind knob is turning. Hope it didn't happen to you!

Beautiful Tony

I looked at the Flickr site as well. I would have had a hard time choosing from the eleven; they are great.

Robin, thanks, you are very kind. The St. Patrick's Day photo was my clear first choice, but it was difficult picking the second one.

November 27, 2007

Other People’s Photo News

Although I am working my way through a backlog of unprocessed film stretching back decades (probably got a good shot of Elvis in there somewhere), I have nothing to show yet, so I am taking this opportunity to deflect attention away from my lack of accomplishment and point out just some of the notable achievements of some more-or-less-local photographers.

First, belated congratulations to Kathleen Connally for winning a Photobloggie earlier this year, “Best American Photoblog.” It’s just another recognition for her paean to the haunting beauty of Durham Township, PA. She must be shopping for a bigger mantle.

Albert Yee has had a photoblog for years, but recently he quit his day job, won the Metro photo contest (among other honors), and built a killer portfolio site (thanks mainly to an abundance of killer photos). Call me crazy, but he could make a living at this stuff. Seems like a good plan.

The photographer behind Luminous Lens recently launched a lovely new photoblog.

This isn’t breaking news, but I finally got a copy of Kyle Cassidy’s Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes. I was privileged to meet Kyle through our shared interest in Leica cameras. He would have a place in my personal pantheon if only for his wonderful cat pictures, but he does more challenging projects from time to time, you know, just to pay the bills so he can keep taking cat pictures. His portraits are both imaginative and sensitive, exhibiting wide-ranging creativity, but always in the service of portraying his subjects and their guns. He is working on a new book about veterans and their tattoos, called War Paint: Tattoo Culture & the Armed Forces.

Finally, huge news from Zoe Strauss, who won a United States Artists Fellowship, conferring a substantial grant worth (in the universal currency of photographers) well over ten thousand rolls of Tri-X. All I can say is, What took them so long?

For me, it’s back to developing. I processed five rolls yesterday (Elvis wasn’t on any of them). I’m changing my film processing procedure a bit, and I feel a post coming on about that, so I think I need to go lie down until it passes...

Comments

i expect to see that elvis shot sometime in the next 6 months. and it better be in color ;)

those cassidy links are great.

thanks for the nod!

Thanks, Tony! You're very kind.

Hope you're joining the PPBs on our December 8th outing! :)

Kathleen, Sorry I will have to miss out on the fun yet again—I usually have to work Saturdays. Looking forward to seeing the shots... it’s almost like being there. :-)

Thanks for the link publicity! I'm really excited to be photoblogging again.

As for your film processing project, it must be exciting to have all of these pictures that you're going to unveil.

Yes, I feel like Garry Winogrand (famous among other things for deferring processing for a year). Each roll is a revelation - "Hey, I remember that!"

Are you gonna go full Winogrand!? You're gonna have to get out shooting more often now - double time!

Yeah, really. I'm about thirty rolls behind and that's just for this week. He had artistic reasons for deferring processing; I'm just lazy.

who's saying his initial reasons weren't laziness which grew into "artistic" after a couple years passed?!

@albert Not me! ;-)

November 9, 2007

Binging on Links [nanoblog]

Started going through a list of “photography, art, multimedia and journalism” links I found on the Magnum Blog recently. Not that I have the time to plow through 83 links, but it’s a Friday night with no Big Plans, so now’s a good time to start. I already knew some of the photo links, so if the company they’re keeping is in the same class, I should find some treasures.

Comments

here's 87 more :)

October 19, 2007

Philly Photobloggers Doylestown meetup

I recently began working through a backlog of unprocessed film and put up a set shot in early August. The occasion was a Philly Photoblogger meetup organized by Robin Odland to shoot headshots of the actors of Town and Country Players. Robin and his wife Anne provided fabulous gourmet pizza and Belgian beer—and that was just for lunch! I was stunned by the abundance of lighting equipment, high-end cameras and accessories and embarrassed that I only had one measly flash and my little point-and-shoot Leica M4 (Naiffer took a picture of me in action). Needless to say I didn’t take any headshots with that rig. This was my first opportunity, however, to use my brand-new Zeiss 35mm lens, so I took about 50 frames. The pics are mainly of historical interest now, but if you like extremely dark pictures with copious motion blur, then baby, you'll love this set. The beginning starts here.

Comments

Tony your shots are fabulous...and that lens. Wow.

Excellent work.

You've got some cool ones in there. I like the way you held detail in the umbrellas but let the rest go dark.

September 20, 2007

Anthony Lane on the Cult of Leica

Two people emailed me about an article in the New Yorker on Leica cameras. As if I had any interest in Leicas. :-) After reading it, I have to say: You can't pay for this kind of press. Cult indeed. Unfortunately, it did not inspire me to run out and purchase a new Leica, something that would actually benefit their struggling enterprise. If anything, I would rather snag an old M3 or a classic lens, but such a purchase is simply out of the question, so I settled for a surreptitious fondling of my trusty M4, which turned 40 years young this year (it has both a new shutter and rangefinder, so it’s practically brand new).

You can read Anthony Lane’s article if you’re interested in a rosy and romantic assessment of the Leica rangefinder. For a contrasting opinion, however, I highly recommend reading Paul Ross’s view; it always makes me smile. Not that I am that forthright myself about the Leica’s limitations. I not only drank the Kool-Aid, but I always keep a full pitcher in the fridge for guests.

Oddly, the first mention I saw of the New Yorker article was on Daring Fireball. Who knew John Gruber was interested in antiques.

July 28, 2007

Firefly Photos

I didn't think it was practical to take pictures of fireflies (what I called “lightning bugs” growing up). I was wrong. Photographer Gregory Crewdson published a book of firefly pictures taken over a two-month period at his family's cabin in Becket, Massachusetts. (Samples at the Skarstedt Gallery.) Of course, now I want to try it. Maybe next year. Via Alec Soth, whom I found via the Magnum blog.

June 26, 2007

Friday Is the Big Day

Can’t wait till Friday.

Hoo boy.

Yessiree.

Some time after 6:00 PM on Friday I should be in possession of a certain something oh so shiny and new, and I am so psyched.

I know it’s not for everyone, but I’ve always wanted one and finally it will be mine.

Imagine something small and lightweight that nestles easily in the palm of your hand and can be operated with two fingers. You can probably take a guess what it is—I've given you enough hints.

Give up? It's a Zeiss T* ZM Biogon 35mm f/2 lens, of course! Did you think I was talking about the iPhone or something?

It will arrive just in time to celebrate my Leica’s fifth anniversary (July 1) when my then-fiancée Anne stunned me with a Leica M4 and 50mm f/2 Summicron lens. As nice as the Summicron is, I’ve often wished for something a little wider than the 50, hence the 35. The Biogon, while not cheap, is significantly cheaper than a Leica lens and by all accounts a respectable performer.

Comments

Okay, you had me at Friday. I thought it was the iPhone, but that's even cooler...f/2, baby!

I had a good idea of what it would be from the moment you said that you were so psyched.

Congratulations.

You will love the wider format.

I hope to see it soon.

Congrats! And yes, you got me!

Thanks! It was a cheap trick, but I just couldn’t resist. Turns out the lens was out for delivery today, so I should get it tomorrow. That’s much faster service (from UPS) than I paid for.

The Biogon is a great lens. Enjoy it.

June 18, 2007

Darkroom Progress

On Saturday, I stopped by Yo! Darkroom to check it out, not only because I am drawn to darkrooms like a moth to the flame, but also because I might be in the market for some darkroom time, being between darkrooms as it were.

I was extremely lucky to find a practically ready-made darkroom in the house we moved to in 2003. Long before we arrived, the house had been divided into apartments, and the upstairs kitchen was perfect for a darkroom. Eventually the ancient pipes started leaking, and we decided to remodel the room and put in a bigger sink. Things are moving along slowly but slowly...

Darkroom demolition

Julius concludes his inspection of the darkroom demolition. “What a mess,” he said, unimpressed. “You cant has darkroom at this pace. Quit slackin’.”

Omega D2 enlarger in its cosy

My Omega D2V XL enlarger ensconced in its cozy.

While work “progresses,” I tucked the equipment away into various other rooms. The enlarger (an Omega D2, the same model that Yo! Darkroom uses) is parked on a bureau in the guest bedroom. I thought this would be an opportunity to show the handsome enlarger cozy I asked Anne to make. It has a Velcro® closure along one side and a handle to hang it up when not in use. I think it’s pretty cool.

I was impressed with the quality of the darkroom at Yo!, and the gallery spaces demonstrate their commitment to building a photographic community. It’s quite an accomplishment, and they have only just begun.

Comments

“You cant has darkroom at this pace. Quit slackin’.”

Nice lolcat.

Thanks! I was aiming for a faithful translation of his comments rendered in idiomatic lolcat-speak and that’s what came out.

Your kitty is right! I'd love for you to come by the space and use our D2's. Anytime is the right time. We're here for ya :)

Hello, its fastidious post concerning media print, we all understand media is a fantastic source of facts.

June 8, 2007

Ted Adams Photo Exhibition

Kind of short notice I realize, but E.C. “Ted” Adams has a show opening tomorrow at Photo 612 Gallery in Haddon Heights. Entitled “Dollface: Black & white photographs of and about women,” the exhibition is a “series of candid photographs taken in public and private settings organized in a chronological depiction of a woman's life -- with a few stops and tangents along the way.” At the gallery through July 10.

I will be heading over to the reception, which is from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

May 27, 2007

Photoblog Slideshow beta

When I switched mere cat to Movable Type in February, 2006, I had everything ready to go except the photo section. Today, over a year later, I still haven’t converted it. And you know, not one person has mentioned it. Ah, the joys of obscurity!

The main reason for the delay was that I wanted to change some things. In 2002, I started a Picture-A-Week project and tried in vain each year to post one decent picture a week. By 2006 I had given up and decided I should really adopt the photoblog model and post a picture whenever I felt like it. Of course, I wanted to roll my own presentation instead of using Flickr (or whatever) where you can just upload your pictures and be done with it. I mean, where’s the fun in that?

I had always admired those fancy slide shows (usually done in Flash) with crossfades and other sporty effects, but wanted to try something similar that didn’t require Flash and would still work somehow without JavaScript (or even CSS). There are a number of ways to do this, but what I ended up doing was begin with a set of XHTML pages, one for each picture, designed to look halfway decent without CSS. Without JavaScript enabled, you navigate either by clicking conventional “previous/next” text links or by clicking the left or right half of the picture. If JavaScript is enabled, however, brace yourself for some dazzling special effects. Kidding!

The previous/next text links work the same, but hovering over the picture dims the image slightly and fades in the navigation direction. Clicking the picture crossfades to the next image and uses the magic of Ajax to load the image without reloading the page.

I’m calling this a beta for a number of reasons. For one, comments are not enabled until I can find a way to safely process them—an innocent ampersand in a comment could crash the whole thing. Also it doesn’t work reliably in Internet Explorer 6, and I cannot for the life of me fix it. If you get some sort of loading error in IE6 when clicking an image, try clicking the previous/next links at the top of the page; that seems to clear it up. You won’t get the crossfade, but at least you can see the pictures. I haven’t tested it in IE7, but it should work in every other modern browser. Please let me know if it doesn’t!

The first pictures I’ve posted are some from a trip the Philly Photobloggers took to Jim Thorpe, PA for St. Patrick’s Day on March 11. Believe me, this town knows how to party. Kathleen Connally organized the trip and Jorj Bauer and I were the only photobloggers who could make it. (Kathleen posted her shots in March and Jorj’s start here.) My series starts here. It’ll do for now. I’m taking a break from coding to work on processing some more pictures. Imagine that.

Comments

What a cool slideshow! Why is it that pictures always look so wonderful in black and white? (Do not take this to say that I think your images would look bad in color).

Marisa, thanks, but I have a roomful of negatives to prove that pictures don't always look wonderful in black and white. :-) I agree that B&W does have its charms, especially when you throw out 90% of them. I feel more confident shooting in B&W because of my colorblindness, and there were only a few shots where I miss having color.

May 9, 2007

My First CD Cover

My friends Lenny and Katie asked for some help shooting a CD cover, and I was more than happy to oblige. They chose the beautiful Thomas Mill covered bridge as the setting and we took about 80 shots on two days last October. The photo they picked was from near the end of the second session. The CD came out last week. More info at her site (although there’s nothing there yet but the picture).

Once Upon a Time CD cover

Comments

Tony, that's a great shot...and super pro work. Nicely done...I'll look forward to her album coming out, too...I'm sure you'll keep us posted. Fun stuff.

That's a great shot. I like the framing of the bridge, very cool.

Thanks! It's a beautiful bridge. The structure forms a nice frame and the criss-crosses provide interest, but the other entrance to the bridge was both a blessing and a curse, mostly because it was so bright. In some we used it to frame her and in others cropped it out completely. This angle works pretty well.

Well since it's "My First CD Cover" too, we're in an elite club. I think it turned out great, Tony and I've gotten a lot of compliments on it. If only I get as many compliments for the music inside... Thank you very much. Katie

What a great shot. It makes for a wonderful cover.

Nice Photo, I have the Cd, it is very good!

February 26, 2007

Shootout at McGlinchey’s

Friday was the first meetup of the Philly Photobloggers in almost a year. Thanks to Geoff for getting the ball rolling and Kathleen for suggesting a theme. Why was I there? I’m not really a photoblogger, but I couldn’t resist the volatile mix of cameras, a smoky bar, and beer.

The evening was supposed to start with dinner at the Good Dog Bar, which I had never heard of, the reason being that it has only lately occupied the location where Frank Clement’s Tavern was for many years. I should have known that wouldn’t work; the place is small and always packed. We moved the party one block south to Buca di Beppo, a warren of dining rooms where there’s always room for one (or ten) more. The food was much better than I expected. I had porchetta rustica, which was good, but I was also eyeing Kathleen’s sausage and ziti, which she graciously permitted me to sample. Mmm.

After dinner, we adjourned to Tops (upstairs at McGlinchey’s) for the shoot. I brought a camera, but the available darkness was no match for my 400 speed film. I did click the shutter a few times, though; I like the sound it makes.

I was the subject of a few pictures, mostly because I can remain motionless for extended periods (it’s a favorite pastime of mine) and certainly for a mere 1/15 of a second (at f/2.8). After a round of Brown Shugga, the bitter Canon/Nikon rivalry was forgotten, and we all threw our glasses into the fireplace and declared unswerving loyalty to each other like so many Musketeers. "All for f/1.0 and f/1.0 for all." Of course, that’s not what happened at all. I could tell you what happened, but then they’d have to kill me. (First rule of Philly Photobloggers? Don’t talk about Philly Photobloggers.) Let’s just say it was a lot of fun, and we have the pictures to prove it!

The evening did goad me into finally getting a Flickr account. In picking a screen name, I was surprised to discover there were already eight Flickrites named Tony Green. Only one of them has ever posted a picture, however. Gee, I have a lot more in common with these slackers than just my name.

August 19, 2006

Raw Power

After having a Nikon D70 for two years, I’ve finally taken a few tentative steps toward using the so-called Raw format. I’ve been reading a book by Rob Sheppard.

I took my first Raw picture of some clouds the other day. At the time I was thinking that this was a challenging subject in terms of dynamic range that might benefit from being shot in Raw.

alt

Click for a larger version.

I could stare at clouds for hours (see “Deep Thoughts 2”), especially backlit clouds, but I have never been able to capture the luminous effect. This pic begins to do it. Although I was very careful with the exposure, I otherwise didn’t edit this picture. I’m not sure how this shot looks on your monitor, but the clouds just seem to pop more than in any other shot I’ve taken. I don’t know whether this is because it was shot in Raw or not, though. Anyway, baby steps.

Comments

Hm, if you didn't otherwise edit this photo, I'm not sure what benefit you would get from shooting in RAW unless the default settings of your RAW converter were better suited for processing this image than whatever you have your camera set to do when it shoots JPGs. The benefits of RAW have more to do with the latitude you get when post-processing the image, particularly with regards to keeping the image in 16-bit while you make adjustments, as well as being able to adjust white balance, exposure, etc.

I agree with you that this image really pops. But I'd have to credit it to your careful choice of exposure, rather than to using RAW.

I think, if you enjoy post-processing, that you'll really enjoy shooting in RAW. If you hate post-processing, it may not be worth it. :) Personally I find it to be worth the extra step for those times when I do want to make adjustments and wouldn't want to be fighting with the set parameters of a JPG image.

Seadragon, You're right, I got no benefit from using Raw. I was kind of thinking out loud sharing my surprise about the results of no post-processing vs. my usual JPEG workflow of contrast tweaking with a simple S curve and an unsharp mask action. I think you're saying the default Raw conversion is better than my hand tweaking. I totally agree and that hurts. :-) I'd like to find out what the converter settings are. (I previewed the image in GraphicConverter and just did a Save As.) If I could match that look by adjusting the Camera Raw plugin I would learn a lot, I think. I took a few other shots on the trip and they all look like that in GraphicConverter, kind of the way slides do through a loupe on a lightbox - saturated and contrasty in a pleasing way. But you're right; it's not the Raw format itself. The way things seem, I'd be doing *less* post-processing with Raw since I like the default results better than hand-tweaking. :-)

One quick thing you might want to check to see why the RAW images might look different than your previous JPGs, is what your JPG settings are on your camera. You might think you have them set to "nothing" (i.e., "0"), but that's usually misleading. I use Canon, so I don't know the settings on the D70, but my guess is that you have settings for Saturation, Contrast, and Sharpening. Usually setting them to the lowest end of the scale (maybe -2 or -1, depending on the scale) means that it only processes them the minimum levels, setting them in the middle sets them to be whatever Nikon considers a good default (these are usually kind of punchy, since that's what people usually like), and setting them at the high end (1 or 2) gives you more heavily processed images. If you're doing your own processing after shooting, even if you're shooting JPG, you might want to have all the settings as low as possible in case you didn't want that much contrast / saturation / sharpening. You can always add more, but it's much harder to remove (e.g., you really can't remove sharpening, and you can't decrease contrast very much without revealing noise in the darker areas, etc.).

Of course, if you're shooting in RAW it doesn't matter what those are set to because no in-camera processing is being done to your image - that's the point of RAW. :) The only settings are whatever you choose to set in your RAW converter (or accept the defaults of the converter).

Anyway, hope you have fun playing around with this! It's funny that as you're exploring RAW, I'm wondering if maybe I spend too much time post-processing and should go back to JPG...

July 19, 2006

Shell Snippet to Fix File Dates

When I advanced the hour on our camera for daylight-savings time, I inadvertently changed the year back to 2005. About six weeks of pictures were affected. No biggie, but it bugged me, so here's the shell script snippet I used to fix it. I used stat to get the month, day, and time of the files and then touch to reset the date. Note that this does not change the date in the EXIF data, which is still wrong.

#!/bin/sh

for f in *.[jJ][pP]*[gG]
do
	if [ -e "$f" ] || continue
	then
	echo "$f"
	# show the date before the change
	stat -f "%Sm" -t "%m/%d/%G %H:%M:%S" "$f"
	# change the date
	touch -t 2006`stat -f "%Sm" -t "%m%d%H%M.%S" "$f"` "$f"
	# show the date after the change
	stat -f "%Sm" -t "%m/%d/%G %H:%M:%S" "$f"
	else
	echo "No JPEGs in `pwd`"
	fi
done

It’s odd that I am blessed with the ability to fix this kind of problem, but cursed with the stupidity that caused it.

June 21, 2006

The Young and the Clueless

I’m sure we've all had our clueless moments. As I’ve gotten older, my occasional high-profile clueless moments have been replaced by a more-pervasive existential haze of low-grade cluelessness. I’m not sure that’s an improvement, but it gives me an excuse to point out others’ cluelessness and laugh cruelly at them. I know, I know, people in glass pots shouldn’t kettle black...

Here’s an example that’s excusable for two reasons. One is that it happened before there was Google. Of course, it could happen today, but if it did, it would represent truly negligent cluelessness. The other is that the incident made for such an engaging anecdote. If you screw up, admit the truth and the world will laugh with you, not at you.

Michael Bierut tells the story of calling world-famous photographer Arnold Newman, not knowing who he was, to shoot a portrait for a brochure. Newman was gracious and even sent over his portfolio of portraits on request—of Kennedy, Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, etc, etc, etc. Newman didn’t get the gig—too expensive. Read Michael’s priceless reminiscence at Design Observer. And then read all the comments for more heartwarming stories.

Comments

I have no excuse for one of the biggest clueless blunders that I had made a few years ago. I was so embarrassed that I've blocked out the details of the reasons for the contact. What I do remember is that Walt Crawford, who's a senior analyst for Research Libraries Group (RLG)(http://waltcrawford.name/bio.htm), had contacted me at work, and had sent me a fairly reasoned criticism of something I had been working on. It was late when I had forwarded his message to my boss, and had made two very bad errors in judgment: first, that I had prefaced the message to my boss by saying "Some guy sent me this message..." and second, by accidentally cc-ing Walt Crawford himself. He sent a rather bemused email in return, saying that he considered himself to have enough credentials to be more than "some guy" off the street. When I realized who he was, I was mortified and wrote him an apology.

I must admit that it is very unlike me to be so careless with my correspondence.

too too funny. everyone's got stories like these.

May 9, 2006

Under Dogwood

I was out of town until Sunday afternoon and was very sorry to have missed Zoe Strauss’ show, although Albert covered it well. Between that and last week’s trip to Centralia, photography briefly claimed center stage in my life. For a couple of hours, I photographed dogwood flowers. My mission was to capture the feeling of sitting in the shade of a large tree in full bloom under a blue sky. 60-odd snaps later, I feel I learned something and came away with one satisfying picture—although it doesn’t capture the feeling.

I quickly learned that shooting the whole tree just didn’t work, at least not for any reasonable enlargement. Then I tried isolating a section of the canopy:

Dogwood flowers 1

[1] A small section of the dogwood canopy.

I couldn’t get that to work, so I got a stepladder and decided to move in closer.

Dogwood flowers 2

[2] This is a cluttered mess. The flowers merge with background.

Dogwood flowers 3

[3] From this angle, the flowers are more distinct. Better, I think, but not much of a composition.

There was a breeze, so I slowed down the shutter to try and capture the effect.

Dogwood flowers 4

[4] Whoa! I got more blur than I bargained for.

Dogwood flowers 5

[5] That’s better, but I’m getting distracted from my quest. Must, ahem, focus.

Instead of trying to include a lot of flowers, I decided it would be more effective to show only a few.

Dogwood flowers 6

[6] A small group of flowers, here set against a blurry background.

Dogwood flowers 7

[7] Here is the same group of flowers, but a slight movement of the camera puts them in front of the quieter background of the canopy of flowers.

Dogwood flowers 8

[8] Instead of a smooth blur in the background, I started to want something bolder, something that included other parts of the tree if possible, added to the composition, and complemented but didn't compete with the flowers. Here, the trunk takes up space between groups of flowers.

Dogwood flowers 9

[9] A variation on the same idea. I like this one the best of all of them. It looks less self-consciously “composed” to me.

March 1, 2006

Ansel Adams Exhibit [nanoblog]

The Michener Museum in Doylestown is host to “Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius,” an exhibit of 150 photographs by Ansel Adams from the collection of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. February 18 through May 14. Via JMG Artblog.

February 23, 2006

Last of the Black-and-White Labs?

At a wedding in Santa Fe last weekend I had a nice chat with the photographer while I was raiding the hors d’oeuvres table. I rarely attempt to befriend wedding photographers, but this guy was shooting film with a couple of Nikon N90s. Not quite as retro as someone I met two years ago who used Nikon F2s (mid-Cretaceous, I believe), but retro enough.

I was kind of surprised to see that he was shooting real silver black-and-white film (Delta and Neopan 400) instead of the chromogenic stuff and was curious how he developed it. He admitted somewhat sheepishly that he had a lab do it for him, and I feigned horror. He agreed that it wasn’t ideal, especially since the lab develops all emulsions for the same time. It didn’t strike me until much later how odd it was talking about having a lab develop black-and-white film. I sort of assumed that you couldn’t have black-and-white developed commercially anymore, especially in a town as small as Santa Fe.

It was also nice to see clients requesting black-and-white. I guess it will never go completely out of style. I’m sure it’s a common practice to print digital color originals as black-and-white or use chromogenic film, but I doubt many wedding photographers these days produce their black-and-white prints from silver negatives.

October 17, 2005

Black is the New Black

Been feeling a bit under the weather the last couple of days and even with a backlog of half-written posts to choose from, actually finishing one was more than I could face.

It was a real treat going to the two photo openings last week: Ted Adams at Penn and a show called Powelton Photographs at Photo West Gallery. At Ted Adams' show, after taking a tour of the prints, I got to meet Ted, who actually recognized me as that "mere cat guy." Oh, the perils of putting your picture on your web site.

At Photo West two nights later, I ran into my old teacher from the Abington Art Center, Bill Kelly. In class, Bill was always urging us to get a “rich black” in our prints. I was a timid printer in those days and was so afraid of making a muddy mess that I rarely printed anything approaching a rich black. In more recent times I have come to value more and more contrast and blacker and blacker blacks in my prints. There's a reason for that. Black is the most powerful “color” in black-and-white photography. It's the one “color” that makes a silver print unique. You can barely achieve a good black with an inkjet printer and as for books printed with ordinary ink, forget it. I say all this in order to comment on Ted Adams' prints. Ted prints a beautiful, velvety black loaded with lots of detail. Not easy to do, I can tell you. His prints really sing to me. Albert Yee put up a nice appreciation of the show; I enjoyed quite an extended conversation with him as well. I was surprised I could talk that much when all I had to loosen my tongue was Sprite.

There were almost no blacks at the Powelton Photographs show. All of the work was in color and presumably digital, although I chanced to see some of Laurence Salzmann's gorgeous work upstairs. I went to this show to see Justin Smith who I had the pleasure of shooting with on one of our photoblogger outings. Justin printed his work with a kind of sepia tonality that was very effective. While the seven photographers' styles were wildly divergent, what really struck me was how coherent and well-edited everything was.

October 11, 2005

Ted Adams Photography Show at Penn

I don’t go to very many gallery receptions mainly because I never find out about them unless I have some kind of personal connection, however slight, with the artist. I always enjoy myself immensely, however. I mean you’ve got your art, your gourmet snacks, your scintillating conversation, your running into old acquaintances. I could imagine a full life just crashing one reception after another, and I would do it, too, if I could live on wine, cheese and raw vegetables. What a life that would be. Maybe they’ll even make a movie about it.

Kathleen Connally’s show opened Sunday at the Indian Rock Inn in Bucks County. And not merely wine and cheese, but there was a three-course Mediterranean dinner Friday night. That would have been a fun evening, but regrettably I was unable to attend. This Wednesday, October 12, a show by Philadelphia photographer Ted Adams will open at Kelly Writers House Art Gallery on the Penn Campus. It’s entitled “Stills from the Cinematic Street” based on Adams’ books of black-and-white photography, “Between Cracks: Philadelphia Photographs” and “Bleak Is Beautiful.” The reception is from 5:30 to 7:00 pm at 3805 Locust Walk (215-573-9748). I’ve never met Ted, but I have admired his work for some time; I also happen to think of the street in a cinematic or theatrical way. Barring some unforeseen crisis at work, I will be attending.

September 29, 2005

I Thought It Would Be Darker...

Recently we went to the Morris Arboretum for an afternoon visit. The Arboretum features some non-botanical attractions integrated into the landscape, including a garden railway and a number of sculptures. Tucked away off the beaten track is the small building pictured below. It’s a camera obscura, not something you see every day—or any day, for that matter.

Camera obscura means “dark room” in Latin. An apt choice of name, both for language (since camera obscuras probably date to a time when people actually spoke Latin) and because a dark room is really all it is. A dark room with a hole, that is. Light from outside passes through the hole and through the magic of physics (or is it the reverse?) forms an upside-down image on the opposite wall. (See Wikipedia or this appreciation for more information.) This camera obscura is cylindrical and is equipped with two lenses on opposite sides so that the entire interior is covered with a panoramic image of the garden.

I had never seen a camera obscura before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I assumed that the image would be very dim, and that it would take some time to become accustomed to the darkness. On the contrary, I was surprised at how bright the image was—no adjustment required. The brightness was due no doubt to the large aperture (which was fitted with a lens). Unfortunately, large apertures sacrifice depth of field to achieve brightness, so much of the image was out of focus. Even with that defect, it was a new visual experience similar to yet quite unlike watching a movie in a theater. Taking a picture of it is impossible, since much of the charm comes from the fact that the image is moving.

The Arboretum’s camera obscura was created by artist Richard Torchia. He calls the installation “A Key to the Garden,” and it really does open a door to a unique view of the garden.

 

Camera obscura by Richard Torchia at Morris Arboretum.

September 13, 2005

The Empirical Photographer

I’ve been reading Mike Johnston’s photography column, “The Sunday Morning Photographer,” for some time. (It’s published on Photo.net and The Luminous Landscape.) Mike has compiled a book of his best photography essays called the The Empirical Photographer. Mike is an insightful as well as entertaining essayist, and I’m looking forward to reading the book. There is a 50-page sample for anyone who needs convincing of his talent. I rest my case.

August 8, 2005

Ninth Street Market

July 30 marked the second outing of the Philly Photobloggers, a loose conglomeration of, um, Philly photobloggers.

I was excited when Alec Long proposed the Ninth Street Market for our next location. One reason was because I am fascinated both by street photography and teeming humanity as a subject—and the Market promised to teem. I thought it would offer me an opportunity to work on my shyness as well. Finally, I thought it would just be plain fun to go back there. I haven’t been to the Market in probably 20 years, not since the days when I had a friend who used to live at 10th and Wharton.

We gathered at Anthony’s Italian Coffee House where I had a rich cup of coffee and a bagel mit schmeer. A fine start (although I shoulda had that bagel toasted). I shot my first pic sitting at the table when this gentleman stopped to photograph a member of our party. It felt more like a pretext than anything else, but a pretext for what I’ll never know, because he soon wandered off. That was the only odd note in the symphony of human interaction that day. It’s the people who make the market so special, and we were fortunate to meet our share of interesting and charming folks.

As for the picture making itself, I had fun—if confronting your limitations can be called fun. I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities, that’s for sure, sticking mostly to non-human subjects. In looking over my edit, I feel that I’ve robbed most of the pictures of context. The Market is really all about its storefronts and stalls and sidewalks full of people. You know, teeming. There’s no sense of that in my set. I did start to loosen up about halfway through and most of the pictures I chose are from the end of the roll. Here they are.

We finished the day with lunch at Pat’s Steaks. I had been rehearsing my order for weeks (“provolone without”) so I wouldn’t get yelled at. When my turn came, I delivered my line and managed to do a passable impersonation of a “regular” After all, I enjoy being treated like cattle. It’s all those years of riding SEPTA, I guess.

June 24, 2005

Hold It Right There

Ben stopped by the office to see a couple of friends and brought some new photographic toys to show off. Biggest and baddest had to be a 70-200mm zoom with vibration reduction for use on his D70. I had never used one of these lenses, which use some kind of magic engineering to counteract the shakes. When it’s working, the image in the viewfinder is rock-solid. Very spooky. Now you, too, can have nerves of steel for only $1800. You’ll have muscles of steel in short order as well; it weighs a ton. Good thing there isn’t any such animal for Leicas. I wasn’t envious over the lens so much as I was envious over having $1800 to blow on toys.

He also showed me a little gadget that stores the images—80 gigabytes worth. Since he shoots exclusively in RAW mode, he’ll need the room.

He’s heading to China this weekend for an extended vacation, and I’m sure he’ll take lots of pictures with this rig. He promised to have a gallery up by August, but considering the time it will take to convert and edit each RAW image, I’m thinking maybe September. Maybe.

In any case, have a great trip, Ben. Bon voyage!

June 6, 2005

ESP

What a weekend. Let me tell you alllll about it.

Friday night I went to the Philadelphia Area AppleScript Users Group meeting. Ben Waldie covered some of the new scripting features in Tiger. I haven't upgraded to Tiger yet, but most of the other attendees hadn't either. After seeing all the new features, I think I will install Tiger sooner rather than later, bugs and all.

The gang at Jack's Firehouse. Prison food was never like this. [Photo by Anne Brennan]

On Saturday Anne and I joined a group of photographers for an outing to the extremely photogenic Eastern State Penitentiary, an historic prison in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia. We convened across the street for lunch at Jack's Firehouse, one of our favorite restaurants. When we arrived, Alec Long, who organized the event, was already there along with Jorj and Susan Bauer. (Jorj and I have so many similar interests I was wondering if we were separated at birth. No, that's impossible. He has hair.)

Alec had gotten us a long table out on the sidewalk. This was an excellent choice all around, especially because we had plenty of natural light for taking pictures! The only way to improve this situation would be if the sidewalk were in Paris.

Lunch was terrific. I had smoked brisket and Anne had catfish. We even saw owner Jack McDavid himself coming and going in a big blue pickup running errands.

I'm not a photoblogger, just an enthusiastic if admittedly inactive photographer. In other words, I'm not sure I “belonged” there, but that didn't seem to matter. I felt like I was among old friends. It was hard to believe most of us had never met before. I am grateful to Albert Yee for inviting me to join this group. By the way, Albert posted links to everyone's site on his blog. Check it out. Some great work there. Perhaps most amazing to me is Justin Smith. At 17, he already has a great eye. That's right, I said 17. When I was 17, I was still sucking my thumb and watching cartoons. These kids today.

The prison itself is massive and immutable not to mention extremely decrepit. I expected it to feel sombre and haunting, but the overall mood was significantly leavened by the large amount of natural light flowing in from the skylights. I didn't feel anyone's “presence” while I was there. Perhaps any ghosts are long gone.

Speaking of ghosts, early in the visit I was surprised to see some ghostly white cats up on the roof. This was my first encounter with the two art installations at ESP. The cats were created by Linda Brenner for an installation called Ghost Cats. 39 white plaster cats are scattered about the grounds, retracing the pawsteps of a colony of feral cats that lived in the prison after it closed in 1971. The installation is dedicated to the memory of Dan McCloud who cared for the cats for 28 years.

Moments later, I could hear a tremendous racket coming from the cell block ahead of me. The noise was from Pandemonium, an installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. At first I thought it was electronic, and indeed there were wires leading to the cells, but the wires controlled actuators that struck found elements (furniture and other old junk in the cells) creating a wide variety of sounds. I was enthralled with the effect, the variety of rhythms, and the seemingly infinite combinations of timbres. I forgot I was supposed to be taking pictures.

The photographic opportunities of ESP were a bit overwhelming. About all I did was finish up the roll of Tri-X that was already in the Leica and took about a half roll of slides. Anne took about 40 shots. The slides will have to be developed, but I processed the Tri-X and put Anne's pictures up, too, if anyone's interested. Mine are black-and-white, hers are color. Start here.

We left the prison a little early to meet our friend Jessica for pizza in her new apartment and helped her with some things.

On Sunday morning, I met my friend Ben at a used camera show sponsored by Photorama. Most of the wares were old film cameras, although it looked as if one dealer was selling digital equipment. I don't know who buys this stuff and how all these dealers survive. Of course, being a film devotee, I hope they thrive and prosper.

May 13, 2005

Fast Lenses

The current article over at The Luminous Landscape is “Fast Lenses for the Epson R-D1” by Sean Reid. This got my blood pumping a lot more than most LL articles, which are all about digital cameras. How 21st century. Boring.

Oops. This article’s about a digital camera, too. Actually, as the title says, it’s really about the lenses you put on it, but first a word about the camera. The Epson R-D1 is a digital rangefinder camera that works just like a Leica. You even have to wind it (to cock the shutter). Charming, methinks.

Back to the lenses. Sean compares 15 “fast” lenses (f/2.0 or faster) in focal lengths from 35mm to 75mm. It’s quite a roundup and interested me particularly because someday I would like to get a second lens for my Leica, probably a 35mm. He reviewed six 35mm lenses, only one of which was made by Leica. Since I will never be able to afford the Leica lens, it was interesting to read his thoughts on the less-expensive models. He found something to like about all of them; he’s obviously not a Leica snob.

I’m just window-shopping unfortunately, because I blew my camera budget when I dropped the Leica back in January. I won’t tell you what that repair cost, except to say I could have bought a very nice lens. Sigh.

Speaking of fast lenses, a thread on streetphoto about a hunt for a Canon 50mm f/1.0 turned up this photo of a Leitz 90mm f/1.0. What a monster—and probably useless, too. With that giant hunk of glass out there in front, there’s no way you could see anything through the rangefinder!

May 9, 2005

Two Retrospectives

Sal DiMarco

Sal DiMarco caught in mid-story at a party in November, 2003. Taken with a Leica, of course.

This week brought news of two retrospectives by photographic artists who died way before their time.

Around Philadelphia at least, Sal DiMarco needs no introduction; he was a renowned photojournalist. I was fortunate to meet Sal a few times at gatherings because of our shared interest in Leica cameras. He was an engaging story-teller, and he had so many stories to tell! It was a shock to all when he died suddenly in 2004.

His negatives have been presented to Temple University, and I learned over the weekend of an online exhibition of his work there.

Like Sal, photographer Steve LeHuray also died suddenly (in 2003). I never had the pleasure of meeting Steve, although I wish I had, as he was also devoted to Leicas. Steve posted fine work on his web site every week like clockwork, then bam, he was gone. After his passing, his site Streetphoto.net remained online for a while, but at some point went dark. Thanks to the intercession of Alan Hayes, the site came back online last week providing us with a “retrospective” edited by the artist himself.