That pixel moment

Kodak made photography accessible to the masses. Recent advances in digital imaging have given a quantum jump to accessibility. Cell phones are selected for the capabilities of their on-board cameras. Some of the latest are capable of producing movies in HD with surprisingly good quality. Editing capabilities are included with a phone application.

Arriflex and Canon don’t need to fear any impact to their cinema products though it does make for a great many more recorded images than in the days of film. What will become of this new wealth of image documentation that is taking place?

Picture Me at Plaza Santa Ana (Granada)

Picture Me at Plaza Santa Ana (Granada)

Previously images found their way to preservation on paper as photographic prints. If the technology was employed properly the image might remain intact for fifty or one-hundred years or more. Digital images might live much longer lives except that they are viewed as transient objects. Unless they have now some commercial value they may be deleted or lost when the hard drive they reside on inevitably crashes. Captured Kodak moments remain only in captivity until their novelty expires and then they find their way to the ashcan.

Great expectations for ‘citizen journalism’ were touted when image collection tools became ubiquitous. Any such hopes have never been realized. Cinema endeavors from the tiny sensor devices remain a novelty. What impact has the proliferation of image making devices had on the rest of the world of photography? Not a lot. Their output is viewed as a transient one and something quite different than the product of a professional photographer or videographer.

It seems a similar situation to the impact of internet radio on broadcast radio. Instead of displacing the market for ears, internet radio is now an adjunct service to that available over the air, though this may change when internet becomes more readily available to the mobile listener. Not all technological change is a game changer. Sometimes it just makes for an additional game.

 

If someone photographs a tree falling in the forest but no one sees it, is there a photograph?

Vivian Maier was born in New York City on 1 February 1926. She did a lot of photography before her death in Chicago on 21 April 2006. She worked as a nanny for most of her adult life, residing in the homes of her employers on Chicago’s north shore. She was not known as a photographer during her lifetime. The children she cared for knew she made many photographs and they would often be present on trips into some of Chicago’s worst neighborhoods when she was doing her street photography. Many of her photographs were never printed. Quite a lot of film was never developed. It was only after her death that the impressive body of work she produced with her Rolleiflex became known.

 

Self portrait NYC c. 1950

Self portrait NYC c. 1950

Vivian Maier has been compared to a number of other great photographers who documented the culture of their period but her style is unique. Robert Frank might be said to be closest in lineage to Maier but his work in the US (resulting in the 1958 publication of The Americans) was done through a Guggenheim grant for which he received encouragement and assistance from FSA photographer Walker Evans. Maier was self-taught and supported her art with her nanny wages. She may owe her perspective on the American scene to time spent growing up in France in the manner that Robert Frank could identify what was uniquely American as a Swiss visitor to the country.

An obvious comparison to the style of Maier’s street photographs are the photos of Weegee (Arthur Fellig) who made his living as a freelance photographer in New York in the ’30s and ’40s. Weegee is credited with summarizing his successful photographs as, “f/8 and be there.” Much of his paid work was photography of crime scenes. Weegee was also self-taught but his work was recognized by inclusion in an exhibit at MoMA organized by Edward Steichen shortly after the end of World War II.

Vivian Maier’s body of work calls into question the concept of a photograph. Did she ever expect others to view her work? Are her photographs something akin to an unpublished diary with herself the only intended beneficiary of the work? What can be said about the many exposed but undeveloped rolls of film that were in her collection; what is their value to the photographer? Did she mean these to be only personal documents without regard for what they could have conveyed to others?

It is only because of a peculiar set of circumstances that Vivian Maier’s photographs surfaced to raise these questions about the value of such photographs. Two years before Maier’s death she failed to make payments on the storage space that housed her materials and they were auctioned. One of the purchasers was John Maloof who was hoping to find documentation for a book on the Chicago neighborhood of Portage Park. A few years later Maloof was busy trying to find out something about the woman who had produced these photographs. The result was the documentary film Finding Vivian Maier which included commentary from the likes of Joel Meyerowitz and the late Mary Ellen Mark.

Finding Vivian Maier raises as many questions as it answers and only touches on the legal matters concerning copyright ownership of these photographs. There is no clear heir to Vivian Maier’s estate so, though the photographic works have found new owners, publication and sales rights are not yet defined. Whatever the photographs meant to the photographer they are an impressive body of work and deserve to be appreciated by a wide audience as soon as they are free of legal encumbrances.

 

The Agony of HD

HD used to mean something different to photographers. Maybe you just have to be of a certain age to remember when H-D brought to mind Hurter and Driffield. Ferdinand Hurter and Vero Charles Driffield were the two who, in the late nineteenth century, did the pioneering work on sensitometry and densitometry. The logarithmic chart of opacity over exposure is most commonly called the H-D chart with deference to those who did the exploratory work.

Forever after H-D it was possible to make educated attempts at controlling exposure so as to obtain the desired result in the photograph. Tweaks of development and exposure could be used to reshape the toe or shoulder of the curve or change the gamma (slope.) The ultimate practical use of the science of sensitometry these two founded was expressed in the Zone System as developed by Ansel Adams. The Zone System allowed a shorthand technique for photographers in the field to make the best possible use of the dynamic range available in the materials they were using. Similarly, the Zone System provided the technique for translating the dynamic range of the negative into a print which could encompass only about 7 stops of dynamic range.

All that has changed now, possibly for the better, with the current digital techniques. Current sensors allow for resolution sufficient for projecting images on auditorium sized screens. Current sensors provide dynamic range in excess of what can be had with most emulsions. Post-processing techniques allow for subtle corrections to the H-D curve at any point, allowing creative control not possible when working with film. The new techniques may not have sped the process of photography for art. Just as much time is now spent in post-processing with software as was spent in the darkroom, sometimes more. The options in creative control have been expanded considerably. And the smell of photo-chemicals is now largely a thing of the past.

Has the new technology resulted in better photographs, allowed artist’s visions to be realized in a way that was previously impossible? That would be a difficult point to argue. Whatever has been gained and whatever creative controls have been possible in photography with film or digital methods owes a large debt to Hurter and Driffield. Say thanks the next time you see the initials H-D.

 

“We shape our tools and then they ape us.”

The quote is from Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University with modification from his friend Marshall McLuhan. Embodied in the sentence is the (extremely) condensed version of what Thomas Kuhn wrote in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. How we choose to look at something will determine what we will see. Our tools create for us our imaginative view of the world. Our mental constructs will let us work with a world that is manageable instead of an endless source of unrelated sensory experience. (A world that is “sensible.”)

The quote holds true at the practical level as Eric Kim tells us in a blog article on what he learned about street photography from Joel Meyerowitz; Eric Kim’s blog piece on Joel Meyerowitz.  It seems that Meyerowitz spent some time with an 8 by 10 view camera. Rather than changing the way one does the same photography the end result is that the radically different tools change the way one views the world. (Meyerowitz is best known for his street photographs using a hand-held Leica.) And so it goes for whatever way we wish to conceptualize the world around us, whether the concepts are religious, political, or foundational doctrine from a particular area of scientific inquiry.

image from http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014

image from http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014

Eric Kim’s blog explains this point very well and you can get through it in a lot less time than Thomas Kuhn’s book and with a lesser requirement for grounding in the physical sciences and mathematics.

Kurt Friedrich Gödel let us know (by extension) that our world view cannot be both consistent and complete.  It is important, then, to understand what tools and concepts we are using when we try to make sense of the world.

I suggest taking the time to read the Eric Kim blog. It is about more than just street photography. It’s a good philosophical tract done under the title of 12 Lessons Joel Meyerowitz Has Taught Me About Street Photography.

 

Tale of Two Contests

Photo contests come in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes the rules for submissions are extremely specific and limit entries to a highly defined theme or objective.

Contest One

My favorite example of tight entry definition is the call for entries associated with The Artist’s Path 2014 Festival which featured presentations related to the topic The Artist’s Response to the Changing Landscape of Journalism and Ethics through Theatre, Film & Photography.

The topic could be thought to be very inclusive. The submission guidelines narrowed the options considerably;

Submit one to three original photographs that explore one of the following three themes:

1) The changing landscape of journalism and ethics
2) Social justice or
3) Environmental issues in your community
(Community may be defined along a spectrum from local to global.)

To clarify, you may have only one submission on one theme,
but that submission can include up to 3 photographs
all of which should be related and explore the same theme.

Other than for the likes of a W. Eugene Smith, putting together an entry with rules like this is no simple matter. My final solution was to write my 250 word or less description to be able to pull together three photographs from a visit to Kabul Municipality in Zarnegar Park into an appropriate theme.

Here are the photographs I chose;

The mausoleum of Abdur Rahman Khan is one of the only remnants of the palace buildings that were demolished in the 1960s. Work still continues to restore this reminder of the origins of Afghanistan statehood under a monarch as the country tries its hand at democracy.

Kabul Municipality 51 – The mausoleum of Abdur Rahman Khan is one of the only remnants of the palace buildings that were demolished in the 1960s. Work still continues to restore this reminder of the origins of Afghanistan statehood under a monarch as the country tries its hand at democracy.

Kabul Municipality 61 – These groundskeepers were obviously very proud of what they did to maintain the appearance of the seat of municipal government and the relics of the capitol of the Afghan nation. I was asked to photograph them rather than needing to photograph them candidly.

Kabul Municipality 61 – These groundskeepers were obviously very proud of what they did to maintain the appearance of the seat of municipal government and the relics of the capitol of the Afghan nation. I was asked to photograph them rather than needing to photograph them candidly.

Kabul Municipality 72 – Preparations are going on here for an exhibition of art depicting local scenes. The period spanned by the selections that had been made at this time covered more than one-hundred fifty years.

Kabul Municipality 72 – Preparations are going on here for an exhibition of art depicting local scenes. The period spanned by the selections that had been made at this time covered more than one-hundred fifty years.

These photographs were not made with a photo essay in mind. It was over two years later that they came to be linked to a theme for the 2014 Artist’s Path Festival by this description;

The photographs were taken on the same day in August 2011 in Zarnegar Park in Kabul. The Park, originally the site of the Zarnegar Palace, is the site of the Mausoleum of Abdur Rahman Khan, who ruled Afghanistan from 1880 until his death in 1901. It is the home of Kabul Municipality which is the seat of Kabul’s city government.

Zarnegar Park has changed owing to over thirty years of conflict in this country but pride of place is still very much evident in the work on the grounds and buildings and in the use of the facilities to try to provide continuity of the culture that has developed in the nation’s capitol.

I added to these notes in some material to be read in my absence at the Artist’s Path Festival presentation;

I was struck by the normal activities going on in the center of a city that has been the scene of conflict for the past forty years. The grounds were conscientiously maintained and provide a patch of green in a city notable primarily for its concrete barricades. At one of the buildings that dates back to the period of the Afghan Kingdom, paintings and images were being selected for an exhibit displaying Kabul before the wars. The mausoleum of Emir Abdur Rahman Khan was being restored to maintain the memory of the Iron Emir who is credited with restoring unity to the country following the second Anglo-Afghan War.

The story told by these photos is that life goes on in the Afghan capital despite forty years that began with a coup, was followed by incursions of foreign troops, and included years of civil war. Life goes on despite continued violence inflicted in the Afghan capital.

The people of Afghanistan continue to maintain reverence for their heritage as a nation. My trip to Zarnegar Park convinced me that Afghanistan will survive well beyond the departure of international military forces, perhaps not in the way envisioned by its foreign aid providers. Afghanistan will survive in its own manner because of the resilience of its people.

A week before the 2014 Festival (6 April) presentation I added to the text to accompany the photos;

A geographic footnote to these photographs – Café Zarnegar, the scene of the recent attack which claimed the life of Agence France-Presse journalist Sardar Ahmad and three members of his family, is located in the Serena Hotel. The hotel is located directly across the street from the mausoleum of Emir Abdur Rahman Khan.

Contest Two

Contrasting the guidelines for submission to our photojournalism competition are the rules for entry for Emerging Focus Barcelona;

Each entry must be the original work of the entrant, and entrant must be the sole owner of the copyright of such entry.

Emerging Focus Barcelona elaborates on the rules slightly but there is no direction given towards theme or subject matter. I was pleased to hear about Emerging Focus Barcelona on a posting of Glifos Comunicaciones and entered straight away. One of my entries was from my submissions to The Artist’s Path – with the groundskeepers at Kabul Municipality. No particular theme tied these photos together.

Phewa Lake Pokhara

Phewa Lake Pokhara

Monastery Cow

Monastery Cow

Lazimpat Road Kathmandu

Lazimpat Road Kathmandu

 Trees at Habarana

Trees at Habarana

Green Kabul Municipality

Green Kabul Municipality

None of my photos made it to the Barcelona exhibition. Pity. Barcelona is a great place for photography with its harbor, Las Ramblas, and the architectural gems of Antoni Gaudi. I’ll have to find another excuse to revisit the city. I do feel entering the contest was a worthwhile experience however. Just as performing in public is a different experience than practicing one’s instrument at home, preparing one’s work for presentation adds another dimension to the craft.

The winning entries have been announced and can be seen online at any time. 20 June is the opening date for the exhibition at Barcelona.

Emerging Focus Barcelona

For the aspiring professional photographer, the lure of prize money is dwarfed by the chances for useful contacts in the profession and exposure in the marketplace.

LensCulture,  in connection with their own photo competition, has published a useful guide on how best to make use of photo competitions. Along with describing what value these competitions have for the photographer, the LensCulture guide provides some criteria for picking and choosing between them and even some “insiders tips.”

The guide is extremely useful and is available free;

How to Get the Most Out of Photography Competitions

As one who has been tracking photography for a long time, it certainly seems that we have come a long way since the competitions fostered by the Photographic Society of America.

 

Archiving India

Many of the photographs from the April 1989 trip to India have the appearance of having faded but they are the same Kodachrome as some of the older travel slides. Maybe it has to do with the conversion to digital. Overexposure perhaps? They are still a nice reminder of what Istanbul, Delhi, and Srinagar were like at that time.

I can’t forget Gulmarg either. The sledging offered there was a bit laughable. Now I am told they are getting organized as a winter sports and recreation area. I hope it’s not too close to the border so as to be bothered by stray rounds from any future skirmishes.

Srinagar did not fare too well in these photographs either. Srinagar and houseboat living, though, does retain the feel and nostalgia of the city that was once the summer capitol of Jammu and Kashmir. Where else can you sit comfortably on your houseboat deck and have Tibetan handicrafts displayed alongside by a refugee in a shikara.

Hare is a sample of the trip photos;

Street traffic in Istanbul still had a good mix of horse carts though diesel fumes were the dominant smell.

Street traffic in Istanbul still had a healthy mix of horse carts though diesel fumes were the dominant smell.

The harbor is where the action is in town. The ferries provide low priced transport and a great tourist adventure. If you have the time you can book passage to Trabzon in the east.

The harbor is where the action is in Istanbul. The ferries provide low priced transport and a great tourist adventure. If you have the time you can book passage to Trabzon in the east.

Delhi's Red Fort - another must see attraction, of which there are too many to possibly see.

Delhi’s Red Fort – another must see attraction, of which there are too many to possibly see.

Shalimar Gardens. This was a little less impressive  than anticipated. Maybe we were confused by the gardens with the same name in Lahore and Delhi.

Shalimar Gardens. This was a little less impressive than anticipated. Maybe we were confused because of the gardens with the same name in Lahore and Delhi.

Srinagar's electronics shop. I delayed my purchases until the return to the States.

Srinagar’s electronics shop. I delayed my purchases until the return to the States.

Srinagar was a pleasant place to unwind after the hectic pace of Delhi.

Srinagar was a pleasant place to unwind after the hectic pace of Delhi.

The full collection of photos are over at Travelblogue.co under the category India April 1989.

 

Archiving Egypt

“Another country heard from,” was a phrase used often by my father-in-law. The 1978 trip brought back slides from several countries, one of which was not on the original agenda.

This 1978 trip began with a Eurail pass. A visit to Barcelona gave me a look at Antonii Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, one of the apartment buildings he designed, and his Guell Park. Sagrada Familia was still very much under construction at the time.

The Eurail pass actually got me as far as Greece with a discount on the passage between Genova and Athens. The Acropolis was getting reconstruction while I was there. I began to think that a construction crane or scaffolding was part of every World Heritage Site. In Athens I met some folks who were headed to Cairo for the Grateful Dead concert. With a cheap Egypt Air fare I managed to get my first look at Cairo on my Eurail pass trip.

The trip covered more distance than I had anticipated but offered some unexpected opportunities for photography along the way.

The trip starts and ends in Amsterdam. I don't think major automotive overhauls are usually conducted on the side of the street in this city.

The trip starts and ends in Amsterdam. I don’t think major automotive overhauls are usually conducted on the side of the street in this city.

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia was impressive in unfinished form in 1978. I suspect it is more so now that is has an interior.

Basilica de la Sagrada Familia was impressive in unfinished form in 1978. I suspect it is more so now that is has an interior.

Some of the apartment buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi can be seen without leaving Barcelona.

Some of the apartment buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi can be seen without leaving Barcelona.

Park Guell is not your typical centerpiece of a real estate development project. Only two homes were built of the sixty planned by Eusebi Guell. One currently houses the Gaudi House Mueum.

Park Guell is not your typical centerpiece of a real estate development project. Only two homes were built of the sixty planned by Eusebi Guell. One currently houses the Gaudi House Museum.

A bit of photographic memorabilia on the Acropolis grounds. Did you need another photo for your next visa?

A bit of photographic memorabilia on the Acropolis grounds. Did you need another photo for your next visa?

 

After the last of the Cairo perfume salesmen leave in disgust suggesting you, "Go to hell" you can complete the thought and make the short trip to Helwan. On the Nile opposite the ruins of Memphis, this city offers a respite from activities in Cairo.

After the last of the Cairo perfume salesmen leave in disgust suggesting you, “Go to hell” you can complete the thought and make the short bus trip to Helwan. On the Nile opposite the ruins of Memphis, this city offers a respite from activities in Cairo.

The Grateful Dead, with Hamza El Din, replaced the normal Son et Lumiere presentation in front of the Sphinx for two nights in September. Video taping made for some additional lighting requirements.

The Grateful Dead, with Hamza El Din, replaced the normal Son et Lumiere presentation in front of the Sphinx for three nights in September. Video taping made for some additional lighting requirements.

 

Bob Weir dropped by where I was working (WIBA-FM) in February the following year and I managed to get an autograph on the program from the Giza concert.

Bob Weir dropped by where I was working (WIBA-FM) in February the following year and I managed to get an autograph on the program from the Giza concert.

The rest of the photographs can be seen at Travelblogue.co under the category Egypt 1978.