A photographic discussion.     

Photographer Jo McAvany’s loose goal was to create a visual contradiction (artists might call it a “juxtaposition”) that discussed a time when early photographers wandered cities documenting scenes of urban life for weekly newspapers and the modern era for women that gained momentum in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Jo wanted that look one might see newspaper reporters/photographers wearing in those early black and white movies. The fedora, a pinstriped shirt with rolled up sleeves, suspenders and an early 1940s 35mm film camera.

She came up with the white swimsuits after seeing a picture of Hugh Heffner surrounded by Playboy magazine playmates. When she sent me the picture my comment was “the robe?” She said, “no your Heff look.” I wasn’t sure about that, but I did like her idea about the 50s.

She chose to have women wearing white swimsuits to represent the modern era that was propelled, or at least gained momentum in the late 1950s, in part, do to Heffner’s magazine.

Jo put the call out and immediately had 14 or 15 replies. We had eleven at 9AM on the day of our shoot. I had no doubt that Jo could control and pose all those women. For my part, all I had to do was stand there, as a prop for them to pose against.

My main concern was the lighting. As regular readers know, I don’t much like flat, uncontrollable natural light. I brought two speedlights on stands with 40”umbrellas and asked my friend Drew Vye to assist with the lights when I was detained as a model.

The biggest problem was the bright morning light and clear blue sky. I quickly realized the speedlights weren’t powerful enough to balance the painful light at the first location. Drew, Jo and I started wandering, and after yelling back and forth down the sidewalk we chose the middle of the street location.

We would need to move when some car came through, but it was early and during the two hours we were there only one car angrily honked. Most drivers were amused to see all the attractive women in swimsuits and drove by smiling and waving.

The changing light from there wasn’t that much of a problem. Drew and I just kept moving the lights so there wouldn’t be ugly shadows and make sure Jo’s subjects had depth and were separated from the background.

The street location couldn’t have been better place to show the city. And when Jo used the 70-200mm the perspective was excellent.

I know the women all had fun. We even had them pose in front of a nearby restaurant with the reluctant manager that I dragged out. Oh, and when I suggested that they pose with Drew they all hooted and waved him over. He now wants enough prints to send to every relative he has in Canada.

As I stood in the street holding that old camera and tipping the brim of my hat down I thought about a press photographer from New York’s 1940s named Weegee, known for his stark, black and white photographs of urban life and hoped Jo would capture some of that feeling.

A photographer can make all kinds of statements. Jo’s visual discussion is about the changing times we live in and, in my opinion, how photographers have been playing an important role documenting those changes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography after the Vancouver Camera Swap and Sale.                   

Last October I wrote, “There was a discussion. For a photographer; Granville Island rain or shine was the prefect place to wander with a camera”.

“Buildings filled with expensive artwork, a food fair, farmer’s market, artist studios and, of course the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, are all exciting places to take pictures”.

The Camera Swap and Sale was a success and we tried to sleep in the next morning. But Jo was up with the seagulls, full of energy and rearing to go to Granville Island. I was lucky she even gave me the time to eat the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.

I had told her we would spend as much time as we could doing photography on Granville Island. We had stopped for a short time on Saturday night (before Sunday’s event) so Laurie could photograph buildings across False Creek in the setting sun with his big 4X5 sheet film camera.

That night the light was dropping fast when we got there and we spent most of our time setting Laure’s camera up in different locations. There wasn’t much time for Jo to wander so she was excited to go back when the island was packed with people in the bright sun.

It rained the two last times Laurie and I were there.

Parking was tight on Sunday and it was a chore for Laurie to squeeze his truck into a parking space meant for small compact cars. But after what seemed like a lifetime he finally did, and without hitting the cars parked tightly on both sides. Hey, Laurie was a Canadian farm boy. I am sure he was driving a truck as soon as his feet could touch the gas pedal.

The place was packed with all kinds of people, and the colors were wild, inviting and perfect for photography. Seagulls posing on benches, street performers, fascinating buildings, an exotic and animated farmer’s market, the scenic Granville street bridge with snow capped mountains in the distance behind it, a cityscape of Vancouver across a boat filled waterway, and, of course, the four of us laughing and posing for each other.

For those that didn’t read my last article, “Granville Island is a peninsula and shopping district in VancouverBritish Columbia. It is located across False Creek from Downtown Vancouver. It was once an industrial manufacturing area. However, now it is mostly comprised of remodelled warehouses and has become a hotspot for tourism and entertainment. The area was named after Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville.”

We wandered and lost the world as we discovered and photographed everything on that cool, clear, coastal spring day.

American photographer, Harold Feinstein, referred to as the “Unsung chronicler of Coney Island” wrote what I think is in the thoughts of many photographers.“I love this life. I feel like I am always catching my breath and saying, ‘Oh! Will you look at that?’

Photography has been my way of bearing witness to the joy I find in seeing the extraordinary in ordinary life.

You don’t look for pictures. Your pictures are looking for you.”

Camera Predictions from 1974.  

                                                        

My friend Drew, who had worked with me in a camera shop over 40 years ago stopped by my shop this week and mentioned he browsed through and old second hand store book that discussed the future of film photography.  We spent the afternoon talking about the cameras we owned back then that were the “state of the art”. 

We never could have imagined the amazing transformation photography has taken place since then.

With that in mind I dug out an article I think might be an entertaining re-read. 

In the May 1974 issue of Photo World Magazine was an article entitled “Tomorrow’s Camera: Report from Japan.”  The article by author Tony Chiu first discussed what would be the “next major technological breakthrough in Japanese-manufactured SLRs…a solid-state shutter, which would make cameras less prone to jamming,” and praised that breakthrough. One must remember that in 1974 cameras were mechanically pulling film off a roll, and in front of the shutter.

On miniaturization, he wrote that, “The manufacturers had misgivings about reducing the current dimensions of their SLRs because the decreasing weight reduced protection against shutter vibration.”

On lenses Chiu commented that, “It is conceivable that 10 years from now a compound lens (like zoom lenses have now) may weigh more than the SLR body. Although light weight, plastic lenses have long been an industry dream, there is today no major research toward their development.”

In the article he mentioned also that electronic shutter cameras “in the next decade” would be an  “expensive option available only to top-of-the-line models.”  I am amazed at the changes that have occurred since 1974.  Is it conceivable that the writer of that article would have been astonished at modern developments, and would the thought have crossed his mind that even inexpensive cameras would have electronics?

This next part is really interesting because each of the major companies was asked what their predictions for cameras of the future would be:

Canon – Suichi Ando visualized a portable camera small enough “to be carried in the pocket”, and capable of using 35mm film. Such an instrument would have a “universal lens, which can be changed by the flip of the finger from microphotography to telephotography.”

Nikon – Takateru Koakimoto said that the perfect camera would be one that excludes the chance of human error: “It will be fully automatic, perhaps with a small computer to control the exposure.”  I say that he wasn’t far off in his prediction.

Olympus – Yoshihisa Maitanni believed the ideal camera would have a universal lens and one button will wind the film, focus the picture, frame the image and make the perfect exposure.  He also thought that “Images will be projected directly on to a sensitized material,” fully edited, and enlarged.

Ricoh – Tomomasu Takeshita predicted that major advances in the film industry would reduce the film size. “Within 20 years the 16mm camera will replace today’s 35mm camera.” Such an instrument, as he saw it, would be considerably smaller and simpler – it would have a one-piece plastic lens in a partial return to the “pinhole concept” as well as an “electronic crystal” shutter.

Yashica – Nobukazu Sato’s dream was one that would not utilize film. “Just put the paper into the camera, make the exposure, pull the paper out and spray it.” Such a camera would make use of ultraviolet rays, and would also feature a universal lens and a fully automatic focusing system.  Both Ricoh and Yashica are no longer manufacturing cameras.

The writer of the article continues to say “Will we see such marvels in or lifetime?”

“Perhaps by the end of this century” a photographer’s choice could be  “For the amateur, a single lightweight, compound (today we use the word “zoom”) lens will replace three or four of today’s standard lenses. And price – as it is today (1974) – will remain just within reach at the upper end of your budget.”

Will the cameras that we think are amazing today even be around in 20 years? I wonder what the future will bring?

“It no longer matters if a person knows anything about photography, anyone can take a picture”      

I met a young creative photographer that is working hard to make sure his photographs stand out amongst the legions of picture-takers in this popular and expanding medium. He leaned on my counter and gestured into space as he made that seemingly painful statement to me. “It no longer matters if a person knows anything about photography, anyone can take a picture”

His goal is to produce images that are visual statements of how he feels about the subjects he photographs. He has studied and studied and wants his work to be seen as more than just documents of the world around him.

The medium of photography has become very accessible for everyone. The days when most serious photographers actually went to school to learn about photography and had to be an engineer and chemist are long gone.

With today’s supercharged and computerized cameras many photographers get away without any knowledge whatsoever of photography.

Historically, photographers had to understand the combinations of shutter and aperture for a properly exposed image, and worried about camera shake and film choice. Photographers would carry more than one camera because they wanted the resulting photographs to be in both color and black and white.

One must remember that a few short generations ago photography needed large glass plates, hazardous chemicals, bulky cameras and wagons to carry everything.

I am not sure that the photographers of the late 1800’s or early 1900’s were actually interested in photography as a creative medium as much as a way to document reality of their unknown world.

Whether trying to convince some person to sit as still as possible for long time periods or setting up unwieldy photographic equipment on a cold mountaintop to photograph the view, photography was once a challenge that most of today’s photographers would shy away from.

There are those that are intent on complaining that with the end of film comes the end of photography. Personally, I don’t think film is going away any time soon. (Film is just one way to make a photograph.) The big box outlets may not carry it much longer, but there are lots of specialty items artists use that are only available in specialty stores, and I think film is still available at some small shops. However, the chances of getting the correct advice from the person behind the counter doesn’t seem likely.

Yes, anyone can take a picture nowadays. That’s a good thing and not something to complain about. There are lots of good photographs being taken and although most of them fall into the category of documentary or snapshot photography. People want visual memories of their world and the many camera incarnations are perfect for that.

I look forward to seeing more photographs made by that young photographer and others like him. My advice to him would be to embrace all the exciting technological advancements he comes across as he strives to make his photographs stand out in. After all photography has always been about technology.

I am sure he will work at producing images that will be technically perfect visual statements about what he feels or wants to say.

There are many, myself included, who are interested in the viewing good photographs. It doesn’t matter how the image is produced as long as the final photograph has something to say and is visually exciting!

That critical comment “anyone can take a picture” shouldn’t make any of us worry as we look forward to the future of this exciting medium.

Another Vancouver Camera Sale & Swap Meet   

Vancouver is famous for it’s rain.

Pounding Vancouver rain was what greeted my friend Laurie Patmore and I as we rolled our loaded carts into a large room filled wet shouldered people that were arranging all sorts of camera gear on their tables for the Vancouver Camera Show and Sale.

It was 7:30AM and we had two hours to say hello to long time friends and get our equipment ready for an excited crowd of photographers anxious to exchange their hard earned money for the shiny items on our table.

Laurie, as always, disappeared and left me readying the table. Selling stuff is fun, but searching for and finding treasure is way more fun.

This time I had lots of old manual zoom lenses that I just wanted to get rid of any way I could and I wanted to organize my cameras so people would see them first.

Those zooms lenses were prized and sought after back in the 1970s and early 80s, but now they have lost their allure and aren’t even used as paperweights. Nevertheless, I keep trying to sell them. Actually, “get rid of them” are much better words.

Every show I go through the guessing game of what will sell. Last time anything from the 1970s was popular and digital equipment was totally ignored. However, this show there was little interest in the old manual equipment. It was mostly digital equipment that attending photographers were interested in.

What keeps me coming back year after year? Well the people, of course.

The large, bustling, international, coastal metropolis of Vancouver British offers almost anything one could wish for, and events like the Vancouver Camera Show are always a great excuse to spend time there.

The advertisement says. “ Antique, vintage, digital, and everything else for photography, new and used. Do not miss this opportunity to the fascinating world of photography”.

I agree. What an opportunity to enjoy the exciting and fascinating “world of photography”.

I enjoy the people.

Of course looking at, touching and discussing some precious piece of camera equipment is darn fun, making pictures is stimulating, exciting and a rousing force.

I know we all can hardly wait to look at our latest picture on the computer screen as soon as we depress the shutter and making those pictures is all consuming. But talking with other photographers is exhilarating.

The Vancouver camera show and sale is over for 2018 and I’ll have to wait till the spring of 2019 for the next show. I am more than satisfied knowing that I have already planned a couple more photography excursions for this year.

I found this fun quote by the famous Canadian singer Celine Dion,

“I don’t know if the camera likes me, but I do like the camera”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like Black and White Photographs   

 

I have always been drawn to Black and white photography.

At one time I even believed that B&W was the only medium serious photographers worked in. To me a black and white photograph has a mood and conveys a tactile quality. That’s why many of my personal image files get converted to B&W.

During film’s reign photographers had to decide whether to use black and white film, colour film or slide film. Most of us carried at least two camera bodies, but today the decision to make a black and white image is best left to post production; there is no need for that second camera. Post-production is the intricate combination of computer programs, printers and papers that now rivals the quality of chemical-based, traditional black and white photography.

Traditional black and white depended first on the brand and type of film, for example, Kodak Tri-X, or Ilford Delta 400, etc., then the camera’s initial exposure, how the film was developed (what chemicals were to be used), and finally the choice of paper for final printmaking.

The digital sensor has more latitude than film and getting a usable exposure is very easy. If one over-exposes it usually isn’t a problem. An poor exposure with digital does equal a loss in image information, but much of the time its still a usable photograph.

With film we used to hear “shoot for the shadows”. With digital all that has changed, and of course we can check our exposures using the histogram.

Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu, but I don’t recommend using that, it does nothing more than create identical red, green, and blue channels in the final picture file. Just de-saturating a colour data file in-camera will give a monochrome image, but it doesn’t include control of the different tonal values that make up a true to reality black and white image.

When I first started making black and white pictures years ago with Photoshop I used a B&W conversion process that used the channel mixer. To do that I first opened the image, then I went to the menu and selected adjustments, then in the drop down list I selected Channel Mixer. I checked the monochrome box at bottom left; I changed the red channel to 60%, changed the green channel to 40%, ignored the blue channel, and changed the constant to +4. Finally I clicked ok and I had a black and white image.

Those days are long gone with modern programs like ON1 and Luminar with their many pre-set Black and White offerings. Making a good B&W is as easy as choosing the tonal value that one prefers. And, of course, there are many more, just do a search.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, as it doesn’t attract with eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to lighting, composition and perspective.

Black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and the latest in printing papers, black and white image-making will continue to be an option for serious photographers.

 

 

 

A performance of the Photographic idea 

 

Ansel Adams, in the Forward to his popular selling 1950’s book “The Print” wrote,

“Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles. But, unlike most arts, it seems complex at the initial approach. The seeming complexity can never be resolved unless a fundamental understanding of both technique and application is sought and exercised from the start. Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art. Therefore emphasis on technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I have flipped through “The Print” many times since I got into photography. I think that it was almost required reading for photographers at one time. Especially those of us dedicated to hours of time in dimly lit rooms, peering at paper prints as they slowly materialized in smelly, (and somewhat toxic) liquid-filled trays.

“The Print” by Adams is from a period when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a quality final print (image). Concepts that are all but forgotten in this age of hi-tech computerized image making.

We don’t worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t perfect RAW files are easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened. Contrast can be decreased or increased and the final picture doesn’t show any sign of resizing or noise reduction. And in my opinion, sadly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make prints at all.

I believe Adams’ forward in “The Print” is as worthwhile now as it was in 1950.

Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process and technique should be important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the method used to develop the negative, and then finally the printing procedure.

He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the RAW files in post-production, and outputting to a personal printer for the final print.

I thought about that as he continues, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes.”

“So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative (RAW image file) (my remarks in parentheses) follow technical patterns selected to achieve the qualities desired in the final print, and the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.” I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

Those words always remind me, as Adams put it that, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

Modern photographers appear to be obsessing with each new offering manufacturers place on the table, and the obsession with technology may often seem to be what photography is really about. Although I will admit that it is fun, I think photographers need to remember that, “The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera.”

That seemingly out-dated book is still on my bookshelf, and I regularly flip through its pages.

After all the prattle about what the newest camera, or lens, or computer program is capable of, I like to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.