Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Control' Vo STBil 2#01 SCOPE DolbySRD (by ~ fernando)

«Control VoSTBil 2#01 Dolby SRD»

Since April, there has been a bit more focus on learning this thing called photography. As I re-read the previous posts on this blog, they seem to be so relevant to the quest that has become photography. The idea is in the new year, coincidentally not because of the magic of a new year, to make a bigger push to the professional aspect of it. This is a huge jump that I never wanted to take, but how else to pursue it? Perhaps this is something to write about at a later post, as it is full of drama and we know that blogs is about creating drama.

Aside from further style refinements, there is also the use of the last few months to see a way into portraits or people moments photography, which has been such a hurdle before -- and not overcome just yet. I also made the unexpected move of getting a printer to make professional prints and learn more about the final step in the digital darkroom. I thought there would be a way to distribute the photos for enjoyment and forgo the printing process, but I just could not figure out a way. The internet is not there yet, but I hope it will be in the future, along with more affordable gadgets.

The big sign of the importance of photography comes from its merging, internally, with music. I am nowhere near a musician, but following music has always been a big part of my life with many aspirations for writing articles and other things like that, but the environment was not one that clicked with me. Photography has overcome that practicality part of a profession, as it were, but they seem to have merged together in so many ways: the way that I feel about them. As a result, this blog will actually be about both subjects. This is fitting, since the name of the blog is a song by Wire and my increasing interest in concert photography.

So, it is suitable to start this new part by talking about Control, the new and first movie from photographer Anton Corbijn.

25 nov 2007 :: part 1

The first even of the day was to go and see Control with friends, in Brussels, at the Actors Studio Cinema. As we walked into the theater, the door to the projection room was opened and I snapped the photo above. I had some trepidation about watching this movie for many personal reasons, but most of it all it was blowing away a context that I had created over the last 27 years, since I first heard the album Closer.

As to the film's accuracy, I really did not care to view it in that context. The movie is not a documentary, but a two hour interpretation of a biased book. This was not a source to extract little trivia about this obscure era in the band's development or Ian Curtis' life. I realize that such lack of information makes it very much unavoidable that accuracy and information provided is going to be a point of contention. This is of no concern to me, or very little. The work from Anton is compelling and a directorial debut is very intriguing, and it won in the end over the concerns that I had.

Many albums have served as a "suicide note" or a glimpse into an artist's undoing. There is Pink Moon from Nick Drake, and Lady in Satin by Billie Holiday. Those that prefer Billie at her peak, this album may be an abomination [review]. Many others that I talk to prefer other albums from Drake. However, how they provide a glimpse into the end of life for a person, they cannot be ignored. The human condition cannot be such to avoid it, or be indifferent. The same has been said about Closer since its posthumous arrival. More than Drake or Holiday, Closer has been closely inspected as a suicide note. Furthermore, Ian Curtis has been idolized as genius since then. I have not followed either path with this album since I first heard it.

To declare an album as classic, it not only offers a timelessness to the music, but also a hallmark of the times. Be it punk, the summer of love, or other moments in a society that are so intertwined with music, the context of the time plays a big importance into how we digest an album. At this time, I can include Unknown Pleasures as well, because I had two isolations from context when endearing myself to Joy Division: (1) I lived in Puerto Rico where punk/post-punk was limited to sensational news and (2) Joy Division was not well-known at the time. At the time that I first listened to Closer, my roommate offered the bit of news that the singer had committed suicide. Such information had no impact to that first listen, which was, otherworldly.

So, for 27 years, I have formed my own context for the music from Joy Division, and in some ways, to the early music from New Order as well. This may seem weird, but the remaining members helped this by not flogging Joy Division's music through 1984, and then again, for many years after, it was just to play a couple of songs, mostly as dedications. As unfortunate as Ian's life was, there was no letting him into my endearing of the music. That is, let his personal life filter into the context that I created. A very impressionable quote from Ian is to not publish the lyrics because they needed to be absorbed in the context of the music, and I heeded to this advice.

I suspected that the movie would be like a force that would uproot this carefully constructed context. The fact that I can talk to someone about how the lyrics are a reflection of the life he led, or to read two books -- Touching From A Distance and Torn Apart -- has been able to change how I listen to the music from them. This is because, as the music plays, I create my own world. The rest of the information does not penetrate that most enjoyable moment.

However, I did not expect the movie to be so dependent on the lyrics. That was a shock beyond my expectation. The movie and the lyrics, out of context from the music at times, are intertwined. The movie, unlike listening to the music, makes a much stronger statement than reading a book or talking to someone. The power of the visual art is too strong, and hence the interest in photography on my part. Perhaps a developed acuity to the visual arts in the last few years made the impact of the movie much worse. This is my only complaint about the approach to the movie, but to remove the lyrics as an important tool of the narrative is also horribly flawed. After all, perhaps things would have been a bit more differently if people heeded Annik Honoré's warning about the lyrics in the album.

The other components of the movie are simply wonderful. There are very compelling scenes through out the movie, and none as surprising as when «Love Will Tear Us Apart» was finally used. I am tired of the song, and rarely listen to it, however, I was floored when it was used, and how the particular scene was filmed. Through the movie, the music is used very well, even if to highlight the lyrics as they relate to the story, but I think it was most compelling when it was not there. The scenes of isolation between a couple of characters in the movie and the background silence are perhaps the most creative part of the movie. As an example, is the composition and effect it has on the scene of Deborah's confrontation with Ian on the left side of a well-lit curtain on a window. Fantastic.

There are some scenes of legends, as the contract being signed in blood, or Peter Hook's answers to Annik's questions, or his running joke about the name Buzzcocks. These, perhaps used as counterpoints to the somber story, do not play out well in the movie, and come out as awkward. That they do not work is the weakest aspect of the film, and that is too bad, as the jokes (practical or otherwise) are noted over and over as being an integral part of the band and Ian's personality. Yet, they have no weight in the movie.

I also looked for some presentation to increase the weight of the movie. This is difficult to pull off, as it can be tricky. However, it was not noticeable if the "movie grain" or "print tonality" changed as the movie progressed. The beginning felt very well-lit, but that could be due to the number of outside scenes.

An alternate name for the movie could have been Isolation. Perhaps cheesy because it is the title of a song, and that is what bootleggers do, but it also better describes the interpretation into a movie. Anton's talent shines in the isolated scenes, and Ian lost control as he isolated himself. That is one of the problems of depression: a tendency towards isolation and a loss of control can easily happen.

It was unavoidable to listen to Unknown Pleasures and Closer after the movie, mostly on the flight to California. The context built over the last 27 years is still there, but now it also coexists with that of the movie. That the review of a movie forces me to write so much about the music is also to be seen as a success of what was done, and how it was done.

This particular day had another photography meets music event to come that night...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

symbiotic blurring

acid drops (II) (by ~ fernando)

«acid drops II»

It has been bugging me for a while, that there has to be much more than blurring in the lens. While I have liked the results with Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall, and other applications of such a technique, it also opened up for something to continue. Frank Gehry's recent buildings are perhaps the easiest to learn how to tame the "blurred in the lens" approach that does not involve a consistent "focused at twice infinity" concept for emphasizing the form, as pursued by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

The blurring to obtain the lines is the first step in this approach I take. The second one is to dodge and burn (locally) to enhance the shapes. In a way, it is un-blurring some detail but still in the form of a shape. This may be best exemplified with the photos of the Flat Iron building, where I burned and dodged to bring out the silhouettes from the windows.

Aside from this emphasis, there was something else that the technique could bring, especially in the Frank Gehry case. The smoothness of the segments was crying out for some texture, but noise was too much of cliché, and not really apt. The gradients in light caused by his non-flat surfaces (and photographed late in the day), would serve another purpose. The Flat Iron building still gives a sense of scale, but the Gehry photos do not: this is when it struck me that an overlay of another image would be something to try.

At first, it was a way to enhance the Gehry image with some subtle detail from another scale, as in a close or macro image, rich in detail and texture. As I worked on the image above, I realized that it was forcing me to look at it more as a symbiosis. That is, the Gehry abstract gained from the texture offered by the rusty-iron abstract, and the rusty-iron abstract gained from the light gradients to be painted differently than the natural rusty red. Furthermore, the light shapes from the Gehry image made brings a sense of mutual harmony to both.

An appeal of this technique, in having practiced with an entirely different image, «Paris and Rome» that has both images with much detail, is that it is not a script: each image must be processed individually, with an abstract/imaginative idea guiding what it is done. In any exploration, I am worried of coming to a technique that involves some (clever) button being pushed, as it almost feels with blurring in the lens.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

of monkeys and typewriters

no man is an island (by ~ fernando)

«no man is an island»

It is a necessary in this art to know about equipment. I find that knowing the shortcomings of these well crafted lenses and sensors/films is an important step in getting what I want out of photography.

Recently I have caught a few discussions on blogs about equipment. There is the classic Nikcannon debate, and other goodies as technology moves on. It amazes me how these debates are so childish, defensive and, ultimately, does not involve the mention of photographs. That is, there is no context. What about just buying what makes one happy, never mind what others use, and show us what you can do with what you got. The forest has been lost because of the trees. Of course, I think a discussion about the physics/engineering/marketing of equipment is fantastic, illunimating and quite insightful, but such debates are rarely fruitful as they turn into a pissing contest. (Not sure that I have caught one female of the opposite sex involved in those discussions.)

I cannot find mention of equipment in one of the most impressive arrasys of images, I have seen in a while, from a film maker Nuri Belgi Ceylan Turkey Cinemascope offers a very impressive use of whatever camera he uses.

I use to love that aspect ratio, or at least 16x9 as in the image above. However, most of these days I am favoring 4x5, with some venturing into 6x6 and 5x7 to go either side. It seemst that 16x9 and above offer an automatic feel for cinema, and so to make a photograph be cinematic at 4x5 is a greater challenge. That is a nice thing, I think.

Monday, March 12, 2007

unattached, becomes involved

tinseltown in the rain (by ~ fernando)

«tinseltown in the rain»

In a strange way, inspired by Blade Runner, I have begun to wander downtown Los Angeles a bit more. After all, it is rather convenient to step out of the apartment and just walk. I know that there is a gentrification of downtown in the works, and I am part of it, that will change this decaying area in ways that can be hard to anticipate, but there is already hints about what will happen.

However, the main point here is that of attachment. So far, in my photography, there is an idea of looking where people usually do not. There is a post-photo idea of expressing some emotion about the (usually) atypical subject matter or angle, and that is just layers of what I want to express. In other words, the photo becomes an abstraction of something that people may not often care to look at, or even photograph -- at least I have the «Old San Juan» series, or the «Dying Beach» series in mind. This abstraction moves the image into my imagination and there is no emotional attachment to the subject, as in influencing where I go and what I photograph. I just wander around and see something.

This is not the case with downtown Los Angeles. The contrast is just too high in this area of the city. There is the Gehry Building and the ensuing series «Sketches of Gehry», which fits into the mold of the detachment expressed. However, the historic downtown has a more emotional connection, and as such, it is more problematic. The issues that arise so far with portraits are creeping into photographing this area. It is a bit like the doctor becoming involved with the patient, and that is going to affect treatment. In that sense, the same is happening here, whereas in the past locating "good texture" meant a number of takes with multiple angles, lenses, etc. goes ignored here. Not only that, I am venturing more into street photography, though no results to show yet. Also, I am walking around with an older camera and a prime lens (50mm), which is a different animal to me at this point. This focal lens (80mm equivalent in the digital camera), makes some shots rather difficult to take because to the narrowness of alleys or streets.

Although I will not be able to walk downtown next weekend, I am already anticipating doing more of it in the subsequent weekends. Knowing that I will not be here for the completion of the "makeover" seems to make it more interesting to capture what I can at this point, and try to either embrace or divorce the doctor-patience relationship.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

lust as a mantra

lust for life

«lust for life»

I still find studio-like work to be very difficult. Never mind that the lighting is one of the toughest aspect of it, and it is not for a lack of imagination; to my standards. I do not feel uncomfortable in coming up with ideas, but in the case of portraits, I think I am at a loss with giving directions.

Perhaps I am starting to believe, and be affected, by the notion that "photographic rules" are more applicable in studio work than in reporting what already exists. In photographing a building, the gain is in looking at it from an unusual perspective. Somehow, I just feel agile and a rather facile task to tackle. Unfortunately, this does not happen when I must configure the elements to achieve what is in my mind. Also, I need to find a way where I can "break the rules" with studio work, in the same way that I do with "fixtures," for lack of a better word.

This image was in my head for quite some time. The elements were there, even if the poem's stanza was not chosen. Actually, I had in mind one of many Pablo Neruda love poems, some of which I have translated myself -- this is a very hard thing to do. However, I like extemporaneous ideas, or a bit of chaos, in putting things together or when I do something. That there is a plan to every detail is rather boring.

Here, the idea then evolved from a poem about lust for essence. In the compendium Five Decades: Poems 1925-1970 by Pablo Neruda, the poem «Verbos» (page 344) sits between two poems about the end of life. This struck me, as indeed, they were written (1968) towards the end of his life (d. 1973). It is quite a contrast that this poem is purely about words, rather than the emotions that he which he is so well-known. This make me think that using a reddish-brown ink would be the proper colour. As luck would have it, I could add an element of contrast by using the similarly coloured book by Irving Stone, but with the title «Lust for Life». That is it is a novel about another art-exponent (Vincent Van Gogh) is a delicious irony.

I had an adrenaline rush about the all of these elements coming together. However, I thought that typical rules of photography would destroy how I wanted this elements to interplay. I would suspect that the rules would dictate that the book be bright enough to discern the title, that the words be nice and sharp, and perhaps in a very nice font (i.e., readable), and the romantic lighting typical of these shots would be the wrong way to go. I still do not like that photographs should express everything intended in an image.

So, the approach was instead to make the pen very sharp. It is elegant and not much left to the imagination, but the words, they had to blur, and if a bit difficult to decipher -- people can always look up the poem in its entirety. The book was more about the form and colour, and I fel that I did not have to reveal it that much. Certainly at a good image size -- not available on the web size -- would reveal enough. However, making it brighter breaks with the "rhythm" of information as one moves from left to right: the pen is sharp and well-lit, and the words beging to blur, so the book had not only to blur but to also be darker.

In the end, the whole idea is that words are a nice mantra for photography. Not only a lust for life about it, but to want to grasp intangibles, that perhaps fall outside so many rules that make it easy to criticize.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

turning the corner

wow and flutter (by ~ fernando)

«wow and flutter»

Amazing how much one can be sidelined while being sick. On the other hand, while typing was a bit futile -- too many typos and no clear train of thought -- I tried to turn the corner, as it were. Also, there is time required for normal work!

The first thing was to go through all the images that I have taken since I began with digital in 2001. I did an organization and sifting of images that I considered good enough for future visit. The temptation to re-work some of them also came up. The main thrust with this is to instill a good workflow, given what I have learned since then. I also spent some time learning more about Lightroom photo management capabilities, and working this into the new workflow. The big "revelation" is the use of stacks to keep all the versions of an image in "one place." The side benefit of this is how to back up based on "exporting binders" in Lightroom. I can see an ease to the back up madness.

One big sigh of relief is getting rid of the bloated/slow Bridge and going through Photoshop as a necessary step in making an image. Ideally, as it has been in the recent past, it is to go RAW->Lightroom->ImageReady (for JPG). Although the RAW and JPG image selections are done, now comes the importing to Lightroom, adding more useful tags, and consolidating with the previous work and versions. To help with reducing the work of this kind of re-organization, I am using flickr to delete images that are not worth keeping active. In other words, all the old work will still exist in a back up disk, but only a few (150 images or so) will migrate to the active library. I guess this is like the government's axiom: before you toss the original, make a copy.

I also thought that DNG offered significant storage savings, but that is not the case. So, I will just work from the RAW images now, since I do not have esoteric software or camera uses.

Amazon was promising deliveries of Lightroom to begin yesterday, but now an email says it will not be until early March. I may have to risk doing all the library management with the Beta version, or may be practice with the new images.

Speaking of new images, it has also been more than 2 weeks since I last worked on an image. The next image will be one of the very first images I took with a digital camera. Many of those images, I can now realize, are very "typical," but that is what happens when learning in a vacuum. That was going to be the topic of this entry, but it will be the next one: "how much one can see by watching[1]"

[1]This is from Yogi Berra's endless streams of phrases

Friday, February 9, 2007

plagiarism vs. homage vs. ????

the drunken cubist (by ~ fernando)

«your silent face»

From a link provided by The Online Photographer:
Finally, the Zielskes have prompted relatively little scandal because most artists think it's impossible to plagiarize a photograph simply by showing up at the same place at the same time of day.

In a previous entry ("confinement"), I posit the hypothetical of what would happen if order is strictly adhered in photography. Another perspective on this is explored in Slate's article "Can Photographers be Plagiarists?" The article is in the form of a slide show to demonstrate both perspectives about inspiration versus copying. The genesis of the article is a recent controversy between the father/son team of Horst and Daniel Zielske versus Peter Bialobrzeski over photographs shot from the same vantage point.

As far as my point of view goes, with so much order/discipline to the technique, the first one to find a vantage point should get the credit, as I would suspect is normally the case. However, for Mr. Bialobrzeski to cry foul, well, that is going a bit far. It is sufficient to point out that he was there first with shot, and not try to sue, or stop an exhibit. Still, I think that if the Zielske made contact with Bialobrzeski prior to their photographs, that reference to that consultation should have been made public, just like a reference just like in published journal articles.

Above, is my feeble attempt at plagiarizing Hisroshi Sugimoto, even if the awareness was after the fact.

colours, japanese food and turntables

Bill Callahan (smog)

«bill callahan (the Independent San Francisco»

I look over my photos, and I see a variety of colours. However, it is often that I hear that I "just" go for B&W. Here, B&W can include split toning, or just a few colours. Although perhaps an unfair stereotyping, it is mostly true: I am displeased with the colours of many shots I make, and rarely think that they convey the emotion I want to present.

As I now get to work first with Adobe's Lightroom, and sometimes skipping any dodge, burning, and/or corrections with Photoshop, I have noticed another reason: the digital cameras sensors still suck. (OK, just bear with my drama here.)

I got my first camera in 1999, and shot with colour film. All the nice photos looked fine with a little contrast correction, as done by the nice person at the mom/pop photo store. Nice work, I was very pleased. Once I got the first digital camera at the end of 2001, I stopped using colour film, in favour of black and white. Not sure why, I do not know much about film performances, but the colours in digital are very crisp when properly exposed. Even clinical. I was doing digital colour and film B&W.

It must have been while using Photoshop Elements and discovering the "overlay" layer blending, that I fell in love with contrast. Turning up the contrast in colour looks strange, and perhaps more importantly to what I want to do, very distracting. I think this falls into common wisdom, and there is nothing new here. Since then, I developed some Gradient Maps to convert colour images to anywhere between 2 and 5 tones. At times, I used it for desaturation, and that is all I did in the early days: very desaturated images thanks to the Gradient Map and blending with blurred layers. Soon, I lost interest in that look, and it was just a learning step towards B&W.

I am fascinated by making odd connections, and I can think of Japanese food. After all, I like to think that my subsconcious is rather limited and it applies similar rules to many, seeming disparate, perceptions. The main reason why I like Japanese food is that elements are simple and generally separated. When taking a bite, there are a few flavors to savor, unlike say, a pizza with "everything on it." I like the focus on just a few elements at play at any one time, so I can maximize learning and/or appreciation. (Yes, when I eat pizza, I just want one or two toppings maximum.)

B&W photography offers to me the same experience as Japanese food: I am able to highlight for myself a couple of elements in the photo that I want to emphasize. The image can still be chaotic in its lines, or something very simple. However, the "sweet spot" is being able to play with the contrast in the image. «Triangle» above is a wonderful example, and I am not a fan of flower images (flower and portraits are still my weak spot, and the feedback on flickr correlates to that notion).

Playing a record on a turntable can be full of noises that can detract from the experience, yet this is contradicted in photography, although people may enjoy the noise on both. A consequence of increasing the contrast in an image is to increase the noise as well. In colour images this seems to be unacceptable, but it is highly tolerable in B&W, as a way to add "ambiance" or feel. I am curious if in a few generations this appeal will go away, as a greater number of photographers may only know digital and, like most today, listening to music in a digital representation is more appealing than a turntable with noise/pops. However, blurry paintings are still appealing quite a few generations removed from its start.

Even in Camera RAW images of today, turning up the contrast on images exposed to my liking means having to deal with the presence of noise. This is not the case for many applications of digital photography, but for early morning and late afternoon photographs, the contrast is already low, but the light is delicious: the image has to be compromise, in one sense, to gain in expression in a B&W space.

The reason why digital cameras suck (within the limits of what I want to do), even when there is gorgeous colours at that time, is that as the image is broken into RGB at different pixel locations, the blue channel is mostly noisy, though the blue channel contains quite an amount of sharpness detail and texture. In using Lightroom to convert to B&W, I am struck at the quality increase in the image when I convert to grayscale, and can use the different RGB colours to mix into one very satisfatory image in two-tones. This is a simple fact of Information Theory, where the total information is increased when different sources are combined properly. Then, I can apply some split toning to change the mood a little, if the B&W is too harsh.

This approach has become so intuitive, that it is best to assume that the image is going to be in B&W so I do not worry to much about White Balance, unless the capture quality is compromised, i.e., one of the three channels may be over, or under, exposed. As the newer digital cameras provide a histogram for each channel individually, this problem with white balance can be corrected. Not only is the white balance not as critical, or easy to correct, but it becomes a matter of using this camera instrumentation shortcoming to my advantage. For example, under expose to obtain some "digital grain" and have a signature noise, controllable (it is in the blue channel after all), and not depend too much on a layer, or more, of gaussian noise.

There will be a time of very fast and sensitive digital sensors to 32 or 64 bits, and perhaps I will return to colour. However, there is nothing to complain at the moment, just to have some eureka moments and work with the faulty instrument.

Thursday, February 8, 2007


woman on Calle Del Sol (v2) (by ~ fernando)

«woman on Calle Del Sol (v2)»

I seem to be meandering with many topics initiated in these entries, but they have been in my head, without outlet, for so long. In addition to this dam of questions, there is the little reminders that will come up in daily interactions over at flickr.

I was recently added by someone that seems to blog a lot of images, has some good images of his own -- if not with a very narrowed interest -- that he liked my images and wanted me to participate in his pool (named after himself, as these vanity pools seem to be spreading quite fast). I did join, and notice that one had to vote by plastering some icon of his design for images to stay in the pool, or whatever. I observed and left, and also removed him from my contacts, because after a while, I notice the pattern (no pun intended on his graphical images) of his talent, and there is no much more to entice me: the idea of photography for my appreciation is for my imagination to wander, and sometimes, wonder.

These actions were met with a lengthy (form) email about not joining/leaving. I responded kindly that I am not interested in competitions of the kind, and it got me thinking whether other art forms have such a competitive streak. I thought of paintings, and there could be something of a competition about students learning, and certainly there was a famous one that gave us the beginning of the impressionist movement. It seems that the impressionists were not obeying rules that made the judgement a bit harder, and so they were not admitted (to summarize rather crudely).

I also thought of dog competitions. Aside from watching, and enjoying, the movie Best in Show I have only caught a glimpse of it on TV. However, it has intrigued me how among such different kinds of dogs in every aspect, one is chosen. How can there be an objective way to judge a dog across breeds? I will remain ignorant. However, I think this has a good parallel to photo competitions -- by jury or by popular vote: how is blurry photo compared to a "decisive moment" compared to an architecture photo compared to a heavily manipulated photo?

The fascinating part is not how to judge a photo competition, but why is it such a popular thing to do in photography? Is it because the gearheads dominate such a push, and since the camera can be used to demonstrate technical prowess, then contests can be held often? (to increase the odds of getting a ribbon to list with the gear.) Is this mainly a U.S. phenomenon? (Where competition and forget-who-came-in-second is so prominent.) I think the meaning of winning a competition has no significance in absolute terms, and the relative value may not be assessed except by those attending the contest: so what is the point to others? If I am going to list a ribbon for a won competition, why give the competition the publicity? I can just as well (in the same web space) show a photo -- this gives more information to the viewer.

I will admit that I enter one competition in a flickr pool. The photos are posted to a discussion topic and the top three go into the pool. The photos can be re-entered at another time. However, this is one approach for to me gauge how people view photos because it is a popular vote, so I do not see it as the idea of entering a competition, and all the aspects of it that I dislike.

It will be the case that I shall never enter a contest, actually, I am even having a hard time envisioning printing my photos, except for friends and relatives. I like to think of a way that the web can be used to better have people be happy to have just a digital copy of it, but then again, I am digging into another topic for the future.

The image posted, to me, signifies the best example of why not to enter a contest. Some people get the image, but I will always feel that what I see in this image is so far from what others will see, more so the strict-technical kind, that it would be such a disillusionment to enter a contest. This is the dichotomy of a contest: If I exhibit an image, I am intrigued by how a person can view the image and celebrate the confluence of differences, while in a competition, that difference is a futile collision of two opinions. How does the latter further any artistic purpose?

Friday, February 2, 2007

the art, the commerce

happy like an autumn tree

«happy like an autumn tree»

Alec Soth, in his blog, has a quiz. It is actually kind of fun to guess who are the celebrities behind each of the posted photos. I am not surprised that some, e.g. David Lynch, do take good photos, and it is a pleasant surprise to see who else does it (e.g., Brendan Fraser and Leonard Nimoy). I am not sure why it should be surprising that anyone with a camera can have the talent, even if the known-talent is away from photography. (Mathematics anyone?) After all, the basic idea of photography is to show what we see, and hopefully, what we feel is around us. We all have that faculty and how it is expressed best varies, and it seems that we put it aside the gear stigma making a good photographer, then it should not be surprising at all. I am not above it either, though I like to think of it as a pleasant surprise.

The quiz reminds me of a topic mentioned by friends: why don't I do this full-time? There can be courtesy behind those words, and it definitely is a fanciful suggestion. I view such comments are praise and not as suggestion on what to do, but it does make me assess how photography lives and becomes part of me. Those type of search questions through photography is a reason for this blog to exist. Most of the questions that arise deal with the process, and not with my direction in life. There are many aspect to this "search," and it is best to deal with one aspect at the time: commercialization.

I am not treading any new ground, just a little more understanding of what is involved. For example, I can begin to understand the so-called artistic struggle read over and over again, but in the past it was so distant. Now, it is an actual conflict. I certainly cannot rely on celebrity to make a push to get my work more widely exposed. Gifted or merely talented/competent, there is the advantage of having wide exposure through one art form to get some vindication for another. Actors try it with music, musicians try it with painting, and seemingly, everyone can try it with photography.

Of course, there is the element of appeal. The photograph above is probably my most accessible image. (There could be others in my computer/film-strips, so I should say "published" photo.) However, the photo was a total fluke. Well, most of my photos are fluke because I report what I see in my walks, and I do not go out and figure something grand: the photos taken are very extemporaneous.

Another important element is style. I can see from flickr that those that are very successful, in appeal and a flickr-sense, have a well-defined style. It seems that people migrate to the "safety" of consistency in style. Along with other photographers that I admire, I think my style -- as friends tell it to me -- has to do more with the feel, than the subject or "printing" style. Such a situation also arises in music, where often, the large fan base dislikes that a band in pop changes styles. This consistency seems to be required for a commercialization of one's art, regardless of field.

So, this entry is just to present three aspects that merits further thought with regards to some level of commercialization: exposure, appeal and style. It would not be interesting to discuss this, or it has been discussed extensively already, if it is not to involve one specific case: I will volunteer.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Westfriedhof (I) : Lamps in Isolation (by fernando [pixelstains])

«lamps in isolation» (Westfriedhof Ubahn)

In a few profiles at flickr, and at other places, I read about people that want to take a photo and not do anything to it. That is, the best representation of reality is to leave the photo alone once out of the camera. Like other "hobbies" there are people who take this to a religious level and dismiss any post-processing, whether film or digital, not to say anything of dismissing digital all together -- we have been there before with CD vs. LP discussions.

However, this kind of "purity" did make me think of a simple conjecture, at least for entertainment purposes. Consider the following scenario: a camera is set up on a tripod at a location at a certain time of day, and photographers can come in and set up the shot. If compositional rules are to be obeyed, and the lighting is the same for all photographers, then the same photo will be taken. This of course, is an exaggeration to make a point. That is, if the pure purpose of photography is to master the proper set up of a camera, and follow certain compositional rules, then a number of photographers in that art will have to take the same photo. There is only one answer to the confluence of all that is taught about camera and composition: rules of thirds, a certain DoF, etc. Since the lighting conditions are the same for all photoraphers, and no post-processing is allowed, the images have to be the same, unless there is some foul up in the talents on how to set up the camera properly.

This scenario is intriguing to me, because, yet again, like other equipment-centric hobbies, the person is enslaved to the machine. That the photo is a piece of art, or very pleasing to the eye is not the issue at hand -- I have seen many of such photographs. I also understand that certain kind of photography demands this discipline and knowledge of an equipment, and architectural photography comes to mind.

Now, to inflict more "art," or subjectiveness, into the process, people can opt for filters, quirky lenses (e.g., lomo, holga, lensbaby), and even being out of focus. Actually, even camera motion can be included. These are "pre-processing," however, I find them just as restrictive. If I can figure out a way to mimic/replicate the pre-processing in post-processing, then there is no way to tell the difference, and pre- becomes a post-processing in disguise. Perhaps worse, the photographer still relinquishes all control to the camera. Not that photographers that do post-processing are liberated: many people can rely on "photoshop actions" to achieve a result, and be just as the pre-processing crowd to lose control. I think HDR can easily fall into this trap. Again, there are many pre-processing images that are wonderful, so it does not invalidate the outcome.

It seems to me that to liberate oneself into the realm of imagination, that post-processing is the only alternative that we have at the moment, provided that all currently available pre-processing can be implemented in post-processing, though I am not sure that polarized filtering can be achieved in post-processing, at least not readily or with today's camera range.

Further to the notion that a photo should not be untouched, is the fact that the camera itself is not a true representation of reality, no matter how accurate it is these days. So, to think that it should not be untouched to present reality as it is seems like an chimerical notion. The camera/lens distortions are such that I find it more fascinating to work with those distortions than to work around them, we can call that judo-distortion photography.

The photo above is my experience with no post-processing. (OK, some colour correction and cropping.) It was a fun photograph to take, it was a great place to visit, but it also made me think that there is little to take the photo into the realm of imagination.

To adhere the purity of photography to a camera, also means a lot of photos not being taken because it is the wrong time of day, and correcting with dodge and burn is not allowed. Very much a wasted opportunity, one that I cannot accept, nor have I.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

sketches of Frank Gehry

slow emotion replay (by ~ fernando)

«slow emotion replay»

There is nothing like accidental photography. I think the way this started was to walk over to the Walt Disney Concert Hall (just some 8 blocks from home), and go up to the top floor of the garage across the street. That vantage point offered a panoramic view of the concert hall, that was unobstructed as opposed to the street level. The parking structure is not very tall, but just right. Then, in viewing the entire hall, I figured to see if, given the dusk light, just try to see the outline, with some of the glare from the lights already on for the night.

I had not shot blurry photos, intentionally that is, before, but was rather intrigued by seeing way too many Holga and Lomo shots. I am not keen on using those cameras myself, and rather have more control over the distortions, but given the results from Murat, and Eduardo, I thought there was an emotional intrigue in blurring and increasing the contrast, and making the blacks really black, as the banding or halo from the bokeh should stand out as it does its gradient to grey or lighter. I wanted to capture the outline of the building. The idea was to "tame" the Frank Gehry's architecture so that I can focus on some texture that just does not work up close due to the tiling and shine/reflections. Other buildings make it easy to come up close and extract an element, and even "texturize" the architecture, but not the case with Gehry's buildings, at least of this ilk, or perhaps just this one. This unhappiness with the up-close shots drove me to see if blurring had an answer.

There is an answer, but as I try more shots, it is definitely not an easy approach. Hiroshi Sugimoto already tried using his camera focused at twice-infinity to strip down the building to the fundamental. His photos can show magnificent results, though I am not sure why just twice infinity as a focal point. The approach I take is to just shoot different focal points between me and the building, and see how much "deconstruction" can the architecture withstand. It is also certain to me that not all buildings can go through this process, regardless of the appeal to the eye.

A fundamental idea of a camera to me is to use its distortions, intended or not, to create something that does not seem like what it is... though sometimes this can only be achieved with some post-processing toning, for example. Therefore, here is a great appeal to pursue that idea of distortions at the expense of some kind of emotional reaction or connection. This, of course, it is not too different to what the Impressionist did for painting. It is not beyond irony to take a very precise camera/lens instrument, flawed but very precise in many regards, and an building that screams out details, and tossing that aside. That is kind of exciting, actually.

After watching the documentary «Sketches of Gehry», I have come to realize that this blurring at a distance is a bit like deconstructing the building back to the sketches that Gehry makes.

This is a topic that is sure to take a few more posts to explore. There is the aspect about other buildings, and the close ups of this buildings.

Finally, this series of photos, in a very originally named flickr-set called «Sketches of Gehry», is to be shown on the IN PIXELS WE TRUST tomorrow. The set, as of this writing, is incomplete and without music in the link given. I will be posting the slide show here in the near future.

Friday, January 26, 2007

a game of chance by chaos

as if the sky was about to kiss them (by fernando [pixelstains])

«as if the sky was to kiss them»

For all the emotional content I like to pour into photography, I have a problem with chance. This is not quite like Henri Cartier-Bresson's celebrated «Decisive Moment», where there is a level of planning involved and capturing, intuitively, a good composition and a display that can only happen at a certain moment in time, and then it is gone. That is, the proper composition and emotional peak is available only for an instant. Another topic that deserves its proper attention. Now, take the single moment and leave it up to chance, or more properly, not chance but chaos. A subtle difference I have been frustrated for a while.

Consider «Mario's Bike» photo also from HCB, and ridiculed in Flickr. (However, that is not a surprise, since there so many equivalences in music as well.) HCB knew of the geometry and strong composition, and the decisive moment is the cyclist at the right place. That it was a bike speeding by, versus a person walking is even more impressive. Staged or not, not sure he did staging at all, there was not much left to a "chaotic" chance. Meaning, it was rather unlikely that the cyclist would turn around and fly, stop instanteneously, etc.

Now, in the photo above, which happens to be my "one hit wonder" at flickr, if one is to go by views and faves, in terms of general appeal -- and I hope it has more to do with the Velvet Underground having a one-hit, versus say... The Knack -- is a very troubling photo for me, in some regards. Yes, I like it. Yes, the post-processing is something that pleased me in many ways, and a way that I really controlled the mood. However, I feel like I had very little to do with what "makes" the image, at least on a first impression.

I was at the Parque de las Palomas in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. A great place to catch the birds in flight. I observe how, them being hungry when the park opened, they would take to flight in unison at certain intervals and I noticed the peculiar cloud formation, and the spot to stand on. Then I wait. No matter all of these realizations, if the moment the shutter was pressed, and I obtained some eight shots in short sequence; if the formation of "chaos" was not interesting, then there would be no photo.

I suppose it is like gambling, that one has to take a chance to get the right photo, and if not, well, too bad. This is, however, a part of photography that does not feel right, or my intuition has some problems, and some of it may be because of the "success" of this photo: I feel that I had little to do with it. People are enjoying and praising something that had much to do with chaotic chance. That aspect of photography, much celebrated as it is, does not interest me.

Perhaps, one thing is to coin a phrase not to be used again: «chaotic chance»

P.S. What differentiates this photo from all the others is that bird in the middle, that is not in silhoutte. So much chaos down to one simple gesture.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

what is it in a window?

dust at dusk (by ~ fernando)

«dust at dusk»

I think everyone has come to the annoying situation in trying to take a photo of a landmark (or a subject of interest), and there are signs in the way, . One idea I had in the past was to make the painted sign the main feature, with the object of desire as a prop (equal or lesser to the sign), or just compose with the road sign in it.

Something similar here. I got rid of the room's reflection in the window, and could do the same with the dust outside. However, the time of day was near sunset and the dust in the window was actually "sparkly." It was not a matter of capturing the dust's hue, but just thinking of it as "grain" -- very sparse at that.

I had already experimented with "blurred in the lens" architecture photography, but here it was rather monolithtic, and not of great form. However, it seemed to work when considering the sky's cloud formation, and of course, the dust being lit up.

There were various focal points that would blur the dust on the window, as was done in the sunset image from the same view point. Instead, this image makes the dust the principal protagonist, when you look up close. Reflections from the sunlight made the dust bright and so came the idea to photograph the dust, and just pick a background. In this case, the Bank of America building/monolith in the Financial District in San Francisco.

One aspect of the exporure to so many photographs in flickr is that, even when they are excellent in all aspects, one can see similarities between so many images. For instance, if it was raining, then this image would be one of so many -- 1086 images on flickr with the {water, window, drops} tags -- and the benefit would be (1) a different scene and (2) an emotional familiarity that is associated with these kind of images.

Now, how many people will have an emotional attachment to a dirty window? The implication to this image is that, while not part of that set of raindrops-on-the-window motif, the person seeing the image may have to work harder, and the blurred background's importance is important. I think it offers a way for the individual's imagination to settle into what they feel a lot faster and perhaps even engage the photo, rather than providing a infinite depth-of-field that tells the whole story and there is a nice "wow" moment if they like it. This is not too different to the sunset image linked above. Notice how a search with {window, dust} does not turn up the same type of images that are prevalent in the first search: the first search has the same image over and over again, with the differing blurred background, but in the case of dust, it is about taking a step back and showing how dirty the window is, or that it has dust in it, but the dust is not the only thing in focus. Just peruse through a few pages.