Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Notable Exhibitions at the LACMA

Imogen Cunningham (United States, 1883-1976), Magnolia Blossom, 1925

Thanks to a reader, I've been given a heads-up on (not one, but) two, impressive photography exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Both exhibitions run for another month or two and I'm going to make it my business to go down there and check them out.

LACMA's Hammer Building is home to Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913–2008 running through March 1, 2009. By its title, this exhibition photographically speaks for itself.

Right next door, housed in LACMA's Ahmanson Building, is A Story of Photography: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, running through February 1, 2009. This exhibition includes over seventy photographs by the likes of Ansel Adams, Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, W.H. Fox Talbot, and Edward Weston.

Both of these exhibitions look awesome and I can't wait to go there and view all the photography on display.

If you're going to be in or near Los Angeles in the next month, you might consider planning your itinerary to include a visit to LACMA. If you live in or near L.A., maybe I'll see you there.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

David LaChapelle on David LaChapelle

Been awhile since I've updated. My apologies. Thought I'd make a little comeback with a really cool interview with artist/photographer, David LaChapelle.

I can't seem to get the video to embed on the blog so, instead, you'll need to CLICK HERE to view it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Genius of Photography

"Bichonnade Leaping," by Jacques-Henri Lartigue, © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Photographer, Kenn Ellis, was good enough to send me the BBC's incredible, 6-part series, "Genius of Photography," on DVD. Thanks again, Kenn!

Leave it to the BBC to produce a quality series like this!

Sometimes, I think American broadcasters don't have a clue about what many Americans are interested in... other than cops-n-robbers, doctors-n-patients, lawyers-n-lawyers, and so on. Few hobbies are as widely embraced (with plenty of money spent on it) as photography. Yet, if what you see about photography on the tube is any indication--from PBS to Reality TV--you would think shows about photography and photographers don't have much of a potential audience.

All that aside, watching the BBC's "Genius of Photography" is an entertaining experience as well as a comprehensive learning experience covering the history of shutter-snapping, complete with bios of its most memorable practitioners and with plenty of images and keen insights into the creative minds of many photo-artists . It's a classy, literate, and memorable crash course in the art and craft of photography.

If you have the opportunity to view this program, I highly recommend doing so. By the way, the image at the top, "Bichonnade Leaping," by Jacques-Henri Lartigue, was shot about a hundred years ago. Recently, I viewed some images by an up-n-coming shooter. The images are called "Floaters." Some art critic types were calling this photographer's images--of people jumping and frozen-in-the-air with the help of fast shutter speeds (as if they're floating, get it?) new and original. I wonder what Lartigue would have to say about that?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

War Photographer

Recently, a reader and fellow photographer, Kenn Ellis, sent me a copy of director Christian Frei's documentary film, "War Photographer." He also sent along the BBC's most-excellent series, "The Genius of Photography." (I'll post some words about that series in a future update.)

I know I've posted about Nachtwey a number of times on this blog. I suppose, in part, because I so admire the man and his work. I think you'll agree, my admiration (and most likely yours) is well-earned.

"War Photographer" examines the work of photographer James Nachtwey. It provides many insights into the photographer's working life as well as his thoughts on his experiences. It also contains scads of powerful images he's captured plus plenty of footage of Nachtwey shooting in dangerous environments. His images are often captured in places where the closest many of us will come to them is by reading about them in print or watching sanitized video clips on the news.

I was mesmerized by this film. If any of you have opportunities to view it, don't hesitate. It's powerful, illuminating, and thought-provoking.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making a Movie with a Canon 5D MKII

"Me and My Human," by Vincent Laforet/NY Times

I just viewed uber-photographer, Vincent Laforet's, short video, "Reverie," shot with a Canon 5D MkII. Obviously, a lot of skill and know-how was thrown at this video, from pre-production to production to post. But it's still amazing that this was shot with a small format DSLR. And even more amazing that the whole process, from conception to final cut, took place over 72 hours.

Here's a link to Laforet speaking about the video with PDN's correspondent, David Havlik.

Here's a link to Laforet's blog where you can see the video. After viewing, you might want to click on the behind-the-scenes link and take a look at that.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Camerapedia: A Most Excellent Resource

"Wave Swinger," By Photographer Aye Shamus from FlickR Canonet QL17 GIII Group

Lately, I've been watching rangefinder cameras on Ebay. Yep, I've decided my so-called career as a photographer would be incomplete without sampling the fruits of rangefinder photography.

As I perused the many rangefinders listed on Ebay, I quickly realized I knew next-to-nothing about rangefinders. So, I set out on a (re)search-and-destroy mission, i.e., to research rangefinders and destroy my ignorance in the matter.

One of the absolute best resources I found turned out to be a site already listed in my links: Camerapedia.com. Not only does Camerapedia provide a simple interface enabling visitors to quickly find what they're looking for, it provides plenty of external links to great articles regarding whatever it is you're researching.

BTW, at this point I've decided to go with a 70s era Canon Canonet Q17 GIII as my first rangefinder. The Q17 GIIIs are relatively inexpensive (in "Excellent +" condition), have full manual overide and highly-touted glass.

The image at the top is one that caught my eye from FlickR's Canon Canonet QL17 GIII group. It was shot with a Q17 GIII on Kodak TMax 400 by photographer, Aye Shamus.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Photographer William Claxton Passes

Helina and Chet Baker, Redondo Beach, CA, 1955

William Claxton was best known for his candid portraits of jazz greats and other celebrities. He was considered, by many, the greatest photographer of the American jazz scene. Sadly, he is dead at 80.

Claxton's love affair with photography and jazz began when he was a young man. Learning the art of picture snapping with a Brownie box camera and wetting his appetite for music listening to his father's extensive collection of Big Band 78 LPs, Claxton began haunting Los Angeles' underground jazz clubs in the 1950s while a student at UCLA. Soon, Claxton and his camera were welcomed by musicians visiting Los Angeles.

Claxton became known for posing musicians in unorthodox outdoor settings, in a boat or emerging from the ocean with trumpet in hand. His work led him to snap equally candid photos of many of Hollywood luminaries.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gordon Parks Featured at Delaware Art Museum

Parks' version of American Gothic

A new exhibit featuring the work of Gordon Parks, one of the premier documentary photographers of the 20th Century, is taking place at the Delaware Art Museum.

Gordon Parks, who passed way in 2006, was Life Magazine's first, black, staff photographer/writer. He is also remembered as a film director. 1971's feature film, Shaft, is one of Parks' best-known films.

Parks' career spanned many genres of photography. Although he was best known as a photojournalist, his portfolio includes images as diverse as photos of gang warfare and Black Panther meetings in Harlem to haute coutoure fashion for Vogue to landscapes and still life photography.

Here's a YouTube video celebrating Parks' work. I couldn't embed it as embedding is disabled, but here's the link. Enjoy!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Pix Channel

Untitled, By Jerry Uelsmann, 1982

Is it enough to know a photographer only by their work? Perhaps, but only if you're interested in feeding your artistic appetite with an order of art, hold the artist, that is.

John Cragin, a Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, photographer who specializes in family and lifestyle portraiture sent along a link to a very enlightening website: Pix Channel.

Pix Channel includes a number of intimate video portraits of a variety of celebrated photographers: From Eddie Adams to Arnold Newman to Jerry Uelsmann and beyond. If you hunger for more than the images, Pix Channel will help satisfy your appetite.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nachtwey's Story

'Nuff said... for now.

Spread the word. Spread the story. Stop the disease. Visit xtrdb.org.

How's This for Photographic Prescience?

No. They're not who you might think they are. Leastwise, one of them isn't.

This Life magazine photo was shot in 2004 and it wasn't a McCain/Palin campaign photo. It is, in fact, Senator John McCain with actress and comedienne (and, more recently, Sarah Palin look-a-like and satirist) Tina Fey.

Who would'a thought? Someone at Life, back in 2004, must have had some precognitive abilities.

Read more about this prescient photo HERE.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

James Nachtwey

(Sudan, 1993 - Famine victim about to receive water in a feeding center.)

Photographer James Nachtwey is considered, by many, the greatest photojournalist of the past three decades. Many of his images--disturbing, poetic, often haunting-- shame us. Leastwise, they should shame us. They should shame us because the moments they so artfully capture depict the worst of humanity: From the human toll of war to the ravages of disease and famine to the misery of poverty and the atrocious consequences of intolerance.

Nachtwey is the 2007 winner of the TED Prize. In addition to awarding him $100,000, TED offered to grant him one wish to change the world. This was his wish: "I'm working on a story that the world needs to know about. I wish for you to help me break it in a way that provides spectacular proof of the power of news photography in the digital age."

As a result, on October 3, 2008, James Nachtwey will break a story which highlights a shocking and under-reported global crisis.

Mark the date and URL. My gut tells me this is important.

Special thanks to John Harrington of Photo Business News & Forum for leading me to James Nachtwey's TED presentation and the heads-up on Nachtwey's upcoming story.

Here's James Nachtwey's 2007 TED presentation:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Under the Covers

Way back in 2002--okay, 2002 wasn't all that long ago--a close friend of mine, filmmaker Bill Day, released his documentary film, "Under the Covers."

"Under the Covers" is an extremely entertaining (sort of) biography of photographer Henry Diltz and rock-album cover artist, Gary Burden.

On the location shoot I just recently spent three days working on, there was a guy on-set who works for Rhino Records and, when I told him Bill Day is a good friend, he told me that "Under the Covers" is one of his favorite, all-time, docs about rock history. Here's another Henry Diltz link, this one courtesy of Rhino Records.

Perhaps you've never heard of these two guys but their artistic collaboration produced some of the most famous and iconic album covers in American rock history. From the Doors to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to (the) Eagles, and more. Much more.

If you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the making of these covers, that is, the stories and photos under the covers, Bill has posted clips from his rock-history, documentary film.

For a journey back through rock & roll history, check out the clip (below) from Bill's documentary. This one is about the making of the first Eagles cover. There's more YouTube links to scenes from Bill Day's really cool doc, "Under the Covers." Shouldn't be hard to find 'em. Subscribe to Bill's YouTube channel. That'll make it easy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Digital SLR of Your Dreams?

Those crafty German engineers at Leica may have re-defined the high-end of digital SLR cameras with the introduction of their Leica S2 dSLR. (Click pics to enlarge.)

Founded in 1913, Leica has long been branded the Bimmer of 35mm cameras and, with the introduction of the S2, Leica's legacy forges a new era as it joins the 21st Century's arsenal of digital SLRs.

With an image sensor sporting 37.5 megapixels and the sensor itself 56% larger (30mm x 45mm) than those commonly installed on competitors' full-frame 35mm dSLRs, cleverly packed in a 35mm size body, Leica has invented a new dSLR format: One that lies between conventional 35mm and medium format cameras.

As if that weren't enough, Leica's S2 includes an innovative dual shutter system with an in-body focal-plane shutter for fast lenses and in-lens leaf shutters for high flash sync speeds. Wow!

Nine new lenses are available for Leica's S2 system including including a 120mm macro, tilt-and-shift 30mm, 70mm f/2.5 standard lens, 24mm ultrawide-angle, and more! (No word on zoom lenses which, apparently, haven't been announced or developed.)

That's the good news. The bad news is the price tag: S2 bodies are expected to be priced at 20,000 Euro which, currently, is just under $30,000.

Friday, September 19, 2008

First Photos

I've been quite busy and unable to update this week. Looking forward, I have a three-day photo gig that begins tomorrow morning. So I thought, as long as I'm looking forward to three days work, I'll just leave all of you with something looking backward. Some of it way backward. Like the image above, from 1826, which purports to be the first photographic image ever snapped. If you want to see more photo "firsts," CLICK HERE. The website you'll be directed to--a truly eclectic blog with subject matter that is, well, all over the map--has a whole series of first photos of various kinds. (NOTE: There is a smattering of potentially NSFW imagery here and there at the link I've provided.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Tempest in a Teapot?

Rob Haggart's blog, A Photo Editor, has quite a brouhaha going on over the Jill Greenberg/McCain controversy. The many commenters seem divided into two camps: Those lauding Greenberg for courageousness and those slamming her for irresponsibility or worse. Blue photographers and red photographers? Ahh, but it's not as simple as that.

I injected a comment, one not especially bold or thought-provoking I'll admit, and it didn't seem heard above the clamor. No big deal. I wasn't trying to stir up anything with my words. Others were and are doing a fine job of that. BTW, Haggart's update which sparked the debate seemingly places the former photo editor of Men's Journal (and elsewhere) in the "irresponsible" camp as it applies to Jill Greenberg. No, it's not that Haggart is irresponsible for writing what he wrote but that Greenberg is irresponsible by virtue of her actions. (Sorry. You probably knew what I meant without the 'splayning.)

The APE controversy isn't much surprising. My long history participating on photographer forums has taught me that photographers, in general, rarely agree on much, whether it's another shooter's photo or a political POV. I can't help but wonder if the verbal melee on the APE site is little more than a tempest in a teapot. Photographers, after all, are supposed to be better suited to expressing themselves with pictures rather than words. That's not to say some of the comments on Rob's blog aren't articulate and thought-provoking. But still...

If you're more than mildly interested in the Greenberg story, a few of APE's commenters posted some interesting links to even more debate on the subject. They might be worth your time to read.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Festival X

If you happen to be in or near Eastern Ontario or Western Quebec this week or next, you might want to check out the second annual photography celebration known as Festival X. It runs September 18 to 28 at art galleries, public buildings and restaurants in Ottawa and Gatineau.

Ottawa and Gatineau, BTW, are two Canadian cities separated by a river and, to a lesser extent, two languages. If you're knowledge of Canadian geography wouldn't help much in a game of Trivial Pursuit, Gatineau is a city in Quebec, Canada. (Where much of the population speaks French.) It lies directly across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, Ontario, the Canadian capital. (Where most of the population speaks English.)

The theme for this year's festival is The Decisive Moment. It was chosen to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of iconic French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. The festival also includes a screening of Heinz Butler's 2006 documentary film, "Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye."

Cartier-Bresson said: "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative."

I'm guessing that's why Henri's camera of choice was a rangefinder, a 35mm Leica Rangefinder to be exact. Why? Well, for one thing, since there's no moving mirror in a rangefinder, i.e., like there is in an SLR, there is no momentary blackout of the subject being photographed. You know, as in a blackout during the moment it clicks or, as Cartier-Bresson said, in that decisive "moment the photographer is creative."

Here's a Cartier-Bresson pic, "Martine's Legs." Dude sure could shoot!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sex Sells! Perhaps Even Presidents

Sex sells. It's an old adage, albeit not one usually applied to presidential campaigns.

Until now.

John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has enough sex appeal to apply the tried-and-true-axiom to the process of selling tickets to the offices of two of the most powerful, executive positions in the world.

What's this have to do with photography? Glad you asked.

Interestingly, some might say "sadly," search engines are reporting queries for photos of Sarah Palin outweigh searches for her bio or other (relevant?) info about her. It might turn out that photography (with the added element of sex appeal) will play a greater role in selecting our next president than the issues and/or the candidates' actual qualifications. I hope not, but there it is. After all, this is the first time most of us have heard the term, "She's hot!" applied to a presidential-ticket candidate.

The recent Jill Greenberg controversy, here and here, is another interesting example of the power of photography as it applies to this presidential campaign. I should note the Greenberg story is sans the sex appeal element. Unless, of course, your idea of a stud muffin is a stodgy, white-haired dude with the nose of an aging pugilist.

Note: I ain't trying to politicize this blog. It's about photography, not politics. Please also remember--as with this and other updates--I'm just saying. So take it for what it's worth, if anything.

Adorama Kicks Off Another 100 in 100

Adorama kicks off a third season of their popular 100 in 100... make that 100 photography tips in 100 days.

You'll find some cool, useful, easily digestible tips in Adorama's 100 in 100 archives and in their current updates.

'Nuff said. You take it from here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Canon's Destined Evolution

Image above is Canon's teaser for (what many people assume will be) the much anticipated replacement for its popular 5D dSLR. There's much speculation the camera will be announced soon, possibly at Photokina, 2008, which kicks-off in less than two weeks.

The people who research this sort of stuff, aka the Canon and Nikon guessers, are fueling rumors of a Canon 5DmkII sporting a 21+ megapixel, self-cleaning, full-frame sensor with a DigicIV processor housed in a weathered-sealed, magnesium alloy body. They're expecting 5fps with an ISO range of 100 to 6400, 19-point AF, 3.5" LCD screen, LiveView, and HD movie mode. Not too many guesses regarding the price but I'm thinking it will be somewhere in the range of the original 5D when if first came out. I purchased my 5D soon after its release and I think I paid about $3,500 (at a retail camera store) for the body only.

I doubt I'll be purchasing one of these cameras. I'm pretty sure I can continue to make-do with my original 5D. Yeah, if the Canon guessers are right, the 5DmkII will have nearly twice the megapixels of my 5D and a new and, I'm assuming, much improved processor. But I think I'd rather spend my money on "L" glass. Great glass, IMO, almost always yields better images than megapixels and processors when you're using comparable camera bodies.

The improved weather sealing is probably Canon's attempt to make the 5DmkII more attractive to photojournalists, nature photographers, and others who work in potentially "dirty" environments. The original 5D sucks in this regard. I have to clean mine way too often and I rarely shoot in "dirty" environments. But many of these same people aren't going to be overly impressed with 5 FPS. (The original 5D is 3FPS so the 5DmkII is not a big leap forward regarding FPS and buffer)

Regardless of what I decide to do or the accuracy of the "guesser's" predictions, I'm sure Canon's Destined Evolution camera will be a commercial success. There are too many photo-tech-heads out there--those who regularly seem compelled to buy cameras of the latest-n-greatest variety--for the 5DmkII to be anything but a success.

Now, if RED founder Jim Jannard's promise to deliver a truly new and (r)evolutionary digital SLR becomes reality, and it ends up being to still photography what his digital, ultra-high-resolution video camera has been to movie makers, I might have a new camera in my future... assuming it's reasonably affordable, available with lens mounts that are compatible with my glass, and, well, and a whole lot of other stuff.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

PhotoShelter Bails on the Stock Photo Biz

Effective October 10, 2008, PhotoShelter will no longer be trading in the stock photography commodities market. What? You're an artist, you say? Your photography isn't a commodity? Okay. If you say so. But if, for some purely (Ugh!) commercial reasons, you're considering making a few extra bucks with the fruits of your camera, you might start considering some of it as such. i.e., as a commodity.

Personally, I'm neither shocked, surprised, nor saddened by PhotoShelter's decision. There's an explanation on the web regarding why they've gotten out of the stock photo biz but, frankly, I'm not much interested. Bottom line: PhotoShelter's foray into stock photography is history. RIP.

I was, however, taken back by a collateral-damage casualty of PS's decision, namely, the demise of their most-excellent blog, "Shoot! The Blog."

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes of corporate destruction, Rachel Hulin, PhotoShelter's pink-slipped former blog attendant, has created a new blog in order to keep doing what she was doing for PhotoShelter... Only more! And more better I'll bet! (Sorry for the bad English.)

We won't be jonesing for our daily fix of Hulin's picks. (Her picks of pics, that is.) I'm guessing Rachel's new blog will soar even higher now that the excess-baggage of corporate sky marshals and flight controllers--the ones she once needed to appease--has been jettisoned.

So here's some big fat good luck wishes to Rachel and her new supersonic blog-craft!

You can visit Rachel's new blog by clicking HERE. It's also listed in my Blog Roll. Oh yeah, that's a pic of Ms. Hulin up at the top. Nice photo. Easy on the eyes. No. I didn't snap it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spirit Photography

During the last half of the 19th Century, spirit photography, i.e., attempting to capture manifestations of spirits (make that ghosts) utilizing photographic processes, became wildly popular. It's popularity went all the way to the White House!

Who knew Abe and Martha had enough spare time on their hands--what with the Civil War raging on and all--to get bit by the spirit photography bug?

To this day, the art and craft of spirit photography lives on although, admittedly, not with the same zeal as it did 150 years ago. Most modern day practitioners attempt a more scientific approach in their quests to find evidence that spirits walk amongst us. (I wonder if they teach a class in spirit photography at the Brooks Institute?)

The vast majority of spirit photographs have been debunked as fraud. Yet still, a few examples defy logic and fuel the search for photographic proof that there is an afterlife. Hollywood has exploited the spirit of the spirit photography craze a few times. The recent feature film, Shutter, is a good example. Hollywood's "Shutter" is a remake of a Thai horror film of the same title. I haven't seen either version but I'll bet the original is, as is usually the case, a scarier better film. You can check out the trailer for the original "Shutter" HERE.

For a more detailed history of spirit photography, CLICK HERE. If you're interested in learning even more, a spirit photography Google search yields many more results. Or, simply sit back and take a look at the short video I found on YouTube that briefly examines the history of spirit photography.

By the way, if you're wondering why I'm so captivated with photography's past, I believe that learning about the history of photography and the work of its greatest craftsmen and artists helps me better understand photography's present state. Leastwise, that's a big chunk of the reason. Besides, who knows? Learning about this stuff might even help make me a better shooter. Stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Father of American Photojournalism

I guess I'm still on a history jag. At some point, I'll get back to photography of a more contemporary nature, maybe even some of my own.

So who was this guy (pictured left) they call the father of American photojournalism? Well, most historians credit Mathew Brady with that distinction.

Brady, as you probably already know, was most famous for photo-documenting the U.S. Civil War. But his portfolio was not limited to Civil War battle images. He was also a portrait photographer who captured the likenesses of many famous people of his era, albeit the majority of them Union and Confederate officers. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln posed in front of Brady's camera more than a few times. In fact, one of Brady's photos of Lincoln is still used on the $5 bill, another graced the Lincoln penny.

Unfortunately, much of Brady's work is lost. After the war, the majority of the glass, photographic plates he used to record America's most devastating war were sold and used in greenhouses. (Hmm... There's something poetic about that: Images recording the death and tragedy of war used as components for structures nurturing life. Sort of a swords to plowshares concept.)

Most people probably aren't aware that many of the images credited to Brady weren't actually snapped by Brady. I know I was surprised to learn this fact.

Mathew Brady, it seems, employed a team of photographers and assistants to photo-document scenes from the Civil War. Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, and Thomas C. Roche were the photographers he employed. Seventeen other men, from assistants to darkroom technicians, were also employed. Brady's field production crews were equipped with traveling darkrooms. For most of the war, Brady remained in Washington, D.C., organizing and managing the business side of photo-capturing the Civil War. Although Brady personally photographed the Battle of Bull Run--and was nearly captured while doing so--he visited few battlefields after that. This might have been due to Brady's deteriorating eyesight. A malady that began in the 1850s.

Sadly, the father of American photojournalism died alone and broke in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. (Wow! Photographers and other artists dying broke. How unusual.) It's estimated Brady lost over $100,000 producing the 10,000+ photographic plates his crews exposed while documenting the war: A rather large sum back in those days.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Shorpy's Blog

For the few of you who semi-regularly visit this blog, you've probably figured out I'm more than a little interested in history and things of a historical nature including, but not limited to, all things photographic.

As such, I was happy to discover the photographic wonderments of Shorpy: The 100-Year-Old Photo Blog. (Hat tip to Pop Photo's State of the Art blog for pointing me to Shorpy.)

No, the Shorpy blog itself isn't 100-years-old. D'uh. Blogs didn't exist 100 years ago. Neither did the internet... except, perhaps, in the futurist minds of writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, although I don't believe either of them ever wrote about it. (But I could be wrong.)

Instead, Shorpy is a photoblog featuring high-definition images from the first half of the 20th century. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a 14-year-old boy who worked in an Alabama coal mine and ironworks in the 1910s. I doubt Shorpy could ever have dreamed his name and likeness would someday grace the masthead of something called a "photoblog." But who knows? Perhaps Shorpy, like Verne and Wells, was somewhat precognitive? Stranger things have happened!

At the top is a picture of a young, grease-soaked, Shorpy, photographed by Lewis Wickes Hine, standing front-and-center amongst a group of his (also quite young) co-workers at the old mine and ironworks. Hine is one of my all-time-favorite editorial photographers. His images of child labor in turn-of-the-century American industry, as well as his photo-documentation of the construction of the Empire State Building in New York City, are indelibly etched in the history of American photojournalism.

If you're like me and you enjoy viewing photographic glimpses of the past, you'll probably spend some quality time at Shorpy: The 100-Year-Old Photo Blog.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Brief History of... Spudography?

While photography is my #1 passion, I do have other interests: Archaeology and history being two of them. As a result, two of my favorite rags are Smithsonian and Archaeology magazines.

While Archaeology magazine often features average, snapshot-quality, photos accompanying their incredibly interesting articles, Smithsonian magazine provides some amazing photography to illustrate theirs. Smithsonian also features articles, on a fairly regular basis, that focus on the history of photography and/or historically important photographers.

Recently, I had a doctor's appointment and, while waiting to see the Doc, I spotted a September, 2007, issue of Smithsonian lying in the waiting area. BTW, I get my medical care from the VA. (Veterans Administration) Apparently, the VA has lots of people who donate magazines. There's always stacks of them in the waiting areas, albeit they are mostly somewhat dated, usually by a few months or more. Sometimes much more. Although I often purchase Smithsonian, somehow I had missed purchasing that particular issue--I guess I should subscribe instead of buying @ newsstands--so I snatched it and immediately decided to bring it home with me. Generally, I don't exhibit thieving ways but I made an exception in this case. (I hope that didn't cost me much in Karma points.)

There's an article in the September, 2007, issue of Smithsonian that roused my curiosity as both a photographer and history buff. It's titled, "Color Comes to Photography."

According to the Smithsonian's report, "The most improbable object imaginable--the lowly, lumpy potato--played a leading role in the great leap forward of color photography."

It seems that, back in 1903, the Lumière brothers--notable figures in the history of photography whose family name may or may not have been hijacked as a term for the the measurement of luminous flux, i.e., the perceived power of light called lumens--developed a dazzling new photographic process they called autochrome. ( A process more commonly referred to as color photography.) The Lumières developed this exciting process with the help of some pommes de terre which, if you speak French, you know means potatoes. Yep! Potatoes! Those wonderful, starchy, veggies we cook in so many ways. The French, of course, also made a certain recipe for pommes de terre quite popular by peeling them, cutting them, cooking them in hot oil and salting them thus transforming potatoes into French Fries! (Thank you mon frers! But why do you Frenchies dip your fries in mayonnaise rather than ketchup? You guys lose gastronomy points for that odd and unappealing habit. Leastwise, in my book you do.)

Anyway, somehow and someway those clever Lumière brothers figured out they could grind potatoes and apply the potato dust to photographic plates and, in so doing and with long exposures of a minute or so, manage to end up with a color image. How people figure this kind of stuff out is a total mystery to me. Potatoes into color photos? Go figure.

The lumières' new autochrome photographic plates were an immediate success and soon their factory was working overtime to meet the demand for potato-infused, color-producing plates. Famous photographers like Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, and Alvin Coburn were quick to embrace the new process. The Smithsonian article features some great examples of early 20th Century color spudography including a rare color portrait of Mr. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a., Mark Twain.

The Lumières' autochrome process remained the king of color photography for over 30 years! Until it was dethroned, that is, by Kodachrome and Agfacolor film.

This update is, for the most part, a reprint of an article I wrote about a year ago for another blog. Here's a nice set of autochromes, courtesy of the George Eastman House, posted on Flickr.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Remembering Those Kodak Moments

I forgot how funny this Saturday Night Live-ish, Kodak, "Winds of Change," spot is. If you've never seen it, you'll get a hoot out of it. If you have seen it, and you watch it again, you'll still get a hoot.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Glimpse Into Photography's Past

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (or so it feels like) I was a collector and trader of all sorts of antique and vintage things. For some reason, I never got into collecting vintage cameras. Go figure. I was more into furniture, pottery, art, and ephemera. You should see all the nice pieces my ex-wife has!

My daughter was having a yard sale last week and, in her garage, she came across a box with some books and magazines I had packed-up at some time or another. In the box, amongst some other stuff, were a half-dozen issues of Outing Magazine I squirreled away. Outing was a late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century rag covering a variety of sporting and related activities.

I picked out a February, 1894, issue of Outing from the box and thumbed through its dog-eared pages. Near the back of this 19th century zine were a few advertisements related to photography. I decided to scan a few of the pages, the full page ad from American Amateur Photographer (seen above) being one of them.

American Amateur Photographer was edited by Alfred Stieglitz, a major player in the history of photography. Besides recognition for his photos, Steiglitz is generally credited with forcing the art community to recognize photography as a legitimate art form or, in his words, "...as a distinctive medium of individual expression."

Thank you, Mr. Stieglitz! Every serious photographer today owes you gratitude.

Stieglitz was born in 1864 in my home state of New Jersey. (Add another Jersey boy to that big list of famous Jersey boys.) He was a great friend to photographer Ansel Adams whose photographs a few of you might, at one time another, have taken a look at. Stieglitz's photography is well-remembered for his portraits of the famous, American Southwest artist, Georgia O'Keefe. (The second Mrs. Stieglitz.)

A slight segue: Just recently, while wandering around YouTube, I came across a video interview with Ms. O'Keefe. She was 92 when the footage was shot. If interested, you can view the Georgia O'Keefe clip HERE. I certainly enjoyed it.

Seen to the right is another page I scanned from the same Outing issue. The "Premier Camera" advert, courtesy of the Rochester Optical Co., gave me a chuckle. (Rochester? Hmmm... Didn't some other photo company call Rochester, NY, home?)

According to Premier, "Bicyclists, canoeists, tourists, and lovers of outdoor amusements are not all amateur photographers but they should be."

Today, well over a century later, it seems that hundreds of thousands of photographers have taken Premier's advice to heart.

Anyway, just thought I'd share. Sorry about that hideous line through the scans. It seems my cheap, Brother, scanner went and got it's glass cracked last time I moved. Oh well.

Friday, August 22, 2008

How Photography Connects Us

David Griffin is Director of Photography for National Geographic. No slouch job in the world of picture taking. In this TED video, he talks about how photography connects us while illustrating his words with some incredible NatGeo photos.

"Connects us to what?" You ask?

Check it out and discover the answer for yourself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

What's better than photographing kids? Well, at the risk of sounding like a grump, many things.

Young kids are tough. I'm talking about those of the one, two, three, or four-year-old variety. When shooting them, you have these (potentially) awesome subjects who, more often than not, are going to become decidedly uncooperative. And, they're going to become that way fairly quickly. Sure, most of them are okay with the process for about the first two or three snaps but then it starts going downhill.... quickly downhill. From where I shoot, two or three snaps ain't gonna hack it.

When you're trying to make eye-contact-pics with rug-rats and/or pre-schoolers, the trick is too devise strategies designed to keep them otherwise occupied and distracted, their attention focused on things other than the thing you're trying to accomplish-- namely, photographing them. Then, when they least expect it, you do something, anything, to grab their attention and focus it on your lens.

Simple, right?


Kids are clever. A little too clever for their diapers or whatever they've grown into. There's lots going on between those cute little ears. While you're creating strategies to trick them into giving you those adorable expressions and oh-so-sweet and lovable poses, they're developing counter-strategies to foil your best attempts. It's a game. And you, the photographer, are only going to win that game by being smarter and quicker-to-adapt than your adversaries-- the kids you're shooting.

That's where using the same techniques animal trainers use to get seals to balance beachballs on their noses and dolphins to fly out of the water and perform one-and-half-gainer back-flips comes into play. You need to provide a Pavlovian, "conditioned reflex," reward system.

A great way to get that "conditioned reflex" is to offer up something the child wants. And what's the one thing most young kids want when they're being photographed? Well, besides being rescued by their Moms or Dads from the horrible photographer person, they want almost anything and everything within their fields of vision: They especially want want things that are colorful, messy, interesting to look at, to touch, and to taste. You know, things like birthday cakes, as an example.

When photographing young children for their upcoming birthday events, we've come up with a theme we call, "Trash the Cake." ("We" being my partners and I in a family and event photography business.) Yep, it's like what all those wedding photographers shoot for their "Trash the Dress" stuff only, instead of a wedding dress, we're having our subjects trash birthday cakes.

Here's what you'll need: A rugrat or pre-schooler, a birthday cake, a camera.

From there, all you need to do is give the kid the cake--no plates, spoons, forks, or napkins--and let them eat it too... and, of course, you need to begin snapping away. (Note: Don't feed 'em their lunch or dinner just before shooting. The hungrier they are the better!)

The sample "Trash the Cake" images are from sets we shot of my grandchildren. I snapped the image of my grandson at the top. Leesa, one of my partners in our family and event photo business, snapped the shot of my granddaughter down below it. Both images were captured on a white seamless but any sort of shooting environment or background should yield cute and engaging results. When these photographs were captured, each of my grand kids were approaching their second birthdays. My grandson will be four this week and my granddaughter, well, she's still two.

Both images captured with Canon cameras: Image #1 with a Canon 20D w/28-135 IS USM, Image #2 with a Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM. Two light sources, same for each pic: 5' Octodome for the mains and a small umbrella for the backlighting. Reduced resolution and artifacts courtesy of Google's Blogger.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Light is God

And God is light. At least, so say many religious folks. And on this subject, for a rare change, I happen to agree with them.

As photographers, light is everything. It is our God. It is the brush we paint with and the altar at which we pray. It conveys so much! It is the one, single, element of our work that makes our images shine. (Pun intended.)

Light embellishes the story within our images like nothing else: Sometimes with subtlety and nuance, other times quite obviously and with great drama.

If you are a serious photographer and you're not praying at the altar of light, you'll be hard pressed to rise above snapshot-taking status. Sure, it's important to know your camera gear--how to use it and wield it like the photo-equivalent of a Samurai warrior--but knowing your gear and knowing how to use it is only part of the battle. The road to photo-Nirvana is the path of light.

I know I'm sounding like a zealot. And I suppose I am something of a zealot when it comes to the subject of light. Yeah, I spend a fair amount of time keeping up with what's new in the world of photography. And I spend even more time learning how to use the tools of our trade, be it gear or processing software or whatever. But in my heart, I know it's all about the light.

When I was a kid, about ten or eleven, my right eye was seriously injured. It resulted in me having to wear patches over both eyes for months. When your blind for a substantial amount of time, you really learn to appreciate your sight. And you realize, after being deprived of it for some time, that light is everything and darkness sucks. It was soon after this injury--while still having to wear a patch over my right eye for about another year--that my Dad bought me my first camera: a Yashica Penta J, 35mm SLR.

Man, talk about an eye-opening experience! (Not just the return of my eye-sight but the sudden appearance of a camera in my life.)

Suddenly and once again, I could see the world around me. And thanks to my father, I could capture what I was seeing! (I really miss you, Dad.)

As I learned to wield my new, world around me, capturing tool, I quickly realized that it was all about the light. Few things, besides photography or (admittedly, though not recommended) temporarily losing your sight, will make you so keenly aware of the light that envelopes our lives.

If I seem to have become overly philosophical about photography in my old(er) age, I suppose it's true. I guess I have.

(Note: This update is a partial reprint from an article I wrote over a year ago. The beautiful, nicely-toned, image at the top, Crepuscular Rays in GGP, was not captured by me. It was shot and is owned by photographer, Mila Zinkova, and is reused here under permissions granted by its author and under the terms of Wikipedia Commons' GNU Free Documentation License.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Momentous Photographs of Momentous Events

Unless you've been living under a rock for most of your adult life, more so if you're a serious photographer, you've surely seen, at one time or another, National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry's, 1984, iconic and enigmatic photograph of a young Afghan refugee commonly referred to as "Afghan Girl."

McCurry's image is an indelible portrait, etched forever in the minds of millions and millions of people world-wide. For nearly 20 years, McCurry's young Afghan Girl with those haunting green eyes remained a mystery-- an anonymous, adolescent female, photographed in a refugee camp somewhere in Pakistan while the Soviet Union's War in Afghanistan raged on. Then, in 2002, after a long and arduous search, NatGeo announced they had finally located their nameless Afghan Girl and, all at once, she had a name: Sharbat Gula.

If you're curious to read about NatGeo's search for the Afghan Girl, you can do so HERE. But that search isn't what I'm writing about. I'm writing about how momentous photographs captured during momentous events are sometimes labeled as being exceptional examples of extraordinary photography. Which, in the case of McCurry's Afghan Girl portrait, happens to be true.

From a photojournalism perspective, average images of powerful and dramatic events are sometimes all that's necessary to qualify a photograph exceptional and extraordinary. I don't have a problem with that. It is as it should be. But, occasionally, I do take exception when average images, i.e., photographically average images, are lauded as extraordinary for their artistic and technical merits which, IMO, aren't really there. I see this happening on more than a few forums and blogs that feature photojournalism, as well as editorial and stock as their general subject matter.

In recent days, there are images coming out of Georgia, a nation that was once part of the former Soviet Union, that are being hailed by some as incredible photographs. Personally, I don't see these images as incredible for their photographic qualities. Instead, I see properly exposed and composed images snapped by good, sometimes great, photographers who happen to be in the right place at the right time to capture these photos. Many of the images I'm seeing might be powerful from a photojournalism perspective but they aren't necessarily exceptional from a purely photographic perspective. Yet, some of these images, often depending on who shot them, are being touted as exactly that: Photographs of exceptional and extraordinary photographic quality.

Photojournalists are, for the most part, documentarians. They might be really good shooters, both for their craft skills as well as their vision and story-telling talents but, when you boil it down, their chief job is to document events as they unfold. Please note I don't mean to belittle photojournalists, especially those in hot zones. It takes immense courage for them to travel to places where danger abounds. Often, they don't have the luxury of setting up a shot. Their job is to get the shot first and worry about photographic quality second. They follow rules like the Sunny 16 Rule which is about getting a close-to-correct exposure under certain daylight conditions, i.e., when the time it takes to actually measure the exposure isn't available. If I were a photo-journalist, snapping away as bullets flew around me and bombs exploded nearby, I wouldn't be worried about taking a meter reading or checking a histogram to insure my exposure was on-the-money. I'd be snapping away, sometimes from the hip, while I ducked and ran for cover!

Who could forget Eddie Adams' Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of the 1968 execution of a suspected Viet Cong operative? Mr. Adams, in later interviews, admitted he had no idea what was about to happen as he simply snapped away during, what he thought was, a rather routine street interrogation of a suspected Viet Cong agent. Is Adams' photograph a thing of beauty for it's artistic compositional elements or for it's creative use of exposure? Nope. But it is extraordinarily powerful in so many other ways.

I'm not sure why it bugs me when images of dramatic events are applauded for their photographic artistry when such artistry is not apparent. I'm not saying those very same shooters, the ones who capture incredibly moving and dramatic moments, aren't capable of producing photographic artistry. I'm just wondering why praise is sometimes heaped on these praiseworthy images but for reasons beyond why they should be praised?

Have I mentioned the content of this blog might be all over the photographic map? If not, be advised, it probably will be.

Post Script: If you want to see images that are extraordinary for both their journalistic elements as well as their technical and artistic prowess, check out Boston.com's, "The Big Picture" images of the Beijing Olympics' opening ceremonies.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Headshots Part Deux

You thought all I had to say about headshots was pimping Timothy Greenfield-Sanders?


TGS doesn't need any pimping... certainly not from me.


In my previous post (that's right, the one about Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and headshots) reader BigV aptly commented, "Your client gave you the secret to success. Capturing what the person is all about in a headshot is what makes a successful portrait photographer."


BigV-- Couldn't agree more, although I'm not sure a single portrait can capture what a person is *ALL* about unless, of course, they're dead, i.e., the portrait is a picture of them being dead. When someone's dead, I think you might agree, that's pretty much all there is to say about their current and ongoing condition. That's not to say how they got dead or how them being dead effects others around them can't be powerful in terms of a portrait but, when a portrait examines what an individual person is all about, and they're dead... well, dead's dead.

Portraits of dead people aside...

Portraits, good portraits, even simple (yet effective) headshots, tell the viewer something unique about their subjects. Portraits are, or should be, windows into those subject's lives. Glimpses of that which makes them tick: Their personalities, their careers, their loves, their hates, who they are, who they hope to be, and more. Hopefully, much more. Good portraits tell us something important and unique about the people in front of the lens-- Something either the subject, the photographer, or both, hope to share with that portrait's viewers.

Take the image at the top. Who *IS* this guy? Well, first off, he's my friend, Harry. But what about Harry? What does the image tell us about him? What are the visible clues that describe the "inner" Harry? (Or maybe, in Harry's case, the "outer" Harry.)

Harry's smarmy smirk probably offers some insight into his personality. The Foster Grants he's hiding behind, as well as his shirt being a little too opened, may also be tell-tale signs of what Harry is about-- Yeah, BigV, maybe even what Harry's *ALL* about.

Remember, these are headshots I'm talking about, not environmental portraits. Environmental portraits, where you place the subject in an environment that speaks volumes about them, is sometimes easier in terms of conveying insight into the subject. Sometimes. But that's a subject for another post.

Back to Harry's headshot.

Would it surprise anyone to learn, after examining Harry's headshot, that he makes his living as a talent agent? An agent, that is, of (mostly) "C" and "D" list models and actresses who spend the vast majority of their time in front cameras without their clothes on? He's also a gambler--a sort of semi-pro, backroom, poker player--and derives a fair amount of his income from that career as well.

Did the possibility of either of those aspects of Harry's life cross your mind when you viewed Harry's headshot? If not, perhaps something close or akin to those? (Or equally sleazy?) I'm guessing it did unless you perceived the image as being satiric or it being some (mostly unemployed) actor's heashot. The only thing missing in Harry's photo is a phat gold chain around his neck. (It's all in the details, right?)

Craft and tech stuff: Harry captured with my Canon 5D w/ a Canon 85mm, f/1.8 prime attached. (It's a sweet lens for portraits, especially considering the price difference between it and it's expensive relative, Canon's 85mm f/1.4 L prime.) ISO 100, f/4 @ 125. I shot Harry in the studio in front of a gray seamless. Used a 5' Photoflex Octodome for my main and a couple of kickers behind him. B&W conversion via the channel mixer method.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Of the many genres of photography, photo portraiture is one of the most actively practiced. Many photographers earn much, if not all, of their income from portrait shooting and that work encompasses a vast range of categories, classifications, types, and styles.

Some headshot photographers have achieved great fame for their work. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders comes to mind. I know, I know, TGS is so much more than a headshot shooter. In fact, in more than a few of his portraits, his framing extends all the way to half-body shots!


Photographers of Greenfield-Sanders' caliber photograph world leaders, celebrities, musicians, artists and more. TGS's work is in the collections of major museums, he shoots for some of the most popular and respected magazines in the world, and his work has been published in a number of well-received books in print. He is iconic in the world of portrait photography.

So what sets a shooter like Greenfield-Sanders apart from so many others who ply the portrait biz? Is it his style? His lighting? His interaction with his subjects? That big-ass camera he shoots with? All of the above? None of the above? Or is it that hyphenated last name? I don't know. If I knew, I'd grab some of his mojo and apply it to my own work. Could TGS's secret be one of those "secrets of the pros" we all read and hear about? Only in Mr. TGS's case, his secrets remains secret? Perhaps what works for Greenfield-Sanders only works for Greenfield-Sanders? Damn. I wish I knew.

The portrait/headshot at the top is writer and film director, Ramon Menendez. A fair number of you have probably seen his most memorable film, Stand and Deliver, with Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips. Ramon asked me to shoot a simple head-shot portrait to update his DGA (Directors Guild of America) profile. I lit Ramon with my Mola beauty dish, slightly feathered, for the main plus two, gridded, accent lights from behind. Ramon's headshot ain't no Timothy Greenfield-Sanders portrait but Ramon liked it. He said it's what he was looking for because it has a "cinematic feel" to it. Okay. If you say so, senor. You're the film director, after all.

And if the client is happy, I'm happy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Build It and They Will Come

Cue the drum rolls and the trumpet blares! Here it is, TA-DA! First post for my new, *other* blog!

Okay. Cut! Someone send the musicians home. Enough with the rolling and blaring.

What's the deal, you might ask? Well, I created this *other* blog, this I, Shootist blog, for a variety of reasons.

First, I wanted to create another opportunity where I could hear myself talk. Technically, I suppose, to read myself talk. (Obviously, one of my favorite pastimes) And what will I hear/read myself talking about now? Duh! More photography, what else? (Photography being my other favorite pastime.)

I also wanted a place where I can post images that are not appropriate for my Pretty Girl Shooter blog. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

Ya see, when I began writing the PGS blog, I decided I wouldn't mix in images of A) people under the age of 18; B) Pictures from other genres of photography I might engage in; and C) Photos that are off-topic for the PGS blog. While it's true the vast majority of my photo work involves beautiful, unclothed women (that being. after all, what I most often get paid to shoot) there's other stuff I photograph: Sometimes for pay and sometimes just for fun! Like the simple, editorial-ish snapshot of a child, above, cooling herself off on a hot, Venice Beach, day.

Next, I'm not a completely altruistic person. So, I'm going to get involved with some (photography-related) affiliate programs that, frankly, weren't interested in hooking up with a blog that is mostly focused on shooting pretty women, often of the naked variety. Do I expect to get rich off this new endeavor? Cue the laugh track! But if I'm gonna take the time to write this stuff then I don't think it's completely unreasonable of me to hope for a small amount of compensation. After all, I live in a capitalist society, this blog is part of a mostly capitalistic world wide web, and I ain't no freakin' commie!

Finally, I'm hoping the work I'll be putting into this blog will help motivate me to find more time get off my freakin' ass and go out and pursue new avenues of photography and/or simply move me to shoot all kinds of other stuff that might interest me, i.e., other than sexy women sans their clothing. Not that I still ain't interested in shooting pretty girls cuz I am!

I know it's going to take a little while to get this blog rolling and to work the bugs out. I haven't done much of anything with the layout or providing links or any of that stuff yet. But I'm gonna build this I, Shootist blog... and they will come: Readers, that is. Leastwise, I'm hoping they will.

Below is another candid shot from Venice Beach. In this one, I spotted a very determined young boy shooting hoops with a tennis ball. I remained fairly stealthy when I snapped these images, parents being quite wary of photographers pointing cameras at their children and all. So they were shot, pretty much, from the hip.

The images in this first post aren't particularly stellar, far from it, but I wanted to attach some photos that are about as far away from what I usually shoot as possible... just to get a different ball rolling. Sort of a Monty Python-like segue without the laughs-- Think, "And now for something completely different."

That's it for today. More to come. As with the PGS blog, you can click the pictures to see 'em bigger. Also, I'd love to hear comments-- Good, bad, or indifferent, or suggestions, advice, whatever. I'm all ears... I mean eyes. You know what I'm saying.