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.