Saturday, December 23, 2017

"Pictorialist Models" Now Free of Charge


For the time being at least, Pictorialist Models, which is actually my photography portfolio in ebook format, is available free of charge from the Smashwords website.

This is traditional (non-digital) photography.  I shot all the photographs contained within the book on black & white film and then printed the negatives in a wet darkroom.

The ebook is in pdf format and can be downloaded at the link shown below.  Note that some of the photos contain artistic nudity.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Security Alert for HP Notebook Computers

As reported in a BBC news article, there is a security flaw in HP notebook computers that allows malicious keylogging.  According to the article, "HP said more than 460 models of laptop were affected by the 'potential security vulnerability'."  The problem extends all the way back to 2012.

I had purchased an HP notebook only last month and discovered my machine was one of those affected.  I immediately went to the list provided by HP and downloaded the security patch via FTP with no problem.

The keyloogger, discovered by security researcher Michael Myng, was initially built into the Synaptics Touchpad software for debugging purposes and is turned off by default.  Hackers could nevertheless gain access to it and enable it.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Friday, December 15, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Central Park in Autumn


The photographer at his tripod as he attempts to capture the beauty of autumn's colors.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Problem with Posting Street Photographs


As some may remember, I posted at the beginning of the year my intent to publish one street photograph each day.  I kept with that resolution well into November but then stopped and removed many of my posts.

The problem is that photographs, when posted by themselves, contain no information that will allow search engines to find them and thereby bring viewers to this blog.  As a result, I was averaging only a few views each day, not enough to make the effort worthwhile.

I'll be considering over the next few weeks where best to take this blog since I certainly don't want to discontinue it.  Instead, I want to find a subject that will attract readers and make their visit here more rewarding.  In the meantime, I'll probably be posting random photos I've taken in Central Park and elsewhere in the city.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Blue Hours


A few months back, I published my fourth novel as an ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  I'm very excited about it and honestly think this is my best work yet.

The book is intended as a tribute to Cornell Woolrich, who more or less invented the noir genre, and at the same time an attempt to explore the very meaning of the term.  After all, noir is, by definition, dark.  A number of authors, however, lighten their narratives in order to achieve better sales and attract more readers.  Their protagonists, no matter how tough they initially appear, usually prove to be decent law abiding citizens caught in circumstances beyond their control.  In contrast, I've chosen to tell my story from the point of view of a violent drug user with few, if any, redeeming features.  My intent was not to make the character sympathetic but compelling.  If a monster, he is not a cardboard villain but rather a living breathing human being tormented by his failings while unable to break free of them.

The Blue Hours is set in New York City in 1970, long before gentrification, when the town was still gritty and crime ridden.  It tells of a violent junkie, just released from jail, who wakes one morning in an East Village tenement to find himself holding a smoking gun and sitting beside a corpse.  With the police relentlessly pursuing him, he desperately tries to find the one witness who can tell him what really happened.

In addition to writing the text, I shot the cover photo on infrared film and then printed the negative in a wet darkroom.  I also designed the book's cover in Photoshop.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Photo Book Review: The History of Fashion Photography

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One volume I've had lying about literally for decades and have finally found time to read is The History of Fashion Photography by Nancy Hall-Duncan.  The book was written to accompany an exhibit at the George Eastman House, where the author was then working as an assistant curator, that was held in 1977 and that attempted to provide a comprehensive overview of its subject up to that date.

The history proceeds chronologically from the industry's beginnings when the available technology prohibited any reproduction at all of photos, through the earliest era of fashion magazines when Baron Adolph de Meyer and Edward Steichen (who had died only four years before this book was written) were employed one after the other by Condé Nast, and from there decade by decade to the time of the work's publication.  Along the way, each new movement and change in taste is carefully described and analyzed.  For me, the most interesting chapters are those dealing with Pictorialism and Surrealism.

In general, Ms. Hall-Duncan's treatment is insightful and even-handed without ever becoming pedantic.  Some photographers she mentions, such as Bob Richardson, have themselves fallen out of fashion but most have stood the test of time very well.   An entire chapter is devoted to the work of Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.  The selection of photos from the original exhibit is excellent and makes this one of the best anthologies of fashion photography available.

What truly makes the book fascinating to read now is its perspective - that of the late 1970's. This, of course, was still the era when print editions of fashion magazines such as Vogue reigned supreme.  There's no intimation at all of the upheaval that the introduction of digital cameras and the internet would bring to the fields of editorial and advertising photography. It was an analog world where photos were shot on film and then converted into halftone reproductions using methods that would now be considered primitive.  The leading practitioners of fashion photography at the time of publication were Helmut NewtonGuy Bourdin and Deborah Turbeville, though icons such as Cecil Beaton were still alive and are described in the present tense.

Unfortunately, this is a poorly designed book.  Although the jacket states that the Alpine edition is produced from the "very same plates" as the first edition (Abrams), there is a great deal left to be desired.  The crowded text is in a sans serif font that is difficult to read and that is so far to the edge that it falls into the volume's gutter.  Footnotes are placed awkwardly on the opposite side of the page where the text would normally be shown.  More importantly, the photographic reproductions themselves are not of first rate quality.  Interestingly, this seems more a problem with the black & white photos than with the color.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Photo Book Review: Gertrude Käsebier: The Photographer and Her Photographs

It's difficult to believe now, so completely has she been forgotten,  that at the turn of the twentieth century Gertrude Käsebier was one of America's most successful and best known photographers.  So important did Stieglitz consider her work that he dedicated the first issue of Camera Work to displaying her photographs rather than those of his disciple Steichen.

Käsebier was lucky enough to have been born into a family of moderate wealth and then married, however unhappily, to a successful businessman.  As a result, she did not have to worry about earning enough money to pay the rent.  In fact, Käsebier was already age 36 and her children nearly grown when she first took up the study of photography.  While it's true that her social standing enabled her to secure many wealthy clients for her lucrative portrait business, Käsebier was a strong minded business woman who worked hard to make herself a success.  She also had enough foresight to ally herself with Stieglitz when he first began to seriously promote photography as an art form and she thus became a charter member of the Photo Secession.

If Käsebier is passed over today, it's most likely because so much of her oeuvre was given over to the celebration of motherhood and children.  Ironically, those photographs that first established her reputation, such as Blessed Art Thou and The Manger (both from 1899), are the same that now cause her to be rejected on the grounds that her work is too cloyingly sentimental to be worthy of serious consideration.  Actually, shortly after it was created, a print of The Manger sold for $100, at the time the highest price ever paid for a photographic work.  In contrast, the photograph for which Käsebier is best remembered today is her sensual portrait of Evelyn Nesbit, reproduced on this book's cover, whose cocaine addled husband gained notoriety when on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden he sensationally murdered the showgirl's former lover, the playboy architect Stanford White, who was also Käsebier's friend and patron.

The other reason Käsebier is given so little attention today is that her photographic style was unabashedly "pictorialist."  This term has been given a pejorative connotation since at least the 1930's when Ansel Adams and other members of the f64 Group began to relentlessly promote "straight" photography at the expense of all other forms of photographic representation.  Their closed minded insistence on their sharp and straightforward style as the only viable approach to the medium did incalculable harm to mid-twentieth century photography.  Käsebier was, on the other hand, the pictorialist photographer par excellence.  She had no hesitation at all in painting in backgrounds or details on her prints or in using alternative printing methods such as platinum and gum bichromate.  Although some pictorialists no doubt did go too far in their image manipulations, by and large they created works of incredible beauty that were far more imaginative than the literal, matter-of-fact reproductions of reality favored by the f64 Group.

Gertrude Käsebier: The Photographer and Her Photographs, is a highly sympathetic biography written by Barbara L. Michaels.  It is a short work, really not more than an extended essay, that would have benefited greatly from more detail regarding Käsebier's associations with some of the greatest artists of her time.  These included not only Stieglitz and Steichen, but also such seminal photographers as Alvin Langdon Coburn (who once worked as Käsebier's assistant), F. Holland DayClarence White and Baron de Meyer as well as leading painters and sculptors in both Europe and America, most notably Auguste Rodin whom Käsebier photographed extensively at his home near Paris.  The book, published by Abrams, is handsomely designed and filled with excellent reproductions of Käsebier's black & white photographs, including all her most famous works as well as many with which I had previously been unfamiliar.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Photo Book Review: Walker Evans

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The large format volume Walker Evans is probably the best book on the photographer's work now available.  The copy I have is the hardcover edition originally published as a catalog to accompany an exhibit held at the Metropolitan Museum in 2000.  What distinguishes this work from the many other studies of Evans' photos - I posted several months ago a review of The Hungry Eye - is not only the high quality of the reproductions but also the insights provided in the well written essays that accompany the plates.

2013 marked the 75th anniversary of Evans' iconic American Photos, and the Museum of Modern Art celebrated by recreating the original 1938 exhibit in its entirety.  It was while attending that show this past summer that I began to renew my interest in Evans and to reexamine the influence his work had had on my own photography.  His subway portraits taken with a hidden camera in 1938, as published in Many are Called, had a profound impact on the hidden camera photos I took in Times Square in the early 1990's.

In any retrospective of Evans' work, one dismaying fact immediately becomes clear.  All the photographer's major work was completed in the first half of his life.  The images for American Photos as well as those in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men were shot between 1936 - 1938.  It was during this same brief period that Evans finished his work for the FSA and, with the assistance of Helen Levitt, created his subway portraits.  At this time, Evans was only 35 years old.  The remaining 37 years, until his death in 1975, were little more than a poignant postscript to his career.  Most of the second half of his life was spent working for Time and Fortune magazines, whose middle-American and capitalist viewpoints - as promulgated by their publisher Henry Luce - had previously been anathema to Evans.  I think it likely that this betrayal of his principles inhibited him greatly from creating authentic work on the level of that he had produced during the 1930's.

Evans is a difficult photographer to appreciate.  A failed writer who turned to photography only after he was unable to produce fiction, he was an intellectual who was often quite snobbish.  There is an irony to the fact that the man who produced so many great portraits of the poor, as in his work with writer James Agee, held himself so aloof from those about him.  His very choice of a camera allowed him to maintain a distance from those he photographed.  The view camera, his instrument of choice, effectively placed a wall between him and his subject.  Not only does the image appear reversed and upside down when viewed on the ground glass, it is blocked entirely when a film holder is placed in the camera.  Even when photographing the subway portraits with a handheld Contax camera, Evans shot "blind" by not framing his subject in the viewfinder before releasing the shutter.  There is always a sense, when viewing Evans' photos, that one is looking at them from a remove. There is no intimacy in them, only a cold hard precision.

The plates in this book are all full page reproductions and are of excellent quality.  Of the detailed essays, that entitled "The Cruel Radiance of What Is": Walker Evans and the South by Jeff L. Rosenheim, provides one of the best analyses of any photographer's work that I have come across.  It gives the reader a new and deeper understanding of Evans' accomplishments.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Bergdorf's Christmas Window


The problem with shooting department store Christmas windows in Manhattan is that there's always a line of mothers and children waiting to see them and little room to maneuver once one's time to move up finally arrives.  I took this shot on the run in November while passing Bergdorf Goodman.  A block below me everything was in chaos as NYPD and the Secret Service tried to decide how to best secure the length of Fifth Avenue that passes in front of Trump Tower.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Photo Book Review: Weegee's New York

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A quote by Walter Benjamin is used as an epigraph at the very beginning of Weegee's New York: Photographs 1935 - 1960.  In part, it reads:
"...is not every spot of our cities the scene of a crime?  every passerby a perpetrator?  Does not the photographer - descendant of augurers and haruspices - uncover guilt in his pictures?"
The quote is noteworthy for questioning the role played by news photographers such as Weegee.  After all, as becomes apparent when looking at these photos, he is not a mere bystander passively recording a violent moment he has accidentally stumbled upon; instead, by placing himself on the scene, he has willingly made himself a participant in the tableaux captured on film.  In the self portrait at the very end of the book (Plate 335), Weegee looks perfectly in place as he crouches behind his camera and stares almost defensively at the viewer from the back of a paddy wagon.  It is as though he were acknowledging that he belongs there just as much as the felons the vehicle is otherwise used to transport.

There is very little text in this monograph, only a four page introductory essay by John Coplans and little more than a page of biographical detail.  To a certain extent, that should be sufficient. A good photograph should always be able to stand on its own and require no explanation. Weegee's photos, though, were meant to accompany news stories that would provide a tabloid's reader with further information, no matter how sensational a form that reportage might take.  The absence of any details regarding the circumstances in which these photos were shot undeniably makes them more compelling, but at the same time the viewer is only getting half the story.  This omission can make the study of these images an unnecessarily frustrating experience.

The black & white photos themselves are well reproduced and each is placed by itself on a full oversized page.  They are not, however, grouped chronologically but rather by subject, for example "Coney Island Beach."  This makes it difficult to trace the development of Weegee's style over a period of time.  The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, although each photo is provided with a title (presumably supplied by Weegee himself), very few are dated.

In all, though, the book is highly recommended for providing a candid glimpse into the dark side of a big city in the mid-twentieth century.  No matter how horrifying the contents of his photos, Weegee never blinked when taking them.  He captured the ugliness of violent death and presented it in a straightforward manner with no trace of false sentimentality.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lab Box Film Processing



As digital photography continues its relentless drive forward, traditional photography has suffered accordingly.  Analog photographers have seen one film and paper after another discontinued as venerable companies such as Agfa have thrown in the towel and gone bankrupt.  Along with film products, services have disappeared as well.  Most of the custom film processing labs in New York City have by now gone out of business or else offer only digital services, thereby leaving photographers with no choice but to process their own film, often with mixed results.  It's heartening then to see the Lab Box Kickstarter project take wings.  It promises users the ability to simply and easily process 35mm and 120 film in a portable lightproof container that can be used in broad daylight.  I have no idea when full production will begin but the sponsors have already sold out their prototypes and, with almost a month left to run, have far surpassed their goal of $73, 636.  I definitely plan to buy a unit myself when it becomes available for ordering.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

New B&W Film from Bergger


Last month, I blogged about the film revival that seems to be underway.  In that earlier post, I mentioned that Kodak is preparing to return the color reversal film Ektachrome to production and that an Australian company named Ikigai Camera was preparing to release a new film named Street Pan 400 that it claimed has many the same characteristics as the long discontinued Fuji Neopan 400.

Now Bergger, the company that once made the eponymous 200 film that had always been one of my favorites, has announced it will be offering a a black & white negative film called Pancro 400 in 35mm and 120 formats as well as in several sheet film sizes.  According to the information shown on Bergger's website, the new film will be composed of two sandwiched panchromatic emulsions, one silver bromide and one silver iodide, that together will provide a wide exposure latitude.  The website also features a number of photos shot with this film, all of which look great.

In the meantime, an Italian company, Film Ferrania, which I had honestly never before heard of, has announced the return of its flagship product Ferrania P30, another black & white negative film, this one with an ISO of 80.  The P30 was at one time, at least according to what I've read, a very highly regarded film; I can't vouch for its quality, however, since I never used it and moreover have no idea if the new film will have exactly the same properties as its discontinued predecessor.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Photo Book Review: Edward Steichen: In High Fashion

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In 1923, Edward Steichen was struggling with what would today be termed a "mid-life crisis." Living in near penury in France, the photographer had grown disillusioned in his career as an artist.  He was then in his mid-forties and had long ago left behind the exuberance with which he had first traveled to Europe.  In Paris, he had succeeded in meeting the twentieth century's foremost artists, many of whose works he had enthusiastically shipped back to Stieglitz to be shown in the latter's 291 Gallery in New York City.  In so doing, though, he had had to face the painful realization that his own paintings would never reach the heights of genius shown by those artists, such as Picasso and Matisse, among whom he had moved so easily.  His discontent had only been exacerbated by the horrors of World War I, which he witnessed first hand, as well as the failure of his marriage.  It was no surprise then that he had no qualms in giving up the life of an artist and returning to New York City where he eagerly accepted a position at Condé Nast and quickly became the world's most highly remunerated photographer.

Edward Steichen: In High Fashion by William A. Ewing and Todd Brandow is a thorough documentation of the photographic work that Steichen created over a fifteen year period for both Vogue and Vanity Fair.  While it might be assumed that the photographer left behind him the art photography he had practiced so assiduously in Europe upon joining Condé Nast, this is not the case.  Although Steichen's portraits had even in his days with the Photo Secession shown a tendency towards unadorned naturalism (witness his famous 1903 photo of J.P. Morgan), he maintained the use of pictorialist techniques in his fashion photography for quite some time.  Indeed, it was only when Mehemed Fehmy Agha was hired as art director of Vogue that Steichen fully embraced straight photography in depicting fashion. No matter what his style, however, Steichen's mastery of technique and lighting never wavered.  One has only to look at White (plate 221) from 1935 to begin to comprehend the extent of his ability.  The photo is a study of three models all dressed in white standing with a white horse against a white tiled wall.  To anyone who has ever attempted a photo in which each element is pure white without losing any detail and all the while preserving a full range of tonal values, this deceptively simple image is a tour de force.

Looking at the photos themselves, one has the sense of having stumbled across a lost world. Here are the most newsworthy actors, writers and society figures of the 1920's and 1930's, the celebrities whose extensive fame was the primary cause of their appearance in such magazines as Vogue and Vanity Fair in the first place.   And yet so thoroughly forgotten have the majority of these once renowned personages become that it has been necessary for the authors to add a "Who's Who" as an appendix to the book.  In a way this is fitting, for Steichen himself has suffered a somewhat similar fate.  Though at one time he was, along with Stieglitz, America's preeminent photographer, his reputation has been so eclipsed in recent decades that he is little remembered today.  This is a great injustice and one that this book will hopefully help correct.

The book itself is an extremely handsome and well designed volume.  The photographic reproductions are all uniformly excellent and are generally shown in full page format.  There are three essays by William A. Ewing, Carol Squiers and Tobia Bezzola that are intelligently written and not only provide a great deal of information and insight regarding Steichen's tenure at Condé Nast but also display a deep respect and sympathy for Steichen's work and the creative processes he brought to bear upon it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Kodak Ektachrome Film Redux


Perhaps the most surprising announcement at this year's otherwise humdrum CES came from Kodak, the former giant of the photography industry.  In a move that has to cheer analog photographers dismayed to see one favorite film after another discontinued, the company stated that it will return Ektachrome color reversal film to production after a five year absence with the first batch set to hit stores in this year's fourth quarter.  According to the press release, a Super 8 motion picture film version will be produced in Rochester and will be sold by Kodak directly while a 135/36 version will be made available to still photographers by Kodak Alaris, a spinoff company headquartered in the UK.

And the reason behind this radical change of direction?  According to Steven Overman, Kodak’s chief marketing officer and president of the Consumer and Film Division:
"We are seeing a broad resurgence of excitement about capturing images on film. Kodak is committed to continuing to manufacture film as an irreplaceable medium for image creators to capture their artistic vision. We are proud to help bring back this classic."
As if this weren't enough good news for film enthusiasts, Overman went on, in a podcast recorded at CES, to further state:  "I will say, we are investigating Kodachrome, looking at what it would take to bring that back."  That's hardly a promise, of course, but the very fact that such a move is under consideration is heartening to analog photographers who know from experience that Kodachrome was the best color film ever made.

Meanwhile, for those of us who still shoot black & white film, Ikigai Camera, a Japanese film store headquartered in Australia, announced on its blog a "new" film designed to replace one long since discontinued by Fuji.  Described as the "brain-child of Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter fame," the film supposedly recreates many of the most desirable features of Neopan 400.  According to the blog post:
"StreetPan 400, while not a new emulsion, is a modernized version of an out of production AGFA surveillance film that has been brought back to life (and back into production)"
I'm not quite sure how an Agfa surveillance film would come to have the same properties as a discontinued print film, but I have to admit that the sample photographs shown on the blog certainly look good.  Though I've always shot Tri-X myself, I'd love a chance to experiment with this film and see what prints I could get from its negatives in the darkroom.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Panasonic Officially Announces the Lumix GH5

The big announcement at this year's CES show was Panasonic's official release of the Lumix GH5.  It didn't exactly come as a surprise.  Not only had I already seen the camera locked away in a plastic case at October's NYC Photo Expo, but the specs as given in the CES press release were exactly what I had been told by the Panasonic rep at the Javits Center.  The only unknown then had been the cost, and even the huge 33% increase in list price wasn't entirely unexpected.  At least not by me.

Panasonic already knew it had a winner on its hands with the GH series.  All along, these cameras have offered filmmakers the best option by far for video in a mass market camera.  The only way to get anything better has been to spend tens of thousands of dollars on specialized high end equipment.  And now Panasonic has improved on its lead by dramatically improving the camera's video capabilities.  As the press release states, the GH5 offers:
"...4K 60p/50p ultra high-definition, smooth, video recording for the first time in a DSLM camera. It is also capable of internal 4:2:2 / 10-bit video recording, which is the color subsampling commonly used for film production, for even more faithful color reproductions."
There are also significant improvements for still photographers, such as a larger sensor, a newly developed Venus Engine processor that Panasonic claims cuts noise by two stops even with the larger sensor, and the omission of the optical low pass filter.  Most significant is the improvement to the auto focus system.  The number of focus areas has been increased from 49 to 225.  Beyond that:
"If focus is not exactly as the user intended when the shutter is pressed, the LUMIX GH5’s Post Focus function8 enables users to select the specific focus point even after shooting – particularly helpful in situations like macro shooting where severe focusing is required. In addition, the camera also features a Focus Stacking function."
Is the GH5 worth the increased price?  For serious filmmakers, the answer has to be an unequivocal "yes" (always assuming, of course, that the camera performs as well in field tests as it looks on paper).   For still photographers, it really depends on the use intended.  When I picked up the GH2 back in 2011, I wanted a lightweight mirrorless camera for travel and street shooting, and the GH2 looked like my best bet.  I already had then, and still have now, a full Nikon DSLR system that would invariably be my first choice when going for the "money shot."  So, although it would obviously be wonderful to have the GH5 with all its many enhancements, I was perfectly happy to pick up a GH4 last month from B&H for only $1,200 (with a complimentary $150 gift card thrown in) since in my case the camera is really more for non-professional use.  But for other photographers - especially those, such as wedding photographers, who shoot extensive video - the improvements in design are so extensive that it's now become possible to forget about DSLR's altogether and to work solely with a mirrorless system.  I may go that way myself in the future.  Critical considerations will be the quality of available lenses (using Nikon or other third party lenses with adapters is not a viable option) as well as the camera's ability to withstand the rugged daily use given it by professionals.  In this regard, it's worth noting that my old GH2 began developing significant problems after only a couple of years of moderate use.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Blog Name, New Focus


Those who've been following this blog have probably noticed by now that I've given it a new name.  Behind the change is my renewed interest in street photography.  I've been doing a lot more of it in the past few months and am really excited how well so many of the pictures have turned out.  Now I need a forum on which to display them, and this blog is the obvious choice.  I'm planning on posting much more often in 2017 than in the past and would ideally like to be able to show one example of my street photography each day.

For the most part, the photographs I'll be posting here will be in black & white.  Years ago, I shot all around New York City with b&w film, usually Tri-X, and found that I could express my sense of the city's character much more clearly in monochrome.  To my own eyes, New York - no matter how gentrified - has always been the gritty milieu depicted in The Naked City and other classic noir films of the 1940's.  Now I'm finally giving in to the new technology and will be shooting digital on my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and making conversions to b&w in Photoshop using Nik's Silver Efex Pro2.  The exceptions will be the photos taken of street art since that really has to be seen in its original colors to be fully appreciated.  Besides, the occasional use of color will keep things from becoming too monotonous.

For the photographers among you, I'll be posting select industry news, my thoughts on camera equipment and software, and even reviews of photography books I've come across.

My greatest interest is in taking street portraits of my fellow New Yorkers.  I want to create a visual record of the vastly different people who make up this huge city in the twenty-first century.  The aim, as in any form of portraiture, will be to capture their characters in a single photograph.  You can decide for yourself when viewing the photos how successful I've been.  I hope you'll enjoy seeing my work.

I do hope everyone reading this has a wonderful year in 2017.  May you enjoy happiness and good health and may all your dreams come true.