Friday, June 29, 2012

Another Heat Wave

It's been a summer from hell, and no sign of a letup. 100ºF today, and more for this weekend. The heat is so oppressive that it's impossible to get out to shoot. So, I've been cleaning up my photo library and doing housekeeping chores on my computer. I bundled all my images from 2011 and January to June 2012, and sent them off to the copyright office for protection. I usually do it every six months, but I've gotten lazy about it. I was inspired to do it today because an internet friend who lives in Venice, Italy will be launching a site for street photography here (but not yet) and has invited me to contribute a portfolio to the site. Watermarking an image with my name and copyright mark means nothing if it's not backed up with a piece of paper from the copyright office. The whole process can be done online - I spent about one hour filling out forms and uploading over 2000 images - and if the photos are bundled it can be done in one submission for $35.

I was out for a walk in Manhattan yesterday to give the new 35mm f1.4 lens, for my Fuji X Pro-1camera, a lab test on the street. It is most definitely faster focusing than the 18mm f2 lens. My only issue with the lens - and it's really a problem with me, not the lens - is the framing and composition. I'm so used to shooting wide angle that the 50mm effective focal length is a bit uncomfortable for me. I instinctively move in close to my subjects. I need to spend some time looking at Henri Cartier-Bresson's work which was all shot with the Leica 50mm lens.

Here's a shot on West Broadway. Some bicycles have all the luck, eh?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Test of Fuji 35mm f1.4 X-mount lens

Since I've had my Fuji X Pro-1 camera - about three months - I've been shooting with the 18mm f2 lens. I purchased the 35mm f1.4 lens and gave it a spin today. I'll leave all the techy numbers and  pixel peeping reviews for those folks who are so inclined to crunch numbers for the greater good of the rest of us who rely on those results for some kind of guidance. My acid test of any piece of equipment is how it works in the field shooting with the conditions and of the subjects on which I concentrate.

I needed to see my dentist in Jersey City, NJ, so I went early and took a little walk. Good news all around. The dentist was painless, and the lens performed spectacularly. There's quite a bit of talk in the Fuji forums about the lack of speed of the XP1 - the chatter comes mostly from photographers who cut their teeth on DSLRs and were looking for the same kind of quick responsiveness from a different kind of camera. I personally have never had an issue with that responsiveness - just that I needed to learn to work with a different tool. The 18mm lens had is 'character' and I adjusted to working with it, and learned to love it. The 35mm lens auto focus is distinctly faster in response and is a bit sharper (not that the 18mm lens is at all a disappointment in its acuity). The 35 mm focal length, in comparison to the 18mm, solves some problems and creates others. I'm excited about the few shots I made today, and I'm looking forward to a full afternoon outing later in the week.

Here's a shot I entitled Time To Scratch. Three versions: #1 is in color with my basic Lightroom and slight contrast adjustment, #2 is the same as #1 but converted to b/w using Nik software's Silver Efex Pro 2, #3 is #1 taken a bit further in processing before converting to b/w.




Monday, June 25, 2012

Señor Cuentas

Woo Hoo!!! I broke down today, and after selling off three of my Nikon prime lenses - 50mm f1.8, 85mm f1.8, and 180mm f2.8 - I bought the Fuji 35mm f1.4 x-mount lens. I haven't had much of a chance to play with it yet, but so far I can say that it seems to focus faster than my 18mm lens. I'll have a chance to put the new lens through its paces later this week.

This past weekend, after visiting the Photoville exhibit in Brooklyn Bridge Park (don't waste your time), I  met a friend at Port Authority bus terminal. We were walking downtown on Ninth Avenue when I noticed this gentleman, about half a block away, flirting with a young lady and showing off his beads. I'm not sure what his cultural identity was, but I think I heard some Spanish in his conversation. As I approached him I said 'Ah..... Señor Cuentas .....' and just as he looked up at me I fired my trusty X Pro-1 and nailed this shot. I'm beginning to think there's no better camera for street work than the XP1.

Family of Man

In 1955 Edward Steichen, Museum of Modern Art curator of photography, mounted a monumental exhibit entitled The Family of Man. The premise of the show was to draw together, through photography,  common elements of diverse cultures around the world to demonstrate (in a Jungian context) that we are all one, no matter what our obvious differences. The show was controversial in its time, and has continued to generate fitful controversy over the years. A catalogue of the photographs was published along with the show with an introduction by Carl Sandburg who was Steichen's brother-in-law. The city of Clervaux in Luxembourg (Steichen's country of birth) boasts the only extant version of the exhibit. You can read a commentary of the exhibit and it's critics here. A modern reprint of the book that accompanied the show is available on Amazon.

This evening, after once again finding absolutely nothing of interest on either broadcast or cable television, I happened to pull the catalog from my shelf of photography books. It was a joy to look at. When I was first studying photography at the New School my photo mentor, Mario Cabrera, encouraged me to spend all of my free time either shooting pictures or looking at them. Whenever I had a few extra bucks in my pocket I'd search for coffee table monographs of photographers who's work impressed me. I'd spend some time looking through them, and then shelve them to be picked up at a later date. As I looked at the work this time, what I found particularly interesting was that all of the photographs were b/w. The absence of color had a powerful impact on how I focused in on the entire collection - there was an uninterrupted flow to the context that contributed greatly to the continuity and story of the entire work.

Viewing works that project such profound eloquence, charm, and humor reminds me of my music listening experiences. When I hear a recording of Jascha Heifetz playing a particular piece of music, I feel like totally giving up playing the violin - I could never, in my wildest dreams come close to achieving that kind of technical and music mastery. And yet, when I hear the same pieces played by David Oistrakh or Fritz Kreisler, I want to pick up my instrument, pull out the music, and practice. I have never seen photo work that would make me want to give up shooting, but when I spend time with The Family of Man collection, or the works of many other photographers, I'm inspired to get out and shoot, to use my visual voice to express my view of the world in which I live.

Apropos of nothing mentioned above, here's a shot of a not-too-happy volunteer.