Friday, August 10, 2012

What A Waste Of Gunpowder And Sky

Morning Landlubbers.
Well today I am heartened by the all the good wishes me old Mog has received after his Olympic defeat. He's in fine fettle actually after a good nap and some boiled chicken.
Meanwhile our erstwhile gentleman photographer, Mr.Sheephouse, has gone off on a ramble the likes of which I have never read before. I am not even sure he understands it himself! He does say though that it is best enjoyed with a glass or three of claret and then it sort of starts to make sense. You're just to see it as the off-kilter ramble of that loony at the back of the bus, super lager in hand, railing against a cold and cruel world.
So, see what's ye make of it.
If he keeps this up we might well have to chuck him overboard.
Stay dry (and sane) m'hearties.


Today's The 4th of July
Another June has gone by
And when they light up our town
I just think
What a waste of gunpowder and sky
© Aimee Mann

Perfection comes in many forms but sometimes it seems increasingly harder to find in this crazy world of ours.
For instance as a perfect bit of lyric writing I think Aimee Mann hit the jackpot with the above. It is a beautiful lyric but read deeper and you get disillusionment, violence, and melancholia.
Imagine being able to do that in just twenty seven words!
That's not just someone scribbling some lyrics down on a piece of paper (oh yeah baby, baby baby baby . . .) that is sheer hard graft and craft skill. It is actually, in a strange way, very photographic. She has used her innate abilities to make something you can listen to time and time again and still not tire of, rather in the same way you can look at a pleasing image many times and still get something from it.
To do this though you have to be willing to put in the man hours.
Make no bones about it, life at the coal face is very difficult.
Ever spent a whole day in a darkroom? It is a tiring, wonderful, frustrating, hot, smelly, lonely, enriching, and (occasionally) productive experience.
You think you've nailed a print only to find that you forgot to factor in the dry-down of the paper, or your borders aren't exactly as you would have wished, you've knocked your enlarger every so slightly out, and the focus is a tad off. There are any number of things that can go wrong before you can hold something in your hands that says to you, At LAST! Got it!!
And then there's the next image and the next . . . .
I only ever viewed my images as contact prints (before printing); you sandwich the negatives between a sheet of photographic paper and a sheet of glass, expose to light, develop and fix . . voila .  .images!. But with the advent of a modest scanner I now scan the negatives generally before I make the contact print just because I can - it is quite exciting to see what you captured in positives on screen quickly, without having to set up paper chemicals in the darkroom.
And you know what, in the year or so I have been doing that I haven't had a single productive darkroom session.
This worries me - I am a fine printer, and was properly educated as such by Mr.Joseph McKenzie. So what is going on?
Well, in tandem with something I heard recently about computer over-use actually re-wiring the human brain, I think something has happened within my brain too.

This Chimp is obviously happy with what has happened to his brain. I, however, am not.

Photographers aren't defined by cameras or negatives, they are defined by their images, something of permanence you can hold in your hand. Full stop. End of story.
No images and you are a snapper not a photographer.
There are 20 billion snappers out there, but finding concerned photographers these days who operate in ways familiar to those who worked during the nadir of photography (the 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's  . .you get the idea . . . pre-digital . . . lets call it the Halide-ozoic for want of a better term) is like finding real beef in your Tesco's Savers Corned Beef.
So I think to myself, if I am not making any prints of images at the moment . . . can I still call myself a photographer?
It's funny but as I get older, I fnd myself becoming more averse to the 'modern' world I inhabit, where if you jump onboard the gadget-go-round, you are forced to partake and upgrade all these wondrous things which enhance your life.
Back when the early MIDI-enabled synthesisers were introduced in the early 1980's a term was coined which seemed bizarre then but is now more prescient than any I can think of:
Option Anxiety
Basically, it meant that your new toy had arrived and there were so many new menus and sub-menus for you to try that you spent so much time faffing around with them, that in the end you started to get anxious about the fact you weren't being productive at all.
Here's a little tableaux for you:

Hmmm, what will I use here? 
Fat Bass 1? 
Fat Bass 2? 
Fat Bass 3?
Fat Bass 4 or FB5? 
Some envelope follower and a touch of white noise too? 
Maybe if I dredged up some LFO and added that old Hobbitsneeze patch that is already in there, and maybe some strings on top with a Shakuhachi sample for a bit of a Zen feel? And then a solid 4/4 underneath, but subtle using that jazz drum kit? 
Yeah maybe that'll do? 
But I do worry about using the Shakuhachi as I hear it on everything I hear on the radio . . so maybe we'll drop the Zen feel and go for more of a barnyard stomp and I'll make it a solid banjo with some jug playing in the background . . . ?
But then isn't that in danger of making this track sound like a parody of itself? 
OK then I'll bring back in the Zen, and the Shakuhachi and just use some white noise in the background for a wind sound and drop the drum kit altogether in favour of some Buddhist monk samples . . . ?
Oh shit. It's 11.30 PM, I've been up since 5 AM and I still haven't got anything done. 
Well, maybe if I used that preset I set up the other day and just added the monks sample, or . . . .?

You get my drift
Here's exactly the same thing applied to current camera technology for the Canon EOS 40D - please note all current camera manufacturers are equally as guilty:

Shooting Menu: 

•Quality: Select the image quality setting

•Large/Fine - 10.1 megapixels - approx. 3.5mb
•Large/Normal - 10.1 megapixels - approx. 1.8mb
•Medium/Fine - 5.3 megapixels - approx. 2.1mb
•Medium/Normal - 5.3 megapixels - approx. 1.1mb
•Small/Fine - 2.5 megapixels - approx. 2.1mb
•Small/Normal - 2.5 megapixels - approx. 0.7mb
•RAW - 10.1 megapixels - approx. 7.1mb
•sRAW - 2.5- approx. 3.5mb
Also there are 12 settings that combine RAW or sRaw with Large, Medium or Small JPEG image sizes. Please see the "Approximate Storage Capacity" chart on the Features & Controls (cont.) page.
•Red-eye On/Off - Turn on or off the red eye reduction mode of the built-in flash
•Beep - Enable/disable sounds
•Shoot w/out Card - Enable/disable shutter if no CF card present
•Review Time - Length of time review image is displayed on the LCD
•AEB - Auto exposure bracketing increment (-2 to +2EV)
•White balance - Set white balance to auto, one of 6 presets or manually
•Custom WB - Enables you to set the white balance for a specific light source using a stored image
•WB SHIFT/BKT - Set the step increment for white balance bracketing
•Color Space: Select sRGB or Adobe RGB
•Picture Style: Selects image effects; please see next menu description
•Dust Delete Data - Data can be used by Digital Photo Professional software


Picture Style Menu
•Standard: For vivid, sharp and crisp images
•Portrait: For nice skin tones, slightly sharp and crisp
•Landscape: For vivid blues and greens, very sharp and crisp images
•Neutral: For natural colors and subdued images; no sharpening applied
•Faithful: For colormetric adjustment of colors of subjects shot under a color temperature of 5200K; no sharpening applied
•Monochrome: For Black and White images
•User Def. 1-3: For user-defined Picture Styles
•Detail set.: For changing parameters of the pre-defined and user-defined Picture Styles 
The numeric parameters (or N) shown for each style are from left to right Sharpness, Contrast, Saturation and Color Tone.
Picture Style Menu - Detail set
Processing parameters for both the pre-defined and user-defined Color Styles are set from the Detail set menu.
•Sharpness: Adjust from 0 (no sharpening) to 7 (maximum sharpening)
•Contrast: Adjust from -4 (low contrast) to +4 (high contrast)
•Saturation: Adjust from -4 (low saturation) to +4 (high saturation)
•Color tone: Adjust from -4 (reddish skin tone) to +4 (Yellowish skin tone) 
The Monochrome Color Style's Sharpness and Contrast can also be adjusted, plus a Filter effect of None, Yellow, Orange, Red or Green, and a Toning effect of None, Sepia, Blue, Purple or Green.
Setup Menu
•Auto Power Off: Sets the amount of inactivity time before the camera automatically turns itself off. (1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30 mins or Off)
•File Numbering - Sequentially number or auto reset when CF card replaced, or manual reset
•Auto rotate: Enable auto rotation of portrait mode images
•INFO button - Select function of menu button to Normal, Camera settings or Shooting functions
•Format - Format data card
•LCD Brightness: Adjust brightness of color LCD
•Date/Time: Set the time and date and select the desired display format
•Language: Select menu language from 18 choices including English, German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean or Japanese
•Video system: NTSC or PAL video output format
•Sensor Cleaning: Sets up the camera for CCD sensor cleaning
•Live View function settings: Enable/disable Live View on LCD
•Flash control: Set built-in and external flash functions
•Camera user settings: Register current setting as C1 - C3 Mode dial settings
•Clear all camera settings - Resets all camera settings, Custom Functions, or registered camera settings to default
•Firmware Ver. Used to update the camera's firmware
Custom Functions Menu
C. Fn I
•1:Exposure level increments - 0 (1/3 stop), 1 (1/2 stop) 
•2:ISO speed setting increments - 0 (1/3 stop), 1 (1 stop) 
•3:ISO expansion - 0 (Off), 1 (On) 
•4:Bracketing auto cancel - 0 (On), 1 (Off) 

•5:Bracketing sequence - 0 (- 0, -, +), 1 (- -, 0, +) 

•6:Safety shift - 0 (Disable), 1 (Enable (Tv/Av)) 

•7:Flash sync speed in Av mode - 0 (Auto), 1 (1/250) 

C. Fn II

•1:Long exposure noise reduction - 0 (Off), 1 (Auto), 2 (On) 
•2:High ISO speed noise reduction - 0 (Off), 1 (On) 
•3:Highlight tone priority - 0 (Disable), 1 (Enable) 
•1:Lens drive when AF impossible - 0 (Focus search on), 1 (Focus search off) 
•2:Lens AF stop button function - 0 (AF stop), 1 (AF start), 2 (AE lock), 3 (AF point: M - Auto/Auto - center), 4 (ONE SHOT - AI SERVO), 5 (IS start) 
•3:AF point selection method - 0 (Normal), 1 (Multi-controller direct), 2 (Quick Control dial direct) 
•4:Superimposed display - 0 (On), 1 (Off) 

•5:AF-assist beam firing - 0 (enable), 1 (Disable), 2 (Only external flash emits) 

•6:AF during Live View shooting - 0 (Enable), 1 (Disable) 

•7:Mirror lockup - 0 (Enable), 1 (Disable) 

C. Fn IV

•1:Shutter button/AF-ON button - 0 (Metering + AF start) ,1 (Metering + AF start/AF stop), 2 (Metering start/Metering + AF start), 3 (AE lock/Metering + AF start), 4 (Metering + AF start/disable) 
•2:AF-ON/AE lock button switch - 0 (Enable), 1 (Disable) 
•3:SET button when shooting - 0 (Normal (disabled)), 1 (Change quality), 2 (Change Picture Style), 3 (Menu display), 4 (Image replay) 
•4:Dial direction during Tv/Av - 0 (Normal), 1 (Reverse direction) 

•5:Focusing Screen - 0 (Ef-A), 2 (Ef-D), 3 (Ef-S) 
•6:Add original decision data - 0 (Off), 1 (On) 
•7:Live View exposure simulation - 0 (Disable (LCD auto adjust)), 1 (Enable (simulates exposure)

A young photographer being whisked away from the scene of a camera menu crime

Am I the only one that fell asleep during the first paragraph?
Now if you can't see something wrong with that I don't know what is wrong with you.
All I want to do is take a picture!


Right - here's a plate of cakes . . . you're going to need something to keep you going for the next bit

Better? On we go!
Someone, somewhere along the way has misplaced the relatively simple holy trinity of making an image, namely focus, shutter speed/aperture and composition.
Nowadays, you are wrestling with all this fluff when a simple click of the shutter should do it.
Yet again, it is another example of the designers of the world (a term I use loosely) thinking that we really do need all this stuff to show that we are getting good VFM from our products.
I guess that is why I found the Olympus Trip 35 such a liberating thing.
It is the essence of photography - you see something, are attracted to photograph it, you focus and click. The image is there for better or worse.
Yeah I know you can set your modern camera and just click away, but autoanything has always seemed just seemed plain wrong to me. I prefer to be as in control as possible . . and I know I sort of lost that control with the Trip, because apart from it judging whether you can take a photograph or not, it is also a zone-focus camera . . . 
But anyway, this is (as usual) moving away from an already very loose FB.
I am not making prints and I am concerned.
I think the reason why this appears to be so is because I am viewing my precious images on a monitor, prior to making a physical contact print for reference.
Methinks this has actually become a very bad habit for the simple reason that my expectations and eye are being destroyed by the removal of surprise.
Oh yes my friends - surprise is at the heart of this wonderful hobby of ours, and it is the thing most ignored these days! Think about it, back in the days when everything you took a picture of was placed safely out of harm's way at the movement of your thumb on the film advance.
Time was wrapped up tight in that little spool of film.
It contained all your hopes and dreams for perfect images.
Surprise was embued into the silver and in the dyes.
Disappointment was there too, but as with all crafts, perfection comes from practice, and lessons for life about persistence and hope were contained in little light-tight canisters marked Ilford and Kodak and Fuji.
Where is surprise these days?
You snap, you check your screen and make instant decisions.
The sweet sweet feeling of the anticipation of being pleasantly and pleasurably surprised by an image of your own making has disappeared.
What a sad world.


I learned about the importance of anticipation at a very early age.
The greatest Christmas present I ever received was a guitar from my Mum and Dad.
I was 13, and I had had an enormous urge to make music for a couple of years . .
Initially it had been a banjo . . I did get a very cheap Chinese Ukelele, but it was dreadfully disappointing.
Then it was a saxophone, but the cost of one was far beyond what my poor old Mum and Dad could afford, and I understood . ..
From there it went on to drums .  .I really wanted a set, but again the old finances were nowhere near able to even stretch to a snare! So that went out of the window.
And from there it went onto a guitar.
I pored over an Argos catalogue for months. I think they then realised that that was what I really wanted. They said they'd think about it, so long as I considered getting lessons, to which I consented . . . even though I wanted to be Mick Ralphs (of my favourite band, Mott The Hoople).
And that was it . . . I had no idea I'd get one for Christmas. I hoped I would, really really hoped.
But at that age I had developed a really bad habit, namely searching for Christmas pressies.
Who hasn't done it?
I didn't do it all the time, but that year I was so hungry to know what I was going to get, that I did.
There was nothing in the usual obvious places; I did find a cache of what I knew to be books and so on, but having glimpsed the bag I went no further. It didn't matter what the books were or what they were going to be . . it was sufficient that they were there. There was no guitar though.
I was disappointed.
Now my Mum and Dad never ever let us down at Christmas. We often struggled financially, but at Christmas they always pulled out all stops and we had a thundering good time and never wanted for anything.
Was this to be a year when a grey cloud of disappointment would float down and drape itself upon my shoulders?
Of course I would never say a single word . . that would have meant that I was somehow selfish and gauche, but it would have lodged with me, and I would have thought long and hard about how I would be able to afford to purchase my new guitar when I only earned £1 a week on  my milk round. Time was of the essence, because soon, Ian Hunter, Verden Allen, Pete Watts and Buffin were going to be knocking on my door and asking me to come and replace Mick! **
Anyway, to cut a long and boring story short . . come Christmas morning, what was there at the foot of my bed? You guessed it, a guitar!
I was totally shocked and wonderfully surprised simply because I had no idea it was in the house (Dad had actually hidden it in our loft . . a genius move.)
And as is the way with FB I have actually managed to explain something to myself.
My Christmas nosing around is exactly the same as why I shouldn't scan negatives before studying the contacts.
Everything looks disappointing on a monitor, and negatives really do too.
My viewing of my negatives is entirely equivalent to my searching for Christmas presents and instead of just leaving well alone, actually opening the bags and riffling through the contents too!
There is something intangibly wonderful about printing that first negative from a sequence.
You feel the image looks good.
You carefully remove it from its sleeve, dust it down, place it in the negative carrier, lock down the enlarger head, align the easel, focus the image, stop down the lens,  maybe make a test print, develop it and fix it, assess it in normal light, go back, check focus again, load a sheet of paper into the easel,  expose the paper with maybe a bit of dodging and burning, remove paper, develop and fix it, and assess again under normal light; if you are happy you put the print into your washer, if not you still do and then go and make another print with slightly more tweaks.
At the end of this you have a physical object.
Not an image on a monitor, but an actual print that you can look at, or maybe mount, or even give to someone.
It is your hard work.
From cradle to grave.
From a moment in the real world, to two dimensionalism.
Incredible if you think about it, for you have rendered the colourful, physical world around you with all its light and noise, chaos and humanity, into a two dimensional, black and white image. 
And therein lies the tale.
It might not be the best print in the world, it definitely isn't the best image, but it is yours and your take on things. You've put in a lot of hard work to arrive at that point.
It is a craft skill.
So is this the end of scanning for me?
Maybe not, but the thing is I have realised that something has been lost from my natural way of working and for that I am grateful, because I can now work at getting things back to normal.
Anyway at last I can maybe get to the essence of this FB, namely the contact print (Part One . . oh yes there'll be a technical Part Two too).
A good contact print is a thing of beauty.
And I am not aluding to large format contact prints either, I mean a work contact, from your whole roll of film, whether 35mm or medium format.
It is an essential thing, because it shows not only your images and the sequence in which you took them, but other things too: the physicality of you film for a start (I always like seeing the film name on the side of the film); whether your camera is behaving itself (uneven frame spacing can rear its ugly head and give you a warning); how your exposures are; even something like composition can be readily judged from a small contact.
But best of all, what you get is a story made in a short period of time or months.
The story of your life whilst the camera was with you.
In a lot of ways it is better than your brain, because brains are fragile and selective and forgetful, whereas photographs on contact prints are selective and permenent records.
This element of reading a story and reacting to it is entirely what I have missed for the last year.
Sad isn't it.
A convenience becomes a hobble.
But no more. The sleeper awakes! To arms!!
Well something like that anyway . . .

This is from the Trip - made on 3 year expired Kodak TMX 400 rated at EI 320. It's a rubbish contact though - all squinty and 'orrible.

This is a better made contact. Camera was a Nikon F3.

The above are contact prints made on a recent trip to Liverpool.
They are records of what caught my eye, made on two very different cameras carried at the same time - a Nikon F3 with a 35mm f2,8 lens, and an Olympus Trip 35.
Either camera would be a great travel companions, but I found myself being more loose with the Trip as it was so unbotrusive . . .
The Nikon leant itself to a more contemplative and composed form of photography.
Both are good and bad, crass and well-observed, uneven and consistent; but they are part of a story.
My story.

This was taken with the F3. I like the fact that there appear to be some mechanical guts showing. It looks like something from Alien

The was taken with the Trip. I think it says something, but I haven't worked  out quite what yet

Well done for getting this far.
This has been a ramble and I apologise.
Part Two will explain the best way to make a contact print . . but I'll maybe leave that for a couple of weeks so you can recover.
God bless and thanks for reading.

** They never did come knocking . . . but I still love 'em anyway.

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