Monday, May 23

Tell Me A Story • 3: Cryptic Moments

Philosophy Unbounded?

Lens glass
Slices life

Ambiguity: To the artist it's a window, to the craftsman it's a wall.

I try to make my pictures about something, y'know? I'm searching for images that resonate some thought and feeling. Anne Leibowitz once wrote, "A photographer hangs frames around pieces of life. In every direction I look, I'm framing." Works of art are about something, but where to find the answer to their questions? In the artist's mind? I don't think so. In fact when the creator supplies an unambiguous answer to that question we modify his title... We call him a commercial artist, right?  Which is a lot more craft than art.

And what about interior designers? Are they artists? Is decorative art - art? When we buy an image to coordinate with the couch, have we purchased art? Or does the art exist independent of, the couch? Should  a professional artist care? Uh-oh, when someone adds, professional to their title, that means they expect to augment their income from their work, right? So they are driven by some market's interest.

Which brings us back to the creator supplying an answer to a market's question. Of course there are situations where a market finds an artist's work which was created without an expectation to specifically answering someone else's question. But once again I've got this niggling question:
What is the difference between creativity and adaptability? Does the weight of survival inexorably shape the meaning of a professional artist's work toward answering some market's questions?

Art, they say in art school:Art lacks constraints - it is philosophy unbounded. And yet the product of art schools are artists who want to survive through their work. Which is one hell of a constraint, huh? No wonder we call 'em starving artists.

Oh, the picture up there is another in this year's Race Against Racism 2016. I'm enchanted by the beauty of this woman. Her face is a portraitist's dream and this slice of life is about... about... Well okay... What's the answer?

Geek Stuff: Another hand-held capture through my Canon 7D's EFS 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens. It's razor sharp... perfect for slicing life into cryptic moments, huh? 

Monday, May 16

Tell Me A Story • 2: Suspending Disbelief

Runner in the April 30th, 2016 YWCA Race Against Racism

We live across the street from Lancaster's YWCA. Since the turn of the century the Y's held a Saturday April morning Race Against Racism attracting thousands of runners. Nice of them to flood the street out front and the park we adjoin with a sea of puzzling faces. And As I wrote in the last post... "A face ignites its own explanation: Which is a dramatic narrative." So wandering through the crowds with my long lens (Canon 70-300mm) lets me pluck out wondering, y'know? 

Take this young guy. Someone said he's a 16 or 17 year old high school student. Hmmmm.... He looks like a movie star, no? It's hard to pry out tales from young faces, particularly when they are way attractive. Still, although it looks like the young man's won a lot in the gene lottery, I'm guessing that those shoulders and arms took a bunch of discipline to pump, right? And his caramel skin and curly hair seem latin? About thirty feet from this guy sat a collection of food vendors where he could have grabbed candy, fries, pretzels, and pastries. Instead he chose that apple. 

Uh-huh, there's discipline there and add the 5 kilometer run he just finished the guy's got an athlete's instinct. Do we instinctively trust handsome or pretty faces? It's like attractive people have a unique muscle that works emotionally. But it also defends them like an armor... protects them from probing. Maybe that's why lead actors are so good-looking: so that we'll believe whatever character they'll pull on for a performance? 

Does beauty make it easier for an audience to suspend disbelief? Hmmmm.... 

Grabbed the shot hand-held with my Canon 7D at 160mm (perfect length for portraits, huh?), 1/1000 sec and a low noise 400 ISO. The morning was slightly overcast and still early enough for sweet light. 

Friday, May 6

Tell Me A Story

A face ignites its own explanation: Which is a dramatic narrative.   

Street portraits capture what? Maybe the first words, of the first sentence, of a story. They’re about portents. They’re like keyholes. We plug our imaginations into them to create a dramatic narrative. We expect a face to have more meaning than what it communicates. Its first jolt to our imaginations is processed by our emotions to hunt for collateral messages. We’re programmed to find order that creates meaning. A face ignites its own explanation: A dramatic narrative.

A face sliced from an infinite number of instants at 1/500th of second is like an onion-skin-thin slice of tree. The texture and rings give up some knowledge of age and maybe species, perhaps gender… It gives back something about the tree’s experiences with physics, biology, and even how it leaned against nature’s propositions. But we’d need to see a lot more of the tree to release secrets of its coping mechanisms. It tells of the way life’s winds and weather whirled about its location. What stunting or enabling happened as it aged.

Street portraits trigger speculation. The best of them are purées of nuanced ingredients which fuel then steer the engine of wonder. And art without wonder is merely craft.

Who is this man? What a tantalizing hint he gives us both with his fleeting expression and with the way he’s allowed years to chisel his face. See how he’s chosen to permit and resist life’s propositions?

My take? Here’s a strong, alert guy… A skeptic but not a cynic… He knows there’s enough evidence to make decisions. Learned to cautiously seek it. And learned to learn from it. He doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

About a century ago, the now forgotten journalist and humorist Ambrose Bierce wrote, “Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum… I think I think, therefore I think I am.” And I think that the man I pictured up there, would think carefully about that joke… and smile.

On the last Saturday of April 2016  Lancaster’s YWCA held its annual Race Against Racism right outside of my home. For the past 16 years I’ve hunted among the many hundreds of runners and spectators who participate for these storybook faces. This year I gathered them through my Canon 7D’s EFS 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, then tried to decipher their stories. 

Saturday, April 23

Crapping Up The Urnings

I'm thinking that what made the 1910-1920s B&W images seem profound was to a certain degree the way that their camera lenses sucked. There were so many opportunities for light to gyrate inside their lens barrel, then imperfections in the glass would slice away at image edges so that high contrast pictures seemed to smoke off into misty fog.

It's the curse of our tech that we can only get that effect by crapping at the laser sharp stuff that decent cameras (and even indecent cameras) now capture. What has perfection hidden away? A couple of posts back... On March 18th, this urn caught my attention when I saw it outside of Robber Baron, Henry Flaggler's Whitehall mansion. But my Canon 7D's too good to replicate early20th century fine art photography. So... How about another go at the thing...

A foggy burst of urn

Made misty, this marble sculpture sort of emerges from a dream... The dream of a guy who was rich beyond imagining when most people weren't. OTH, what's new?

Sunday, March 27

What About The P-Word?

1925 • Packard • Paddy Wagon
Trigger Alert...

See on the rear side of the Fort Lauderdale cop wagon? It says "P" Wagon. Odd about this. People use the “P” word with impunity, but never the “N” word? Hmmm... and the Ps came here to escape the Brits’ attempt at genocide during the potato famine, were discriminated against and despised (No Irish Need Apply). and here’s a 1925 vehicle with the “P” word painted right onto it??? My family lost uncles who were impressed off the boat into the Union cause where they died to end slavery. Yet we celebrated St. P*ddy's Day earlier this month when millions got falling down drunk.

Wonder what’d happen if someone painted “N-Wagon on a cop vehicle today? Don’t ask, I know.... Sigh...

GEEK STUFF: Fort Lauderdale has an internationally acclaimed Packard museum. The collection's totally hot. I captured this 1925 Paddy Wagon (Look at the back panel... that's what it reads) with my Canon 7D hand held then washed it through PS CC with help from my tool-making friends at AlienSkin and Topaz. Oh, the classic cop-truck runs wonderfully.

Friday, March 18

Once There Wasn't Color

Standard Oil tycoon Henry Flagler built his Palm Beach palace, Whitehall in 1902. It was the photographic age dominated in America by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, arguably this country's fathers of fine art photography. Kodak disposable cameras were around for over two decades when Whitehall went up, democratizing photography by stripping it away from heavy metal priests who lumbered under giant 8X10 monsters, speaking in a tongue reserved for initiates into a secret craft.

But the Big Camera artistes were finally breaking into galleries with exquisitely exposed and focused large format prints of very still objects captured in squint-bright sunlight to maximize depth of field and tonal range.

The marble urns on Whitehall's front portico ooze out the feelings of the Gilded Age, don't they? Look at their perfection. Imagine the skills of their unknown crafters. I see these twin prints framed large on the walls of an old-money mansion. Or perhaps the waiting room of a great city's largest white-shoe law-firm or  brokerage house. They belong to a hushed-place thick with the scent of money.

Now we can do this without tripods on a Canon 7D through its standard sense with the help of the custom controls that PS-CC allows Alien Skin's Exposure X to bring to bear.

Wednesday, March 16

Winter in Miami

Miami • Late February • 2016

Poke around in your memory banks. Look for snapshots. They're impressions. We recall in art? This image is what's in my cerebral hard drive. As opposed to what's recorded on my digital storage space. In fact, I like this image more than what came off of my flash card. It's more reassuring. It's cool to have the skill to display my memory as opposed to my snapshot. What do you think? Is memory a feeling? 

Winter in Florida, BTW, is a feeling. 

Wednesday, March 9

It's a Pelican, Right?

Pelican • Boynton Beach, Fla. • 2/29/16
We went to Florida a couple of weeks ago to stay for ten days and got back last week. February's the cruelest month in America's Northeast. Which is why so many of my buddies and neighbors become snowbirds... Most of them December through March. Work's never allowed us to do it, so their winter tans have always fed a lot of envy. Thanks to an invitation from friends, we finally took the AutoTrain on its overnight run from Virginia to Sanford, Fla. then drove down to the Palm Beach/Boynton Beach area.

It's weird to walk through bone chilling winter winds into the train's door, and walk out into mid summer. And since the ride's through darkness, you can't see the snow disappear and the palm trees sprout. It's as if you nod off in the arctic and awake in the tropics. It's kinda/ like a Twilight Zone thing.

Anyways... Tropics have their own beasties... Like this girl sitting beside our restaurant's dock in hopes that something tasty'll drop. She was about five feet away at twilight and easy to grab through my  Canon 7D's  EFS 17-85mm (f4-5.6) normal lens. Of course I snapped up the dynamic range in CCPC. 

Saturday, February 13

PrintCrafting 2:

Katelynn's Six! Christmas 2015 - The print
Okay, all sorts of challenges are wift-ing out of the PrintCraft project process. And most of them are looking back at you in Katelynn's Six! up there. It perfectly matched every nuance of what I saw on my monitor... AFTERWARD! Uh-huh seems I used Adobe 1998 as my primary color work space as I worked on this image in Photoshop. And I was pretty happy with the result...

Catelynn's 6!: The Original

And since I worked on this on my carefully calibrated iMac monitor. And I tested this image on my iPhone, iPod, and a couple of Mac Pros. They all showed me that image immediately above.The colors are subtly but DISTINCTLY different from the "The Print" at the start of this essay (BlogEssay?). 

So, where'd the ethereal light come from in the print? Unintentionally it seems. Because in converting the image for print on my new Epson P-800, I used the profile for the printer and Epson's Premium High Gloss paper. And POOF! the colors shifted. When I did the hard proofs, the images both at 4X6" and 8X11.5 were exactly matched to the print version at the top. 

Now... It's important that WYSIWYG happens. Important? No - critical. So, now that I can match the monitor to the paper, I need to match the monitored image to the printer, not a capricious gamma shift. As you can see I've not even bought 13X19" or 19X24" sheets. In fact, I'm still holding onto the Epson super premium paper sampler I got with the printer. In the interim I've been popping out 4X6" tests with a final 8X11.5" of each on that premium high gloss double weight. Best way to test the sparkle, right?

Last post handled the color space differently and the colors of that row-block in Lancaster were almost spot on the monitor. Almost. That's why I redid all of the color management settings and, well, I opened with the result. Once again, even though the gamma shift was unexpectedly dramatic, it did give me an image that was completely transferrable to the paper. 

So, I think this tells me that I need to start my images in the final color space. But that looks to mean that I have to understand in advance... at the very inception of pulling an image from the FlashCard.... have to understand the paper upon which I shall finally print it.

That cannot be correct. Do you think about that when you capture images? The paper upon which you might finally print the image? 

So, while a lot's getting better, this looks like a project that will fill productive hours yet. But that's what a hobby's about, right? And in this case I'm learning from the books, essays, and videos of world class experts (who apparently also have editors who know all about  communicating. 

BTW--- GEEK STUFF:I handheld my Canon 7D with an EFS 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens cranked all the way out. And the fill lights were table lamps, the primary light was from the TV monitor Katelynn was watching. Which meant cranking the ISO to 16,000. That, of course either cursed the final image, or flattered it through a gentle shower of noise. I grew up with Kodak's Tri-X as the goto film It shot at 300ASA, but everybody cranked it up 4 or 5 stops. Which meant that grain gave images their authenticity. It was a wonderful texture. 

Friday, February 5

Thinkin' About This Stuff. 1

Okay... There's this thing called "Color Management". And it's all about sliding what you see on the screen into a different-sized envelope.  Only the dimensions of the original are defined in color numbers, and a unique set of metrics Like pushing a hot dog into a cube.

Gamma is a term that defines the dimensions of different spaces. So gamma defines different work spaces like sRGB, or RGB, CMYK, or my favorite RGB (Adobe). There are others. My Canon 7D is set to create RGB images. But net images are usually contained inside of an sRGB box. And each printer/paper combination has its own unique envelope that shapes colors that will be reproduced.

So... Color Management has to do with a series of moves from Camera envelope to monitor envelope to printer/paper envelope. I think of each of those envelopes as gammas. And they just don't overlap. No matter what, it's almost impossible to match a monitor image to final print. 

The cheaper the monitor, the less likely that the process will be predictable. And even with the best monitors, if their screens aren't identically calibrated, both with themselves and standards for other gammas, then what you see you really won't get into a printer and onto its paper.

Three are so many variables here. It's terrifically complex and discouraging if you're printing test prints while changing values of the transmitting gamma. 

Oh... and then there's viewing light. I replaced all of the lights in my studio so that they'd mimic daylight. Tungsten lights darken the dynamic range while shifting the perceived printed image toward red/magenta. I can now hold my print next to my monitor and actually compare the range of colors.  

I'm using the image above as my first level test. The palette is vivid but they fall within a narrow color range. I'm tweaking my computer/monitor combo and working to get the monitor's gamma as close to the Epson P-800/chosen paper gamma. I'm about 90% there.

Tuesday, January 26

Candle Lit Craft

I'm printing again. 

For years I owned an HP 1680 printer Until HP disabled the thing. Uh-huh, under the guise of an update they first altered the driver so that it would no longer allow the use of profiles for any papers other than HP's. Then they ceased to produce (or made very scarce) at least one of the inks. Then, as they sold fewer of those inks, they announced that the fall off in demand indicated that the should discontinue all of them. So the 1680 became a very heavy paperweight. I will never buy another HP device. Pity, the 1680 was a terrific 13X17" appliance but it "only" needed three ink cartridges (with two others interchangeable for B&W printing). So it was not only good, it was inexpensive to feed.

That was over two years ago, and since then I've outsourced prints with frustratingly mixed results. 

Fine art photographic printing is high craft. Worse, it's a fragile skill that, like shooting a pistol, demands regular practice to stay fresh. So, irregularly for the past couple of years, I read printer reviews, and saved my money. There are only three companies which make reasonably competitive machines for the prosumer. And since HP is out, that meant Canon and Epson. A reason I'd originally chosen HP was that they built printing nozzles into their ink cartridges. So if one irreparably jammed, the only cost was the ink that remained in that discarded container. 

Canon also builds nozzles into cartridges, Epson OTH feeds ink through a dedicated nozzle in its machine. Should that jam (and there's a lot of history of that happening - it's a common complaint), a big piece of the printer unit needs to be professionally replaced. Big Expense!

But Epson is the printer with the longest experience with pigment-based inks. Over the years I've asked artists whose prints I'd admired about pigment versus dye-abased ink. They convinced me that my own work could be considerably more subtle if I shifted to pigments. Side by side comparisons of my own prints done in dye (on my original HP) compared to pigment (done by friends), convinced me that I could see their extended gamut.

And yet, these printers took nourishment from 8, 10, 12 and more cartridges of ink - an expensive proposition. Moreover, the seductive song of prints larger than 13X19" also nuzzled my imagination. And then out came Epson's SureColor P800! 

This thing could produce 17X22" prints - or much longer with an inexpensive paper-roll accessory. It's mouth was wide enough to accept thick media and even non paper-materials through various openings. And, reviewers predicted that with its newer machines, that Epson has largely overcome the clogged nozzle problem assuming that the machine produced at least one print a week and, of course, used only Epson Ultra Chrome HD pigments - in its 8 cartridges. 

Moreover, one of those cartridges was an alternative hue that the machine would substitute for another cartridge when I printed B&W. That eliminated the necessity of manually replacing a cartridge and loss of ink as the machine went through a complete cleaning procedure*. 

Last Black Friday, Adorama in New York offered the P800 at a discount price AND offered TWO mail-in rebates. Making it not only the lowest price I've seen on the P800, but since I can also get a tax deduction on the machine (I am a magazine editor and we use many of my prints both in the pubs and  we print out POS copy for posters and POS cards) all of that combined to make my trigger finger twitch and BANG! The heavy new black device arrived in early December. 

BUT... I told you that printing is a fragile craft. It'd been years since I'd done any. Moreover this machine's very sophistication would magnify any of my faults. 

Soo.... Look, in spite of my prints going toward my day-job, much of my interest in things photographic is also fueled by an excitement over  process. I'll bet that I've spent thousands of hours studying posted images, watching how-to videos, and reading books on everything from art criticism through color theory, lighting, and craft. 

So before firing up the P800 I took the last seven or so weeks to read and study fine art photographic printing. I also bit-the-bullet and subscribed to the Adobe Creative Cloud, which added to the learning curve since I was jumping from Photoshop 4! Without  LightRoom!! Heck, I can do what I imagine right now in PS4 along with the took-kit of filters I've accumulated. And Adobe Bridge has been a perfectly competent device for storing and filing my images. 

However, the books made it clear that the print engines built into PS-CC and LightRoom CC are powerfully more complex than PS4's. So I've gone through a library of study.

Here's where I've come so far... 

1.     √ Epson: The SureColor P800 Series Manual
2.     √ Lisa Snyder: The Challenge of WYSIWYG Printing, PhotoShop Magazine: January 2016, P. 54
3.     √ Rob Shepard:  New Epson Complete Guide to Digital Printing revised & updated 2011: Pixiq
4.     √ Martin Evening: Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers 2016, Focal Press  pp. 671-694.
5.     √ Scott Kelby: The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC Book for Digital Photographers, New Riders
6.     √ Jeff Schewe:  The Digital Print: Preparing Images in Lightroom & Photoshop for Printing
7.     √ Uwe Steinmuller: Fine Art Printing for Photographers: Exhibition Quality Prints with Ink-Jet Printers
9.     √ Scott Kelby: 2015 ,  the Adobe Photoshop book for digital photographers, New Riders, Chapter 13 Pp 438-482

Epson, Adorama, and B&H all have a number of YouTube seminars led by impressive printers.  So I hunkered down weeknights and weekends (and two snow days) working toward my first P800 prints. Last week I made one. Onto Epson Premium 4X6" Glossy photo paper. It was murky, muddy, and didn't come close to my monitors' images. So... I calibrated all of my 5 monitors with a newly purchased DataColor Spyder5. 

Trying again, the color gamut was much wider, but the printed images were still considerably darker than the monitor images. Which brought me back to the books with special attention to color gamuts. AHAH! The images began to sparkle, and I moved up to 8X10" Epson Ultra Premium Glossy photo paper. Which is where I am now. In a few minutes I'm going to take that image atop this post (which I photographed at Christmas, but processed last  night**), to see if I can replicate in print the subtlety of its RGB color range. Then... 

Well, I purchased a sample pack of Epson's legendary Signature Worthy Archival Ink Jet Paper. It's worthwhile to goto and look at the videos they've posted on a number of these surfaces/weights/media papers, each featuring a different fine art photographer's work and thoughts on their favorite paper. 

How will this work out? Hmmmm... I'll letcha' know. K?
*Note, there is still a partial cleaning routine that the P800 does, which is an encouragement to segment printing so that first  all color work THEN all monotone printing is done separately to economize on ink. 

** That image up there was grabbed, hand-held at 300mm, with my Canon 7D with fill-light from a Christmas tree  across the room, with the main light flickering from a candle near to the girl's face.

Friday, January 1

Sometimes my mind changes. Yours?

I like alleyways. They're where time leaves the most dust. Y'know?

Friday, November 20

Cicero @ Trinity

Cicero by Scheemaker  c. 1750 • Trinity College Library, Dublin

It was around 1750 when Cicero was imagined in a marble block under Peter Scheemakers' chisel. And since then Cicero's sat among what eventually grew to just over 50 busts of many of the dead white men whose writings surround them in the library of Trinity college, Dublin. Or at least they do for the moment. Whether they will remain among the 100s of thousands of similar writings of DWMs in this ancient collection is dependent upon the passions of a cultural revolution raging upon western campuses. 

We're at an inflection point. It's factual that these works form a base  that defined Western Civilization. Notice that I've used the past tense there? Which gets me back to that word... inflection. It's sort of paradoxical that this debate is now spread to the campus of Ireland's most distinguished University. Why? This was the island where monks tediously repaired and transcribed the West's oldest thoughts. Footsteps away from this great library hall sits the Book Of Kells, the oldest illuminated Bible in existence: Which is also rumored to be the work of a handful of DWM. Well, there's controversy over the W, so maybe that will save it from the pyre? 

How much longer will Cicero overlook the library's students? Maybe this image of mine is a pre-rubble record? Wouldn't it have been great to have at images like this from say the great library of Alexandria before savages intent upon pillaging and debasing ancient thought put it to the torch? Imagine images from the library or Ephesus, or even from the great libraries of 20th century China that were ravished and looted during their Cultural Revolution? 


Saturday, November 14

Eye - Lash Nostalgia

Samantha At 3

I remember TriX. You? I remember pushing it in a custom hot developer brew to 1,200 ASA and beyond to grab three, four, even five stops along with contrast baggage in a grainy snowstorm. Then hunting for the softest paper or the lowest Polycontrast Filter... Pushing the print through a Bessler diffusion enlarger. Burning in its highlights, holding back shadows... Lots of hand action - Waving like a magician between the lens and paper frame. Every image was a one-off - irreproducible. If a client wanted multiple copies, well, that was a challenge.

Paper was cheap. So was my time. I'd spend an orange-lamp night to leave one 11X14" matte print hanging to air-dry till morning. Now? 

Oh well, look at Sami's eyelashes up there, huh? She was three years old last Christmas (2014) evening, glowing from single-bulb lamplight across the room with a TV monitor doing the fill. Now I scalpel away the color, and crop it. Maybe diddle with the dynamic range some in Photoshop... A half hour job to make a hugely reproducible image. 

I'm writing a December article for our magazines. It's about something that will happen in 2025. One at a time, I'm discussing economic, social, and cultural possibilities with a bunch of experts. Everyone has a different take. And it occurs to me that we've enjoyed a wonderful photographic party over my life. My biggest regret just now is that there can be... will be... Unimaginable parties that I'm going to miss. 

Somehow it makes me nostalgic... For the Sami-future that will happen almost in the blink of her mile long eyelash... Sigh...