Thursday, January 31, 2013

the death of film

Another treatment on the theme can be found on the NYT Lens Blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Piedras Marcadas

Warmer weather in Albuquerque prompted me to ride over to the Piedras Marcadas section of the Petroglyph National Monument.

The rock art along the volcanic ridge west of town is mostly in the Rio Grande style from the Pueblo IV period, spanning the 14th to the 17th Centuries.  At that time the Puebloan people were abandoning the big ceremonial centers like Chaco Canyon in the Four Corners region.  They concentrated along the Rio Grande valley in large agricultural settlements and the rock art reflected the flourishing of the Katsina cults.  Images of horses show that the period overlapped the Spanish invasion.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cold Snaps

We had a week of very low temps in Albuquerque.  Margaret decided we needed to get over to the Tingley Beach ponds to feed the ducks and geese.  It is always a bit of a challenge to get by the pair of big geese that dominate the shoreline.

It seems to me that the central third of the image produced by the Panda's simple lens is about as sharp as most of my multi-element lenses.  By achieving the proper relationship in the composition between foreground and background it is possible to achieve images which are hard to distinguish from those made by much more sophisticated cameras.

The other key elements to success with the Panda are making sure the lighting conditions match the exposure latitude of the film in the camera, and to keep the camera steady while making the exposure.  With some care you can brace the camera adequately by putting the string lanyard around your neck and pushing down on the camera while bracing it against your body.  When possible, bracing the camera solidly against some stable support is even better.  The shutter action on the Panda is quite a bit smoother than most simple box cameras, and it does seem a bit snappier too, though probably not quite up to a fiftieth of a second.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Winter Break

With few people on campus during the holidays it was a nice opportunity to walk around and focus on forms, spaces, stairways and passages as they were envisioned by the architects and builders.

The Ansco Panda is not the camera of choice for classic architectural work.  The single-element meniscus lens produces blurry borders and shows quite a lot of pincushion distortion.  Still, I think those faults can be turned to features with a bit of thought and some judicious cropping if need be.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jordi Socías

Most of the photos exhibited in Maremagnum, the Jordi Socías retrospective now at the Cervantes Institute in Albuquerque, are black and white and many were made on film.  That makes the show an unusual opportunity to see an art form that has all but disappeared in the digital deluge.  Also, Jordi Socías is a pretty good photographer, though you won't necessarily be able to arrive at that conclusion by only viewing the pictures on display.

There are over a hundred large prints which include examples from a long career as a photojournalist.  Unfortunately this show at the Cervantes repeats the mistake they always make of exhibiting a lot of very big prints with no context.  That is a particularly debilitating situation for a selection drawn from the work of a photojournalist, and the misfortune is compounded by the photographer's quiet style and the fact that he chronicled a period of Spain's history that was high in anxiety but largely bereft of dramatic confrontations.  

After Spain moved on from dictatorship to democracy, Socías focused his efforts on making celebrity portraits.  There is a wall-full of the portraits in a tight grid at the show.  They are quite competent, some are even compelling if you recognize the sitter.  I was quite taken by the picture of a young Arundhati Roy whose fragile beauty Socías captured well.  Of course, I have read Roy's books and am aware of her extraordinary courage and political commitment; I can only wonder how others would see the portrait who do not bring their own context to it.  I thought the picture on the opposite wall of the three young Cubans in the back of a car trumped all the high-priced celebrity.

The Maremagnum show was put together in 2005 to publicize a book with the same title, and it seems Socías has been touring the world with it ever since.  Unfortunately, the book is out of print and there do not seem even to be used copies of it available on Amazon.  Googling Socías images brings up some of his celebrity portrait work, but doesn't give a good account of his career, and the reviews one finds are all the same boiler-plate.  The best interview I found was on the site of a Czech radio station and conducted at the time when the exhibit was passing through Prague.  

I'm intending to return to the Cervantes to view the exhibit without the distraction of the opening night crowd, and perhaps I'll have more to say about Socías after that.  In the meantime I'd be really happy if any of the Spanish visitors to my blog would take the time to comment on Socías  and the current state of photography in Spain.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I'm not usually a fan of celebrity portraiture, but I'm looking forward to this exhibit opening tomorrow night at the Cervantes Institute in Albuquerque.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

light and shadow

I think it is often useful to get back to the basics of technology and technique in photography.  I took these with the Ansco Panda on my way home from Fine Arts Library at UNM the other day.  I just finished the book I got there about paleolithic art by David Lewis-Williams, the South African anthropologist.  He revived an interest in the study of incised and painted rock art by bringing ideas from neuropsychology and ethnography to the discussion.  His work along with that of David Whitley in this country provides a credible hypothesis of the origins of art and answers interesting questions about rock art that were previously inaccessible.

For instance, a particularly interesting aspect in the study of ancient rock art is the similarities one sees between the rock art which is found in areas separated by great gulfs of time and space.  Lewis-Williams convincingly demonstrates that the likeness is not the result of cultural/geographic diffusion, but rather the outcome of shared sensory structures and processes common to all modern humans and manifested in the exploration of levels of consciousness.  The mechanisms for exploring consciousness used universally were dreams, sensory deprivation and overload, and hallucinogenic drugs.  The art which was produced on rock surfaces - often deep  in caves - was the product of shamans and vision questers.

Not all anthropologists are comfortable with the theoretical constructs proposed by Lewis-Wilson.  I think he oversteps his data in some instances.  His allegation that Neanderthals could not remember their dreams or understand the spiritual abstractions of their Homo sapien peers seems a step too far to me.  Of course, my brief discussion of this here is of no consequence and I have to recommend an actual reading of Lewis-Wilson and Whitley for real understanding of the issues.

While I can't claim any personal authority in regard to ideas about the origins of art, I do have a long interest in the subject and some direct involvement with the topic.  I spent many years wandering around in the desert of southern New Mexico searching out examples of rock art.  Most of my finds were recorded in photographs on a web site which I maintained for a long time.  I removed the link to that site from my current web site recently because I no longer have a close relationship with the subject, but I may have to restore it and revisit my ideas on the matter. (Sacred Places: New Mexico Rock Art is currently available on Mike Eckman's photography website.)

Earlier in my life I was privileged to spend some time with tribal people of the Northwest Amazon who were both highly accomplished artists as well as explorers of the levels of consciousness using a great variety of vision-inducing substances.  While there is quite a lot of rock art along the upper reaches of the Amazon, I believe none of it is connected to the living populations.  However, the people I visited express themselves artistically in every aspect of their lives through music, decorative arts and story telling.  I saw a lot of that come together in ritual dance celebrations by elaborately costumed performers.  The mind altering substances used in conjunction with the dances included coca which was chewed, finely ground tobacco blown into the nose through bone tubes and chontaduro beer made by chewing the fruit and spitting it into bowls where it quickly ferments.

People of the Mirití-Paraná  -  Photo by Richard Evans Schultes

Friday, January 11, 2013

la vie domestique

Weather and lighting conditions get a little hard to predict this time of year.  In order to extend the possibilities for shooting with my Ansco Pandas I've got film in both of my cameras.  The Fuji Acros 100 takes care of the usual sunny day scenario.  Tmax 400 in the other camera lets me shoot under cloudy skies, or even indoors with good window light.  Of course, the Tmax could also be pushed a couple stops if necessary, so the spectrum of possibilities is really pretty wide with this simple box camera.

I used this same two camera strategy when I was first working with the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash, but that camera is bulky and required carrying along a bag for the cameras.  The compact Panda can actually be stuffed in a jacket pocket, so it is less of a problem to take along two of them.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Construction subjects have always been a great favorite of mine.  This is the first time I can recall shooting the subject with a box camera.  I'm tempted to go back to the site with a long telephoto to get at the drama of the men working in the steel grid, but I thought the Ansco Panda handled the subject well given its limitations.

This is my first effort with CS2 Photoshop.  It offers a bit more control over tonal values and I think it produces a somewhat richer palette of gray tones than did PS7.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Past

Poinsettia - direct scan
I took a month-long break from blogging.  It always seem worthwhile to break from routine.  I didn't get around to doing any photography until just recently, but I did spend some time tidying up my web site and the blog.  The most noticeable difference is the addition of some links to galleries of my photography organized in some of the traditional categories including still life and portraits.  That was a useful exercise for me to help me look at what I have done well or poorly over the years.  I don't know if I'll ever get around to adding a gallery for landscapes; I don't have much of an eye for the broad view.  I also renewed my yearly resolution to be more deliberate and less opportunistic in my photography.  We'll see how that goes.

Fine Arts Library - UNM - Olympus XA
I spent $35 to get a guest borrower card from the UNM library a while ago, but just recently got around to making use of it.  The Fine Arts Library is located in the building that houses the architecture school, and it has a fantastic collection of photography books.  I checked out a couple on still life photography, and also got a book about the Upper Paleolithic origins of Western Art by the anthropologist, David Lewis-Williams.

I downloaded and installed the CS2 version of Photoshop yesterday after Adobe made the program freely available.  It isn't really much different from PS7 which I have used for years, but that program developed a problem with the browser display which I haven't been able to correct.  The CS2 installation files are kind of a mess.  It took me three tries and two Win XP system restores to get everything working properly.  However, the price is right.

So that's what I did on my vacation from blogging.  I'll get back on topic tomorrow.