Saturday, February 23, 2019

Winter Light

Central New Mexico weather gets complicated in February.  Sunny, warm days create an impression of Spring being just around the corner.  Winter then reasserts itself with numbing cold, gray skies and snow flurries.  Carrying my little Olympus Infinity Stylus in my pocket helps me cope with the unpredictability.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

HIgh Tech

Margaret has a small collection of orchids on a table in the southeast corner of our living room.  I think all have been given to her by friends who have given up on the plants after their initial blooming.  Margaret's success in reviving the plants seems to be based mostly on providing a brightly lit location, once-weekly watering and a large dose of patience.

When I was a kid in the 1950s orchids were rare and expensive.  Hobbyists grew orchids in elaborate temperature and humidity-controlled hot houses.  The main commercial outlets were florists which made the cut flowers available mostly in the form of corsages for teenage mating rituals.

Today, an astounding variety of blooming orchids can be found in about any supermarket, priced low enough to encourage impulse purchases.  The horticultural innovations along with production and marketing techniques rival those of the computer industry in their complexity.  The best description I found of the current state of the industry through a quick Google search was an article hosted at Perdue, Development of Phalaenopsis Orchids for the Mass-Market by R.J. Griesbach.  The final two paragraphs nicely sum up the amazing industrialization of orchid production and where it is headed:

Phalaenopsis production is now international in scope. For example, in one operation breeding occurs in the United States. Selected clones are sent to Japan where tissue culture progation is initiated. Successful cultures are then sent to China for mass proliferation. In vitro grown plantlets are next sent to the Netherlands for greenhouse production. Finally, flowering plants are returned to the United States for sales. Very few Phalaenopsis are bred, propagated, flowered, and sold in the same country.

At this time, production does not meet the demand. It is widely expected that sales will increase as production increases. Demand for Phalaenopsis should continue well into the future as new types are developed. Based upon today’s breeding efforts, the cultivars of the future will have a compact growth habit, variegated foliage, fragrance, and be ever flowering.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

On Slowing Down

I've found myself lately making some stupid mistakes in my photographic endeavors.  It seems pretty clear to me on thinking it over a bit that I'm not now - maybe never have been - particularly good at multi-tasking.  I seem to have quite a variety of interests and obligations and it is clearly a mistake to try to take care of more than one or two at a time.  So, I'm going to try to slow things down a bit and try to focus better on each thing , and keep my priorities straight.

Part of my problem involves the generosity of friends.  Recently, I have been gifted several fine cameras and an Apple IMAC.  I'm thrilled to have each of those items, but I've got to do a better job of pacing myself in taking advantage of my sudden wealth of opportunity.  The IMAC, for instance, is particularly welcome as a chance to learn to use an Apple system.  People occasionally ask me for help with their computers and if it happens to be an Apple I'm skating on thin ice because I've been using Windows machines for a very long time.  Similarly, going from a highly automated camera like the Minolta X-700 to a much older mostly manual camera with some issues takes some real gear shifting.

I do have to admit that I have one very large advantage over most of my photographer friends in that I am long past the point in life when I had to get up and go to work every weekday morning.  At this point, I'm really impressed with the quality of photographic work I see from some of my younger friends while fitting it into a schedule over which they have little control for at least forty hours a week.  So, I really have no very good excuse not to get things under control.  Realistically, however, I'm pretty sure it is going to take some thoughtful effort to be successful.

I'm thinking one thing I can do right off is to cut back on my blog posting.  One post per week is probably a  practical upper limit, and once a month may be even better.  Actually, that is something that may take care of itself if I just focus a bit better on thoroughness and quality in my photographic projects.  Other ideas and suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Why Photography?

What are people looking for in photographic images?  What is it that people like about photos?  What are photographers trying to communicate with their images?  These questions seldom get asked explicitly, yet they lurk under every photographic presentation even though the answers are rarely articulated.  It seems that there is a disconnect between visual perception and verbalization.

A possible way to approach the appeal and expression of visual imagery through photography is to look at what came before the invention of photography.  Painting, drawing and sculpture are obvious precursors, but then one must ask the same question: what is the appeal in those art forms?  It seems to be a tautological trap that leads nowhere.  A better approach might be to look at some art forms that were in vogue immediately prior to the invention of photography which took place about 1839.

Pinhole images, camera obscura devices and cut paper shadowgraphs were available centuries before the invention of photography.  Those techiques produced realistic portrayals of people and scenes from nature.  What set photographic images apart from those primitive technical precursors was the persistence of a tonally complex image on a two-dimensional surface.  The first instance of such an accomplishment with commercial viability was Louis Daguerre's invention of the daguerreotype process in which a light-sensitive emulsion was coated on a polished black plate on which a lens-focused image could be recorded.

Daguerre around 1844 - Wikipedi
Daguerre's technical breakthrough was based on earlier work by Niépce, but of equal importance was Daguerre's personal history -- he was a painter, a theatrical set designer and the co-inventor in 1822 of a theatrical presentation known as the Diorama.  The Wikipedia page on the Diorama provides this description of the experience:
The Diorama was a popular entertainment that originated in Paris in 1822....the Diorama was a theatrical experience viewed by an audience in a highly specialized theatre. As many as 350 patrons would file in to view a landscape painting that would change its appearance both subtly and dramatically. Most would stand, though limited seating was provided. The show lasted 10 to 15 minutes, after which time the entire audience (on a massive turntable) would rotate to view a second painting.
The objective of the Diorama was to produce an awe-inspiring illusion of reality through the use of expertly crafted paintings selectively illuminated to create a sense of movement and the passage of time.  It was really more of a precursor to motion pictures than to still photography, but the technolgy to achieve that kind of fluid narrative would not be available for more than half a century.  So, Daguerre's invention -extraordinary as it was - perhaps did not live up to his ambitions. But, it was a crucial step in the proliferation of both still and moving images anchored in reality.

Talbot's invention of the reproducible negative image, and then Eastman's innovations in flexible roll film and simple cameras stimlated the explosive growth of photographic imagery, which became the dominant visual experience at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.  However, while the volume of photographic images hugely outpaced other visual representations, the older forms persisted and developed on their own course.  Painters continued to paint, sculptors sculpted, and Dioramas were adapted to showing scenes which might otherwise be inaccessible because of time and distance constraints.  Natural history museums became particularly adept at constructing Dioramas featuring animal life in natural appearing settings, including extinct species in conjectured landscapes.

People at all levels of society in the western world embraced photography as both consumers and producers of images.  However, there was also a concurrent wide-spread development of Diorama forms at a popular level, often promoted by hobbyist groups such as modelers of aircraft and operators of scale model railways. In fact, today there are likely very few family homes that do not contain numerous miniature Diorama-type displays.  Such displays are often rudimentary and the fabricators likely have never heard the term, "Diorama", but they clearly are related to the intent of the original Dioramas to offer a representation of reality,  perhaps centered more on intensely personal experience.  Glass front cabinets and tabletops contain all manner of small displays of treasured objects arranged to suggest some counterpart in real life.  Doll collections, tea sets, gun collections, hunting trophies; the list is as long and wide as human experience.  The intent of such displays is often to represent relationships and life experiences which are no longer directly accessible.  They may also represent an effort at self definition and the construction of identity.  Vernacular photography often serves those same ends.

Having practiced photography for a large part of a long life I have some favorite photographic images hanging on my walls.  I also have several Diorama-type displays in cabinets and there are a couple which share space with my computers on my desk.  I would say that both types of imagery serve the same purposes for me, that of representation of some percieved reality and that of construction and reinforcement of identity.  The photographs are mostly depictions of family members and scenes of treasured landscapes and travel records.  The Diorama-type displays are miniature, mostly symbolic, representations of identity often connected to an early and long interest in flight.

The miniature Japanese kites taped to the side of my computer remind me of building and flying kites from a hill in San Francisco.  On top ot the computer is a collection of small aircraft models.  My first flight experience was in the Piper Cub.  Hanging on the wall above the models is a cyanotype print of a Russian reconnaissance plane from WWII housed at a museum near El Paso.  To the right of my computer monitor is a fishbowl terrarium; on the top cover rests a paper model of a bi-wing amphibious aircraft, a Grumman Duck.  To the casual observer that model and its placement is a quaint decoration.  To me, however, the assemblage suggests a real life adventure from my youth of flying over the jungles of the northwest Amazon in just such a craft.

The whole flight obsession is related to the family hero, my uncle, who took to the skies at the age of eighteen during WWII.  He flew in two more wars after that.  His example, while kindling enthusiasm for the idea of the freedom of flight, proved unattainable for me in any direct way as I felt I lacked the athleticism needed for actually piloting an aircraft.  However, I did find other ways to express my interest in hobbies that ultimately included photography.

The little terrarium Diorama was partly related to my uncle's example, but it was also an expression of a sought after identity as an explorer nurtured by reading many books in my childhood about Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century explorers.  I did not have any real aptitude for meaningful exploration either, but I was lucky enough to survive my limited experiences in that realm and to ultimately go on to developing a more mature outlook on life's challenges and opportunities.  My heroes these days tend to be artists who have helped me to see the world in new ways, and the self-description and identity I am focused on now is that of photographer.

(Watching myself go by.)
I came across a post at Lenscratch featuring the work of Lori Kella who constructs elaborate paper dioramas which she then photographs.  The results are unique and related to several other post-modern trends in photographic styles.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019


I mentioned in a recent post that I regretted not holding onto my Yashica Lynx 14.  About a week later one showed up on my porch, a gift from a generous reader.

This one has an accurate and quiet shutter, smooth focusing, and a viewfinder that is a bit brighter than the one I had fifteen years ago.  The meter works, but is a couple stops low and will need some attention.  To enhance the contrast of the rangefinder patch I added a square of color film leader over the front window, and that makes the focusing much easier. I also added a neck strap made from a bootlace which is secured to the snap swivels with a couple hangman's knots.  I loaded some Kodak ColorPlus 200 in the camera and took it for a walk to Old Town.

I shot some more with the Lynx after our monthly meeting of New Mexico Film Photographers.  Margaret and I took a walk through the UNM campus and met up at the Fine Arts and Design Library with Greg Peterson who has put together a marvelous display there of Twentieth Century film cameras.

Greg follows the same policy as I in acquiring cameras for his collection -- rarely paying more than thirty or forty dollars for anything.  He seems to have quite a bit more patience and perseverance in that pursuit, however, as he has turned up very fine examples of the best film cameras ever produced from all over the globe.  I was particularly impressed with his medium format and large format Graflex cameras.  The big single reflex press camera had a f4 Tessar that must have made marvelous images.  Greg said his favorite shooter in the group was a Canon 7 rangefinder.  Greg mentioned that there was a nice display of antique radios over at the Engineering Library, so I went there the next day to finish up the roll of ColorPlus with a few more low light shots.

The radios were all from the 1920s when commercial broadcasting became feasible with the widespread introduction of radio receivers.  The collection included many simple crystal sets which were often built from kits, but there are also many examples of more sophisticated radio receivers from the big makers including Crosley, RCA and Western Electric.
    The Yashinon-DX lens handled the dim light ok, though the florescent lamps presented a challenge for the daylight color film.  I shot at f2 and 1/60.  The blowup of the small label at the right edge of the image shows the good resolution of the lens at that large aperture.

I'm looking forward to doing some more low light work with the Lynx 14.  Maybe I'll even get myself out on the street to shoot some night life.