Robin Wong's blog today. You must see it.


This is amazing, powerful and wonderful work. This is the kind of work that still gives photography relevance and meaning.  Robin is an inspiration.  I wish him and the people of Malaysia freedom, security and peace.

Film in the post film age.

Digital imaging and film photography have diverged and become two separate functions.  Digital is about endless choices and limitless resources.  Shoot til your battery dies, then recharge and shoot again. The only quantifiable downside to digital imaging is having to wade through the hundreds of thousands of image you might lay down in a year's time. Seems silly but I think digital teaches us that it's a good thing not to make up your mind and lock down a look. The endlessness of resources encourages us to believe that if we only shoot long enough and fast enough then, mathematically, one of the images will be a winner.

Film, with it's parsimonious resourcing teaches us the opposite message.  That given a paucity of frames we'd better go into a situation with something in mind and the chops to nail it down.  For this gentleman above it means getting your subject in twelve frames or less.  Twelve distinct shots, each interrupted by the need to stop and wind the crank to the next frame.

With my Sony Alpha camera I lift it to my eye and the autofocus is automatic and begins as soon as my face gets close enough for an optical sensor to read my proximity.  All I need to do is point the camera at whatever seemed interesting enough to me seconds before and then lean my finger on the shutter until.....I want to stop.  Or I get bored.  The camera will focus, expose, change ISO's to suit the prevailing conditions, all with very little involvement required on my part.

Yes.  I know.  You are a super evolved photographer.  Not only do you not care about what anyone else thinks about anything but you are also capable------no, driven, to use your camera in a  completely manual mode.  The rest of us are subtly influenced by our laziness and the ripe availability of all those modes. We hardly have to think about what we're doing.  It just happens.  Almost by magic. We get separated from the viscera of the process.

On the other hand, the owner of the above Mamiya will lock himself into a "color space" and monochrome or color choice before he even gets started.  No changes for the 12 exposures.  When he sees something he must do a mental calculation to decide how much the potential image really means to him.  When he decides to "go for it" it's assumed that the scene or subject is a "high value" target.  He must focus and compose on a fairly dark and uncompromising screen.  No green light will light up when and if he gets in the ballpark.  There's no meter in that camera either so he'll have to make a well educated guess, or consult a meter.  And then, because the "manual lag" between shots will be measured in full seconds rather than fractions of seconds, he will have to patiently but intently decide on the optimum moment to commit a frame.

Yes.  I know.  Even though you're shooting a digital camera that does 12 fps you are so well controlled; rational and self assured in your technique, that you use only one frame per object of enchantment.  The rest of us are less assured and anxious to hedge our bets.

We head home, slip the card into a reader and push the colors around on our screens.  We push a button and upload our "catch" to our online "collection" and we're done.

This guy will either need to head to a lab and drop off his film or crank up the wet darkroom and soup it himself.  Another chance to ruin 12 perfectly good shots.  And then he'll need to print or scan them.

Film is a process that thrives on slow and careful.  Digital just thrives. Like weeds in a well watered lawn.  They are totally different animals and the practitioners are practicing two different art forms.  Neither has higher moral ground.  And neither is "better."  But as a device for learning, film will go toe-to-toe with the toughest drill sargeant around.  And the lessons you learn stick harder because the film velcro costs more.  $kin in the game = retention.

I notice an increase in Austin photographers shooting film lately.  I wonder what their rationales are.  Think you're a great shooter?  Let's see you do it on some slow Ektachrome.

Photographing events. Being polite.

I'd been looking forward to Eeyore's Birthday party since......last year. It's kind of silly.  Some of my attraction is nostalgia, I've a been attending since the early days when there were fewer than six or seven dozen people in the park celebrating the arrival of Spring and the happiness of being in a wonderful little city, filled with wonderfully creative people.  No matter how the event grows or changes it's still a testimony to our city's spirit.  Our collective will to honor weirdness as a potent antidote to the relentless homogenization of world culture and, at the same time, a wonderful market differentiator for a city that attracts smart and creative people in droves.  

But honestly I love the event because I can go and immerse myself into the fun and take images to preserve what the spirit of the city was for future generations.  Or even just for my son.  The people who come to Eeyore's seem to welcome photography.  I would add that people in general welcome photography that they perceive as gentle and well intentioned and that's how I try to proceed.  But I'm only human, like the rest of you, and I slip over the ethical line from time to time.  I don't hide or try to sneak images.  I don't stand WAAAAAAY back and try to snatch photos with my 70-200mm lens or a 300mm lens.  I think it's only fair to be close enough and obvious enough to give people a fighting chance to object to being photographed, if that's their desire.  But unlike most street photography there's a hint of complicity and permission on the part of the subjects just by dint of coming out into the park in an unabashed way.  Costumed and on parade.  And anyone who has been to an event like this before understands and accepts that they'll be surrounded by our generation of new documentarians.

When I walk through areas of the park where people are in small groups I smile and ask first.  That might not work for your style but I'm less of a candid shooter and more of a photographer who is interested in a visual and social collaboration.  Conversely, if someone is making an ass of themselves in public they are abrogating the rules and become fair game for whatever your style of photography might be.  But that goes both ways.  If you, as a photographer, are in a subject's space without at least their tacit permission then you've also broken the unspoken agreement and are subject to disregard or push back.

While there are no real rules about what gear you drag along with you it would seem to make sense to me to travel as lightly as you can.  I'm a big adherent of one camera, one lens but I watched some photographers take a different approach, finding a space off to one side, setting up a background and a few slaved strobes and inviting party goers to step into the imaginary confines of their temporary "studios" to have their portraits taken.  Seems fun.  And if you don't want to be photographed you don't step into their "studios."

There are some photographers who seem like fish out of water.  They come loaded for bear.  As though they were on a once in a lifetime assignment for National Geographic.  They've got a camera criss-crossed over each shoulder on the fetishistic para-military strap of the moment (because, like their holsters for their handguns, their new straps give em western style "quick draw" capability...).  They've got the "big iron" long zoom on one body and the wide angle zoom on another body.  They've got a big, black camera bags with lots of attached lens sacks hanging like goiters off the sides.  They actually take up the "footprint" of two humans as they swing their optical baggage to and fro.  These guys (and it's always men) make the enjoyable, non-professional documentation of a happy party look like serious and painful work.

I saw my friend, Andy, there. In his usual elegant style he had one little Olympus EP3 with a 45mm lens on the front. It was all he needed.  So minimal that he didn't even include a VF2 finder.  He would just glance at the screen on the back and "use the force."

I saw my friend, John Langmore, there and he held a small Leica rangefinder cupped into one hand.  He was shooting black and white film.  Anything he needed, other than his one, handheld camera had to fit in the pockets of his pants.  No swinging, bashing bags for him.  

(I don't actually ask dogs for permission but I listen closely if they protest...)

In fact, this year most of the photographers who were working the crowd did so with gear minimalism in mind.  They mingled smoothly and seemed to be finding their decisive moments. 

I worked in a very loose stye this year.  I took one camera and one lens.  I chose the Sony a57 and the 85mm 2.8 Sony lens.  The whole package was light and mobile.  The 85 is kind of long on the APS-C sensor of the camera but it's so sharp, wide open, that I came to like it very much for its ability to push the background out of focus.  In the past I've worked in a very controlled way.  I used to shoot with manual exposure.  Last year I used a manual focus 50mm lens on an older, Canon 1DS2 body. This year I set the lens to f3.5, the camera to aperture priority and the ISO to Auto.  If the camera chose a combination that looked to dark I'd punch the exposure compensation button and dial in as much compensation as the monitor in front of my eye indicated would be enough.  It was a fast, fluid and almost unconscious (from a technical point of view) way to shoot and it appealed to me very much.

Since the camera is too new to have a raw conversion profile in any of my raw converters I chose to shoot everything as a Jpeg. If you can't nail shots outdoors without using raw you probably have some practice to undertake...

Using the full 16 megapixels and the highest  quality Jpeg settings I had the potential of cramming about 2400 images on my 16 gigabyte SD card.  No need to carry a spare.  I fudged a bit on the idea of absolute minimalism by sticking a back up battery in the pocket of my shorts.  Didn't need it.  I shoved $20 in my pocket and headed out for fun.

There were several younger people who didn't want to be photographed.  I didn't photograph them.  There were shy tourists in the crowd. Woman in smart polo shirts, Coach bags over one shoulder, beer in hand, gawking at the people in lavish costumes.  They didn't want their pictures taken either.  So I didn't photograph them.

Stylistic Camera Minimalism.

 Chimping with style.

 These guys did both unicycle jousting and unicycle football for an appreciative crowd.

I didn't realize till later that this guy's hat was a Green Lantern hat.  I wish I knew where he got it...

In the end it's really all about having fun and not being such a dick that you ruin other people's fun.  Doesn't take much to be a welcomed presence at a party.  Smile.  Engage in conversation. Don't stare.  Share.  Be open and honest.  And above all, remember that "getting the photograph" is really secondary to being a part of the whole function and helping to make it work for you and everyone else, equally.  There's something about putting a camera in some people's hands that makes them feel entitled to special privileges, to a better vantage point and to be included.  Most of us find out early on that inclusion is earned.  And access is more important than perfection.

The comments are open but....please don't argue that we have a RIGHT to do whatever we want with our cameras in public. I know that.  But sometimes manners make more sense.

Haunting public images.

I sometimes take images because they seem to be telling me stories encapsulated in a single frame.  But they are stories made up of questions instead of statements.  At the end of the day they are captivating but unfulfilling because I will never know the outcome of the stories or the answers to any of the questions that are raised.  We lived surrounded by stories made up of questions.  When we photography them we are no more enlightened than before.  Now we have reference material for our imaginations.  When we write we can fill in the blanks.

I'm more and more curious about WHY we photograph.  And WHY we photograph the scenes and subjects we do.  I assume it's akin to all the psychiatrists out there who seem to practice as a way to grapple with their own emotional drama.  We photograph the things we love and can't hold on to or the things that frighten us which we can't escape.  And lots of scenes in the middle.

Fuji Pro-X1 sightings at Eeyore's Birthday Party.

I had three sightings of Fuji's new, super deluxe, faux rangefinder camera, the Pro-1x at Eeyore's Birthday party yesterday.  I was impressed by the look of the bodies and the wonderful, retro, panache of the engraved white letters.  The body seems to be the right size and have the right look.  Time will tell if the images do the overall design justice.

My most joyful encounter of a new Fuji and its owner was near the main drum circle at the party.  There is generally an inner core of uninhibited dancers, surrounded all around by a diverse group of drummers who quickly get into unison and continue throughout the day.  Drummers come early and leave sporadically only to be replaced by new drummers.

There's an unwritten social rule at Eeyore's, that's been observed for decades, that the only people in the dance circle are people.......dancing.  And it's honored by most photographers, most of the time.  This year there was one lumbering brute with a camera who shoved his way in among the dancers and catatonically photographed them for, literally, hours.  But most people get that there is an ethical line you shouldn't step over.  The exception is for people like our hero above who bring their cameras into the circle and dance with exuberance.

I never caught this guy's name but we showed up early, when things were just getting started.  I noticed his camera because I am a camera nerd.  We all are. That's the nature of people who read this blog.  Anyway, he was standing on the outside of the circle snapping a few photos of the few dancers who were getting started.  Next thing I knew he kicked his shoes off and entered the circle, camera sometimes strapped across his body, sometimes in his hands, and he danced and danced with abandon.  Occasionally he would stop to catch his breath and catch a few frames but for the most part he spent the better part of several hours in rhythmic movement.  Who could begrudge him a few well earned frames from the inner circle?

The Attraction of Exuberant Youth.

I find it fascinating how we collectively lie about aging.  I hear 50+ year old people say all the time, "I would never want to be 18 again.  Who would want to go through all that drama again?  I hated xyz when I was that age...."

They are all liars. There is nothing wonderful and engaging about growing older in a young person's culture except for the wonderful fact of still being alive.  And the exuberance of youth is more powerful and captivating than any narcotic.

There's a cultural event here in Austin that happens every year around this time.  It's called Eeyore's birthday party.  It's held in Pease Park which is in the very center of Austin, just down the hill from the University of Texas at Austin.  It started out as a whimsical party, a playful Bacchanal to celebrate the arrival of Spring.  That was decades ago. Now it's evolved into an "event."  The city at large justifies its existence as a fund raising avenue for non-profit organizations.  The non-profits can put up booths for the event and sell food and drinks and even beer. And like every other event that gets "co-opted" and grows beyond it's "magical" borders it gets homogenized and watered down.

But I go every year because its vapors and its energy represent the core identity of an Austin that really did exist before the encroachment of the anything for a buck crowd.  In fact, I would say that if you never go, and let yourself go, to the little remnants of fun that remind us of Austin in freer and more fanciful days then you are either part of the problem or you are a cultural coward.

It's true that the event has devolved from a happening that attracted college professors, beautiful and handsome college students and counterculture people from the center of Austin into a blue collar tourist attraction.  For the last few years the ratio of people in costume who fully embrace the concept of Eeyore's Birthday Party (from the Winnie the Pooh stories) to the beer drunk voyeurs who come to catch a glimpse of the half nekkid hippy girls has become woefully skewed to the wrong side of the equation.  Now there are many more lugs with backward facing ball caps and big beer bellies than there are people in the drumming circles and around the May Pole.

The truth is that the hapless gawkers are only symptomatic of the two real issues that sap the magic from events like these.  The first is the parabola of popularity wherein a fashion, an event or even a city dies from the weight and momentum of its own popularity.  Start a conference or a concert series or anything like it and every year it grows larger and more unwieldy.  The core managers are replaced with groups that have tangential and divergent interests from the original concept. Traffic gets worse.  Everything gets crowded and eventually the whole process becomes little more than 90% crowd management and 10% substance.  Getting enough bottled water to the location to prevent death crowds out concerns about the look, feel and experience.

The second issue is the same that effects us all.  Every event ages.  Every event grows old.  The average age of participants at Eeyore's birthday party seems to have risen from late teens and early twenties (not too many years ago) to mid to late thirties now.  The party is growing old.  People bring folding camp chairs and frantically stake out shaded territory.  They are immobile.  They are nearly all huge.  They crowd the landscape with ice chests.

Ah. To be young again in a younger world.  To be able to freeze a great collective experience in life in a block of lucite and to be able to visit it from time to time and revel in its unchanging glory.  That's the implicit promise of youth.  And the realization that it can never be is part of the bitterness of getting old. How can a older photographer not crave the power, the endurance and the curiosity of youth?  But there is no question of giving up.

Gear notes:  I spent five or six hours at Eeyore's Birthday Party, yesterday.  I took one camera and one lens. It seems to me that this kind of  slender inventory is what the universe intends for these kinds of events. Anything more separates you from the crowds.  Anything more slows you down and fights for your attention. Any more choice makes you lazy.  I used a Sony a57 camera and the lens that is quickly becoming my favorite, the 85mm 2.8.  The total package is small and light and extremely photographic.  I cheated and put an extra battery in my pocket, just in case.  I needn't have bothered, the camera and I took 1200+ exposures and returned home with 33% left on the battery gauge.  Far better than the online specs would suggest...