Tag Archives: Photography

Old Dreams

Emei Tree 1

I got a batch of 120 back from the lab last week, and one roll was from a trip I took last September to Emei Shan in Sichuan. It was a lark of a trip and had far too much travelling—plane, taxi, bus, bus on Saturday then the reverse on Sunday—but it was good to get out of The Lair and see something else. It is a beautiful place, but not exactly the same type of mountain hiking as Canada. Pavement and lots and lots of stairs. My friend Matthew and I found a nice cheap hotel where we had a fantastic meal. The hike back the next day was better, and near the end we walked by this mist shrouded lake.
I didn’t have my 30D at that point, just a Sony point and shoot, but I had brought along my Moskva V 6×9 camera which is simply awesome. It’s a lot of fun to use and still in pretty good shape. Focussing is a hit and miss thing and I am not sure about the accuracy, so it’s sort of like a cooler Holga or Lomo. I think these two photos captured the dreamy mood of the area.

Emei Tree 2


The Dragon’s Turn

Following the previous post on the articles in the Telegraph which featured great photographs by Alec Soth, here are parts 3 and 4

Part four is timely, concentrating on the Olympics and all that they have brought and will bring to all of China, not just Beijing. We were given August 8th day off and I’m surprised it’s not a national holiday. I am sure that it will be a day of insanity and nationalism, and insane nationalism, but I want to join in at my peril. The government will probably have a massive screen set up in Tian He park, which is close to both work and my house. The Olympic Torch procession here brought in god knows how many tens of thousands to the area, and I imagine it will be much the same next week.

No matter what people say or wish to decry it, politics has been part of the Olympics for many years, but it is certainly on the forefront this year. It marks a turning point. It doesn’t matter if China wins the most medals this time (though it is likely); the fact is that the US will probably get fewer, a decline that will be extended to its economic and political might.

I’m not sure if this is true, but looking around me and looking again at Part 3 and Soth’s photos of the concrete towers and swirling overpasses, it’s hard not to believe it.

I Can See Clearly Now

I needed new glasses. My last pair, a year old, were looking ratty, with the plastic veneer peeling off over the nose. Back in Canada this would have been a major production: tests, many stores to visit to find a pair, waiting, then paying a lot. But I am in Guangzhou, where they have streets for everything. So I headed to Ren Min Lu, just south of the Children’s Hospital, for eyeglasses street.

I rode down after the gym and headed in to the building I go which has two stories of tiny stores. I didn’t venture far, finding some cool stuff at yingxu optical, where, fortunately, Lina, one of the clerks, spoke great English. The store is a closet, but a nicely designed walk-in closet, where their thousand or so frames are all neatly and nicely arrayed. They had these super cool faux-wood frames, which were why I stopped, but they were only wide enough for rodents, not for pumpkin headed people like me.

But I found a great pair of aluminium frames that swoop to match my eyebrows, and got a pair of nice plastic frames for sunglasses. I blew my budget though, doubling it to RMB 850, but the frames are better quality than the last ones. And it’s still below half of what I would spend in Canada. Lina told me that I would have to wait a while, but could I come back at 3pm? It was 1pm. I had my camera, and there’s plenty of stuff to see, so I said sure. She called in about ten minutes to say it would be five, but still, two pairs of glasses in four hours? I am not complaining.

So I got on my bike and rode away. Between then and picking up my glasses—which were ready bang on time—I saw the usual variety of usually unusual things you see in Guangzhou, including a group of people swimming in the Pearl.

piling it on

biking man

Diving in the Pearl

swimming in the pearl

swimming in the pearl


After getting my spanky new frames another of the usual variety of things: sudden thunderstorms and pelting rain; people running; people waiting; people scrunching up under umbrellas; clear skies; workers resting on rubble in front of buildings adorned with glorious socialist realist friezes.

>running in the rain

worker and rubble

death of socialist realism

Another great day in the Lair.

Artful Essays

In Paris I was lucky to catch a show by Alec Soth. His photos were fantastic, and I wish I had bought the books that were there, instead of having to order them off of Amazon like I do now (and possibly have them damaged by the apes at China Post).

A few weeks ago I read part of a series he is collaborating on about the change in fortune in the US and China, as the power of the world slowly transfers. It’s an interesting piece and Soth’s photographs, lovely large format images, are great. The great photo blog, [EV+/-] Exposure Compensation reminded me of them and so I thought I’d pass it along.

Here’s a short video about the project, featuring Soth’s photos

And here are the links to part 1 and part 2, with more to come.

Big is Beautiful

I have had too many cars in my life – all inexpensive, used things, always on the far side of a decade old. One was a 1971 Lincoln Continental in Wimbledon White. It drove like a hovercraft and sucked fuel like a jet on afterburners, but it had an 8-Track and prodding that thing around town while Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack played was a wondrous experience. I bought it for my feature film and it was a fantastic production vehicle. Could carry a crew of eight easily, while two light kits, sound gear, and camera crap all fit in the trunk with room to spare. Phil and I moved all his belongings in one go, including an IKEA

bookshelf that didn’t even need to be disassembled. It also carried a Euro sized version of vonTrier’s Europa (Zentropa in Canada) inside. It died in Keremeos BC one night, wheezing its last. I grabbed the plates, signed the pink slip over to the hotel, packed up my crap for a courier to pick up, and hopped on a bus to Vancouver, for a wedding of Christal’s friend.

My last car – and if I am lucky, my last car ever – was a 1974 Mercedes 280 that I had restored. It had the best brakes of any vehicle and even after 25 years the doors closed with a thunk. It looked like a car a kid draws. Square and boxy, with just enough curves to be sensual, it didn’t look like a suppository, or not one you could possible insert without excruciating pain. No nonsense elegance.

RB front

I just bought a lovely Mamiya RB67SD this weekend as a birthday self-present. It reminds me of the Benz. Boxy but curvy and kinda sexy, and all functional elegance. I got it down in photo-scroungers heaven which is next to stereo heaven and second-hand electronics heaven – basically, blocks of heaven that can take a day, easily, unless you tire of looking and marvelling at stereo gear carved out of solid blocks of unobtanium; every kind of camera ever along with lenses and odds and sods; all else that has an electric heart, including, I am sure, some used pacemakers and maybe an actual Arvik or two.

The Mamiya is big; every review you will ever read will remind you or complain of this. With it in only one hand, you are worried about dropping it. If you don’t have over an octave reach on the piano, it’s a two-hander. I have tiny little hands but a good grip and I like using both hands.

It’s obtrusive and you are aware of taking pictures when using it, which is one of the reasons I bought it. It’s not quite as engrossing as a view camera (I am guessing, never having used one, but wanting to) but it is deliberate. You are probably shooting with a tripod, which makes you consider placement and your lens more than using a digital 35 with a healthy zoom. The waist-level finder stares at you, challenging your composition. Winding the film and cocking the shutter are two operations. The mirror noise reminds me of the Benz’s doors – a healthy kathunka (the shutter is a whisper). There is nothing unsubstantial about it .

Mamiya RB 67 screen

It is all about the process and I like processes. I like the rituals when I bench or deadlift or clean the weights for a press. It’s tactile, and I am dying for opportunities to take it out and use it. To get that groove, which I know I will screw up but since I won’t be shooting sports or doing street photography, that’s fine. I’ll probably forget to cock the shutter, or wind the film, or pull the darkslide, and miss the shot, just as I often forgot something with the Moskva V I have and ended up having to trigger the shutter by pushing the little lever that the shutter release rod is supposed to prod. I am hoping that it forces me to concentrate more on the 35mm work with the 30d, which is all to easy to take for granted. The luxury of space is freeing but may also spark carelessness, which is not what I want.

Works of art – or consistently good photos- are deliberate. That’s the big difference. It’s knowing the gear and how things react. And sometimes not being able to see right away is a good thing. To remember what you saw and how it is supposed to look. To remember that when you pick up the film and check the print or the scan and see if it matched.

I hope I enjoy it as much as I want to.

Look and Learn

I like to look.

The other day my friend, Yinni (nee Enid), asked me to help her to take good photographs. It’s flattering of course, but I am sure my answer was not so helpful.

I loaned her a copy of Taschen’s Icons book.

To know how to take good photographs, you need to know what a good photograph is. To know that you need to look and learn.

It’s a simple idea, but in today’s world where the woman next to you at the internet cafe in Florence has a laptop full of craptastic photos of herself and friends in a panoply of drunken poses it’s becoming more difficult. Basically, like everyone is a writer, now with digital cameras everyone is a photographer. Uhhh…no. People get lucky. Take 1000 photos and yes, out of the shit, there will be gold. It’s statistics but not talent. A good photograph is not an accident. A great photographer getting an great photograph accidentally (see Robert Capa’s photo of the soldier being shot) is not as accidental as Mary Myopia getting one – he knows where to be and where to point the camera and he waits. It’s a fine point but think about it for a second and you will see what I mean.

Reverse what I wrote in a piece about equipment: take the digital camera away and put an old manual Pentax with a 35mm lens in the accidental photographer’s hands and see what happens. The gold disappears because AP will take only 36 photos. Do the same with someone who has a developed aesthetic and he will still get gold, and you will see a series of thoughts being worked through on the contact sheet, not a random exploration of stuff like an idiot running pell-mell looking for shiny things.

People ask me how to write better. I say read. Ask me how to take better pictures my answer is the same. Look at good ones and study them. Why is it good? If you don’t like it, why?

If you look at much contemporary art photography you may be at a loss, too, for a lot of it is pretty rarified and obscure (see what I wrote about George Rousse for an example of what I mean). I am far from knowledgeable about contemporary photography but I want to know more because I want to be better.

I go to galleries and, because I don’t live in Paris or New York or London, I buy books. Not too many but I am getting over the hiccup I get when I see the price of a photo book. Amazon is great, unless you accidentally order two copies of a $45 dollar book – thankfully, I caught it in time. I recommend books that don’t rely on pictures but talk about the essence of a photograph – Sontag, Barthes – and books that do.

When I was about ten and started to take pictures and develop them (Kodak Brownie from a pawn shop for $5 which I worked for. Took 620 film which I developed and contact printed using a kit my parents gave me that came with teeny tiny trays and a little box that used an incandescent bulb for the contact print box. I think it cost $15 way back then from Consumers Distributing which had a catalogue that caused me to dream of getting a Praktica SLR for $150 but I ended up moving to a simply Instamatic that took 110 film – which I don’t ever recommend trying to hand process even with a ten-year old’s hands – and with which I tool pictures of telephone and power wires) I went to the library and looked at photo books. Granted, naked women was an impetus – thanks Ralph Gibson – but I just looked and looked.

When I returned to photography after a long hiatus – when my parents gave me a Pentax K1000 for Christmas – I returned to the library. And used book stores.

I am constantly amazed at people who want to be photographers but don’t know who Robert Frank or Cartier-Bresson or Irving Penn. They all know Ansel Adams and Robert Doisneau and Brassai from postcards and they may recognize Annie Liebowitz and Richard Avedon, but that’s usually the extent. It’s like a filmmaker who has never seen a Godard film or Citizen Kane or a writer who has never read Tolstoy or Lolita.

The problem nowadays is how to choose. Galleries are easy. It’s not a big investment. But photo-books are. Space and money.

I found this great website the other day – http://www.5b4.blogspot.com. It’s all about and only about photobooks, written by a compulsive buyer who really knows his stuff. I can’t remember which blog turned me onto it, but one thing that impressed me was that the site was so good that Alec Soth, a photographer whose excellent work I was lucky enough to see at the Jeu de Palme in Paris, sought out the author who goes by the name of Mr. Whiskets.

So, if you want to take better pictures, read and look. And if you want to know what to read and look at, ask Mr. Whiskets.

Collages I

Just fooling around with making collages. Eiffel Tower