Tag Archives: beauty

60+ years and still going strong

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This camera works so well in every way, it is hard to imagine that its original design by Oskar Barnack is more than 80 years old.  It is solid, well made, and feels good in the hand.  When you press the shutter button a beautiful sound resonates, not too loud, not too quiet, full of self assured confidence, as if to say, “This is going to be a damn fine photo.” My camera was made in the early 50’s so it has been around 60 years or so,  however I think it will easily be taking photos for someone in another 60 years.

I don’t think there is much in the camera world that came since that can beat it for what it was designed to do. Later Leica’s and slr’s were all larger.  Smaller cameras pretty well scrimped in some way or were not offered in full manual.  Oskar Barnack was apparently an outdoors enthusiast, but also an asthmatic, so he wanted to design something compact and light enough to easily carry on hikes, but with lens quality sufficient to handle enlargements to a decent size (at that time large format cameras were the standard, and a medium format size was considered a minimum requirement for quality photographs).  

If it is good enough for Henri..  This camera was a favorite of Henri Cartier-Bresson. When talking photos of people on the street, he would walk cupping it hidden in his hand so as not to bring attention to himself, bringing it up for a photo at just the right moment. The “decisive moment”.  He also used the M series Leicas later, but in one interview I saw he said he preferred he older barrack because of its perfect size.

Yeah, you have to focus, figure the exposure, wind with a knob, use a separate viewfinder for lenses other than 50mm.  Loading film does take an extra minute.  In other words you have to be a photographer. Luckily it becomes second nature with just a bit of practice.

The other day I was was enjoying a stroll through a popular park and I saw someone walking through with his “deji kame” (digital camera in Japanese) firing bursts of around 20 frames at each “subject” as he walked through, barely stopping for the time that it took to do that and a good portion of that time was looking at the screen afterwards (maybe 5 seconds?). He must have had thousands of near identical frames of “stuff” on that camera.   I could rant about this kind of person, but hey, to each their own. Well, the “Leica Barnack” (as they call them in Japan) is not for doing that kind of thing, obviously:-)

I have only 3 lenses for it, a f2.0/50 Summitar, an Elmar 4/90 and a 4/135.  Leitz glass is all you need to say. They are all great lenses, however I mainly just use the Summitar, which is collapsable making the camera more pocketable. 

Looking through what I’ve taken in the last couple years I can see that I have used this camera more than my others.

Here are a couple I took with it last weekend walking in the early morning near my house in Yokohama.  These are with Acros at ei400, semi stand developed with Caffenol (75min/20c) in my kitchen sink.

Best!

Jordi

No Clothes?

I came across this interesting article by Michael Sweet on the Huffington Post the other day regarding the current “street photography” culture.  He talks about how banal much of the photography is, and why all this bad photography exists.  It’s very good. It got me thinking about the internet photo community in general so I thought I would add some comments.

While in the States a few months ago I came across some prowling the streets, cameras strapped to hand with their pro-sniper straps, somewhat reminiscent of hunters (I actually came across a website that called itself Street Hunter..).  Their appearance as well as subject interaction looked different from footage I have seen of greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Gary Winogrand in action on the streets for example. As an aside, in appearance Gary Winogrand looked to me a bit more a like a nice old fisherman whereas these guys were a bit more like some special forces tactical unit in appearance.

Just because you can does it mean that you should?

Digital technology has made it possible to effortlessly take a photo that is perfect, at least in the technical sense of exposure and focus, and with a couple clicks in photoshop and boom, you have a photo that is nowadays commonly called “dope,” or “sick”. A couple more clicks and it can be online in a multitude of places ready for the reassuring clicks of approval from multitudes of friends and followers. It’s easier than ever to get the gear, a website, upload it, and join the millions of others doing the exact same thing.

1.8 billion per year and growing- for what?

The accessibility of photography both in a technical as well as economic sense has led to unprecedented popularity.  True, Kodak revolutionized photography a century ago by bringing cheap mass produced cameras to the average person, but hardly anyone saw the resulting photos.  The sheer volume of photographs ever accumulating online today is mind boggling.  The amount of photos shared online has apparently tripled just between 2013 and 2014 from 500 million to 1.8 billion according to one report.  Currently according to Flickr 8,600,000 photos are uploaded everyday!  Is it information overload? Maybe we are coming full circle since most of these photos today are not really seen either.  Even Flickr for example is selecting photographs to showcase on their own site based on “interestingness” algorithms. 

What is “good” or “art”- maybe best to leave that up to the algorithm?

Maybe in the future megapixels and memory will be such that we can just video with our camera and then an algorithm will help us select a number of the best shots from that day’s “photoshoot”.  We could even just attach it to our head and leave it on all day and night and let the computer due the work automatically overnight and when we wake up in the morning the photos will already be posted and some even will have received some likes and clicks from other computers based on algorithms and hopefully already selected by algorithms to showcase.. If there isn’t a scifi book about it already there should be.

What is “art”, “fine art”, and “good” or a “beautiful” photograph is a prickly subject(ive) of course (made all the more difficult by our own inability to define these terms). I’ll best stay away from this but if you get a chance I recommend the John Berger film on Youtube, Ways of Seeing for some interesting discussion about this.

Conformity of cliches

When I look at photo sites I see many photographs that are almost indistinguishable between different photographers.  It’s almost as if they could be computer generated algorithms. There’s the obligatory dock running out into the lake, the sparkly sunset with the tree, the long exposure creek or waterfall, and other cliches.  I wonder if they went to the same photography school.

What is real?

In Zen Buddhism there is a term Buddha Nature. It is in all things but most people cannot see it until they are able to understand themselves. A zen monk who lived in the 14th century called Bassui said, seeing ones own nature is buddhahood. I will call this nature truth.  I think real photographs capture truth. Why am I wandering around taking pictures? It is not simply because I like a pretty picture that looks like it belongs in a calendar. And anyway if that is all I wanted there are billions of “pretty” pictures online so that I don’t need to go out and make my own.  I think it is because I am searching for answers to bigger questions about this world as well as about myself.

Well, ok, now with all that said, I can say for me it is my goal to take “real” photographs and continuously improve my eye and my technique. But above all I will enjoy myself.

With that I will leave you with a photo of an empty cat food dish and a shadow I found in Chiba.  Is it really empty?? Haha!

Do not be misled! Look directly!  What is this? – Bassui

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