Friday, October 30, 2020

Art or Technology?

 Rob, Louise, and baby Donny, 1968

Is it art? Probably not, but it's my all-time favorite

photograph. Taken with an old Polaroid roll-film camera.

 

Bob F. commented recently that "We have plenty of technical image quality but most of us don't achieve much artistic quality." 

I don't think the march of photographic technology has done much to advance the art of photography. In fact, I think most photographers are looking in the wrong place. Artistic quality does not come out of a camera, it goes into a camera. Buying a better camera will not make me an artist. Or even a better photographer.

"Photography is not art; it is photography." So said Edward Steichen, one of the seminal photographers in the history of the medium. (At least I think it was Steichen. I remember the quote, but can't find it.)

I agree with his statement, yet it cannot be denied that some photographs are art and some photographers are artists.

What about me? Are my photographs art? Are yours?

Well, a few of them may be, just possibly. So does that make me an artist? Or you? No, that just makes us lucky. To be considered an artist we would need to produce a reasonable quantity of photographs that rise to the status of art, and do so over a reasonable period of time. Preferably a lifetime. That's the standard by which we accord people like Andre Kertesz and Walker Evans the title of artists. 

It also helps if you're dead. Because the final test of whether one's work is truly art is whether it endures. The composer Salieri was considered an artist in his day, yet history buried him, and although I have a good education in classical music I had never heard of him until he was exhumed for the movie Amadeus. Mozart, the hero of that movie, lives on in his music; still considered some of the greatest ever composed.

For some of us this probably doesn't matter. We're happy just making snapshots of our families and the things that interest us. And the funny thing is that history may consider some of those snaps art, while much of the work of the so-called "art photographers" will likely be buried. Just like Salieri's music. 

So what can we do, assuming this matters to us?

My own approach is to always seek to work in an artistic manner, with artistic intent. Will it ultimately matter? Probably not, but this is what gives me the most satisfaction. 

And history will be the judge. Not that I'll be around to reap the kudos. (And history will not ask what camera I used.) 

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts? 

(Photograph copyright David B. Jenkins 2020) 

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Image Quality or Quality Image?

                                                                The White Dress

From time immemorial photographic equipment manufacturers have propagated the myth that owning a better camera will make one a better photographer. Consequently, many photographers spend time and money seeking what I call abstract technical quality: full-frame sensors with high pixel counts or even digital medium format, paired with lenses of the highest definition to create photographs of extreme sharpness and clarity.

Sharpness and clarity are certainly desirable qualities, although few people will notice a difference in any size enlargement most of us are likely to make. But those demanding photographers have a right to like what they like, and they help keep the camera manufacturers in business, which helps us all. So blessings on them!

There is, however, more than one way to think about photographic quality. For myself, I believe the most important quality in a photograph is the quality of its content. (Although I once did have someone, a lab owner, no less, inform me that image quality is more important than content.) 

The two are by no means mutually exclusive, of course, and there are many photographers who produce photographs with high-quality content using equipment capable of the highest image quality. 

The whole discussion is a carryover from film days, when some of us used 35mm extensively while others swore by their medium format Hasselblads, RB67s, Rolleis, and the like. This is not to disparage medium and large format cameras, because many great photographs have been made with them. Yet people like Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Josef Koudelka, Elliott Erwitt, B.A King, W. Eugene Smith -- the list is almost endless -- turned out volumes of poignant, story-telling photographs with their 35mm cameras.

A case in point is a print which Tony King gave me, which is at once one of the simplest and yet one of the most satisfying photographs I have ever seen. It's just a young girl's white party dress hanging on the bare wooden interior wall of a New England beach cottage. That's all. Just a 35mm available light shot, probably on Tri-X. How can it be so good? You have to see it. And yet, it's only about 6x9 inches, printed on 8x10 paper.  

Would it be better if it were larger? I don't think so. The quality of this photograph is the quality of its content. I doubt that it would enlarge well beyond 12x18, but this picture does not need to be large to be  eloquent. The technical quality is sufficient to carry the message of the content. No more is needed. 

It's nice if you can afford the latest and the best. But for those of us who can't afford or don't choose to spend the money, don't want to carry a load, or simply want to keep things simple, remember that reasonably good equipment, reasonably good technique, a reasonably good eye, and a reasonably good idea of what you want to say can add up to very good photographs.

It's what's in your photographs that counts; not what you use to make them. 

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts? 

(Photograph copyright Judy and Tony King Foundation, 2020) 

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

 

Monday, October 26, 2020

How Much Is Enough?

Pencil of Light.

40x60-inch print. Pentax 6x7, Takumar 105 f2.5 lens.

Fujichrome 100 film, size 120.

Continuing the discussion from last Monday's post, in which I quoted Henri Cartier-Bresson on the obsessive pursuit of sharpness in photographs, I'm going to show a few photos and talk about the subject of image quality.

First, a caveat: If it's important to you to own cameras and lenses with the highest possible sharpness and image quality, that's great. I want everyone involved with photography to use the tools that give them the most satisfaction.

But those of us who are constrained by budgets and/or weight considerations need not feel that our equipment, or particularly, our photographs need be in any way inferior. Remember that most of the photographs we have seen and admired were made with cameras that are not the current latest and greatest.

So moving on to the photos -- leading off this post is one that hangs in my son's and daughter-in-law's great room. I call it "Pencil of Light," and it is 40x60 inches. That's five feet wide. The original photograph is a transparency (slide) in 2-1/4 x 2-3/4 size, which was considered a format that gave maximum quality in a hand-holdable film camera.


The second photo is our own great room. We have canvas panels that go above the fireplace for the various seasons. Most are four feet wide, although the ""Winter" panel shown is only about three and a half feet wide. It was made from a 35mm slide scanned on my Minolta-Dimage 5400 scanner.


Photos three and four are our "Spring" and "Fall" panels, both of them made with a 16-megapixel Olympus OM-D E-M5, first model, with the Panasonic 14-140mm f3.5-5-5.6 lens. Obviously, you can't see differences in blog-sized photos, and you can't see the actual panels, but the two shot with the Oly OM-D are much superior to the other two. And that's printing four feet wide from 16 megapixels on an m4/3s sensor.

So if results like this are obtainable from a 16 megapixel, micro 4/3s sensor, what could you do with 24 megapixels on an APS-C sensor? It seems to me that the cameras we already have offer plenty of image quality for almost anything most of us might wish to do.

Personally, I've dropped out of the megapixel race. But if that's the game you like to play, play it with my blessing. Someone has to keep the manufacturers in business.

 

Blog Note: I apologize for the missing posts last week. My sister was gravely ill in Indiana and we had to drive up last Monday, pulling our travel trailer through hard rain from Nashville on north. We have been staying at a campground near her home, where we do not have wi-fi. (You can't expect everything for $24 per night.)

After lingering all week, Elizabeth passed away Saturday morning from lung cancer. She was 70 and had never smoked.

 Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

 Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Monday, October 19, 2020

More about Less

Young girl sponsored by Compassion

International. Madras, India, 1992.

Olympus OM, probably 85mm f2 Zuiko


When I went to India and South Korea in 1992 on assignment for the Christian humanitarian organization Compassion International, I carried in one bag three Olympus OM bodies and four Zuiko lenses -- the 24mm f2.8, the 35mm f2, the 85mm f2, and the 180mm f2.8. In a separate bag I carried a Pentax 6x7 with the 105mm f2.5 lens. Plus plenty of film in both 35mm and 120 sizes. There was a certain amount of inconvenience in juggling the two formats and deciding which to use for which, but even so I was able to make some good photographs with both formats.

But would I do it again? No, but I was young then -- just a 55-year-old kid, and the weight didn't bother me all that much. But I should have left the Pentax at home because I think I would have done better work without the distraction of trying to use two different tools. I think I might have done even better work if I had carried just two light-weight bodies and a pair of zoom lenses plus one small prime -- which strangely enough, describes the kit I use now.

My minimalist approach is backed up by some substantial authorities, by the way. Picasso said:

“Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress that you can’t even imagine in advance.”

And Orson Welles said:

“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

The lenses I use -- the 27mm f2.8, 16-50 f3.5-5.6, and 50-230 f4.8-6.3-- are light and sharp. I seldom need a fast lens and am not big on shallow depth-of-field effects. In fact, I usually want more depth of field rather than less. All three of these lenses are sharp enough that you are not likely to be able to detect a difference between them and the priciest lenses in any size prints you are likely to make.

However, Henri Cartier-Bresson had something pertinent to say about absolute technical quality in his seminal book The Decisive Moment:

"I am constantly amused by the notion some people have about

photographic technique--a notion which reveals itself in an insatiable

craving for sharpness of images. Is this the passion of an obsession?

Or do these people hope, by this "trompe l'oiel" technique to get to

closer grips with reality? In either case, they are just as far away

from the real problem as those of that other generation which used to

endow all its photographic anecdotes with an intentional unsharpness such as 

was deemed to be "artistic."

Since I prefer lightweight equipment, the X-H1, which is a little heavier than other Fuji models, might seem an odd choice for my main camera. However, its superior handling and build quality outweighs, if you’ll excuse the expression, the other considerations. Like a Leica M, the X-H1 is a nice size for good handling, and like a Leica M, it just feels solid.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts?

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020)

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Underequipped Photographer

c. 1950 Nash Ambassador. Old U.S. Highway 27, Chattooga

County, GA. Jpeg from Fuji X-Pro1, 27mm f2.8 lens. I like the

way the X-Pro handles this very contrasty scene.

 

Many photographers would consider me underequipped. That's because my approach to photography is not equipment-centric. 

What about you? Is your primary interest photography or photographic equipment?  

For many of us, it's both. Owning and using fine, precision equipment can be very pleasurable in itself, and of course there are certain kinds of photography, such as action and sports that are difficult to do well without specialized equipment.  

But if photography itself is our primary interest, most of us could get by with very little equipment. In the 1930s through the '60s, photographers such as Fritz Henle traveled the world with nothing but a twin-lens reflex. Their pictures can certainly hold their own in comparison to the work being done today. Edward Weston did most of his work with an 8x10 view camera and one lens, although he also used a 4x5 Graphlex single-lens reflex (we would consider it almost unusably primitive) for portraits. Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt were Leica photographers who mostly used 50mm lenses, and travel photographer Gerald Brimacombe did great work with a pair of early digital cameras with built-in zoom lenses. The last time we corresponded he told me that he now carries one Nikon D610 and a 24-120mm zoom lens when he travels. Nothing else. Like those named above, he has adapted his vision to fit the equipment he uses.

I will confess that for most of my career I had Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS). However, being frugal (okay a cheapskate), I mostly indulged my addiction by buying, using, and selling second-hand equipment. It was fun, and didn't break the bank. Also, I learned a lot about how to buy good used equipment. In fact, everything I now use in my work was acquired second-hand and serves me well.

All the photographs in my just-concluded series of posts about our tour of the wild, wild west in 2018 were made with just three cameras and three lenses -- the Fuji X-Pro1, X-T1, and X-T20 bodies and the 27mm f2.8, 16-50 f3.5-5.6, and 50-230 f4.8-6.3 lenses. All were bought used through on-line fora. The workhorse was the X-T20. 

However, I did run into one problem, because each camera has slightly different menus. I wrote about that here. I solved that problem earlier this year by buying a Fuji X-H1. Again, used, and again, through an online forum. I find the X-H1 to be just about the perfect camera for me. I'll also hang on to the X-Pro1 because the menu is relatively simple and the files have a special character that I love. The X-T1 and the X-T20, both lovely cameras, are now for sale. 

With two bodies and three lenses I have what I need. I don't need anything else. And don't despise my cheap lenses. They aren't as well built, perhaps, as their more expensive brethren, but they don't give much away in terms of sharpness, as I wrote here and here, and they will probably outlast me. Also, they give me a great range -- 24mm to 345mm in full-frame equivalents.   

So am I underequipped? I don't think so. I love cameras, but when I have the equipment I need to do the work I want to do, I'm more interested in what I can do with it than in the equipment itself. And I no longer have GAS.  

Of course, there are a few things it would be nice to have. . .maybe the 60mm macro lens, or the 56mm f1.2. . .

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts? 

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020) 

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Heading East!

Fuji X-Pro1, Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 lens


Heading East!

The visit to the Petrified Forest essentially marked the finish of our tour of the wild, wild west. Time to head home. Going east on Interstate 40, we made it to Albuquerque rather late in the evening, but were able to find a campground near the Interstate. The next night we found a small campground in Shamrock, Texas, right on Route 66.

Louise Cooking in our travel trailer.

Fuji X-T1, Fujinon XC 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OISII

 

We stayed two nights at a nice campground (but with bad moquitoes) near Ardmore, Oklahoma to visit Louise's nephew and his family, then across Arkansas, Tennessee, and finally home to northwest Georgia, arriving the evening of October 3rd after 30 days on the road.

Best of all, time with our grandchildren and their families.

Fuji X-Pro1, Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 lens

It was a somewhat grueling, but enjoyable time. We can hardly wait to do it again. (But, we hope, in a motor home or larger trailer.)

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts? 

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020) 

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone

Monday, October 12, 2020

Touring the Wild, Wild West

The Teepees. Petrified Forest National Park
 

The Petrified Forest Part II

Although the numerous and massive petrified logs are the main attraction in the Petrified Forest, there is much more to be seen in the 346-square-mile park. We didn't see it all, of course -- just some of the highlights. 

The Agate Bridge. A 110-foot long petrified tree bridges the head of a canyon.

Driving north from the Rainbow Forest Visitor's Center past the Crystal Forest, we first came to the Agate Bridge, a 110-foot petrified fallen tree that forms a bridge across the head of a canyon. The Park Service has reinforced it with an underlayment of concrete. Then on to the Teepees, large, conical, teepee-shaped hills displaying different colored rock strata. 

2,000-year-old petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock.
 

Beyond the Teepees is Newspaper Rock, a large rock with more than 650 petroglyphs (picture-writings) engraved by an ancient people. Some of the petroglyphs are thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Guarding the parking lot was a large raven, who very kindly allowed us to pass. 

The guardian of Newspaper Rock.

Moving on north from Newspaper Rock, we crossed Interstate 40 and the original alignment of the legendary Route 66, which bisect the park in an east-west direction and into the northern section of the park and the Painted Desert.

The Painted Desert

Named by Spanish explorers in 1540, the Painted Desert runs 160 miles southwest from near the east end of the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest, which is one of the best places to view its brilliant reds and shades of lavender. 

A 1932 Studebaker marks the original alignment of Route 66.

But it was back at the place where the original alignment of U.S. Highway 66 -- the historic Route 66 -- crossed the park road that I made my favorite find: something unique to go into my book Found on Road Dead: An Anthology of Abandoned Automobiles. It was the weathered hulk of a 1932 Studebaker marking the route used by millions of Los Angeles-Chicago travelers from 1926 to 1958. 

Fuji X-T20 with Fujinon XC 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OISII and XC 50-230mm f4.8-6.3 OIS lenses and Fuji X-Pro1 with Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 lens.

Blog Note: I post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings at alifeinphotography.blogspot.com. I'm trying to build up my readership, so if you're reading this on Facebook and like what I write, would you please consider sharing my posts? 

(Photographs copyright David B. Jenkins 2020) 

Soli Gloria Deo

To the glory of God alone