Archive for the ‘Reviews etc’ Category

Upsizing & AI

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Back in January 2016, when the Chinese bought up Corbis and Demotix where I was placing many of my pictures and handed their entrails to Getty, I began to put many of the pictures I was taking into Facebook albums as well as sending them to agencies.

I hadn’t been happy with Demotix for some years – particularly since they sold out to Corbis, but they had the advantage for me of presenting my work as coherent stories with text and captions that were easy to link to – so I could post links to these stories for my friends on Facebook and also others, particularly those who had taken part in the events I had photographed.

I’ve lost count of how many albums I put on Facebook in 2016, though at a rough guess they would contain around 5000 pictures. So when I read an advert on Facebook offering to make an album of my year I was intrigued to see what they would make of them, and clicked the links, though I had at the time no intention of buying the book from ‘Re-Snap‘.

It took several minutes before the book appeared as a 100 page A4 hardback and I was able to page through it’s roughly 100 pages, each with 5 images in a variety of layouts, mostly more or less uncropped. The selection they made wasn’t entirely random – they state:

“The images are selected by analyzing all the images step by step. For instance, we filter out photos by looking at several quality aspects (like blurriness). Our system also automatically looks at the amount of faces and the micro expressions of the faces. Of course we filter out similar photos by looking at the pixels. After this part our deep learning network will look at correlations the pictures in your uploaded photo set. In this way we analyse what kind of picture you would like to have in your photo book.”

All of my images on-line at Facebook are uploaded at 600×400 pixels and with my watermark – exactly the same images as I post on My London Diary (though sometimes these are a little tidied up as I generally post them there rather later.) Printing at the normal standard of 300dpi would result in images only 2 inches wide, and while the smallest images in the book are not much larger than this (I think around 3.5 inches) others are significantly larger – around 8 inches) and on the covers and a few inner images cropped to an 8.5 inch square they are even further stretched – to 12×8.5 inches on the cover (which also requires a slight crop. A little simple maths gives a figure of around 47 dpi.

The book actually looked pretty good on screen, and I couldn’t resist going ahead with the order. Of course I could have done a better job myself, more selective and with better quality originals, and the selection algorithm hadn’t included a number of my favourite pictures from the year.  There were just too many pictures from some events that were just a little too similar for me to have included them. But as a fairly random selection of typical images from the year it seemed useful, the kind of thing I could possibly had to people who ask me ‘So what do you photograph?’ as a view of my current work.

Possibly one day I’ll make a better book of 2016, but it would probably take me a week or so to put together, and still cost almost as much as the roughly £50 for this volume (allegedly on special offer), so I clicked and went ahead. It’s possible to edit the book, take out pictures and choose replacement images, but I decided to make only a single change, removing an awards certificate for this blog. Essentially I wanted to retain the automatic selection which was reflected in the title I added to the cover, ‘Peter Marshall 2016 – A random selection‘. I missed one picture that I should have removed, by my friend Townly Cooke who died last year – though I was happy with it appearing once, I should have removed a second, smaller version of the same image, but I must have turned over the page too quickly to notice it.

Obviously the quality of the highly upsized images is noticeably poorer, but the pictures still work, and however Re-Snap upsizes them, it does a pretty good job. Obviously the larger images don’t stand up to detailed scrutiny, but if you saw them in – for example – the pages of a newspaper, they would be acceptable. My main complaint is that the printing inside the book lacks vibrancy, almost as if it had been printed with watered-down inks, rather than any lack of detail or sharpness. It’s acceptable but lacks the punch of the original sRGB files, though the colour balance seems more or less spot on.

Seeing the result, I’m rather pleased that I now watermark all the new images I put on Facebook – and the watermarks are present throughout this book. It doesn’t stop people using my images without permission, sometimes complete with watermark, but more often cropping it or even removing it in Photoshop, both of which seem a clear admission of guilt. If only I could find a few abusers worth suing in the UK courts. I wrote a post here some while ago about an images that I had found used without permission on over 80 web sites, none of which on investigation I felt were worth pursing.

And recently, Google have published a paper on Pixel Recursive Super Resolution which doesn’t make for easy reading, but essentially shows how a believable image (rather than the actual original) can be created using neural networks from even a very small 8×8 pixel pixillated image. Unsurprisingly it works better on reasonably predictable subject matter, such as faces (which after all generally have the same number of eyes, a nose and a mouth) than other subjects.

And the most predictable images of all must be the photographs of ‘celebrities’ that so obsess our popular media. There can’t really be any need for yet another photograph of any of them, yet outside the Albert Hall yesterday was a pen crammed full of photographers with hardly room to swing a lens, when inputting a little blur and typing in a name – for example ‘Ken Loach‘ – could surely have generated an equally newsworthy image.

It was of course not his image, but his film, I Daniel Blake, and his speech that were newsworthy, telling to the nation the truth about the terrible treatment of benefit claimants by the DWP, something that all those who visit our job centres or talk to those who do already know, but which the complacent well off like to assure us doesn’t happen. And while some news outlets reported it, the BBC did their best to play it down, ignoring it in their early bulletins, though rather grudgingly reporting it later.

I mention him mainly because I’ve photographed him on a number of occasions in the past, but there was no way I’d ever cover an event like that. I was having much more fun a few miles to the west at the Willesden Green Wassail.

Fuji blues – and greens

Monday, January 30th, 2017

I’ve been using Fuji-X cameras for some years when I want something a little lighter and more compact than the Nikon DSLRs. They are usually the cameras I turn to when I’m not photographing events and don’t need the file size of the D810. The cameras I take on holiday.

But though I like some things about them, and have got some decent results, I also have some reservations. They are just too complicated and the controls and menu system lacks the simple and logical pattern of the Nikons. And there are too many ways in which they are just not so responsive and so reliable.

I can leave a Nikon switched on all day, safe knowing that the battery won’t run down and the camera will respond at the slightest touch of the shutter release. With all the Fujis, even if you switch off the rear screen and digital viewfinder, and don’t make any exposures, the battery still runs down. It’s kind of the worst of both worlds in that it Fuji cameras have an auto switch off that you can set, which does switch the battery off after the set time, but fails to stop the battery running down. When you want to take the next picture, even if the battery is still in juice, you have to wait a second or two while the camera starts up – and while you miss the pictures.

With the first Fuji I bought, the fixed lens X100,  things sometimes got even worse and the camera refused to switch on, either until you took the battery out and back again or pressed the shutter for ages, turned around three times widdershins and said the magic word. At least later models more or less fixed that, but still too often meant that when you pressed the release nothing at all happened.

Then there is the colour. Most digital cameras I think have problems with intense reds, losing the highlights, but Fuji has its problems with greens as well – unless you like your grass super-emerald rather than au naturel. And my XT1 has another problem – which needs extra work on the raw files – in that some Fuji lenses give results that are far too magenta, typically needed a correction of perhaps -35M in Lightroom. It doesn’t seem to be something that every XT1 suffers from, though I have found fellow sufferers, and possibly it could be solved by sending the camera back to Fuji for repair, but it only came to my notice after the guarantee period (when the camera went back to Fuji twice for other issues) was up when I bought another lens.

Then there are the mickey-mouse modes. I’d like to ignore them, but the combined ISO and mode knobs on the XT-1 are tricky to use, and changing ISO all to often puts you into what Fuji laughably call the Advanced Filter mode. The two dials are supposed to move independently – and sometimes they do, but other times both turn together. The resulting images are not nice. Jpegs rather than RAW and with impossible to correct contrast or colour or both. You can’t convert from ‘Dynamic Color’ or any of the others back to sensible colour, though you can just about get a half decent black and white.

It’s a shame because all of the Fuji cameras I’ve bought – X-Pro1, X-E1 as well as those already mentioned  have been almost there. Delightful in many ways, which is perhaps why I’ve several time bought another, but…. I’m even hoping that Fuji have at last got it right in the X-T20, and mug that I am, I’ll probably buy it.

And then there are those X-Trans sensors. It seemed a good idea to get away from the Bayer pattern, but I’ve never been convinced that they really improve things, though Lightroom at least seems now to have learnt how to get usable results after a really shaky start. But if  you still feel they are definitely an improvement (and Fuji cameras seem to have a unique facility to produce fanboys) you should read an article by Jonathan Moore Liles, which I first saw in PetaPixel, but is a little better read on medium com, where the pictures are larger.

Its an article which I think more or less destroys the claims of superiority of the X-trans sensor, which can perhaps at worst be seen as a marketing gimmick and at best simply a different balance between colour and luminance, and one which has some unfortunate side effects. In practical terms these are seldom if ever particularly important, and are often mitigated or eliminated by suitable corrective processing which I tend to apply fairly routinely in Lightroom. There is a tendency in portraits – whether on Nikon or Fuji – for faces to look a little flat that a little brushing with a positive value of ‘Clarity’ can improve, and the whites of the eyes (sclera to use the technical term preferred by Liles) usually benefit from a little more brightness and contrast which I think reduces the colour bleed into them.

Then there is the question of the Raw processing software preferred by Liles:

The RAW file was processed using Darktable’s Markesteijn demosaicking algorithm (3-pass mode) with a single iteration 9×9 chroma median filter followed by application of a bilateral filter on the chroma channel and light sharpening. The color profile is my own, generated from shots of a Wolf Faust IT8 chart and should accurately represent the colors in front of the camera.

Most of us just rely on Lightroom, though Fuji purists stick with the free Silkypix converter that Fuji provides, insisting on its superiority. Like me, unless you are a Linux user you have probably never heard of darktable, but Googling takes me to the site which tells me “darktable is an open source photography workflow application and raw developer. “  There is a MacOS version but not one for Windows, though I wouldn’t be rushing to try it out if there was, and there is a page about its X-Trans support which gives you some idea about that Markesteijn thingy, but includes the statement  “Though darktable now can read and process X-Trans files, there are plenty of opportunities to improve camera support. In particular, as mentioned in “What’s involved with adding support for new cameras“, each camera model could benefit from its own basecurve, white balance presets, lens correction, and noise profile.”

Although I have nothing against open-source software – and there are several programs I use or have used (including before Lightroom got better another RAW converter) – I think the use of it here is a serious weakness in the argument. First it entirely locates the article in the high geek rather than photographic sphere, and secondly it raises doubts about whether this particular software is as effective as that recommended by the manufacturer (and privy to their unreleased data), or to the commercial software such as Lightroom (and Adobe have enjoyed some cooperation from Fuji) and Phase One.

Of course, the debates about X-Trans and Bayer are marginal. Both can produce decent images and the differences between the two will seldom be apparent or important. Photography really isn’t about the minutiae of technical differences, but about what your images speak.

On this day…

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

Once upon a time I had to write a daily post on photography for several years as a part of my job. Of course I still write here most days, but then I wasn’t really allowed to write about my own work, which made things a lot harder, and I couldn’t take a day off whenever I felt like it.

Of course you don’t actually have to sit down and write a piece every day. You can write stuff when you have time or the mood takes you amd schedule it to appear later. I’m actually typing this at 10.25 on Wednesday but it will most likely appear on Saturday – unless something more urgent to publish means I will put it back a day or two or even longer. Just occasionally I get things wrong – as I did this week, when the post intended for Friday accidentally got published on Thursday afternoon when I pressed the wrong button.

Sometimes when I had to write those daily pieces there were plenty of things happening that I could write about – exhibition openings, books, new web sites, and inevitably obituaries etc. But there were days when I was stumped and would turn to various ‘On this day…’ sites for inspiration. The Library of Congress has its Today in History page which often features some interesting photographs from its extensive collection that might prompt a thought.

Those daily blog posts were a relatively small part of the job I was employed to do, and some were fairly short, though one of the reasons I eventually got sacked was for writing too much and writing for photographers rather than people who’d just bought a camera and had no idea what to do with it.

When I read a post by James McArdle on the Photohistory blog about his project On This Date In Photography I was interested but perhaps a little sceptical about his intention to present “an event that happened, or is happening, on the date of posting. Journalistic, not necessarily academic, it aims to broaden the interests of devotees of photography, with some posts specifically on British photo history, others more wide ranging.”

He goes on to state that the site is “a ‘labour of love’ I am undertaking for one calendar year to revive my research and writing in preparation for penning a book on an aspect of photography next year.”

I have to say that I’m very impressed by what I’ve seen so far, and suggest that his is a site you should all add to your bookmarks/favourites.  I haven’t read all the entries which he began in October, but enough to make me want to go back and read more. One almost at random, for December 27th, with the title Dream, looks at the photography of  Latvian photographer Gunar̄s Binde, born 27/12/1933  who I was pleased to meet and see his work in Poland in 2005.

Gunars Binde looks through the catalogue as Eikoe Hosoe, Ami Vitale and I  for a photograph at the first international FotoArtFestival in Bielsko-Biala, Poland, where I represented the UK with pictures from London. You can read the more about the festival in my Polish Diary. Picture by Jutka Kovacs.

2016 Books

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

I don’t like to look too much at the annual posts on many sites about ‘Photography Books of the Year‘, not least because if I spend too much time reading them I will invariably find some I feel I really need to buy.  And while I could usually afford to do so in terms of cash, I just do not have the space. Virtually every room in my house now has its shelves of photography books (and there are some in the loft) and there is just no room for any more. (We do have a few non-photography books too, but they are well in a minority.)

So over the past few years I’ve adopted in fairly strict rule. I only buy books by photographers I know. I’ve stopped asking for review copies some years ago too, though I won’t review books from PDFs – unless they are being published in that format – it just isn’t the same. I’m still pleased when people give me books, and I’ll try and find room for them, but I’ll really have to find something I already have that I feel I can do without to give away or at least move up to a box in the loft.

I’ve already posted about my book of the year – and a very thick one that I have bought – Provoke. I needed it for a talk I was writing, but I still haven’t found a place for it, and it’s in a pile of stuff on the carpet behind me.  I see in my guilty sneaked glimpses that it has featured in some other people’s lists too.

Currently I’m sitting on my hands and thinking about hiding my credit card after having taking a peek at the recommendations by Elizabeth Avedon, at least some of which seem more to my taste than most, Part 1 and Part 2.

I see at the right of her pages it has a counter recording ‘PEOPLEVIEWS’, which stood at 1,863,069 when I visited. I don’t have such a counter on this site, but I can get some statistics from my ISP, though I don’t know what a ‘Peopleview’ is.

At the moment I can only get statistics for the past 18 months, from 1st July 2015, although the site has been running since December 2006. Last year, 2016 >Re:PHOTO had 1,558,105 page impressions by 372,417 visitors.

The numbers fluctuate a bit through the year, with August and December being my best months last year, each average over 5500 page views per day. I suspect that I wrote more posts in these months and more people have time to read them because we have some holidays from work. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Berger & Mohr

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

This morning the media is full of tributes to John Berger, and in particular his 4 episode TV series which I watched back in 1972, Ways of Seeing. You can now view these on Youtube (start with Part 1 and the links to the other parts will appear.)

But although I listened to a discussion about him on Radio 4 there was no  mention of his long collaboration with Swiss documentary photographer Jean Mohr, and in particular what is perhaps a rather better thought out book they produced together,  Another Way of Telling (1981), recently republished in a new and improved edition by Bloomsbury. You can read Berger’s essay ‘Appearances‘ photocopied from the 1982 US edition as a PDF online, but that misses the real feeling of the work, which needs to be taken as a whole.

Ways of Seeing‘ also came out as a Pelican original, and the book is rather better than the TV programme if you want to think about Berger’s work and ideas, which were not universally accepted. ‘Art-Language‘ in 1986 (Volume 4 Number 3 October 1978) was 123 pages of criticism of the book, much of it worthy of consideration.

Mohr’s first published collaboration with Berger was the book A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor, first published as a hardback in 1967 (I bought it a few years later) and re-issued by Canongate Books in 2015. The new edition, as Rick Poyner points out has the advantage of much improved modern reproduction (though the more detailed images are less dramatic), but in several respects its design unfortunately fails to match the sensitive work in the original by Gerald Cinamon, which contributed greatly to its success in combining photographs and text.

On Mohr’s web site – if you select  ‘Itinéraire’ (or ‘Route’ if you view the site in English) you can browse through the  content of his CD “Journey of a photographer Jean Mohr” published in 2000 by  l’Association Mémoires de Photographes. As well as 1200 photographs, there are also texts, videos, interview and more.

As well as the collaboration with Berger – other books include Art and Revolution, (1969) A Seventh Man, (1975) and At the Edge of the World, (1999) – Mohr is well known for his images of Palestinian refugees, which began with a commision for the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1949 and continues through the years – including another ICRC assignment in 2002. His After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (1986) includes a poetic meditation on Palestinian identity by the late Edward W. Said in response to his pictures.

Black Magic

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

I’ve sometimes rather laughed Magnum’s ‘Square Print Sales’, with their postcard-sized signed prints being sold at $100 when you could buy well-printed books with many prints by the same photographers (and sometimes at least as well printed) for rather less. And perhaps been amused by images advertising the sale which showed those same images at 4 times the size. I’ve nothing against people collecting postcards, and I have a few myself, but most cost me 20p or less – and I’ve given hundreds if not thousands of my own work on them away.

Visiting to galleries and auction houses, I’ve often seen prints for sale for thousands of pounds that were inferior in quality to the reproductions of the same images in books. Sometimes it is worth remembering that – with a few rare exceptions – in photography we are always dealing in reproductions, and one of the joys of our medium is its essentially infinite reproducibility.

But of course photographers have to earn a living – and selling prints for thousands or millions is what keeps some art dealers in their lives of luxury.

But Magnum Distribution are now selling Matt Black‘s ‘The Geography of Poverty – Heartland‘, a set of eight 8×10″ prints in an envelope with some documentation for what seems a reasonable price of $249.00 They are in a limited edition, but 100 copies seems a fairly reasonable number, and more than I’ve sold of any unlimited edition print.

The 8 prints are digital C-type on Fuji Crystal Archive Matte paper, which would perhaps not be my choice for black and white prints, and rather more suited to colour images. But certainly you can make good black and white prints this way, though I would generally prefer good inkjet prints (which I imagine is what Magnum’s ‘museum quality’ square images are.)  Perhaps Black prefers the Fuji paper – the cost difference between C-types and inkjet is small – the pro lab I sometimes use charges around 30% more for inkjet.

It’s an great project by Black, who I think is one of the more promising new Magnum photographers for some years, and you can see more at MSNBC, where the presentation and text by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Trymaine Lee produce a work of outstanding quality. You can also see more of his work on his own web site and on Magnum, where he became a Magnum nominee in 2015. You can also follow him on Instagram, where he was Time’s Instagram photographer of the year in 2014. There is also a signed Geography of Poverty Newsprint issue for sale which seems to me rather poor value at $45. I have a number of such newpsrint publications now, and they usually end up in the recycling, as they hardly seem worth keeping.

I won’t be buying either that or the set of 8 images. Although I admire the work, I wouldn’t want to hang the 8 images on my wall, nor do I have the space to do so. And I have far too many prints  – my own and others – already hidden away in envelopes, tubes and boxes that never get looked at.

Photoshop Alternative

Friday, November 11th, 2016

A few years ago I would have jumped at the chance to move from Photoshop to an alternative that looks at least equally powerful but at a fraction of the cost. Now, I’m not so sure, as Photoshop has become much more reasonably priced, and there would be quite a long process of learning to move away to Affinity Photo.

That link is for the Mac version, but as I learnt from Peta Pixel, you can now download a free beta of a Windows version which is said to have an identical interface. I don’t think I will, as I haven’t the time to spend evaluating software and changing my old habits, but it does look good and rather than paying a subscription there is a one-off price. The Windows version when launched will cost the same $50 or £40 as the Mac.

It does seem to offer an alternative to everything I need from Photoshop – I took a quick look through the long listing of features – and elsewhere is a list of cameras it supports for RAW, which included all that I own and of course many more. As a British company the price in the UK is perhaps less likely to be affected by any further drop in the pound as we slide into Breixt economic gloom.

But for me, Photoshop comes more or less as a free gift with Lightroom on my subscription, and I’ve come to love and rely on the way that Lightworks with and catalogues my images.  And I still have nagging doubts about Serif, the company that produces Affinity, and  whose PagePlus DTP software I used in the long past; Version 1.0 was cheap and worked farily well, but didn’t quite match up to that available at several times the cost from the big names.  But it does look as if they have made that jump now, and PagePlus X9 looks rather good and if I wanted new web design software I’d certainly look at WebPlus X8. And Affinity seems to offer all that I use from Photoshop – including the ability to use 64-bit Photoshop plugins.

As I said, I don’t have the time to play with betas. But perhaps in a year or so when others have ironed out the worst bugs I’ll consider Affinity again, and decide if I can live without Lightroom. After all its one-off cost is less than 5 months subs to the Adobe Photography Plan – and after that I’d be saving just over £100 a year.  Of course sometime they would bring out a version 2,  and perhaps I might feel a need to upgrade, but it would still work out much cheaper.

As well as Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer is also available as a free beta for Windows.

Incidentally another page at Peta Pixel details how you can save 25 % on your Adobe subscription – but it doesn’t seem to work for me, with the Amazon page this links to listing it at the full dollar price of $119.88 – perhaps the offer is/was only available in the US.

Irwin Klein published

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Six years ago I wrote a short note on this site, The Color Photographs of Irwin Klein, about the work of a photographer whose life ended tragically in March 1974. You can now read the story I didn’t know then of his death on a web site Irwin Klein: Photographer (1933-1974) created by his nephew Nikolai Klein in 2012.

Rather more of his photographs appear to have survived, and there is a quite extensive archive on the web site, including the colour images of Brooklyn. There are over 300 of his Brooklyn slides on the site, although quite a few scenes are represented by two or more very similar views.

I was emailed about this site by Nikolai’s brother Ben Klein, who also commented on my 2010 post and has compiled and edited a book on the photographer’s major project, The Settlers. ‘ He tells me that the slides were discovered in Klein’s widow’s house less than ten years ago.

Irwin Klein and the New Settlers, Photographs of Counterculture in New Mexico, ISBN 978-0-8032-8510-1 is edited by Benjamin Klein with essays by David Farber, Tom Fels, Tim Hodgdon, Benjamin Klein, and Lois Rudnick, a foreword by Daniel Kosharek and an introduction by Michael William Doyle is published by the University of Nebraska Press.

You can download a PDF from the university site which includes the contents pages, preface, introduction and opening essay From Innocence to Experience: Irwin B. Klein and the New Settlers of Northern New Mexico, by Benjamin Klein and Tim Hodgdon.

There is also a Facebook Page and a number of article on the web about Irwin Klein, including one in the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is represented by the D Gallery, where you can see his most famous image, Minnesota Fire, 1962 and other pictures from the 2009 show Last Look: The Photographs of Irwin Klein (1933 -1974).

I think most photographers will recognise that striking ‘Minnesota Fire‘ image though they may well – like me – have forgotten who took it.

Killed by Roses

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Eikoh Hosoe and one of his pictures from Ordeal by Roses

Today’s L’Œil de la Photographie with its article Eikoh Hosoe, Barakei A portrait of Yukio Mishima brought back memories to be of a few days spent in company with him and other photographers back in 2005 in Bielsko-Biala, at their first FotoArtFestival.

Eikoh Hosoe in Bielsko-Biala

It was a great privilege for me to be invited to show some of my urban landscape work from London’s Industrial Heritage along with such distinguished company as Eikoh Hosoe, Ami Vitale, Boris Mikhajlov and Malick Sidibe, as well as many rising stars and a few of those no longer with us, Mario Giacomelli, Inge Morath and Robert Diament, as one of 25 photographers representing 25 countries around the world.

Eikoe Hosoe uses his pink phone camera

I’d travelled light to Poland, and had only taken a small digital pocket camera, a Canon Ixus. It was an excellent camera for the time, but in some of the dimly lit interiors I did find myself wishing I had brought a Nikon. But it was a small and pocketable camera, and I think did remarkably well all things considered. You can see more pictures I took with it on the trip in my FotoArtFestival Diary, along with some of one of my three talks there. As well as presenting my own work, I also gave presentations on the work of two great British photographers, Tony Ray Jones and Raymond Moore, and on the work of some of my London Friends, Paul Baldesare, Jim Barron, Derek Ridgers, Mike Seaborne and Dave Trainer.

Eikoh Hosoe photographs me photographing him

What was remarkable apart from the photography was the atmosphere and camaraderie among the group of photographers there, some of the exhibitors and a few of their friends. Any ice between us had been broken at the press conference, which was enlivened by vitriolic attack on me as a British colonialist by one vodka-fuelled photographer as I got up to speak, enabling me to reply with a robust statement of some of my own political views and working class background, a family history of being screwed by that very same ‘elite’, ending up with us embracing each other – and going to a bar with most of the other photographers. Though I stuck firmly to my own resolve not to drink vodka, the beer was good.

Eikoh Hosoe

Hosoe was certainly the most distinguished of the photographers present, and probably too the oldest, and had a typically Japanese quiet reserve which was rather at odds with his photographic work. Though as some of these pictures show, by the end of the event he was very much one of us.

Eikoh Hosoe shows a picture on his pink phone

The ‘Eye of Photography’ feature accompanies a show of the work Bara-kei, (1961–1962) more often known in English as ‘Ordeal by Roses’, homoerotic images of melodramatic poses by the writer Yukio Mishima, one of Japan’s leading postwar writers, also a poet, playwright and actor as well as a nationalist who founded his own small right-wing student militia, the Tatenokai, taken in Mishima’s own house in TOkoyo. His work set out to break taboos and upset cultural traditions, with an emphasis on sexuality, death and political change, a delusion that led in 1970 to him with just four of his militia to perform a coup attempt to restore the power and divinity of the emperor, thought to have been a dramatic staging for his own ritual suicide with which it ended.

Eikoh Hosoe talks about one of his pictures

The Show ‘Barakei – Killed by Roses’ is at the Galerie Eric Mouchet in the Rue Jacob in Paris from today until December 23, 2016.

and another

You can see and hear him talking about some of his work in a video made for the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

There is a good selection of his work on Artsy – or you can search on Google Images. Although his work is on many gallery sites he does not seem to have his own web site. He has been the director of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts since its foundation i 1995. There is a nice piece on him, Eikoh Hosoe – Kamaitachi – From Memory to Dream by Rob Cook in The Gallery of Photographic History


A Bruised Bottom?

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

There are some images that everyone with the slightest interest in photography know, and two of them were (almost certainly) taken by Robert Capa. Both have long been surrounded by controversy, and the ten or eleven pictures of the D-Day landings have been the main subject of a major series of posts on ‘Photocritic International‘ by A D Coleman and his collaborators.

We can now be certain that while Capa did land on Omaha Beach, he wasn’t in the first wave and was fortunate in that it was a relatively quiet area by the time he got there. ‘Relatively’ is an important qualification and though to the military who were getting on with the job of clearing the beach it was relatively normal, to you and I – or indeed Capa – it was a very scary place to be. So scary that he only managed to take those ten or eleven images before deciding to jump on the next boat out. And who could blame him – or feel they might have done any better?

Capa struck lucky with one of those images, though had it come out as he intended it would have been long forgotten. Imagine it as well-exposed, sharp and with excellent tonality; even if published, it would have been entirely unmemorable – rather like many of the images taken by military photographers on that and the following days.

Discarding the silly myths created around the picture actually make it more interesting. It’s a more human document and we can concentrate on the image and how it evokes what it does rather than think about unbelievable stories about darkroom abuse of film and mythical darkroom workers.

It’s a story I’ve dealt with here and elsewhere on numerous occasions and I return to it only because the latest post on Photocritic International, Alternate History: Robert Capa and ICP (6), from an e-mail by editor and author Jim Hughes has brought it back to mind, and also sent me back to read a contribution by Hughes to the earlier D-Day series, Guest Post 18: Jim Hughes on Capa’s Biographer.

Jim Hughes, as older readers will remember, was a consulting editor for the US magazine Popular Photography, a monthly which in the 1980s I read because it was so much better in its coverage of photography than any of the UK magazines (and I also read its rival ‘Modern Photography‘ for the same reason.) In 1985 he reviewed Richard Whelan‘s authorized biography of Robert Capa for the January 1986 issue.

I’m fairly sure that I will have read that review, in which he was the apparently the first to publish a clear statement that dismisses as myth “the oft-told story of Life‘s London darkroom having ruined the negatives of all but 11 of Capa’s 72 photographs by leaving the film in the drying cabinet with the heat on high and the door closed“. As Hughes makes clear, it just isn’t believable as film is just not affected by heat in the way the story claims.

So while I thought it was my own experience as a photographer (and one who managed to mess up film processing in every conceivable way over the years) that led me to the inevitable conclusion that the story was entirely fictional, perhaps I should now credit Hughes for alerting me to that fact.

Whelan responded to the review by suggesting that Hughes had only seen reproductions of the images in the book of Capa’s photographs, and that these somehow did not allow such conclusions to be made. Was Whelan claiming that the reproductions were so bad that we could not see the obvious? In any case Hughes responded that his conclusions came not from the book but from examination of the original prints.

It seems odd that although photographers such as myself were convinced by the evidence that the darkroom destruction myth was just another story in that great fund of Capa fiction it should have continued to hold such sway – and that even now it has been so comprehensively debunked it should still be published and supported by some leading figures in photography. Whelan simply lacked the photographic knowledge to realise it had to be wrong, but – at least once pointed out – it was clear to those of us who had toiled long in darkrooms.

But more controversial at the time was the discussion by Hughes of Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier‘, already the subject of the 1975 book, The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley. In the latest article, Hughes, who had mentioned the controversy over this image in his review, looks at some of the issues around this image and the attempts by Whelan and Cornell Capa to cover up the controversy.

The post also links to the more recent work by Spanish scholar Jose Manuel Susperregui, which appears to have established conclusively “that Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’ was staged by Capa at Cerro del Cuco, outside the town of Espejo, Cordoba — and that no soldiers died there that day.”

Painstaking research enabled him to determine the place where the picture was taken. He also establishes that the image was taken on a square format (6x6cm) camera that Capa never used to photograph combat, and was more often used by his partner Gerda Taro; the image characteristics lead him to conclude that this image was indeed taken by Capa although others have suggested it was by Taro.

He shows that the camera was deliberately set up (on a tripod) tilted at an angle to suggest it was on sloping ground rather than the flat field, and the two pictures of different men falling show they were performing for the camera. The post has a link to an English translation of an length illustrated article by Susperregui published in April this year describing his research and conclusions.

The picture does indeed show a ‘falling soldier’, but he is falling not to a bullet but to Capa’s directions, and rather than dying; his injuries will have amounted at worst to a bruised bottom.