Archive for December, 2013

Spare Rib and Derivatives

Friday, December 20th, 2013

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the British Library’s attempt to put Spare Rib online and make it freely available. In principle I think its a great idea, and would generally love to see more good free content of all kinds on the web, and many would certainly find this an interesting read and a useful resource. But the proposal fails to consider the rights of those whose content it is.

It would certainly be a better solution than what has happened to many periodicals, which are put on-line behind a subscription paywall – it was certainly galling to find myself being asked to pay a fee to access an article that I wrote years ago for an academic publication. Less of a problem for those who work in academia or at other institutions that subscribe to such services. But I’d much rather that content – which I’d actually supplied without recompense – had been made available freely to all.

Of course the rights of the creators of the material deserve consideration, although the commercial service in question had never asked me in any way, and I think the same is true of many other such paid content. I’d provided the material for publication in print, but not in any way signed away my copyright, but along with all the other contributors find that other people are now charging for my content. I think the companies concerned probably defend their actions by saying there is no charge for the actual content and that payment is for the supplying of content. Legally I doubt they have the right to supply my copyright content free of charge unless I grant that, though it is possibly a grey area.

I don’t think I ever supplied material to Spare Rib over its 21 years of publication (1972-93), so I’m not directly involved, but at least the British Library, who want to put it on the web, is trying to get clearance from those who hold copyrights in all the material. There is a curious statement in The Guardian feature about it, “Copyright laws demand the British Library locate and gain permission from the majority of them“.

Under current law they surely need permission from every person whose material they publish, though in the case of those who cannot be found they might well go ahead, inserting a notice requesting anyone who has not been located to contact them – with the clear statement that they will remove any content if requested by the copyright holder.

Likewise, if there are former contributors who are not prepared to have their content presented, then the BL needs to block out those sections of the issues. It would be a simple matter and almost cost-free to simply blank out parts of the issues from the files for use on-line. There isn’t so far as I’m aware any provision in copyright law that says if 91% of contributors are prepared for their work to be used, the other 9% will just have to lump it.

Apparently, a sample of those concerned have already been contacted (and if that includes you, particularly if you are a photographer, I’d advise you to read the advice from the NUJ London Photographers’ branch), with a request for them to give (or withhold) permission within a week of receiving the request, though this contradicts the date of the end of January given by the Guardian. The end of January might be reasonable, but I don’t consider ‘a week’ to be so. There is a long blog post, Beware the Spare Rib Digitisation Project, which gives one well-informed view from a contributor.

Photographers are I think in a slightly different position from writers, in that many are far more reliant than writers on the reproduction of older work as a significant source of income. For many, their archive is their pension. So photographers as a group are more worried about unauthorised usage of their work.

The BL would also appear to have selected an unsuitable form of licensing to apply to contributions, the ‘Creative Commons Attribution Non- Commercial 3.0 Licence, and any successor version as published by Creative Commons.’ Apart from the open-ended nature of the statement, this allows any non-commercial user to ‘copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format’ and to ‘remix, transform, and build upon the material‘, so long as they give an appropriate credit and indication of any changes from the original. This is a ‘Free Culture Licence‘ which is probably not what many content creators would want.

I’m not entirely happy about Creative Commons Licensing, which although it has some very positive aspects seems to be widely regarded as giving a right to do what you like with material covered by it. Few read or understand the small print. I think many photographers would be unhappy with having their work remixed, transformed or built upon, at least without knowledge of how and why this was to be done. And, where appropriate, the payment of a licence fee.

There is a more restrictive non-commercial Creative Commons licence, Attribution No-Derivatives 4.0 International with no adaptions allowed that could be applied to allow copying and redistribution but not remixing etc, which might be more acceptable to some. But copyright law gives content creators – including photographers – important rights, and perhaps we should rely on that rather than CC. The UK Copyright Service has useful fact sheets on Fair Use and Fair Dealing, the latter of which represents UK legal thinking on the issue and allows considerable private and other use. It’s perhaps a position we and the BL should note and rely on rather than going along the CC route.

Personally I think derivative work can be rather fun, though it can also get people into legal trouble, with expensive court proceedings – particularly in the USA, which often end up with some fairly unpredictable results.  Mr Brainwash seems to lose because his work is judged mediocre (also see here) and it’s hard to disagree, but it’s worth reading Andy Baio’s Kind of Screwed for some other examples, though I think his conclusion about his own case is wrong – the ‘Kind of Bloop‘ album cover looks more like a poor copy of Jay Maisel’s photo than a ‘transformative work‘ to me.

I’ve allowed my own work to be used in a derivative fashion on a number of occasions, sometimes without payment, mainly for purely non-commercial use. But I think artists should request permission and where they intend to see the work should offer me a fee – as most have when approaching me for permission.

But there is yet more to the story over the BL and Spare Rib. BL make much of wanting to preserve the valuable magazine (as the Guardian article quoted above shows. But it has already been preserved on microfiche – and is available as such through the B. And as the Register make clear, no permission is needed to preserve the material, and the request isn’t about this, but about making it freely available on the web.  There is more about this in The Register who also tried to get some clarification over BL’s intentions, so far without success.

The Power of Photography – Marcus Bleasdale

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Watch National Geographic Live!‘s short film of Marcus Bleasdale talking about the D R Congo and how he hopes his pictures will improve things in The Power of Photography to Witness. As it says on the page:

Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale wants to make people angry; as angry as he is about Africa’s first world war and the surprising way in which we are funding this violence.

On his own web site you can hear him talking at more length about one of these images at the start of another short film, Avoiding Photographic Dangers.

His work in the Congo is in ‘The Rape of a Nation‘, which is one of a number of stories on his VII page.

I’ve written a number of stories on the war in the Congo, seen from the considerably safer viewpoint of London’s streets and the protests by Congolese on them to try to focus public attention on the conflicts there, and the links between this and our mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices. But Bleasdale’s images bring home powerfully what happens there and its effect on the people.

You can find out more about what is happening on the Raise Hope for Congo website. Many organisations are working in the Congo, and in 2008 the BBC Radio 4 Today programme published a list of charities who work in Congo and deal with survivors of sexual violence, including Merlin, part of Save the Children. Others include War Child and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).


Free Shaker

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Nikon D800 in DX mode, 10.5mm, Fisheye-Hemi plugin
The Free Shaker Aamer march in Battersea wasn’t a particularly easy event to photograph, and I had to work hard to get decent pictures. There were around thirty people taking part, many of them dressed up in the orange Guantanamo-style jumpsuits, some with black hoods covering their faces. The black hoods can be dramatic, but they are very much a cliché, and I do like to see people’s faces in my pictures. Fortunately as you can see here some people wore hoods and others didn’t.

Battersea is where Shaker Aamer’s family lives, and hopefully where he will come back to when he is eventually released from Guantanamo, though the US and British authorities would like to send him back to the country of his birth, where he would be locked away and unable to testify about his torture since he was captured 12 years ago in Afghanistan. His evidence will certainly embarrass both US and UK intelligence agencies.

Probably most people know this part of Battersea better as Clapham Junction, one of the world’s busiest and best-known railway stations. Clapham was a more up-market place when the station was built (and probably the influential folk of Clapham didn’t want a nasty smelly railway through their backyards) so although the station was built among the slums of Battersea, the railway company opted for a more prestigious name. It was after all only a short ride in your horse and carriage from Clapham, though now the 37 bus probably takes a little longer through London traffic.

When I first went there, Northcote Road, a quarter-mile south of the station, was a fairly typical inner London street market, lots of fruit and veg, cheap clothing and the rest. Good transport connections have meant it has come up rapidly in the past twenty or thirty years and it’s now extremely gentrified, with stalls selling a dozen varieties of olives and olive oil, artisanal bread and the rest, most of the old pubs now replaced by rather trendier establishments.

The protesters were handing out leaflets on the street, just south of the street stalls, where the pavement widens out slightly in front of a Baptist church but is still rather constricted by some bicycle parking stands, and the march was to start from the corner there.

It wasn’t easy to take an overview showing all the banners and a reasonable number of protesters, partly because half of them were standing behind me on the roadside edge of the pavement and the rest – in picture – up close to the church so that people could still walk along the pavement. And there were enough people walking along it to mean I spent a lot of time waiting for a clear view.

I could only stand rather close, partly to avoid the clutter of the bike stands, but also because if I moved further back I would have had the other half of the protesters in the way too, not to mention having to spend most of my time jumping out of the way of traffic on the fairly busy road. This was another occasion where the extreme wide angle of view of the 10.5mm full-area fisheye proved its worth.

This particular frame – corrected as usual with Fisheye-Hemi – stood out from the rest because of the figure holding the ‘Bring Home Shaker Aamer‘ poster at the extreme right. The woman is Joy Hurcombe, the Chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and she has her hood pulled back from her face to better see where she is going as she walks towards me. She had been standing at the far end of the row, next to the man just to the left of her head, and rather small in the pictures, but I saw the possibility as she walked towards me and quickly took a couple of pictures. As well as adding a little dynamism to the image – and the slight angle she is at adds to the impression of movement- I like having a similar figure at both edges. I would have liked another couple of inches at the left to show the edge of the poster held there. Were I to develop this image again I would add a little brightness and contrast to that sign on brown corrugated card.

I usually try to keep the fisheye level when taking pictures, which avoids the splaying out of the verticals. But this was a picture I had to take very quickly, and I think it actually helps here. I’d chosen to work from this side of the scene because of the group of three people around the blue banner which makes a nice contrast to the orange suits. I seldom like to work from the centre with groups as I find it makes for less interesting pictures.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm
Joy was walking across in front of me when I made the first picture, to take the microphone and speak at the street corner, and I followed her to photograph her speaking.

There was a woman a metre or so to her left as she spoke dressed in an orange jumpsuit and black hood, and I moved close to her, filling the left of the frame, with Joy speaking in the centre. It wasn’t bad, but in the background between the two figures there were a couple of people talking who were rather a distraction.

I don’t like to set up pictures or direct events, but after trying 14 frames and not getting an image I felt was quite strong enough I asked the woman to move closer to Joy, then moved across in front of the two of them and knelt down, partly to more or less hide the figures behind these two. I moved in close and went down on my knees and edged a little closer – I was using the 16-35mm on the D700 at 16mm – and tried to fill the frame as much as possible with the two women and the posters they were holding and in the background.

There were two figures at the left – a child and father that I was watching too, and wasn’t sure how to cope with; I took a series of 8 frames watching them and the speaker’s face, which much of the time was turned a little too much away from me. But in this frame she turned towards me and the man was behind the other woman’s arm, with the boy looking towards the speaker.

This is a picture I don’t think I would have got on film, firstly because I would not have been so sure that the previous 14 frames weren’t quite what I wanted, and second because I would not have gone on working for 22 frames – and quite likely would have had to stop and change films with only 36 exposures to play with if I had tried.

D700, 16-35mm at 16mm
After a couple of short speeches the march formed up to make its way to a longer rally inside Battersea Arts Centre, which I didn’t go to as I was due at another event. I photographed the two large banners at the front and those holding them, then walked behind them inside the main body of the march, again working with the 16-35mm. There I took another picture with Joy in it, almost the only face visible, though there are ten orange jumpsuits visible in a nicely chaotic grouping.

I walked up towards Clapham Junction with the march, still taking pictures, trying without great success to show the kind of area it was and the people watching the march as it went by. But as with most marches and processions the most interesting things usually happen before they move off (or sometimes after they finish.)

D700, 16-35mm at 19mm

D700, 16-35mm at 18mm
I was feeling that my pictures so far were far too orange. It’s a striking colour, though one that digital sensors have something of a problem with, particularly with bright fluorescent dyes, tending to lose highlight detail. But not everyone was wearing orange, and the posters were black and white.

Several of the marchers attracted my attention and I tried to make pictures with them as the main figure, moving in close with the 16-35mm lens, using it at the wider end. Walking backwards and just to one side of her, I took three frames of this woman holding a poster. The second of the three was unusable because she had closed her eyes. The upper one which was the first frame, with the lens at 19mm was in some ways ways the better picture, with a more dynamic tilt to the poster a slightly closer viewpoint and less of those distracting yellow lines, but in the end I chose to use the lower one (made three seconds later – I’d zoomed out very slightly to 18mm and we’d walked a few yards down the road), mainly because her eyes are wider open and I prefer her expression, but also I like having both of her black gloves.

It isn’t just the pale blue of her jacket, although it was a change from all that orange, but I think there is a determination in her stance and expression that attracted me. It seemed very much a picture of protest.


Germany – More in the Country

Monday, December 16th, 2013

More pictures from the Fuji X-E1 taken in Germany. We cycled along the main road east from Neumunster to the next place of any size – a large village approximately 15 km east of Neumünster called Bornhöved.

There was a cycle track alongside the road almost all the way. When it disappeared we took an unmarked side road which fortunately led into the village over a motorway. Almost all cyclists use the cycle paths, which most major roads have beside them. Few cyclists seem to wear helmets, except children (for whom I think it may be compulsory, though not all do.)  Outside of the towns we saw very few cyclists.


Bornhöved is a largish village and unusually hilly after the very flat area we had cycled to.  It didn’t seem a place where there was a lot to do, though it had some pretty detailed boards about its history on the edge of the car park. We cycled around it then back to Husberg, where we were staying, making a small detour on the route. It wasn’t the most exciting ride I’ve ever done, and German bikes are not like mine at home.  It did have a lot of gears, but I think I just found the right one and stayed in it almost all of the time.  But the back-pedal braking is extremely annoying, particularly in making it difficult to get a pedal in the right position for a good start. There would have been more pictures, but I’d decided to travel light and forgot to transfer a spare battery from the bag I left in our bedroom to my pocket.

The EX-1 eats batteries fast, especially if you spend much time reviewing pictures, and tend to leave the camera switched on. I had five with me in Germany, and certainly got through three some days despite not taking a huge number of pictures.  The batteries are fairly slow to charge too, I think a couple of hours. The one I’m looking at is 1250 mAH and I think supposed to last around 300 pictures. It’s not a huge problem, as non-Fuji replacements are less than a tenner on e-Bay (and seem every bit as good as the genuine Fuji item which costs a ridiculous £59.99).

The Nikon batteries are a little larger and higher capacity – 1620 mAH – but though I carry a spare in my camera bag, I’ve yet to have to change one when I’m out working. Every day when I get home I do a check, and if they are under 80% they go in the charger and are replaced by the spare from the back. Some of the cheap replacements have higher capacity and can still be at 100% after I’ve taken a few hundred pictures.

It isn’t just the electronic viewfinder that makes the difference. The Fuji X-Pro 1 which I use mainly with the optical viewfinder eats up batters as well, though perhaps not quite as fast.

A couple of days later we took a walk closer to where we were staying. Bönebüttel and Husberg are really more or less the same place. But Bönebüttel seems to have more older farms and a lot of agricultural land around it, and we were able to make  nice circular walk that took us two or three hours.  This time I took my bag with the spare batteries and lenses, though I think most if not all of the pictures were made with the 18-55mm zoom, probably because I was feeling lazy!

There were plenty of wide open spaces and somehow out in the country I feel less of a need for an extreme wide-angle than in the town, where the 15mm Voigtlander was often nice to use.


Brammerweg, Bönebüttel

and for something completely different: Designer Outlet

‘Designer Outlet’ in Oderstraße, on the edge of Neumünster “Designed for those who love to shop”

This is a kind of fake-old German town composed entirely of shops. We went in a few of them, but I didn’t see anything I wanted to buy.  All the pictures I took here were with the 15mm Voigtlander (22 mm equiv) and sometimes it wasn’t quite wide enough. But it is a nice lens on the camera, small and light. I don’t have any complaints about its sharpness, nor can I see any trace of distortion. It is a manual only lens, but that isn’t any problem on the Fuji X-E1. There were very few pictures where I needed to focus, having initially set the lens to a sensible setting by scale. Depth of field at f5,6 or f8 is pretty excessive.

Although it was ideal for this location in decent light, the maximum aperture of f4 was a little limiting for interior use, where the f2.8 of the Samyang made a noticeable difference. And it would be nice to have a lens that does autofocus for use at near distances.  So though I was very pleased with how this lens worked, I still ended up wanting the 14mm Fuji, which would have been even better.

The Fuji did a pretty good job in Germany, despite a few problems, mainly caused by the photographer. What I’ve not dwelt on in these posts is its performance shooting movies, where I think it did pretty well. It isn’t a camera of choice for fast-moving action, and it doesn’t have the flash capabilities of the Nikons, but apart from that it could replace them for much of what I do.



Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Kiel is best known for its canal. Which I went to see, though not at Kiel but at Rendsburg. Had a nice day out there, went across the canal on a splendid ‘ferry’, suspended on cables below the high-level mainline rail bridge there,  walked underneath the canal through the newish foot-tunnel with its seriously long escalators, walked though a part of the port and past a site scattered with huge bits of giant wind-turbines, ate currywurst and chips (our German hosts laughed at me) and ice cream, along with a beer. And took not a single photograph, as I’d rushed out without checking that I had a spare battery.

I’d plucked the battery from the charger where I’d left it overnight and put it into the camera as we left in a hurry, assuming we’d be coming back shortly before the main trip out later. We weren’t, and although I’d left the battery in the charger all night, somehow it hadn’t charged. Perhaps I hadn’t plugged the charger in, or hadn’t put the battery in properly. So I had a camera, but without a working battery it was just a dead weight to carry around all day.

Its a while since I’ve been out, at least further than a quick trip to the local shops, without a working camera. I might not always actually take pictures, but the potential is always there. So it did feel odd being without one, as if I was not properly dressed. I enjoyed the day, but think I saw far more opportunities for making pictures than I would have done had I been walking around with a working camera!

Earlier in the week we had visited Kiel itself – which isn’t really quite on the canal which starts a few kilometres north of the city centre. It was a grey, cold, windy day with occasional rain, and there were few others around as we walked along beside the Kieler Förde.  Unlike most British former ports, it still seems to be keeping busy.

And there were some fish too, along with sea-monsters (you can see them on My London Diary) but it was too cold to hang around and we walked as quickly as possible into the city centre for coffee and cake. Although Kiel was founded in the 13th century, little remains of the old city,  thanks to the visits by the RAF and USAF who between them destroyed over 80% of the old town, and little of the post-war development appears memorable.

It boasts one of the longest shopping streets in Germany, but given the weather we were glad to get off it and into one of the larger shopping centres, where we soon warmed up enough for some rather delicious ice creams – with a bewildering choice of flavours. Giovanni L has over a 100 flavours and has won various ‘world championship’s as a master ice-cream maker and is now widely franchised across Germany and branches elsewhere, but despite that I can recommend ‘Mozart Praline‘, which comes ‘mit Marzipan‘, though I’m sure many of the others are delicious too. The ‘L’ stands for Lasagna, which seems confusing.

Kiel’s leaning Schwedenkai cruise and ferry terminal – 22mm (33mm eq) 1/30s f 3.2 ISO 2500

But the more interesting pictures to me were those I took in the dark on the way back to the car park. Of course these were hand-held, although some I was able to rest on a rail. Those here were taken with an exposure bias of -2/3 stop, and all with the 18-55mm zoom on the Fuji X-E1. Its a lens where the maximum aperture changes with focal length, and these were all wide-open. The corners are reasonably sharp despite this. The light sources in the images needed some considerable burning in.

53mm (79mm eq), 1/5 f4 ISO 2500 – and the rain was getting heavier

There are a few more on My London Diary – you can go direct to the Kiel pictures here. It was still raining, and we were hurrying back to the car, so I had to take pictures quickly and then run to catch up with the others.


Lauren Henkin

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

David Vestal whose passing I mentioned yesterday, was a man whose work very much reflected the interaction between craft and vision that is at the heart of photography, and the same is certainly true of the landscape photography of Lauren Henkin, as you can see from the interview with her published recently on Petapixel.

This starts by looking at what made her become a photographer, and she picks as a key moment a visit with her parents to a Harry Callahan retrospective at the US National Gallery of Art in 1996, when she was in her early twenties, around the end of her BA in Architecture, where she says “Callahan’s prints (in particular the photographs of Cape Cod), I had a visceral reaction to them.”

She goes on to describe taking a master printing workshop with George Tice, certainly one of the finest printers around both in platinum and silver  I think I probably first registered his name when he was one of the photographers featured in the ground-breaking volume ‘Darkroom‘, published by Lustrum Press in 1977 – on the verso of the title page under the usual details of the colophon the statement ‘PHYSICAL FACT/PSYCHIC EFFECT‘. A series of prints Tice had made from the same negative “opened up the path for me to develop a vocabulary for my prints.”

Henkin goes on to mention two other even more familiar names to me, Tyler Boley and Jon Cone, pioneers in fine art digital printing, whose helpful comments on-line in groups such as Digital Black and White the Print and Piezography 3000 have been a part of my daily life for a dozen or more years. You can read an intersting article written in 2012 by Cone, The State of the State of the Arts in Black & White, which is illustrated by the work of Henkin and Boley among others.

It was Jon Cone who, following on from his experience with Iris printers pioneered high quality black and white printing on Epson desktop inkjet printers.  I started printing with his PiezographyBW Quad ink system in 2000, producing black and white images on matte papers that startled me by their quality, matching or surpassing those I’d made some years earlier with platinum, platinum/palladium and kallitype (albeit with less control over image colour.) I went on to be a beta tester for the next generation of PiezoTone inks.

Cone’s work led printer manufacturers to up their game, and although I’m convinced that Piezography’s latest generation is still the ultimate in black and white printing quality (now on both glossy and matte papers – and yes, capable of more than silver) I no longer use them. Most of my printing is now in colour and I don’t print enough for it to seem worth changing to the cheaper ConeColor system that gives results identical to the Epson inks. If I ever get around to printing serious black and white portfolios I’ll start by investing in a new printer and the latest Cone inks.

But back to Lauren Henkin, who goes on to talk about her inspirations, mentioning photographer Robert Adams as well as painters, sculptors, architects and poets and then moving on to discuss her latest project. The Park, taken in that highly photographed space, Central Park in New York over three years, and her earlier work. Visually, even on screen, it is delightful and her website has an admirable and classical simplicity that complements the fine imagery.

I’ve yet to have the opportunity to see her actual prints as her work hasn’t been exhibited in the UK (she has been in group shows in Arles and Paris, along with a long list since 2007 in the US and Canada.) But its perhaps a reflection on the kind of photography that is promoted by the relatively few spaces that show contemporary work here that London (or some of our other major cities) is not yet on that list.

Henkin is also co-editor of Tilted Arc, a web site with the strap-line ‘Art and argument, fact and fiction. And verse.’ which has recently began a series ‘Women in the Landscape, a new ongoing feature,”conversations between women photographers whose work focuses on the land”. The first conversation is between Henkin and Canadian photographer Jessica Auer, whose work is well worth exploring.

Memory & Photographs

Friday, December 13th, 2013

There have been several articles in different papers about some research by Linda Henkel and her team at the Psychology department of Fairfield University in Fairfield Connecticut which shows that people who took photographs of objects remembered less about them the following day than those who simply looked at them.

Her results don’t particularly surprise me, certainly not when I look at how most people take photographs with their phones or see the results on Facebook. It’s usually clear from these images that even if people are pointing a camera in roughly the right direction, they are not thinking about what they are photographing or seeing it clearly. And photographers are not entirely immune; some of the work I see on Demotix or even published in the newspapers gives me the same feeling. Of course we all have off days, and some editors do appear to have an unerring facility for selecting the weakest image of a set (and often then cropping it to destroy whatever visual integrity it might have possessed.)

Her research only tested recall on the following day. My own memory gets regularly tested in various ways about things that happened twenty or thirty or even forty years ago, and if I can look up the photograph the chances of accurate recall without it are remote. Of course that’s a very different thing, but there is a real sense for me that photographs are a large part of my memory.

The feature on her research on Atlantic Cities mentions an important part of her research some other accounts omit. When Henkel asked people to zoom in on and photograph the details of the museum objects that were the subject of the study, this actually aided their recall the following day. In other words if people actually thought about what they were photographing, that act became and aid to recall. Good photography always involves looking and thinking.

David Vestal (1924 – December 5, 2013

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

When I first became seriously interested in photography and was taking pictures, back in the early 1970s (before then I’d been interested but to skint to actually buy film for the the camera I’d owned for around ten years) there was really only one magazine in the UK worth reading, Creative Camera, though that didn’t stop me buying some of the rest, mainly to drool over the equipment I still couldn’t afford.

There were also articles on technique, though mainly about taking photographs, recycling stuff about depth of field, exposure, panning and the rest, and occasionally about printing tricks, but little or nothing about making expressive images or about great photography. Photographing landscape would be illustrated by a few camera club images by the deservedly unknown author rather than the work of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston, let alone anything more modern.

For magazines with a wider interest in photography you had to go the the larger branches of Smiths which stocked the US magazines; Popular Photography, Modern Photography, Camera 35. In these magazines I learnt more about photographers and photography, though they also had technical reviews that went into far more depth than the UK mags – and made me buy the Minolta 28mm rather than the Leica to fit my Leica camera (and also to save up for the Leica 90mm f2.8 which I still occasionally use with an adaptor when I need a long lens on the Fuji-X cameras, while the Minolta, though once a fine performer has succumbed to fungus inside the lens.)

There were several regular columnists in these magazines who stood out, and foremost among them was David Vestal.  No mean photographer himself, as you can see from the set of pictures at the Robert Mann gallery, Vestal had learnt photography from one of the legendary teachers of photography, Sid Grossman of the Photo League in New York in the late 1940s, an himself became a legend.

I learnt much from his regular columns, not just about the how of photography, but also about the why and he was a man who inspired many. I don’t think there will be a better obituary for him than that by Jim Hughes in The Online Photographer; Hughes knew him well and in March 1972  began to serialise his “David Vestal’s Book of Craft—An Advanced Course in B&W Photography for Beginners and Others” in Camera 35  – and I became a regular reader. In 1978 it was published in book form as “The Craft of Photography”, and was one of the finest introductions to advanced photography ever to appear. Even if like me you never now go into a darkroom with intent it remains a book worth reading.




More Germany – Neumünster

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

We (myself and Linda who you can see if you look hard in the picture above) were in Germany over the period including Remembrance Day, when for at least for couple of weeks beforehand it seems to be increasingly obligatory to wear a poppy in the UK.

I’ve seen over the years a change in the way we treat annual remembrance and I think it has become far more celebratory and militaristic than in my youth, when “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” the traffic still pulled to the side of the road for two minutes of national silence. The silence and the thoughts surrounding it was then the main event, while now it seems to be more an occasion for military parades.

I think the changes are linked to there being fewer and fewer people remaining who actually fought in the two world wars. Certainly many of those who survived the ‘Great War’ (in which my own father took a very minor role) had a huge sense of its futility and a longing for peace. But they are no longer with us. Television  has also played its part – while back then people took part, both in the silence and in local events on the Sunday, now more just watch the major parade in Whitehall, complete with its BBC commentary.

Back when I was standing shivering in my Boy Scout shorts at the local war memorial at least we sometimes got to hear first-hand what some of those who had actually been Desert Rats or taken part in the D-Day landings really thought and felt, often in terms that the BBC  would still not deem suitable for broadcast. Sacrifice was remembered, celebrated but not glorified.

The silence on the anniversary of the Armistice which ended the ‘Great War’ in 1981 is a Commonwealth event which began in 1919 when King George V took up the suggestion of an Australian journalist and made a proclamation calling for perfect stillness so that “thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this particular anniversary isn’t observed in Germany, but the Sunday closest to November 16 is observed as a national day of mourning, with church services and the laying of wreaths on monuments to those who died in the two world wars, like that above. But we saw no parades or signs of militarism. Perhaps it’s healthier for nations to lose wars than win them, though I think we needed fight to defeat the fascists.

We arrived at the town hall in Neumünster a little after 11am on the 11th November and were surprised to find we had just missed the start of an event outside. We’d heard a band before we’d seen anything and I’d rushed around the corner, but they were marching off by the time I came close. They stopped in the yard outside the entrance to the main hall and I quickly took a few pictures of the carnival fools on their way inside for an important event in their annual carnival. I read about it later in the local newspaper, but didn’t entirely understand, but I think it was the crowning of the carnival king and queen for the year.

It was here I came across one of the limitations of the Fuji X-E1 for covering such events. I’d smiled at the two ladies dressed as witches and raised the camera and framed the picture, then found I couldn’t take a picture, but had to wait for what seemed like ages until the camera had finished writing to the card. Fortunately they waited long enough before going inside for me to quickly make a couple of exposures.

But apart from this, the Fuji worked well, and the technical quality of the images is outstanding.  It’s a great camera and easy on the shoulder.

Neumünster is an interesting town, and one which became an important centre for textile manufacture in the late nineteenth century. From the tourist information centre we picked up the free booklet with a trail around the town. We followed it around though not necessarily in the right order and with some detours, but you can find pictures of most of the sights it points on in German Holiday, as well as others more interesting to me on its route.

It seems a good example of a town guide (though I had to rely on Linda to translate it from German), or at least it reflects my interests in the former industries and the flowering of architecture the wealth from them produced in the twenty or so years before that Great War. And you can mention the wars in Germany now, though probably its best to keep quiet about that World Cup. And football in general given England’s performances in recent years.

One of Neumünster’s ‘Historic Buildings’, N0. 9 on the town trail
Among the 40 or so sites of which Neumünster is proud is its only remaining cast iron urinal, painted in an attractive green; now closed for business (or rather replaced by a nearby public toilet.) It was surrounded by temporary fencing, and I took the picture poking my lens through this. Presumably it will soon be renovated and opened for public viewing if not use. There is a little flare at the top as the only possible viewpoint was with the sun shining more or less directly into the lens. I’ve reduced it in the image above, but at the expense of getting the upper parts too dark, too dull and with a slight shift towards blue.  If I ever need to print the image I’ll re-work it more carefully.

Given the textile history of the place (and it now has a fine new building to house its textile museum – which we didn’t visit this time), surely some guerilla knitting was inevitable, and we found some, as you’ll find if you look through the whole set. The old textile museum was certainly worth a visit and I remember particularly enjoyed the section on the Jacquard looms, though modern museum displays can often be rather disappointing, often sacrificing information and artifacts in favour of impact. Like everyone who visits a museum is a bored twelve-year old.  I hope not.

It was particularly interested to see again the scenes of some of my favourite colour images from past visits – and to find out what colour they really are, not always too obvious from the transparencies I took at the time or the prints from them. It was a reminder again of how much truer to life digital colour is than film ever was.

I’d forgotten from the earlier visits that Neumünster got its name from the new church that was built there – now a rather old church. We hadn’t gone inside it on our previous visits, but it is beautifully kept and has a simple rather austere beauty that I admire. It’s a picture that breaks one of my normal guides – get away from the middle – in favour of one of Minor White’s ‘Three Canons’, “Let the subject generate its own composition.” Rules are of course made to be broken when it suits.

But it’s perhaps the rather odd things you come across that are more interesting – like this oddly painted swan locked away behind the glass doors to an empty shop. Or indeed the image at the top of this post.

I’ll post some more pictures from Germany in another post or two, but you can already see all that were fit to post in German Holiday.


Fuji in Germany

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Moving on to the runway at Heathrow Fuji-X 18-55mm

For my trip to Germany last month I took just one camera – the Fuji X-E1 – and three lenses, the Fuji-X 18-55mm (27-83mm equiv), the Voigtlander 15mm (22.5mm eq) and the full-area fisheye Samyang 8mm. Along with a few 16Gb cards and four spare batteries and the charger.

Mostly I wanted to use a camera to photograph some family events, and the X-E1 is not a bad camera for discrete use; fairly small and quiet enough in quiet mode not to be noticeable in a room with a normal level of conversation.

The 8mm and 15mm don’t have image stabilisation, but I didn’t miss it. Possibly camera shake was lessened by the liberal application of the local beer to the photographer, along with the odd glass of Hugo, a drink I find just a little too sweet, combining prosecco, lime, mint and elderflower syrup. And there was also a rather powerful vodka-based concoction containing yoghurt. Together in moderate quantities I think these give about a two-stop advantage! But the 18-55mm has optical image stabilisation, and perhaps a few images at the longer end were sharper for it.

8mm Samyang

The Samyang is a remarkable lens, and the fact that it is a manual lens hardly matters at all on the X-E1, where there is seldom any need to focus. In fact I’d prefer to have a lock that stopped me focussing, as although for nearly everything  you can leave the lens set to infinity it is possible to focus down to 1 ft, at which point things more distant can get slightly unsharp.

One very small problem with the lens is that the camera doesn’t know the aperture in use, though of course it gives the correct exposure despite this. It’s just a little of a shock to look at the EXIF data and find you were apparently taking pictures at f1!

Most of the images with the Samyang – such as that above – were interiors in normal room lighting and I was working at its full aperture of f2.8. Even wide open it is already pretty sharp across the frame. Any lack of sharpness in these images was either from accidental shifting of the focus, subject or camera movement. And with exposures sometimes down to around 1/20s, subject movement was a real problem.

And as you can see the Samyang does give a different view. Although there is some of the normal curvature you expect from a fisheye – perhaps most obvious in the lines between walls and ceiling, the Samyang employs a different mapping to the usual equisolid projection in fisheyes.  This is the stereographic projection, which results in less distortion of objects at the edges and corners of the frame, giving the images a far more natural look. The figure at bottom left would have been noticeable distorted in a normal fisheye image, but looks almost normal here.

With other fisheyes, such as the 10.5 Nikon I’m rather fond of, its often essential to use software such as Fisheye-Hemi to give a more usable result, but correction is far less necessary with the Samyang. So you get the extreme angle without the extreme distortion. A small down-side to this is that if you do want to ‘correct’, Fish-Eye Hemi doesn’t quite get it right, though it does still generally do better than most other software I’ve tried*.

15mm Voigtlander

The Voigtlander 15mm is a great lens, but not great in poor light with its maximum aperture of f4.5 but it is relatively cheap and beautifully small. One problem is that it has a bulging front element that makes fitting a filter for protection impossible. Mine is in the old screw thread Leica mount, but you can now get the same lens in a Leica M mount, and for under £400 if you look around, a real snip compared with Leica prices. I have it fitted with a Leica M adapter and that then goes into a Fuji X adapter.  The 15mm also seldom needs focussing and the scale is generally accurate enough. I used this lens for years on Leica M and compatible bodies and its performance is fine. If there is any distortion it is never noticeable. Again for the EXIF everything appears as f1.

The 18-55mm is an f2.8 lens at the wide end, but by the time you zoom out to 55mm it is only f4, which rather reduces its utility in low light. Otherwise there was really nothing to complain about.

18-55mm Fuji-X and some laser lighting

The camera itself performed pretty adequately, particularly in low light, where most of the time I was working at ISO 3200. Increasing the Luminance noise reduction in Lightroom from my normal 27 to around 50 made the results much smoother (keeping the detail setting around my normal 20 and contrast 2.) There was significantly more colour noise than at ISO 640, but it disappeared with a ‘color’ noise reduction setting of 25.

I had no problems with the digital viewfinder in low light, but in bright conditions it was sometimes impossible to see detail. It was good enough to see which way you were pointing the camera and the limits of the frame, but hardly to see what the pictures would look like.

I really do wish Fuji could find a solution to the deep sleep mode which this camera descends into after switching itself off to save the battery. The quickest way to wake it up seems to be to switch the camera off and on again and wait the second or two for it to come back to life. By which time the picture has often flown.

Battery life is a problem too. The day we went on the most interesting visit I’d rushed out thinking we would be coming back before setting out on the main trip and I would pick up my camera bag before going out for the day. We didn’t and although I’d taken the camera, the battery was dead after the first picture or two. The camera needs a better battery level indicator too, as you only get the warning when it’s already virtually dead. Its generally necessary to take at least 3 batteries to be sure of a day’s work, and four if you are going to be busy. The batteries are supposed to last around 300 pictures, but its easy to run them down faster if you are showing people pictures etc.

Photographing at family parties as I was doing quite a lot of the while, the more interesting moments  are  often when people are moving.  I hadn’t bothered to take a separate flash, and it would have destroyed the mood at times to have used one. I did make a few images with the small unit built into the camera at a more public event when people were dancing, but wasn’t too happy with it. Its really something for emergency use only, though better than many built in flashes. Of course the flash isn’t much use with the fisheye, putting hardly any light into the corners, but it covers the 15mm surprisingly well. There is a brighter central area, but it is relatively easy to even out in Lightroom if you don’t want something of a spotlit effect.

A few minor niggles aside, I was impressed by the quality of the results, and was glad to have only a fairly light weight to carry around. The 18-55 zoom feels a little large on the camera, and for general use I think I might prefer to have perhaps a couple of prime lenses, perhaps the two pancakes (18mm and 27mm ), possibly adding the longer 55-200 zoom when a long lens was essential. Most days I’d prefer a second body too. If you are used to carting Nikons they are pretty light.

In further posts I’ll look more at the other pictures I took in Germany, and perhaps also about making use of the video mode on the Fuji X-E1.

*I think you could possibly use the free Panorama Tools if you could work out how to do it. I’ve got the best results by taking the image into PtGui and converting it to Mercator projection, trimming the output to give a rectangle and then resizing that to 3:2 aspect ratio, but that seems a lot of work and the difference is really quite small.