2021-11-25

Recent Work

In between COVID waves I've been able to do a bit of travelling and while very rusty, I've been able to make a few passable images.

Denmark

Bubble
Rådhuspladsen, Copenhangen


Coffee Cup in Early Morning

Receipts

Casters

Getting Ready for the Rave

Yes, she was all in pink. The others where even more outlandish. She consented to pose for me. The others seemed uncomfortable in their costumes.

Stairs (Not to be taken whilst 3 sheets to the wind)

Danes are noted for design, but for the life of me I don't know how this passed safety inspection...

Helsingør

Barber Shop

Copenhagen Harbour


Svanemølle Power Station Svanemølleværket 1

Svanemølle Power Station Svanemølleværket 2

Vancouver Island

Light - Goose Spit BC

Death

Howe Sound

Thanks for looking













New Books


Yes, that's about a quarter of my library. I had promised myself to stop or at least pause buying books but oh well. These are new in the library.

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War - Louis Menand

Bought this after reading about it in The Atlantic. It's similar to another book I have "Art and Politics in the Weimar Period" it outlines how art, media and thought evolved during the Cold War and how they were influenced by the economic, demographic and technological forces that drove social and cultural change.

Criticizing Photographs 6th Edition - Terry Barret

Got into this book while watching Eileen Rafferty's talk on the B&H Event Space channel on the YouChoobies. Rafferty's talk is more focused on studio critiques while this book gives you the tools to actually understand and write about photographs. It's been an eye opener to be sure! I've filled many pages of notes and bookmarks that make the book look like a hedgehog.

Strange Things Behind (Belgian) Windows - Jean-Luc Feixa

Picked this up at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (LMMA) in Humlebaek DK, despite promising myself that I wouldn't by any photobooks on the trip. Oh well. Quirky, fascinating and really good project. Might have to try that in Calgary.

Pia Arke - Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

Pia Arke was a Greenland photographer and artist. This was the catalog for a retrospective at LMMA. Articles and interviews interspersed with her work. Just cracking the surface of this one.

Magnumb - Arthur Jafa

This show was on at the same time as Pia Arke at LMMA and in someway they reflect each other. This book is the companion to the show and overview of Jafa''s sweeping, dynamic and disquieting video portraits of Black American life. I made some notes at LMMA that I hope to work into a further post.

Tror du vi vågner i morgen (Do you think we'll wake up tomorrow?) - Linda Hansen & Maiken Abildgaard

A fascinating interchange of images and ideas. From the back cover:

[This] is a correspondence between photographer and visual artist Linda Hansen and author Maiken Abildgaard. For a year they have exchanged photographs and phrases. A sentence was answered with a picture and a picture with a sentence. This created 100 small works consisting of text and photography. 40 of these are selected and compiled in this book. 

Google Translate will be working overtime.

Keld Helmer- Petersens Fotografiske Verden (Keld Helmer- Petersen's Photographic World) - Inger Ellekilde Bonde

All in Danish, this will take some time reading. Remember, in Danish the vowels don't count and the consonants don't matter. I guess this is learning Danish the hard way. I should be able to write to my grandson when I'm done with this.

From the back cover:

The first full introduction to the photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen, who in Denmark made the photograph an art...

After the Silence: Women of Art Speak Out - Stats Museum fur Kunst (SMK)

This is the companion book that SMK gave out (for free) for this exhibit. From the SMK website:

Come explore art that’s ready to do battle! In this year’s major autumn exhibition, we give the floor to some of art history’s prominent women artists. Taking the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s as our springboard, we focus on how women have used art as an instrument of battle to create change in the world over the last hundred years.

In my journal I had been writing a lot about context and its importance in photography especially after seeing the baffled looks of the Danes viewing Jafa's exhibition at LMMA. Now, it was my turn. The art was masterful, gripping but as a male I had no context to truly understand the depth and real meaning of the exhibit. More thought required here, to be sure.

Lots of reading, lots of note making, lots to think about.


 

2021-01-16

Stuck Inside of Lightroom with the COVID Blues Again

Oh noes! Not another variation of Zimmerman's song! Not another post about how much this coronabollocks sucks! Not another whinge about how this is impacting someone's creativity. 

Well, it's not.

Another week, another extension of pandemic restrictions. It's been months since I've done any sort of serious work. Even in Paris my shooting was desultory as I was in tourist mode. I really don't feel like I should be out shooting as it's hardly an essential activity in any way. Unless we get this beast under control a lot of things will come crashing down, like the airline industry where my good lady wife works.

This post is about three things: Creativity blocks, keeping busy in quarantine and the results of the latter.

Creativity Blocks and How We Mess With Our Own Mind

Thomas Heaton, a young landscape photographer out of England posted on YouTube about how the coronabollocks has drained his desire to get out of bed and get out and shoot. Truth be told, that sounds more like incipient depression to me but there you go.

Heaton is a very talented photographer and wears his heart on his sleeve. His images are technical tours de force; lacking a bit of emotion sometimes (for me) but à chacun son goût . Overall I really like his oeuvre.

I get it Thomas. You make your living from this and I feel for you. I had times like this crafting software. There would be days when I could barely put hand to keyboard, all the while the PM (usually me) clamouring for code.

Two things are happening here. Isolation due to lurgi and a lack of desire.

Isolation due to Lurgi? Nothing we can do about that. Creatives sometimes need interaction although I work alone and don't really like photographers' get-togethers all that much: photowalks are not my thing but going to galleries are.

For the absolute lack of desire to get up and shake it? It's a case of writers/artist/photographers/creative block and lots of sort-of-helpful lists are out there on how to deal with it. 

Personally? For photography? I go do something else: build something in the shop, read, walk around without a camera just seeing. The latter frees me from having to schlep gear around and I can just practice seeing things differently, getting ideas and, if I do see something, a modern cellphone camera that can capture DNG (like my iPhone and Camera645Pro -- shameless plug) well Bob's your auntie. For writing? See above but carry a small notebook and write down phrases that come into my head.

In both cases those quick sketches using the mind, a cellphone or a notebook get tossed into a mental stew and later, sometimes months later, as I leaf through them something leaps out and grabs me: a phrase, a bon mot, a partial image. Then, oh and then, the motivation often is such that I can't contain the desire to (figuratively) climb every mountain and ford every stream. The block vanishes and you've got your mojo back.

There are some funny habits that we ape-descendant lifeforms have: categorizing ourselves, overthinking, and looking for the (creative) endorphin rush. These bury our creative juices in a steaming pile of existential muck.

Of the three, categorizing ourselves is probably the biggest block to any creative endeavour. When you're in a creative funk hanging on to "I'm a street tog", "I'm a landscape photographer", "I'm a travel photographer" gets in the way of blowing that funk away. Definitions like that have so much baggage associated with them that they get in the way of any sort of creativity as they bind you into a preset visual language. Yuck. 

The Derbyshire Police handing out tickets for driving out of town to a deserted place to walk and photograph? There's an urban landscape to photograph closer to home. Margaret Bourke-White did an excellent job of photographing the urban landscape. Her images of Cleveland's steel industry show an urban landscape write large and stand up to anything Ansell Adams did.

No one on the streets? Buildings are on the streets. Street photography, unfortunately, seems to mandate a human presence. What then are buildings? Are they not indicative of a human presence? Lee Friedlander's streetscapes are every bit as compelling as those done by any street photographer.

Not to belabour things but consider Picasso. How do YOU categorize him? Guernica? Abstract Portraits? Did you know he designed tiles? Made pottery? For frogs snacks! Don't limit yourselves. Try a different genre at the very least!

I'll only mention the other two in passing. Overthinking is continually analysing something, going around and around and never getting resolution. In hockey I'd see it when a prolific goal scorer went into a slump. Watching him on the ice I'd see him trying to think out the play rather than just reacting. We'd call it "holding the stick too tight". Just go out and put pucks on the net we'd tell him; don't go for the highlight reel play. Same with photography. Travel light, shoot, work quickly, react. Not every shot is going to go in the net, nor will every photograph go into the portfolio but it will end up in your sketch book -- Tom Thompson's oil sketches are worth as much as his paintings. But if you don't make that shot, there's no way it'll happen.

Endorphin Rush? Yeah, I get it. Nothing more exciting or thrilling when that whatever it is goes BONG in your chest and you know that what you're working on is the money shot. We keep wanting to duplicate that feeling and when it doesn't happen you start to jones pushing yourself harder and hard and beating yourself up when you can't get that rush. That's an addictive behaviour. Dunno how you stop that but I always remind myself that a bad day's shooting is always better than sitting in a cubicle.

Lurgi and How to Deal With It

So, what to do when everyone is down with the Lurgi and you can't get out? Well, short of selling brass band instruments to the country, it depends.

Me? I read. Everything from spy novels to history to philosophy to art. I look at other photographers' work and try to learn from them, deconstruct them. There's nothing more satisfying than finally being able to say: "I saw what you did there!"

I've read "The Bloodlands", all of Chandler's Marlowe mysteries, "SevenEves", David Martin's "Road to Seeing", "Margaret Bourke-White" and so on.

I also rummage through my back collection looking at images that I may have discarded or forgotten about or try out some different processing techniques on one that I've worked on before. Heck, given the state of my brain, sometimes all three at once. 

If you're serious about abiding by the "don't go out unless you really need to" dictum to do your part in flattening the curve then that's about all you can do and still keep photographically sane.

Other than write drivel, of course.

Lost Project Found

So I was rummaging through the catalog the other daaay...

And found a number of images that I had started working on but stopped for one reason or another. These things happen. Not sure why these got abandoned but so many things happen around here that images sometimes get put to one side.

Back in the day on 11th St SE there was the Blackfoot Farmers' Market. It was a ramshackle affair and only open during the summer. With two by four and plywood booths the vendors it was kinda a sketchy affair. It had a petting zoo with some goats I seem to recall. My wife and I visited once and wasn't even up to the standard of a roadside fruit stand in the Okanagan; overpriced produce, sketchily wrapped food, you know the drill.

Can't recall how many years ago that it finally packed up but I seem to recall newspaper articles about the stall holders fighting amongst themselves and with the whatever governance was in place. Over time it became overgrown and began to decay. Some homeless moved and were rousted regularly and as usual, the taggers left their mark as well. 

These images show what was left almost 4 years ago. Two years ago they came in with heavy equipment and removed all that was left and now it stores bark mulch in rows between the trees.

I didn't do a lot of post-processing other than cropping and some minor exposure adjustments in Lightroom. The light was magic that March morning and these pretty well match the OOC jpegs. The colours where so vibrant that I didn't even try to do and BW processing. 

Menu


Table

Stand

Tricycle

Stay safe, wear a mask, get vaxed as soon as you can.

2020-09-29

You wore blue; the Germans wore grey

Fractal Chaos
Yes, my wife and I will always have Paris. How we got there and why during these COVID times is a long story involving friends upping stakes to live in Abruzzo, the Cunard line, a therapy dog, baggage allowances, and navigating the goat rodeo that is CDG in Paris. That however is a story for another time and a quantity of libations.

Like everyone who has gone to Paris I had preconceptions of what I would experience. These arose from French classes taken in the distant past when dinosaurs still roamed (or deGaulle at least), Simenon novels (both print and dramatized), movies, paintings of Edouard Cortès and all the other things adheres to you as live. I was very conscious of "Paris Syndrome" that the Japanese even have a name for: pari shokogun. You can look it up in the hive mind. Yet, for some reason it didn't hit me, even with the layers of cultural accretions that had built up over six decades. Paris affected me like no other major city I have traveled to.

I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the complete dearth of tourists due to travel restrictions — there was no line up at the Louvre for heaven's sakes! Or perhaps it was due to our location, a top notch AirBnB that had a view of the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps it was because I was aware of pari shokogun and determined to avoid it. Most likely though it was because I was there with my wife on our first vacation without obligations since before children.

Looking through my handy-dandy notebook (of course you scribble in a notebook whilst in the cafe having cafe au lait and pain chocolate!) I noted several times how I felt one should approach Paris. One entry reads:

"To embrace Paris is to be embraced by the city itself. There is a degree of fractal chaos present, not only in its layout but in the rhythm of the city [and you have to accept that]. Sure the RER C is not operational [from Notre Dame to Pont Alma, meaning we have to drag our luggage from Notre Dame to our flat] [and it] doesn't show that on the RATP app. [To cope] a Gallic shrug and one moves on. [although at first it really knackered us and we had to stop for fortification]..."

Rosé and Beer

"...Absent the horses the Paris of Cortès is still there but like a French woman of a certain age and breeding it is now discreetly masked only to be revealed to someone who will listen to her stories, flirt with her and pay her the respect she is due..."
Cafe Society
Yes, she is enigmatic and even eccentric but during the course of seven days I have become fond of her. She has a panache that dour Copenhagen will never have. She has a human scale that is absent from New York. She [still] has a passion for life that has all but disappeared (if it ever truly existed) from London. Coming from the pimple on the prairie the old WWI song: "How are You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm after They've Seen Gay Paree" kept rumbling through my mind.

We did no real touristy things, other than wander about the base of the Eiffel Tower (but did not go up) wandered through Jardin des Tuileries, looked at the Louvre but didn't go in. Instead we wandered. We bought a Navigo card and with three buses (the 42, 69 and 82) stopping across from our apartment we could motor about quickly. If a place looked interesting we'd jump off and explore. No side street was out of bounds. Best of all those three buses gave a good tour of Paris away from the places a Hop-on-hop-off bus tends to frequent. If that didn't work, the Metro at École Militaire was just a few blocks away
A street we found

If it rained, we ducked into a cafe and had a little something. We were never disappointed.

Paris in the rain


Rain will not interfere with our café

There's always a show in Paris. In a way it's less contrived than the show in New York. In New York it feels like people are climbing over each other to stand out; in Paris, not so much.

We had wandered and ended up on Avenue Victor Hugo and then surfaced at the round about that strikes terror into every tourist driver's heart: the traffic circle at Place Charles deGaulle and L'Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile. My wife and I decided to sit and watch the traffic swirl. Oddly enough, there was no mayhem, there was no blaring of horns as mopeds, bicycles, large trucks, buses and cars of all sizes wove around each other. As we were sitting there, a Rolls-Royce drop-head coupe pulled up. The chauffeur stepped out and took the top down to reveal newlyweds. The groom grinning from ear to ear, the bride more interested in her phone.

Grinning for now...

Elsewhere we saw Yorkies in SmartCars, models doing portfolio shoots and people reading. And read they do in Paris. Bookstores without the tat that you find at Chapters, people "discussing" books in bookstores and cafes. Even the act of having a cigarette becomes an act of style. I'm not sure that anyone actually smokes — the cigarette seems to be more of a fashion accessory.

Quick! He's getting away!

Work with me! Yeah Baby!

A quiet afternoon read

It's a fashion accessory! Really it is!

Discarded things had their own stories; not always obvious but there if you had an inventive streak:

Mattress

Sofa

The children of Paris had stories all their own. In Jardin du Palais Royal, in the forecourt, some boys playing soccer with all the joy and vitality that children can bring to a game. I have to be honest though, sometimes it resembled "Calvinball". And, unlike in Canada, no aged commisionaire hobbling out to say: "Hey, you can do that 'ere, eh! Now get oot!"

Calvinball à la Parisienne

In a city of 2+ million, the children are free range, unlike here in the pimple on the prairie. Children are either helicopter with parents continually braying at their charges not to do what children naturally do or, worse, not even letting them oot and boot at all — even with parents near to hand. Perhaps it was the arrondissements we were in but children weren't tear-aways, knew how to dine out and would explore the street, park or whatever always returning, always keeping the parent in sight without being nattered at.

We know where we are Mom

Climbing Boy

Whilst wandering through Jardin des Tuileries and stopping at the Bassin Octogonal Dawn befriended two boys and asked them if they wanted to join her and sail some boats that a vendor had. They ran over to their father who shrugged: "Why not?" Much fun, much laughter and much running around the fountain.

Two Boys


Prepare to cast off

We did do one touristy thing. We went to Épernay and toured the champagne caves of Moët & Chandon. After lunch in the vineyard of the Mercier house we toddled down Avenue de Champagne sampling the wares as we went. The smaller houses Champagne de Venoge still pick the grapes from their own vineyards and make champagne very traditionally in oaken casks while the big houses are so industrialized that it seems they live on brand recognition than any sort of artisanal skill. I preferred de Venoge to Moët or Pol Roger as there was an honesty and a connection to the land as opposed to big marketing efforts.

Pre-Champagne


Champagne-in-Waiting

Yes, Paris made an impact on me. Even if this COVID stuff ends and I have to fight hordes of tourists my wife and I have agreed that we will try to go as often in a year as we can. Paris is seductive. She can charm and also annoy yet you can't help but love her.

I'll leave you with two videos: Gershwin's "An American in Paris" and Joni Mitchell's "A Free Man in Paris"


"...I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favors
You know I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on..."
Joni Mitchell
Full galleries are here and here.

2020-04-18

Late One Night, I Was Working in the L*a*b

COVID-19 means a somewhat monastic life. Shop once a week -- brandy, gin, tonic: the essentials, quick nip down to the dog park so the doggos can go for a trundle, wait for the snow to melt so I can get into the shop and start on the ever lengthening list of make and mend projects and recently, rediscover some old post-processing techniques.

Everybody has them: that image that is as near perfectly exposed as you can get, the composition is good and when you made the image what you saw spoke to you at some level.

But...

When you pull it into your RAW processor of choice no matter what you do it lies there like a gopher on a prairie highway: flat and dead. You feel like you're staring into a washed out desert at high noon and no amount of finangling can fix this turd of an image. In your gut, however, you know that this image has merit and shouldn't be given up on.

I was out visiting my mother and sister in the Comox Valley a while back and is usual it was raining. In all the years she's lived there -- about 20 plus -- I can count the times that I've actually had a sunny day. It's been rain, snow, wind, rain, cloud, and all the possible combinations: sometimes within a few hours. This visit was no exception. I was lucky this time: the rain wasn't blowing sideways.

We had headed down to Coombs to hit the Dutch Store for some essentials. You readers who have more than a few ounces cloggy blood in you'll know what that means. We'd taken the old Island Highway down and on the way back we decided to stop at Qualicum Beach to have a cup of coffee. Sitting on the promenade I made the following image. The sky was clearing and the Coast Range across the Strait was getting seriously rained on. The shimmering water, the Rembrandt sky. Yeah, so I got this instead:

Straight Outta RAWton
Flatter than a dead gopher on a road, amirite? It looked okay when I chimped the black and white image. I shoot both raw and a BW jpeg. The composition works. The rain hammering down on the Coast Mountains, the shimmering water illuminated by the patch of sky and the cumulus cloud.

The composition works, yet the tonalities I saw just weren't there. I knew the image I saw through the view finder was in there. I just had to liberate it from its current digital capitivity.

Looking at the histogram, the exposure is about right. Maybe overexposed by a 1/2 to 2/3 stop but really nothing too egregious. In what follows I have to note that I use a colour balanced workflow: calibrated monitor, monitor brightness dialed back to match a glossy print und zo weiter.

Base Histogram
Okay, so let's tweak the exposure -1/2 stop. Hmm, nope. That made the greys go to where they were supposed to but muddied the sky and cloud. That sky was a  very bright blue. OK, Let's muck about with the other exposure sliders. 

Slider Settings and Histogram
Post Sliders
It's close but still not exactly what I was looking for. As well, these settings amplify noise in the sky if you zoom in -- not really a good thing

Sooooo, let's mess with the Tone Curve. I just grabbed the default Strong Contrast curve.

Default Strong Contrast Curve

Post Strong Contrast Curve
Still a load of Nope. I'm clutching at straws at this point so let's mix the sliders and curves together
Sliders and Curves
Now we're starting to cook with gas. The sky is starting to peep through as I had envisaged it, the heavy rain on the mountains is still there but now with the intensity I had desired, and the clouds showing the textures and shades that I want to show. The bottom of the image still sucks though.

Still it wasn't quite right. I really get worried when I have to yank sliders around that much. I start getting concerned about how things will appear when printed. I process in the ProPhoto colour space but that has a wide and tolerant gamut. When you go and print you really have to watch for out of gamut: this depends on the paper that you are going to print on.

In many other attempts I was drawn to the presence sliders but this image really made me think twice about these: quick and easy micro-contrast at the expense of sometimes cartoonish images and "interesting" colour shifts -- especially in this image, and noise. I tried Topaz Adjust AI, a full ON1 Raw tool chain and ON1 Effects only. None of these really did what I wanted. I may have missed something but really, the results didn't float my boat. I don't do single image HDR. That's just not done in polite company!

I let the image sit for a while. I'll do that when I'm stymied. No sense flailing about willy-nilly and going nowhere fast.

I was staring at my library the other night and my eye happened on Dan Margulis' book "Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace" Long out of print, Margulis takes you through LAB and shows you how to use it to make some really potent corrections quickly. He admits that there are other ways of achieving the same thing but LAB is really quick and a reasonable tool to use when faced with seemingly intractable problems like bring life to desert scenes, complex colour corrections and retouching badly damaged images. I used the latter to clean up some images of my wife's ancestors' photos made in the Ukraine pre-Holdomor. There are PDF copies of the book floating around the internet but do try to buy a legit copy if you can. Some of the scans are really crappy.

I'm not going to give a course in LAB or why these techniques work. I'm just going to work through this image to see what we get.

In the book there is an example of him using LAB space to bring a flat seascape (sound familiar?) to life. Without getting into the deep hairy details about LAB, this it what the channels in LAB mean:

Example of LAB curves
L goes from dark to light, from 0 to 100; L is never negative (A & B can be). An L value of 0 means pure black while and 100 means pure white. An L value of 50 is equivalent to a 50% grey. L controls exposure and contrast only. In RGB, mucking with the contrast can (and usually does) muck up the colours. The a & b channels govern the relationship between the opposing colours that are part of the theory behind LAB. The values for these channels range from -127 to +127. A value of +128 means a is all magenta or b is all yellow and a value of -127 means a is all green or b is all blue. Mixing all this up you can get any colour that exists and some physically unrealizable colours as well: liquidine velvet chermerculoid yellow springs to mind.

PLEASE NOTE! The above is horribly simplified. Read Margulis' book if you want to get down and dirty with LAB, its theory and practice.

Also note that in the curves shown above and below I'm following Margulis' practice of showing them from 0 to 100% with lightness to the left as opposed to the PS default of lightness to the right. This setting is equivalent to "ink deposited" that is used when working in the CMYK space. You don't have to do this. Do what ever you want as the Chesire Cat said.

So, Hi! Ho! Hi! Ho! into Photoshop we go.

After changing into LAB mode we add a Curves adjustment layer. After a some experimentation I came up with these adjustments: 

Final LAB Adjustments
You'll notice that there are no adjustments to the a channel. The a width of the a channel histogram is so narrow that no matter what you do (unless something very, very rude to the curve) nothing happens. I also made sure that after the adjustments everything was still in gamut for the printing service that I use.
Post LAB Image
This is what I was going for. Not to over cooked, nicely in control. This was done much quicker that all the phaffing about in LR to get a less desireable result (to my mind, at least).

So, back into LR to do just some minor tweaks. I wanted to enhance the shimmer of the reflection of the cumulus cloud so I applied a radial filter comme ca: 
Radial Filter
Then a bit of sharpening, masking out most of the blocks of relatively continuous tone et voila, the final image:

Final Colour Image
I can now pull this into NIK Silver eFex and get the black and white image I was after. No, I'm not sharing my workflow there; that's my "secret sauce":

Final Black & White Image
A successful session in the LAB I would say.

And now, some Bobby Pickett: