VARIABLE: Able or apt to vary...subject to variation or changes... characterized by variations...not true to type... FOCUS: A point at which rays converge or from which they diverge...adjustment for distinct vision...a center of activity, attraction, or attention...a point of concentration...
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Monday, February 27, 2006
Of camera gear and dreams
The Photo Marketing Association (PMA) is conducting its convention and trade show in Orlando, Florida, this week. Enthusiasts and brand loyalists, hungry for news or rumors, monitor the internet for weeks before this annual event, the largest of it's kind in the United States. (The largest in the world, Photokina, convenes every other year, with the next Photokina scheduled for this September in Cologne, Germany.)
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Friday, February 24, 2006
Dr. Harold Edgerton
Chances are that most of us have seen a photograph made by Dr. Harold Edgerton, but chances are also good that most of us did not know--or remember--who made the photo.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Scenes from a Railcar Graveyard
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Reality, illusion, and interpretation
One very nice feature of the piece is that Reichmann is willing to show both the before and after. In addition to the final rendering of the scene, which reflects his artistic choices, he also presents the raw, unedited, original frame that he exposed. As the title Lifting The Shroud implies, the article provides a window into one photographer's way of seeing.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
When film was king, grain was a side effect of the film process. Silver halide crystals were the film's photographic medium. The finer the crystals on the film, the finer would the appearance of grain in the negative. (For simplicity here, we leave aside variables such as under- or over-exposure, or which chemicals were used in processing.) Conversely, the coarser the crystals, the grainier the negative would appear and, thus, the grainier the print.
Electronics advances rapidly, though, and soon digital photography began beating film at the grain/noise game. Consumer digicams, while improved, continued to have significant noise at ISO 400. However, more expensive digital SLRs, featuring larger sensor chips containing larger pixels, began to produce photographs at ISO 400 that contained much less noise than the comparative grain in a film exposure made at ISO 400. Soon ISO 800 became usable, then 1600. Very good digital cameras not only allowed photographers to make "clean" photos at high ISOs, when shot at lower ISOs such as 200 and 100, the digital cameras produced exposures that were virtually noise-free, the equivalent of what a film photographer from past decades might expect at ISO 25 or 50.
Then, as they say, "a funny thing happened," particularly with black and white photographers. It had become quick and easy to convert a color digital photo to black and white, but to the eyes of many photographers, the photos looked too smooth. They lacked a certain character that had been synonymous with black and white. The solution? Just as software could be used to convert a color original to black and white, software could be used to add the appearance of grain. Many photo editing programs include this feature, and some (including one wonderfully named Grain Surgery) exist solely to perform that task.
Future generations may look back on the business of adding grain to photos as a obsolete, quaint activity that was part of the transition from film to digital. Or, rather than universally adopting a smooth look in photographs, they might decide that grain affects texture and, to some eyes, the illusion of sharpness in a photograph.
Below, two versions of the same photo, the first as-shot, the second one with grain added. What do you think?
Monday, February 20, 2006
A photo vision checkup
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Photojournalism as Art, Part 2
(To review Part 1, scroll down to Wednesday, February 15.)
Saturday, February 18, 2006
A radiant tutorial on composition
Friday, February 17, 2006
More photography in the news...
With a restraint achieved with great difficulty, the following two items are presented without comment.
Cell phones at funerals. Reuters begins in a short feature story with this: "Japan's obsession with camera-equipped mobile phones has taken a bizarre twist, with mourners at funerals now using the devices to capture a final picture of the deceased." The story closes with this quote from someone identified as a social commentator: "Some can't grasp reality unless they take a photo and share it with others."
Curling changing its image. Female Olympic curlers from Italy, Denmark, Spain, Britain, Poland, Germany, Austria and Canada have posed for a nude calendar. The photographer who designed the project is Ana Arce, a former member of the Andorran women's team. Proceeds go to the national programs of the participating models. Although the calendar has been on the market for a few months, the project is in the news today because of an Associated Press story. Various other reports indicate that the black-and white-pictures (some of them, at least) are of artistic intent. As a public service, Variable Focus located a story on-line that includes a sample photograph. If you wish to learn more, you can click on this link.
...and an unrelated photograph.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
A record-setting sale
Whether you're using the most humble point-and-shoot camera or the latest multi-megapixel monster, you might want to keep clicking that shutter. A 1904 color photograph made by Edward Steichen recently sold at auction for $2.9 million.
A pioneer in early color work, Steichen's best-known images were made in black and white. These included advertising and commercial work. As a magazine photographer, he also produced portraits of celebrities during the 1920s and 1930s.
Steichen was the influential curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1947 to 1962. His most noted accomplishment in photography came while in that position, in 1955, when he organized the large exhibition (and book) The Family of Man.
More information about Steichen, and samples of his work, can be found at the Masters of Photography link (top right) on this page.
For a look at The Pond-Moonlight, the photograph that set the photo auction record, see the story (link below) at the BBC News site.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Photojournalism as Art
Every photograph is, in a sense, an editorial act. Even the simple and casual snapshot involves editorial decisions. The photographer points the camera from a particular angle, and, at that moment, all other angles are excluded. The photographer determines how close to stand to the object being photographed, and the photographer determines whether to fill the frame with the object or perhaps to back away and include more of the background. The photograph, then, can be used to see objectively, but it always sees selectively.
Pictures (paintings as well as photos) prompt us to react by stimulating us in various ways. Content, certainly, is one factor. Similar portraits of an anonymous man, or a former president, or a deceased grandfather will affect us differently. We also react differently, whether aware of it or not, based on the technique that was used in making the picture. Van Gogh's stars might be the same stars pictured by the Hubble telescope, but there is a world (or a galaxy) of difference in what we see, what it makes us think, and what it makes us feel.
Many early photographers worked to make their photos mimic the appearance of paintings. Paintings were, after all, artistic. Cameras with lenses that focused softly, and that were pointed, for example, in the direction of natural scenery, could produce pictures that were similarly artistic. At the same time, the ability of the camera to render photos that seemed much more realistic fostered another strain of photography. Along the way, photorealistic depictions replaced wood and steel engravings. Photojournalism emerged.
Mathew Brady and associates covered the Civil War. Lewis Hine documented the conditions of the working class. The Farm Security Administration's photographic project showed the U.S. Congress, and the greater U.S. population, the devastation of the Depression (see, right, Dorothea Lange's iconic Migrant Mother). Walker Evans recorded both rural and urban America. Robert Capa captured World War II, and Alfred Eisenstaedt showed the world life before, during and after the great war.
These photographers made images, sometimes, that transcended the simple mission of reporting. Through perspective, the use of light and shadow, and other technical talent, they made a number of photographs that stand as art. How and why do these photographs have such effect? Geometry is at work, of course, and books and articles do exist that show pictures simplified to lines, circles and triangles, and which discuss the arrangement of these in space and why they appeal. Ultimately, though, the explanations are not entirely satisfactory. Analysis explains partly, but not entirely.
Consider, for example (below), Henri Cartier-Bresson's photograph of the painter Matisse. Cartier-Bresson became known for recognizing how the elements of a photo could ideally come together in one concentrated, decisive moment. This is a classic example of an environmental portrait, one where the setting reveals something of a person's character. The artistic and editorial skills of Cartier-Bresson determined exactly how much to include and how much to leave out.
Another photographer whose work combined the instincts of journalist and artist was W. Eugene Smith. See, for example (below), his passion, and compassion, in The Wake, a photograph of a family gathered together to mourn the death of a patriarch. Obviously, though, more than an intense impulse of feeling was at work in making the photograph. The arrangement of the faces represents a perfect kind of balance, and the interplay of the dark tonal values with the light is captured expertly.
In the works: Contemporary examples of photojournalism as art.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Monday, February 13, 2006
Having verified that all blog settings are correctly enabled to display text and graphics...
Greetings and welcome to Variable Focus. Here you will find news, commentary and examples concerning photography. As the name implies, however, a variable focus can include more. Reviews of books about photography, discussion of cinematography, even full-blown movie and book reviews--all are within bounds. Reader submissions are welcome and encouraged (more about that will follow below). What falls outside the boundaries? Probably those limits will be determined by your benevolent editor as they are tested. The subject of still photography, whether traditional or contemporary, is the starting point, but any discussion of what's good in the visual, performing or literary arts will be at home here.
How to contribute. Whether it's a news item, a link to another site, a brief article, a detailed essay, or a digital photograph, if you think it might be of interest, we (the editor and various assisting elves) would like to see if it has a place at Variable Focus. Please be aware, however, that this blog is a moderated forum. If you'd like to originate a post, send it to the encoded address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course, that address, as it appears in the previous sentence, is a fake to ward off automated spam bots. In place of "abcdefg," substitute the words "jim_natale" and your email containing your submission will be on its way. (Note the underscore between jim and natale.) Be sure to put Variable Focus in the subject line so that your material is reviewed promptly.
In the works: Observations on photojournalism as art.