“Skylark” – Dick Haymes
“My Romance” – Brad Mehldau
“I Mean You” – Esbjorn Svensson Trio
Some time ago I’ve given up on recording the camera, lens, film, developer details on the photographs I post on line. There are two reasons:
-as I’ve gained experience using many tools, I’ve concluded what any old photographer will tell you: the image is made by your eye and mind, the camera counts the least
– I’ve been shooting with so many cameras, that at times I simply could not recall the precise combination used
However, thinking that most people who will want to bother looking at this blog might be young film photographers, I am going to describe here and there the practical-technical side of what I do as well.
I am a believer in being prepared for the unexpected gifts that life offers you when you are out and about. Ideally, I would like to carry a small, light AE and autofocus camera with a great viewfinder, good fast lens, and a roll of Tri X always loaded. In practice you have to compromise, as most autofocus cameras are big and bulky and have not so great lenses. The closest to that I’ve found is a Nikon F100 with the 105/2 DC. The shorter lenses are in my opinion not in the same league as Leica or Zeiss, although I’ve not tried the latest 85 and 58mm glass. But they will take images that are certainly good enough.
I usually carry a Leica M7 with a motorized base plate and Elmar M 50/2.8 – modern version, loaded with a 400 ASA film – normally Tri X, here Neopan 400, and EI set to 250. I set the aperture so that I can stay in the “range” of useful shutter speeds – e.g. in open sun at f8.0, in the shade f4.0-5.6, and on AE. With practice, when you notice a scene like the one above, it will take you about 1-2 seconds to frame and focus, and if you are lucky, you have another 2-3 seconds to get a shot or two before the magic is gone. In this case the light ratio between woman’s shirt and the shaded areas was at least 7 stops – without AE I would have messed this up altogether.
“On the Sunny Side Of the Street” – Roberta Gambarini
People often ask me why I don’t take colour pictures. Well, it’s not that I dislike colour, but I dislike banality. I want to show things not the way they appear to most people, but the way they appear to me. But often there’s more to it. In black and white, it’s easier to show the visual contrast. As Ralph Gibson said: “There’s more drama in black and white.”
When looking for this drama, it turns out that a strong figure to background contrast helps. Dark outlines against fair ground, or the other way round attract immediately attention.
The easiest way to add contrast and drama to a photograph, is when shooting against the light. It might sound counter intuitive, and against basic rules of photography, but this way you gain immediately the textures created by the sharp illumination, and if you manage to control flare, your images acquire depth and three dimensionality.
A master of this kind of technique is Sebastiao Salgado, perhaps the greatest living documentary and landscape photographer. His “Genesis” is, beyond its documentary and artistic value, a true masterpiece of technique.
I also like to add some blur to my images made against the light, to soften the effect and create a more abstract image. An important theme in art has been to show the essence, commonality of things, to find elements of universal character in objects. In particular, the quest for supreme streamlining of form can be observed in Japanese art, with tools like home or garden utensils, samurai swords or zen gardens themselves.
This simplification of form to blurry black and white outlines gives a similar visual sensation to the one we get when our eyes receive insufficient quantity of illumination to discern fine structures, when lights are low.
“When lights are low” – Helen Merril
Und Schlag auf Schlag! Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:
Verweile doch! du bist so schön!
Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,
Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehn!
Dann mag die Totenglocke schallen,
Dann bist du deines Dienstes frei,
Die Uhr mag stehn, der Zeiger fallen,
Es sei die Zeit für mich vorbei!
- If ever I to the moment shall say:
Beautiful moment, do not pass away!
Then you may forge your chains to bind me,
Then I will put my life behind me,
Then let them hear my death-knell toll,
Then from your labours you’ll be free,
The clock may stop, the clock-hands fall,
And time come to an end for me!
- Goethe – “Faust”, lines 1698–706.
While walking by some noteworthy places, you are bound sooner or later to bump into something like what you see above. Coins in a fountain or metal locks gripped to a bridge or railing. Why?
Intuitively, it has to do with an idea, that you lock yourself into a beautiful moment, that the pleasure deriving from being in this place here and now can last forever. Why?
Well, we lust for pleasure, actually, the relentless research of pleasure is a central point around which most of our lives evolve. Why?
Well, because this is how we have been shaped by the evolution. The strong feeling of reward we get in a moment of pleasure though, is not designed to last.
Can you imagine how uninspiring the world would be, if the pleasure from eating, drinking, winning, meeting friends, having sex, listening to music or even taking drugs, lasted forever? Nobody would be motivated to do anything, as we would all be laid down somewhere in a state of permanent bliss. The short lived nature of pleasure makes sure, we are busy rat racing during all our existence. This has been noticed a long time ago by eastern philosophers, and has found a reaction in the buddhist rebellion against the suffering ensuing from this “futile” pursuit.
- But this could be a topic of another post.
- “Stolen moments” – Oliver Nelson
I’ve caught myself recently on converging toward the idea, that what intrigues me the most in photographs is the testimony of the existence of life. The reason is probably to be found in my process of aging: the less life I have left the more it interests me – this is probably a known phenomenon.
The forms this can take are infinite: from portraits to street photography through observing non human forms of life. Anything that depicts life here in an interesting and possibly honest way can serve the purpose of creating a reminder about how we exist here and now.
The simplest way of looking at it would be to imagine that we want to document everything which gives relevance to the presence of life on this planet, as if we wanted to prepare a photo album to send to somebody who has never stepped on Earth, and is looking at us from afar, quietly orbiting in outer space.
“From Gagarin’s Point Of View” – Esbjorn Svensson Trio
One of less known parts of Monaco, is Fontvieille – a big piece of territory, built on land artificially created on sea at the beginning of the eighties. One of its landmarks, is the pier, which spans almost from La Rocher de Monaco to the nearby port of Cap d’Ail, with the frontier passing in the middle.
In order to enjoy a walk spanning across the entire pier, it is necessary to bypass the heliport, with its landing approach half suspended over the sea, like a big plate with lobsters sticking over the edge of a table. You can get from here to the nearby Nice airport in 7 minutes.
The pier is popular with people walking the dogs, jogging, strolling and fishing. There are some benches here and there, where you can just sit and relax watching the sea, but in other parts there is a motorcycle riding school and a cage with obstacles for kids playing on skateboards. Recently a local firm has used one of the internal pier spaces, to create a successful oyster and seafood growing farm.
For me, the nicest moment when to go there, is in the evening, at dusk, when the lights are being turned on, but you still see some clear sky to the west. The unique combination of beautiful light and the murmur of the waves are conducive to reflecting, as you walk.
“A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening” – Curtis Fuller
“Escondido” – Bennie Maupin
I hope you all enjoy your long weekend. As to the photo – this is a new (sic!) sculpture on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. I think I’d like to redo this shot, as the framing is a bit tight and also, there was a flaw in the film, which makes it unsuitable for printing. Even the music has some slight hiss in the recording, but I could not find a better version…
“Star Spangled Banner” – Brian Bromberg