Saturday, June 28, 2008

that was the sofobomo, that was

That's how the global blog traffic looked for this year's SoFoBoMo. A slow burn up to the start of the fuzzy month, then a crazy flurry of activity and now all but a receding memory. My book is finally put to bed and I still haven't really returned to using my camera. I'm in danger of becoming someone who used to be a photographer and who now owns cameras. I haven't been trying to force it though, focusing instead on other things to keep me busy.
I've wanted to review some of the SoFoBoMo books on the blog but haven't managed to find the time yet. In fact, I'd be happy if I just could look at all of the 59 finished projects. (Who would have thought way back at the start of that graph above that we'd see 59 finished books! - an awesome achievement all around). The simple whimsy of ndalum78's I can count charmed me the first time I saw it and still brings a smile to my face thinking back on it. Such a simple idea, very well executed. I think there's often a tendency to over think these sorts of projects, aiming for a complex message or set of ideas, when a really clear, simple concept can be beautiful if treated well.
Bernie Sumption's Eyes project is another that stands out in my mind from the early finishers. It was an example of great technique and a clever concept, handled in an interesting way, combining the head shots with the eye images to create a unique blended portrait of each subject. There are many more books that arrived later that I haven't yet seen. Maybe it'll rain some day in Texas and I'll have the time to investigate further! I am starting to feel the old familiar tugging to pick up the camera again. My 'other' book project, that SoFoBoMo was the pathfinder for, has started impinging into my consciousness again. I was lucky enough to get a MacBook Pro for work and have been exploring some of the writing tools available exclusively on that platform. I remember reading enviously about tools like Scrivener, when I was trying to outline the book. Now I have access to them and maybe that'll be enough of a jolt to move the project forward. New toys always help! I also think I'm going to be trying to resurrect the Everyday Ironman project in 2008/2009. It didn't happen this year for a variety of reasons, weather, injury and a whole host of other excuses. But the same team is putting together an even bigger contingent for the 2009 Ironman Coeur d'Alene and I'm going to attempt to document it this time around. The race is later in the year, so the weather should be better. Not so many workouts in the dark depths of winter and hopefully I should be a bit more mobile next year and able to keep up!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

shining eyes on one buttock

There's a lot of classical photography I don't get. Much of the sort of images that are hailed as old masters in the art leave me mostly cold. Largely, I think that's because I lack the historical context to realise how radically different they might have been at the time. Michael Johnston takes people to task in passing who say this about William Eggleston in this blog post. I feel that's a good example of what I mean. The context he describes suddenly makes it all make sense - I just didn't know enough beforehand to recognise why it might be interesting. Looking backwards, it looks just like everything else that went after. Another good example is the Steerage by Steiglitz. I've seen it several times before, but it wasn't until I got context for the image from one of Jeff Curto's great photographic history lectures that I could understand why that fairly pedestrian composition was so radical for its time. the context he provided made the image make sense.

In this great TED talk, Benjamin Zander provides context for classical music in a way that I haven't experienced before. There is maybe something to consider in there about looking at bodies of work of photography, rather than individual impulses or images as well. Even if you don't get any photographical inspiration I still think it is well worth the 20 minutes it'll take you to watch it. The parting thought is something to ponder for a while.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

where the creative juice comes from

Thursday, June 19, 2008

photo expressions available from blurb

By Gordon McGregor
Finally, after a couple of revisions and a bit of colour management tweaking, my SoFoBoMo book is now available from blurb. I know a couple of people have expressed an interest in buying a copy. The image wrap version of the book arrived today, which has quite a different finish to the classic hardback style, with a sleeve cover. I tweaked some of the images to get better colour and printed using the B3 custom workflow, this time around. As a result the new v2.0 version has much better colour reproduction and I'm happy with it. Finished at last. While looking through it, I did find one small imperfection, that I'm going to consider my Persian flaw and leave in. A few people have asked about my portrait approach and the two short essays in the book lay it all out. Now I just need to work out what's next!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

back to basics

I talked to a friend at the weekend who works with a lot of alternative photographic processes and equipment. He has an eclectic array of different film and digital cameras and makes some beautiful images. This time he walked in with a large box under his arm. Proudly he showed off the prints he'd been making with this several foot square cardboard pinhole camera that he'd made. It was fascinating. The negatives were about 2 foot by 3 foot, made directly on photographic paper, through a small brass pinhole on the side of the box. He used a magnetic shutter (well, a thin fridge magnet) to make the box work and sealed it up at home prior to going out and shooting his one, large frame. The camera is the big green box in the shot below. He estimated that the pinhole was probably about an f256 aperture and the image was sharp right across the plane. There was a concave film holder at the back of the box (a flexed piece of card). The simplicity and elegance of the entire camera fascinates me, compared to the technical and electronic marvels that many of us use. The shot at the top of this post is another of his images, this time taken with a pinhole camera made from a tin can. It isn't perfect, but there is a charm and character to the image that is absent from a lot of the technically perfect but less than exciting digital imagery that you can find around. More than that, there is a magic to it - a tin can and some light sensitive paper and a bit of chemistry and you end up with an image. It reminded me of the room-sized camera obscura that is shown in one of the genius of photography episodes. A team rent a hotel room in Rome, across from a famous church. They black out the windows, install a small aperture as the only place that light can enter the room, then watch and wait until their eyes adjust and a perfect, beautiful, inverted and reversed image of the church across the street appears on the opposite wall. Magical. I've enjoyed similar effects from small holes in the window blinds in my bedroom, watching the early morning sun dance small images of the trees in the garden across the wall. We also got to talking about various larger sized camera obscura and one image stood out as particularly whimsical. He mentioned someone who sensitises paper across the entire back side of a large pin-hole camera then is actually inside the box during the exposure, dodging and burning the image as it is formed, from inside the camera. Using their whole body to block and shape the light hitting the paper. It just seems such a wonderfully organic way to interact with the print that I'm fascinated. Perhaps even more so because I've never even experienced the basic process of printing a black and white image in a darkroom - something I want to try, before it all disappears.

another myth of talent


I had half an hour to spare before an appointment yesterday evening and wandered through Book People in Austin. I buy most of my books on Amazon but still enjoy wandering around the stacks particularly in a local independent book store, which often has a slightly quirkier selection than the main chains. I picked up How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman. I've read the first 60 pages and I'm hooked. On every second page I've found something that I've wanted to highlight, or share and I very rarely feel that even once in a whole book. The title so far is quite deceptive. The book is really about how creative people think, not so much about graphic design. It doesn't feel like a How To book either, just gives great insight into their thought processes. One this morning in particular feels appropriate for photography.
talent is the implemented desire to excel
- Stefan Sagmeister
Yup, desire matters. Opportunity matters. But just doing it is what really matters.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

Some stunning recreations of classic images, this time in lego. Balakov has created many well known images with those Danish building blocks. You can see all of them in this photoset on Flickr.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

last weekend

last weekend

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to get to shoot around North LA and Malibu with Mae and Mike. They showed me a great time and some beautiful spots. The shot above is one that Mike has generously shared with me, that he took showing me in a moment of quiet reflection. The next day we went to Venice Beach - quite a difference in terms of noise, energy and people from this quiet sunrise.

Thursday, June 12, 2008



Mae took me to see one of her favourite spots to photograph at the weekend. I had a great time exploring the angles and curves of the Disney Concert Hall in Anaheim. A very unique building.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happy Birthday Amanda!

el matador rocks
It's Amanda's birthday today. Happy Birthday Amanda! I'm stuck out in California and don't get to spend this special day with her. Instead, I'm at a conference and typing this in a Hilton hotel. I'd much rather be celebrating with Amanda. I was lucky enough to get a few days to see some of the beautiful beaches just North of LA, around Malibu. Mae and Mike were wonderful hosts and showed me all the special spots, such as El Matador State Beach, with fantastic rock formations and lovely sand. I almost drowned my camera ducking in and out of caves and generally had a great time. The shot above is a long exposure shot on that beach. Quite an easy effect to achieve, you just need to wait for the light to be low enough to get longer exposures or add some neutral density filters. Then the camera goes on the tripod, the focus is on the rock and you start the exposure as the waves come in and hope you don't get too wet! Fun. I'll have more time to post images from this trip next week, but for now this one is here to help me wish Amanda a great and happy birthday. I love you, babe.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

where does creativity hide?

How does string theory and quantum mechanics tie in to creativity? Amy Tan explains. Hopefully this provides enough physics to keep Paul Butzi happy. Elucubrate enough and you can find the links between everything. Particularly interesting is the notion how everything you experience informs your creativity - I wouldn't have paid as much attention to this if Paul hadn't made his off-hand remarks about my earlier post, for example. Wheels within wheels. Serendipitous events happen more often the more aware and open you are to them happening, or at least how willing you are to stop and follow those chance events, rather than ignore or discount them. Much like the cosmological constant.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Citizenship tests

Seems you can tell a lot about a country by what you have to know to be a citizen. Looked at the Australian, British and American tests last night. The American's are very into this whole democracy thing. All the questions are about the Constitution, branches of government, racial equality and native American rights. No filler. All very dour and serious. Apparently it is a very po-faced thing becoming an American citizen. Take it seriously! The only test that isn't multi-choice either.

  • What are the three branches of our government?
  • Who becomes President of the United States if the President and the Vice-President should die?
  • Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
  • When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
  • Which President was the first Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?
  • What were the 13 original states?
The British one has some similar touches, making sure you know what the Magna Carta is seemed to be key, along with understanding how the Queen fits in to everything and also who the various patron saints are for Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland and in what order they occur throughout the year. There's some room for important social customs like what you should do if you spill someone's pint in the pub. Not quite so serious. There are four national saints' days in the UK, one for each nation. Which order do they fall in the calendar?
  • St Andrews, St Patrick's, St David's and St George's
  • St David's, St Patrick's, St George's and St Andrews
  • St George's, St Patrick's, St Andrews and St David's
Life in the UK explains what to do if you spill someone's pint in the pub. What, according to the book, usually happens next?
  • You would offer to buy the person another pint
  • You would offer to dry their wet shirt with your own
  • You may need to prepare for a fight in the car park
"The origins of our Parliament were in the early Middle Ages. In 1215 the great barons forced rights from a tyrannical King John". What is that document called?
  • The Mappa Mundi
  • The Magna Carta
  • The Bill of Rights
Then there's the Australian citizenship test. Issues such as the correct name for a swim suit (budgie smugglers) and the rules of cricket feature in the test. You can get a sense of where a country is coming from when they require you to know that 'a fair go' and 'mateship' are core values of the culture before they'll let you in. In which cricket tour did Sir Donald Bradman break almost all the existing batting records?
  • Australia's England tour in 1930
  • Australia's England tour in 1882
  • Australia's England tour in 1948
Who lit the Olympic cauldron in Sydney Olympics 2000?
  • Cathy Freeman
  • Phar Lap
  • Sir Donald Bradman
Give three Australian colloquialisms for swimming suit
  • budgie smugglers, cossies, swimmers
  • budgies cossers, toggie batties, swimmy budgers
  • togs, bummies, sossies
  • swommies, cossies, mugglers