Friday, February 25, 2011

A few days ago I came across this in a flickr group

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valeriee* says:

"Art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth." Pablo Picasso
Do you agree with this?? Why?

So I answered with the following profundity

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scribble1  Pro User  says:

"Art is a con game that_________" scribble1
To expound:

I'm holding Weegee 'Masters of photography' by Aperture. On the dust jacket is Weegee's most famous masterpiece "The Critic" (Google it now to appreciate the story )
Weegee was drinking with a buddy when they ran out of money. In the bar there was a very drunk and loud woman. Weegee and buddy bundle woman in a taxi and go to Opera House. Buddy who is holding the woman so she doesn't fall flat on her face steps out of the picture when Weegee signals he has his picture in the viewfinder. Weegee take picture to tabloid and sells it for $20--big money those days. Drunk woman has a triple whiskey. Weegee and buddy have a lets-invite-everybody party.
Buddy tells story when Weegee becomes famous. No historical record of what the woman said when she woke up in the morning and found "The Critic" on the front page of the biggest tabloid in NY.
How do I know "The Critic" is a masterpiece and not just another tabloid stunt? Aperture told me. Front dust cover, told me. And they are the "experts"
Moral of the story. " Art lies." And if the lies are amusing and contain a dash of genius and some "expert" has a reason to promote the lie, they may survive to become a "masterpiece".

And when I went to Valeriee's photostream I discovered what I should have suspected but didn't. She was bright high school student with a paper to write and was looking around for ideas. So I commented with:

Ah, your fiendish plot is now revealed. Post the paper's title/topic in Artistic Photography where the artists hang out and then_____.
Before I uncovered your plot I gave you a story. Since student papers are often long on researched generalities and short on stories that provide a scaffolding to build an A paper around, you may find my story useful. In my mind, the story also asks more questions than it answers. So I'm interested in what you find or don't find in it.
Because I have my own fiendish plot. I have a blog. So far it has been devoted to the more technical aspects of cameras and photography. But I feel the urge to move towards different topics and questions.
Like "In this digital age when anything can be copied why do some rich folks still spend astronomical amounts of money ($1,200,000 recently) on a single print?
So let me know what you think--good, bad or indifferent..

Which led to Valereei saying:

Yes, you uncovered my fiendish plot :) Thanks so much for your story, that was really interesting. And that's an excellent point you bring up there... honestly I feel like it's a status thing more than an appreciation of the art. Having the real deal after putting out 1.2 mil is more impressive than a printing copy from online. I totally don't understand why people spend that kind of money that way when there are much more constructive things that can be done with it (especially in this unbalanced world). Purchases like that seem to me like a product of 'affluenza,' but that's just my opinion.

And my reply:


This is the image I was talking about. Dovima, the model, is wearing a Dior gown and the print was bought by the Dior fashion house so I assume they must have had a business reason for wanting it so badly. Still someone else who wasn't Dior had to have caught the "affluenza" bug (great word) to push the price to over a million bucks. So your opinion is valid.

My often given (and I suspect mostly ignored) advice I offer to young photographers is to buy a book on the history of photography. Any history, used, battered and cheap, as long as it is crammed full of pictures.
The idea is to use the pictures as a starting point for your own work. Given the zillions of images flooding the world it is highly unlikely that any of us will ever take a picture that even approaches truly original. In photography it is always theme and variation.
Even this iconic image wasn't truly original. According to the article I linked a Martin Munkacsi, who I never heard of, started the fashion trend that Avedon took up. So as soon as I finish this I'll google Munkacsi and see what he has worth imitating. Ain't the Internet wonderful?
I didn't remember Munkacsi's name. As soon as I pulled up a gallery of his images I recognized several. He's not well known but worth looking at.

And to semi repeat myself  Ain't copy and paste wonderful. A few clicks and this post is almost written.

To push this blog in a new directions here is an example of what I was talking about--using what I found in a photo book as the starting point of a photo shoot.

I found this in 100 Photographs by John Szarkowski, a long time curator of the photography department of the Museum of Modern Art. It is Miss Grace by Clarence White, one of the best photographers in the photo-secession movement of the early 20th century
At the time Julie, my model from next door, was a freshman in high school. I asked her if she happened to own a white dress-- a garment found in many wardrobes back in Miss Grace's era but sparse in this era of jeans and t-shirts.
Knowing how Julie usually dressed I was expecting a "No" but I was wrong. Pushed in the back of her closet was the dress her mother had picked out for her 8th grade graduation. So we set up a photo shoot for Saturday afternoon.

Some shots we came up with:

This image almost made it into a juried show at the Overture Center. But since the other three images I submitted did hang on the wall, I could hardly complain. Julie was disappointed but the framed photo now is on the picture wall of her parent's house

Julie has an independent streak. I'd gone to the trouble of finding a book on chess and setting up the board to show the middle of a real game. She didn't like the arrangement and moved the pieces the way she liked them. Which would cause a chess player to look in bemusement--like two black bishops on the same color. I kept shooting away

In the middle of the shoot Julie told me she was tired of wearing the white dress and had a better costume in mind. She raided her mother's closet and came out wearing this. So I did end up with my "Miss Grace" image. Sort of anyway.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eagle Stalking--Successes and Mistakes

If you want to earn your photography merit badge in this part of Wisconsin you must show eagle pictures taken at Prairie du Sac in your portfolio. There is a power dam across the Wisconsin River there that, among other things, creates Wisconsin's mini challenge to Lake Meade. It also keeps the river ice free downstream. So when other lakes and rivers freeze over the eagles gather.

There were at least 20 eagles in view on the stretch of river where we stopped. This was at the official viewing platform on the bluff in the center of the river town. Further up Highway 87 there are two other sites, the VFW park down by the edge of the river and the dam parking lot. When we checked them out there were no eagles.

We thought the half dozen boats with fishermen frightened the eagles off but latter we  were told that because of the unusual February snow melt  more water than usual was flowing down the dam's spillway. So the sandbars where the eagles stopped to digest their catch were under water.

I shared the platform with two other photographers.  On my right was an older man from Milwaukee. For the last five years he and a friend had been making the trip to Prairie du Sac to see for eagles. In previous years they hadn't seen a single bird. This year they had  this flock to photograph. Unfortunately he had brought only one roll of film for his little plastic 1990's point and shoot. A photographic opportunity lost for ever.

On my left was a much young photographer with a full frame Canon and matching big lens. When I commented that he certainly had brought the right equipment, he snorted and answered "Hardly." He had only brought along a 300mm f2.8 lens with it's matching 2X teleconverter.

As for me, I had my Nikon D700. But mounted on it was my Promaster 75-300mm f4.5-5.6 zoom lens.  In more ways than one I was the man in the middle.

Once I had my images on my computer I checked out the Canon lens-- a bargain at Amazon for a mere $3400.  So unless I win the lottery, I'm not about to run out and buy the Nikon Version

I paid  $15 for my used Promaster--according to the EXIF info a re-branded Sigma APO macro (4/1) lens-- and will be sticking with it. According to the reviews it isn't outstanding, but gives good value for the money.

If you use it right. Something  I know I was not doing. So after poking around the Internet and seeing how other D7000 bird photographer do it, I set up a user mode:

Shutter 1/1200,  aperture f11 and ISO auto with an upper limit of 6400.  The speed should freeze birds in flight and eliminate camera shake since the lens is not image stabilized.  The f# give good DOF and is 2 stops down at the lens' sweet spot.  The variable ISO is the independent variable that sets the exposure. On a bright sunny day the ISO end up at about 600.

For focusing I set the camera to 39 focusing points using the 3D continuous mode. In Nikon talk 3D means the camera stores color information about the bird to keep it in focus.

Let you know how these settings work out.

And the answer is

Taken with a few minor changes.  The shutter speed was 1/2000 sec and because the sky had clouded over the ISO had moved up to 2200.  Still usable but I think I could have opened the iris a stop without a problem. The big difference was in the focusing with a far bigger percentage of images spot on than before.