Friday, 31 January 2014

Ingesting Images

On Court, Hasselblad 503CX, Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 80mm, Kodak T-Max 400
I've added a Plustek Opticfilm 120 to my photographic arsenal. At last I should be able to scan my 6x6 Hasselblad negs with a similar quality I've been used to with my 35mm negatives and Nikon Coolscan.

The Opticfilm 120 is a slow, unwieldy beast. It is paired with the obscurantist scanning software suite called SilverFast. It's German, completely over-engineered and as far away from Dieter Rams as Campbell Newman is from sane and rational. Silverfast successfully adheres to the one immutable law of scanning software user interfaces that it look like it was produced no later than 1998.

I'm not quite sure how to drive it yet, nonetheless I've been able to pull out high-resolution and detailed scans with little effort.

Defence Road, Hasselblad 503CX, Carl Zeiss Planar T* f/2.8 80mm, Fujifilm PRO400H
More to follow...

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Retro Done Right

The Fujifilm X-T1

Fujifilm has announced the X-T1, the camera the Nikon Df could have been if Nikon had thought about it for more than 10 minutes (the Df was 4 years in the making, believe it or not). How far the X-system has come in such little time...

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Tony Abbott Goes to Davo's or: Only Nixon can go to China

Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Davo's (sic) source: ABC
Oh shit. This isn't Davo's. This is Davos. Some hoity-toity ski village in the Swiss Alps. Of course Tony would rather be at home where it's Goodies vs the ABC, but duty calls and our Great PM must answer the call by inadvertently straying into Switzerland.

And answer the call he did, with a stirringly simple speech with none of that other guy's advanced programmatic specificity shit. Instead he jawboned the last guys' successful avoidance of financial meltdown as "addicts in search of a fix" and of course the Great Tony is correct. Anyone who says otherwise, like that moronic Nobel Laureate whose name sounds like a German WWII PoW castle, is plainly wrong. I mean, who do you trust, a dirty foreign illegal or the popularly elected leader of a sovereign borders state?

As only Nixon could go to China, only the Great Man Abbott can go to Davos and talk up the Australian economy after talking it down endlessly for over four years. Only Abbott can call Labor's stimulus a drug, yet warn the US Fed to go easy on the tapering. Seems to be a drug the Great Abbott is quite keen on.

Similarly, he's quite keen on recycling his stump lines like "...after the recent election, Australia is under new management and open for business." Inspirational stuff there, Great Abbott. He is Language vs a Brick Wall at 100km/h. Language didn't have 6 airbags as standard so will now spend the rest of its days a vegetable after colliding with the Brick Wall, perhaps appearing in a TAC advertisement in a few years' time.

The speech is available here in full, but I think it's fair to say it did not have one thought-provoking line in it. I mean leadership of the G20 is given to a country, one doesn't need to try, it's just given to you like a participation certificate in the primary school cross country. Even then, like a rich kid falling back on their parents' wealth, the Great Abbott doesn't even try to say anything inspired. He fails to demonstrate even a skerrick leadership and ends up giving a speech which Peta et al must have copied and pasted on the way to the venue, probably with real scissors and Clag, rather than Microsoft® Word 97.

Here are some other highlights:
The global middle class is growing from 1.8 billion now to over 3 billion in 10 years’ time. 
This progress is partly due to better science and technology; and partly to the constant aspiration to do better.
...yet doesn't have a science minister...
You can’t spend what you haven’t got.
...yet erased Australia's debt ceiling after criticising Labor's "wreckless" debt and deficit for four years...
No country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity.
 ...except for Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, four countries known for their terrible education systems, horrible Nordic scenery and low quality of life...oh, and a little country you may have heard of called Germany that subsidises much of its globally renowned manufacturing industry...

I hope the Great Abbott uses Air Force pilots on his way home and goes nowhere near any Royal Australian Navy-trained navigational personnel. I'd hate for Tony's plane to suffer an inadvertent incursion into, say, Syrian airspace...

Friday, 17 January 2014

Photobook Review: We Make the Path by Walking

Paul Gaffney's We Make the Path by Walking follows the fringes of man's influence on the environment. It follows that proverbial path less taken, but instead of moralising, makes the man-altered world a pleasure to behold. New Topographics, this is not (at least not until the final pages), but it is a sort of curious, lyrical journey with the environment.

The journey follows, strangely enough, the path that is made by walking. Gaffney trekked some 3,500km across the European continent to bring us these images - an achievement in itself. The images he brings back are not purely of the natural environment, nor are they man-made. Each photograph features traces of both, beginning with a dominant natural environment that finally gives way to (or at least shares) the man-altered one.

Like using an electric shaver on a cocker spaniel, the path that has been carved out first by history and then followed by Gaffney is one that has not grown back the same way. This is probably what I like the most about the book - how the images achieve a natural rawness without resorting to a look of isolation and wilderness. In this images, I feel that the sounds of the man-dominated world were never out of earshot.

I went on a walk once. I saw lots of trees, too. They are charming. Couldn't hear lots of cars, but when I did hear one, it sure was loud. I always loved seeing the headlights of cars driving in the state forest at night during cadet camp. The endless shadows played around my senses. But I digress.

I'm sure there are other tracts of art-speak that can be applied to this book, but it's really just a simple, beautiful book that contains lovely lyrical images. And I've run out of adjectives.

It is presented in a printed slipcase and once removed from said case, is lovely and raw. Its binding is rough and visible (of the Smyth type I believe) but more than very fitting for this book. It can even lie flat.

Unfortunately for you, unless you've already a copy, the first self-published print run of 1,000 has sold out. There is apparently a "special edition" to be published soon. The book has been featured on many "top photobook" lists (because without lists, the world ceases to function) and has been nominated for awards and such.

All in all, it's a great little book that perfectly fulfils all the hopes and dreams artists hold for a self-published title. There's probably more to say about the book in art critique mode, but when my reaction to it seems so innate, there's little reason to go on about it.

Highly recommended.

We Make the Path by Walking
Paul Gaffney
Self-published, 2013
ISBN: 9780992600402
Extent: 78pp
Paperback with cardboard slipcase

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Photobook Review: The Lost Border

This is the first of two reviews that follow along a similar path. Brian Rose's The Lost Border: The Landscape of the Iron Curtain is a simply elegant book which visually charts that famous geopolitical fault line which existed in one form or another from 1946 until 1989.

Rose chronicles the Inner German Border (innerdeutsche Grenze or simply die Grenze) and eastern borders of Austria and Italy in colour with his 4x5 view camera in a series of photographs captured between 1985 and 1989. Travelling multiple times between New York and Frankfurt, Rose hired a VW van and drove the length of the border, taking photographs as he went.

The resulting images of the stark geopolitical reality would have been unexceptional in the 1980s. In a way, these are images that could have been captured by anyone, but only Rose had the tenacity and sufficient presence of place to do so. The borders, of course, no longer exists as they do in this collection. The few instances where border fortifications remain along the Inner German Border, they do so as a sort of Disneyfied theme park historical attraction. The potency and dread of a border defended regularly with lethal force is somewhat diminished by tourists standing around and gawking at the remnants of a possible flashpoint of World War III.

It is refreshing to view images of the various national borders. All too often discussion of the Cold War focuses on the Berlin Wall, forgetting the borders of death which divided half of Europe. Sadly it's easy to forget the harrowing tales of escape and tragedy along these long borders.

Inner Border Memorial at Hötensleben, with larges pieces of the installation in situ including the notorious death strip
Although the barbed wire, concrete towers and death strips seemed a permanent feature of the eastern European frontier, Rose notes that even in 1985 they seemed crumbling and unwieldy. The top-heavy concrete guard towers (look at the one on the cover) expressive of a still potent regime on the brink of collapse. Rose's images are landscapes first and foremost and they are extremely well crafted. His use of colour helps create a sense of reality, documentary and immediacy that would be sorely missed in monochrome; his 4x5 negatives would be a sight to behold. 

Less than five years after Rose started this project, the political divisions of Germany would be formally ended with the physical ones crumbling away shortly thereafter. Europe would charge headlong into an ill-advised political and economic union that essentially amounted to a Bundesrepublik takeover of the entire continent - what they couldn't achieve through warfare, they achieved economically. Meanwhile, ethnic tensions began to boil over in the Balkans... 

Rose's images of a frontier long-gone act as a memento mori; motivation to go out and capture the world that exists now before it is changed forever. All it takes is a VW van, a camera and some balls.

The Lost Border: The Landscape of the Iron Curtain 
Published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2004

Monday, 13 January 2014

Developing Photographs of a Time Past

iPhone 5 with VSCOcam
I visited the site of the Lal Lal blast furnace yesterday. I made sure to get there nice and early to make the most of the limited angled light before the bright and brash Summer sun made its presence felt perpendicular everything.

I shot my Hasselblad loaded with Ilford FP4+. I look forward to seeing how it turns out. It's easy to forget Victoria has a rich heritage hidden away in its forests, the rusting husks of industry lying idle waiting to be discovered.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Reigniting the Culture Wars

John Howard (right) with Dr Kevin Donnelly in Canberra in 2007. (AAP)
It seems Christopher Pyne has begun the first round of shadow-boxing against that all-evil indeterminate opponent called "the left" by launching a review into the National Curriculum. Apparently the best people to weed out the "partisan bias" in the curriculum that are two conservative also-rans.

That decision has taken only one day to bear fruit, with Kevin Donnelly sounding like a less-enthusiastic Santamaria rabbiting on about the need for "Judeo-Christian" education to be given "more effectively". All that was missing was the rallying against communists, homosexuals and communist homosexuals.

He then proceeds to include all the other "great" religions that should be taught "more effectively". Now, he doesn't actually say why this should occur other than to say parliaments around Australia begin sittings with the Lord's Prayer, the preamble of our constitution "talks about god" and at Federation in 1901, 90% of the population identified as "Christian" (the actual number in the 1901 census is closer to 96%).

To say Australia was founded on "Judeo-Christian" values is an untruth that seems to persist to this day. On the point of the Constitution's preamble, Australia became one nation under the Crown, not under god, only mentioning the Almighty in passing:
WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Consititution hereby established:
The only other mention of god in our great foundation document is to prevent religion's interference in secular society. Section 116 prohibits the Commonwealth from establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance or from requiring religiousity to be a test for any public employment.

Alfred Deakin
Various god-bothering groups, such as the Methodists and Salvation Army presented petitions to the Australasian Federal Conventions calling for formal recognition of god and national days of prayer, but none of our federal founding fathers was particularly moved. Instead they placed explicit prohibitions against such observances in the foundation laws of the federation. Also, they had exceptional facial hair.

But 90/96% of Australians can't be wrong. Popular opinion is never wrong. Just ask Galileo. Or the Aboriginal people - oh wait. Nobody bothered to ask them what they thought in 1901 because they weren't actually counted as people. The idea that somehow 90% of the population of Australia in 1901 is a worthy reason to call Australia a "Judeo-Christian" society, and thus call for more religious education is utter rubbish. Oh, and most of the new federation's parliaments didn't begin with the Lord's Prayer in 1901 - that's a relatively recent phenomenon.

It's almost trite to quote census data and the declining belief of Australians, except to say if the even a tiny fraction of those who claim "Christianity" as their religion in the 2011 census actually attended church on a semi-regular basis, there would not be parishes closing in the numbers they are today.

What I guess is that a vast majority of the 61.1% of Australians who did claim "Christianity" as their religion in the census did so out of a bit of census "self-improvement" and indifference inheritance. Of course there are committed church-goers out of there, but to most Australians religion is something kept private and rarely thought about or discussed, if ever. People feel good about the "values" religion apparently imbues, even if they know not what they are or if they are even religious-based.  But these values in fact pre-date Judeo-Christianity and their teaching need not be contingent on a poorly-written, inconsistent 1,500 year-old collection of texts.

That said, there is much religion can teach us about the world and its history, as religion has been an element of culture and life for thousands of years. But if we're going to "more effectively" teach religion, how about we also teach how its adherents have used it to justify horrible evils over the past centuries and to this day. Or perhaps just open with a lesson in Critical Thinking 101 and be done with it. There is simply no real reason to expand the teaching of religion in public schools. There is already provision for religious instruction that divides classrooms along ethnic and sectarian lines, why does the classroom need more of it?

There is a disturbing notion implied by Donnelly that there is a need to teach the "great" religions because they offer some sort of moral superiority to the secular education that has been a part of our state (Victoria) for over 140 years. Anyone who claims the three "great" monotheisms offer any kind of moral superiority over common sense and rational thinking must not have read the books they intend to "more effectively" teach to the kids.

Unlike popular conception, Australia was not founded on "Judeo-Christian" values, but rather was annexed by the British and claimed in the name of the Crown. This was not a religious conquest, but a territorial one. Since then, Australia has developed into an open and pluralistic society and any attempt to force religion in our schools by way of "more effectively" teaching the furphy of "Judeo-Christian" values must be resisted at every step. 

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Hasselblad Helpers

Who buys a single roll of 120 film any more?

Oh, you did? Well I guess there's always one, but did it come in an individual box? Probably not. There seems to be a severe shortage these days of individually boxed single rolls of film. It is cheaper for camera stores and most of us to buy pro packs of 5 rolls. The problem is that this usually means there are no tear-off tabs to stick in the holder on the back of yer Back to remind you what film is in the camera.

Hasselblad Helpers - Film Tabs for your Hasseblad film back

Consider this PDF a service to the film photography community. I call it a "Hasselblad Helper" although may be compatible with other 120 and/or 35mm cameras. The good quality tabs were extracted from official PDFs, the less quality ones were traced from scans. The Ektar one is just plain shitty. Apologies for that. At least it's the same as the emulsion. Also there's no Velvia 50 as I couldn't find a suitable box. Soz.

You might have magical powers of memory magic and always remember by way of some mnemonic device which back contains what film, but if you've ever shot a roll of Provia 100F thinking you were shooting Tri-X 400, you make sure you tab your back correctly.

Download the Hasselblad Helper here.

Monday, 6 January 2014

It's Hip to be Square

Hasselblad 503cx with Carl Zeiss 80mm C f/2.8 T* Planar and the other spoils of war
Yes, that's a Kodak coaster
A little while ago I bought a Hasselblad 503cx after an initial foray into medium format courtesy of James Ruff. Unfortunately I didn't have the funds for a lens and even though I attempted to purchase a single Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 from whatever 500 kit I came across, none seller was willing to separate lens and body lest the other get lonely.

Eventually I came across a BGN grade 80mm C T* on and I bit the bullet. And what a delicious bullet it was, none of that licorice shit, just good old-fashioned West German know-how.

Notwithstanding its BGN grading, it is a beautiful lens free from optical imperfections and showing very little wear on the barrel. I can even see the white shutter speeds and red exposure values inked on the front ring. Obviously Carl Zeiss was having a bit of trouble with the engraver during the entirety of the C T* production, perfectly willing to engrave the aperture values but unable to do the same with the shutter values.

Still, the whole thing is wonderfully over-engineered and still leaves me wondering who the hell thought the union of the shutter speed and the aperture as one was a good idea. I don't think I've ever used it the way it is engineered. If you don't know what I'm talking about, when you set an aperture value and shutter speed, the two and then linked when you rotate the rings. You change the values separately by pushing on a little silver tab and then moving the ring. It's designed so you can change your depth of field while keeping the same exposure value. I'm sure someone on Whirlpool will have some idea I joke. They only have an idea about every item except the one you're asking about. LOLs. JKS. Film is totes rad. Pentax is better than Nikon etc.

But I digress. It's a beautiful piece of kit. Now I just have to work out how the hell I'm going to scan the negatives, considering I gunned for a Nikon Coolscan 5000ED instead of its bigger 120-capable brother, the Coolscan 9000ED back in 2009. Even though I consider them brothers, they don't particularly look alike. It's as if they came from different times, different fathers perhaps. Same colour skin, different features. For today's discerning photographer (aren't we all?) Plustek offers the very nice Opticfilm 120 at a reasonable price...

A big thanks to James and Chris Zissiadis (urbanlight) for stoking my medium format fire until I got my shit together.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Consistent Absurdity

The Thin Blue (and fluoro) Line, Parliament House, Melbourne from Wikimedia Commons
The recent story about a Brisbane* man fined for leaving his unattended car window down speaks volumes about this country, regardless of the circumstances of the "offence". If you didn't know already, it's an offence be more than three metres away from your vehicle without it being "secured" - that includes doors locked, engine off and windows up etc. Who does this offence offend? Well, no one really. It's apparently crime "prevention", but like many laws on the books, they form part of a menu of possible revenue sources that aren't really an offence to civil society.

Spreading like wildfire (I'll come back to "fire" in a minute) on Facebook, the story sparked predictable responses from internets participants from "OMG TOTES CRAY" to "the stupd fuking goverment shuld stop doin dis shit" to "its only a $44 fine get over it" and "its the law whats so hard about that to understand". The only thing the comments had in common was theyre totes consistantly poor grammer adn spelling.

Ian Stewart, Queensland Police Commissioner says the officer did a good job, exercised his discretion and issued the fine because there had been "a number of thefts from motor vehicles" in the area. The man who was fined was allegedly also parked on the "incorrect" side of the road and on the footpath.

Now if we are to take the role of law enforcement to be that of protecting and serving, Queensland Police - and most other law enforcement agencies around the country and the world - fail miserably. In our liberal-democratic society, there is not really any societal harm in parking on the "incorrect" side of the road. The only offence is one against the man-made strictures of statutes and legislation, some of which are vital to a functioning society, but many of which are absurd. Some people consider these more arbitrary and and punitive laws to contribute to "nanny state" of over-regulation and over-policing.

If we instead reconceptionalise the role of law enforcement agencies as literally enforcing written laws (and "preventing" possible crimes which may or may not occur by arbitrarily fining people for unwound windows) then we arguably stray into territory where the autonomy of the individual is severely limited. An individual is unable to consider the consequences of their actions and thus take no responsibility.

The voice of the online masses also raised some interesting points (grammar and expression notwithstanding) such as: what about motor bikes? What about convertibles? Should the states' police ban these vehicles to prevent their theft?  

These laws seem particularly absurd when we look at natural disasters in Australia. Almost every summer of every year, a major bushfire breaks out somewhere in this sunburnt country, sweeping through the the plains, rugged mountain ranges etc. While Victorian police, like their sunshine state colleagues can "prevent" car theft by fining someone for having a window down ($141 in Victoria), they cannot prevent massive injury or save lives through mandatory evacuations in bushfire affected areas.

Even as massive fire fronts bear down upon them, residents are given the choice of evacuating to safety or remaining to fight infernos with little more than a sprinkler and a Nylex garden hose from Bunnings. Notwithstanding the 117 deaths on Black Saturday that occurred at homes, "stay or go" remains the fundamental policy response in Victoria. Even though I (probably) support the philosophical underpinnings of "stay or go", it doesn't sit well with other laws where life and property are at far lesser risk, yet open to massive fines. It seems police have the power to possibly prevent the theft of your GPS or iPod, but not the loss of your life.  

I've always been careful when describing our society as a "nanny state", because like that other great local pejorative "un-Australian", it can be used for any purpose by anyone with a grievance about a law or regulation they dislike i.e. Compulsory super, fair workplace regulations, plain cigarette packaging, child pornography, throwing glass bottles at people. It is in these arguments, when people start to talk of bans and of regulations, that the underlying complexity of rights and of responsibilities becomes apparent. One person's regulation is another person's freedom.

But never fear, Australia. At least we have this guy watching our (human rights) back.

*Queensland in general and Brisbane in particular is fu©king batshít crazy when it comes to telling people how and what to do. It's as if Sir Joh never stopped leading the most corrupt, homophobic and racist government this country has ever seen. Last time I was in the sunshine state, my visit came barely two days after returning to Australia from Europe. The difference between Europe and Queensland could not have been starker. It has contributed to my general love for the European way of life and antipathy towards Australian culture since. Here is a summary of the massive adhesive signage on every panel of the train I took from the airport to the city, accompanied by a really bad sketch of the doors. My drawing skills are why I use a camera.

I think for even the least intelligent member of Queensland society, most of this would fall into "no shit, Sherlock" territory. The doors remind me of the signage used by Wesfield as you approach escalators in their shopping centres. Next we'll need to buckle up for the privilege of riding them.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Short Shadows; Long Days

Photography can be a frustrating hobby at the best of times. Motivation to get out and take images ebbs and flows. The harsh Australian summer sun makes for the perfect photo mood-killer. Where the northerly winter sun makes it presence felt from a distance, casting long shadows all day, the summer sun is as subtle as an American tourist visiting China. While shadow play is one of my favourite photographic games, summer effectively kills it, leaving me to think about annoying things like composition.

Daytime shadows look like they've been rendered by a Nintendo 64, leaving people looking like NPCs in Goldeneye 007 - a vague hint of a darkened circle underneath their feet standing in for a more complex shadow.

Trent Parke seems to somehow make a living out of harsh Australia light. Good luck to him.

Sure, there are sometimes longish shadows, but they are usually a feature of diminishing light between 7-8:30am or 6-7pm. Then the mosquitoes come out.

Still, I'm told it's "nice" weather.

Bring on winter.