Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twitter Quitter

Well, there's a lot going on. I don't have time to write it all up just now. But I thought I'd mention:

It's Not You, It's Me

It's Not You, It's Me

I deleted my Twitter account. It's not for me.

I've also turned off the Flash plug-in for my Web browser. (Advertisements show up as empty white boxes for me now.) As well, I've unsubscribed from a lot of RSS feeds. I've started turning my cell phone off whenever possible.

Back in April, on my friend's blog, I said I would.

Ted and Internet
“Between your 16 blogs and everyone else telling me to Facebook and Twitter… I’m about to get rid of everything except one email account. It’s starting to look a bit empty. (I can’t think of one interesting thing I’ve seen online in the last two months anywhere. I don’t care about the Octomom, I don’t know anyone making decent money from blogging, and online video is generally weak crap.)

It might be time to return to the real world — just to tick people off.

Or maybe that was the plan: get the Internet started, wait for all the normal people people to get fully committed to it, then get off of it — so only the cool people will be offline.”
I'm not advising anyone to do this. I just think that people talking on their cell phones as they attempt to walk down the street look a bit dumb. I'm sure you don't.

My brief experience with social media was rather unsocial. Everyone was very friendly, they posted links to things I read last week, and told me that social media was the path to success. (Good luck with that.) When I responded, they generally ignored me.

My friend who posted my comment above knows: I'm not any sort of Luddite. I've been on the Internet forever. A lot of the things people send me excitedly as something new -- I did back in 1997.

The thing is this: I'm noticing that my students increasingly can't focus as well as I'd expect. That the media gets away, increasingly, with posting water cooler talk, easily debunked with any search or thinking, but right there in the big red headline. That as a culture we can't match the post-destruction resolve of the ancient Greeks -- who rebuilt the Acropolis -- and instead rebuild movies from our collective childhood.

I don't care about Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, G.I. Joe, etc. I'm not twelve years old, and I think there's a lot more to sophistication than better visual effects underneath improved marketing.

I'm noticing that things are getting shallower, and that folks seem happy with that. That's fine. There's someone just waiting for them. His bio says:
"I make stuff, actually I make up stuff, stories mostly, collaborations of thoughts, dreams, and actions. Thats me."
Go check him out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Photography in the News

Are there any really unfortunate stories about photography in today's news?

Yes, yes there are.

Thief steals camera with couple's 800 wedding photos
"In a crime caught on tape, a thief dressed in a suit to look like he was a wedding guest snatched the photographer's camera when he set it down for a moment while shooting the affair Saturday. The camera contains nearly 800 wedding photographs on a flash card inside it."

Bitter on Twitter? Au Contraire, Mon Frere

I've been using Twitter, but perhaps not in the way it's intended.

Basically, whenever someone follows me, I take a quick look at their post timeline, and if it is at all reasonable I follow them back. (If they aren't posting, or seem to be a marketer, I don't.) That's normal, I think.

Then, however, I diverge from the social contract. I've learned some interesting things, seen many well-intended, positive posts, and understand that there's a community there.

But I can't help myself: the minute someone posts something naive and stupid, or otherwise idiotic, my radar switches on. If they do it again, I enjoy a slight frisson when unfollowing them.

It's fun: one minute, their quoting some idiot motivational speaker, the next, they are no longer in my universe.

Of course, people might do the same to me, and I'll end up with no followers. I'd be fine with that.

Soderbergh Speaks

I posted previously about Stephen Soderbergh use of the RED camera in "The Girlfriend Experience", so here's the word from the horse's mouth in an NYT audio slideshow.

I think the slideshow makes the movie feel darker than it reads on a television screen, but it's very interesting from the viewpoint of cinematography. As well, Soderbergh's approach here is very similar to that used in documentary production.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Know anyone looking for an intermediate photo class in NYC? My Seriously Fun Photography begins Thursday. I believe you can still register today.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Report from the Met

We went to the Met on the holiday Monday, and saw three photography shows:

The Pictures Generation, 1974–1984

Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard

The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion

All three seemed to me on the shallow side. It's my opinion that none of these shows know when to stop, really.

Model as Muse would have been fine with just the photos and the clothes. More than fine.

Instead, its credibility is destroyed by an overlay of crap culture. An ill-considered and immature "era" approach is taken in which fake graffiti, bad pop songs and off-base cultural references distract us from the content so that we won't discover there's no material here that actually addresses the basic conceit of the show.

You can't present fantastic taste -- which is what fashion photography is, in the end -- underneath a frame that seems like an underinformed 19-year-old trying to encapsulate past decades. Using the unsophisticated idea of "the 1950s was this, then the 1960s was this, then..." is bad enough, but trying to then flesh that out with the weakest and least cool cultural touchstones reduces the show to a touristy, bland blanket, smothering fantastic images and clothes.

This is not a case of the Emperor wearing nothing. Rather, the Emperor turns out to be wearing a poncho, and hoping we'll say it's very nice.

It was, however, fun to see a connection to William Klein's Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? integrated into the show in the one room that worked. I just wished they'd paid more attention to what Klein was satirizing.

I enjoyed Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective much, much more.

Above: an iPhone snapshot at the Met today.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weekend Edition

Catching up on two news items:

The International Documentary Challenge DVD -- which includes our short documentary Bend & Bow -- is now available on Netflix.

My Seriously Fun Photography class starts this Thursday. I believe you can still sign up.

Above: iPhone snap from Saturday.

You Know, For Cuts

You know what's great about Fox News?

They always focus on the story you really care about, even when that story isn't true at all. Even when the newswriter says the story isn't true, right there in the middle of the article.

Wait. What?

Well, let me clarify. The important story this weekend is that Alexandra Pelosi shot video footage of her mother at a news conference, and that Fox News protested.

Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has made such documentaries as Journeys with George and Right America: Feeling Wronged - Some Voices from the Campaign Trail. Now, according to this Fox News story, she "shot video of her mother at her weekly news conference" using a "cuts" camera.

Now, I know that's scandalous.

Because it's a cuts camera. Which makes people very uncomfortable. Somehow. The problem, according to the article, is that it's not a "straight-on camera." Which would be fine. Apparently.

But it gets worse. According to the article, "Pelosi's office later told FOX News that the filmmaker shot the footage for her own private use and does not intend to use it for a documentary."

Which is pretty shocking, considering that the first paragraph of the article makes it clear to us -- and by "us" I mean Americans who watch Fox News, waiting for stories about documentaries made with straight-on cameras, a group I include myself in -- that non-straight-on camera footage would be used by the younger Pelosi, somehow.

But don't take my word for it. Go and read:

Pelosi's Filmmaker Daughter Captures Mother's Weekly News Conference After CIA Flap

And note, that beyond using a "cuts camera" -- by the way, next week I will be posting on where to acquire one, its proper use, and also how to differentiate it from a "straight-on" camera -- the filmmaker also "continues to maintain her friendship with former President Bush." Again: shocking. Because he has a very clear don't-ask-don't-tell policy on non-straight-on cameras.

It should be noted that the two authors of this article -- TWO! -- also reveal the fact that her ex-President friend will be having a two-hour "conversation" -- that's right, in quotes, and we all know what that means, I suppose, or perhaps one of the two (TWO!) "authors" of the piece may, possibly, know why that's in quotes -- with another ex-President. (One who was definitely straight-on.)

The most shocking disclosure by Chad Pergram and Hadley Gamble, the two (TWO!) "journalists" involved, however, was that: "Alexandra Pelosi was at Johns Hopkins University Thursday to attend her mother's commencement address to some in the graduating class and her receipt of an honorary degree."

That's right: Speaker Pelosi only addressed some of those in the graduating class as she gave the commencement address. Somehow. Apparently. (I suspect she may have used a cuts microphone, which is not straight-on.)

And for videotaping that act of exclusion Alexandra was given an honorary degree.

Now, don't blame me if you're confused -- I'm just reading what Chad and Hadley have "written" here. I wasn't there. If they say -- in "words" -- that it happened, I know it did. Or that they ran out of time to include the necessary "verbs," "pronouns," or "facts" that might be of use in a normal article because they were defending the need for the second "her" in the sentence, which clarifies things. More or less. Less.

The real issue here, though, is not whether things are "true" or "false" -- heck, just use the straight-on camera if that's all you're concerned with -- but protecting Fox News from the challenge bloggers present to professional news production. You see, by writing complete gibberish, the news team of Chad and Hadley have single-handedly stopped bloggers from stealing the story to post on their blogs. Since it makes no sense at all, focuses on facts that turn out to not be factual, and leaves Chad pointing at Hadley and vice-versa regarding its incoherence, no self-respecting blogger will touch it.

It will be left for the commenters. So go and read the comments.

I have, and it's clear that there are many, many Americans who will not allow this use of a "cuts" camera to stand. As well, they will not let their inability to spell or use punctuation stand in their way of commenting on this important issue.

One day, they'll organize. They'll toss cuts cameras into the ocean, and refuse to attend the film that's not going to be made from the footage that was shot. There will be signs, praising Chad and Hadley.

The signs will be spelled wrong, but they'll be straight-on.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Blind Photographers Update

My friend Doug McCulloh's exhibition is in Time Magazine today.

The Art and Heart of Blind Photographers
"The whole trajectory of modern art for the last 100 years has been toward the concept of mental construction, and blind photography comes from that place," says the show's "sighted" curator Douglas McCulloh, himself a photographer. "They're creating that image in their head first — really elaborate, fully realized visions — and then bringing some version of that vision into the world for the rest of us to see."
Mentioned in the article are the Seeing With Photography Collective, Mark Andres, and Sonia Soberats -- and you might remember they all appear in our short documentary Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing.

RIP, Sid Laverents

I'm fascinated by the NYT obit for Sid Laverents -- a film "hobbyist" whose work is in the National Film Registry.

Sid Laverents, Auteur of Homemade Films, Dies at 100
Nine minutes long, “Multiple SIDosis” stars Mr. Laverents himself, and it begins as he opens a Christmas gift from his wife at the time, Adelaide: a recording device. For the rest of the film, Mr. Laverents puts to use not just the recorder but also his background as a one-man band, knitting together a soundtrack of several separate recordings of himself performing a jaunty Felix Arndt tune called “Nola.” He whistles, hums, blows across bottlenecks and plays instruments, including a banjo, a jew’s-harp and an ocarina.

It’s a witty performance, but what is really unusual is the imagery that accompanies the music. Using repeated exposures of the same piece of film, Mr. Laverents kept adding different shots of himself playing the different musical lines. By the end, there are 11 different Sids on the screen, including a couple wearing Mickey Mouse ears and fake whiskers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New Sony Alphas Announced

New Sony Alphas, new lenses. Basically a refresh of the low end of the Sony line, but that's a good sign -- they'll update the midlevel and high end soon enough.

"... three new easy-to-use α (alpha) cameras (models DSLR-A380, DSLR-A330 and DSLR-A230), four new lenses, a flash and accessories."
See the cameras and the lenses.

Of interest: a 50mm F/1.8 and a 30mm F/2.8. I have a 50 F/1.4, but for those who don't it's likely the 1.8 will offer some bargain optical quality. The 30mm is interesting, though. I wonder how it will compare to the existing 28mm F/2.8?

Like Salinger, Except Reclusive

That last post on the Death of Indie Film got me thinking about those indie filmmakers who make a great low-budget film, hit it semi-big ... then disappear.

I'm thinking, for one, of Whit Stillman, maker of the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie trio: Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco. While there are rumors he'll be surfacing soon with a new film (currently listed as in pre-production), ten years is a long time away.

And I'm thinking also of Shane Carruth, who made Primer in 2004, did a few interviews, and then vanished. He surfaced a few times after -- one mention claims he was planning to make a "coming-of-age romance between an oceanography prodigy and the daughter of a commodities trader" -- but is seemingly hidden away today.

Filmmaker Magazine even wrote: SHANE CARRUTH, PHONE HOME.

Of course, they'll probably both be back. In 1998, I saw The Cruise and showed it to all my students. In fact, I did so for years -- and remember quite clearly wondering, circa 2004, where the hell Bennett Miller had disappeared to.

Death of the Indie Film?

I generally hate to point folks to Fox -- lest they begin to think torture isn't torture, the WMDs were found, and that ACORN is trying to kill Glenn Beck -- but I think it's safe to view this segment on Death of the Indie Film? featuring Ted Hope, Marina Zenovich and Reed Martin.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Yet More Photography in the News

Any stories about photography in the news? Yep. It's been a busy week for photographers, as they've been beaten, arrested and blamed slightly more than usual.

Updates on all fronts:

Gerard Butler Charged With Battery in LA
"City prosecutors have charged Gerard Butler with misdemeanor battery in connection with a scuffle with a paparazzo."
Carrie Prejean explains those new topless photos: Gosh darn wind!
"She explained that the photos were taken about two years ago for Bliss magazine, and that it was just her and a photographer standing on a cliff on a windy day. She added the photos should not "have been released."
Alt Weekly Paper Runs Photo That Got Photographer Arrested
"Why is it on the front of The Stranger? Becker got in trouble for this picture. The photo led to an argument between Becker and the ATM personnel, which led to the cops being called, which led to Becker being detained for half an hour and officially banned from REI. (An REI spokesperson says Loomis is welcome back in the store, though the police apparently ordered him to stay away for a year.) Read about it in The Stranger story or on Becker's blog."
What happened at REI. An Update.
"Here are a few quick updates on things that have happened related to that blog post that I wrote about what happened at REI."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Photography in the News

Are there any stories about photography in the news? Sure -- stories of lucky photographs, lucky photographers, unlucky photographers, and as always: the claim that everything is the photographer's fault.

The Unlikely Events of a Water Landing: New Photos From Flight 1549
"On a hunch, Mallon put down his drink to call Jason Marchioni, manager of Weeks' Heavy Lift Division. The next morning, the photographer confirmed that Weeks had been tapped for the salvage job, and the company offered to hire him to record the operation. By the afternoon the ecstatic photographer was aboard a tugboat headed to the scene."
"A man faces a possible murder trial over the death of his wife whose motionless body was revealed in a photograph taken by a tourist during a scuba-diving trip."
Indian American Photographer Beaten, Camera Damaged
"In addition to his injury, two of his state-of-the-art cameras worth $25,000 have been damaged, and he is still trying to retrieve two memory cards which assailants had taken away from him.Mandal has been covering events for the South Asian community in both South Asia and the U.S. for decades."
Miss California: It was the photographer’s fault
"I’ve done many photo shoots, Matt,” Prejean told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday in New York. She said that sometimes photographers continue to take pictures when she’s dressing. It would be like a photographer going into my dressing room and snapping a photo of me without my being aware of it. If a photographer is willing to make an extra buck and did get a photo of me, so be it."

Fiction, Non?

One of the problems that has plagued photography since the 1980s has been the idea that celebrity photographs need to be publicist-approved.

It's made a lot of the practice of photographing famous people a joke. Or, perhaps, made it a process of "getting away with" making something that's actually better than a publicist could envision. It's turned a lot of great photographers out of the field, and led others to make making weaker work.

Can the same hold true in documentary production?

A few months ago, I watched Shine a Light -- Martin Scorsese's "documentary" on the Rolling Stones -- and was left with two reasons why I'd rather call it a "concert film" than a doc:

1. The interview material was completely safe, and completely in the well-polished control of the Stones.

2. The concert was changed by the filmmaking process -- which to me is the opposite of a "documentary" process.

I'm more excited to see what Scorcese will do with the added freedom he'll clearly have on his next -- non-documentary -- picture. I don't think there'll be any need to please the subject or a publicist or any limits put on access....
Martin Scorsese Set to Direct Frank Sinatra Biopic

Not OK Computer

Yesterday, just after I finished working with some photos in Adobe Lightroom and uploaded them for a client, I let my computer download an Apple security update and the updater for Safari. I'm not sure if the update killed it, or if the main drive went out coincidently, or something else happened -- but it would not restart. Couldn't get a restart from an Install disk, and when I tried to restart in safe mode it would shut down -- a bad sign.

I thought of this photo but had to shoot some photos for another client and had to leave the problem sit. Worked on my laptop to get those photos ready, but it was a much slower process.

I'm not sure if this is going to be an easy fix....

Above: an iPhone snap during the session.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From the Facepalm Files

Ah, this again. And again. And again.

Man Threatened, Arrested For Taking Picture Of Open ATM In Public
"After spending around 30 minutes handcuffed in a cell and being unsuccessfully grilled about why he snapped the photo, Becker signed a REI trespassing form that instructed him not to come back to the store for a year. In the end, the authorities never asked to see the photo, much less for Becker to delete it from his iPhone."
Perhaps they thought the photographer was a zombie? Will we hear more once he finds the right attorney?

A Limited Time Offer

Today marked the last show for the term in my TV production class. We've done several somewhat sophisticated, timing-critical, multiple-camera setups.

With Summer in the air, however, the class decided to do a "home shopping channel" style show. Fairly simple, kinda fun. It was still three-camera, but really easy.

Above: iPhone snap of a runthrough.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seeing With Photography Collective in New Exhibition

Our short documentary Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing featured Victorine Floyd Fludd and the Seeing with Photography Collective back in 2007. Now work by these photographers is getting a lot of coverage.

Both are included in my friend Doug McCulloh's exhibition Sight Unseen, and now that's being covered in Time Magazine.

Glad this is going well, and I wish I could make it to the exhibition.

Sight Unseen

My pal Doug McCulloh's exhibition Sight Unseen is in Time Magazine.

Included in both the show and mag are works by Victorine Floyd Fludd and the Seeing with Photography Collective, who were featured in our short documentary Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing back in 2007.

Congrats to everyone -- I wish I could get out to the show.

In the Galleries

Was too busy this weekend to go places, but I'm looking forward to seeing:

HELEN LEVITT: A Memorial Tribute at Laurence Miller.
"HELEN LEVITT: A Memorial Tribute will present a series of passages, in both color and black-and-white, from her extraordinary 70-year career. Featured will be her pictures of animals, which were among her earliest as well as last pictures taken; a little-known series of portraits taken on the subway using Walker Evans’ camera; children’s street drawings; elderly folks in conversation; and children at play, the photographs for which she is most well-known. Helen Levitt’s classic and rarely seen silent film, In the Street, from 1944, will be shown as well."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Photo Rumors Are Always Wrongish

Rumors of new cameras are generally not correct. That is, something leaks, then the forums get involved, and add a dozen features to the rumor and double the megapixels. Then, when new cameras are actually revealed, the forums are disappointed.

So, let's help out with that process. There are rumors of new Sony DSLR bodies, and a few lenses as well. Most likely, we'll see some version of this come true -- probably Sony will redesign the low end of the line, step up the megapixels, pull out the in-body motors, and add "30" to the model numbers. And release some non-full-frame lenses.

But go check the forums in a few days: they'll say that all the models will have 1080p HD video, and they'll add some magic features that don't make sense at all. Then they'll say there'll be a replacement for the Alpha 900. We'll see.

Rumor: Sony UK Support Page Reveals 'Alpha 330' DSLR Line, Lenses

Alpha 330 - future model?


Since I'm not 12, I skipped right past the idea of seeing "Star Trek" in a theater this weekend. (Yeah, yeah, I'm sure it's good. I just think we're smothering all the new ideas by rehashing the old ones that seem comfortable and fun. I understand why people wanted that in the 1950s, after a few really tough decades, but I don't think that's where we should be now. I think we should be looking to the new.)

Instead, we took advantage of the fact that Stephen Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience is released on pay-per-view while it's still in theaters.

I'm not a reviewer, so I'll leave that to others. What I did want to mention, though, is that it's shot with the RED camera in a style that loosely connects to documentary: working in available light and going handheld. And it looks great, at least on television.

As Soderbergh told Filmmaker Magazine:
You know, I shot The Informant [with the Red] last spring, but I wasn’t really in a situation where sensitivity was as much of an issue as it was on GFE. So for me that [heightened sensitivity to light] was a big plus because we were shooting anamorphic and I was kind of restricted to shooting stuff at 2.8. Basically I can’t go much wider than that, stop-wise, and so I really needed that extra sensitivity. It meant I could go out on the street or be in a car, still be able to shoot available light and be really pleased with what we were getting. So, [the Red] just keeps getting better. ... There are only two shots in the film where I pulled out a light. ... And frankly I wish I hadn’t. They’re my two least favorite shots.
Above: Soderbergh talks about his experiences with the Red.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

And Then The Sequel to "The Civil War"

Well, we know what Errol Morris has planned next.

And we know that PBS will be showing Ken Burns' 12-parter: The National Parks: America's Best Idea in September. But these days, you can't just rest on your laurels: sure, making 12+ hours of TV is fine, but what's going to keep him busy once that's out?

Documentary film maker Ken Burns has a sequel to 'Baseball' in the works
But as he prepared to throw a strike to the Marlins' mascot before Florida faced Atlanta, he couldn't contain his excitement about one of his next projects, a sequel to his Emmy Award-winning 1994 series, Baseball.

"We just started editing what we're calling The Tenth Inning," he said of the project that he hopes will air on PBS in September 2010 as a pair of two-hour episodes. There's so much that's gone on and we're going to really tell the story, good and bad. There's been enough water under the baseball bridge since 1992, (which) was the last action we described.''

Friday, May 08, 2009

Photography in the News

Are there any stories on photography in the news? Sure, there are. But are you certain you don't want to consider changing careers? It's rough out there....

State Senator Kevin Parker busted over tussle with photographer
"The battling Brooklyn Democrat allegedly roughed up a New York Post photographer and smashed his camera in front of Parker's home at Avenue H and 37th St. in Flatbush, police said."
Lindsay Throws Eggs At The Paparazzi

Ben Affleck Throws Ball At Photographer

I dunno. Is it too late to go into accounting?

The Other Kind of Final Cut

I mentioned previously that I enjoyed the doc Valentino: The Last Emperor, and today the Dallas Morning News has a good interview with the director. One of the issues it touches on is that always-scary question: what does the subject think of the film?

Behind the scenes on Matt Tyrnauer's documentary, 'Valentino: The Last Emperor'
"I had the final cut, which was important to me. It was hard to get. When I showed it to them, they were caught off guard and freaked out. They were very undone by the film and they found themselves in a situation they couldn't control. It was an un-airbrushed version of a very airbrushed life. The movie is not just a little fashion film or a collection of runway shows. It's an in-depth movie exploring a meaningful relationship. Valentino and his partner (Giancarlo Giammetti) aren't used to having their lives examined by any closeness."

Real Fakes

With all the talk of newspapers evolving or vanishing, I think we've missed a key point: reputable newspapers generally put out photographs they can stand behind. There have been plenty of scandals over the years, of course, but that's the point -- if a fake photo runs in a major newspaper, it's a big deal and gets a retraction or correction.

That just won't be the case in pay-per-click driven aggregators.

So what does the future of fakery look like? To consider that, don't think of the photos that will be revealed as fakes amid scandal. Instead, look at the way known fakes are becoming par for the course, greeted only by a shrug.

"Rocker BOB GELDOF's daughters PEACHES and PIXIE are reportedly furious over a new art exhibition which depicts them in a seedy bondage sex pose. In a doctored photograph, the pair are shown tied together by ropes, wearing kinky leather underwear, with their breasts on show."
Drudge smears "joker" Franken with doctored photo
"On May 4, the Drudge Report posted a photo of Minnesota Democrat Al Franken wearing a diaper and bunny ears. As the blog ThinkProgress noted in October 2006, the photo is doctored. Indeed, a spokesman for Franken told the Cincinnati Enquirer at that time that the "picture is a fake.""
Colombo says shelling images 'fake'
"Sri Lanka's military has accused the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam of fabricating images that purported to show the aftermath of a deadly army attack on a hospital in the conflict zone. The photographs, first published on a website, depicted what Tamil separatist sources said was an artillery hit on a makeshift hospital in Mullivaikal on Saturday."

Thursday, May 07, 2009

An End To Fun

My "Seriously Fun Photography" class is usually small, generally between 5 and 10 people. This was one of those terms where it was on the small side.

But we had three students complete their six-week portfolio project with a long critique process tonight, our last class. All three were good. One was a set of portraits, one was on flowers and one on central park. But all went further than the basic subject matter would suggest. I was impressed.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I've been in a lot of discussions lately about the economics of documentary production. There's a lot of interest in online models, of course, but selling DVDs seems to still be resulting in bigger royalty checks. For the moment.

So I'm fascinated to watch (from semi-afar) how the Doc Challenge DVD is doing at Amazon. (It includes one of our short films.)

I just checked. It's ranked #48,323 in sales in Movies and TV. That seems a bit less than overwhelming, but I really don't know. I didn't make a note of where it was ranked when it was first released, but my impression was it's moved up a lot.

So, will it jump up the rankings when there's a new Doc Challenge screening at HotDocs? Is it a "long-tail" item that keeps going for years? What level of sales is enough for a product to turn a profit?

Tell No One

Okay. I'm on Twitter. Stop telling me to get on Twitter. I'm there. Now stop it. Stop.

You can find me at if you really really want to know what I just did. Every darn minute of the day.

And Then There's More Fashion

Sure, I know I didn't thoroughly enjoy the recent ICP fashion exhibitions. And, yes, sure, I did complain a little about the AIPAD panel on fashion of photography.

But that's all in the past. Upcoming in the museums:

Model As Muse
"Exploring the reciprocal relationship between high fashion and evolving ideals of beauty, The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion focuses on iconic models of the twentieth century and their roles in projecting, and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras."

Richard Avedon
"This exhibition will be the most comprehensive exploration to date of Avedon's fashion photography during his long career at Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, The New Yorker, and beyond. Working closely with The Richard Avedon Foundation, ICP curator Carol Squiers and guest curator Vince Aletti will present new scholarship on the evolution and extraordinary, ongoing impact of his work."
Both are going to be great. I just know it.

Summertime Seriously

Thursday night is the last session of my six-week Seriously Fun Photography course through Hunter College Continuing Education.

(Don't worry -- there's another session that starts May 28th and runs to July 2nd.)

Last term there was talk of starting an advanced version, but the idea only became official right before the registration deadline, so we ended up with too few people signing up. It was a relief, actually, since I had a lot going on right then and would have been a little stretched to start a new class. If anyone's interested in the advanced version, let me know via email or comments or the T-word. (Umm, "twaiku.")

Who's "Seriously" for? If you've got to the point where you can shoot your DSLR (or advanced compact) and get the photos on the computer, but you're looking at them and wondering how to get control of making those images, then it's for you. If you have mastered control of aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity and all that those settings might effect, and you have your creative ideas flowing, you might need to wait until I get the advanced class rolling....

A Brief Period of Textual Experimentation

Well, I'm still not sure if it's for me, but I'm giving Twitter a trial run.

Mainly because Maureen Dowd won't. It's the one place I can be sure not to run into her by accident.

I'm at You know, in case you need to know what I had for lunch.

As David Carson Said, Sexism Sucks

I've always thought that there's a built-in sexist side to most of the sources one seeks out to study photography. While some lens tests are done with color charts and little arrangements of objects, just as many include studying the depth of field of a bikini. That's sort of a leftover from when photo magazines were bought mainly by youngish guys.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not opposed to any type of photography. I just think the fake "to test the camera out, we followed Photographer X as he shot the Swimsuit Issue" feature we often see is hypocritical compared to the honesty of not-safe-for-work-viewing blog Pretty Girl Shooter. When Jimmy D talks about lenses and lighting in relation to his typical gig -- shooting the covers for porn video packaging -- there's nothing fake about it. (Oddly enough, he often goes into more specific detail than the photo magazines.)

So here's what I wanted to mention: we're getting near the technical moment when still cameras are capable of shooting moving images, and where moving image cameras have enough quality to shoot stills. Both developments may change the way we make images and will be on the minds of both photographers and documentarians in the near future.

So Filmmaker magazine has, understandably, shown some interest in Esquire using the RedONE camera to photograph Megan Fox.
"For the first time in Esquire's history (and, we imagine, magazine history in general), a cover image was shot as a video. Using the RedONE, a video camera that captures images at four times the resolution of high-definition, photographer-director Greg Williams (see below) recorded ten minutes of loosely scripted footage with Fox — getting out of bed, rolling around on a pool chair, inexplicably lighting a barbecue."
If we skip past the built-in "it's still the 1950s, right?" feel of the whole thing (the title is "Megan Fox-ing") this is a fairly amazing development. In recent years we've seen a few newspapers take to shooting HD video in place of stills and then selecting a still frame for use, and this is the natural next step -- higher resolution and able to match the requirements for a magazine cover.

In the end, though, if we're to judge from the video -- Good Morning, Megan, a purely cheesecake, lingerie / swimsuit session -- there's nothing to be discovered. Except:

1. The RedOne does in fact produce a very film-like look and seems to use fantastic lenses.

2. You really can't shoot for both stills and video at the same time effectively.

Well, lesson learned. I look forward to when they get the new holographic cameras in. I hear they've got a special issue planned for that.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

One Biiiiiiiillionth of a Second

The tough part about working with a laser beam as a flash? Getting the sharks to position their heads in the right direction.

A little bit of photography mad science via Wired....

World’s Fastest Camera: Shutter Speed Half a Billionth of a Second

Brett Gaylor and Pay-What-You-Want

Wired has a good article on "RiP: A Remix Manifesto" director Brett Gaylor -- and the all-of-the-above release of the film. That includes a pay-what-you-want online model. It will be interesting to see what this shows for the future of documentary releases online....

Want a Remix Manifesto? Name Your Price, Says RiP Director The pay-what-you-want initiative makes perfect sense for this film, but I’m betting it wasn’t easy to pull off from a business perspective.

Brett Gaylor: It’s been a peculiar road to get to the point where we could release the film as a download, because obviously this is something we wanted to do right from the get go. But since we have so many partners that helped us make the film, including theatrical and television distributors, it was a delicate balancing act to make sure the good faith they showed in making the film would be rewarded, that we wouldn’t undercut their efforts to promote and recoup on the film by giving it away. So we waited a while before launching the various online permutations.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Frugal Wins The Webby

The web series I produced and edited 14 episodes of last summer -- The Frugal Traveler: Budget Europe -- just won the Webby in the Online Film & Video / Travel category.


Webby Number Two

I didn't think they'd announce until Tuesday morning, but I took a glance at the Webby Awards just about midnight.

The Frugal Traveler: Budget Europe series won the Webby in the Online Film & Video / Travel category.

Congratulations to all the nominees and honorees and the winners in all the categories.

Dream Street

My pal Doug McCulloh has a new book out. I think you should buy it. I'll post more on this when things slow down (not sure when that will be) but trust me -- you can't go wrong with this. Great photographs, and an amazing story.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Ted's List of Five Annoying Editing "Ideas"

I see a lot of student edits. A lot. A whole lot.

If I had to guess the exact number ... well, last year I taught at least 10 online courses that required at least two edited projects, and I taught two face-to-face courses that required at least five edited projects.... Figure twenty students per class, and that's in the range of 600 edited videos I graded by watching at full speed and then frame-by-frame. More, if you count rough drafts.

So I'm aware of the usual editing mistakes, and the traditional gimmicks. I'm somewhat forgiving of those, at least in student work. Lately, though, I'm seeing that some of the bad ideas expected of first-time editors are working their way into "professional" work.

Here's my list of five crap ideas that I'm noticing more and more, as if they've escaped from jail...

5. The Martial Arts Whoosh Sound Cut
Adding swooshy sounds to give a reason for a cut doesn't actually give a motivation to a cut -- it just adds swooshy sounds. Every time I see this -- and it's on the increase -- I think of someone doing fake martial arts moves and making woosh sounds with their mouth. Whoom! Fshhhh! Bam! Just add the sounds, then cut on them, as if there's a reason for it.

4. The Record Scratch Effect "Joke"
This is a dumb joke with no actual humor in it. Start a list of anything, throw in an item that doesn't belong, add a record scratch sound on it and cut back to it. Dumb, and ever-increasingly-popular.

3. The Overemphasized Freeze Frame
Used well, a freeze frame can make sense. It emphasizes a moment. Combined with a graphic, it can introduce a character. I think it can be thought of like punctuation, though, and if you need exclamation points in every sentence, something's wrong.

2. The Unnecessary Flashback
Sure, the character certainly is motivated by that thing that happened a while back. But we were there, watching it with you. Do you really need to show it to us again? I didn't hear any Teletubbies say "again, again" -- and I really did pay attention when you showed it to me before. Why torment me?

1. Flashy Flashy Syndrome
Every once in a while, I get the sense that an editor thinks I'm a baby and that they need to flash shiny stuff at me or my attention may wander. Or maybe they're afraid I'll notice that not much is really happening? In any case, tossing in tons of unnecessary flashy transitional stuff isn't style, but its opposite.

So, where does this stuff come from? Is it simply that everyone has a computer and teachers are no longer able to say that certain things are lame? Is it a combination of access and too much self-esteem?

Maybe. Maybe the roots of this are in a few key films, though, that have influenced a lot of young editors. Maybe we're just seeing the diluted, low-quality version of a genuine attempt to stretch the practice of editing.

I can think of at least one film that abuses all five of these rules and is still really watchable. Embedded above, find Beat the Devil.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Local News

In local news, Mrs. New York Portraits and I went to the Metropolitan Opera Friday for the opening night of La Cenerentola, then on Saturday hit the fashion photography shows at ICP.

Weird Beauty seems to me to get the role of curator completely backwards: you are supposed to take material and amplify it, not diminish and confuse it.

The idea of showing contemporary fashion photographs as tearsheets is a good one -- but completely undermined because it's done in a half-assed way. That is, the text for the show explains that work from fashion magazines should be shown as tearsheets, but the exhibition puts the tearsheets on the wall and mixes in framed versions of some pieces, a meaningless roman numeral system of dividing sections, and places some of the work so high that you can't really see it properly.

The thing about work in fashion magazines is that the presentation is one of oversized glossy splendor -- you hold the magazine close, it's large and at a scale that fills your visual field. Presented as in this show, however, the scale of the work is ruined: the top row of images feels different than the middle row, since you can't get close to it; the unneeded framed works are sometimes just a little bigger than the tearsheet versions and only distract; and as presented all the work feels small.

That's not helpful for fashion photography, as the point is sensual fulfillment (since there's at best one or two new ideas in this room filled with 200 magazine snaps, you should at least let it be pretty rather than pretty vacant). A last flaw: if a show is going to be completely dependent on current fashion magazines -- which thrive on the idea of being cutting edge, now, and wild -- why make such a conservative selection? I like the NYT fashion shooters, but seeing several spreads from such a mainstream source made me realize that there are likely a lot of people dragging around the Lower East Side who have a better grasp of what's been cutting edge in the magazines lately than the curators of this show. This collection is too mainstream, and fails at the main goal of fashion photography: to possess stopping power. As presented, the strongest images in this show lose much of their ability to stop you from flipping past, on to the next image.

This Is Not a Fashion Photograph makes an even bigger faux pas: it takes fantastic images from the ICP collection, and asks us to consider them in the context of fashion photography. That does no favors to the images or fashion photography. The photos are merely crowded together, and after the disaster of a show one has just seen the effect is not the intended one but pure confusion: the feeling is that these images have been misunderstood, and half of them should quickly be put away so that those which make sense in this context could be properly understood. That is, a smaller show with more context could work here -- there are many photographs that are in fact interesting when re-thought in the context of fashion -- but this presentation reduces that theme to nothingness by simply accepting anything at all. It's diluted.

Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, on the other hand, is just fine. It presents 175 photographs without destroying the context of the work or making them hard to see and therefore beats out the previous exhibitions. The work is, of course, great.

My only complaint is that there's a lot here that could be informative in light of the contemporary fashion photo show upstairs -- and it isn't brought out. As one specific, note that Steichen is allowed to let clothing fall into complete shadow -- a contemporary no-no -- which shows he's holding a lot of the power in the creation of these images. Take a look at this image and imagine a contemporary fashion mag editor letting a shooter get away with that dark, textureless dress. A contemporary Vionnet would be at the shoot, previewing each shot on a laptop and yelling about featuring the dress -- then threatening to pull 14 pages of ads.

Sakura on UES

Chris Corradino has a nice shot of our neighborhood from a Springtime Stroll Through Central Park.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Oil and Older Lenses

Last night I was working with some students on lighting for photography, and I pulled out my Minolta IIIF flashmeter and checked the output of light. I read off the settings to a student, she adjusted her camera to match, and took a photo.

Normally, that's kind of impressive -- it's an accurate meter, and usually that first shot is pretty close to perfect. But her results were overexposed.

Well, I thought, maybe there's a calibration issue here. So she adjusted, and adjusted, and still, her shots were over.

I didn't realize it until later, but it's very likely that -- since she was using an older lens on her new camera -- the issue is that there is some broken down oil in the lens that is stopping the lens from closing down quickly enough to the desired aperture.

In other words: a lens sits with its aperture on its widest setting while you look through and frame your shot. When you press the shutter, it very quickly stops down to the aperture you've set, then opens back up to fully open after the shot. (That way, you are seeing the brightest view when you look through your viewfinder, but the shot is taken at the aperture you select.)

But older lenses that have been stored sometimes have the oil inside break down -- and this can mean the aperture sticks a lot or a little, causing just the kind of problem we were experiencing. Changing her aperture setting didn't seem to change her exposure -- meaning when she was set on f/16 the lens couldn't close down to f/16 and it may have really been shooting at f/5.6.

Live TV From Every Living Room

Boing Boing has a nice piece showing the Tricaster Studio -- a setup aimed at live Internet broadcast at a comparatively low pricepoint. Described as "a TV truck in a backpack" the unit is basically a digital switcher combined with the ability to add titles and cue video packages -- which is perfect for doing your own interview show from your back porch.

(One ironic note, however, is that I'd never seen any episodes of Boing Boing TV before and didn't realize that they can't edit worth a damn. The episode, while informational, is just a series of jump cuts. Boo. They need to hire someone who knows how to shoot and cut interviews, or -- ironically enough -- maybe they should use the Tricaster and live switch the interview....)

In any case, go and check out:

BB Video review: Tricaster, and the Future of Live Video Online