Monday, November 29, 2010


It's interesting to me to observe this endless cycle: folks get excited about a new technology for making images, obsess about it, talk endlessly about all the new capabilities it will provide, then make the same old thing they did before.

It looks better, but it's the same thing, really.

Then they quickly decide the formerly new technology is now old, and move on to the rumored new thing that will allow them to finally do their work.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Above: a snap taken on the way back into the city Friday morning.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Numbers Game

One of the first things we did when planning to move to San Francisco was research crime in the city. In our search for a place to stay, we avoided neighborhoods showing higher crime stats -- though we eventually realized that it's a 7-by-7-mile grid, and you can't really get that far from anywhere.

Unfortunately, as pleased as we've been with our neighborhood, this is a big city, and crime happens. While we were out of town for Thanksgiving, we saw this story and realized it occurred awfully close to home.

23-year-old identified as Japantown fatal shooting victim.

Above: A playing card found on the street Thursday morning on McAllister Street, as we were leaving town.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Strictly Rhetorical

There's just no way it's Thanksgiving already. Is there? Thanksgiving ... 2010?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Shoot The Moon

Previously, I wrote about the new Panasonic GH2 using its new "tele conversion" feature for video: Panasonic GH2 Tele Conversion: Bagful of Primes?

Well, above is a video that purports to show the feature in action. Essentially, using the new Panasonic 100-300mm and a Canon 400mm the videographer gets amazing shots. The feature seems to allow a 3.6 multiplying effect if one shoots at 1080p or a 3.9 multiplier if shooting at 720p -- essentially turning the 300mm focal length to near 1200m and the 400mm length to almost 1600mm. When you translate that to 35mm equivalent, it is essentially double -- meaning you can essentially shoot as if you had a 2000mm or 3000mm lens.

Kinda amazing.


In case you didn't notice, it's Friday after 5.

Monday, November 08, 2010

I Would ... But I Need The Eggs

People behave in somewhat disheartening ways, sometimes. Okay: most of the time.

That's kind of a problem when your main interest is human nature. On the plus side: there's no shortage of subjects to make a film about.

I've been posting over on San Francisco Portraits a bit. It's amazing, if a cliche, how fast the weather changes in this city. Above: after one outbreak of sunshine and before the next.

Durr ... Igible

Among the things I don't understand: why celebrities don't have blimps. People do all sorts of ridiculous things to get into the news. Why not just have a blimp and fly around? Put your picture on the side. Grant interviews ... but only on your blimp.

Above: a non-celebrity blimp flying over San Francisco today.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Somewhere near SFMoMA.

Went to an event at SFMoMA. Above is an iPhone snapshot of the sunset from just after.

Future of Photojournalism

On Friday afternoon, Mrs. Actualities and I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to hear a panel on The Future of Investigative Reporting. On the panel were:

David Cohn, who founded -- essentially a "citizen journalism" site with a model based on bringing together freelancers, publishing venues and the public. In short: the public can support stories they feel are important, freelance journalists can get a little extra financial support to develop and research stories, and editors can get stories they can't support with their own publication / site resources.

Robert Rosenthal, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and journalism professor who is interested in the transition from traditional journalism to new models. He's connected to but obviously well-versed in the existing models.

A.C. Thompson, who has worked with various San Francisco publications but is now associated with and has received a Polk Award.

Lola Vollen, a physician who has shifted her work toward social justice and human rights, working with

And, central to the panel: famed documentary photographer Susan Meiselas. If you don't know her work, look it up, and spend some time with it. The important thing, for my discussion here, is to consider how Meiselas' model of going to a place, getting deeply invested in a story, and allowing a point of view to develop is purely documentary photography rather than photojournalism. Now, read that clearly: it isn't a critique, but praise. As well, it's an important distinction between the two fields.

The panel shifted a bit early on from what I expected -- after all, the context was an art museum, a show of Henri Cartier Bresson's work and the title "Future of Investigative Reporting" -- to more of a discussion of new models for supporting journalism. (Now, I'm quite aware of why this is on everyone's minds -- I've done a lot of freelance work in this realm and understand that it's clear the old models will change. Yet everyone seems unclear on how that change will stabilize or what models can be sustainable.)

So there was discussion noting that old support structures like "full time work" and "expense accounts" and "go to Central America for eight weeks, here's your ticket" were clearly gone, and that the new replacements are still developing -- and quite different in nature. Think of a blend between crowdfunding and NPR and you'll have part of the picture. Add YouTube, Digg and Twitter and you'll get a hint of the rest. But just a hint.

To my mind, this missed an important point.

Beyond the financial issues, the development of the Internet is important not just as a killer of the printed daily newspaper, but as a killer of one aspect of photojournalism.

That is, imagine an event happens. It's quite likely that a half-dozen civilians with cellphone cameras are there long before your contract photojournalist gets an alert email, and it's no surprise if there's a shaky video clip from a passerby on CNN immediately. Spot news? It's covered by a cell phone cam.

I'm not negating the value of a PJ here -- I just think the game has changed and that the role of the photojournalist has shifted toward documentary work. By this I mean that if there's a glut of "just okay shots" out there, and we can hand a DSLR to the reporter and have them come back with acceptable stills and video, then the role of photojournalist becomes about quality.

The role of the photojournalist becomes more like the role of the documentary photographer. Speed becomes less critical -- you've already been beat to the punch. But that leaves a ton of room for quality, depth, beauty, humor, accuracy -- all the elements the practice of documentary allows.

I want to see that first glance picture, yes, and I don't care that it's a sloppy picture without context. But I'm going to get much more out of a smart, deep, significant presentation later -- something only the best photojournalists can do.

So, for me, the question I see is not "how does investigative reporting survive?" but "how does an unknown Susan Meiselas find a way to do the work today?"

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Aye Aye IMDb

Watch more free documentaries

Here's an interesting update on our film Blind Faith: A Film About Seeing. More precisely, on how IMDb works and why independent filmmakers might want to consider the importance of the least important thing: the credits.

Back in 2007, I worked with five of my pals in the brand-new Documentary Certificate program at The New School to create a 7-minute documentary on blind photographers.

As part of the International Documentary Challenge, we compressed the process of making a documentary down to five days.

There's the thing, though: we did everything the way you should.

There was (very fast) Production work, including handling a (tiny) budget, getting all the permissions and releases, arranging interviews, finding the right folks, etc. etc. There was some nice cinematography work (I shot the stop-motion sequences on the NYC street, for example). There was some (incredibly quick) post-production. We shared the tasks, and decided to credit the film as a collaboration. Everyone would get credit.

We arranged for a good score, as well. In fact, we won "Best Soundtrack" at the Doc Challenge finals, held at Hot Docs Film Fest in Toronto that year. I was proud that they recognized both our music and how it integrated with our edit and content.

So far, so good. Once the film started going places (Hot Docs, Big Sky Film Fest, Picture This Film Festival, etc.) I added it to That went fine. The credits went up.

But IMDb has a policy in place that they are a database of credits as they appear on the screen. It doesn't matter if you are actually the Producer or Cinematographer: unless there's a credit onscreen that says that, IMDb can revise the listing.

I don't disagree with that. That's what they have always said, and that seems good to me.

But there's the funny thing: Blind Faith went online at SnagFilms (see the video above). So, unlike many shorts that screen at a fest or two and then aren't seen, IMDb has a direct link from the listing to the online video. Cool.

But someone at IMDb had the time to watch the film, and our credits on the film are limited. If you watch it to the end, you'll see "A FILM BY" and then our six names. To us, that meant "everybody did everything" and that we were Directors and Producers and Editors and Cinematographers.

Not so fast, IMDb says. First, our Producer credits disappeared. And our Cinematographer credits. (There's no credit that says "camera" or "cinematography by" or "photography" visible. We did it, but it isn't on the titles page.) Then, the Editor credits.

More disappointingly, Joel Mumma is no longer credited as Composer, even though he was. He's now listed as appearing in the film (as "himself").

Ah well. Whatever.

But a lesson learned: as old school, mainstream and simplistic as it seems, add your full credits to the film. If you want to see your credit on IMDb, put it on the screen.