Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Top 10 Fujifilm X-E1 Photographs

Fujifilm X-E1
Back in July of 2016 I bought a gently used Fujifilm X-E1 digital rangefinder camera for a really good price. I've used my X-E1 as my primary camera ever since--in fact, I sold all of my other digital cameras (except my cell phone). Almost all of my photographs over the last six months have been captured using the Fuji camera--I just love photographing with my X-E1!

What I like about the camera is that it's designed for the person who learned photography back in the days of film and manual controls. You have the right dials in the right places. You are not jumping through menus just to take a picture. I also like how Fuji renders JPEGs, which look a lot like processed RAW files and not typical out-of-camera JPEGs. The camera also has excellent dynamic range and good high-ISO capabilities.

I was thinking about the photographs that I've captured with the Fujifilm X-E1, and which ones are my favorites. It was a more difficult task narrowing things down than I anticipated, and I'm not 100% convinced that these are the absolute best, but these are the ones I like the best. Because photographers have an emotional attachment to their own images, it can be difficult for them to determine which are truly the best. So below are my Top 10 favorite images (in no particular order), divided between five black-and-white and five color, that I captured with the camera over the last six months. Enjoy!

Black & White
I Am Nature - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Steps - Salt Lake City, Utah
Preserving The Library Stairs - Salt Lake City, Utah
Turbulent Sky Over The Ridge - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Rays Over The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah

Mirrored Mountain - Mirror Lake, Utah
Clouds At Night - Bear Lake, Idaho
Blue Umbrella - Great Salt Lake, Utah
Urban Bicyclist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Kodak Transparencies - South Weber, Utah

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Kodak To Bring Back Ektachrome & Maybe Kodachrome

Kodak Transparencies - South Weber, Utah 
Kodak made a surprising announcement five days ago: Ektachrome color transparency film is coming back! Specifically, and initially, it will be 35mm Ektachrome E100 available in 36 exposures. Kodak discontinued the film in 2012. 

It used to be that Ektachrome, which has been around in one form or another since the 1940's, could be purchased in many different formats and there were also different varieties available. My personal favorite was Ektachrome E100VS, which was Kodak's best imitation of Fuji Velvia film. I shot quite a few rolls of Ektachrome back in the day.

Yesterday Kodak made another surprise announcement: they are "investigating" the possibility of bringing back Kodachrome! This is Kodak's original color transparency film, introduced in the 1930's. It's actually a black-and-white film and color is introduced in development--it's a complicated process. Kodak discontinued the film in 2009 and discontinued the development of the film in 2010. 
Kodachrome - Stallion Springs, California
Kodachrome was a very popular film, and Paul Simon even sang about it. Ansel Adams shot his color photographs on it. For a while National Geographic insisted that Kodachrome be used by photographers working on assignment for them. It was a big deal when it was discontinued, and many saw it as the final nail in film's coffin.

However, much like the false reports of Mark Twain's death in 1897, the news of film's death has been greatly exaggerated. Film has actually been becoming more popular. It is a rise in demand that has brought back Ektachrome and might just bring back Kodachrome.

It's quite surprising just how many different films are available now. It seems like a couple new films are introduced every year. And it seems that every year has seen some film "rescued" from the chopping block. New companies have emerged, and even Kodak isn't really Kodak, but Kodak Alaris, an entirely different company. Even though film is old, in 2017 it's actually new and fresh, and the outlook is good. It's a great time to be a film photographer.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My Christmas Gift: Zenit E SLR with Helios 44-2 Lens

Zenit E with Helios 44-2 lens
My wife got me a great Christmas gift. It came all the way from Ukraine, so it arrived a little late. But it was totally worth the wait!

A couple months ago when my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told her a Helios 44-2 lens for my Fujifilm X-E1. It's a lot of fun putting classic lenses on this camera because it turns it into a manual experience, much like what I did for many years in the film era. Besides, these old lenses have more character than finely-tuned modern lenses. The Helios 44-2 is known for its swirly bokeh.
Zenit E & FED 5c
She went a step above just buying the lens. She bought a Zenit E SLR with the Helios lens attached to the front. She got me a vintage 1970's Russian SLR! I've had my eye on this particular camera for several years, but either the seller wanted too much for it or it wasn't in great shape.

The Zenit E that my wife purchased is in great shape and seems to be in perfect working condition. It's very clean and doesn't show its age much at all. Well done!
Grass In The Snow - South Weber, Utah
Captured using a Fujifilm X-E1 with a Helios 44-2 lens.
I haven't had the chance to put a roll of 35mm film into the camera yet. I plan to soon! Maybe this coming weekend. As soon as I capture some images and get the film back from the lab, I'll be sure to share the photographs here.

I did attach the lens to my X-E1 (using an adapter) and snapped a couple of pictures from my yard. It worked! I look forward to making more digital images using the old glass.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Fuzzy Line Between Inspiration & Copying

Cathedral Spires From Cook's Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
Does this remind you of an Ansel Adams photograph?
There is very little originality in art. Almost all art is derivative of someone else's work. It's nearly impossible to find art that is truly original.

Take Cathedral Spires From Cook's Meadow at the top of this article. Does it remind you of the work of perhaps the most well-known photographer ever, who captured Yosemite National Park in black-and-white from every angle and light imaginable? Ansel Adams isn't the only famous photographer to capture Yosemite in monochrome. So is my photograph inspired by those other images or is it a copy of those other images? Where is the line drawn and who decides it?

While I've seen many photographs of the Cathedral Spires in Yosemite, I've never seen one exactly like mine. That doesn't mean that such an image doesn't exist (there are tens of millions of photographs of Yosemite that I've never seen). If I believe that my image has at least some element of originality in it, is that enough to make it original?

Austin Kleon wrote a book a few years back called Steal Like An Artist. He tells the story of an art project he did involving newspapers. He thought his idea was original, but it was pointed out to him that someone else had already done this. He did some research and found out that other people had done some very similar things going back hundreds of years. His work wasn't really original, although his exact take on it was somewhat unique.

But that's not a bad thing. He discovered that we can and should take a little from different artists (things that you love about their work) and incorporate it into our own work. Pablo Picasso said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal." David Bowie, who described himself as a tasteful thief, said, "The only art I ever study is stuff I can steal from." T.S. Eliot said, "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different." Albert Einstein said, "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."

Since we are all unoriginal, what we can do is take a little from this person and a little from that person and combine the ideas of others with our own ideas. You take things that aren't new and mix them up into something that is new. In this way we create things that are somewhat unique, and aren't carbon copies (or, worse, poor copies) of others.
Preserving An Afternoon Downtown - Salt Lake City, Utah
I bring all of this up because of my new Project: Preserved series, where I photograph jars and urban/street/industrial scenes in double-exposure images. I stole from another artist who photographs jars and rural/mountain landscapes in double-exposure images. The concepts are very similar, yet are applied to completely different genres of photography. And that is not the only difference. He uses film while I use digital. He has his own techniques and vision and I have my own. The results are similar, but his project and my project are not the same.

This photographer (who I have mentioned before but won't mention here) wrote to me publicly on social media and said, "I just saw you are making a whole project of these. To be honest, I'm not very happy about that--I find it to be too similar (far above just inspired) to [my] personal ongoing project."

I've gone through a number of thoughts and emotions since I first read that. Does this person really think that his idea is original? A quick Google search revealed two other photographers who have used jars in double-exposure photography, both of which I believe predate either mine or that guy I stole from. Others may have done something similar in years past before the internet. His work is derivative. Why should he have a problem with someone deriving images based on his? What makes him think that he is the only person allowed to use double-exposure photography and jars?
Red Chairs - Cambria, California
And I've thought about it more and more. I examined some of my other photographs and tried to define the fuzzy grey line between inspiration and copying. I photographed the starry night sky after seeing someone else do it. I photographed abandoned buildings after seeing someone else do it. I photographed Yosemite after seeing someone else do it. I photographed some red chairs against a green landscape after seeing someone else do it.

I don't know if that fuzzy line can be fully defined, that's why it's fuzzy. But I think that there are some lessons and things that I need to consider and reconsider. Am I defacing the other person's idea, or am I making it into something better or at least something different? I hope the answer is that I am at least turning their idea into something different. Maybe I should try just a little harder to make it different. Perhaps I need to hide my sources just a little bit better.

I never meant to offend the photographer who I stole from. I love their idea and wanted to incorporate it into my own photography. But their idea isn't exclusively their own, and so the lesson for them is to not be so easily offended. The lesson for me is to be more careful to ensure that the ideas I steal are better or different enough that it isn't obvious that I stole them in the first place. Maybe this is an indication that I'm a good artist and not a great one. My goal is to be a great artist, and that is what I strive for.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Project: Preserved - Double Exposure Photography Using Jars

Preserved Oil - North Salt Lake, Utah
I mentioned in my last post that I was beginning a new photography series called Project: Preserved. I'm using double-exposure photography to capture images inside of jars. This post contains my first photographs in this series. 

The process is simple, yet it's not. I paint the inside of jars black, then, using a small portable studio, photograph them with a white background. Next, (using an in-camera feature on my Fuji X-E1) I make a second exposure, which shows up in the dark part of the jars. I polish the double exposure images using Alien Skin Exposure X to get finished photographs.

The idea behind Project: Preserved is to capture images that show places, people or objects for future generations to view--a preserved time-capsule of sorts. Think of old photographs that show what it was like at someplace and at sometime in the past. But I want to do this in a creative, artistic way, and not snapshots. I want to create photographs that have artistic and (with time) historical value.

In a way this is urban/industrial/street photography in jars. The photographs in this post are my very first attempts. I've learned plenty with regards to what works and what doesn't, and I have a few ideas to try. This is just the beginning, and there will be lots more photographs to come. I hope you enjoy this series as much as I love creating it!
Preserving The Library Stairs - Salt Lake City, Utah
Preserving An Afternoon Downtown - Salt Lake City, Utah
Big Lots of Preserved Trash - Salt Lake City, Utah
A Homeless Pigeon Preserved - Salt Lake City, Utah
Preserved Steam Wheel - Ogden, Utah
Child Labor Preserved - Ogden, Utah
A Conversation Preserved On 25th Street - Ogden, Utah

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Project: Preserved

Nature Preserved - South Weber, Utah
I started a new photography project called Preserved. In fact, I officially began working on it yesterday with the photograph above.

Let me give a little back story. For years I have seen historical images that have very little artistic value but are interesting because they show a location from decades ago. And I have seen images with very little historical value but are abstract and so have lots of artistic value. I wanted to find a way to merge these two types of photographs into one. I wanted to create something that could have both historic and artistic values.

That's not easy to accomplish. I wasn't really sure how I wanted to go about doing this. Then I stumbled across Christoffer Relander's Jarred & Displaced project. He uses glass jars and double-exposure photography to capture what appears to be landscapes inside of jars, "collecting memories" in a sense. I knew this was a starting point for what I want to do. My project was going to have jars (with the insides painted black) and double-exposure photography (using my Fuji X-E1) as critical elements.
Dormant Trees In A Jar - South Weber, Utah
My very first image-in-a-jar (Dormant Trees In A Jar, above), which predates Nature Preserved, was a test shot to make sure that I could actually create the kind of images that I want to make. I knew that I could, but wasn't sure about a couple of the technical aspects. I learned a few things and so I green-lighted myself to move forward with the project.

One thing that I knew I would need is a small portable studio that I could take with me in the car for capturing the jars. At first I was going to construct one myself, but then I found one online that was both cheaper and better than anything that I could have made. That portable photography studio arrived in the mail two days ago, and Nature Preserved was my first attempt using it (again, a test shot).

While I have two double-exposure images with jars, I haven't yet made one that fits my idea of something with potential historical value plus something that's artistic. This is a project that will take time. But I have what I need and I know how to do it, so it's just a matter now of getting out and doing it. Which is exactly what I intend to do.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Finding The Extraordinary Among The Ordinary

Tabasco On The Table - Salt Lake City, Utah
Captured using an LG G4 cell phone.
I think one part of a photographer's job is to find the extraordinary among the ordinary. There are things that people see every day, maybe even 10 times each day, and they fail to recognize the beauty of it or see what's interesting about it. They completely overlook it.

Whatever it is, it's mundane. It's ordinary. There is nothing special to see. People wouldn't look twice at it.

It's the photographer's job to find what is beautiful or interesting about a scene and capture it. It's the photographer's job to see the things that other people don't. You have to show them what they missed. You have to train your eyes to find the things that other people would never see unless it was pointed out to them. You have to be the one to point it out, and you do that with your camera.

Take Tabasco On The Table for example. I found a half-used bottle of hot sauce sitting on a cheap, crooked table in an office break room. It's a sight that can be found across the country in thousands of places. There is nothing special about it. But a window with half-opened blinds provided some beautiful light and shadow play. And isolating the subject from the rest of the room--removing everything that would otherwise be a distraction--draws the viewer into what's interesting about the bottle.

There is beauty all around us if we only look, and most people will not look. Photography is the best way that I know how to show others the things that they should have seen at but didn't. Finding the extraordinary among the ordinary is what photographers do.