Thursday, April 16, 2015

Leica Fanboy

Bold and italic and even bold italic alert

OK - I think I have probably held back long enough on this one, but it doesn't seem to be getting any better, so here goes.

Like a raw open wound, the art and hobby of photography has long been both a rich man's sport and something filled to the brim with disappointment. Really. You don't believe me? Well off you pop and have a word with yourself in that cupboard and then come back to me.
Is that better? Good.
Really, it is dead sad.
You know, when you look around you, our hobby/passion is littered with the broken dreams of:
"If only I had a such-and-such" 
and
"Oh for a Super f0.2! It would make my life so much easier" 
and
"I really want one of them . . . blah blah uses one, and I know they cost a lot of money, but if I get one of those I will take great pictures".
Does this sound familiar?
Thought so. The obsession with getting 'the best' in order to make your vision better is all too common, and a lot of the time, it doesn't even have to do with that. 
Obsessed with bragging rights a lot of photographers literally have to be seen to be carrying 'the thing', the latest and greatest, and sadly, in the case of Leitz, oldest, greatest/greatest, greatest camera and lens combo they can buy.
After all it's Leica, isn't it legendary?
Well yeah, natch, goes without saying! And the thinking seems to be that surely if you use it, some of the legend will rub off on you and you too can become a legend. Seriously - you are using a legend - ergo you are automatically a legend yourself - ergo your images are simply brilliant
Thus are Fanboys made. Like some weird form of possession, they come to eat, sleep, breath and just plain live for the marque to the point of total obsession. After all when God calls, would you want to be found wanting?
And from this come the reviews (done that myself), details, back-patting, testing, blogging, testing again and again and again.
Man, I thought I could be obsessive, but there's some real fruit-loops out there. You can find them under any picture sharing stone.
You know, there's another expression I heard recently: "All the gear, no idea".
Hmm, dontcha think it pretty much sums things up?
Really, when it comes down to it, isn't photography ALL ABOUT self expression and making your mark in the annals?
Isn't the camera JUST a means to an end to stop a moment in time?
Well I thought so, but looking around it often doesn't seem like that. 
I know I've mentioned this before, but it is like that stupid thing on Top Gear - the Cool Wall - I won't explain it as you've no doubt seen it, but basically it was a bunch of wee lads peeing up against a wall, except it was about cars - who can get the highest (fastest); who can splatter the most (biggest engine): who can miss dribbling on his shoes (bodywork) . . . you know . . . the sort of thing you thought you left behind when you were seven.
What we are seeing in photography at the moment amounts to the same thing - nothing to do with photography at all, just endless testing and re-testing, endless droning about bokeh and sharpness and just plain boring boring boring images being posted left right and centre.
I don't know about you, but it sucks the life out of my eyes, because it seems like the more money you have to spend on gear, the (mostly) more boring images the zombie photographer inside you is forcing you to take.
Goodness knows, some dullness is acceptable - it is part and parcel of the nature of the beast - but man does it get rammed down your throat, when in reality it should just have been kept under wraps. 
I suppose the ease of creating images these days has part to do with that too . . . tis a piece of cake to scan a bit of film and then show those results to the world, or upload some images to wherever, but I ask you this:
If you had a darkroom, would you truly have bothered to print them? 
Hmmmm - thought not.
It's this casual blaséness of snapping away and then parading the umpteenth picture of a pile of leaves that gets me.
Who cares?
Who's interested?
Not me.

 ***

Don't get me wrong, I love photography and I love photographing. I love seeing other people's GOOD photographs and for myself, I love seeing compositions in a viewfinder and wondering how it will look as a print or on screen, and I feel a real hunger to keep on doing that - to try and make something that is my own unique take on the world, and to maybe make people go "Gosh!"
I also love the gear - it can be seriously beautiful and is often a pinnacle of mechanical genius, and when I look around my small photographic world I see some people who are in love with photography too. They love all the things I love, and do all the things I do, but they are doing so in a relatively humble way. They're not testing or posting pictures of nothing, they are photographing their world.
I've a Sheephousian confession to make . . . I go to meetings. Wonderful, chatty, joyous affairs with maniacs like myself, all ex-Scottish Photographers. SP by the way (the original lot, not the Facebook group, or the new bunch with a website going under the same name), wasn't a camera club or anything of that ilk - it was and is a serious and utterly dedicated bunch of people who live to photograph. I can't put it in any better way.
These people exhibit, teach, create and generally pass on the baton.
Dedication is the thing.
It is really quite something.
Were I to draw a parallel, I would say it was almost like The Linked Ring, except we aren't really breaking any new ground, and we definitely aren't all moustachioed and done up to the nines in proper removable collars and brilliantine.
Nope, the one defining thing is hunger.
Even with a lifetime of photographing behind them, the need to make images and produce work is all there is. Take for instance Peter and Aase Goldsmith, a couple who have photographed their whole lives through and still in their older years are producing essays and books, prints and presentations. They live photography. Truly. Every time I meet them, there's new projects . . . whether it be a selection of prints made with their newly acquired Holga Panoramic cameras, through to wonderful handmade books, spiral bound, with pencil marks and hand annotation detailing something that was so important in their lives that they had to photograph it. One particular book was made with a knackered Leica III and a knackered Jupiter 35mm lens and it looked like nothing I had ever seen - it was exciting and beautiful and totally individualistic.
Isn't that surely the nature of photography?
To stop that 1/125th of second and permanentise it?
To say to others:
"Look at this. What do you make of that? Isn't that just an extraordinary and exciting and thrilling thing?"
To further stretch this already stretched point, last week I met Malcolm Thompson on the bus.
Malcolm is another person who has dedicated his whole life to photography, from photographing for a living through to running Studio M (a print and process studio) through to exhibiting regularly, through to teaching the craft of photography and printing at the DCA through to print sessions at same.
Dedication is the thing, because he still lives and breathes it, despite now living with Parkinson's Disease, and rather than focus on that (as most folks would) he sadly recounted that he had just sold his 5x4 as it was just taking too much out of him, and that he felt that was a real shame, but he still was in love with his Rollei SL66 and would continue using that, and that he was finding FP4 ridiculously expensive but had recently started experimenting with Fomapan. In other words, though Parkinson's is a terrible disease and is robbing Malcolm of his physicality, his photographic flame still burns as bright as anything I have ever seen.

***

I know that was a wee meander, but it is to draw a point.
Dedication, craft and a love of producing good images; a willingness to try the new, and retrench in the old if necessary, but above all the hunger to photograph the world, to inform, to present to others that which you find interesting surely has to be your whole raison d'être as a photographer.
Surely Shirley.
SHIRLEY?
Well, were I being naive I would say that is the case, however we move in strange times, and much as the same way my old hobby and love of guitar playing has been taken over by a billion marauding hordes with squidoons of cash to spend and not a clue what to do with the fucking instrument except post 'unboxing' videos on YouTube, the world of photography is sort of suffering the same fate.
Go on . . . I dare you.
YouTube.
Type 'Unboxing' and then your favourite camera.
Or the cracker . . the shutter/mirror movement/penny test.
Well?
Sad isn't it (I seem to be typing that a lot recently).
OK, I am ranting a bit now (what's new?) but I see people spending really considerable amounts of money on cameras and lenses and then going out and photographing the likes of this:





Or this:



Wait a minute, and as they used to say - Ayeee, carumba!
In the words of Aimee Mann:
"What a waste of gunpowder and sky"
Because those two 'photographs' were made with the same lens that made this:






Does that look familiar? 
Of course it does - its my old mate Ralph Gibson and the Leitz Dual Range 50mm Summicron - one of the greatest lenses ever made. A lens designed to make photographs and art and stunning images, now slapped on a digi-body and relegated to the new gladiatorial arena of 'testing'.
Look, just to over-egg the pudding, here's some stuff made with the lens that made Leitz famous - the 50mm f3.5 Elmar (obviously shoved on a digi-cam because they've cropped the proportions all wrong):





And this:





And then . . . there's this one:






Familiar?
Yep - it's me old mate HCB, and what a photograph!
It has everything in spades; tone, light, composition, timing - it is the utter antithesis of the two 'photos' above it. No lens testing here, just good ol' HCB, wandering around, waiting, waiting, then, making the likes of the above.
You see, that history is part of the problem (if you want to call it one) with the Leica -  sadly its caché and all the baggage it brings with it is so huge and almost archetypal that it is hard to get beyond it.
As a marque it has been responsible for some of the finest, most memorable, exquisite, exciting, beautiful, thoughtful and downright entertaining images EVER made, however every year I see less and less of them and more of the inane, banal, dull, bland, totally-lacking-in-vision 'testing testing 1, 2, 3' type.
When you think of what the system is capable, I think it is a fucking waste.
As an antithesis to the 'testing' pics above, look at this image made by Rax from Iceland:





I don't really need to say anything do I? It is right up there in the Leitz pantheon.
Ragnar (Rax) has a superb eye and is an all-round nice bloke to boot and if you like the above, it can be found in his superb book Faces Of The North, but the thing is, rather than standing around looking for the 'where's the leaves? testing-testing-testing' sort of image, he goes out and makes photographs. Ones you would want to hang on your wall or travel miles to see in an exhibition, and though he uses Leica I don't think he is too hung up on it - it is a tool to realise his vision, not an effet accessory.

***

Y'see (allied to the historic importance of the marque) is the Leica's perceived other-worldy qualities. There, I've said it, been there, done the worship thing, come out the other side, still in love but more aware.
There seems to be a perception that some of the magic will rub off on the user, and they'll be able to have some sort of prescient, all-seeing, magical vision bestowed upon them by the Gods of Light and Timing. That simply because Leitz lenses just 'are', anyone using one will automatically be inducted into the Leitz Hall of Fame.
In other words, simply by the act of owning a Summilux or a Summicron, YOU WILL BE GREAT.
Full stop.
No work required.
So the mania creeps in - testing central websites (you know who you are and you should be ashamed really for toting such shite where the object becomes more important than the end result); the need for the most expensive Leica objet d'art you can afford (or not). And then the hunting for subject matter (when there are photographs everywhere) and rather than training their eyes to see something that might make a decent photograph, they just go and snap at any olde shite . . . but remember . . .

It's got the glow! 
It's got the bokeh!! 
My 'Lux took this picture of some leaves by the light of one candle!!!

You know what I mean.
I do despair actually.
A photographer will do his or her best to make the most of what is available.
Granted it is wonderful to own some beautiful tools too . . . I am as bad as anyone from that point of view - my M2/Elmars/Canon set-up is a joy to me (and I've recently had the pleasure of geeing up confirmed SLR user Bruce at The Online Darkroom into enjoying using a rangefinder, and he's enjoying it because he is a photographer) but I spent my formative photographic years operating an Olympus OM10 with the standard Zuiko 50mm f1.8 (total cost in 1980, £99 . . .) and some ancient Pentax glass married with a college K1000 . . . so I was making the most of what I had available.
But more importantly, I was training myself to see.
I don't think I have got there yet, but I keep trying, and that is the thing.
Simply by acquiring something as lovely as say an M2 and a suitable lens do not a good photographer, or even a decent Leica practitioner make.
Maybe if someone had handed me a M6 and a Summilux back in day I would have gone off snapping away at uninspiring drivel too, but they didn't and that didn't happen; my hunger to produce better images than I had the week before was what kept me going, not the need to grab the best stuff I could (n't) afford.
I wanted to take photographs and I still do - that hunger still drives me, and I'll use any of my cameras to do it, but at the end of the day, I have to take photographs I am happy with, otherwise what's the point?


***

Deary me Sheephouse, you've really gone off on one haven't you?
Well yes, and far be it from me to tell you how to enjoy your hobby - after all, you have to want to aspire to something don't you - I just felt that standing back and having a look at how things are and then saying it how I see it, might put a different spin on things for people.
For my own aspirations, a DR Summicron, a nice Hasselblad and a decent Rollei are hardly cheap and cheerful acquisitions, but life is short and I feel they'll further my vision. This being said they aren't the be-all and end-all - they're fine tools for executing what I can imagine myself taking - but I can just as easily imagine myself getting good results from Ye Olde Knackered Minolta Autocord and one of my Nikon Fs.
I do know one thing though - THE IMAGE IS ALL - it is the only thing that counts.

***

Anyway, enough of me olde manne guffe - you'll see below a couple of examples of me learning my way around a lovely old gentleman.
Steady at the back . . . stop that tittering.
He's a 1934 uncoated 50mm f3.5 Elmar that I bought from Peter Loy for a very reasonable price. The history of the lens is what got me - imagine what it has seen! However it is not a lens for the faint-hearted, as I learned quickly.
You need to up the oomph.
What helped initially was the acquisition of a lovely, mint, boxed, FISON lens hood from the lovely people at Red Dot Cameras, and then the oomph was further  . . er . . oomphed by a new development regime.
Flat, low-contrast negatives are the order of the (normal) day on an uncoated Elmar . . however rate a 400 film at around EI 200 and give about 10 to 15% extra development time and you'll get some gutsy negatives that will transform it.
It still has the glow, but it also has some other character which I can't quite pin down. I love it actually. As with all Elmars I really do think they were optimised as 'People Lenses' - that is my own expression, because they tend to work best in the 4 to 12 feet range, in other words the sort of distances you'd be using to photograph people.
So there y'go, have a butchers at the photos below - they do illustrate one thing. And it's an important thing - even learning to use a new lens doesn't mean you have to take pictures of piles of leaves or monitors or dashboards or the first thing you turn your camera on - you can try and make interesting images.
Just use your head, your heart, your eyes and go out and take some fucking photographs!

Well that's crude-boy me talking . . I think it is probably more eloquently expressed by a true master - Wynn Bullock:

"The medium of photography can record not only what the eyes see, but that which the mind's eye sees as well. The camera is not only an extension of the eye, but of the brain. It can see sharper, farther, nearer, slower, faster than the eye. It can see by invisible light. It can see in the past, present, and future. Instead of using the camera only to reproduce objects, I wanted to use it to make what is invisible to the eye, visible."


Testing, Testing, 1-2-3.



Testing, Testing, 1-2-3-4

TTFN - over and out and remember that the yellow pills make your tummy feel awfully wobbly.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Good, The Mad And The Ugly 1.2

Morning folks - well the madness continues . . . if you read the last one, you'll know the story . . . if you haven't, best catch up here.
Anyway rather than bore you with acres of meaningless rambling, I went with the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words . . so you've got 16,000 words ahead of you . . good luck!
Oh, and I apologise in advance about the picture spacing . . . strangely for such a wonderful tool, Blogger is total shit at handling pictures and text together - it's a well-known problem. 
So, do like I do: put on your best Yorkshire accent and keep muttering: 
"Chuffin' bloody technological bloody marvels . . "



Once rinkling, tinkling burns turn into raging slippery torrents, courtesy of the melting snow.
Deeper than you think, you wouldn't want to fall into one.
  
I have often just stepped over this one. I couldn't jump it this time though - the bank on the far side is pretty soft.
Slip, crash, smash . . . . goodbye camera.


At last - something I could cross.
New pair of Altberg Defender boots get a good work out - they passed with flying colours.


The snowy-mist just wasn't having any of it.


Every time I take a picture, my Mother stares back at me . . . not that she had a beard or anything.
What you see on my head is God's gift to Winter headwear - the Lowe Alpine Mountain Cap - it's Goretex, warm, covers my elephant's ears and keeps my head well dry.
My Buffalo Special 6 shirt (star of several FB's) was wet through, however still remained warm.
Just about sums up the day so far.
The small ridge you see just to the right of centre, is up by Davey's hut on Jock's Road. It doesn't look that high, but in the words of Father Ted:
"This one is near . . . that one is far away. Near . . . Far Away."
You can't tell from this pic, but my rucksack was steaming in the sun - it had got very wet


I count the blessings of Mother Nature.
Resting besides a small river is a true heart's ease. I could have spent all day here, lazing in the sun . . . but there were photographs to be taken!
 
Hello Mum!
The look on my face says it all. I was steaming too, though not in the accepted Scots fashion . . . however had someone passed me a bottle of Woods Old Navy Rum, I would gladly have obliged them.







video

This gives you an idea of the sound!  
Sheer heaven
You can tell there's a lot of water moving along though by the sound. Outwith spate, river's tend to have an upper, higher-pitched tone. The bass aspect of this is indicative of thousands of gallons of water passing each and every minute.
I'll take this little break in the pics to say how fortunate I am to live not that far away from such beauty . . . of course, for me, it would be better to live in the thick of it, however it would make commuting a tad difficult . . how the feck did I end up in retail in a city?
Right, back on with t'shite . . .

 
The power of our Mother.
Dense clouds of fine water droplets were thrusting into the air and being illuminated by the bright sun - it was quite something.
My inner caveman stood in awe.
Unfortunately the photo doesn't convey just how much water was passing by - it was lots, and rapid too.
Yes I know . . . the centre column shouldn't be raised (slapped wrists) however the Gitzo reporter is pretty sturdy and it doesn't seem to have any detriment.
And anyway, I couldn't get the legs in a position where they wouldn't be in shot, hence the jaunty angles.
Same again please.


'E's big, 'airy and 'orrible and I be feared of him.
Passing Yeti decides to take a snap.
© Shite Sheephousian Shelfie

Ah  yes, the Craghoppers Microfleece Darkcloth!
You can often find them for about £6 in their sales. It works well - very breathable, doesn't cling too much, keeps out a decent amount of light. Has a zip neck so you can get it tight 'round the rear standard, and being a fleece, seems to eliminate some of the 'Darkcloth breath' condensation problem.
Packing up to go



And the weather just glowered in again.
As I was driving off from the car park, a massive snow storm blasted in.
What a day!































And I am going to call it a day there - the films are processed, but I have hit a time-related problem in being able to show you real prints, so I shall endevour to do that in the next one. 
The one thing I haven't mentioned, is that, rather than the usual 'set the camera up, compose, take photograph, take camera down, move on' . . regime (approx. 20 minutes taken each time) I decided to park my rucksack in one spot, set up camera, get dark slides into Lowe Alpine Fjell bum bag (very handy) and just wander up and down and enjoy this small section of riverbank - it made a hell of a lot of difference.
But more of that later - so, until the next time, take care and remember to start heading to the bathroom before you get the collywobbles.