Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hey Sugar . . Take A Walk On The Mild Side

Firstly can I say a big thank you to ALL readers whether human or robotic - like Bruce's Online Darkroom plateau of ONE MILLION PAGE HITS, so too have I hit somewhat of a landmark.
It's been hard at times writing FB - this computer is creaking at the seams and I am in definite need of an upgrade . . which might possibly happen this year - watch this space . . .
Anyway, gone are the early days where I bared my all and talked long and slow about everything that concerned me - FB has since turned into an occasional where I get to expound on all sorts of schiite (albeit mostly photographic schiite) for you my lovely readers . . .
When I were but a lad, new to t'game, just typing "Fogblog" into Google got you several pages of blogs about weather, birds, fog and Cartesian Dualism and all sorts.
I was on about Page 3 of Google results which was a little disheartening to a young whipper-snapper to say t'least . . . caps were dragged off heads and wrung dry, clogs were chucked at t'monitors and a right ol' palaver went on with the gnashing of teeth and the wailing of women
However now?
Well go on . .click on this link here
OH YES, Number 1 in the charts, which to me is a sort of little victory as I have always been a bit of a Number Two in a lot of people's eyes! 
So, much happiness, and much gratitititititude is being sent out to yourselves - thank you.

Well, you've dotted the T's and crossed the I's . . (or something like that) on another year of Christmas excess - you've split your trousers, burst your shirt, beaten your Granny, drunk your cabinet dry and generally behaved so hedonistically that you're now sat in your chair in your pants like one of 2000AD's Mega City Fatties (oh how prescient that cartoon truly was) . . .

 . . . well, not quite maybe, but in truth even though I only had one helping of Christmas lunch and one-and-a-half of pudding, I still feel like he looks . . . . eating to excess is I often think really bad for your soul. You enjoy it, but end up feeling so crap that you wish you hadn't.

Anyway, the title of this Blog is a stupid interpretation of what good mate Bruce said that he liked about my colour stuff - apparently it is subtle.
That pleases me - garishness is something I try and totally avoid - subtlety in colour reached a zenith and has since sort of dropped away - my ideal of colour is entirely down to the Kodachrome/Ektachrome look of the 1960's and 70's.
That is my idea of colour.
This is a slide of my father-in-law (in Durham) circa 1972 - the colour is wonderfully understated and naturalistic.

And here's an even earlier one from the late 1960's.

Youch - that's a sharp as a knife isn't it!
It was taken with an Agfa Sillette- a zone-focus camera with a wonderful lens. 
They're both Kodachrome Transparencies, processed by Kodak.
Those wonderful old cardboard mounts have the date printed on them too, just to keep you right on your memories! So for the former it's July 1972 and the latter is April 1969.
I find it truly remarkable that these slides (OK they have been carefully looked after and stored properly) still display a naturalistic colour that is all but missing from today's photography. I guess there's a program to replicate the look out there, but it couldn't replicate the patina on the cardboard mount or the date or the signs of careful handling over the passing decades . . 
Oh how much we have lost.

Anyway, that look and the inspirational work of Ernst Haas, and to an extent Elliott Porter and Stephen Shore are what drive my colour aspirations . . . that and just general Sheephousian Weirdness.
Subtle is what Bruce said.
See what you think.

There's nothing trick about these - they're JPGs straight outta the camera.
Canon AWB was on.
EI's were 200 and 800 and most everything was manual. I underexposed by a half to one stop on most of them, just so everything wasn't Auto 'Dayglo' Exposure . . you know the sort of thing, where everything is correct and nothing looks right!
And that's about it - camera was the EOS 50D and the lens was the 40mm Canon prime pancake.
I like what it is doing, in fact it is this naturalness of colour and slightly muted feel that drew me to a Canon DSLR in the first place.
Now all I need to do is get the bloody things printed!

Well, that's enough o' me guff - you've got to get yourself ready for the intense binge-athon that is Hogmanay . . .oh yes, no matter where you are reading! (Gawd I can still taste Highland Park whisky, 3 years after a Hogmanay wheat beer and three [LARGE] triples excess).
Hoots mon - see you on the other side.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Season's Greetings (But Why Is It That ALMOST Everything Chinese Made Breaks?)

Greetings playmates - we've made it through another year and onwards to the next one - I wish you all the best for the Seasons and also all the best for a rooty-toot New Year!

Now, a thorny problem - well I don't know if you've noticed but it is a global world we live in - yer large corporations (and yes camera companies, that means you too) are now far more concerned with shifting large units of something which is effectively the same thing as you have in your kitchen - in retail terms "white goods".
You know, the numbers game - X-number of boxes containing X-number of Consumer Products. All manufactured in lovely clean factories (mostly) in China.
The relentless march of new model X versus new model Y; cameras out of date whilst still languishing on retailer's shelves.
You know the sort of thing.
It's called modern commerce.

It pisses me off actually.
I mean, I look at my Leica M2 or my Rollei T or the Nikon Fs, or the Hasselblad or Wista or Sinar and think, Mein Gott - they REALLY don't make them like that anymore - these were mostly assembled by hand by a highly skilled craft force the likes of which you'll never see again.
I'm not denying that China (et al) doesn't have a highly skilled craft force - of course it does, but the problem comes from the oft-vanishing bottom line.
It isn't all cheap Far East though - you do get cameras manufactured in Europe (and America and Japan) - please stand up all you lovely tiny (and that includes Leica) camera manufacturers - now, no looking around the room, but lets say you could probably hold your Christmas party in a cupboard whilst outside on the street there's a multi-float parade going on from the Big Four. But that's the way the cookie has crumbled.
I do wonder how long the smaller manufacturers (and even the big ones) can keep going against the relentless onslaught of the phone though - yes certainly there's a small army of concerned photographers who will want a new Alpa (and I count myself amongst them) but really - could you honestly afford one?
So how on earth do they continue to stay in business, when they can only be selling a tiny amount of new cameras every year?
There's a problem you see - the world is awash with old cameras and people continue to buy them. And if, like me, you love using old cameras, you must surely realise that what you are using was actually a pinnacle of mechanical engineering wrought tiny.
(Well, I'll add a caveat to that, they're MOSTLY that - obviously there were a lot of cheap cameras and they haven't really survived that well, but then again, even the humble, very very 'umble, Olympus Trip, is a damn fine ingenious and reliable piece of equipment. It goes wrong some times, but if you're handy with a screwdriver and feel a bit brave then it is fixable. So try doing that with your Panasonic Lumix or Samsung or Sony whatever, or Canon or Nikon - are these modern cameras fixable? - possibly, but tbh unless you like the idea of being a brain surgeon and rocket scientist at the same time I would say chuck it in the bin and buy another!)
But would you consider doing that with your M3, or your Standard Rolleiflex from the 30's? Would you feck - you'd get the little beauty repaired because not only is it a damn fine piece of engineering, it has a soul.
Like that bag of old soft toys you've still got tucked away a real soul. (I confess I have my 55 year old teddy bear (called Tedson) at home and whilst I don't cuddle him every night, I know where he is and sometimes go and say hello, because he has a soul, albeit imagined by me).
Call it Zen, call it Craftsmanship, whatever, but a lot of old cameras have souls - they're imbued with the hopes and dreams of great images by their previous owners.
My Rollei and Minolta Autocord are very elderly gentlemen who have had hard lives but still like a wander down to the shops with their flies open.
My Nikons are also reasonably elderly chaps who took up running years back and are still doing it.
My M2 is a retired watchmaker who has looked after himself and knows how to stay healthy.
The Wista and Sinar the same.
The Hasselblad is a newly retired surgeon, enjoying a more relaxed life.
You see - SOUL!
The Canon EOS 50D - whilst it's a VERY GOOD digital camera (same with the wee Lumix) has nothing there at all - they're effective machines produced in immense quantities, but they have little to make you feel affection for them.

OK, so you're wondering what the hell I am on - machines with soul?
Can it be possible?
Well only if you're seriously deranged like me, but for the rest of you, they probably just come down to reliable and unreliable.
And I can understand that POV, but you see folks because of globalisation we have a massive worldwide problem - profit versus build.
Y'see in a bid to maximise profits from all you young dogs hungry for the next gadget, albeit phone, camera, whatever, build quality seems to have gone to shit.
Though (truth be told) I haven't been on the end of an unreliable 'modern' camera, a number of 'consumer' items I have bought recently have been defective.
Samsung laptop? Screen gone to shit in 2 years!
GE flourescent tubes - supposed lifespan 15 years? 2 years and they failed.
The worst though is my ongoing tale of woe trying to find that most basic of artefacts - the electric kettle. There's not a single one for sale in the UK that isn't made in China - big names and small names - the whole lot, from Dualit, Kitchenaid and Smeg, down to the lowly Tesco Value - everything in between - fine upstanding names of post-War manufacturing -  Bosch, AEG, Philips, DeLonghi, Breville - you name them and they ALL outsource to Chinese manufacture, and the crazy thing is, the massive price differences for, what is essentially the same thing and no doubt the same innards (roughly) made in the same factories. After my 3 year old Chinese Breville kettle started delivering chunks of metal from its supposed "stainless steel" interior (in reality - stainless coated steel) into my morning tea, I started hunting.
It involved the world's most boring man activity of heading to my local retailers and lifting every kettle and looking at the labelling:
Made In China
Made In PRC
All essentially the same thing.
I wanted something European, but no luck.
So I gave in and bought a Bosch - 15 boils in and the thing still tasted overwhelmingly of plastic . . . 16 boils in and the lid failed. It went back for a refund.
Next up Lakeland. I've had a few Lakeland things over the years and they have all been decent. This was Made In PRC and ROHS Compliant - all very impressive. The kettle took about 5 boils to stop tasting of 'stuff' - fine, thanks goodness I thought, and came down on the Monday morning to a worktop covered in water from a leaking kettle.
So that went back.
We then thought feck it, I did more kettle lifting and read more pages on kettle consumer reviews than anyone would want to do in a lifetime and ended up with a DeLonghi. It too is Made In China, but I am hoping that the massively inflated price for 'design' equates to higher QC.
You see QC (Quality Control) is, I think the one differentiating thing in Chinese goods - that and materials.
My brother has this fantastic joke:

"Did you hear about that fabulous new metal alloy the Chinese are using these days? Shit-ite!"

It's a cracker isn't it, but oh so true.

Several years ago I needed a crowbar - so I went to B&Q and surveyed the goods they had for sale - the once proud name of JCB had a range, I thought they sounded tough so I checked them out . . .
Not a single one was the same.
They all had a flex too them that was not appropriate for something required to be strong - in other words they were shite.
I looked at the labelling - Made in China - there was no QC, just a cheap piece of junk metal for bargain-hunting DIYers.
So I went elsewhere and bought a European made Gorilla bar - it was tough and did the job required, and it's still one of the most solid things I have ever used.

It's true though - in the hunger for ever-cheaper goods, that we, the money-wielding West are driving, quality of materials heads right out the window and in comes the shit.
And a huge amount is just that - SHIT.
And more fool you for buying it - and that includes me.
But you see it has taken a while to dawn, but I am now trying to take a stand - albeit a seemingly lone voice in a wilderness of consumerism.
If I can, I try to buy European or Japanese or American or even Vietnamese made.
If I can't I will seriously rethink about whether I actually need it - it's that bad.
Sadly it is unavoidable that you simply have to buy Chinese, but if you can, please try and look at where things are made.

You would think from this that I was against everything Chinese, but thankfully thanks to an Orient-loving Aunt that is far from the case.
I love my early 18th Century Chinese sword, and some of the marvellous export porcelain I got when my Aunt died.
I love my local Chinese supermarket because it is fun and weird and the food is superb.
I love the history of China, the resourcefullness and hardship and the transcendence of the human spirit, the uncanny ability to forge things.
The West owes China more than it can ever imagine from metalwork to paper to fireworks to tea, but sadly that is often forgotten.
China wants to be loved again, but what I hate is that we in the West are capitalising on that innate Chinese willingness to please, for any price.
We're guilty as hell in demanding of them a quick fix for our product-hungry society.
Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

It's our fault a lot of shoddy goods come out of China, and yet and yet, isn't that pinnacle of craft and skill, Japanese sword and knife-making, based entirely upon innovation from Chinese techniques and knowledge?
Thankfully there are some superbly made Chinese goods - truly fantastic quality using decent materials - but sadly they do seem to be few and far between.

So as you can see, it isn't all anti-Chinese workmanship around my way, I appreciate their abilities as a nation, but when you hear the cry from my kitchen "This Fecking toaster CANNOT TOAST!" you'll know that another Western profit-before-quality white good has hit the fan!

Anyway, that's enough away from photography.
Here's something made on American film (Kodak), processed with British chemicals (Ilford and Fotospeed) printed on British paper (Grade 2 Ilford Galerie), also processed with British and French chemicals (Ilford, Fotospeed and Kodak) taken with  a German lens (1966-ish Schneider 90mm non-Angulon) on a Japanese camera (Wista DX) with a Japanese film holder (Toyo).
Oh, and the light was all Scottish (Dundee, under the lead-in part for the Tay Rail Bridge).

Just as a little adjunct to this - I know I have railed against Photoshop all my photographic life, but the adjustments to the final presentation of this print were done using that free version of CS2 that is out there, and you know what I was delighted with the ability to fine-tune the truly terrible auto-scan exposure I get from the cheap Epson scanner into something that looks more akin to what I have hanging on my wall.
It was surprisingly easy to get it looking right.

Anyway folks - that's it for the noo.
The Season is upon us, so before you force yourself to eat Mince Pie # 675 I will bid you a fond farewell.
thank you for reading this year and I'll set-to in the New Year with a more determined outlook - honest - refurbing those windows lost me a vast amount of light!
Be good, take care and until the next time, watch out for the normal people.