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Rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies © Robert Sommers 2017

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Express yourself

So like what happened to you people with the photographs this year? Ten measly pictures? After last year's tour de force? What's up with that?

I don't want to call anybody out but Randy, BigDave, Shawn in Thailand, Lena, there's a lot of you folks missing this year. Throw something at the blast wall, let's see if it sticks...

You all have cell phones, you had to take at least one photograph this year. Time to share. Or not.

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Speaking of cameras, I would like to go on a little rant. I am by no means some great photographer but what my pictures lack in quality I believe is made up for in sheer volume of work.

In fact just the other day KJ mentioned to me that my photographs were a source of no small inspiration to him since I obviously had no problems showing my imperfection filled shots to the world at large without fear of censure. I paraphrase of course. What he may have said might be closer to technically crappy shots that usually say something. And I think I can live with that.

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I started taking photographs close to the time I started drawing, probably five or six. I wanted to be an artist when I was young and sketched from a very early age. My stepfather had a twin lens rollieflex and showed me the rudiments of picture taking when I was very young. I fell in love with black and white photography, and dare I say, grain, in the first or second grade. Loved Life and Look magazine, loved photography. Taped pictures to my walls.

My father was an army photographer in World War II and there were always cameras around, my dad's hobby. We always had a darkroom in the house and one of my earliest prize possessions was his old Zeiss ikon Voigtlander camera, a camera that was unfortunately later stolen from me in New York. Our developing equipment was eventually donated to the Army Navy Academy.

My father went through a lot of gear, Pentax, Topcon, Olympus, before finally settling down with his Hasseblads. When I got serious about photography again in my twenties I went through a few cheap Konica FT -2's, the camera I took to Africa. Never had a Nikon until I got old, never had expensive gear, never thought it was about the gear.



I used to paint, both commercially and for pure artistic fun. Oils and watercolors, never acrylics. Griffin taught me a couple things. When Leslie and I started in the antiques business in the nineties we sold all of the old canvases of mine that were still laying around. When I found out that I had bladder and kidney cancer in 1985 I made a decision to stay away from harmful chemicals and stopped painting completely, something I still really miss. Photography helped with the artsy jones and became an easy substitute, as did writing to some degree, although I believe it is the most difficult craft of them all. But there is nothing like slapping paint.

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Having or not having an innate sense of composition is akin to having or not having an ear for music. I don't believe that it can be really taught, only felt and those people who seek to compose and who rely on some academic or mechanical process will never be as capable as those who are at home in the bandwidth. Different things come easy for different people.

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Several friends of mine are looking for cameras right now. One is traveling to Asia and wants something light and easy, with the flash in the right place and a good grip. Basically a point and shoot. The other friend wants the latest technology and was talking to me last night about the new generation of mirrorless cameras and how they were going to revolutionize everything.

I have looked at some of these cameras and honestly feel that they would be a hideous experience for me. My Nikon D7000 is large but not overlarge. It is comfortable for me. When I take it with me, which is most of the time, it means I am ready to focus on my pursuit. I have a cellphone in my pocket for recording, but I am rarely happy with the limitations of that camera. My Nikon camera is a tool that allows me unfailingly to do what I want to do and I am sure will be sufficient for ever in accomplishing my artistic goals. Of course, I am coming up on 20k clicks, for a camera a little over a year old, I think that is a mess of shooting and it ain't gonna live forever.


I need an optical viewfinder in my camera, like the ability to cycle through my herd of lenses, like to be able to change my depth of field and speed. I don't need video, a microphone jack, or wifi, or html ports or pancake lenses or any of the other new fads. Tiny sensors. These are toy gadgets, not cameras. Personally, I would rather go back to the twin lens rollie. With the caveat that I know I am a much better digital photographer now than I ever was a film photographer.

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Photography is a fairly simple process, capturing light through a few pieces of glass for an interval of time through a prescribed opening. Whether the image that is captured is meaningful or not is of course, a personal matter. Things speak to us all quite differently. I met Shawn some time after he went to the Art Institute of Chicago. Shawn was a very talented draftsman and very creative artist but I remember a period of time where it was his point of view that what you think about my creation is inconsequential, only the process matters.

I went through a bit of this myself in college. I was working for me, and decided not to make things pretty for my art professors. This pissed them off exceedingly and I certainly didn't help myself much with my method. When I decided to show them or made the mistake of showing them what I was capable of, at least one of them was flabbergasted, Frank Jones, who even accused me of stealing another students work, thinking me incapable. This angered me for a long time.

You can paint, or draw, or shoot pictures, or sing, or cook, for your own muse or you can engage for the world. I think that I mostly follow the former path but hope that people can still dig my output.

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If I could get another camera I would buy a D7100 or its next successor. They have shed the lowpass filter and it is supposed to be what is known in the trade as tack sharp. Great camera, wonderful in low light. There is a retro craze in photography at present, even a new Nik retro analog software upload a few weeks back. Nikon has a new df retro throwback so that people can pose like they shoot 50's rangefinders. How utterly stupid and lacking in substance. Style mongers. But that's where we are at. Fancy, useless electronics or vapid style.

If I could swing it I would buy a Sigma DP2 Merrill or the SD 1, with the foveon sensor. They are cheap and remarkable, although beset with a few problems and completely tripod dependent. I think that they take the best pictures I have seen to date, in terms of color saturation and resolution. Used for less than six hundred bucks on ebay.

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We live in a remarkable world, in a remarkable time. We are the only one of our sentient brethren with our unique sense of consciousness and personal identity. And an ability to laugh, to perceive irony, to recognize the beauty of a sunset. Such a gift.

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I sat behind a middle eastern couple on the plane and thought; for all of our differences, we all have so much more in common. We mostly all have ten fingers, use a base 10 mathematical system, share a calendar and a clock. Most of our cultural taboos are fairly uniform across continents, tribes and religions. In the end we are all hip deep in the similar experience of being human.

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Express yourself. It is a wonderful part of being alive. As the Navajos say, walk in beauty.

2 comments:

Sanoguy said...

You are a good photog.... Prolific too! I always enjoy seeing your work!

Jon Harwood said...

If I am afflicted with the need to be a photographic poseur I strut about with my Nikon rangefinders as they really are 1960's film cameras with actual film in them. I can scan the film if I am feeling like being digital. Anyhow nothing does retro like an actual retro camera.