I spent a day in Paris last week, basically just passing through. It was a warm autumn day and people were enjoying it. Fashion was ever present, in fashion shoots or in fashionable people lounging about. I had a good time photographing people, some candidly, some with their consent.
I also visited the excellent and comprehensive exhibition with the works of Irving Penn at the Grand Palais. It features the most significant photos from his long and distinguished career, from the Vogue cover shots to the more intimate celebrity portraits of his later days, also showcasing the series he made on craftspeople and other regular folks around the world. Highly recommended.
I should start by saying that I’m not a big fan of Helmut Newton’s nudes – for me there is something unsettling about the sensationalist, voyeuristic way in which Newton stages his (all female) models. Having said that, I was happy to see the Helmut Newton Foundation here in Berlin host the works of Mario Testino, a friend of Helmut Newton’s, who approaches nude photography in a totally different manner – but more on that later; first a word on the exhibition itself.
The show is entitled Undressed, and its set-up has been created specifically for this site. The photos have been blown up larger than life and glued directly on the walls, almost covering every inch of wall space available. So basically one wanders through a maze of nude figures. The effect is mesmerising, and a game changer: you’re not peering (peeping?) at details in tiny to poster-sized images, instead the images and their content are right in your face. Quite a bold step for an installation of nudes which literally hide nothing.
Now back to Pestino’s work itself. The show is billed as examining the boundaries between fashion, eroticism and art. The fashion part itself is almost non-existant. Instead, the photos represent models (both famous and unknown) in both formal and informal settings. Some are staged (and look that way), while others (and for me the best) have a candid vibe about them. There is a playfulness about the images and the way that the models are presented which makes the nudity seem casual, almost irrelevant – in other words, lacking the voyeuristic aspect of Newton’s nudes. Testino also features models across the gender spectrum: female, male, and androgynous. While some images highlight the maleness or femaleness of the respective models, this is put into perspective by juxtaposition to those images which mix up and question the gender norms.
Undressed is on until November 2017. It is accompanied by a publication of the same name by the renowned Taschen publisher.
On a side note, the museum currently also features a temporary exhibition of Helmut Newton photos (apart from the permanent exhibition), entitled ‘Unseen’, most of which stem from portrait and fashion shootings which Newton undertook for various publications. This show I also enjoyed a lot.
I have worked with Fujifilm’s X-T10 camera for the past year and a half, and loved it as its unobtrusive size and shape is exactly what I was looking for my street photography, while the choice of available Fujinon lenses provides the versatility to undertake other kinds of photography, namely portrait and urban/architecture. A couple of weeks ago I decided to upgrade to Fujifilm’s new X-T20 camera, mostly for three reasons: the greater resolution, the new black and white Acros film simulation and the touch-screen.
I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to try the camera, but I did take it for a couple of test runs around Berlin and asked a few friends to pose. The new camera does not disappoint, on the contrary. Everything I loved about the X-T10 is still there, of course: the retro look and feel, the small size and weight, the handy dials, the colour rendering and the overall image quality, and the simplicity of the menu.
These are the major points which I noticed:
I would argue that the new sensor and the resolution increase alone are worth the price. The photos look incredibly sharp.
The Acros film simulation isn’t new, Fujifilm premiered it last year with its Pro X-Series models. Users of those models have been raving about it, and I can see why: it is very film-like and convincing, and does indeed produce great results.
Not so convincing: the touch-screen. Nice for flipping through the camera roll, not so nice if like me you prefer to use the viewfinder to shoot: I found myself changing the focus point with, literally, the tip of my nose when looking through the view finder. I subsequently turned the feature of for shooting. Also, for some reason, the touch-screen lets you focus everywhere except in the centre of the image. Missing is the ability to use touch to scroll through the menus.
Nice improvements to the camera’s user expencience: a new customisable menu, the removal of the video button (replaced by a programmable function button), touch-screen functionality to flip through the camera roll and to zoom in and out.
One item I regret: on the X-T10, eye detection could be turned on and off by simply pressing a function button. The X-T20 offers more options for eye detection, and thus one needs to scroll through a sub-menu in order to change the settings, which takes more time.
Not tested: the camera offers an array of options for auto-focus of subjects in motion. I have not had a chance to test this yet. The same goes for pixel mapping as well as the enhanced video capabilities.
In summary, I’m quite happy to have made the upgrade and I can’t wait to take the camera for more test runs.
Steve McCurry and his photoshopped images have been the talk of the ‘net lately, ever since more and more photos surfaced which the famed photographer (or his overzealous assistants?) gave a make-over, sometimes subtle, sometimes not.
With this article I don’t want to weigh in on the moral rights and wrongs of doing these kind of photo manipulations, but instead I want to examine the (probable) reasoning he/they had for doing so: the quest for perfection. McCurry, or whoever did the alterations, was following one of the tenants of Street Photography 101: Avoid Clutter in the Background.
This tenant, which can be read in any article or manual on street photography, is common sense, of course: a cluttered background distracts from the main subject and thus reduces the impact of the image. There is nothing worse than something like a trash can, other people, or horror of horrors, a shiny car, poking out behind the person(s) on whom the focus is. Clutter does get in the way of creating a perfect photo.
While in Oslo I visited the “Mapplethorpe + Munch” exhibition being held in Oslo’s Munch Museum. The show juxtaposes photos by the American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and artwork by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch.
When I read about the exhibition, I was skeptical if the concept would work. After all, Munch was an expressionist painter working with bright colours and lights, while Mapplethorpe worked in black and white, subtle lighting and formal arrangements, no matter the subject matter. Plus, a century separates the lives of the two artists, a century of shifting moral values and understanding of human sexuality.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that, indeed, the concept worked very well. While at times Munch’s bright paintings did jar with Mapplethorpe’s somber photos, other art work by Munch (the drawings, printings and the woodcuts) did instead complement the photos. Thematically, there were a lot more similarities than might be obvious. Both artists covered a range of the same topics: self portraiture, an exploration of the nude figure (both male and female), desire (more explicit in Mapplethorpe, but quite present in Munch as well). They both made a living by capturing portraits of famous people, and towards the end of their lives reflected on bodily decay and death.
C/O Berlin is currently hosting a photo exhibition: Eyes Wide Open – 100 years of Leica photography. This extensive, and impressive, show which features hundreds of photographs, traces the trajectory of the small, handy camera through the various aspects encompassed by modern photography. Used first as a tool by people to document life around then, the Leica camera was quickly adopted by photojournalist, and served to pretty much document the better part of the 20th century in the Western world, including most of the 20th century conflicts from the Spanish civil war onwards. From journalism, the application of the Leica branched out, onto street, fashion and fine art.
The photos on display include a great many of the last century’s iconic, classic images – from Cartier-Bresson’s man jumping over a puddle, to the Vietnamese girl running from Napalm by Nick Út, the sailor kissing a woman in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, and the classic James Dean portrait captured by Dennis Stock. Different national tendencies are also analyzed, as the show dedicates different sections to respectively German, French, US, Spanish and Japanese post-WW2 photography.
The bulk of the images on display are in black and white, and personally I found that the chosen colour images resound even stronger for that. The fact that the 21st century plays only a minor role in the collected body of work obviously documents Leica’s diminishing role in this day and age, whatever the reasons may be.
The exhibition is rounded off with information about the Leica and the people and facilities behind the discovery and the production of the camera. The accompanying hard-cover catalogue is massive and clocks in at nearly 600 pages (and almost 100€).Thus, all in all, a very worthwhile exhibition to visit. It is on until 1 November 2015. Various lectures on different aspects of Leica photography as well as guided tours with the curator are also offered.
It’s been a while since I posted an article on something not related to my own work, so it’s about time I do that again. Recently I attended a lecture by Eric Kim at Eyeem’s Berlin HQ, which is just around the corner from where I live. I didn’t know Eric before reading the announcement of the lecture, although plenty of others do, since he is a young man who is making a living out of delivering lectures and workshops on street photography. On his web site he gives all of his ebooks and lectures away for free, and it’s definitely worth a visit.
Earlier, I posted a lengthy article on how returning to digital photography has left me a bit at a loss regarding the direction I want to take. Street photography, which I had been doing on and off since the 1990s, was high on my list, but I knew that with digital cameras, I had to approach it differently from the way I used the Holga cameras. Hence my decision to attend Eric’s lecture, which was entitled ‘7 Lessons from the Masters of Street Photography’ and which can be viewed/downloaded here. It was thankfully light on technical stuff, but what little technical advice he gave was excellent and I started applying it the next day: basically, set the camera in P mode, put a high ISO (up to 6400) so that the camera uses fast shutter speeds, and there you go (or as an alternative, use a slow aperture setting to again force fast shutter speeds). Excellent advice as you needn’t worry about camera settings when you’re out shooting, and a voice of reason in a field where the general advice seems to be ‘real photographers do it all manual.’
Eric also weighed in whether it was preferable to shoot candidly or with the subject’s permission – he does both and has made some very good experiences in getting his subjects’ cooperation for the shooting. I had earlier written about how frustrating it is in Germany to photograph people as they are very reluctant to have their picture taken. But on my recent visit to Marseille, France, I decided to try and approach people to let me take their photo. So I chatted with people and then asked if I could take their picture. It didn’t always work out but in half the cases it did. Since being back in Berlin, I’ve tried the same. More people turn me away here, but certain folks are happy to have their picture taken – but that’s the stuff for another article…
Back to Eric then. One of the things he also preaches is to keep things simple. That includes your camera gear. He advocates using one camera and one lens. Again, very good advice as I was considering taking three cameras with me to Marseille (a Fuji, a Leica and a Holga), and based on Eric’s advice, I only took the Fuji. The decision saved me from backaches (lugging that gear around in a backpack) and from headaches (pondering which camera to use for which situation).
As I said, Eric is full of very good advice, different from what you get from other photographers, and all his output is available for free, so there is no reason not to go and read up on his stuff.
Optiko is a UK based magazine dedicated to analogue photography. They have recently published their issue number 5 which spotlights instant photography. The issue features two black and white polaroids of mine, namely The Woman By the Merry-Go-Round on the Beach in Brighton and Nelson On a Stick.
“People in Polaroids”, which I started a few months ago, and in which I collect portraits taken with Polaroid cams from various internet sources (mostly flickr), has meanwhile garnered over 57.000 subscribers…. wow. Here is the link, again. You’ll need the Flipboard app to properly view it.