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Archive for April, 2012

On Looking at Photographs (Book Review)

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

On looking at Photographs by David Hurn & Bill Jay

In a world saturated in images of every quality, taste and intention there is one skill that needs to be refined – how to look at photographs. This is as important to the general populace of consumer as it is for the aspiring or skilled photographer. On Looking at Photographs: A Practical Guide by Magnum photographer David Hurn in conversation with Bill Jay is about setting you along that path and, while I’m not sold that it’s as cut and dry as photography versus art, it was an insightful read.

They are concerned with the difference between what a photograph is OF as opposed to what it is ABOUT. These are two entirely different things. A photograph of a ship could be about a holiday brochure shot, the ship your family immigrated aboard or a study of large metal industrial behemoths. And the question arises within the photographer of what to show and what to exclude; itself, a manipulation of the photographer’s message. Hurn and Jay are interested in what makes a good photograph – the photographer’s intent, how well it’s been realised and whether it was worth the effort.

Because photographs are never definitive statements about anything. They are open to interpretation as much by the culture, beliefs and socio-economic standing of the viewer as from any accompanying text by the photographer. Photographs mean different things when you see them in different venues – for example, a photograph of a working man in the union trades hall may be an entirely different take on that same photograph on a widow’s mantle-piece. Rich versus poor, nationality, level of education, sophistication and political persuasion all come to the photograph through the viewer independent of the photographer’s wish to push their own agenda.

I particularly agree with a statement they made about style in photography because I see so many photographer’s trying to invent a Photoshopped signature in images that might be about consistency but not about their style. They write that style is not like a filter…

A unique style emerges in photography by ignoring it, concentrating on the subject, and allowing care, passion and knowledge to bubble to the surface through a lot of hard work over a long period of time.

A photographer’s style will become evident in hindsight by looking back at the work and noting the patterns and qualities of what their work produced.

This book covers a lot of ground and to balance it out I’d suggest you also read John Szarkowski’s Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art. Each book comes from their individual perspective and it’s just as important to understand the photojournalistic idea of a good photograph as it is to appreciate the work of art that hangs on a gallery wall with a hefty price tag.

Porchetta & the Salesman’s Dilemma

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

A few weeks ago I visited a local store that previously boasted a bustling clientèle… business people, managers and professionals. In a sense, you could have looked at this store two years ago and predicted growth. Now I’d predict eventual closure.

That’s a bold claim, I know. But over time I’ve seen a culture change – an older shop assistant shoved a younger assistant away from the deli meat slicer with physical force; a disingenuous attitude that customers are an inconvenience so deli assistants turn away once you’ve received your deli item; lettuces that occasionally come full of flies; or, shop assistants hesitant to offer a receipt without that direct request from the customer.

A few weeks ago I happened to be in that store for bread and some sliced meat. It was lunchtime and the large shop was almost empty. This is a shop that would normally have had 20 people at any given time bustling around the fruit and vegetables, buying bakery bread or snapping up roasting chickens.

On this occasion, I spotted a sign on the deli-counter window offering half price porchetta. I asked for 200gm.

The junior assistant quietly asked the senior assistant something in hushed tones.. but I heard the word smell. That, in itself, bodes ill for a fine food store.

The junior assistant hacked off about 2 inches from the porchetta roll and set that meat aside; then, she cut around 500gm in slices. I have to say, I’m not sure I was very confident in their on sale porchetta by that stage. She made a note as it was passed to me that I’d only be billed for the 200gm.

So I took my bread and porchetta to the service counter and the same young assistant came to the register. She whispered “I’m not going to charge you for this porchetta because I’m not sure it’s good enough for human consumption. It might be… but I’m not sure. It looks fine, but it smells off.”

Right here I want the reader to insert an imaginary vinyl record drag sound as a clumsy seven-fingered oaf stops the background music with a giant lethargic sonic skid mark.

I mean… not fit for human consumption? Where is the win for any store selling food not fit for human consumption? Let alone giving it away for free. There is no up-side. If a customer is ill-served the store fails. If a customer is poisoned the store fails. If the porchetta is fine then it was given away for free. Again, there is no win for the store in that scenario.

It happens. External business environments change and so do the cultures within those businesses. A bad seed invites another bad seed into the fold and before the owners are aware their customers are moving off to the new better option. In this case, it’s a flourishing store about 500 metres away with fresh fruit and vegetables, service with a smile and an offer to carry your heavy items to the car… they have high customer volume so double-kapow their value proposition with unbeatable bargains in the meat department.

That’s the salesman’s dilemma. When you know your stock is rubbish are you willing to shove it all in the bin and compete with the quality service / products in direct competition? Or do you sit there twiddling your thumbs thinking how you can sell the crap you have to the fewer and fewer willing to put up with it?

Do you sell what you have versus do you have what the market is willing to purchase?

Tips for using a Film Developing Tank

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Following on from the previous article titled Processing Film in a Developing Tank it seems useful to supply a short list of random tips that should make the process more understandable to anybody wanting to give it a try. Hopefully, my mistakes can save others from repeating them.

  1. After each developing session I tend to wash the spool in soap and water then dry it in a fresh breeze because any residual chemical or miniscule dampness causes the film to stick when feeding onto the spool.
  2. A handy place to develop film is in the bathroom. Before a developing session run a hot shower for five minutes to capture dust. Then wipe down surfaces & quick damp mop the floor to collect the dust.
  3. When loading the spool: use your fingers to drag the first part of 120 film into the spool for about 4 centimetres… the first part of the film has no images.
  4. Consult a developing chart from the chemical manufacturer for mix ratios and corresponding times (ie. Ilford’s Film Processing Chart). Note also, these are starting points not fixed and fast rules.
  5. Exact chemical ratios: buy a medicine measuring cup or a purpose designed photographic measuring cup for preparing your chemicals.
  6. Measure the temperature of your chemicals with an oven thermometer (sit the jugs in a baking dish so you can add ice or boiling water to the dish to attain the exact chemical temperature – I place the thermometer in the developer).
  7. Be precise: the three ways you can affect film development are time, temperature and strength of the developer. Precision is your control.
  8. Consistency is also key to control: the more consistent you can make the developing process the more you will be able to predict the resulting negatives.
  9. There is ‘good enough’ developer and there is ‘the best’ developer. Choice of chemical can be as important as choice of film – economically and for the quality of the negatives.
  10. You can pull process over-exposed film and push process under-exposed film so understand your options while shooting (ie. 100 ASA film shot inside a building can be pushed 1 or 2 stops to either 200 or 400). The effect of pulling film in development is lower contrast and the effect of pushing film in development is higher contrast and grain.
  11. The developer stage of processing film negatives is a lot more sensitive & unforgiving than the stop bath or fixer stages.
  12. A portable film drying cabinet prevents a large amount of dust from reaching wet negatives.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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