Thursday, September 25, 2008

News from Photokina

Well, it’s Photokina time again and unlike most years, there are a few surprises this time around. You can always get the complete scoop at, but here is my take on the more noteworthy product announcements.

The biggest surprise is Leica’s S2 digital camera and system. Not only did they come out with a brand new digtal SLR, but they invented a new format for it. The sensor on it falls between full frame 35mm cameras like the Canon 5D and medium format backs like those from Hasselblad and Phase 1—it measures 30 x 45mm and contains 37 MP. For reference, the 5D’s is 24 x 36mm. Added to the surprise, is that the S2 is slightly smaller than pro cameras like the Canon 1Ds and the Nikon D3. And they have a full range of lenses, a total of nine, to go with it. Just when I thought that Leica was going to fade away, they come out with something like this. Go figure. Of course, it’ll be way too expensive for most people (I heard one guess that the S2 body might sell for $30,000. Yikes!), but it sure is an interesting idea. You could even consider it something totally new.

And not too long ago, I mentioned in the blog that Panasonic had announced a new format, the Micro 4/3s and I said then that we probably wouldn’t see any cameras using this new format for a while yet. Well, I guess it’s been a while because both Panasonic and Olympus have shown new cameras in the format. The prototype from Olympus even takes the form I talked about—a small, Leica-styled compact camera with tiny interchangeable lenses. Like the folks at Leica, they must have been sitting on this for some time. When the production camera actually arrives, it’ll give photo-journalists a new tool for their trade. Which is a really excellent thing for everyone concerned.

And Canon finally unveiled the 5D replacement, the 5D Mark II. The sensor jumps from 12 MP to 21 MP and the camera will do HD video (1080p at 30 fps). The ISO has also been increased up to 25,600, just like the newer cameras from Nikon like the D3 and the D700. It also has the latest Digic 4 processor, for what that’s worth. And it features automatic dust reduction for the sensor. The increase in MP is a bit surprising, as is the video capability, but the new model has everything that people were expecting, which is good. And not surprisingly, the rumors and speculations about the replacement for the EOS 1Ds Mark III (it's about one year old) have already begun.

Also good news for photogs is that Lensbaby has all new lenses. One is called the “Muse,” and it’s built like the older 2.0 model. The “Control Freak” is similar to the older 3G and has 3 screw posts to finely control and lock in the degree of tilt on the lens. The newly designed “Composer” is based on a ball-and-socket and allows the user to move and tilt the lens quickly, but have it stay in place. Quick like the “Muse” with the control of the “Control Freak.” Sounds good to me. The big news is that all the lenses will have interchangeable lens elements. You can choose from a 2-element multicoated doublet (reasonably sharp), a single element uncoated lens (slightly soft), a plastic singlet (think of Holga plastic cameras), and even a pinhole (for great depth of field that is still soft). All will have varying degrees of sharpness and interesting image characteristics. And once you buy a complete lens (which will retail for about $270), the rest of the lens element choices are pretty inexpensive (around $35). How cool is that? I’ve been using the 3G for a couple of years and I love it. Lenbaby’s give you results like nothing else. They’re a wonderful tool in your lens kit. If you haven’t tried them, check them out.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Norvel Trosst – the Telford Chronicles

How Art comes into existence is a question whose answers are as individual as the people who make it. Norvel Trosst’s latest project, the Telford Chronicles, is an exhibit showing at the Lorinda Knight Gallery in Spokane, Washington (509.838.3740). It shows there from September 5th through the 27th. Trosst’s project combines aspects of traditional landscape photography, conceptual art, Pictorialist, Surrealist, and Expressionist art. It is also one of the most successfully conceived and executed exhibits I’ve ever seen.

By way of full disclosure, I have to admit to a few things. Norvel is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for many years. He asked me to appear in a film which he included in the exhibit and is central to the concept of the project. Norvel also has a photograph in Focus on Photography (page 215), the textbook Kathy and I wrote. And he included some of my haiku in a radio program that he hosts on public radio in Spokane. So am I impartial? Not at all, but what follows is my opinion and observations, so make of it what you will.

The idea behind the Telford Chronicles is quite ingenious. The exhibit is a narrative about the discovery of negatives and prints found after some vague apocalypse—it could have been in the far past, or the distant future, or perhaps some alternative version of our world. Part of the set-up of the exhibit is a film of the discovery of these lost negatives. I play one of the explorers in the film with Zan Agzigian, a poet and writer in Spokane. The photographs are Adrian Telford’s record of this apocalyptic world, sometimes serving as testaments of the desolation and destruction of the landscape and sometimes showing Adrian as the silent observer, the explorer of this world. Norvel plays Adrian in the photographs with a costume of camouflage pants, dark blue blazer, white turtleneck, and dark goggles. He doesn’t interact with the land, he acts as a witness to the destruction. He continues to wander looking for something undefined, whether other people, remnants of civilization, or his own past. Accompanying each image is a short statement, many of them bleak cries of anguish and grief. None were written with any particular image in mind, but after the prints were made, they were paired up together, not as explanations of the images or captions, but as affirmations of their shared emotional content.

Using photography to tell a fictional narrative is not a new idea—it has its origins in the costume portraits and tableaus of the Pictorialists—but in Norvel’s hands, it has a poignancy and weight that few photographers have matched. The isolation, the desolation, and the emotional depth come from Norvel’s own life. The origin of the project can be found in his own long-term illness that haunted Norvel for more than a decade. It’s all too true that sometimes, though not always, art and beauty comes from suffering. You only have to look at Van Gogh or jazz musicians like Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday to see evidence of this. But in the end, out of Norvel’s illness, his suffering, came a thing of great beauty. This is one of the most moving and emotionally resonant exhibits I’ve seen. There’s no question that the images and statements are dark and sometimes sinister, but still there is a quiet beauty and grace that underlies it all. If you are in Spokane this month, go see this show.