Sunday, February 28, 2010

Talking Picture Postcards Personal Challenge

Today I’m launching what I hope will become a challenging personal project, telling short stories from my experiences and travels by assembling just a handful of photographs and a few sound clips to tell short stories.

I’m calling them Talking Picture Postcards, and hope to write them fairly often and mail the multimedia shows on this blog.

“ Dear Mom, went camping in Everglades NP, found great Osprey nest with two chicks ... kayaking on Florida Bay at sunset another family squawked at me. Otherwise very quiet and peaceful weekend. Promise to find real job soon. Tom”

I’m trying to think of each as a couple of lines on the back of a picture postcard, like those I’ve discovered while rummaging through dusty boxes in antique stores over the years. I love those hand colored black and white photos of some some obscure vacation spot from the 1930s or 40s, or even the sepia toned ones from the early teens.

After gleaning what I can from the photos, I turn the cards over to read the hand written lines, often family news, weather reports and plans about the future. I wonder how the parties to the correspondence lived their lives and what happened to them. Those few lines can be the best part, ease dropping on people who’ve long since passed away.

But here I am 50 or 100 years later, reading about how they enjoyed their visit last weekend or how they are sending money to their sister.

With a postcard you only have room for the briefest of reports, so my challenge will be to use 20 to 30 seconds to scribble my couple of lines on the back of these digital postcards.

If you're reading this 50 years from now after discovering a dust covered box of antique blogs, I hope it was a bargain.

Here's a link to more Miami multimedia photography Talking Picture Postcards.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wide & Skinny Panoramic Photographs

Even though I’ve been distracted in recent years photographing with digital cameras and their traditional format, I always enjoy returning to view the world in the wide and skinny panoramic format.

I’m forced to see in different terms when my picture telling canvas is three times as wide as it is tall. Sure the rule of thirds aids my composition, but mostly I lead the viewer’s eye from left to right or vice versa, allowing them to roam along and discover the exciting corners of my narrow frame.

In China last Fall I used my Hasselblad XPan II for both street photography and landscapes. Here a morning commuter reads his morning newspaper outside the subway stop at the end of busy Nanjing Road in Shanghai.

The X-Pan is a 35 mm film camera that is small and portable and focuses with a traditional range finder. You look through the clear view finder, not the actual picture taking lens as a single lens reflex, and frame your photo with brightly outlined frame lines. With no auto focus motor you actually turn your fingers to focus, lining up two frosted rectangles. I gotta admit, sometimes in switching from my SLR to the X-Pan and seeing everything sharp, I forget to focus.

Continuing to walk the chaotic streets of Shanghai, I selected this nature-landscape-within-urban-jungle combo. Click photo to enlarge.

Generations of street photographers have utilized rangefinder cameras in their work. The cameras are quiet and stealthy, and being unencumbered with all the latest auto everything, micro processors and super telephoto lens, your mind is clear to really make photographs. I do utilize the XPan center weighted aperture priority auto exposure, and the motorized film transport frees up my thumb for hanging onto the camera.

This November landscape shot was captured at sunset in  Sichuan, China, as we crested a 14 500 foot pass.

Often one thinks of panoramic photography when they need a wide angle view to encompass a dramatic landscape ( Here are examples of large format panoramic photography. ), like the Grand Canyon at sunset, but use of a pan camera need not be limited to landscapes. I use the format to extract bits from my confusing surroundings, some times very tightly, and to hand hold during people photography.

In panoramic the aspect ratio of width to height is at least 2 to 1, with 3 to 1 being my favorite. The XPan is 2.6 to 1. Any wider than three times the height, you have difficulty viewing in traditional display prints or in print publications, however on the web very wide aspect ratios work well in virtual reality applications. 

On an earlier China trip several years ago the XPan street credentials help me capture this brick yard worker

and these People’s Liberation Army soldier flag bearers at a festival opening ceremony.

The XPan is no longer manufactured, a victim of the decline of film photography, and prices on E Bay continue to be very strong.

Having E-6 color transparency film processed is a challenge now, with not one single South Florida lab reliably running it. I now express ship film to BWC Photo Imaging in Dallas, much more complicated and expensive than just a few years ago when two hour turn around at more than a dozen Miami labs was routine.

I love the advantages of digital and have never looked back since switching from film for assignments in 2006, yet for quietly capturing those wide and skinny photos of people, I’ll stick with old fashioned film and my Hasselblad XPan.