Allen's Blog
July, 2013

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Connect the Dots (And, While You’re At It, Stop the Insanity)

Events across the photography spectrum in the past few weeks are sort of like the connect the dots puzzles I used to figure out in the pre-television era of home entertainment — all of a sudden the answer is revealed, even though the skill level to solve is merely that of an eight-year-old…

Pentax Q7 display showing 120 color combinations

So: in early June the Chicago Sun-Times fires all its photographers, and equips its reporters with iPhones. More of that to come at other newspapers, for sure.

And Pentax, in its corporate wisdom, feels that in a world of rapidly declining sales of basic amateur cameras, the best way to counter that trend is to release its three latest models in 120 different colors (good luck there).

And Nikon’s president goes public with sales projections for his company’s products, hoping that revenues for the big toys and optics will counteract the precipitous fall in point-and-shoot models (good luck there).

And Nokia shows a 41MP camera/phone that seems to take great pictures.

'B' with his father's Canon 5D mark II + 24-70 f/2.8L

And urban parents with incredibly cute kids and great photographic skills realize that the diaper bag, toys and stroller simply cannot peacefully co-exist with a bulky camera bag filled with hefty Canon L-series glass. (No matter how badly they want it to seem to their Facebook friends that everywhere Junior went, he projected an aura of luscious, buttery bokeh.)

While I love and appreciate my Nikon D800 for some of the things it can do (many more of its capabilities being lost in the 446-page manual), I carry my Sony RX100 pretty much everywhere. A bunch of very well-written posts recently reveal the latent (or not-so) hostility to DSLRs and the DSLR mindset. There are yearnings for the period when serious photographers, particularly photojournalists, made their reputations with an equipment kit that weighed just a few pounds and filled the wonderful Brady fisherman’s bag (I think the Ariel Trout was the standard), canvas and leather, still made in the U.K., with room left over for film/notebooks/reading material.

One of the best posts of this ilk has come from Chris Cookley, not a full-time pro but nonetheless a serious shooter who has a fine handle on the mess we’re in. Good reading! I’m also finding myself (finally) getting past the “full-frame is best” mentality, in part because of the sheer quality of my RX100 (phenomenal in low-light situations).

Fujifilm X-E1

To make things much more interesting, here is Fuji coming to the fore with its X100s (and other fine cameras, too). David Hobby’s long appreciation of this fixed-lens camera makes excellent reading for those of us who understand the real need for a digital equivalent of a Leica M-series camera (without paying the idiotic, collectors-only, keep-it-in-the-box-and-watch-it-appreciate price). It doesn’t hurt that Fuji is clearly putting many resources to address the “growing pains” of their X-Series gear via frequent firmware updates and a furious pace of lens development. At any rate, if you haven’t watched Hobby’s video walkthrough and read Zack Arias’ swooning pair of articles on the X100s, please make time to do so. Perhaps your shoulders will thank you.

Finally, back to what the Sun-Times did, and its long-term effects ….. If you need proof of why photojournalists matter so much, look no further than the New York Times story on Jeff Bauman, grievously wounded in the Boston Marathon bombing, and his path to recovery. Josh Haner’s photographs, coupled with Tim Rohan’s writing, work together and resulted in a memorable piece of journalism. Real journalism demands real photojournalists; as my first assignment editor at the AP said (in 1968), “We don’t take pictures, we make them.”

Good Ol’ Freda

I love movies, always have, and as a 50-year member of the Directors Guild, I get to see a lot of them. Every once in a while, a new film that I’ve heard absolutely nothing about suddenly appears and makes a lasting impression. So it is with Good Ol’ Freda, which I saw a couple of weeks ago at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center.

Good 'Ol Freda movie poster

We live on the Vineyard much of the year, and the Film Center is one of the best cultural attractions on the island. My wife and I mis-read the schedule and thought we were going to see Frances Ha, the new film by Noah Baumbach. But we were already at the theater and were very glad we stayed.

Good Ol’ Freda is a documentary, centered around Freda Kelly, who in 1962 was 17 and working in a typing pool in Liverpool when she was hired as the secretary to The Beatles, and later, to run their fan club. Then, and for all the years since, she never took advantage of her relationship to the group. But now in her 60s, still working as a secretary and a grandmother herself, Freda has let her story be told, along with some great interviews and a trove of vintage photos and film clips. There’s a lot of nostalgia for me just in looking at the way the press in England and the U.S. covered The Beatles in an era when state-of-the-art photography meant the Nikon F.

My Nikon F

Ryan White directed the film, which had its premiere earlier this year, in Austin, at the SXSW Film Festival and has been playing  the festival circuit ever since. In short, this is a great movie and a wonderful story. When you look at the promotional materials for Good Ol’ Freda, note the sub-head below the title: “Behind a great band, there was a great woman.” I don’t know if the movie will get wide theatrical release, but see it if you can (or at least own it when it goes to video).