Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘New York Times’:

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.”

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Alex "A-Rod" Rodriguez, handsomely photographed by Nick Laham and processed by Instagram

In a way, nothing… in another way, everything. Here’s the front page of last Sunday’s New York Times, with major above-the-fold prominence for a beautifully framed, lit and posed portrait of A-Rod. Look at the credit, to Nick Laham (via Getty Images). The first words in the credit line are “Instagram Photo.” Nick Laham is a very gifted photographer, and this image, taken in the bathroom of the Yankees’ training facility in Florida, was made with an iPhone.

It really is remarkable that we’ve reached this point in the art and craft of photography that photographers are willing to yield to a free app to (arguably) enhance their creativity. It’s sort of like the trend in typography a number of years ago when advertising headlines looked like they were set  by five-year-olds in kindergarten and then run over  by the muddy tires of a truck.

As I look at a whole generation of iPhone photography,  it’s ironic to see that my great friend of many years, David Burnett, has chosen a very opposite path – he uses a vintage Speed Graphic 4×5 to make many of his great series of pictures, including at the Olympics. A number of years ago, the dream assignment was one where a client said yes to first-class travel, multiple assistants, and as much gear as you wanted to carry, to wherever you wanted to shoot. No secret that those days are gone, but I always thought that a credo of ‘one camera, one lens’ would be a good way to define oneself as a photographer. A twin-lens Rollei, or a Leica M-series with a 35mm optic, was the choice of many. But no one ever suggested using a post-production technique to diminish the original quality of the original image.

Finally, it seems to say a lot that The New York Times feels the need to tells its readers that it embraces Instagram. Coming soon (perhaps): an all-Instagram edition of the NYT.

Along With [Unnamed]

I’m a big fan of NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and think that the whole NBC News operation does a great job, particularly with international reporting, and not only during times of great crisis. But I was wide awake at 4:30 this morning, very upset (seething really) over a 31-second piece that aired last evening.

After devoting (as they should) most of the broadcast to the events in Japan, Brian came back from a break to report on the four New York Times journalists missing in Libya. Please watch this 31-second clip:

Just how long would it have taken to name Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario? There was an on-screen graphic with photos and last names of the four during the report.Even if you’ve never seen their phenomenal work in crisis and war zones, a quick Google search would make it abundantly clear how talented they are and the honors they have received for their photographs.

So at about 5:30 AM, I went to the Nightly web site and posted a comment (first time I’ve done that), letting them know that this was, in its own way, a very discriminatory piece of journalism. I’d very much like to hear what you think.

High Praise for Low Fidelity

The New York Times' front page for November 22nd, 2010

The New York Times is at our doorstep before the sun rises, particularly at this time of year, and a quick look at the front page told me that something very interesting is unfolding in the area of major newspaper photojournalism. Four photos from Afghanistan (there are six more on the inside ‘jump’), credited to staffer Damon Winter, looked nothing like images from the Nikon/Canon realm of equipment.

There is no mention in the captions, or in the long piece they accompany (about a unit of U.S. forces in that country)  that provide a clue. But a quick trip to the paper’s photo blog gave the answer: Following the lead of the troops who routinely use their cell phone cameras to record life in a war zone, Damon Winter has taken his iPhone and, with the Hipstamatic app, produced a series of vignettes (with more to be seen on the web). At the same time, he’s using his Canon EOS 5D Mk II to shoot video for the paper (as well as, presumably, still photos). In any case, his coverage on the web is very impressive.

That got me in a back-to-the-future mode. Just this past weekend, the Wall Street Journal did a piece on the latest generation of cameras (think Sony/Samsung/Panasonic/Olympus) that provide a nearly professional bridge between point-and-shoot and SLR equipment. The essence of the WSJ article is that the SLRs are too bulky and too complicated for the average user to truly master. I know this is true – even my Canon G11 and Nikon D300 have features and capabilities that I can’t begin to remember. That’s why I keep a Nikon F (from 1967) and a Kodak Hawkeye (from the early ’50s) on my desk, just as reminders of how simple things used to be.

1967 Nikon F

I’ve got nothing at all against technology; after all, I’ve built a company that provides equipment (some of it quite sophisticated) to photographers and filmmakers. But not so many years ago, I never had to carry a 200-page manual to take advantage of the features of any of my cameras. I know lots of very smart people who are buying some very expensive digital cameras and never (never!) taking them off the ‘auto’ setting. So it’s easy to understand the appeal of keeping it as simple as using my first Brownie was 60 years ago.

An early-1950s-vintage Kodak Brownie Hawkeye

By the way, in a nod to recursion, the photo of today’s NY Times front page was taken with my iPhone 4.

Expanding the Walls: A New Generation of Documentarians and Cameras

A couple of weeks ago, in a special section of the New York Times devoted to museums, Corey Kilgannon wrote a great piece about a yearly program called ‘Expanding the Walls’ at the Studio Museum in Harlem. This year, a dozen girls, all of them black or Hispanic and with no prior photographic experience (other than the point-and-shoot picture taking that is a part of everybody’s life), were given professional digital cameras along with the training needed to let them go forth in their communities to document their own lives and those of family, friends, and neighborhoods.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of such programs; in fact, they are probably in place in numerous communities throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. But two things caught my eye –

Expanding the Walls is based on the way the late James Van Der Zee approached his life’s work of photographing the people of Harlem in the 20th century. Van Der Zee (who died in 1983) came to wide renown only toward the end of his career, and the dignity he conferred on his subjects shows in all his images. So beyond the technical training the girls have received, they have been learning the direct connection between the photographs they are taking now and the pictures of Mr. Van Der Zee and other documentary photographers.

The other thing that drew my eye was the photograph at the top of the story. I looked carefully at the photo (by NYT staff shooter Marilynn K. Yee) and saw that the cameras in the hands of the girls in the photo are both Canon G11s. I have no way of knowing if the G11 is the only camera being used in the program, but it’s a wonderful choice.

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