Allen's Blog

Posts tagged ‘New York Times’:

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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