Monday, October 19, 2009

The Wonders of a Visual Spring

Greg Weight & Carol Ruff - Love Creek Bitter Springs - Australian Galleries
Greg Weight has been a presence in Australian photography for almost four decades, beginning with the pioneering art cabal of the Yellow House in King’s Cross. Weight’s vision is difficult to categorize. He has produced memorable still life photographs - from a table (below left) reminiscent of Magritte, observed in the Yellow House in 1971 - to his voluminous portrait archive of Australian artists. Weight also has a playful side - once producing colour still life images of that archetypal child’s doll Barbie, revealing an unexpectedly trashy side to her character. What has never been in doubt is Weight’s instinct for making memorable images. When I first saw his planetary nightscapes from Emily Creek in central Australia, made while on an art odyssey with his partner, the painter Carol Ruff, I had similar feelings to when I first saw Tamara Dean’s The Bride. “Emily Creek” is part of their joint exhibition “Love Creek Bitter Springs” at Sydney’s Australian Galleries and has as deep a resonance as Dean’s vision. This image will prove equally unforgettable. In a rare, but not unique conjunction of talent Weight and his painter partner Carol Ruff have a rewarding artistic harmony - Weight’s meticulous nightscapes with Ruff’s sun-drenched view (above right) of Australian desert. Australian Galleries until October 31.

Trent Parke - “Please step quietly everyone can hear you” - Stills Gallery
Magnum photographerTrent Parke’s period as artist-in-residence at Sydney’s Opera House resulted in two distinct bodies of work. “Please step quietly...” concentrates on the backstage environment of the epic building and will be seen at Stills Gallery. Park finds uncommon beauty in observing the everyday - performers marks on the surface of the stage form a graphic geometry (left) and that most mundane of stage accessories, a wire coathanger, creates a chaotic elegance backstage. 28 October to 28 November 2009
Parke’s images of the people working at the Opera House will be seen in the building’s forecourt, from October 22 to February 2010

Sydney Life - The Pulse of Sydney
Each year the City of Sydney takes a visual census of life in this thriving city with the exhibition “Sydney Life”. Increasingly the view selected by the judges is less stereotypical and more reflective of the cultural diversity of Australia’s Harbour City. This year is no exception and the winner in 2009 in Tamara Dean’s enigmatic and unforgettable “The Bride”(below right). Sydney Life also presents its photographs in a unique, and considering Sydney’s sailing history, appropriate way. Each picture is printed on bedsheet-sized canvas sheets and displayed on both sides of the walkway bisecting Hyde Park. At this scale, images carry the aura of static cinema, as a British commentator on photography once proclaimed. Despite the expansive scale of Sydney Life, there is still room for intimate social observation as well as more blatant behavioural observations. Amanda James’ black and white photograph (left) of an indigenous dancer waiting in the wings is another image not easily forgotten. Until October 21

Brett Hilder - His Own Personal Century
Brett Hilder has as long an artistic pedigree as Greg Weight but his path, and vision, differs greatly. Where Weight is precise and observational, Hilder is always one step (or more) closer to visual fiction. His recreation, visually, of the spirit of the remarkable Tina Modotti is no convenient visual ploy. At times, Hilder’s re-staging of imagined moments from Modotti’s ultimately tragic 20th Century life seems to almost channel the essence of the woman who beguiled Edward Weston and intimidated a politically defensive America. These pictures such as "Ethnic Back" (at left) remain elegant fictions, however, perhaps the photographic equivalents of what novelist, the late Norman Mailer, flamboyantly coined ‘factoids’. Closing October 24 Prints may be viewed at the Meyer Gallery

Peter Solness - NOCTURNAL
Peter Solness is about to re-introduce his peerless images of the night, this time through light box illuminations of each landscape, rather than the large, fine digital prints previously exhibited at STORM Gallery. In one way this seems technically appropriate, having light pass through transparencies on view (instead of reflective prints) at Customs House, adding further luminousity to a unique vision. Until the end of January.

Olive Cotton - Josef
Lebovic Gallery
Olive Cotton (1911-2003)had a gentle, questing vision that found harmony in subjects as simple as flowers and clouds. Cotton’s real strength, however, lay in the quiet discipline she imposed on each picture, composing subjects as disparate as landscapes, male and female nudes and still life arrangements. While frequently romantic in essence, Cotton was also a thoroughly modern photographer as the prints on exhibition at Josef Lebovic Gallery prove. A previously unseen female nude, taken in 1937, is on display. The presence of her most famous image “Teacup Ballet” reminds us of its geometric perfection. Cotton had apparently bought a set of six Art Deco cups and saucers for use by her studio guests and for fun, one suspects, photographed a playful arrangement of six cups, with its distinctive, triangular handle, lit from above and behind. The effect was clearly balletic and the picture has enjoyed great popularity during and after Cotton’s life. While I had always realized its geometric virtues it was only when I interviewed this quiet, modest woman on her Koorawatha farm, near Cowra, that she mentioned casually that she had once taught mathematics, and especially trigonometry, to naval aviators during the war. Suddenly this elegant and humble picture, made only a few years earlier, made even more sense. Until October 31

WAR - Australian Centre for Photography
°SOUTH are a distinguished group of Australian documentary photographers who have covered conflicts from Vietnam in 1965 to Afghanistan. Ben Bohane, Michael Coyne, David Dare Parker (at left - Mourning), Stephen Dupont, Sean Flynn, Ashley Gilbertson, Tim Page, Jack Picone. As these members say, "at present there are 43 conflicts taking place on our planet. Once, the battlefield was the place of devastation, now it is streets, alley-ways, schools and places of worship. People and places are no longer protected or sacred and in much of the world it is now safer to be a soldier than an unarmed civilian."
As dangerous as it is, war is a human activity that must be documented and this group of photographers (including the sadly absent, presumed long deceased Sean Flynn) have addressed this challenge. The results of their journey through into darkness are currently on view at the Australian Centre of Photography . It is noticeable in this group that the totality of war’s effect is evident.As members state, “this collection of their images exposes the impact that war has on its victims, both civilians and military, whose lives are shattered by wars they did not start and over which they have no control.” The Nikon-Walkley Press Photo Exhibition is also on display at the adjoining gallery within the ACP - until November 21

Brenda Croft - She’ll Be Right, Mate: Strangers in A Strange Land
Brenda Croft’s art never strays far from family and her indigenous roots. With words elegantly superimposed over archival colour photographs of her late father working on the Snowy River scheme, Croft divines the ironies of her father’s proud participation in Australias’s epic engineering project - while not failing to note the Aboriginal lands the workers carelessly transgressed. Croft’s artworks continue their meticulous construction of a mosaic of Australia’s black and white past. At Adelaide’s Greenaway Gallery until November 15
BOOKS - “Sly Conspiracies” by Graham Howe
Graham Howe is a most visually literate photographer. Once the inaugural Director, in 1973, of the Australian Centre for Photography, Howe now commutes between Australia and the United States for Curatorial Assistance a company he founded to mount and tour remarkable art exhibitions, especially photography. In between Howe has curated the photography collection of Graham Nash (of CSN&Y) and also written biographies of two very different photographers - the indefatigable 1930's documentarian E.O. Hoppe and America’s flagrantly inventive, erotic colourist, Paul Outerbridge. Now Howe has published a book of his own b&w and colour photographs made over the past forty years “Sly Conspiracies” (ISBN 978-0-9823046-2-4 UCR/California Museum of Photography) that might well be dedicated to novelist Vladimir Nabokov’s maxim - “Nothing is trivial ... the divinity is in the detail”. Howe’s camera consistently follows the trailing edges of human experience ... imprints of car tires slowly disappearing into desert sand, or a seemingly pliable rock (of the same mass and shape as one of Edward Weston’s rare nude African-American models) photographed by Howe in 1978 next to a Joshua tree, with the rock’s mass confirmed by its voluptuous shadow (p77 and above - right). Howe is clearly seduced by playful illusions which he uses to regularly punctuate his book - whether monochrome patterns formed by detritus lying on the arid floor of California’s Death Valley (p60) or a pencil, tape measure and three curved pieces of tape making a delicately coloured, abstract face on a drawing table. (p121 and above left). Somewhere the artist Paul Klee must be spinning happily in his grave at these elegant conceits.
I have recently taken delivery of yet another of the new generation of amazingly compact point and shoot cameras. So feature rich is the Ricoh CX-2 that I shall only tell you what I have discovered so far. The 10X Ricoh lens is sharp and both wide and tele - close to 28mm to 300mm in old money. Performance at 1600 ISO is more than acceptable and there are some neat navigational features. There is a little joystick on the back of this very (almost too) compact camera which does double or perhaps triple duty - taking you through the picture you are playing back as well as navigating through the menu. Good design by Ricoh. I have not successfully tested the D-R or dynamic range extender - though it seems a marvellously useful idea to be able to retain detail similar to that seen by eye. To build a camera the size of a pack of playing cards with so many features seems almost de rigeur these days. But, with care, these tiny marvels - and every camera manufacturer has them - can make seriously good pictures - whether for our families, or for the moments when you just don't feel like carrying a DSLR. I was surprised however, that Ricoh did not go the extra yard and include a HD video capacity. I will post a fuller review on my next blog.
Text copyright Robert McFarlane 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Visual Abundance on Earth and Beyond

VISUAL ABUNDANCE- Claudia Terstappen
Abundance is the first word that comes to mind when describing photography on show in Australia in September. Sydney, as usual, pulses with exhibitions. Sandy Edwards is as busy as a bee in a bottle with shows opening with Peter Elliston and Pete Longworth. Conny Dietzschold’s MultipleBox Gallery in Danks Street, Waterloo is the kind of gallery that believes its strength lies in diversity. Connie is currently showing Claudia Terstappen/Place and Spirit colour photographs until September 23. You’re likely to find anything from works on paper to painting, books and small sculpture in the Danks Street gallery. Connie has also maintained a presence in showing fine art photography, both in this Sydney space and the sister Dietzschold gallery in Cologne, Germany. I remember vividly a thoughtful exhibition a couple of years ago of Australian expatriate Steven Roach's photographs. Roach is now comfortably marooned in Tuscany with his Italian wife Fabrizia and their children. (The Australian expatriate was showing emotionally complex triptych works, one of which had recently been published in the New Yorker - as an illustration for a short story) Claudia Terstappen looks for the connections between religion, superstition and technology in deceptively simple, highly detailed images that make a virtue of repetition - either of objects or textures. I have long believed that art that uses repetition as a visual device exploits our deep seated instinct that multiple imagery reflects abundance - and therefore assured survival. It would appear no accident that Terstappen studied with Andreas Gursky, another photographic artist to find visual poetry within the immense symbols, and rituals, of Western consumerism.

The Best Years of Our Lives opens at the Bett Gallery 369 Elizabeth Street, North Hobart on September 11 and continues until the end of October. Koska is yet another artist who manufactures his realities before photographing them. His tableaux are almost inevitably domestic - bleak, highly detailed and yet with hidden elements suggesting change may be about to occur. Koska frequently uses the universal ritual of a family evening meal as his heartland. In the key image for this exhibition the generations of a family are clearly divided. Only the parents engage with each other while the male youth and young girl (brother and sister?) are divided by differing dress and attitude. Capturing detail as precisely as a Dutch Master, Koska’s view of the world is rich in evidence of life, but frozen emotionally. As such his view of society is honest to the point of discomfort. Compositional elegance (and evidence of wit carefully concealed within his decor) saves Brozka from sliding beneath emotional bleakness.

Elliston has been an enduring presence in Australian photography for decades, especially in landscape imagery. Originally his work shone with the classic virtues of poetic black and white observation of the landscape. I remember particularly his subtly composed sandscapes from Nadgee and shards of shimmering ice observed within rivers. More recently Elliston has been absorbed by the presence of humanity and the marks left behind. These recent, highly detailed observations from the Indian subcontinent invite the viewer to submerge themselves in the intense detail Elliston provides. Interestingly, Elliston has been to Chandigarh (scene of some of Cartier-Bresson’s most memorable pictures from the subcontinent) and photographed the sculptural forms of its famous observatory with a restrained, almost staid vision, compared to that left to us by the late French master. Until September 19 at the STORM GALLERY, 65-67 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills,

IRON and ICON - Mike Ware
Of all galleries in Sydney, with the possible exception of Point Light, the Meyer Gallery consistently shows the alternative photographic processes that have evolved over the three differing centuries in which photography has flourished. Far from disappearing beneath a digital tsunami, these elegant techniques are finding new and discerning audiences. Photographer Dr. Mike Ware has studied these techniques and revised the iron-based printing methods that were originally signposted in 1842 by that scientific giant of the 19th century, Sir John Herschel. Herschel discovered that light-sensitive salts of iron could be used to make prints in the pigment Prussian blue, gold (chrysotype), and silver (argentotype) The results are still with us to bring new pleasure and may be viewed amongst the Mary Meyer Gallery’s extensive holdings.

In the meantime Mary Meyer is very excited about her new display of American photographer Karl P. Koenig’s work at her gallery. Koenig is clearly an artist as much attracted to making pictures as to the printing process used. Koenig possesses a coherent, subtly coloured photographic vision. Meyer is showing an interesting selection of images made by Koenig - using the classic photogravure process (right)- as well as Gumoil prints (at left), a technique especially developed by this American fine-art photographer. Until October 4.

Tali Udovich continues her love affair with rock and roll at Paddington’s Blender Gallery with a new exhibition opening on September 17 celebrating the importance of Gibson and Epiphone guitars to popular music. Think of the rumbling, soaring riff from Jimi Hendrix (at left), launching into “All Along The Watchtower”, and his favourite instrument was a 'Flying V' guitar from Gibson. “Gibson Through The Lens” features some of the world’s most accomplished, prolific rock photographers such as the legendary Jim Marshall, Mick Rock, Ross Halfin, Neal Preston,, Bob Gruen, Baron Wolman and Robert Knight.

WONDERLAND - Misadventures with a plastic camera - Pete Longworth
Pete Longworth’s naive, soft focus images made with simple plastic cameras are currently showing at Connie Dietzschold second Danks Street gallery MULTIPLEBOX Along with alternate (and arcane) processes, there seems to be a revival in interest in pictures made using rudimentary cameras - such as the plastic Holga or Diana. Far from limiting photographers, simple technology seems to challenge artists to transcend their camera's sometimes primitive virtues. Longworth is one such artist and his images at MULTIPLEBOX capture moments of innocent pleasure. (see right) At 2 Danks Street, Waterloo, Sydney. Until September 23

BREATHE - Chris Ireland
This surprisingly elegant visual protest by Sydney photographer Chris Ireland is against the excesses of asbestos pollution, and has opened at the Latrobe Regional Valley Gallery in 138 Commercial Road, Morwell, Victoria. In a series of gently moving environmental portraits, Ireland photographs the surviving widows of asbestosis victims in quiet, open compositions. Ireland’s empathy with his subjects is both remarkable and unsentimental. “Breathe” will move to NSW after which it will tour to the U.S.

AUSTRALIAN PHOTOGRAPHY 1858-2009 - Josef Lebovic Gallery
This exhibition covers such a wide range - from the 1850's to this year,” says Josef Lebovic proudly of his latest show. “It’s a microcosm of Australian photography over three centuries - an overview ... that (hopefully) entertains." Australian Photography includes familiar masterpieces such as a 1920's Life Class by Harold Cazneaux, David Moore’s enduring “Redfern Interior 2, 1949" and Wolfgang Sievers’epic 1967 depiction of technology, “Gears for Mining Industry, Vickers Ruwolt ". On a lighter side, there is also Philip Quirk’s colour image of a rainbow elegantly bisecting fertile Mallee landscape in 1983. Perhaps the biggest surprises within Lebovic’s scholarly display were seven rare diarist images made by Max Dupain in 1937 on a camping expedition to Culburra Beach on the NSW south coast - during which he would take his most famous photograph “The Sunbaker”(below left). These seven photographs document the holiday that would become famous. The face of Harold Salvage, friend of Max Dupain and subject for the Sunbaker, is finally revealed, as well as his athletic torso, as he is seen shouldering an axe.(below right) Dupain’s first wife, Olive Cotton, also appears in another diarist Dupain observation, sitting in the shade amongst a group (above centre) that includes Salvage, his future wife, Gladys Harrison and an unnamed woman. These are not merely portraits showing the formative years of the grand old man of Australian photography. Dupain's pictures instead tell the story of seven young men and women, enjoying what were probably their last carefree days in the Australian landscape - two years before global war would change everything. Until September 19.

POINT LIGHT GALLERY- the first thirteen years
The first of three exhibitions celebrating the thirteen years of Point Light’s existence as a gallery specializing in fine international and Australian B&W photography begins on September 5. Point Light is unique in Sydney in that it not only shows photographs, but also teaches fine, silver-based black and white technique (and Platinum-Palladium) in a state of the art traditional 'wet' darkroom. In their first celebratory show, images as widely differing as George Tice’s “Two Amish Boys” (left) share gallery space with Anne Lynam’s graphic “Central Park, NY” and Richard O’Farrell’s “Savitri”, which recently won the Olive Cotton portrait prize. Until October 11.

BEYOND VISIBILITY: light and dust
Coincidentally during the same month the refurbished Hubble Telescope is sending new images from outer space that quite literally astonish us, there is a provocative exhibition in Sydney that echoes these discoveries. Three artists, astronomer David Malin, indigenous artist Gulumbu Yunupingu and Felicity Spear each attempt to address the infinite within the clean spaces of the UTS Gallery. As Malin says, “to reveal part of the natural world ... beyond unaided vision ...” The astronomer argues that studying the cosmos is relevant to our existence because “... we ourselves are made from stardust. If ... stars had not existed, neither would we.”
What is engrossing in this exhibition, curated by Spear and Malin, is the commonality shared by all three artists. Each, with differing ways and artistic means, deal with limitless vistas - beyond simple understanding. Yunupingu’s painted hollow logs are pearlescent with Pointillist colour that mirrors the northern Nhulunbuy night sky. Spear’s reconstructed shards of light and colour also suggest a skyscape with no clear point of visual anchoring. “Deep Field” by Spear, shows the physical world to be as soundly fractured as portraiture was by Cubism. Malin’s astronomical photographs, some of the last to be made using orthodox non-digital photography, are both exhilarating and humbling. One particular image reminded me of the mud opals found in the landscape of Arkeringa, in northern South Australia, where, coincidentally, ELDO launched their somewhat primitive rockets into space in 1969. Once, on the way to Uluru with artist Kate Burness, I saw one of these rockets lose its bearings and giddily wander across the high South Australian sky. Malin’s “Light Echo from a Super Nova, 1987" deals with much greater moments, encompassing events we may only pretend to digest, rather like listening to the way physicists airily chat about the Big Bang (without a word about what may have existed before). I gave up deciphering the rich ochres of this image and simply revelled in the Malin picture’s resemblance to the opals I once saw, so long ago, near Woomera. Until October 9.

Closer to earth, documentary photographer Jon Lewis has ‘put a human face to climate change” by photographing the citizens of Kiribati, a tiny Pacific island nation
facing the rising sea levels caused by global warming. Lewis has had a long involvement with environmental issues and their political effects, being at the birth of Greenpeace
during their first, dangerous confrontations with the whaling industry decades ago. More recently his concerns have found him photographing the effects of seismic political change in Bougainville and East Timor. These new photographs, on display at the UTS Level 4 Exhibition space, have Lewis’ familiar visual signature, capturing islanders’ sand-strewn faces both in close-up and razor sharp, wide-angle environmental observation. There are no neat photojournalistic signatures in these portraits, showing how close rising sea levels may be. Instead Lewis shows Kiribati’s men, women and children, the sun-drenched beaches they share, with the strong inferrence of their imminent disappearance. “Kiribati will cease to exist as a country in 30 years,” states Lewis bluntly, “Every child I photographed will not see adulthood in their homeland and (eventually) a hundred thousand people from Kiribati will have to be absorbed by a host country, (where) as yet undecided. It’s irreversible. It’s gone too far. (Even) if we went to zero emissions tomorrow, Kiribati would still be finished.”
Lewis’s black and white pictures are drenched with light and reveal the sculptural physicality of the islanders (at Left and Above). The clear invitation in these pictures is to recognize their (and our) changing future. “It was a Kiribati man that taught me that climate change is about people. Until now our understanding has been about polar bears and glaciers ... this Kiribati project is about people.” Until October 8

CROOKS LIKE US - Peter Doyle
Peter Doyle’s new book of anonymous Police photographs of criminals (ISBN 9781876991340 $49.95 Published by Historic House Trust ) is drawn from images held in Sydney’s Justice & Police Museum. These Australian citizens from the nation’s most prosperous city personally chart the counterpoint to success in Post-Federation Australia. Doyle has assembled a haunting suite of photographs that reveals the faces of men and women pursuing lust and larceny amongst Sydney’s meaner streets in the early 20th century. As I looked at these accurately observed portraits by the Police photographers of the time - my thoughts strayed to Scottish & American photographer Alexander Gardner’s disturbing 1865 portrait (above right) of Lincoln assassination co-conspirator Lewis Payne. (I have always been seduced by equivalence in art) Doyle has unearthed Sydney citizens with similar looks of social dislocation, clearly at sea with society - a half century later and a world away from Payne - though nobody in this book carries the weight of having conspired to murder a President. “Crooks Like Us” is resonant with men and women’s faces, out of their depth, and besieged by the consequences of crimes great and small. As Luc Sante, author of Evidence and Kill All Your Darlings, eloquently writes in CROOKS LIKE US, “In their richness, the pictures and the text, set against the banality of the circumstances, declare that everyone is interesting and beautiful, and that every story is worth telling.” Photographs from the book are on display at the Police & Justice Museum following the book’s launch on September 15.

EMPIRE LINE - Robyn Stacey
Australian fine art photography is blessed with photographers who embrace the static virtues and beauty of the still life image - but not merely for the elegant arranging of pleasing visual elements. Artists such as Marian Drew and Anna-Maryke find visual joy in placing their humble subjects in unusual contexts before their cameras. While Anna-Maryke celebrates the perishable, transient virtues of food, among other subjects, Drew uses the approaching menace of mortality as an enduring, darker flavour within her work. Robyn Stacey shares this virtue but adds the subtler resonances of history. A story is always suspended, often hidden, within her elegant compositions, cemented by fine photographic craft.(above) Empire Line at STILLS Gallery is no exception. As Craig Judd writes in the catalogue, “... works in this exhibition are made as echoes and resonances ... “Empire Line” not only talks about role of desire in the transport of taste and knowledge systems, but also reveals once again the ongoing fascination with and strength of the still life tradition.” Until October 24.

For the opening of Lismore’s new Art Space (1 Norris Street, off Hunter Street) Ted Harvey is showing his “Fotographs from Brazil” and selected photographs taken at Led Zeppelin’s 1972 Sydney concert. Harvey is hoping that revenue raised from the sale of the Led Zeppelin images - and his poignant, unsentimental observations of Brazilian children - will change the lives of these underprivileged souls. “All proceeds ... go to sponsoring children to be part of a Compassion Australia Project in northern Brazil,” says Harvey, adding “the Federal Government offers generous tax breaks for businesses purchasing art works costing more than $1000. This will encourage small business owners to buy and display a photograph (which will) help the children of Forteleza. Art work(s) bought before December 31 and displayed on ... premises for a year, earn an extra tax deduction of 50%." (These tax breaks are available for businesses with a turnover of less than $2 million.) Harvey hopes funds raised will enable 100 children to be sponsored in Fortaleza in northern Brazil. A moving film showing the difficult lives children lead among the rubbish at Brazil’s Netaroi tip is also be part of this exhibition.
“As well as providing a place to work, Lismore Art Space will see a group of artists working in a hub, allowing networks and collaborations to flourish,” Harvey added.
‘Fotographs from Brazil’ will also be open on Saturday and Sunday September 19 and 20 from 9am to 4pm.

ARTISTIC PERSONALITIES - Various Photographers
As a result of recent acquisitions, the Art Gallery of South Australia are exhibiting portraits of Australia’s artistic personalities - including Charles P. Mountford’s picture of indigenous painter Albert Namatjira, an impossibly youthful art critic Robert Hughes (left) photographed by David Potts in 1954 and David Simpson’s observation of actor and dancer David Gulpilil. I should add that there are also images taken by myself in this display - featuring performers Judy Davis, Robyn Archer and Geoffrey Rush. From July 31.

As I left the Charles Hewitt Gallery after seeing Tamara Dean’s “The Bride” exhibition, I crossed a lane outside their carpark and saw a tiny mobile phone apparently lying on the pavement. I looked closer and saw that around it had been painted a lurid blue, to offset the footpath into which it had been pressed. Where once were numerals and words, LIES had been spelt in large, raised capital letters. I thought immediately of Arthur Stace, a strange nocturnal presence in the Sydney of the 1930's who was obsessed with words in streets - moving by night and writing the word ‘Eternity’ with chalk, in immaculate script on footpaths throughout the city. Stace’s inspiration had came in St Barnabas’s Church on Broadway where evangelist John Ridley was delivering a sermon. “He was a powerful preacher,” recalled Stace, “shouting, 'I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.' He repeated himself and kept shouting, 'Eternity, Eternity', and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write 'Eternity'. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I bent down right there and wrote it. I've been writing it at least 50 times a day ever since, and that's 30 years ago. The funny thing is that before I wrote it I could hardly write my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn't have spelled 'Eternity' for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn't understand it, and I still can't. I've tried and tried, but 'Eternity' is the only word that comes out in copperplate. I think Eternity gets the message across, makes people stop and think.” (above right: Arthur Stace writing Eternity. Photograph by FairfaxPhotos)
Looking down at the mobile phone, almost pressed flat into the bitumen, the word LIES seemed more like a silenced scream - quite the opposite of Stace’s humble reminder of the ultimate destination we all face.

IMAGE/TECH - why so few Digital Coupled Rangefinder cameras?
I was looking with some affection at my battered, black Voigtlander Bessa R2 the other day - a camera I depended on when photographing either social issues, or theatrical performance, in difficult light. While I relied on SLR's and high speed medium telephoto lenses (such as Canon's pioneering, aspherical 85mm f1.2) for close-ups and reaching across difficult foregrounds, I found the Bessa R2 and its fine 35mmf1.2 M-Nokton to be dependable when I absolutely had to get it sharp, under adverse lighting. Why, I thought, hadn't the imaginative, adventurous CEO of Cosina Inc. Mr. Kobayashi brought out a full frame digital coupled rangefinder camera (perhaps of 10-15 megapixels) to exploit the number of excellent Voigtlander, Zeiss and Leica lenses now available. This thought also surfaced as I read of the U.S. launch of the new Leica M9 full frame digital coupled rangefinder camera - albeit at a stellar price. Surely there was a growing digital CRF camera market to set against a declining market share for film-based cameras (though I, and others, periodically still shoot film with M- mount CRF cameras.) I include a picture here that I think demonstrates the strength of these cameras in capturing a moment at the technical limit (the lens was wide open at f1.2 and 1/60th second) during the 2004 performance given by talented Sydney singer and actress, Pippa Grandison, in a play called "Tragedy a Tragedy", staged by Hair of The Dog Theatre Company. Time will tell.

Text Copyright 2009 Robert McFarlane

Monday, August 17, 2009

Digital Convergence and USB powered scanners

Reviews of equipment that make imaging, in all its forms, easier and better.

The ideal of convergence in digital imaging continues unabated. Today one never considers buying a digital still camera unless it also shoots quality video, preferably in high definition (HD). And video cameras are not immune to this idea, being expected to shoot respectable quality still images as well as quality movies - standard play (SD) video is no longer enough. With the public’s growing acceptance of HD television, both subscription and free to air, HD video is fast becoming the standard expected by the consumer - whether with dedicated video cameras or digital still cameras. This marks a real convergence, both privately and professionally of the two mediums for today’s photography. And with newspapers now publishing both still and moving images in their online publications, these new cameras fill a genuine need. Remarkably, this is not confined to high end camera models such as Canon’s EOS 5D Mark ll - relatively inexpensive cameras such as the recently introduced EOS 500D DSLR now offer both sides of this imaging coin. Consumers are clearly the beneficiaries of this evolution. One camera might now be all you need for covering important family occasions - or professional events.
It is also a measure of how quickly these cameras are evolving that the quality of imaging continues to improve - especially in areas such as shooting at high ISO speeds in low light.
The Canon 500D is a camera to pick up and take with you when larger, heavier digital cameras seem simply too bulky for carefree picture taking. And you can be sure of quality images with a 15 megapixel CMOS sensor, Canon’s proven DIGIC image processing and the ability to shoot RAW and jpeg simultaneously, if required. The 500D is also another camera where a brief look at the manual sets you up for handling this camera intuitively. That this DSLR comes with the extremely modest Canon 18-55IS lens should not cause too many any visual inhibitions. I read somewhere that no human hand was involved in its making - so automated was the process of manufacture. I had modest expectations until I saw the pictures - it is a clearly well designed 11 element 9 group aspheric lens, capable of sharp images with visual aberrations kept well under control. I naturally prefer the 17-85IS for its longer range, more robust construction and proven performance - but the prospect of a lighter, stabilized 28mm-90mm (equivalent) lens for little more than $150 is hard to resist. This modest but well performing lens cannot be bought separately, coming as part of the 500D’s basic kit. The difference between the cost of the camera body alone and the kit, with 18-55IS, lens is only $150. There are also evolutionary improvements in the camera's design. The LCD screen on the camera’s back is larger, at 80mm wide diagonally, with extremely fine resolution, being composed of 920,000 pixels. Higher resolution is helpful when viewing a picture's small details or inspecting several thumbnail images at once. The detail is simply much finer than previous DSLR’s whose screens usually run to 300,000 pixels. The shutter release also seemed more responsive than on the earlier EOS 40D DSLR.
And with the 500D I found myself only referring to the instruction book when I needed precise shooting parameters such as discovering the new experience of shooting HD video with a DSLR. Other frequently used controls, ISO settings, white balancing, reviewing pictures and AE lock were easy to read and reach. And shooting HD is simple - turn the rubberized control wheel on the top right camera panel to align the movie camera symbol. Press the button with the camera symbol and red dot (just to the right side of the LCD screen) to activate the live view. When you wish to start filming simply press the red button again (a red dot will appear top right in the LCD screen telling you filming is taking place.) All features of the camera and lens function as normal, except AF, which must be activated using the AE lock button (*) on the top right of the camera’s rear panel. From experience this technique provoked the AF mechanism to hunt a little until it found sharp focus. Correct AF was then registered on the LCD screen by a central white, vertical, rectangle (delineating the autofocus area) turning green. Readers might try filming using manual focus for a change. But the resulting vidoes were uniformly excellent. Once HD filming has been selected, darkened crop marks suddenly appear, automatically revealing what is being filmed using the 16:9 format. I took the manual’s advice and bought a 4GB fast-writing SD HC card. HD filming devours memory capacity with filming at 1280 x 720 and 30 frames per second allowing only 18 minutes on my 4GB card. Fast-writing, larger capacity cards are mercifully coming down in price with these wafer thin devices also being more compact than the chunkier Compactflash CF cards used on cameras such as the EOS 40D.
In conclusion the EOS 500D is the kind of camera that invites being used. Being compact and easy to operate, it promises quality picture taking as fun, even if you may be planning for your pictures to be used professionally. HD video capability is a huge bonus, effectively allowing the owner to have this important capacity wherever you go. The EOS 500D can be attached to a High Definition television for viewing both video and stills via HDMI cable (HTC 100 - purchased separately from the camera) using a socket concealed in the left hand side of the camera (behind a durable rubber seal). Still images were uniformly fine in colour, resolution and freedom from intrusive digital artefacts up to and including ISO 1600 (note the still life with mandarins) At ISO 3200 in the picture of waitress Monika at Maggies of Potts Point, results were coarser but certainly useable - and therefore publishable. The Canon EOS 500D Kit also includes an equally sharp, optically well designed, 55-250IS zoom. Together with the 18-55IS most photographic bases are covered for a recommended retail price of $1999.
Other standard features of Canon’s digital SLR’s are included, such as sensor cleaning, an extensive choice of picture taking modes from sports and landscape to nature in closeup, with the camera having a durable battery life. Even after days of inactivity Canon’s LP-E5 Lithium Ion battery retained most of its charge. A separate input for a stereo microphone would help.

Canon LiDE 700F Scanner with 9600 dpi scanning and USB power
Another product with the potential to make photographers' lives easier is Canon's elegant LiDE 700F scanner - the only scanner I am aware of that is solely powered by its USB cable. Mains power is not even an option.
The 700F flatbed scanner builds on the successful design of its predecessor the LiDE 600F, being also powered only by USB. Capable of scanning flat images on its platen as well as 35mm negatives and transparencies using the film holder supplied, the 700F goes a step further than the 600F in being able to scan at an astonishing, optical 9600 dpi. (it's timely that portable hard drives are dropping in price.) This elegant silver and black machine sits on the desk next to my black HP notebook, looking, at first glance, like a second silver laptop. The lid is double hinged, making copying and scanning objects of different thicknesses easier. Where the lid closes at the front edge the 700F has two small surprises - recessed silver rectangles about the size of hearing aid batteries at each corner. Looking closer revealed Canon had added two magnets with which to hold the lid flatter. A small but impressive design feature which suggests the scanner is well thought out.
This scanner departs from usual Canon scanners, such as the 5600F which have hinged plastic film holders illuminated from a light source contained within the lid. As there is no room within the 700F’s ultra thin lid for a light source, the Canon designers found an ingenious solution. The bottom half of the film carrier sits close to the platen surface, registered in alignment by two hollow spaces - one square and the other rectangular (so they can’t be misaligned). A strip of six negatives literally sits on this ‘half’ film carrier, emulsion (dull) side upwards. Once a strip of negatives have been positioned (an awkward task to manage with large fingers) a small, moveable, diffuse light source is positioned above, making direct contact and illuminating a single frame of 35mm film. (This light source, with diffuser, is powered via a cord which plugs into the left hand side of the scanner.) The light is then moved along manually, to cover and illuminate the frame selected for scanning. For such a simple device the results were impressive. To test the scanner in a practical way, I chose a sharp, rather ancient medium speed black and white negative from my archives of a woman I was asked to photograph forty four years ago. Posed against the setting of a derelict, vintage Rolls Royce, this photograph was commissioned for the front cover of CENSOR newspaper by its publisher, Richard Graham. Photography was to take place in the Haberfield home of a Sydney identity who shall remain anonymous.

My subject, however, was a woman of rare grace named Angelica. After scanning this negative, taken on medium speed film all those years ago, I was impressed by the fineness of detail the scanner resolved. Strands of the woman's hair on her forehead were clearly defined. Nothing appeared to be lost and the film’s grain structure was clearly visible - all one could ask for, especially when scanning 35mm negatives using a flatbed machine - generally a lesser option when compared to dedicated film scanners. With Canon’s proprietary ScanGear software, all major controls for scanning were easily detected and accessible. Once I had loaded the software CD and completed the scanner’s simple calibration procedure (found in ScanGear's Preferences) I established resolution and basic image controls and decided to scan in greyscale. After years of supplying pictures for newspaper publication, I routinely scan using the combination of resolution and output size - 300dpi at A4 - most commonly requested by publishers. For finer book reproduction I will, of course go higher. I normally avoid applying unsharp masking or tonal ‘curves’ if the negative is reasonable to start with. Only after the first, basic scan will I apply more detailed corrections. If I wish to sharpen an image, I will sometimes employ Photoshop’s ‘smart sharpen’ to a degree that leaves the image sharper, but not obviously so. Image manipulation is fine as long as you don’t notice it. My main reservation about the 700F was its film holder, in which is sometimes difficult to align the negative accurately beneath the light source sitting above. Transparencies can only be scanned individually and unmounted. Perhaps future generation scanners will address this.

Though my prime interest was scanning B&W negs, I also scanned several Fuji RTP transparencies I shot in 1993 of actors Cate Blanchett and Lech Mackiewicz (L)in a memorable professional stage performance of Timothy Daly’s austere, beautiful play “Kafka Dances” at the Griffin Theatre in Sydney’s King’s Cross. Again, I achieved fine, reproducible scans. In case you thought I only scanned negs and trannies, I also used the 700F to archive some tiny family snapshots sent to me by my cousin John Chaplin recently. Taken sixty years ago during a childhood holiday in Tasmanian snow, these credit card sized snapshots were able to be scanned and enlarged to A4, with revealing effect. I am the timid soul seen on the right of frame. My mother, Poppy, now 93, is in the centre of the group holding my sister Helen. My late father, Bill, is on the left of the picture, cradling an ever present cigarette.

While the Canon LiDE 700F is not the scanner for all seasons, its results were uniformly good. Readers should know that I have little interest in what the dmax of this scanner might be (Canon don't quote it anyway) Practical testing proves that, with care, the 700F is capable of making excellent film scans as well as being versatile.(there are individual buttons for PDF, email attachments and copying documents) Its very reasonable price ($249 RRP) makes it an ideal travelling companion for laptop users; it also promises using one less power cord for accessories.

Copyright Robert McFarlane 2009