May 27, 2011

Universal translator: Photographer's edition

I usually want to choke someone when I hear the following: poseur lingo, weapons-grade gear lust, and outright lies... but of course, I protest too much.

Volume 1: Photographer-to-photographer translation

"Nice! What lens did you shoot that with?"
("You add bokeh in Photoshop, don't you, you prick.")

"What do you think of my portfolio?"
("My site sucks. Care to confirm that?")

"Yeah, I only use prime lenses. There's no comparison."
("I desperately want a 70-200 VRII, but can't afford it.")

"Nikon (Canon) is clearly superior to Canon (Nikon)"
("I couldn't tell the difference between a Lomo and a Hasselblad.")

"You can't beat Pocket Wizards for dependability."
("I can't believe I actually dropped $400 on these things.")

"I prefer shooting available light."
("There's no way I'm dropping $400 on Pocket Wizards.")
"My f/1.2 is just in a whole other league from the f/1.4—you can't go back."
("Dammit, I should have bought a Smart Car instead.")

"I read Esquire for the photography."
("Did you know Megan Fox has a tattoo underneath her tongue?")
"I watch America's Next Top Model if my wife puts it on, but it's just for the photo shoots."
("Omigod, Molly got totally screwed. What were they thinking!")

"I always nail it in-camera. I don't like to use much post."
("Clarity? 85... Vibrance? 60... Vignetting? all the way, then back it off a notch.")

"... and then I used twenty-five SB-900s to fill in the USS Nimitz in the background."
("Hi, my name's Joe. It's nice to meet you.")

May 19, 2011

One for the books.

I have a habit of forgetting stuff, so the blog is a nice way for me to catalog stories that I think are worth preserving... provided I remember to do so.

This story has nothing to do with anything, but I absolutely can't bear the thought of ever forgetting it.

INT.   No Frills  -- SUMMER -- A fairly dead Saturday afternoon.

I am at the checkout, glancing at tabloid covers, while the seventeen-year-old cashier — let's call her Betsy — is turned away from me, chatting with her friend who's at the helm of cash 3. I'm a little spaced out, and not in a big hurry, so I let them gossip about their Saturday night plans.

While deliberately trying not to stare at the cleavage on the cover of Us magazine, I catch a surprising fact...

"She's such a slut."

Say what? I look up and notice that Betsy is now ringing in my groceries.

"Who's a slut?" I inquire enthusiastically; hoping to get the low-down on Ms. Lopez, Aniston, or whoever the waif-du-jour is.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Betsy glances back at her friend, and in a sheepish voice says...

"Um... Stacey."

No further questions, your honour.

May 18, 2011

Ah-ha moments, Vol. 2

I was seventeen. I had been shooting on an SLR for about a year (a Praktica MTL-3, if you're curious). It was a perfect starter—from K-Mart!—that was equipped with a 50mm prime.

I think it was a 1.8, but whatever its maximum aperture, that's all I shot at. Not because I was addicted to shallow DOF or anything, but because—unbeknownst to me—that was the only position at which the iris rested.

Totally ignorant, I shot this way for about a year; always twisting the aperture ring back and forth, trying to understand why the light-meter never responded to my input. It was like flicking that light switch in the hall that does nothing.

(I think I assumed that the meter was broken, or that in photography, aperture had way less effect on exposure than I was led to believe. What did I know? Only one of my friends had an SLR, and I sure as hell wasn't going to reveal my colossal stupidity to him.)

Anyway, I got some nice images, and just rolled with it.

I started reading a lot more about photography, and one day said to myself, "Seriously, what the &^%$?" I unscrewed the lens with the tip of a steak knife, and tried to figure out what was going on in there. Well, something had obviously come loose, and with zero tool skills to rely on, I rubber-cemented the iris leaves to the most likely thingamabob.

Jesus wept.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, that fixed nothing, but it somehow didn't hurt the lens, either. I kept shooting, and moved on to a Chinon CE-4 in 1988, where I re-discovered the magical world of actual iris adjustment.


Epilogue: the Practica was stolen—along with my Nikon 601 and a bunch of other gear—a few years ago, and no doubt, some guy out there is wondering who the f*ck rubber-cemented his 50 mill.

Choke on it, sucka!

May 17, 2011

Tattoo You

Tattoo You, originally uploaded by jeremysalejr.
The nicest tough guy an art student could ever meet.

May 16, 2011

How to win a juried art show.

Now THAT is art.

I co-juried an art show on Saturday, and man... talk about a learning experience. I should have paid them.

My first thought upon reviewing the entries was immediate: "I am so glad I am not competing with these guys." Holy smokes, what a lot of talent our neighbourhood has.

There was also a pleasing assortment of, how shall I put this... not so great art on display.  But you know what? That, too, was impressive. You know why?

They got off their asses and submitted.

So here's what I learned after sifting through roughly 165 entries. If you disagree, please help yourself:

  • Photography has to be really, really good to beat classic media. A photo is relatively easy to take, so there has to be evidence of thought, toil, and a mastery of the craft. No blown highlights, no sharpening edges within an inch of their life and no hack filters. As a photographer, I found it easy to dismiss any photo which was merely "good".
  • Bigger is better. If your art kicks some ass, it might as well wear a big boot. As a juror, it's harder to be dismissive of a large work, because you're forced to take it seriously. (Also, they're harder to move back to the loading dock.) Note: big and crappy is just crappy.
  • Do something difficult. A statue made from the melted-down syringes of your bout with tuberculosis in Cambodia is way more interesting than any watercolour. It shows imagination, and implies depth of character.
  • If you're selling it, price it realistically. Lowballing shows that you're insecure, ridiculously high shows you're not taking it seriously. This effects its evaluation.
  • For the love of Godard, don't try to look sophisticated if you aren't. You like bullfighters on velvet, paint bullfighters on velvet.
  • Choose a political message at your own risk. We're not all hippies, you know.
  • Pick a colour palette, Rainbow Brite. And stick to it.
  • Smudged paint? Ripped print? Like a typo on a resume, that's insta-trash.
  • Pony up for good framing and mattes. Your Zellers frame looks like a Zellers frame.
  • If your signature looks like it was made by Stephen Hawking, get someone else to do it. (This is one of my big weaknesses, by the way—my signature hasn't changed since grade 3.)
  • People know restaurant art when they see it. So do jurors.
  • Keep your style consistent. If you submit a photo-realistic landscape plus a Modigliani rip-off homage, we can't label you. Hmm... maybe that's not a bad thing.
  • Trust your gut, but be able to defend your decisions. Don't try to make a "contest winner", because it shows. Make what you're good at, and don't lie to your audience.
  • You know why nudity works? Because jurors don't want to look like prudes.
  • Above all other advice... Submit more than one entry! It is very difficult for a jury to dismiss two (or three) pieces from the same artist. In my case, I tended to favour the stronger of two good submissions and leave it at that. Fair? Not really.

I could tell—we all could tell—which pieces were taken seriously during their creation and which weren't; which were slapped together, which were lovingly crafted, and which were over-thought, over-worked, and over-brushed.

I'm so glad I got the chance to do this. Being on the 'other side' is a terrific reality-check for evaluating the merit of your own art. 

And, apparently, I still have a lot of work to do.

May 4, 2011

From your cold, dead hands...

 Many photobloggers love to hate the following:

  • tilt-shift and faux tilt-shift
  • f/1.4 and f/1.2 lenses
  • ringlight
  • Lighroom/Photoshop vignetting
  • texture overlays
  • the clarity slider
  • HDR
You know what? Who cares. If that's your bag, use it until the wheels come off. Personally, I love all of those things (minus most HDR.)

Here's the bottom line: Client trumps blogger. End of story. Your client is the right bower, her husband is the left bower. You are the ace.

That blogger who hates everything? He's an off-suit nine on a good day.

May 2, 2011

Funny joke from an otherwise unremarkable comedian, Vol. 2

"If Sunny D is so fucking good, why is it always in the back of the fridge?"

-unknown amateur, Laugh Resort, circa 2003

Funny joke from an otherwise unremarkable comedian, Vol. 1

"So I'm in HMV the other day, and you know those stations where you can listen to whatever CD you want? I see this guy there, and he's listening to John Tesh (pause) Sorry, that's the joke."

Bravo, sir.

I can't, for the life of me, remember who said this; but he was an amateur around the same time I was attempting to be funny at The Laugh Resort in Toronto. (I can guarantee that I remember more jokes of his than he can of mine.)