Saturday, August 04, 2007

War of the Worlds

I warmly recommend Alan Moore's "comic book" The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In book II (I think it is) part of the pulp culture elements that he drags into the heady mix (including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, and much more) is the war of the worlds and the Martians and their tripods. It's a very avant garde book, very much for adults. The movie was not a patch on it.

Alex says:
The original [War of the Worlds] is a dissertation about man, and his place in the natural order of things. It speaks out against the European conquest of the world. It looks at the lust for war and adventure within each of us.

It is a great humanitarian piece.

There are times when the protaginist acts more like Cruise's neighbour, the insistance on returning the horse and buggy to the inn keeper for example, but that is only when the martians are perceived as an inconvenience, not a real threat. Later the survivalist impulses show, bludgeoning the cleric sos the Martians don't hear them.

One thing that surprised me was the 2005 version of WotW by Pendragon films. despite the low budget FX, and terrible acting, this film voiced the characters with real fear, defeat and defiance. Now listening to Richard Burton and David Essex discussing the futile defenses of the artillary "bows and arrows against the lightening", they seem smugly resigned, not fearful of the true horror that has gripped the nation.

There is a gritty sequel recently written, called "Scarlet Traces", which has the British smugly adoptinig the Martian technology, and maintaining it's Empire, believing that since it delivered the world from the Martians, then it owns the world.

Evening Song

Evening Song.
Title inspired by a song by Danish band Sort Sol.

Sort Sol (Black Sun) was a high peak in Danish underground avant-garde rock when I grew up, and some of their stuff was just phenomenal. They have since, understandably, tried to broaden their appeal to escape chronic poverty, and I think they have succeeded without losing edge.

Tidbit from an interview with the band:
Interviewer: "are there any rituals any of you do before going on stage? Something you just feel you have to do?"
Band member: "It's often a good idea to take a leak."

Does art have to be beautiful?

The following was posted by Final Identity under the Photographers Don't post, and deserves a post of its own.
I've always insisted myself that beauty is essential to art. With the understanding that "beauty" is not the same as "pretty" or "pleasant" or "palatable".

Art begs for a response, or an interaction, or a perception from another person. It can even be "easy" because it didn't take effort at the moment of creation, but that ease was the product of a lifetime of preparation on the part of the creator, whose entire essence and collected world view somehow got translated into the work. Or the effort of creation itself can be "the work" part.

An artist simply trains himself in these various communications and then tries to use them to his purpopses.

I recall a class in "Western Values" or some such, a freshman-level college thing where we all got our first chance to talk about deep philosophical ideas. We did some Sophocles, some Anouilh, a little Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Ya know, old chestnuts.

One question arose. Does an artist have to create something that's beautiful? Plenty of students in our seminar, wise to their newfound politicizations, suggested no, he doesn't. He could create an ugly hideous thing, but the response in the viewer might be the intent of the art. Picasso's "Guernica" for example -- a scene of destruction, with the composition itself destroyed. "Mr. Picasso," asked the disgruntled General, who had wanted the glories of his regime idolized instead of battered, "did you paint that picture?" "No, Mr. General. You did," so responded Pablo.

But I insisted that artists must work toward beauty. Or use some other word -- toward wholeness, or toward sanity, or toward just plain old organic compositional togetherness. I think Picasso would be the first to say that the overwhelming response to "Guernica" was in itself a "beauty" of a sort.

Most of my classmates just thought I was a philistine, wishing for pretty pastel reproductions of impressionist water lilies. After all, who insists on something as bourgeois as "beauty" when so much more deep, philosophical, political concepts are available to the artist -- the struggling worker, the horrors of war, the destruction of the environment, plays about dysfunctional families. These are ART because they're DEEP, so thought the class. This fellow seeking beauty? He doesn't GET that art can be UNSETTLING. And it OUGHT to be. So they thought. It ought to "challenge assumptions."

No. I think "Animal Farm" is quite beautiful. Who doesn't see the beauty in "some are just more equal than others"? What a turn on a turn. Orwell would agree. "Guernica" has an incredible organic wholeness to its composition, line and form in place, colors in unity. Even "Morder Hoffnung des Frauens," a weird experimental theater piece from the Jugendstil period in Vienna about ... ya know ... nothing much, except Angst -- even that has a beauty to it. They missed my intent. Most of them are just lawyers and business executives now. I guess their fervent politicization didn't help them challenge their assumptions much at all.

The Thompson Anti-Bandit Gun

[Thanks to Pascal]

Too funny. I'm speechless.

One thing I find highly interesting: almost all the crime that police will use violence to "stop", including killing the perpetrators, is financial crime. In other words, they, and by extension all of us, are perfectly willing, nay eager, to kill somebody over money. Including a few innocent bystanders if necessary. Nobody ever considers just letting them go and then try to find the money later. Money must be really valuable.

And of course, like Pascal points out: "I seem to remember gangsters were quite prompt in providing this item for themselves."

Indeed. "Provided only to one side of the law", my ass. Any violence is and will be an excalation of violence, by definition. The first one to stop escalating, wins.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lens cap

Here is another reason to use an SLR. When the lens cap is on, you can't see anything in the viewfinder.

Poor Posh. I like her. I've only seen her in the interview with Ali-G, and she was very fetching and she held her own against him, which can't be said for many of his victims.

Leica Summarit-M lenses

Leica Summarit-M lenses. It's a new series of lenses from Leica, with limited biggest-aperture (meaning less low-light capabilities), but not so eye-wateringly expensive. Good decision by Leica. I can afford good stuff these days, but I'm frigged if I'll pay $1500 for a 50mm 2.0 lens. (Not that I'm about to buy a Leica, but just in principle.)

... And the present CEO of Leica is Asian! I bet the Germans did not see this coming thirty years ago.

Real photographers don't...

Real photographers don't...
And real painters don't buy pre-mixed paint or pre-stretched canvases... *
And real men don't drive auto-gear cars... (or use automatic weapons, I guess.)

Coincidentally (or not), yesterday I got this mail from my friend Dave:

... But about "art." I'd like to share an aphorism that I heard many years ago:

The most important part of a real work of art is real work.

I suggest that to use a computer tool and randomly run fractals or generates patterns is not really art. Yes the patterns are pretty, but there is no real work involved in making them.

Clouds are pretty, but there is no real work in making them. Taking a picture of a cloud is much closer to art, if there was real thought put into it, with framing, contrast, whatever (I'm obviously not a photographer).

When you (and I mean you, Eolake himself) paint a picture, regardless of the quality of the output, there is real work involved. Some appeal to you, some to others, and some just don't. But there is real work.

I have a Dale Chihuly painting on my wall, 3'x4'. (In a weak moment, I gave in to a Public Broadcasting System pledge drive and bought it because it had my wife's birthday as its 1-of-200 serial numbers). It has some nice colors in it, but frankly, there was not much real work put into it. His technique is to grab ketchup (catsup, if that is the right spelling over there) bottles filled with paint and squirt them onto paper lying on the ground. He squirts until he is done. Hardly 4 minutes of work. Contrast that with any of the glass art his studio (which is about 10 miles away from my home) makes, and anyone can see the difference.

How do you personally define art? I really am curious.

Well, I am not sure I agree. While I appreciate the good feeling one gets from seeing something that a lot of work has been poured into, I am not sure it's connected with whether it is "art" or not. Building a house is a lot of work, but that does not make the house art. On the other hand, a very perceptive and trained photographer can make a world class photograph in a split second... Of course he probably used years to get to that level, but still, the actual photograph was over near-instantly.

* PS: haha, the thing about pre-stretched canvasses was just a guess on my part based on human nature. But lo this comment from Mike's site:
"I have an art degree from Indiana University and the painters I met there, both professors and students, were very passionate about materials and tools. Many of them wouldn't use anything but linen canvas, which they insisted that they had to stretch themselves instead of buying the pre-made canvases."


I'm gonna take a long weekend. A pleasant, relaxed one.
(Yes, all my weekends are pleasant and relaxed. So?)

I'm pretty much done with the work, sales are good due to a price reduction, I just had a groceries delivery, including some prawn cocktails, and I have a bunch of good DVDs, including the rest of Dead Like Me season two. So, feet up.

(This is not meant to indicate any influence on the quantity or quality of the posts here, I never know about that.)

Final Identity said...
"I can't imagine eating one of those --in fact, anything from the sea -- frozen and then delivered in a little bag. For goodness sakes, you live on an island smack between the Atlantic and the North Sea!"

Actually, Final, sea products today are deep-frozen almost the moment they are taken out of the sea. So it is a great way to keep them as fresh as can be, and with no added chemical preservers. A frozen product has more freshness than something that you buy immediately but keep in your refrigerator for even one day.
Similarly, I saw a news report on canned vegetables in France. They are steam-cooked in a very short time, briefly after being picked, and canned immediately. So they retain more vitamins than a fresh produce that you wouldn't eat right away.
Basically, if you're not the fisherman or the gardener, bringing the food straight to the kitchen for cooking, some aspects of modern life ARE very positive, and have made much impact on our health and life expectancy.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


How come no technology company can manage product naming which is easily understandable? Lookkit:

Leica camera M series naming:
M3 (1954 - 1966)
MP (1956 - 1957)
M2 (1958 - 1967)
M1 (1959 - 1964)
M4 (1967 - 1975)
M5 (1971 - 1975)
CL (1973 - 1976)
M4-2 (1977 - 1980)
M4-P (1980 - 1986)
M6 (1984 - 1998)
M6J (1994)
M6 TTL (1998 - 2002)
M7 (2002 - )
M8 (2006 - )

The M2 came after the M3, then the M1, and then the M4...

And how about Apple's software? Quick, what's the sequence between OS's named Panther, Tiger, Leopard, and Jaguar? Dear Apple, wasn't one or two big cats enough?

But then that's the whole world. My local pizzaria has a zillion different prices for their pizzas. And if you want an extra topping, the price for that is different according to the size of the pizza. :)

Message to the world: Simplicity, folks. It's a good thing. Try it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Nippon geeks

You gotta love the Nipponese. When they do something, they go all out, including their geeks. I was looking for a reference about whether "The Churchyard" mentioned in Dead Like Me was an actual sixties band, because they showed an old LP cover which was just so convincing. So I googled some dialogue and found this page. Not only has somebody typed in all of the dialogue, but they have entered the exact miliseconds each line of dialogue is placed at! Oh, and a Japanese translation of each line. And the whole site is about Dead Like Me. Totally amazing.

Yellow Car

I am so bored with blue and grey cars that I was delighted to see this wonderful golden one.
(I also like the greenish car in the background, though I suspect the owner is not as enthusiastic about it.)

This is Jade cleaning my TV. I just found it funny, the ridiculous discrepancy in size.

Should you buy a DSLR or a Compact?

"Should you buy a DSLR or a Compact?", a guide at

What, me, artist?

I forget if I ever mentioned my old WhatMeArtist course.

Russian Leica

I just bought this hand-customized Russian Leica copy on eBay. (For 30 Euros!)
Isn't it way cool?


I am realizing more and more than my arch-nemisis may be tension.
I have a strong tendency to get over-excited about all kinds of things, good and bad, particularly good. And if I forget to relax, in the end my stomach hurts, my back hurts, or my head hurts. And my sleep suffers.
Any good tips for releasing tension?

It would never work...

"You cannot go out with this Brennan guy, it would never work: you're a taurus, he's a gemini. He's lutheran, you're dead."
- Dead Like Me

That show is really great. Some of the perifiral characters are more real and nuanced than the main characters of most shows.

For example Gorgia's mother, Joy Lass ("joyless"): on the surface she's a bee-ai-tee-see-eitch, but she is much more than that. She is a loving person, but she has profound anger issues, and she is written and played wonderfully well.

And then there's everybody's favorite: Dolores (Georgia's senior in the office). On the surface she seems like an awful phony, always putting a big pretty bow on everything. Again, much more complex. Sure, she pretends, but mostly to herself, and only because she wants so badly that things are nice, not because she wants to fool anybody. And her life and her past is much different than one might imagine. And she is so wonderfully played too.

Rollei 35

Shame on me: Stephen Gillette made me want to have a Rollei 35, so I bought one on eBay. Lucky for me I don't care about how it works, and the meter does not work, so I got it much cheaper than it normally is.

In case you've never seen one, it's tiny, like a pack of cigarettes. But full 35mm quality, and great lens.

Isn't it beautiful?
I wonder if it is also beautiful to people who are not camera geeks?

Monday, July 30, 2007

Medicine for life

It appears that more Americans were killed by mistakes in the medical system in the past decade than where killed by wars in two hundred years.
And it is not limited to the US. According to the doctors' own statistics, in any country in the world where there's been a doctors' strike, death statistics fell during the strike! And then imagine how many errors are not registered as errors. Would you admit to killing somebody by giving him the wrong (or right) medicine?
This video has some quite astounding statistics.

Jerry said:
Why do you listen to and pass on hysterical, unattributed, "statistics" which are designed to sell products?
How is this better than the marketing used by the drug companies the video complains about?
This is built on the paranoia and fear mongering, not on reason, testing and science.

It could be. I hope so. But I think that if the statistics were not true, this guy would have been sued to oblivion a long time ago.

Pascal said:
I'm not going to feel targeted here, because I know you guys and what you truly mean. :-) [Note: Pascal is a doctor]

It's true that many doctors often forget the principle of primum non nocere, "first thing is to avoid causing harm". But it's not all one side's fault. It's not only because the pharmaceutical companies spend great effort in ADVERTIZING what should never have become consumption goods. The mentality of patients is also responsible in good part. Picture, if you will, a medic who says: "It's just a viral angina. Take a week's rest, vitamins, paracetamol, hot drinks, and it'll pass. You don't need antibiotics, they won't help anyway." Alas, he'll risk being confronted with the stereotypical: "What? I don't even get a prescription? What kind of lame doctor is that? I'm going to another one from now on."
It happens every day. :-(

Similarly, the fact that a definite diagnosis is seldom evident, something we learn very early on in Med School, is very hard to accept for many patients. To them, either the Doc is a fully confident god-like figure, or he's a loser. This creates a pressure in favor of misdiagnosis.

That's not to say that black sheep are not many, because they are. Heck, I always say, 1% rotten apples is more than enough to give any given group a bad rep. Immigrants, muslims, pious evangelists, citizens of any other country, the ethnic group of your choice... If one out of a hundred behave like rascals, it can be enough when seen on worldwide TV if you are ever so slightly inclined to prejudice.

And let's face it, pick any random group, and tell me honestly: can you guarantee that 99% of them are upstanding, or even just nice people? Not one bit likely. Extremist parties in the most civilized countries have an electoral core base of at least 5 to 7% visceral racists. Imagine 7% of Germans being potential rioting, jew-murdering neo-nazis. Imagine 7% of muslims being ready to slit an infidel's throat. Imagine 7% of doctors being exactly like Final Identity describes: greedy, unethical, incompetent, or all at once.

Now, imagine that this is probably a true figure, and you'll understand why there are still so many things wrong in even the most socially advanced country. 5 to 7% rotten apples, is one out of 14 to 20 people. It's not that much, but it's already a lot in any crowd, city or country.
And the proportion can grow far bigger in the "adequate" circumstances. For instance, with a charismatic fanatic telling you Right and Wrong, and peer pressure to approve of the "enlightened" person.

Compact cameras, Stephen Gillette interview

Stephen Gillette, I think the photographs on your site are wonderful, especially the unmanipulated ones in portfolio two. They are the kind of pictures I want to make when I grow up.
I was interested and a little surprised to learn that you only use pocket cameras. These are rarely used for serious work due to their limitations. (And maybe it's a status thing too. The bulk of a Nikon D2x commands respect.)

I've always liked compact cameras myself. I've owned a Konica TC, a Pentax ME Super, an Olympus OM2, a Ricoh 35, a Minox 35, a Rollei 35, a Konica Big Mini, and several compact digicams. (Including a credit card sized one which barely makes pictures.)

So, question time:

Why use only compacts?

Stephen Gillette: Live preview. After decades of shooting film, and straining to "previsualize" results, the LCD offered me an opportunity to see the image, not a framed, cropped view of the real world. The world viewed through a dSLR viewfinder does not look like the image reviewed on the LCD a few seconds later. Plus, I have always been drawn to small cameras. I was hoisting a Canon 5D recently, with an impressively large optic mounted on it, and despite its stellar image capabilities, I could not imagine myself using it. It might as well have a bullhorn attached, screaming: "Hey, people, over here... "Look at me, I'm taking pictures!"

What do you feel are their most important limitations? Which of those are unnecessary?

Low-light shooting is the biggest problem for me. The world around us is a 24-hour visual cornucopia. Many images only reveal themselves at dusk, or during the night. I almost never use flash (there are no flash shots on my website). My style does not accommodate a tripod. So I must rely on the best small sensors, which to date have fallen far short of dSLR low-light performance.

For the majority of people who wish to see the world as it is when they photograph it, compacts offer viewfinders which are compromised, or non-existent. Not a problem for me, most of the time...

Do you make big prints?

I print images on paper sizes up to 13 x 19", which equates to an image size of 16 x 12 given the 4:3 image format. I have printed images up to 15 x 20" by printing panels on smaller sheets and mounting them together. (It sounds funny, and it is.) The point is that on matte paper (my preference), 15 x 20" image quality is not a problem with many of the images I create.

I am looking into printshops in the Los Angeles area using the Durst Lambda system. I have seen images taken with the 6 MP Nikon D50 and the kit lens printed with the Lambda up to 40 x 60" (!!!) that looked very good. Select images from a compact could present well at that size, too. Not every image, of course.

How do you deal with the less precise framing? It seems like your pictures are very precisely framed, but compacts either have lousy viewfinders, or just an LCD, which I personally like, but it's a tad small for really precise framing, no?

I once worked as a digital retoucher for a printing company. My monitor was a professional one, but a bit long in the tooth. It was a CRT, and the phosphors, etc. were tired. The color onscreen did not match the color coming off the press. Over time, I learned how to "see" the resulting press colors on the monitor. It was a mind thing.

Likewise, when I frame something exactly for a shot (which is 98% of the time), I translate the image I see (or am squinting at!) on the LCD into a close approximation in my mind of what the image will look like on my studio monitor. The current standard of 2.5" LCD's is almost as big as the groundglass on my old twin-lens film camera. Three inches is better, of course. The new Sony H9 has a honey of a swiveling 3" LCD. I played with one yesterday. Too bad the image-capture quality is not tops.

I have written before about my ideal (dream) compact digicam, and so have others, like Mike Johnston and Thom Hogan. What's yours?

My real-world ideal is always the camera I am currently shooting with. (Currently the Fuji F20.) If I summon up that fanciful demon of desire, I can dream with the rest of you. I would love an articulating LCD. Even better low-light capture. (Hopefully, in a very few years, this will be moot, and something like an equivalent to ISO 6400 with high quality will be the norm.) Sensor size is less important than image quality. Bigger sensors require bigger lenses, typically with less depth of field, which can reduce the all-over sharpness that I favor.

The current Olympus E-510 is actually as much a step toward my "next ideal camera" as the Fuji F50fd might be. The Live Preview is still a bit lacking on the E-510, but it does work. The low-light capability is not class-leading, but better than any compact, at least so far. And it is reasonably light and unassuming.

The Olympus "pro" dSLR waiting in the wings for announcement in the weeks or months ahead will have the articulating LCD, according to a rep I spoke with who has handled a pre-production working sample. The vibration-reduction system is said to be greatly enhanced, as well. Hopefully, the package won't be too big and heavy.

What were your favorite film cameras?

As a college student, I took one summer and hitched around Europe. I was an art major, so shortly after arriving in Paris I made my way to the Louvre, and found the statue of Winged Victory. Standing next to me was a chap taking a picture with the smallest camera I had ever seen. Not only small, but beautiful. The original Rollei 35. I followed him around for ten minutes, stealing glances at his camera, ignoring the centuries of incredible art on the walls around me. I traded in my Praktica SLR in Holland and nabbed the Rollei to bring home with me.

Like you, I have owned (or still own) a Pentax ME and Konica Big Mini, the latter having such timeless minimal design--quite the opposite of the watch-like Rollei with its prominent dials. I also have an Olympus XA. And the still-available Olympus Stylus Epic 35mm: this camera is so quiet and smooth in operation, and produces great pictures.

Sharpest of all my small film cameras was the Pentax PC35AF, an early auto-focus with an insanely sharp 5-element f/2.8 35mm lens, probably a sonnar-type design.

There, you've gone and done it. All this nostalgia. I'm sniffling into my hanky...
Thank you, Stephen.

Independent/small stores

Inspired by an article on whether 'arry Potter type bestsellers are killing the small book stores, and another on small camera stores, I wonder:

When people describe small, independent stores, with their charm and interested and knowledgeable owners, they sound great and I mourn them. But when I think back, I don't really recall any such stores! Even the smallest ones, with poor selection, don't seem to be (or have been) staffed or owned on average by people with a huge interest or great knowledge about books or photography, or whatever. So if their selection is smaller than big stores or online stores, and there's no more knowledge or help to be found, why the urgency to have them survive?

Don't hate

Always remember others may hate you but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.
-- Richard M. Nixon, in his White House farewell

This is a very important truth. Hate, resentment, condemnation, judgement, are those things tie us down and destroy our lives.

Who'd think those pearls of wisdom was uttered by a man whose administration was based on hate and paranoia?

Of course he surely had a speech writer.

Come to think of it, isn't that a failure? I would think that a person who is supposed to be cabable of running a country is surely supposed to be able to write his own speeches? I mean, school children are expected to be able to. And yet for generations now, presidents have not done it.

Boom Boom Ba - Metisse , Dead Like Me

Boom Boom Ba - song by Metisse. found on the TV show Dead Like Me.

Wonderful song. And a wonderful show. If you've never seen it, don't judge it by this video! It will seem very depressing, I'm sure. But it is really funny and warm and quirky. Seriously. It's one of those shows which make me claim that the quality and creativity that used to belong only to film is now found in TV.

Michael Burton said...
I think this may be the best fictional show I've ever seen on television. It's funny and sad. The end of each episode always seemed to come as a surprise -- no neat endings -- and yet, as the final credits rolled, I always found myself saying, "What a great show!"
I think this song is first heard as George is showing her scrapbook, titled "Mysterious and Reassuring." That describes the whole show -- mysterious and reassuring, indeed.

Leviathud said...
Thanks for reminding me of such agreat show. I was able to watch it for 2 months while I took care of my grandmothers place while she was in the hospital with cancer. I dont think I could have asked for a better show at a better time. Funny, quirky and thoroughly enjoyable. I will definitly be buying it when I can.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

New Fuji cam

I'm sure everybody remembers my impressive art made with my compact Fuji F10. (OK, I'm not all that sure.) Well, a couple of generations later, Fuji comes up with a F50, which seems very promising, especially if the Image Stabilization is good. I have messed up promising pictures because the F10 does not have any.