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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Update June 27, 2015

Man Ray and Kiki, photography’s existentialists

Violon d’Ingres.

Lee Miller.

When you say a city is ‘raunchy’ is your first thought Pattaya? Many countries have found themselves with the title of “raunchy”, and in fact, Pattaya gets its fair swag of sanctimonious finger-pointers, but the raunchy city isn’t Pattaya.
Paris in the early 1920’s had the reputation and Gay Paree was one of the raunchiest cities in the world. What went on in Paris makes Pattaya today look like a kindergarten. It was a city of excesses in all ways, and definitely sexually. “Free love” was not invented by the flower power groups in the USA. Paris had it all, and then some, almost half a century earlier (no francs necessary).
It also had a flourishing artistic commune (another concept the Americans did not invent), and two of their members were Emmanuel Radnitsky (who changed his name to Man Ray when he was 15 years old, and could you blame him?) and Kiki of Montparnasse, a truly free spirit who once said, “All I need is an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red; and I will always find somebody to offer me that.” Both of them have left their marks on the history of photography (as well as their marks upon each other).
Man Ray (1890-1976) arrived in Paris in 1921, drawn to a city that attracted writers, musicians, artists, exiles, free-thinkers and Americans. America was then, as it still is in many ways, the bastion of nudity (Penthouse et al) and also prudity. An amazing contradiction!
As one means of supporting himself abroad Man Ray, who was initially an artist, took photographic portraits, and he quickly emerged as the premier photographer in Paris at the time. Man Ray had quickly turned to the camera as the fastest way to do a portrait. “If it is a portrait that interests me, a face, or a nude, I will use my camera. It is quicker than making a drawing or a painting (and) to express what I feel, I use the medium best suited to express that idea, which is also always the most economical one.” Can you imagine what Man Ray would have done with today’s instant imaging? His reputation as a master of the photographic portrait was unsurpassed, not only for his technical prowess but also for his innovative poses and imaginative approach. He photographed virtually all the artistic literati and personalities of Paris in the ‘20s including Picasso, Matisse, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.
It was during this time that he met Kiki of Montparnasse. Illegitimate and poor, her early years were marked by her ability to fend for herself, by whatever means were needed (chrome poles and Pattaya come to mind). By the time she was a teenager she was working as a ‘model’, and soon came into contact with major artists and writers of the time and she met and befriended the likes of Hemingway, Cocteau, and Man Ray - the latter who also became her lover for six years. Her collaborations with Man Ray produced some of Surrealism’s most iconic images, including Noire et blanche and Le Violon d’Ingres, where for this photograph Man Ray painted the f cut-outs on her back, seeing the relationship between the female form and the shape of the violin.
At the height of her fame in 1929, Kiki created a sensation when she wrote her memoirs, which were promptly banned in America (the prudity factor again). Armed with the most endearing charms, creative talents, and a keen intelligence, Kiki revealed in her recollections the life of a fiercely modern individual who was a truly emancipated and imaginative woman.
Man Ray’s imagination also led him to produce other non-standard ways of producing a photograph, including placing objects on photographic paper and then exposing the paper to light and processing from there, and also solarized prints, such as the famous one of his assistant Lee Miller taken in 1930. This effect is produced by a re-exposure of the negative during processing, which reverses the blacks and whites.
We do not have such unbridled artistic expression these days, despite iPads and the social media!

Update June 20, 2015

Which lens? For what? And why.

Look! There goes a ‘real’ photographer! Any pro shooter, or even a serious amateur, can be recognized with their photographer’s jacket pockets stuffed with lenses. Fish eye, wide angle, “normal”, long, and extra-long.
Ever wondered why the pros all walk around with all these lenses and three cameras slung around their necks? Is this a kind of photographic masochism, or is there a good reason for this? There is!
The reason is called “quality”. Pro shooters have to return to their editor or client with a professional image, giving the best interpretation of the subject and finally be pin sharp in its definition. Something you can’t get with a point and shoot camera or an image from your phone-cam.
To illustrate this situation I thought I should give you some ideas on three of the lenses to use, for what and why. Now if you own a 28-105 mm zoom or whatever, don’t despair, just adapt your thinking to use the zoom at the wide angle when I mention wide angle lenses and the other end of the scale when I mention telephoto lenses.
The three principal lenses are Wide, Standard and Long, and for the purposes of this article I am not including “extreme” examples. Consider Wide to be around 24-28 mm, Standard around 50 mm and Long around 100-150 mm. So you can see, the average zoom lens will cover these focal lengths.
Let’s begin with Wide lenses. These are the lenses for 99.9 percent of landscapes. You get a wide angle of coverage, you get great depth of field and as an added bonus you get blue skies! Even in Bangkok. The reason is that you have a wide angle of sky “squashed” into 12 megapixels, so the colour is denser than it would appear to the naked eye. I have always said that photography is the art of telling lies with a camera.
The Wide lens is also the one you should use in low light situations, such as twilight, as most Wide lenses have larger apertures which let more light in to the camera. This means that you can get readings like 1/30 second at f 2.8, at which you can hand hold. With the average Long lens (or zoom in the tele position) it would be 1/4 second at f 5.6 a shutter speed you cannot hand hold.
The Standard lens is actually one of the most neglected lenses in your camera bag. This is the focal length that most closely approximates what the human eye sees. Use this lens and you get the most “life-like” image that people can immediately relate to. No strange distortions in the foreground or on the edges either. For example, if you want to photograph food, pull out the trusty Standard lens. Stand on a chair and you get what the diner sees.
The Standard lens is also very good for getting either full length portraits or waist up pictures. Again, it is the lack of optical distortion which is important, and you can also use aperture settings around f 4 to blur the background.
So to the Long lenses. The focal length of around 100 mm would be more accurately called a “short” telephoto, but this is a common focal length and one that many of the zooms can cover. This is the lens you use to do all portrait shots. This lens will give you flattering views, without enlargement of the nose, and slightly compresses the image. When combined with a wide aperture of say around f 4 to f 5.6 this blurs the background enough to produce an uncluttered image.
The ability to compress the final image makes the Long lens the ideal one to show traffic jams or parades. Use a high viewpoint and look down the road when a parade is coming and you will get an image that appears to show that the road is just crammed with floats, one almost on top of another. Or better still try Sukhumvit Road from the overhead bridges.
Finally, it is important to remember that Long lenses are not a substitute for walking in close, especially at night, when the flash burst does not carry all that far.

Update June 13, 2015

Playing around and it’s not golf!

Same photo using different filters.

Last week I mentioned that I came across a case full of filters which I had presumed lost. The treasure trove included Neutral Density filters (ND1-4), red and green filters for Black and White work, Graduated sepia, “speed” filters, multiple image filters, cross stars, tobacco filters, 81B ‘warming’ filters and blue cooling filters. Even a cable release for time exposures and more.
Now, the trick in using these filters is enshrined in the application of WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get. When you look at a filter, generally it just looks like a round chunk of glass you screw onto the end of the lens, but it is only when you look through the camera that you can see the end results. Even changing the f stop can change the final image, but it is necessary to WYSIWYG.

Center spot portrait.

We all tend to ‘imagine’ what is in front of us, rather than ‘seeing’ what is really there. Look at drawings of houses done by young children. Inevitably, there will be more than two walls. Children ‘know’ that houses have more than two walls, so draw houses accordingly. However, when you look at any house, from any angle, you can only see a maximum of two walls at one time. Small children do not use WYSIWYG.
Now we’ve all taken dud photographs. What was wrong with those photos? Were there trees growing out of people’s heads, giving them strange reindeer ‘antlers’? Did some have such harsh shadows across the person’s face that you could not see the eyes, and in fact, the face looked grotesque? Did some have the person so small in the picture that you cannot tell who they are? So what do we have to do to fix the problems?
The answer is very simply WYSIWYG, but you have to train yourself to ‘really’ see. We all know what we want to see in this once in a lifetime photo, but ignore the fact that what we are seeing in the viewfinder is not actually what we want. It’s the child and the house with three sides again.

Multiple image with ‘earthquake’ effect.

You have to train yourself to look critically at what is in the viewfinder before going ‘click’. This is actually harder than it seems. You have to scan the small viewfinder to see if there are trees growing out of people’s heads. You have to squint at the faces and see if shadows are ugly. You have to be prepared to put the camera down and recompose the shot before clicking that shutter, remembering at all times that what the camera ‘sees’ is not necessarily what you are seeing with the naked eye.
That may sound a little weird, but it isn’t really. What the camera sees depends upon the lens you are using. The “standard” (50-55 mm) lens gives a field of view coverage approximately the same as the human eye, but the “wide angle” lenses (24 mm and 28 mm, are the common ones) give a distorted viewpoint compared to that seen by you. Likewise, the “long” lenses give a very narrow viewpoint compared to what you see with your own eyes.
This is probably one of the best arguments for the use of SLR cameras, because when you look through the viewfinder, you are actually looking through the lens that is screwed on the front of the camera. The compact cameras where you are not looking through the camera’s lens means no WYSIWYG.

Update June 6, 2015

Do you really need ALL that stuff?


I have to admit I stumbled across an alloy box the other day, which I hadn’t seen (or missed) for many years. It was one of those items you lug all over the world because, at one time, the contents were important, or were thought to be.
It was like opening Pandora’s box after I blew the dust and cobwebs off it. There were about 20 filters, adapters, special effects equipment and even a box of slides for 6 x 6 cm slides. Many of the filters were of the type that pro photographers keep for when a specific image is required. That covered items such as Neutral Density (ND) filters, magnifying filters and even a ‘Speed’ filter (to give the illusion of traveling fast), nothing to do with methamphetamine! There were also colored filters for use with Black and White film, museum pieces really!
So it is obvious that these filters were certainly not needed on a daily basis. So why have them at all? As mentioned above, some are for specific images, but many are just items you accumulate as you learn what photography and image manipulation is all about. A well spent training course, in my opinion.
However, before rushing out to get filters, you do need to standardize your equipment. The first thing I did when I unpacked my new camera was to check the size of the lens diameter. It was 55 mm. The second thing I did was to rake through my collection of stepping rings to screw on to the end of the lens to bring the diameter up to 62 mm.
The first reason was to make the new camera lens compatible with my box of photographic filters. The vast majority of these are 62 mm, which is a good size as it is larger than most 35 mm camera lenses, so will not produce a vignetting effect if you stack a few of them together, such as a polarizer and a +1 magnifier.
So here’s what I think you should have. The first one is called simply a Skylight 1A. This filter does make the sky a little deeper, but the main reason to have it is as a sacrificial piece of glass, so that your good, expensive lens does not get scratched. Skylight 1A’s are very cheap.
One of the nicest filter effects is what is called “center spot soft focus”. Now this just means the center is in focus and the edges are nicely soft and blurred. This effect is used by portrait and wedding photographers all over the world to produce that wonderful “romantic” photograph.
You can also use these filters with any compact point and shoot camera, but it is a little more hit and miss, as there’s no WYSIWYG with compacts. What you have to do is position the center of the filter over the lens and, while keeping it there, bring the camera up to your eye, compose the shot and then shoot. Takes some fiddling and manual dexterity and take a few shots as you are really flying blind.
The next one is the polarizer. I have mentioned polarizers before, but the difference between polarized sunlit shots and unpolarized is incredible. The depth of color when you polarize is fantastic. As you rotate the polarizing filter, the reflections on any shiny surface, be that grass, trees, water or whatever, just disappear, leaving the undiluted bold color.
Soft romantic effects can be produced by gently breathing on the Skylight 1A filter just before you take the shot. Your warm breath will impart a “mist” to produce a wonderfully misty portrait, or that early morning mist look for landscapes. Remember that the “misting” only lasts a few seconds, so make sure you have the camera pre-focussed and ready to shoot.
Another interesting result is by smearing Vaseline on the same Skylight 1A and seeing the different effects you get. Do not smear the Vaseline on the end of your lens. It is impossible to get off without washing in hot soapy water, something you can do with a filter, but not with your lens.
I will go through my Pandora’s box next week and have some fun.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Man Ray and Kiki, photography’s existentialists

Which lens? For what? And why.

Playing around and it’s not golf!

Do you really need ALL that stuff?