The Practice of Contemplative Photography. Andy Karr, Michael Wood.

The Practice of Contemplative Photography. Seeing The World With Fresh Eyes. Andy Karr, Michael Wood. Shambala, 2011.

 

This book is NOT for everyone and that is a good thing! Would you like to be like everyone?
Seriously, the book is for beginners with a certain mind set. Those trying to learn about technicalities, those who love to take innumerable selfies and those who like to “show” their images more than anything else will be very, very bored reading it. On the other hand, others who love to meditate upon small things, who appreciate noticing a feather sailing smoothly on still water may value this book immensely.
You do not have to know the Zen Buddhist (or, Daoist for that matter) terminology to understand the text. You may just need an open mind to do the exercises which are nicely described in detail. The book also offers many images as examples of “Contemplative Photography”.
I do not consider myself a beginner. Still, it did help me in understanding myself and my approach to photography. I have read it twice, from cover to cover. I recommend this book to like minded photographers.
The below are two of my images one can associate with contemplative photography.

The Fall

 

The Blue Boat

Understanding A Photograph. John Berger.

Understanding A Photograph. John Berger. Edited and Introduced by Geoff Dyer. Penguin Books, 2013.

Understanding_A_Photograph

Thanks to Geoff Dyer who, once again, opened my eyes to what are behind and beyond the photographs. This little volume of articles written between 1967 – 2007 by John Berger are a must for those trying to really understand what is photography about and what (if anything) can be achieved by its practice. Judging from the number of lines I had underlined with my pencil, the book deserves to be read again soon.

I will just add a few quotes to increase potential readers’ appetite! :

The speed with which the possible uses of photography were seized upon is surely an indication of photography’s profound, central applicability to industrial capitalism. (p.49)

Yet, unlike memory, photographs do not in themselves preserve meaning. (p.52)

All photographs are of the past, yet in them an instant of the past is arrested so that, unlike a lived past, it can never lead to the present. (p.62)

Certainty may be instantaneous; doubt requires duration; meaning is born of the two. (p64).

With just a little bit of exaggeration, I can claim that every sentence in this book deserves to be quoted!

John Berger is an exceptionally good writer. This shows most strikingly in his “Between Here and Then” (p. 184-189) which is only tangentially on photography. It is a about a house, a family, a life and a clock! I read this article as a complete story three times within the same day. So tasteful! The final quote is from this one :

Your concern is not with the moment, but with the past and future. And you ask a strange question : what happens if (or when) the past and future stop? Does this change the now, and if so, how?

Will be my bedside book.

 

Pentacon Six TL, Kiev 60, Kiev 88CM. Comments on Lenses.

I have described my experiences with the cameras before. Here, I will try to summarize my experience with the lenses. Images will be added later. Here it goes!

————————————————————————–

Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 50 mm f/4

The wide angle lens of the system… This multicoated lens has a very large and almost protruding front element. I do not have a hood, which should be useful especially when shooting at open air. This is a perfect lens for all practical purposes. Resolution, color reproduction and contrast is very good at all apertures. Viewfinder image is a bit dark especially on Pentacon Six TL; this should not be much of a problem when the scene is bright enough, though.

Volna (also branded as Arax etc), 80mm f/2.8

Standard, multicoated lens which was made in Ukraine. Mechanically, it is fine but perhaps a notch less secure than the Jena variants. The image quality is good for all practical purposes. It allows nice prints of 40 x 40 cm, when used properly (let’s say on a tripod, at f/8). Can be used for relatively low light situations. However, expectations should be realistic, when used wide open.

Vega 120mm f/2.8

A multicoated short telephoto which is even smaller than the standard lens. Can be used for portraits as well. Not a stellar performer but a really good one, especially considering its relatively low price. Mechanically, it does not feel as solid and dependable as the Jena lenses.

Kaleinar 150mm f/2.8

A multicoated telephoto. An unlucky lens! There is no department where this lens outperforms the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 180mm f/2.8. Since neither the price nor the focal length differences are great, there seems to be no point in investing in this one. The f/2.8 is only for viewing and composing; it is practically useless for shooting (softness and an abundance of poorly controlled aberrations). The resolution and contrast becomes within acceptable limits at f/4 – f/5.6.  The images are sharp and contrasty at around f/8.

Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 180mm f/2.8

A lens with some weight and character! (To be continued).

Jupiter 250mm f/3.5

Pentacon Six TL, Kiev 60, Kiev 88CM. Comments on Cameras.

I have all three cameras (part on purpose, part by accident) with most of the lenses available for their shared bayonet mount. I use them quite frequently (in addition to some other medium format film cameras). Here I summarize my experiences with these former Soviet Union (East Germany and Ukraine) cameras. My comments, as you might expect, will be about my own experiences with the particular equipment that I happen to use; however, you are free to generalize upon them if you wish! For the lenses, see another blog entry.
I will be updating this blog in time; so, don’t be surprised to see changes in content if you visit again…

As a note, I always overexpose films that past their “best before” date for a few years! My most recent images were shot using a Fuji NPS 160, ISO 125 color negative film with a “Process Before” date of 2004 and I had overexposed all the shots for about 1 EV. No highlight detail is lost, however!

—————————————————————–

Kiev 60

Made in Ukraine in a factory that no longer exists, this camera is usually compared with Pentacon Six TL, which is an older design. Their history and design philosophies are different, which are reflected to some extent in their build and operation. Kiev 60 seems to contain fewer metal parts (on the exterior, that is). Loading film is easier; even I could do it without much hassle. Still, it would be wise to search for the manual or a video before trying it all by yourself. Perhaps more importantly, you can easily find bodies with “mirror lock up (MLU)”. This is in most cases, mine included, a mirror pre-release function which prevents the vibrations due to mirror slap. If you don’t have the extra modification that frees the mirror to its functional position, you are destined to shoot that frame as there will be nothing visible in the viewfinder once you “lock” the mirror up. You must shoot to relocate the mirror to its 45 degree position. If significant changes (in lighting, positioning etc.) occur after you hit the MLU button, there is practically nothing to re-adjust your composition before hitting the shutter. Mine only has the MLU and I use it most of the time. The MLU and the special MLU (which brings down the mirror back if you change your mind to shoot that particular scene) functions are added by a few technicians of the former Ukrainian factory. The usual Kiev 60 (and, Pentacon Six TL)  cameras lack this critical feature.   The camera is perfectly hand holdable but to get the most out of a medium format camera, a tripod is practically a must. I bought mine from Hartblei (not branded by them, though). I have tested the shutter speeds twice and they were “excellent” for all practical purposes. I haven’t encountered any frame spacing issue, which was reported for some copies. Here is an image that was shot using the Vega 120mm f/2.8 MC lens at f/5.6.

The viewfinder image of Kiev 60 is noticeably brighter than that of Pentacon Six TL. This is especially important if you happen to use a lens with a relatively narrow maximum aperture (including the famous Carl Zeiss Jena 50mm f/4 Flektogon). My camera is equipped with a waist level finder and contains an integral magnifier. You can even use it at eye level using a beautifully designed, simple, double viewing system if you do not need much precision in your composition. This allows you to look at directly ahead (just like an ordinary SLR camera) and at the same time (without changing the camera position) look down below to the focusing screen thorough a mirror. I have no experience with the metering unit of this camera and use a light meter (or a compact digital) to calculate the exposure. Adjustments are easy: Diaphragm on the lens, shutter speed on the body; fully manual operation! Evertything is full, entirely mechanical; no batteries. A most environmentally friendly camera, that is :). A nice feature, as compared to Pentacon Six TL for example, is the availability of a DOF (depth of focus) preview lever on the body. Case? Oh yes. There is a dedicated case for the camera and a standard lens.  It is more like a “box”, however, and can only be used for storage. See Pentacon Six TL for a more useful case.

Pentacon Six TL

This is the camera that was made in one of the most technologically developed states in the USSR, The East German Republic. It is also a robust camera with no nonsense! Some care -not much, really- is needed while loading film to prevent overlapping frames. It is entirely mechanical, like the Kiev 60 above. The shutter speed adjustment covers 1 – 1/1000s as well as offering a B (bulb) setting. (Kiev 60, by the way, does not allow a shutter speed of 1s). Pentacon Six TL offers a mechanical self timer on the body, which is helpful if you want to include yourself in a photo; my Kiev 60 lacks that. For depth of field preview, however, you have to depend on the lenses. If the lens has no DOF button/lever, you can only make an estimate. For critical scenes, this my be a bit of a problem and you may need to refer to hyperfocal focusing charts to focus properly. For flash photography (practically limited to studio settings due to slow synch speed) a PC socket is available (on Kiev 60 as well). I have bought my copy from a Bulgarian seller who had access to a former Dresden technician. The unit arrived with all shutter speeds tested. I have repeated the tests and found the results just perfect.

My camera is equipped with a basic waist level finder (like my Kiev 60). This makes the camera lighter. However, shooting using a waist level finder needs some getting used to because things on your left are seen on the right of the viewfinder and vice versa. Not intuitive enough! One can also use an angle finder and then, the camera(s) become just like our everyday SLRs.

The Pentacon Six TL feels a bit better on my hands. I can not quite explain why, it is just a faint feeling… However, I do prefer the brighter and better viewfinder of the Kiev 60! I think it also shows a bit more of the scene at the edges. For a detailed comparison of Pentacon Six TL and Kiev 60 (biased towards Pentacon Six TL), you can visit here.

The dedicated case for the camera (and the standard lens) is a useful accessory and you can use the camera without removing it from the case. This also applies to a camera equipped with a small lens like the 120mm Vega.

Kiev 88CM

The most important difference of Kiev 88CM (CM means ‘almost’ the same mount as the above cameras;  straight Kiev 88 has a different mount) is the ability to change the film mid-roll. Unlike today’s digital photographers who can easily change the ISO setting while shooting; film photographers need to change the film itself if they need to use a different ISO setting (or a different film, for that matter)  for the next shot. Also, “the character” of the films vary and one may decide to use certain brand’s ISO100 film for portraits and another’s ISO400 film for travel shots. Shooting both color and monochrome at the same session also requires either two cameras (like the above) or two “backs”. Kiev 88CM comes with a replaceable back (film holder) and a “dark slide”. (That is almost a misnomer as it is in fact a “bright” piece of metal used to prevent exposing the film). Once protected by the dark slide, you can remove the back and mount another film holder loaded with another film of your choice. This operation is simply impossible with the above cameras (as well as with many more other medium format cameras).

I have both the standard waist level finder and an angle finder for this camera. The angle finder makes it somewhat more intuitive to use as it allows for a ‘properly oriented’ image. However, selection of a finder is a more complex decision than it might first seem. Hand holding the Kiev 88 CM is easy and the shutter button is placed at a perfect place. I feel the ‘mirror slap’ is less than the two cameras described above. My copy is from Arax and a ‘mirror lock up’ button working like that on the Kiev 60 is present. I use the MLU whenever possible.

As one may guess, the extra and intricate mechanical parts make the Kiev 88CM the most “sensitive” of the three. Sensitive to potential mishaps, that is… Apparently, the most feared and a relatively frequent one is due to changing the shutter speed ‘before’ winding the film. It rarely, if ever happens, if one uses the Kiev 88CM frequently or as one’s main camera. However, for all other mortals (!) a serious problem is only a click away. I have shot about 6 or 7 rolls using my Kiev 88CM and there were misses in ALL of them! Most, if not all, of these misses were related to the shutter curtains. They just behave! Partly open… Sticky… Closed… The most annoying thing is than you can never be sure if you are shooting fine before you see the developed film… I think I will not be using this camera anymore…

Ts far as I know, there is no dedicated case for this set. My set came within a useful bag which holds the camera with a lens (can be a big one) as well as some filters, paperwork and a cable release among other gadgets.

To be continued…

The Pleasures of Good Photographs

Essays by Gerry Badger, Aperture Foundation, 2010

Mr. Badger speaks authoratively and provides insightful observations and comments on contemporary photography and many photographers. For me the best thing about reading his essays is the widening of my angle of view! That is, I can now get pleasure from more photographs. In other words, some images that failed to get my attention for a critical look now do! This, in itself, is proof of a big benefit. Most, if not all, chapters start with a (nicely reproduced) monochrome or color photograph and revolve arounda the photo/artist. I admit, only a few of those looked interesting and/or intriguing at my first sight. However, when I finished the chapter in question, I was able to see a lot more. Surely enough, the author has biases towards some artists and he is not shy while declaring them. As a mere onlooker, I do not have to agree with them or like all the artists/images valued by him. Still, the book did enrich my approach towards photography in general and towards some photographers in particular. The book may be of special interest for those who wonder why some contemporary photographers like Martin Parr, Stephen Shore and John Gossack are important and for what they stand for. The production quality is perfect for a soft cover book, by the way.