RRS Discovery in Dundee

After the colours of fall it's time for a return to some black and white... and time to clear some of the backlog from our trip to Scotland this summer!

One of the sights we had the chance to visit was the RRS Discovery at Discovery Point in Dundee.

RRS Discovery was the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed for Antarctic research, it was launched as a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1901. Its first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, known as the Discovery Expedition. It is now the centrepiece of visitor attraction in its home, Dundee.
[source: Wikipedia, accessed 16 October 2016]

Visiting the restored ship in dry dock is a fascinating trip to a not-so-distant time when the poles were being explored in masted ships by men outfitted with gear and clothing woefully inadequate for the climate. Scott, Shackleton and their crews were truly brave and hardy souls, and some of them paid for their courage and determination with their lives.

The sharp lines and textures of the ship (as well as the bland, grey skies) cried out for a monochrome treatment, so that's what you see here.

All pictures taken with a Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 18-55mm lens.

Trip to Iceland: Day 4

Day 4 presented the opportunity to visit Iceland's "Golden Circle"—Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss—three places of natural and historical interest in close proximity to one another and not too far from Reykjavik. The great advantage of having a car is that you can visit sites at your own pace, rather than being hustled around places of great mystery and beauty at a clip.

Visiting Geysir, from which all other geysers are named, is like walking across the earthen cover of a pot of water on the boil: a novel experience. It's fascinating to see Strokkur spout and the constant hint of sulphurous odours reminds you that you are indeed standing over a subterranean kettle that has bubbled day and night for millennia.

Seeing and photographing Gullfoss had been high on my list of things to do in Iceland since I first became aware of the beautiful waterfall with the optical illusion right-angled drop. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the day to get any decent light on the falls. It's a fantastic sight but it was never going to translate into anything memorable on my sensor without the all-important late-afternoon sunlight.

And why were we late in getting to Gullfoss? Because we couldn't tear ourselves away from Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park. I have never visited a more magical setting. Where else on earth can you stand with one foot on the American tectonic plate and the other on the Eurasian—remembering all the while that the two are separating? Where else can you gaze into crystal waters and see deep into cracks in the earth's surface? Where else can you walk in the footsteps of the people who established the world's first parliament on the site—over 1,000 years ago?

I don't believe in elves and trolls, but I can see why Iceland's earliest inhabitants did: they lived in a land of legendary scale and wild beauty.

Þingvellir 1

Þingvellir 1

Þingvellir 2

Þingvellir 2

Þingvellir 3

Þingvellir 3

Þingvellir 4

Þingvellir 4

Þingvellir 5

Þingvellir 5

Þingvellir 6

Þingvellir 6

Þingvellir 7

Þingvellir 7

Þingvellir 8

Þingvellir 8

Þingvellir 9

Þingvellir 9

Trip to Iceland: Day 2

The pictures below from Day 2 of my trip to Iceland were all taken during a road trip from Reykjavik to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, northwest of the capital. Very quickly it became evident that Iceland is a stunningly beautiful country and it was a real challenge not to stop the car every five minutes for another breathtaking vista. Canada also has more than its share of ruggedly beautiful coastline, mountains and natural wonders, but not in such a compressed space. Canadians are accustomed to driving great distances to see landmarks, but Iceland presents travellers with a fresh spectacular sight at every other bend in the road—it just doesn't seem fair, somehow!

This area around Snæfellsjökull—which Wikipedia tells me is "a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering its summit"—is wild and home to mysterious crevices and caves. Little wonder that Jules Verne chose it as the entry point for his Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I didn't make it all the way to the centre, but I did manage to visit a lava cave (Vatnshellir) that took me 35m below the surface of the earth. That was far enough.

As always, the wind didn't spare us for a second and the rain, when it came on and off, was frequently horizontal. Given all the fury in the elements and landscape, I couldn't quite bring myself to process Day 2's pictures in colour: they called out for black and white. Here are just a few.

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 1

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 1

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 3

Near Bogarnes, Iceland 3

On Snæfellsnesvegur 1

On Snæfellsnesvegur 1

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 1

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 1

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 3

Snæfellsnes Peninsula 3

Lóndrangar basalt cliffs

Lóndrangar basalt cliffs

Rauðfeldsgjá

Rauðfeldsgjá

A week in Manhattan with the X100T

From one extreme to the other.

From the empty stretches of red PEI sand and seawater so cold it burned my legs to the hot smells and constant press of NYC's streets, a two-day drive took us to another world. And it was time to break out my new X100T again.

B&H Photo was the first port of call, where Douglas Kirkland was giving a fascinating overview of a photographic career that has spanned almost six decades. For those of us who do not live in a major centre, it's hard to pass up the chance to listen to a figure like Kirkland live when the opportunity arises. And, since no stop at that photographer's playground would be complete without touring the store and buying something, I picked up a wrist strap and lens hood for the Fuji. The wrist strap would let me keep the small X100T out of sight but close to hand and the hood would provide a measure of protection for the lens without having to fiddle around with a cap while out for the day. Which leads me to...

Three Questions for the Good People at Fujifilm: 1) Why are you still using the slip-over style of lens cap on the X100 series after all this time? It's a pain to use and too easy to lose. Please consider other options. 2) Why have you persisted with that strange arrangement for the thread on the front of the lens? It needlessly complicates changes between the lens cap, filters and lens hood. 3) And speaking of the lens hood, how do you justify US$70 MSRP for a piece of moulded plastic and a threaded ring? I suspect that most people will do what I did and buy Vello's US$20 version. Other than missing the "Fujifilm" label on the plastic, I haven't noticed that the cheaper product provides US$50 less protection.

But let's return to the camera.

So, what is it like to use the X100T in Manhattan? A dream. It is small, light, responsive and discreet. I wore it strapped to my wrist all day with no fatigue and it was ready to go at every opportunity. It was small enough that it attracted no attention from passers-by although, to be fair, there are so many tourists and cameras in New York that you start to look strange if you don't have a device in front of your face.

And I was thoroughly pleased with the pictures I made. I generally shot in RAW+JPEG Fine using the "BR" setting because I like the contrasty images it produces, particularly with blue skies. The "Classic Chrome" palate is fun to play with, but I suspect that we'll all be getting tired of seeing images rendered that way before too much longer. I've always appreciated the way Fuji has with JPEGs and I got hooked on being able to use the camera's WiFi to transfer pictures to my iPad for immediate sharing. Once home, though, I spent some time with the RAW files because of the extra latitude for adjustments.

Results from the trip? Buyer's remorse, 0. Fujifilm X100T, 1.

Prince Edward Island with the X100T

I went a little mad before leaving for our summer vacation this year and bought a Fujifilm X100T. I liked the idea of having a very compact camera I could carry everywhere and that was capable of producing excellent images. I still love my X-E1 and suite of lenses but, as light as they are, there are times when I'd like to walk around with even less.

I was also secretly looking forward to the discipline of using nothing but the X100T's fixed 23mm lens. I have a (bad?) habit of changing lenses fairly often when I'm out with my camera, depending on the effect that I'm after. After being made aware of this by another photographer I began to wonder if all that lens-changing might be a distraction from concentrating on the subject, rather than on the equipment. But would I be up to the task of working with just one optic? (Yes, I could have accomplished the same thing by using my X-E1 with one lens but I was dying to get my hands on the beautiful X100T. There, I've said it.)

It was time to find out. I forked over the money at the store I patronize and told myself I had 15 days to return the camera if buyer's remorse set in. I packed both cameras, just in case, and set out with the family.

And I needn't have worried. During the week we spent on beautiful Prince Edward Island on Canada's Atlantic coast I never felt the need to reach for the X-E1 and lenses. Oh sure, there were times when I would have liked to go wide with my 14mm or long with the 55-200mm zoom, but I never felt that I was missing a crucial element for a shot. Instead, I re-learned to "zoom with my feet" and became very familiar with a particular angle of view. In many ways, the simplified approach turned out to be freeing, not limiting.

And the buyer's remorse? No sign of it.



The view from the tower (black and white)

A large part of the enjoyment of travel is the chance to see different things. But when you're visiting a place that you know relatively well, the enjoyment often comes from seeing things differently.

That was the case for me when I visited Toronto recently with my younger son. Although I haven't lived there in a long time and the city has changed a lot, it's still a familiar setting for me so it was time to find a different vantage point. Off to the CN Tower we went while the sun was low in the sky, to make sure we'd have some nice sidelight. The Tower is a great location to take in a 360-degree panorama of the GTA, what's left of Toronto's lakefront and an expanse of Lake Ontario.

As great as the view is, however, actually shooting from inside the structure is not easy. (And even if I were ready to do the EdgeWalk around the outside, carrying a camera is prohibited.) You are either behind thick glass windows that are not very clean or heavy wire mesh that makes a clear shot impossible. I decided to go with a longer lens to minimize the impact of dirty streaks and wires. The 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms helped with framing shots carefully and I was surprised by how well the images held up through the glare and dirt.

See for yourself. I'll post some colour shots next time.


Imagine globally... shoot locally

I sometimes have a hard time finding subjects to photograph close to home. I hear it's fairly common, though: it's easy to get inspired on holiday when every corner brings new sights and fresh experiences. Who doesn't come home without a ton of images to process or get developed?

After the holiday, it can be a different story. You've seen all the local "sights," such as they are, a hundred times or more and they just don't excite your imagination. Over time your little neighbourhood or town can seem a bit dull.

So, what's to be done? After all, we can't all live in the visual smorgasbords of London, Paris or New York. (And perhaps Londoners, Parisians and New Yorkers get bored, too.)

This year, my response will be to discipline my imagination. If William Eggleston could spend a large chunk of his career documenting the everyday in Memphis, I should be able to find interesting subjects in Canada's National Capital Region.

And if I can't find them, I'll make them up. And if there are people nearby, I'll shoot portraits. If there is scenery nearby, I'll shoot landscapes. If there is an event or festival nearby, I'll shoot crowds and movement and noise. If there is colour, texture or pattern nearby, I'll shoot that. If the weather is lousy, I'll shoot atmosphere and mood. And if what's in front of me is common and mundane, I'll shoot it like a tourist. If there's nothing in front of me, I'll dream something up.

After all, the things that catch my attention when I'm on holiday are always part of someone else's daily routine. The boulangerie that attracted me in Lagnieu, France is just the place where the locals buy their bread -- the only thing out of the ordinary was my state of mind. So my motto for this year will be: imagine globally... shoot locally!

In that spirit, I offer this selection of images that I took in our town while scouting out locations for the recent Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. I've brought my imagination back from holiday and will apply it in new ways here at home.

Let me know if you decide to do the same.

Monochrome marina

Monochrome marina

Too long in the tub

Too long in the tub

Symmes Inn

Symmes Inn

Picket line

Picket line

Cenotaph

Cenotaph

Elephant tracks

Elephant tracks

Les Rencontres d'Arles

For me, one of the highlights of our family vacation has been the chance to visit the annual photographic festival in Arles, France. While other gatherings are usually connected to photographic gear and business, Les Rencontres ("meetings" or "encounters" in English) are purely concerned with showing and celebrating photography as art. Founded by Arles-born photographer Lucien Clergue in 1970, the festival has blossomed and now receives some 100,000 visitors each summer.

With just a day to take in the showings that are scattered in different venues around the centre of Old Arles, I didn't manage to visit them all. I did see enough to make me thoroughly glad that we had added the town to our trip.

A few thoughts on the show, offered in no specific order...

First, I was most impressed by the absence of reference to technical details or specific pieces of gear. The point of the exhibitions was very much the artist's vision, not whether a Leica was involved, whether f/5.6 was optimum, whether the shadows were a little muddy, or whether analog / digital is superior. I found this a refreshing approach and a relief from many of the pointless discussions I've seen online. Just vision. Period.

I was also impressed by the importance of story in so many of the showings. In some cases, the story was explicitly connected to the artist's vision and conceived in advance.  In other cases, the story seems to have emerged less consciously over time as the artist returned to familiar themes, subjects or approaches. Perhaps "story" is sometimes the cumulative effect of a lifetime's work rather than a pre-conceived plan. In the case of one artist, Zhang Huan, the story he tells is communicated through a sequence of layers of calligraphy on his own face.

It was a pleasure to view images from several periods of Lucien Clergue's own photography and to appreciate how rich a body of work he built through studies of subjects available to him locally: patterns in wet sand, marshlands and nudes on the beach. 

David Bailey's retrospective was a treat, starting with 1960's UK fashion, celebrity and family. I enjoyed his larger format portraits and was reminded by many of the shots just how beautiful an effect film grain can produce.

A wonderful exhibit on "Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality" contained images from Richard Avedon, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, and Bernd and Hillary Becher (among others). This exhibit was held in the "Espace Van Gogh,"  the former hospital in Arles where the painter recovered -- and painted -- after cutting off a portion of his ear in 1889. The curated series illustrated over and over the variety (and sometimes beauty) to be found in "like" things: political figures, plant forms, members of early 20th-century German society, 1950s industrial installations, and the hairstyles of Nigerian women.

The W.M. Hunt Collection, however, provided a counterpoint to what I've just said about beauty-in-similarity. Hunt viewed the passion for collecting as foolish and seems to have gone out of his way to prove his point. Over a period of decades he collected large photographs of groups of people at conventions, fairs and events. Frequently panoramic in scope, the combined effect of the dozens of images in three rooms is the loss of the individual. The scenes of large "happenings" are so crushingly repetitive -- groups are sometimes organized into geometric forms by the photographer -- that there is little special about any of the people pictured. All those individuals have indeed been captured in a picture. Captured and assimilated. 

The "Trepat Collection" was an interesting demonstration of a collaboration between a wealthy Spanish industrialist and a number of avant garde artists. His success in manufacturing and marketing agricultural machinery allowed him to commission works by the likes of Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walker Evans to help create a distinctive brand for his company. 

Other exhibits, such as the impressively large-scale collages by Vik Muniz demonstrated that photographs as artefacts can themselves be reworked to create new images. Others again, such as the work of Mazaccio and Drowilal, undermine celebrity, advertising and sentimentality in our image-soaked society. Denis Rouvre's presentation ("Identity, Intimate Territories") of low-key projected portraits with narration by the subject reminded me that, far from being an issue for the French alone, multiple identities are a fact of life for all of us in a globalized world of migrants. 

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and I was only sorry that it couldn't have been longer. It was long enough to inspire me, though, and encourage me to work more carefully on my own photography. Less gear, more story. More vision. More "rencontres"!

 

All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 14mm and 18-55mm lenses. JPEGs tweaked with Snapseed on an iPad. 

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Source: http://

Getting medieval

One of the advantages of historical sites in some parts of France is that they escaped the heavy bombardments of the First and Second World Wars. In many parts of Europe it can be hard to find a site that isn't a total reconstruction. The beautiful Cloth Hall in Ypres, for example, was entirely rebuilt from rubble. And the buildings in many "medieval" town centres in Germany are often, for obvious reasons, no more than 60 or 70 years old.

So it was particularly refreshing to come across the beautifully-preserved medieval town of Pérouges in the Rhônes-Alpes region of France. Although a centre of the linen trade for centuries, the walled town was progressively abandoned as the Industrial Revolution favoured larger cities, such as Lyon. No bombardment, no war (at least not since a siege in the 15th Century, I believe), just a wave of economic and societal change.

It was also refreshing to see new life in the little town, which now enjoys the benefit of a small museum and the presence of some 80 inhabitants, many of whom seem to be involved in running restaurants, galleries and workshops. All of this has been done without resorting to the plague of Disneyfication: parking is a mere 2 Euros, there is no fee to enter the town and access to the museum is reasonably-priced. You can explore Pérouges to your heart's content for pocket change.

And explore I did. Un gros merci aux citoyens de Pérouges !

(All images are JPEGs from a Fujifilm X-E1, processed with Snapseed on an iPad.)

 

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A walk in Wakefield

Some weeks back my wife and I had the chance to spend a couple of hours walking around Wakefield, a small village on the Gatineau River about 30 or 40 minutes from our place. It was a lazy afternoon so we had no particular plan for our time... and I think the pictures I took reflect that.

Top down. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 200, 1/3,500 sec at f/1.4.

Cast critters. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 200, 1/70 sec at f/1.4.

Post pre-modern. Fujifilm X-E1 with 35mm. ISO 400, 1/34 sec at f/1.4.

Wakefield Inn. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/40 sec at f/22.

Wakefield Inn 2. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/110 sec at f/8.

Deck. Chair. Fujifilm X-E1 with 14mm. ISO 200, 1/420 sec at f/2.8.

Canada Place

I'm behind with the posts, so I'll be putting up a few with relatively little comment. The following shots are details of the beautiful sail-like roof of Canada Place at Burrard Inlet in Vancouver.

I continue to be impressed with the quality of the Fujinon 55-200mm zoom lens. It seems very sharp and the Image Stabilization is very, very good. I'll need to post some handheld shots later on to show just how good the stabilization is—these were all taken at a distance at relatively high shutter speeds.

Sails —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/5.0 at 1/1400 sec. ISO800.

Sails—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/5.0 at 1/1400 sec. ISO800.

Between the sails —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/420 sec. ISO400.

Between the sails—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/420 sec. ISO400.

Rigging —Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/250 sec. ISO400.

Rigging—Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 55-200mm; f/8.0 at 1/250 sec. ISO400.

Cliché roundup—the Brooklyn Bridge with my X-E1

I understand that more than 8 million people live in New York City. I understand that NYC is a popular destination for millions more business people and tourists each year. And I also understand that the Brooklyn Bridge has been photographed by every single one of those people, multiple times.

I don't care. 

These are the pictures I took of the Brooklyn Bridge with my Fujifilm X-E1 and I like them. 

So there. Now it's millions and millions plus one.

 

Guggenheim in monochrome

 

Guggenheim 3 -- Fujifilm XE-1 - 14mm - f/11 - 1/350 sec - ISO 200The term is overused, but the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum truly is an iconic piece of architecture and instantly recognizable. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it is as much a work of art as any of the pieces displayed within its walls.

I've admired the building on previous trips to New York City but this is the first time I've had the opportunity to visit the gallery. Unfortunately, the current installation by artist James Turrell means that the famous interior spiral ramp is completely covered by projection screens. Great for lovers of Turrell's work with light; not so great for anyone who wants to experience the unique design of the gallery.

I may have spent as long photographing the building as I did visiting the exhibits inside. The curves and lines cry out for abstract treatment and it gave me the opportunity to try out the black and white mode of the Fujifilm X-E1, using the simulated red filter to darken skies.

I wasn't disappointed. The resulting JPEGs, while not completely straight-out-of-the-camera (I did make some contrast adjustments), showed a pleasing tonal range and held highlights well. I'm becoming increasingly confident that the JPEGs the X-E1 produces stand up with little or no post-processing.

I think I'll be doing a lot more black and white work with this camera.

Geggenheim 6 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 14mm - f/11 - 1/220 sec - ISO 200Guggenheim 12 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 18-55mm @ 55mm - f/8 - 1/1800 sec - ISO 200Guggenheim 4 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 14mm - f/11 - 1/240 sec - ISO 200Guggenheim 2 -- Fujifilm X-E1 - 18-55mm @ 55mm - f/8 - 1/320 sec - ISO 200

Alone, but never on your own

One of the great things about a big city is the range of options you can have for interacting with other people. You can be anonymous, if you'd like. Or you can seek out the company of others if you'd prefer to do that. Or, in large common spaces like a Central Park, you can move back and forth between the two, choosing now to find a quiet space to read or stroll and then joining with others to applaud a street musician. That ease of movement between different degrees of social interaction also makes it easier to try your hand at street photography: as long as you are not obnoxious, no one is the least bit surprised to see you taking pictures. Much harder to do in a smaller town.

I like NY.

New York grain

We spent three glorious days in NYC a week ago. If you're not caught in a late-winter blizzard, March break in Quebec often means grey skies, grey streets and grey scenery, so somewhere with a little more warmth and activity is always a welcome break.

New York is only a day's drive from here, but it could just as well be a world away. Not only is it warmer, but there's something to see and do on every street corner. A break for the soul, as well as for the body!

And it's a photographer's paradise. If you aren't moved visually by this city at any hour of the day or night, well, you need to put your camera away and take up Sudoku as a means of personal expression.

This shot was taken from the "Top of the Rock" at Rockefeller Center. The observation deck allows for fantastic views of the city in most directions and is a great vantage point for including the Empire State Building in panoramas. We went up just before sunset to get the best balance between the building lights and the glow of the sky. We weren't disappointed. I messed around a bit with the image in the desktop version of Snapseed, an inexpensive little image editor with fast and powerful tools. For about $20, it's a real deal, and it lets me experiment with RAW, JPEG and TIFF files non-destructively.

Still in the photographic line, we also visited B&H Photo and Video so I could pick up a new lens and make the pilgrimage to the superstore. I have never seen anything like it: a photographer's most vivid dream and combined with a descent into the ninth circle of retail hell. It's madness -- but what glorious and orderly madness!

Needless to say, we'll be going back to New York and more shots will follow on the blog.