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March 12th, 2015

The Best Drone Movies: NYC Drone Film Festival Crowns Winners

We’re still in the infancy of drone cinematography, but there’s more than enough content available now to start passing judgement on it.

The New York City Drone Film Festival wrapped up earlier this month and handed out awards, or “Dronies” in nine categories. To enter, films had to be five minutes or less with at least 50 percent of the footage captured using a drone.

A few of the winners, like “Superman with a GoPro,” may be recognizable from their days on the viral video circuit, but a few were new to us. We’ve included a few of the winning films below. The full list is here. (more…)

February 5th, 2015

PDN Video Pick: Vincent Morisset’s Interactive “Way to Go”

Promotional still from "Way to Go"

Promotional still from “Way to Go”

When you travel from point A to point B, what do you see? How does the experience change when the route becomes familiar? These are questions asked in “Way to Go,” a new interactive video project funded by the National Film Board of Canada and premiered at the recent Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier program.

Part film, part game, “Way To Go” takes players through a 3D environment with a 2D character, following a predetermined path through an immersive, interactive environment. Players control a blockheaded animated figure, deciding whether to walk, run, stop, jump, fly, or investigate elements in the environment recorded on video.

“I’m really interested in the notion of space and time,” says Vincent Morisset, the project’s director, “and how we relate to our environment in real life, and if there was a way to transport or put into perspective this really universal premise of going from point A to point B.”

The visuals—art directed by Caroline Robert—are a striking mix of video footage, hand-drawn animation and live GL effects. Morisset captured the live video with a DIY pole-mounted 360-degree camera rig comprised of six GoPro cameras. He’s visible in the game as the black figure holding a pole that follows the main character everywhere through the interactive universe.

“In 2015 it’s less and less easy to get lost, we’re constantly knowing where we are,” Morisset says. “There’s something to the line and the path that resonates with how we deal with our environment.” As the character is confined to traversing the universe along a pre-determined path, the exploration is in the changing perspective—what do you run past, what do you stop and investigate?

The NFB previewed the project at a virtual reality at Sundance’s New Frontier utilizing the Oculus Rift VR headset. While the game is playable on any computer with a Web browser, the Oculus experience took full advantage of the 360-degree camera footage to provide a truly immersive experience.

Sounds are synced to the movements of the character. Composer Phillipe Lambert designed a Euclidean rhythm console so that the complex rhythms interweave seamlessly with the pace and movements of the character.

Lambert, Robert and Morisset, along with Édouard Lanctôt (a developer and technical director), make up AATOAA, Morisset’s Montreal-based digital studio. Their commercial clients include Red Bull and Google, and they’ve produced an interactive video for Arcade Fire’s “Just a Reflektor.” “Way to Go” is the team’s second personal project; their first, “BLA BLA,” was an interactive short film exploring human communication.

To experience “Way to Go” yourself, visit a-way-to-go.com. For more on the interactive projects produced with support from the National Film Board of Canada, visit: www.nfb.ca/interactive.

Promotional still from "Way to Go"

Promotional still from “Way to Go”

February 3rd, 2015

Ilford Offers Glimpse into the Mind of the 21st Century Film Photographer

fp4-plus-35mmThe photographic film business is a bit like the Black Knight — it’s been remorselessly hacked into bits, but it’s not dead yet.

In fact, it’s enjoying something of a resurgence as the Impossible Project, Ferrania, Lomography and others keep the flame alive.

Black-and-white film supplier Ilford recently surveyed their customers, canvassing “thousands” of users across 70 countries to understand why they’re shooting film. While the company didn’t release all the numbers, they did offer a few highlights that help shed some light on the state of film photography. To wit:

* 30 percent of survey respondents were under the age of 35 and 60 percent of them had picked up film photography over the past five years. Their interest in film was often spurred by receiving a film camera as a gift

* 84 percent of survey respondents were self-taught and 49 percent develop and print their own photos in a darkroom.

* 98 percent of respondents shoot black-and-white film, 31 percent did so exclusively

* 86 percent use roll film.

When asked why they choose to shoot film, photographers told Ilford that they “wanted to slow down.” The limitations of film, they said, forced them to think carefully about their craft as opposed to digital where “you just shoot.” Photographers also told Ilford they thought of film as “retro” and fun.

December 23rd, 2014

PDNPulse: Top Stories of 2014

As another fascinating year in the world of professional photography comes to a close, we look back on the stories that drew the most interest from PDNPulse readers this year.

From manipulated news photos, to photographers arrested for doing their jobs, to collaborative efforts between photographers and an interview with one of photography’s most influential star makers, these stories capture some of the highs and lows of the photography business today.

1: George Steinmetz Wonders: Was It Worth Getting Arrested for National Geographic Cover Story Photos

2: 2014 Winter Olympics Op-Ed: Everything You’ve Read About Problems for Photographers in Sochi is True

3: PDN Video: Lens Blog’s James Estrin’s Career Tips for Photojournalists

4: Photographers Share Intimate Images of Loved Ones for Curated Photo Website

5: AP Severs Ties With Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image
5a: Photographer Fired by AP Says Decision Was Fair, But Process Wasn’t

6: How Much Do Editorial Clients Pay? “Wiki” Gives Names and Fees

7: If that Kim Kardashian Photo Looks Familiar…

8: Calumet Photographic to Liquidate, Closes U.S. Stores

9: Photographer Creates Free iPhone App for His Signature Style

10: Wal-mart Sues Photographer’s Widow Claiming Copyright for Decades of Portraits of Walton Family

11: Suffolk County Pays $200K to Settle News Photographer’s Unlawful Arrest Claim

12: How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?

13: AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

14: Cowboy Lifestyle Photographer David Stoecklein Dies, 65

15: Photojournalist Camille Lapage, 26, “Murdered” in Central African Republic

December 18th, 2014

FILM Ferrania’s Plan to Save an Analogue Slide Film Factory From Extinction

© Aischa Gianna Muller

Corrado Balestra taking spectrophotometric measurements of an emulsion sample in the LRF. Balestra is an expert in emulsion manufacturing and melting. © Aischa Gianna Muller (www.aischamuller.com)

Film is finished. Film is dead, declared deceased by David Lynch, among others. Contrary to all declarations, however, this year, two enterprising Italians have recently begun manufacturing film, and may have hit a turning point in their quest to make film’s resurgence a sustainable reality.

In 2003, Ferrania became the first of the major film manufacturers to declare bankruptcy. The Italian company, which produced the cinema film stock for such classics as De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief and Fellini’s 8 1/2, along with 35mm and 120 film for stills, had an expansive campus in the Liguria region of northern Italy, and the capability to produce almost 330 million rolls of film per year. Those days ended with the expansion of digital photography.

But there’s new life for the old Italian brand. Intrepid film devotees Nicola Baldini and Marco Pagni have managed to form a new, leaner version of the old company, called FILM Ferrania, with a group of former employees itching to get back to their life’s work. They recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising $322,420 to purchase and relocate the old Ferrania manufacturing equipment, which had been collecting dust on the Liguria campus. They’ve already begun manufacturing the first batches of 135 and 120 film for still photography, as well as Super 8 and 16mm film stocks.

“Everyone told us we were crazy,” Baldini says in their Kickstarter video, admitting “perhaps” it was true. “Or maybe not…” Pagni counters.

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Marco Pagni (left) and Nicola Baldini (right).

Their plan was to scale down the massive operation of the old Ferrania to make it more sustainable. The original company still produces industrial chemicals at the Liguria campus, but the equipment they needed was scattered throughout a series of abandoned buildings.

The small Research & Development team is comprised of former Ferrania employees Corrado Balestra, Daniele Montano, and Danilo Ferraro (who study and prepare the chemicals); Ezio Perone (who coats the film); Renzo Manera (who finishes the film); and Marco Scognamilio, who oversees the entire process. They set up shop in the Laboratori Ricerche Fotografiche (LRF), the small R&D building on the Ferrania campus where they used to test the films they manufactured. It’s a small-scale version of the entire plant; everything needed to make film lives inside the LRF. It was owned by the government of Regione Liguria, where the plant is located. But seeing economic benefits to the restoration of the old plant, Regione Liguria offered FILM Ferrania team a favorable lease.

But the team still had a “goldilocks” problem. The equipment in the LRF was too small to mass-produce enough film for their business, and the full-scale operations were too large: The building that (just barely) contains the precision coater they needed was nine stories high and 100 meters long. “Big Boy,” as the team calls the industrial film coating facility, is designed to make as many as 330 million rolls of film in a year—an unrealistic goal for sales, as Ferrania’s 2003 bankruptcy proved. 

“If there’s gonna be any long-term viability for film, it has to be done on a much different scale then it’s done currently,” says David Bias, who heads FILM Ferrania’s nascent U.S. office. “The scale of the operations of Kodak and Fuji are literally just too big for long-term sustainability.”

So the Ferrania team set out to scale their operations “just right,” using the Kickstarter funds to purchase “Trixie,” the large-scale triacetate base production machinery that makes the plastic that holds the film together; “Walter,” the high-volume chemical synthesis lab that makes the chemicals (named after Breaking Bad‘s Walter White); and “Big Boy,” which they would scale down to meet their production needs.

So who is the Ferrania customer? To hear Bias tell it, their customer base is diverse: professional digital photographers who shoot film in their spare time, kids who grew up with digital devices in their pocket at all times, for whom film is a brand-new thing, and older people who never really latched on to digital devices. Film used to be the only option for photography; now that there are so many options, shooting on film has become a deliberate, conscious choice.

“No longer do you have to buy film if you want to take a picture,” Bias says. but it doesn’t mean people won’t buy film. The last analogue photography project Bias worked on,  the Impossible project, proved that. “You want to buy film. That’s a very, very different kind of thing.”

Ferrania can’t match the scale of Kodak and Fuji, so its film won’t be a low-cost alternative—Baldini and Pagni’s goal is not to undercut the big boys. Kodak and Fuji are the only other players who can manufacture color film from start to finish, and as they continue to make less film at higher prices, the companies that rely on their materials for production—such as AgfaPhoto and Lomography—may not be able to keep up. Ferrania should have an advantage to start, at least; their first production runs will be reversal film—which Kodak already killed, and Fuji has severely cut back (most recently, cutting Velvia 100F 120).

“Kodak and Fuji are going to exit from their traditional analogue market,” Baldini claims in an email interview with  PDN, “while Ferrania is investing to redefine the market in order to be sustainable for many years ahead.”

Baldini’s drive to save film is partly about esthetics. He is a filmmaker, and his decision to launch the company began with his desire to shoot on film that didn’t exist anymore. Time will tell if the artistic vision of a pair of dreamers will provide a solid enough foundation to support a business. But the pair has at least 5,582 Kickstarters at their back, and a quick look at the #FilmIsAlive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram—which they’re using to promote the relaunch—shows they are not alone. The audience is there, and they’re passionate. But as operations get into full swing, will they put their money where their mouths are?

Baldini says the company’s profitability hinges upon how much film they are able to produce, “because the market is very willing to accept new analogue products that fit specific needs.” They plan to ramp up production steadily over the next three years, and project a profit as early as 2016.

“I think film has become more of an art material,” Bias says. “The people who shoot film, want to. They seek it out, and they spend the money that it takes to do it.”

Related Link: The Future of Film, May 2012

 

November 14th, 2014

New Book Explores the Rich and Wacky History of Toy and Novelty Cameras

 

The Charlie Tuna camera,  manufactured in 1971.

The Charlie Tuna camera, manufactured in 1971, could be had for three StarKist tuna labels and $4.95. Photo by J.K. Putnam.

Early in his career, renowned fine-art photographer Stephen Shore made a project using a Mick-a-Matic, a snapshot camera shaped like the head of Mickey Mouse. True story.

It’s funny to imagine one of America’s foremost photographers out in the world making art with a Mickey Mouse head hanging from his neck. But many artists have used toy and novelty cameras. For Shore, the Mick-a-Matic allowed him to explore snapshot photography as a concept and phenomenon at a time when photography as an art form was formal and almost exclusively shot in black-and-white.

Other artists are drawn to the unpredictability of toy and plastic cameras. Photographers “love these toys, they love the authenticity of the unexpected,” says Buzz Poole, co-author of Camera Crazy, a new book that recalls the history of mass-market cameras, from the Eastman Kodak Brownie Camera, released in 1900, up through present day toy cameras. The book is a delightful look at the fascinating and, at times, ridiculous forms cameras have taken. In addition to popular and well-known cameras from Diana, Holga and Lomography, there is a Fred Flintstone camera, soda and beer can cameras, a Charlie the Tuna camera, a Looney Tunes camera that talks, and a spy camera shaped like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups package. “That is just a weird product,” Poole laughs. “[The manual] tells you how to trick people into stopping so you can get a clear picture of them without them knowing.” (more…)

November 13th, 2014

The Hidden History of the Zoom Lens in Films and Movies

What do the zoom lens and atomic bomb have in common? Both have roots in the second World War and both owe their genesis, in part, to qualified engineers fleeing the Nazi regime.

Nick Hall, a researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London composed the following short history of the zoom lens for the Society for the History of Technology’s three minute dissertation contest. It’s a fascinating, if brief, overview of how a once controversial technology permeated U.S. filmmaking.

Via: Studio Daily

October 28th, 2014

PhotoPlus Expo 2014: On the Upbeat – A Conversation with Ben Folds

140312_tour_portraitMany PhotoPlus Expo goers will know Ben Folds from his day job as a multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter, touring solo artist and leader of the eponymous Ben Folds Five. What you may not know is that Folds is an avid photographer, enamored of his darkroom and a devotee of both film and digital techniques.

PDN’s Technology Editor Greg Scoblete interviewed Folds about his photography ahead of his PhotoPlus Expo keynote on Saturday, November 1. What follows is an edited transcript.

You’ve said that you became an “obsessive freak” about photography when your kids were born. That’s probably true of a lot of parents, at least in the infant stages, but yours turned into a more enduring passion. Why?


Ben Folds: I wasn’t happy with the glut of ‘evidence’ photographs.  I wanted something enduring and archival that could be framed or touched for years. In order to do that I needed to learn to print well, and I needed to make decisions about what spoke of their childhood… In the process, I became obsessive about the materials—the film, the cameras, the tools.

I know you keep a fully packed schedule between recording and touring. When and how do you work in photography? Is it a part of your daily life?


Ben Folds: It’s like a break. I can work without working. I find it relaxing to go through my shots on a plane or in a hotel. I’m always surprised how ‘productive’ I remain about photography.

A more prosaic question: what do you typically shoot with? What’s your photographic process look like?

Ben Folds: These days I shoot three ways: color with my Sony digital camera, which I generally convert to black and white; black-and-white digital with my Monochrom and black-and-white film with my old Rolleiflex.

I can develop my film in the bathroom, or more often with my schedule, I send it to a lab [where] I’ve had good results for a couple years. I just stay on the lightly ‘overexposed’ side and have them ‘pull’ the film and I get a good grey printable negative generally. The negatives I really like, I have scanned. I may soon invest in a crazy good scanner, but boy that is an investment. I don’t have a darkroom at the moment—it’s all in storage. I miss my darkroom.

On your photography website you write that archival prints that would last generations are a more eloquent representation of your children’s youth “than digital folders full of snapshots.” Beyond the longevity, what do you find compelling about prints? 


Ben Folds: They are real. Life is real. We do live online a lot, but we’re still creatures of the Earth. Printing and prints means something you can hold—and there’s limited space and time so you have to make a decision. You can’t be in two places at once and while you can keep a million files on a hard drive, they’re not really there until they’re printed.

There’s seems to be a similarity in the way the business models of photography and music have been impacted by the Internet and digital technology. What was once scarce is now plentiful and what was once a high barrier to entry is considerably lower. Are you optimistic about the ability of future artists — be they photographers or musicians — to earn a living? 

Ben Folds: I think we can earn a living.  I don’t think we can expect to be rich at it.

You’ve written that you photograph things on the upbeat rather than the downbeat. What do you mean by that? 

Ben Folds: The downbeat is where we all land. It’s predictable. It’s not that I don’t shoot the predictable, I just find that I’m drawn to the photos that were shot between the moments—between the poses, and between the subjects, somehow.

I’m no master of that, but I can feel it when I see it and I try to be spontaneous enough to hit the shutter before I even know why. That [approach], somehow, was easier with film. I know that’s weird, but something about knowing there are a limited number of exposures on a roll made me feel more dangerous.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it’s just about telling a story—you can make that more interesting in the way you tell it, when you tell it and how you frame it.

April 29th, 2014

ICP Celebrates Infinity Award Winners (Recap and Video Links)

Last night the International Center of Photography honored photographers working in photojournalism, fine-art and fashion at the 30th annual Infinity Awards. The awards were inaugurated in 1985 as a way to recognize outstanding achievements by photographers working in various genres within the medium.

It was the first Infinity Awards ceremony for new ICP director Mark Lubell, who promised the crowd that the organization would remain at the “center of the conversation” about the medium. Perhaps as a way to illustrate that point, ICP arranged for a drone to photograph partygoers during the cocktail hour, then put those photographs on-screen at the beginning of the ceremony.

The Cornell Capa Lifetime Achievement Award was given to German-born photographer Jürgen Schadeberg, who as an expatriate in South Africa during Apartheid, made some of the most famous images of Nelson Mandela, and encouraged black South African journalists to pick up cameras and tell their stories.

James Welling was honored for his contribution to fine-art photography; Steven Klein for fashion; Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock were honored for photojournalism; Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin were honored for their publication Holy Bible; and Samuel A. James received the Young Photographer award.

Sinclair and Dimmock received a standing ovation from the crowd for their work documenting the practice of child marriage and its effects on adolescent girls, their families and their communities. The project, “Too Young To Wed,” is a decade-long pursuit for Sinclair that has spawned a non-profit that she hopes will help young girls and communities do away with the practice of child marriage.

Samuel A. James, who in his young career has worked extensively in Nigeria documenting the impact of oil extraction on the culture—including photographing the illegal tapping of oil pipelines and makeshift refining operations by impoverished Nigerians—thanked the Nigerians who “gifted me these stories” during a short acceptance speech. James also dedicated the award to a friend who was killed in an explosion while attempting to refine black-market crude oil.

In accepting the Publication award for their book Holy Bible, for which they combined the King James Bible with images from the Archive of Modern Conflict, Broomberg and Chanarin called the book their “attempt to somehow illustrate this text,” and said they hoped it would be an invitation to others to make their own attempts. They also paid tribute to their publisher, Michael Mack for his production of the book, and to the Queen of England, who owns the copyright to the King James Bible.

In a slightly incongruous presentation, pop star Brooke Candy spoke about Steven Klein and introduced a high-octane video that reviewed much of Klein’s work. The fashion photographer briefly thanked the crowd after noting that, “photography pretty much saved my life.”

MediaStorm produced short documentary films about all of the recipients except Klein. Watch those films on the MediaStorm site here.

Related: Tour de Force: James Welling’s Artistic Versatility
Best Photo Books of 2013

November 15th, 2013

Head of Kodak Alaris Tells Lomographers: Film Lives

In a move to reassure a large base of film buyers, Kodak Alaris President of Personalized Imaging Dennis Olbrich issued an open letter to members of the Lomographic Society yesterday. Olbrich told the international group of analogue camera enthusiasts that the Eastman Kodak spinoff is “as committed to preserving your Kodak Moments as we ever were!”

Kodak Alaris, Olbrich wrote, will continue to manufacture film and photographic paper and development chemicals, and will also continue to offer their instant printing kiosks.

Read the full letter on the Lomography site.