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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.

May 1st, 2013

Rep Confirms Business as Usual For Kodak’s Film Division After Spinoff

Kodak’s transfer of its Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses—including its photographic film division—to the UK Kodak Pension Plan (KPP) will not affect the production or distribution of photographic film, according to Audrey Jonckheer, Global Communications Director for Kodak’s Personalized Imaging business.

Jonckheer says the Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses are gearing up for what they hope will be a smooth transition. “This whole plan was put together so there would not be any changes in product, services or delivery to our customer base…. All of the manufacturing sites will continue to operate as normal.”

On Monday Eastman Kodak Company announced that it would turn its Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses over to KPP in order to settle $2.8 billion in claims KPP made against Kodak in bankruptcy proceedings. Kodak agreed to transfer the businesses to KPP for cash and non-cash consideration of $650 million. If the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the UK Pensions Regulator approve the settlement, it will help pave the way for Kodak to emerge from Chapter 11.

The proposed deal has encouraged optimism, Jonckheer says. Today the KPP chairman, Steven Ross, was in Rochester, where Kodak is based, speaking with Kodak employees and local reporters. According to Jonckheer, “He exuded confidence in the growth prospects for the businesses,” and said that with the proper investment, which Kodak hasn’t been able to make due to their Chapter 11 status, the businesses could grow.

“That’s the part that’s exciting to us, because we are profitable,” Jonckheer says. “The future is looking bright.”

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement the majority of social media chatter was about the future of Kodak film, says Jonckheer. “From a social media perspective, from the immediate media coverage that we saw, it was primarily film. Film was in the headlines,” she told PDN. “No matter what this company does, the reaction is always, ‘How is this going to affect film?’”

“We have been asked that, and we have said what we’ve been saying all along, which is that the lifecycle of film depends on the demand for it, and as long as there is profitable demand there will be film.”

Related: Kodak Turns Over Film Division to Its UK Pension Plan

April 29th, 2013

Kodak Turns Over Film Division to Its UK Pension Plan

Today Eastman Kodak Company announced the transfer of its Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses to the UK-based Kodak Pension Plan (KPP), its largest creditor. The deal includes Kodak’s Film Capture and Paper & Output Systems divisions, among others, and will see KPP take over responsibility for the operation of Kodak’s film business.

Kodak is giving the businesses over to KPP, the pension plan for its U.K. retirees, in order to settle $2.8 billion in claims KPP made against Kodak in bankruptcy proceedings. Kodak agreed to transfer the businesses to KPP for cash and non-cash consideration of $650 million. If the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and the UK Pensions Regulator approve the settlement, it will help pave the way for Kodak to emerge from Chapter 11. Kodak plans to focus on its Commercial Imaging business.

In a statement, Kodak Chairman and CEO Antonio M. Perez said the settlement helped Kodak clear “several key hurdles in our reorganization…. placing our Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses with a new owner that recognizes their value and is focused on their growth and success, and providing the remaining liquidity we require to emerge from Chapter 11.”

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, KPP plans to hire new executives to run the Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses so they can generate cash flow for the pension plan, rather than finding a buyer for the businesses.

“The businesses that we are acquiring will deliver long-term cash flows to support the plan’s obligations,” said KPP chairman Steven Ross in a statement. “The financial stability that KPP will provide for the Personalized Imaging and Document Imaging businesses will be beneficial to those businesses’ employees, customers and partners.”

April 11th, 2013

New Movie Explores Life and Work of Tim Hetherington Through His Family and Friends

There’s a long moment of dread near the beginning of Sebastian Junger’s new film about the life and death of Tim Hetherington. A video camera pans around a car full of journalists covering the uprising in Libya in April 2011. Hetherington and Chris Hondros are among them. As the car sets off through war-ravaged streets, Hetherington can be overheard asking, “Which way is the front line from here?”

That scene foreshadows the tragic ending of the film. Hetherington and Hondros died that day in Misrata when the rebels they were with came under mortar attack. Junger unspools those final moments with a deliberate and dramatic recounting by other photographers who were at the scene.

The film–Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington–will have its broadcast premiere on April 18 on HBO, which funded the production. The film is both biography and homage, depicting Hetherington as an exceptional photographer and humanitarian, as well as as a warm, funny, generous man. It is also rich with insight about what really matters in photography, and more importantly, life, though the lessons came for Junger–and viewers–at a high cost.

A master story teller to start with, journalist and director Junger could not have had a more sympathetic subject.  He also had an unusually rich trove of material to work with: interviews–many of them quite raw emotionally– with so many people who were close to Hetherington, his remarkable photography archive, and plenty of existing video footage.

Much of that was behind-the-scenes footage from Restrepo, the Oscar-winning documentary about a platoon of American soldiers in Afghanistan that Junger and Hetherington made together. But Junger also had plenty of other footage to draw from, most notably that of Hetherington covering the war in Liberia during the 1990s. It was shot by James Brabazon, whom Hetherington worked with at the time.

Junger, an adventure writer and best-selling author of The Perfect Storm, is fascinated by the courage of men who risk their lives with adrenaline-infused feats of derring-do. And Which Way Is the Front Line From Here? is, on one level, a celebration of courage. War is risky. It’s dramatic, and it pulls in audiences. (And Junger explains in the film that he took Hetherington on to help shoot Restrepo partly because of the courage Hetherington had demonstrated in Liberia.)

But Junger is interested in courage in the service of  some higher purpose, and Hetherington certainly had that.  From the start of his career he was interested in the physical and psychological toll that war takes on individual people. Moreover, he always went in search of hope, not just suffering.

As photojournalist Chris Anderson and others interviewed in the film point out, Hetherington’s work was not primarily about war, but about human nature.

Hetherington says in one of the film’s clips that moral outrage motivated him but wasn’t a useful tool to get people to engage with the stories he told. “I think we need to build bridges to people,” he said. Within Junger’s film is a tutorial on how Hetherington went about it.

In one clip he says he doesn’t care about photography “per se;” for him it was a means to an end, which was to connect with people. That informed his approach, too.  Hetherington shot medium format in order to get the camera away from his face, so he could engage directly with his subjects. Those interviewed for the film–including his parents, colleagues, and friends–talk about Hetherington’s warmth and humor toward everyone he met.

And Junger shows it, with numerous clips of Hetherington interacting with all types kinds of subjects, from children to warriors.

Much of Hetherington’s work is about what happens to soldiers who fall under the spell of war. Restrepo, for instance, explores the bonding and self-sacrifice of soldiers in close quarters, trying to help one another survive. One of Hetherington’s central questions, Brabazon points out in the film, is: How do young men see themselves in war, and why? The question infused Hetherington’s work from Liberia to Afghanistan.

Junger’s film suggests that Hetherington ultimately fell under the spell of war himself, and that was his undoing. By various accounts, he was ready by 2010 to quit photographing in and around war. He’d had close calls in Afghanistan. He also feared ending up alone, without a wife and family, if he kept running off to cover stories in conflict zones.

But Hetherington was having difficulty flipping between the realities of his personal life and his work life. And Junger points out that winning the Oscar award for Restrepo was both intoxicating and alarming for Hetherington, presumably because it so strongly affirmed the career path he was trying to escape.

When Libya exploded, Hetherington saw photojournalists–his own band of brothers–running to cover the action. He couldn’t resist the urge to join them. His father, who is interviewed extensively in the film, warned him not to go. So did Chris Anderson, who says in the film that he told Hetherington:  “This is not your story right now.” And it wasn’t. The point of Hetherington’s work had never been to document fighting.

Junger’s new film portrays Hetherington as a a rare talent and inspiration, but in so doing it also raises despair, and an imprecation: If only Hetherington had glanced at Libya, and heeded the internal voice that was telling him it was time to leave conflict journalism behind…

Related:
Tim Hetherington Killed in Libya
Chris Hondros Dies in Libya

March 20th, 2013

National Geographic Celebrates 125 Years with Vintage-Photo Blog

national-geographic-found-tumblr

As part of the celebration of their 125th year, National Geographic recently launched a Tumblr blog that unearths “lost” photographs from the Yellow Monster’s image archive, which is said to include more the 10.5 million images.

Called “Found,” the vintage-photography blog was quietly introduced a couple of weeks ago, and has built an audience rather quickly. As of last week, Found had more than 13,000 followers, according to National Geographic Digital Creative Director Jody Sugrue. Several of the images have been “liked” or shared hundreds—even thousands—of times.

“The response has been incredible,” Sugrue told PDN. “It’s been overwhelming, and I think its encouraging us to tell more stories like this, in this way.” Through Tumblr, “we have access to a community that National Geographic doesn’t normally tap into, which we’re excited about,” Sugrue says. (more…)

December 18th, 2012

Ilford Fortifies B&W Film Business With Investment In Cassette Manufacturing

Harman technology, LTD, the company that owns Ilford Photo, has invested more than £350K (568,645 US Dollars) in creating its own 35mm film cassette manufacturing facility, the company announced today.

Maintaining a reliable supply of cassettes from external suppliers has been “problematic,” the company said in its announcement.

“This is just another example of our ongoing commitment to traditional monochrome photography,” Harman Managing Director Peter Elton said in a statement. “We are now able to manufacture our own cassettes and this gives us, and our customers, improved security for the future of film production.”