Hipstamatic - The New Disposable

The very first idea of this post came to me many months ago - I was reviewing my app-use trying to see if I could clean up a little bit my iPhone from apps that I don't use and camera apps take the largest share of apps for me. This leads to a struggle every time I want to take a picture - which app to use? Luckily most apps offer the option to import a picture from the camera roll so I can simply use the regular camera app that Apple includes. But Hipstamatic is an exception and as one of the very few exceptions (there was also Lomora 2 some time ago but a big update last year made it possible to import photos) of apps that simply take a picture not allowing you to import or to export original file. And that appears to be something they are adamant not to change. And I think this idea is a revelation in today's photographic sphere where multiple edits and painting over pictures diminishes the spontaneous nature of preserving a memory. When one spends too much time thinking of how a picture should look like, it is no longer a collection of an emotion but a polished work of art - and that's quite alright, too. But I take the picture not because I want to make art for someone else but to preserve a memory for myself. 

There is something scary about standing in front of a finished piece of art - it is there, it carries its own value and it is immutable. It is not encouraging the question "what will happen if ..." but it asks the question "what made it happen". These are two distinct world-views - the exploratory and the questioning, the courageous and the accommodating, the acting and the observing, the emotional and the objective.

The finished work of art (the one that is thought through and designed by nature) is not welcoming; it is only existing out there, occupying space and time - demonstrating the great power of the human mind to design. The unpolished work on the other hand (the one with imperfections) is a charmer; it starts its existance challenging its own existance - it takes up no space and no time - and yet it is there demonstrating the great power of the human ego to feel.

And it is this questionning power and self-effacing evaluation in today's ego-, head-, and objectivity-centered society that make us add those imperfections and the unplanned to our pictures - consciously or not. And I am guilty as charged to extole and abuse them to my own catharctic advantage.

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The Challenges of Being Invisible - Amongst Your Crowd [graduation goodbyes]

I often face a connundrum - how to become invisible amongst those that I want to be visible to? In my surrounding, people have already learnt that when I take pictures, I prefer people not to pose and, should they notice, to continue with their conversation/activity. The mere noticing is in itself bringing about change and questions the naturalness of the behaviour onwards. But how do you become invisible amongst the people who are looking for you?

I am standing in a big hall - in a hotel, with plenty of unfamiliar faces, quite a few familiar faces, many waiters, many smiles, many bottles of wine and cocktail glasses. I listen to music from the decades, moving my feet ever so subtly (although my suit is showing the movement as if it's a magnification device), and I look around. I know the people, and I know the feelings they are having, and I know that at a graduation ball, you think you are saying true goodbyes. But you simply don't know the next time you'll see that person. Have we been spoilt by technology, by proximity, that we have forgotten how people did it back then? (You know, when they wrote letters, send postcards, and used the telephone for very short messages) Why is it so challenging to simply smile and accept that you won't see the person tomorrow but at some indefinite point in the future?!

And I am there with my camera, and I see (or I think I do) the sadness penetrating - the eyes see the lens but they look like through it because it is not the camera that one cares about - it is oneself - the impeding change, the one that we had a whole lot of time to prepare and that still surprises us, overcoming us in the form of an emotional tsunami, eradicating all the memories we don't need and keeping the ones that could stand - the ones that will put a smile on our face anytime, the one that made us question ourselves and through which we discovered something new about ourselves, the one that guarantees that next time I see 'you' I'll be different (and yet perhaps not). No, the camera doesn't capture all that - but when I look at the picture, that's what I see - because that's not your picture but mine - it is not a picture for you but for me - it is my memory bank, not yours. And it is still empty - I don't see every memory I want to, I don't see all the ones I've made and collected and I don't see the ones that are yet to be created. And that's why I continue taking those pictures - because sometimes, it is the only way to be invisible amongst your own crowd.

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The Unlikely Duel - M8 vs. M9. Or Not.

Sometimes, it helps to be undecided. I won't claim that I haven't been too fortunate (or too extravagant) to actually own both an M9 and an M8 (not because of necessaty or frugality). I started with the M8 two years ago. I won't go into how it all happened (the mythical image precedes the know-how). A year after the release of the M9, I thought I could see the prices on the used market starting to go down and I thought this might be might chance. I put the M8 for auction quickly, I cleaned up the lens collection (that gear acquistion syndrom in reverse - I can't believe that back then my latest version Summicron 50 was just 700 euros - it goes for double this right now), and I had the cash for the M9. About a year later, in September, I was preparing for my first big wedding shoot and I knew I should have a spare camera - not because I didn't rely on the M9 alone but because I wanted to have greater flexibility with lenses and not need to change my mindset with every picture. So I went for a spare M8.2. With all of its shortcomings, I had forgotten it was my first fling with rangefinders. It didn't replace the M9, but it was there, calling for me. The files it produced in black-and-white were different from the files coming from the M9 - probably the algorythm is different but it was helpted by the infrared sensitivity of the camera. The files had a certain crispness which I didn't seem to get from the M9 (I am even thinking I might need to send in the M9 for clean and check). It had a different look and style as well with its less-reflective black-chrome top (ok, not a real M8.2 but an upgraded M8) combination. But the point of this post is not to compare the M8 and the M9 - for one thing, there have been enough comparisons made already (and most anyone would claim that, should money be of no concern [which, let's face it, with a price point like this, it would be only for very few people], you should get the M9). For another thing, I don't really care about this comparison. And I do get the question "what camera did you use?" often - often enough that I am reminded of that joke about the photographer who bit his lips receiving the compliment "monsieur, I love your photographs; you must have a wonderful camera" from the hostess at a social party; at the end of the party, he goes to the hostess and tells her "madame, I loved your food - you must have a wonderful oven". [please, remind me who this was]

The real problem we face as photographers is becoming attached to the equipment more than to the subject of our photographs - and that's what's scarying me and what's making me use different equipment every now and again - getting rid of the M8 again and again (I think I've bought and sold 3 or 4 M8-s since my acquisition of the M9 - at least the M9 is still the very same one which I got from another great street photographer, Guido Steenkamp).

Why do I categorize my photographs in order of equipment rather than in order of subject? Is the reason for a landscape to exist different from a street photograph to exist? Why does a photograph of Yosemity park taken by Ansel Adams attracts different cache than the same photograph taken by an unknown hiker? Why would a photograph taken with an M8 have a different value than one taken with an M9 (or any other cell-phone)?

Perhaps this is related to our own individual conception of what constitutes art:

☐ anything

☐ something

☐ nothing.

[tick where appropriate]

And perhaps the institutional definition of art has its merits, as does the Kantian and Hegelian and all western-centered philosophers' (and one can even fit the functional definition of art in there somewhere when one looks at documentary photography). 

If we talk about esthetics, yes - of course the technical specifications of the tool will lead to different esthetics - but a tool is a tool - the tool for a job - the job begins in the mind rather than in the hand. Or does it - because how often would I pull out the iPhone when I have the Leica? In fact, having both is confusing - it is the beginning of an inner dialogue that is about choice - and the risks of taking the wrong one (and shooting with the wrong tool). Perhaps here the saying that the best choice is the one you've already made is the most sparing mantra. Esthetics aside, we are in the search of capturing a moment - and all that is contained in that moment (a hundredth of a second). And the tool is the emotions carrier - the canister that can contain our love, our pain, our strength, and our sorrow. 

Why do I have so many tools then?!

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Anonymous, ACTA, and contradictions

While across the pond, the talks of SOPA and PIPA are toning down (focus shifted to working conditions inChina), it seems today was a day for ACTA to be acted upon. It is an important topic. Not only because of its implications of sensorship, democratic hypocricy, and Orweilian foreboding; but also because of its commercial motivation, political ignorence, and catholic denial. I would not claim to have a full understanding of ACTA, or of democracy, or of freedom of speech, or of policy implementation, or legal predictons, or mafia industry business models. And I would not claim to support a protest for the sake of a protest - an anonymous protest. Is this not a contradiction in itself - to be anonymous to fight against being under identified surveillance? Should we not be going fully public to show that we have nothing to hide? Is it not a contradiction that the oldest form of revolution (a street protest) is attempting to demonstrate that we can and should own our future?

As with many revolutions, this one is also been taken on the street, by the young ones, the college students whose lifes are going to be change by such legislations, the ones who are underprivelaged in society. I was walking among them today, wondering what makes them really tick? Why don't we see professionals in ties among them, what are their expectations, who are they speaking to with such activities (those who make decisions or those who should be joining them), what are they hiding from the "mafia" and what can the "mafia" really benefit from them? Of course, I am beside the point. Yes, I do need to read the newspaper more often.

(And yes, the Oxford comma in the title is important.)

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Photography is History

For well-over a month now, I've been using quite extensively the new Voithländer 35 mm f1.2 II lens. It is a superb lens - it is sharp, it is great to handle, it offers light sensitivity unbeatable in the 35 mm range, and fantastic contrast and color rendition. It is a fantastic black-and-white lens especially when paired up with the Leica M8's infrared sensitivity. And it made me think about what the lenses tell about the picture. 

We've often read about lenses that render vintage, or modern, or clinical, or that are great for color, or that offer surreal rendition, etc. The lenses that we use (figuratively and literally) create their own reality and have their own feel. That's what we refer to "vintage" when we talk about softer lenses. We use them because they capture our own expectation of the world back in those days - ghostly and desaturated. They have melancholic value because we want to live in that world - some of us, anyway. Their low contrast is for us a summary of a historic moment - calmed down, poised, and sometimes flatly boring. We become like the characters in "Midnight in Paris" who cannot live in their own time and look for a future or a past.

The lens is more than just a brush in the hands of the photographer. The lens is the intermediary inner eye, the intuition and the impulse. It is the brush but also the canvas on which we draw with light. It is the paint and the palette.  With a manual focus lens, the photographer is in absolute control of how impressionistic, Cezannian, Bensonian, Cartier-Bressonian, etc. the composition and appearance would be. Super-f lenses, opened to the fullest, gather light that can easily overwhelm the sensor – like a bucket of pain splashed on the canvas. These lensed are made for drawing at night – when each photon matters, when the human eye is not capable of seeing colors, and when people open up to you - by the fireplace, with a candle, under the fireworks.

Then we have a whole new world before our eyes. Colors and colorful people. Smiles and tears. Music and noise (no silence ever). Breath and stank. Toxicity and invigoration. Poets and lyrics. Begging for money and satisfaction without greed. Being of past, and present, and future. A Prokofiev and a Rachmaninov piano concerto – Bach doesn't fit at night but the Russian romantics and surrealists do. 

We are drawn to that world, as photographers. It is revealing, it is unseen. It is a secret. Perhaps, its allure is in its invisibility. Or maybe, photography is just the artist's attempt at escaping death, which often comes at night, in the dark, without us seeing. We all want our picture taken, our presence documented, our loved by our side. The fear of perpetual neglect is what has driven the artist for centuries. So what's so new with photography? Infinite reproducibility? And isn't it through photography that we try to live in another age? To move to the times which we like - recreating the ages, recreating the clothes, the make-up, recreate the greatest and most beautiful era. But isn't any one of them like that? Aren't we all trying to escape the present?

But life is a little unsatisfying. And that's why we need to document each and every part of it - the happy parts and the sad parts, the ones we want to forget and the ones we want to remember forever. But above all, we must document the ones we want to live in.

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The dreams from childhood
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