Tuesday, January 17, 2012

System Disparity

Oh hello there, Kneejerk Imagery blog, I forgot you existed for a while.

Pardon my hiatus, but the period between my last posting and now was filled with rampant, indiscriminate photography in practice, and my return to posting has only occurred due to the tire-locking brakes put on my creative momentum due to a particularly persistent (and immensely annoying) cold. So please, allow me to present you with an update on the status of Kneejerk and its exploits in this (thus far) most glorious of New Years.

Perhaps by accident (but much more likely by surreptitious intent), I've acquired a new partner in my forays into the detritus of discarded Western architecture. The repeat subject of candid portraits I met rather late into last year, Kyle, has taken a particularly strong interest in the scenic subjects predominantly featured in my online galleries, enough to express interest in visiting them in person to satisfy his curious appetite. Normally I am one to keep these locations private, but having developed a solid working relationship with Kyle and having discussed in great detail his core motivations for wanting to visit there derelict locales, I saw an opportunity to further nurture the relationship into a collaborative effort in the artistic. Having engaged in multiple "explores" with him at this point, he may very well amount to one of the best partners in crime I'm had.

Our first outing he brought along a camera of his own, a solid Nikon superzoom, but given that his interest lay less in the photography and more in the simple pleasures of exploring the unseen, he often asked if I would like to put his camera to use. Subsequent expeditions he traveled sans camera completely, opting instead to bolster his assortment of equipments to include many tools that would make even the most hardened explorer drool with jealousy. With this local and very focused compatriot available to coordinate with for expeditions, I found myself willing to take far more risks with locations, expanding from my countryside locales deeper and deeper into the less pleasant areas of the inner city. While my guard is down in the middle of composing a photograph, Kyle manages to be ever vigilant, often volunteering himself to be the point man of the expedition, clearing areas prior to my entry. An appreciated service. I owe him more than he knows.

Interestingly enough, he and I have even encountered a couple of the worst case scenarios for explorers such as ourselves, what with flustered, shotgun toting property owners and thumping helicopters having been obstacles in the way of our benign objectives. In all such instances, his conduct has been most impressive - without a word needing to be uttered, he knew not to panic, and as if on some telepathic wavelength we operated as necessary in perfect unison to avoid unfortunate and dire consequences in pursuit of high art. Suffice to say he is a long awaited boon. I am proud to have him accompanying me on our little adventures.

What with the recent and successful pairing with Kyle on so many explores, I felt encouraged to escape the hermit shell of my former modus operandi of solo exploration and actually latched onto the reigns of the urban exploration community at large. Though my New Years Eve saw early conclusion in a 10pm bedtime, the first day of 2012 was spent with a couple of the community's more hardcore iconic figures on a day-long road trip to a neighboring city and great trio of successful inner city explores. An absolutely fantastic time, to say the least.

The third of the New Year's Day explores would stand as a personal landmark occasion on a private measure. For a long time I've harbored an irrational fear of heights. It has often left several choice opportunities for impacting images unfulfilled, such simple obstacles as a ladder or moderate climb over a ledge face standing as my ultimate undoing. On New Year's Day, the third explore of the group was a certain high rise building of ill condition. Though I have explored many a building of notably sour condition, this one in particular very much took the cake for being the superior deathtrap. It was a structural nightmare, with a majority of stairs collapsed, ceilings sinking in, and the rooftop itself was an imploding funnel of certain doom some double digit stories high above the concrete jungle. But dammit, I scaled that building, and I indulged in the forbidden pleasures of my first rooftop. And by god was it a gorgeous view, and among the most liberating of feelings.

A good start to the new year. Far better than the sloppy drunken mess that rang in the misery of 2011.

Energized by that Hallmark moment of conquering the self, I was invigorated, eager to punch forward at 2012 with a binge of exploration. With Kyle at my side, that vigor was expressed most magnificently. No longer was it suffice to stick to locales I'd explored before, no, I was encouraged to venture forth to new ones. And in the first week of 2012 I already had 5 new locations under the proverbial belt. Challenges were faced, but with a good partner and a keen shared instinct they were conquered. Honestly cannot think of a better way to have rung in this New Year. I can only hope it is replete with the successes it has been met with so early on its timeline.

To boot, with the ringing of the New Year, so came the opportunity to make the final necessary purchases to complete my Olympus System, not just bringing me back to the capabilities which I'd lost with the death of the GF1 and 20mm f/1.7, but expanding far beyond what capabilities that limited system had. For the longest time, I did not understand the greater appeal some had for the Olympus line of MFT products, far more endeared to the strictly utilitarian approach implied by the styling and function of Panasonic's Lumix line. My former inclinations have altered tremendously, and indeed my understanding of what makes a camera system genuinely resonate with the hands that bear it. Point being, it feels good to shoot a sexy camera, and the Pen line manage to tick all the boxes from a suave visual appeal, modular nature, peak image quality that just about caps out the capabilities of its sensor completely, and the control layout and handling ergonomics of some dream camera molded perfectly for my hands. To have the system completed is a wonderful thing. So now my bag (or lack thereof is occupied as follows:
  • Olympus E-P3 (In black, because it just looks better in the hands of one of my Mediterranean heritage)
  • Larger Grip for the E-P3 Body (Because it helps a whole hell of a lot to have a firmer grasp on such a minute body)
  • VF-3 Electronic Viewfinder (Facilitates that one-on-one connection when shooting a person to have the camera up at eye level... not to mention stability when street shooting off the tripod)
  • Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (The perfect portrait lens for MFT)
  • Olympus 12mm f/2.0 (The perfect everything else lens for MFT, especially interiors and manual focus in low to non-existent light)
  • Olympus XZ-1 (Not just the perfect backup, but also ideal for a different feeling image, something with a more faded, aged tonality that some scenes simply appeal to)
That last bullet features a point I'd actually like to touch on as it has become more and more apparent the more I shoot. At this point I am typically shooting both cameras in RAW, barring dedicated portrait shoots in which the E-P3 with its 45mm compatriot and e-portrait touched JPGs are impossible to pass up. I develop in ACR for both as well, which has a tendency to default any RAW image to settings most akin to the "natural" color and contrast settings built into most cameras. Whereas most cameras seem to develop in RAW with a similar crispness, a boldness that is something of a standard, files out of the XZ-1 differ in their almost washed look and lack of stark blacks and heavy contrast. I imagine some of this has to do with the compact sensor being utilized, which in turn would lead one to expect lesser sharpness due to compact-oriented glass, but the XZ-1's Zuiko lens even overturns that expectation, presenting a degree of sharpness even wide open that one simply does not expect from a compact.

What I have gathered to be the case is that the end result in this formula is the camera exhibits the sharpness of a larger sensor camera with a sharp prime in front, but the color disparity that should ultimately be expected of a compact sized sensor. The end result is something more akin to a polaroid or expired roll of Fuji Superia, faded, muted colors against random, fine grain (which looks all the better when slightly over sharpened). It's a look I've come to love, and although I bring the camera with me every day and take regular snapshots of what I see throughout the daily grind, I rarely post these images because I feel they cheat it out of the recognition it deserves as being a uniquely hipster-ish icon of photography. Not that I'd expect any hipster to waltz around carrying one of these expensive pocket rockets around, but if they actually showed genuine interest in photography and weren't simply grooming an image, they'd find a lot to like with the files it produces.

To expand on the above point, I feel compelled to pop the VF-3 off the E-P3 and try it out on the XZ-1 some time. It's a remarkable tool, the only thing lacking in its list of features being a built-in level, but there are certainly ways to survive without such a spoiling contrivance. Of course, then I feel neglectful of my mainstay in photography in general, and with the 12mm f/2.0 finally in my inventory I feel particularly ill chosen with naught but the XZ-1 at my behest. Oh well, that struggle will never get old.

So now that my assorted of photo taking goods is complete and I'm sitting pretty in the spoils of their capabilities, I can once again trek down the road towards studio lighting and other portrait-oriented goods, all ultimately leading toward realization of the business I set upon founding almost a year ago. This time around I have a far more rational, carefully constructed base upon which to start on the journey, a step-by-step plan concretely defined and laid out to bare in a business plan which will be my initial guide in my foray into this nebulous territory. More so, I have made some incredibly helpful contacts in my passive attempts at networking, people who are already steadfast and grounded in the business of photography and therefore the ultimate role models to follow (especially measuring by their success). Those contacts have even extended a warm invitation to open house venues in their respective studios, as briefly touched on in the previous post (unfortunately my subsequent invitation to the Graffiti Warehouse dissolved with the illness I'm still in the heat of combating). Though nothing is yet established, the grounds on which I intend to plant the business side of Kneejerk are very fertile, and come Spring I very much intend to bring the beast to life.

This is going to be a fantastic year.