Saturday, June 18, 2016

A World Without People

Abandoned paper mill in Pennsylvania. Olympus EM1 with M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 0.6" at f/5.6.

Days like this I really don't know what to do with myself.

Business is shrinking. I'm okay with that. Jobs are coming in gradually, still largely hindered by less than willing clients fed to me through contracting firms. I'm not worried about the state of the business, it's inevitably going to contract some years, especially with my passive approach to running the business in general. That said, these weekends of available down time... I still don't know how to manage myself outside the scope of relentless work. As a result, I often find myself dwelling for hours at a time, almost as if I'm waiting for a job to magically spring up on a moment's notice. Waiting for this mystical moment's notice labor, the echo chamber of my head analyzes the state of the world and doesn't understand how anything ever got so complex at the surface level.

Last weekend I ventured up to Pennsylvania with some friends to indulge in some urban exploration through old locations. Easy locations. And the immediacy with which I felt impassioned and filled with the vibrancy of life struck noticeably. There is a muse there, in those dank locations replete with hazards and filth, and I miss it greatly. While in the car between locations, I postulated with Rob and Kyle (my cohorts for the day) that the hidden gem of appeal in such environmental submersion is, much as every other hobby taken to dedicated lifestyle and craft, a sort of escapism. And especially amid the calamitous happenings and ensuing battle for narrative control, it is an escapism I feel a desperate, continual need for. The fantasy of a life after people. Where nature does as it will in the slow reclamation of its territory from the brutal impact of man. Where the silence and solitude is, for a change, genuine. Where I can be reminded that, independent of the inanity of man's embattled stance with the world and with itself, things will move on and adapt quite pleasantly in the absence of our influence.

It's obvious and cliche as hell. It's also remarkably easy to forget and lose sight of. And while it can be quite easily stated as a concept, it's a very different experience to immerse oneself in the fantasy, to imagine yourself as a lone observer of that environment put to practice. That while we struggle with concepts of sustainability, of our own survival, our environment, in eternal throes of change, is patiently waiting for our influence to wane in the wake of our hopeless struggle against ourselves. That I could have been born a tree instead of a man - Such a post-humanity world is comfortingly uncomplicated.

I envision a more adaptable species of travelers visiting the remnants of Earth some day long after we've exhausted the potential for our own sustainable existence, lured in by the adorable irony of a millennia old radio transmission of poetry, "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Work, ye Mighty, and despair". An echo of a bygone sampling of life, on a planet that may very well be but a sand laden mass of rock with no discernible telling that life there had ever even existed.

There is comfort in accepting the ultimate futility of our very being.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Morning Report

There are no less than "umpteen" occasions on which the urge to write on a clear, delineated subject welled up within at the perfectly inopportune moment, when the very solitary diversion of writing has either been inappropriate or trumped by actual work. I am piss poor at retaining that clarity when tracks of thought are actually on the rails, thus at best I am doomed to ramble in impotence.


Photography work is dry at the moment. It makes sense to experience seasonal dry spells, and this one isn't particularly far off from the expected trends. The ebb and flow of business. And despite the client list presented under the new contract picked up in March, none of those clients seem particularly enthusiastic about capitalizing on free (to them) marketing material, thus leaving me with a great list of potential business that's going nowhere due to unresponsive or unwilling clients (amazing how the price tag of "free" seemingly imposes lethargy upon the beneficiaries).

Left to my own devices, the weeks meld into an amorphous memory of various casual outings, assisting Rob Clatterbuck with his theater work, and long periods of relative social isolation. Simultaneously a period of creative relaxation and test of mental fortitude. I do not handle idle time well.


Naturally, in those gaps of time lacking in activity, consumerism sets in desperate for the next spontaneous fix. Lately (by which I mean the last two days) the focus is on a new "standard" walk-about lens. Aforementioned Rob frequently sports Voightlander's absolutely stellar 17.5mm f/0.95, and less so because of speed/sharpness/what-have-you, I find his relationship with that lens admirable to the point of enviable in its intimation. I completely empathize with the affinity for 35mm equivalent focal lengths, and his appreciation of the nuance of the optic's rendering finds me paying close attention to subtleties oft underappreciated in the modern autofocus lens market.

The argument borders on the point of cliché, that modern lenses, with complicated coatings and corrections and elements sorted into tightly fitted and overcrowded groups, sacrifice the potential for "depth" to maximize sharpness, distortion, and aberration correction. Similarly, I've digested many counter arguments insisting on the irrelevance of the notorious "flat nose" look that is a consequence of such heavy handed optical correction. Whether unfortunate or not, I find myself in the camp more interested in this mystical sense of depth, perhaps because I have a collection of exceedingly crisp optics that all seem to be lacking in a characteristic I once thought dependent on camera format, but am quickly learning is more grounded in the elements of the lens itself.

Most recently I reviewed sample images generated by the M. Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 and Lumix 25mm f/1.4. Very different lenses at very different price points (and neither of which I'm interested in acquiring), but with both lenses fixed at f/1.8 or f/2.0, side-by-side there is an understated subtlety on the side of the Lumix 25mm f/1.4 that differentiates it tremendously from the image produced on the M. Zuiko. Simply put, the Olympus optic creates a flatter image compared to the PanaLeica (perhaps the secret to Leica's lens design successes). The focus falloff is considerably different, albeit a nuanced thing one doesn't necessarily understand how to dissect without studying the difference closely. It's one of those unquantifiable things, an abstract that matters little from an engineering perspective, but holds great weight and influence over artistic vision.

So, desiring the intimate relationship with an optic I witness in Rob's use of the Voightlander, and an understanding of the depth characteristics of gentle focus falloff I desire in a lens (and how to pick apart such characteristics from a lens design perspective), I find myself pining for optics such as the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 and Rokinon 21mm f/1.4. The Lumix 20mm f/1.7 and I have some history - It was my primary lens in the GF1 days, and I am very familiar with its rendering qualities and, yes, it absolutely demonstrated the nuance I find myself pining for. The Rokinon, by constrast, is not only an unfamiliar optic, but constitutes a new sort of dedication to manual workflow, which I'm not so distressed by having had opportunity to experiment with Rob's Voight.

Since 2013, the M. Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 served as my go-to walkabout lens. I can't complain about it, it's lovely even if not necessarily the sharpest optic (perhaps its mild softness even drove my appreciation of it). With the advent of PanaLeica's 42.5mm f/1.2 in my kit, however, I find myself frequently yearning for longer focal lengths, but not necessarily that long. And the depth rendering of that lens... oh my, it is a dreamy thing. I'm hunting for a middle ground - I want a slightly tighter lens than a 35mm equivalent, but not nearly "normal" 50mm equivalent tight. This is a thing for candid portraits, functional as a multi-tool capable of also covering architecture and still life. And my decision is essentially made. Observing Rob's intimacy with the Voightlander, and my experience using the optic, impose a comfort with the decision - I would like to pick up the Rokinon.

Of course the frugal logician in me continues to insist "Wait, wait for the 25mm f/1.2 from Olympus", but I'm rather tired of waiting for rumored tools that may or may not fit the bill of what I'm looking for. Currently, the manual lens market appears to be the only front in which depth rendition is a primary consideration, thus my faith that anything new and brand named wavers. And that applies to every leading camera brand.


I don't know where my business is heading this year. Four years of market trend data for my region is diametrically opposed to the current fallout of work from my contract holders. One has begun accepting crowd sourced photos submitted by the client for what was once a tightly refined standard of image style for marketing. Another lost the head of their photography division head and does not appear to be in any sort of rush to fill the position (coinciding with a dramatic decrease in number of clients, issues with image delivery systems, and nebulously redefined standards). This may be the ultimate turning point at which contract photography as I've known it dries up and become an untenable source of work. I am not sure how I feel about the matter.

The longer I spend with an excess of free time compared to my baseline normal, the more familiarized and acquainted I once again am with concepts such as "relaxing" and "going with the flow". It's like discovering oneself all over again, befriending once more a version of you left behind in the pursuit of the almighty greenback. This coincides with critical realizations about the relative state of un-health in my life. I've made many contacts and business networks, but no friends nor social circles. I've refined marketable, commercial styles, but largely lost the verve necessary to create art that genuinely drives thought and introspection. The last four years have been a lonely soldier's march to no real end. Perhaps a break is needed to digest the lessons learned, then when my life is once again at a point of peak health, I can start again with those considerations in mind.

While I'm certainly not closing out the business in some dramatic, immediate fashion, I'm simply less driven to pursue new business for new business' sake. I at least have that much freedom, to introduce a selective mindset when it comes to what business I will take on. I'm a commercial photography. I will not shoot your wedding or newborn. My partner, Rob, on the other hand... that's more up his alley.


I think I may find some asbestos to huff this weekend. Been too long since I've scratched the itch of that muse... decay.