Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Farewell Kodak

It recently was announced that Eastman Kodak is filing for bankruptcy.

What that means exactly for the future of the company remains to be seen but I couldn't help but regard the news with some sadness.

In the course of shooting photographs over the last 45 years, I've burned through thousands of rolls of good old Kodak film in the familiar yellow box.

Indeed, during the summer of 1973, while working as a summer intern at the Dubuque Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa, I made of point of just tossing every box, data sheet and film cassette over my shoulder and into the backseat of my full-sized Ford, just to see how many rolls I would end up shooting over the summer. I don't recall the exact number of rolls but when my 10-week internship ended, the backseat was level to the windows with them.

What is so remarkable is that for all of the rolls of Kodak film I have shot over the years, I can recall only two rolls that were defective. Those two rolls had in inexplicable fog along the bottom edge of the three-foot long strip of film. Naturally, the photos on those particular rolls were ruined so I wasn't at all happy at the time about what I still believe was a Kodak goof-up.

But two rolls out of thousands over four decades...that's still a pretty remarkable example of quality control. And I know longtime photographers who have never had a defective roll of Kodak film over their entire careers.

The makers of, say, televisions, computers or automobiles could only wish for such a record.
In the end, for all of its great products and quality control, Kodak was probably too big to make the adjustment to digital quickly, and admittedly, perhaps a bit too complacent about its standing in the photographic community.

By the time it saw the handwriting on the darkroom wall, it was too late. I shot my last rolls of film of any brand in 2001, the time the Free Press took delivery of Nikon digital cameras.

While I sometimes miss the craftsmanship of the old chemical processes, the magic of a print appearing on a blank sheet of paper, I wouldn't trade it for the efficiency of digital imaging. Given the state of newspaper resources where we're all doing much more with less, we couldn't possibly get done what we need to if we had to burn up a portion of our day in the darkroom.

Nevertheless, I hope the American icon that Kodak has been over the last century survives in some fashion.

Especially since I just bought one of their printers!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not my usual cup of tea

Typically at a basketball game I shoot pictures similar to the one I took of Mankato East's Brett Olson a couple of weeks ago at left. Tight, close in to the action, clean (at least blurred out) background. That's more my style: Get the viewer into the action and make him or her part of the game. Give them a view they may not be able to see from their seat.

I took a different approach when editing my photos from the Austin vs. Mankato East matchup Tuesday night. I decided to go with the picture at right, which shows (from a distance) East's Brandon Kowalski taking a long range three point shot. The significance of the photo is in the background. East is down by three as the clock winds down. Kowalski hits the shot to tie the game as the buzzer sounds. The crowd goes crazy. The team goes crazy. Kowalski goes crazy.

I had plenty of pictures like the one at left, even one of Kowalski hitting a three pointer earlier in the game, that would have worked just fine and would have fit my formula for a good sports photo better than this one. But in this case I felt the scoreboard added to the picture, showing East down three (I do wish I could've gotten the clock in the frame too, but that was all I had). The storytelling aspects of this particular picture made it worth publishing over the others.

Too lifelike?

Now I'm as much of a technology freak as the next photographer. I can be convicted of my share of spot coloring, vignetting, sepia toning, etc. a photo. But I found this use of technology very interesting. Photographer (perhaps artist would be a better term?) Sanna Dullaway, as this blog entry says, "re-imagines photos from the past in vibrant, realistic hues."

Essentially, she has taken famous photos from the past (like the famous Times Square kiss photo from the end of World War II by Alfred Eisenstaedt here) and colored them in a realistic manner. They kind of remind me of the old hand coloring techniques used in that era before digital photography became so popular. They are beautiful, artistic and well done.

But (you knew it was coming, didn't you?), does the technique cheapen the photo? Sure, Alfred Eisenstaedt probably saw the scene as it appears at right. But history remembers the scene in black and white. So is it strange to see a historic photo like this in color, as it was originally witnessed? Or does the photo become less historic because of Dullaway adding a level of non-truth to the picture (if it truly isn't truth she's adding. I'm making an assumption she wasn't there and doesn't know whether lady in the background has on a blue dress or a yellow one, for example).

Don't get me wrong, it's intriguing to think of what Albert Einstein or Samuel Clements looked like in color. But I wonder if these iconic photos lose their icon status when made more "real."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The latest in photographer fashion

A model wears a creation by Nicola Formichetti, and Sebastien Teigne for Thierry Mugler fashion house's Men's fall-winter 2012-2013 collection, presented in Paris, Wednesday. AP photo

This one's from the "you've gotta be kidding me" department. Now, finding unusual fashion show photos on the Associated Press wire is not groundbreaking news, but I had to share this one just for it's absurdity.

I've been around for my fair share of photographer fashion faux pas. I wore the safari vest for years. I still have the waaaay oversized belt pack with add-on pouches. I have carried the camera bag that makes me look like I've packed everything I own inside it. This one beats them all.

The caption didn't name the outfit, though. Any ideas? Photographer's corset? RoboPhotog?

They could have at least put a bigger camera on it than an all plastic EOS Rebel. I mean, this thing could support a 400/2.8

Thanks to copy editor Josie Belina for pointing it out to me!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Are SOPA and PIPA evil? Well, yes and no.

A lot of buzz is being made in tech circles today as Google, Reddit, Wikipedia and other online giants are conduction a blackout to protest a pair of bills making their way through the House and Senate that are designed to decrease online copyright infringement. Called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the two bills would give corporations the ability to have the Attorney General of the United States shut down Websites that repeatedly infringe on copyright.

On the surface, this sounds fantastic. Creative professionals (like me!) have lamented our work being used by others for their financial gain without compensation. "Borrowing" music, photographs, artwork, video, etc. for use on various blogs and other websites is rampant. Often these secondary websites are making money by selling advertising, charging for subscription services or other means, and not compensating the originator of the work. Worse still, as in the case of newspaper websites, the site taking the story, photo, etc. takes hits away from the organization that paid to have the work produced in the first place. So policing this is good, right?

Again, yes and no. Here's where SOPA and PIPA go wrong, big time. Part of these bills allow an organization to let loose the dogs of the Attorney General's office on anyone THEY feel violates copyright. No courts. No due process. No evidence. Just shut 'em down. That flies in the face of not only the spirit but the wording of the First Amendment. It means I could go to jail just for posting the above image of Wikipedia's blackout on this blog if Wikipedia chose to report me.

It is obvious why tech circles and the blogosphere see this as a threat. There are hundreds of websites and blogs that would shut down if they couldn't steal work from others, perhaps for the better. But there are also so many that help integrate and intertwine the various sources of information on the Internet that would be either shut down or severely limited by these bills. And from a technical aspect, there are too many ways to get around the proposed blocking of a website to make it effective.

Now, don't get me wrong. Something is broken when an organization can pay to have a creative work done, then someone with a fly-by-night "news" website can come along and use the work without permission or compensation. But in today's world of information flow, the Internet has to remain a place where information can flow uncensored. Something has to be done, but SOPA and PIPA are not it!

Being financially dependent the publishing industry, I have a vested interest in how these bills play out in the coming months. It has been difficult for me to formulate an opinion, and I've been following the debate for a while. On one hand, seeing industries like mine lose money to every person who uses a story or photograph without permission in its entirety without any kind of link back really makes me mad. On the other, I wouldn't be able to stand watching industry executives shut down Joe Q. Blogger for putting one picture on their blog in a heavy-handed attempt to maintain the bottom line.

There is a middle ground here. Congress needs to find it. As written, I think these two bills are flawed.

Ironically, Twitter currently has an excellent summary page of information about the two bills and how they threaten the free flow of information, complete with other links to outside analysis. Consider the sources of the information you read, but educate yourself on these two bills.