Temporal Concepts

Holy Trinity York in Western Australia

 

Time – it is a difficult concept to get to grips with. When I was a kid time used to go so slowly. When I grew up and started working time at work went so slowly and my days off went so quickly. Now as a I edge towards sixty time just seems to keep on accelerating. Time isn’t a constant. Then we have the phenomena of how people interpret time within societal and cultural associations. This was brought home to me the other day when talking with someone about what they considered an old building and they were stating that Holy Trinity York was a very old, historical building that needs preserving.

 

Holy Trinity Bosham, West Sussex, England.

 

Here in Western Australia Holy Trinity Church in York is considered an old historic building. The Anglican Church was was established in York in 1831, and the building work on the current building began in the 1850’s. So I guess if were being generous then that’s 189 years.  In terms of white colonial Australia that is old but in the big scheme of things it’s just a drop in a bucket. I spent my formative years in Chichester, West Sussex. Down the road is the little town of Bosham and it has a Holy Trinity Church as well. The differentiation is the first church in Bosham was mentioned in an account written by the Venerable Bede about Bishop Wilfrid’s visit in 681 AD – that’s 1339 years ago. The earliest parts of the current building were built in the 11th Century under the patronage of Godwin, Earl of Wessex who was one of England’s richest and most powerful of men. You may have heard of his son Harold Godwinson, better known as the King Harold who was poked in the eye by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (apparently his last words were “Oi William! Be careful with that thing or you’ll have somebody’s eye out.”). Indeed there is an illustration of the church in the opening scenes of the Bayeux Tapestry with the accompanying text ‘Ubi Harold dux Anglorum et sui milites equitant ad Bosham. Ecclesia.’ Translated, this reads ‘Where Harold, Earl of the English, and his retinue ride to Bosham. The church.’ The church has historical associations with another king – King Cnut. Yep he’s the one that tried to turn back the sea as a demonstration to his courtiers of how insignificant his power was. Well it is believed that one of his daughters is buried in the church – local tradition has it she drowned in the nearby millstream aged 8. That’s a lot of history and it was all recorded. The big thing was that when I first saw these buildings they new and fresh to me. It was only as I became more familiar with them did I start to have any inkling of their historical significance.

 

A marker for the gravesite of one of King Canute’s daughters.

 

Does something that has been around longer become more valuable than something newer? Does the cultural and societal significance of something increase as it ages? Well I suppose the fact that the church in Bosham has parts of it that have physically been there for a thousand years makes it kind of special. Then add the fact that it is associated with key figures and events in history that makes it somewhat unique. Then stir into the mix the fact that it is still a central part of the community and then you have something really important. It is not just a dead building, a mausoleum to a bygone age, it is something that has come to help define a community over a long period of time and will continue to do so well into the future.

Photography and film/video are art forms that deal in part in capturing and expressing time in a way that other art forms have trouble articulating. You can speed it up, slow it down. You can show the effect of change. You can preserve things and memories. Over the last 150-200 years humans have come to see photos as an adjunct to their memories. I have photos and videos of some of my dogs playing, they’ve been dead a long time yet I find them very comforting and my memories of them somehow seem more real, more valid. Photos can, of course, also evoke sad/negative emotions and memories. A photograph can also be just proof of existence – either the subject or the photographer actually existed. For instance without these photos many of you wouldn’t be aware of these two churches having being built.

 

My great great grandmother with her dog

 

This is all getting a bit too metaphysical so lets change tack. If we stop and consider the two photos of the churches they were taken 29 years apart. Things have changed enormously photographically speaking between those photos. The photo of the church in Bosham was taken at the height of the film era using what was then already rather dated equipment – an Olympus OM4 with an Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm lens shooting Kodak Kodachrome 200 ASA reversal film. The photo of the church in York was taken well into the digital era on a Canon 6d with Canon 24-70mm lens. So not only are the photos snap shots in time of two churches, but they are all snapshots in terms of photographic equipment and trends. But I know that all said and done how they were captured will matter to very few people in the future. What will matter is that they were captured at all. I have a photo of a relative taken back in the 1880’s. I have no way of knowing what was used to make the photo nor whether it was considered cutting edge at the time. I just know that this woman and her dog existed at some point in time and she is one of my family and that is what makes it so important. I don’t know who she is other than my great great grand mother as there is no one left in my family who remembers who she was. But the important thing is that she existed and we can see that she liked dogs – a trait that still runs in our family. The important thing is that someone decided that wanted a photo of her and her dog as a keepsake and consecutive generations have kept it.

Time. It is a difficult concept to consider or explain but maybe we shouldn’t try. Maybe we should just mark its passing with photos and videos and leave them as gifts for those in the future to make sense of. 

Gone To The Dogs

Sometimes when I read the photography forums I wonder how we managed to make pictures in the past. No auto focus, shooting film so there was no instant feedback on exposure and content, being limited to 36 exposure rolls of film rather than 128Gb memory cards, frame rates of only 3 fps rather than 11. But make photos we certainly did. Going through my Lightroom catalogue the other day I looked at this short series I shot. The assignment was to make a short photo essay of six photos using black and white film and produce six prints. The equipment used was fairly basic by todays comparison, an Olympus OM4 fitted with an autowinder, an Olympus 35-105mm lens, an Olympus 65-200mm lens, and four rolls of Ilford HP5. The film was developed in D76 and the prints were made on Ilford Multigrade RC. The images below were from scans of the actual prints.

 

Gone To The Dogs
The steward walking the dogs out to the start line. Greyhound racing at Cannington in Western Australia.

 

Gone To The Dogs
Preparing the dogs at the starting gates. Greyhound racing at Cannington in Western Australia.

 

Gone To The Dogs
They’re off chasing the electric hare. Greyhound racing at Cannington in Western Australia.

 

Gone To The Dogs
Into the final straight. Greyhound racing at Cannington in Western Australia.

 

 

Gone To The Dogs
The winners on the podium being photographed. Greyhound racing at Cannington in Western Australia.

 

Gone To The Dogs
The punters watch the action on screens in side the bar. Greyhound racing at Cannington in Western Australia.

 

 

I won’t say any more because I feel I’m in danger of becoming the photographic equivalent of:

 

Lens Sharpness

Yoshinkan Aikido sacrifice throw, taken on Olympus C-720 Ultra Zoom with slow sync flash edited using Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals

Currently in photography there are several sacred cows and you’d think that from the amount of chatter these subjects generated that they were the be all and end all of photography. Thankfully for the actual art form of photography they are mostly irrelevant. These sacred cows are:

  • megapixels
  • dynamic range
  • sensor size
  • lens sharpness

My feeling is that these topics are so hotly debated is because now in this digital age it is easy to quantify these values numerically and the bigger the number the better. There is no doubt about it a great big  spreadsheet of impressive looking numbers must be right after all. This is why the website http://www.dxomark.com has become a sacred text among the denizens of the internet fora and its proclamations and pronouncements can lift a camera or lens to photographic nirvana or condemn it to the lowest reaches of hell. Well having ruffled a few feathers with the piece on sensor size and depth of field this weeks entry is going to cause the DXO fundamentalists to really froth at the mouth in holy indignation.

Ura Tai Otoshi, a Yoshinkan Aikido technique. Shot using an Olympus C-720 Ultra using slow sync flash. Edited using Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals

Lens sharpness  is something to be coveted. After all Leica, Zeiss, Schneider, Rodenstock, Canon and Nikon have made an art form of it. Those who worship at the high altar of lens sharpness are prepared to spend the equivalent of the GDP of a small African nation on the lenses that have the highest DXO score. The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* Otus 1.4/55 ZF.2 Nikon has a DXO score of 45 while the lowly Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II only has a rating of 25.  So the Otus is nearly twice as good as the plastic fantastic Canon. Phwoaaaaarrrrr forum domination and photographic greatness here I come,  I’ll go out and buy one straight away. The Australian list price for the Zeiss is $4474 while the Canon is $135, so the Zeiss must be 33 times better. Er no. To quote DXO “The DxOMark Score shows the performance of a lens, mounted on a given camera body, for its optimal focal length/aperture combination and for defined exposure conditions.” So the lens has been mounted to a camera on an optical bench shooting a 2D lens chart at an aperture that is guaranteed to give the best results in carefully controlled lighting. So in other words it does not reflect real world usage unless your photographic interests lie in shooting charts or brick walls with a camera on a heavy tripod so you can orgasm over how sharp the image is at the edges. Shoot a complex 3D object in rapidly changing light conditions at sub optimal aperture settings and these ratings really don’t mean anything.

A sacrifice throw from Yoshinkan Aikido. Taken using an Olympus OM 4 with a Zuiko 35-105 lens on Fujichrome 400 pushed to 800 ISO. Scanned using an Olympus ES-10 scanner and edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals.

There is no doubt that lenses have become a lot sharper over recent years, but I find it amusing to see that they have become so sharp that they are now unflattering for portraiture as they show every blemish and pore. So much so that photographers are now spending time and money on lessening the sharpness (blurring if you will) on portraits. Don’t you think that is ironic? I’ll spend a fortune on a very sharp lens that is so clinically sharp that no-one likes the results so I’ll spend some more money on a Photoshop plugin to blur it.

 “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

A famous quote and often mis-quoted as nobody can really tell you the context in which Cartier-Bresson said it.  If we forget the Marxist definition of bourgeois and just concentrate on the dictionary definition we get:

 “belonging to or characteristic of the middle class, typically with reference to its perceived materialistic values or conventional attitudes: a rich, bored, bourgeois family | these views will shock the bourgeois critics.”

I would hazard a guess that dear old Henri was string a bit when he said it and meant something along the lines that sharpness in a photograph is a very conventional and staid way of judging it and doesn’t look at its other qualities. How can I be sure, well I can’t but he also said:

 “It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera, they are made with the eye, heart & head.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

 So I think it is more than likely to assume that Cartier-Bresson felt that there is a lot more to photography than technical perfection.

The Japanese art of sword drawing. Taken with an Olympus OM 4 with a Tamron 28 mm lens, using Ifford Delta 3200. Scanned using an Olypus ES-10 scanner and edited using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Genuine Fractuals.

So by now you’ll have read this and seen some photos I made years ago of some people practicing Aikido and Iado, both Japanese martial arts. You’ll also have noticed that there is a lot of blurred movement and very little sharpness. The reason why is that I wanted to capture the beauty of the flowing energy that is involved in them and I felt that while static shots might capture the technical aspects of the techniques being demonstrated they don’t capture the nature of the philosophy behind them nor the dynamism. I like to feel that these are photos “made with the eye, heart & head” rather than the clinical gaze of the optically perfect lens. This is for me where the beauty of any art lies, not in technique but in the expression of ideas and emotions. None of the equipment used in the making of those photographs warrants a mention on DXOMark so I guess that gives them a score of zero. The equipment HCB used also isn’t on the DXO charts, and guess what quite a few of his pictures are blurred because he often relied on zone focusing and didn’t get it right, but I’d sooner have one of his pictures on my wall than a lens test chart any day.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare. By Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris 1932. © 2014 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

If you are not familiar with work of Cartier-Bresson try this:

If those video clips have whetted your appetite then might I recommend Henri Cartier-Bresson  – the man, the image & the world. A retrospective. Published by Thames & Hudson.