Trying out Infrared Photography – A New Photobook

I was now producing reasonable infrared photographs. But this was, after all, coming from a 20 year old camera with an old 8 megapixel sensor. Sure the pictures looked OK on screen, but how would they look printed?

So I decided to make a photobook and found that the answer to the above question was…not at all bad!

So far my efforts have all produced black and white images. My next attempt will attempt to produce the type of false color pictures often associated with infrared photography.

And I’m enjoying infrared photography so much that I’m seriously considering acquiring a modern, infrared converted camera.

Stay tuned.

Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation

Last January I posted my thoughts on another of the books in the Aperture Photography Workshop Series (See: On Street Photography and the Poetic Image). I really liked that book and decided to get some more in the series. As of today I have all but one of them

Unfortunately I didn’t like this book as much as I did the last one.

While most of the reviews on Amazon are positive, even glowing one review says:

I don’t know about the author before purchasing this book, I purchased this along with the other one written by Alex Webb in the same workshop series, so I thought it would be a promising book for composition inspiration. After reading the first 30 pages, I realized this book was kind of a joke. But i told myself to continue as the author got his fame on this for reasons and I need to read more to understand that. Until the end of this book, I almost didn’t find any really excellent photographs that deserve a thorough study. All of the photos inside are black and white, shot in photojournalistic style and quite a bunch were shot with flash. To me, a good candid or photojournalistic photo needs to have something that leads your eyes and keep them there, it may be some interesting light, some exotic juxtaposition, some decisive moments or something that you can smell out of it. But most of the author’s works shown in the book are not that interesting at all, some of them have really flat or bad light, harsh flash illumination, poor crop of human bodies at the frame edge or corner as well as no real moments existed there. And the author’s explanation in the excellence of his works are also confusing and not convincing. It looks like the author randomly made the incomplete crop or object inclusion when clicking the shutter, and then figured out some academic reasons or principles from nowhere to make these stuff sound like magic and then persuade you to follow and study.

Examples like Page 26, the author emphasized the importance of the table edge at the bottom left corner of the frame, which brought out the 3D feel of the image. To me, it’s like a redundant and incomplete composition, I would clone it out in PS without a second thought. If you want a 3D look, use the side lighting to shape your subject to bring out the texture of dimensionality instead of introducing unnecessary distractions into the frame, like the table here which has nothing to do with the central theme of the photo – the boxer. Other works like page 34, I even can’t figure out what that image is talking about, what are the roles of those people and what are they doing. The author seemed to be quite proud about the compositional arrangements in this photo, but I can’t find any interesting arrangements here, as well as no real moments can be discerned. It looks like a common snapshot, and if it is thrown onto the internet anonymously, I really doubt it will draw any attention from the public. Same thing for page 35 and a lot more pages in the book. At page 99, the author seemed to be quite excited to have a “lucky” photo, which to me is similar to a boring selfie photo bomb in today’s instagram. The main subject the author trying to photograph is a black student, who situated in the center of the frame in big proportion, emotionlessly, disinterested and only god knows why the author thought he was interesting enough for him to click the shutter. The other two silhouette students at the right side talking to each other, also cluelessly and had no obvious business with the main character in the center. The background is another black boy’s face bumped right out of the main character’s head, which is a failed composition in any common sense, or at least nothing special in my mind. And now the highlight came from the boy at the left, who laughed and waved his hands hysterically, staring at the camera and the author (the photographer). So what is this image all about? I didn’t see any good compositional or improvisational merits here. All I see is a common and random image taking phenomenon: You walked in a street and suddenly came across a beautiful lady, and then you quickly lifted your camera at the same time threw harsh flash light from your side on her face, only finding that the moment you clicked the shutter her daughter from behind was making a face towards you. Is this really a good photograph that worth your 2nd look? Is this a photo that deserved to be shown in a photo book or in a museum art exhibition? I doubt it, and I simply can’t understand it.

There are too many unconvincing ideas, instructions and explanations in this book, most of which is not practical or relevant to the title. I really can’t figure out how the author got great fame or his senior academic positions in photography, which is also a big mystery to many of my professional photographer colleagues after my showing them the works and the words in this book. Maybe we are too “young” to understand the art, but if I can easily appreciate and learn from lots of the other admirable photographers’ works such as those from Magnum Photos, I believe the author is simply incompetent in certain ways here.

Since this book looks more or less a best seller in this category on Amazon so far, I seriously wonder if anyone who purchased this book had the similar doubts but can’t or not dare to admit. Personally, I would strongly not recommend this book for educational purpose as it doesn’t show you any usable or practical compositional knowledge and skills as well as not exhibit any great examples falling in this aspect. It may be a good purchase or inclusion for any fans of this author’s works. I truly believe photographers such as Constantine Manos, Steve McCurry or Gueorgui Pinkhassov from Magnum Photos are more suitable for this book, their works and technical skills in this part is at least several light years better than the author, unabashedly.

And another one where the author is much more positive towards the images, but takes exception to the language:

First this is NOT a photo workshop book, as the title implies. I’m a teacher and hoped to get something to share from it; but no.
The book is a collection of photographs by Larry Fink, with short texts that vaguely relate to his process.

There are two major problems with this volume:

1. The photos, while certainly good, or above average, lack greatness. It seems that Fink has mastered a good composition trick; he knows how to shoot a multi-layered image really well; but unfortunately that’s all you’re going to get as he repeats the same trick over, and over, and over.

But in terms of voice, no one is there. It’s hard to explain in words but these pictures lack soul. To give some perspective, the work of Diane Arbus oozes with soul. There’s nothing like that here. There’s not one image where, as a viewer, I’m intrigued by the people he shoots. Which is really strange. Fink speaks a lot about empathy, but it’s not clear he understands what this means by looking at his images.

But it gets worse . . .

2. What’s really frustrating is how pedantic the author sounds throughout the book. It seems that he purposefully uses overly complex language to make his work more interesting.

Here’s a typical example, p 81: “There’s a difference between atmosphere and space within a picture. Atmosphere is charged space; it fills the setting with feeling and could come from the way you feel about the place—something from within your mind—or from physical conditions. Either way, it is worth trying to emphasize the factors in the reality that creates atmosphere . . .”

Sounds smart-ish . . . But what does it mean exactly? Not much.

Throughout the book, he sounds like a New Age guru . . .

p 83: “This is not technique. This is the entryway to the soul.”

p 73: “I’m not analyzing my desires to the point of cooling things down—just to the point of understanding impulses as they come.”

p 69: “I’m a volatile feeler. I don’t live in automatic mode . . . It’s the idea of merger—inter-organic merging with other energy forces.”

This whole thing sounds like terrible 70’s psycho-babble.

But the problem may not come from the artist but from the editor, Aperture (who mis-titled the book).

It’s the second time I received a bad book from Aperture. The first was the Aperture anthology — which was again incorrectly titled as it was not an anthology but a collection of essays.

No more Aperture books. This one will be returned because, to use the words of Fink, this “inter-organic merging with other energy forces” is not quite working.

If you love photography (without the pedantic jargon), please avoid this one.

Although I agree with a number of his comments, I think the author of the first review is a bit harsh. There are about 75 pictures and I like about 22 a lot. But please take this with a grain of salt. I don’t incline to this type of photography and in all likelihood don’t understand it that well.

I agree more with the second review, particularly his second point where he says “What’s really frustrating is how pedantic the author sounds throughout the book. It seems that he purposefully uses overly complex language to make his work more interesting.” While I don’t know whether he consciously tried to use “overly complex language” to “make his work more interesting” the language is somewhat tortured. It’s not the worst photography book I’ve ever read, but it’s far from the best. I don’t regret buying it.

You can find more information (e.g. publication information as well as more reviews) on where I purchased it. What you can’t do, at least for the moment, is purchase a copy for yourself and Amazon says: “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” It doesn’t seem to be available on ebay either, and it’s listed on the publisher Aperture’s site as “unavailable”. Must be popular?

Some new photobooks

Although I have a lot of fun sharing photographs on social media, I like to see my photos in print. I could print them, frame them and put them on the walls of my house. But I don’t actually have a lot of wall space for displaying photos so that’s pretty much out. I could just print them (maybe frame them) and then give them to friends e.g. when invited to a party I could print along a framed print instead of a bottle of wine? But I’m pretty sure that they’d appreciate the wine more than the framed photograph. Or I could print them, put them in a folder or a box and then probably forget about them entirely until I discover them ten years from now…if I’m still around.

Instead of any of the above options I’ve decided to do photobooks instead. Over the years I’ve done a number of glossy photobooks, but I’ve discovered that they take me a long time to complete. They’re also quite expensive and I have a knack for getting something wrong e.g. I might find that a typeface I thought looked good on screen didn’t work well in print; or I get the spacing wrong; or while proofreading I catch most of the grammatical/spelling mistake but inevitably miss a few etc. Then I have to go back, and fix these problems and re-order the book. Let’s say I spent $60 on the first photobook. Now I have to spend another $60.

Instead I’ve decided to try ‘zines’. While they’re not as nice looking as photobooks I can produce one fairly quickly and they don’t cost very much (the examples in this post each cost no more than $15). So even if I have to redo them I’m only out $30. Of course if I really like one I can use the ‘zine’ as a proof copy, and quickly transform it into a more flashy photobook.

So far it’s working pretty well. I’ve recently done four ‘zines’ in two series.

I’ve lived in the Lower Hudson valley for the past 23 years. For much of that time I commuted into New York City for work. I was lucky that the commute was a very pleasant one. The New York Metro-North Railroad Hudson Line runs right next to the Hudson River and for much of it’s length offers picturesque views across the Hudson to (among other things) The Palisades; The Hudson Highlands; Storm King Mountain etc. Over the years I’ve visited and photographed many of the towns along the river. I anticipate doing a number of these ‘zines’ – each one focusing on a single town (or part of a town as some of them are quite large). For the same reason I’ve decided to focus on those areas, which are close enough that I can comfortably walk to them from the railroad station. With my customary lack of creativity I’ve decided to call this series “Rivertowns”. So far I’ve done two in this series: “On Albany Post Road in Tarrytown” and “Dobbs Ferry”. This series combines photographs with quite a lot of text describing them.

During COVID it was not possible to travel as much as I had been doing. I therefore confined myself to walks in the immediate vicinity of my house and started a series of photographs, which I decided to call “Around the Neighborhood”. I defined this as meaning anywhere that I could walk back and forth to from my house. So far I’ve done two ‘zines’ in this series. The first, entitled “A Tree” has as its subject a single tree in a nearby woodland. I’d already taken a number of pictures of this but on this occasion I decided on the spur of the moment to attempt an exercise that I’d recently read about. This exercise consisted of taking thirty six photographs of a single subject all at once. Quite easy at first, but after about twenty photographs increasingly more difficult. In fact at that point I almost gave up, but I stuck with it and in the end found it to be quite useful. I’m the kind of person who will walk up to a subject, take a few pictures and then move on. This exercise made me slow down and look more carefully. Indeed, towards the end I was noticing things, which I had already walked past a couple of times. The second, entitled “A Pond” focuses on a sad, lonely looking pond. What makes it interesting is that it’s on the site of the former Briarcliff Lodge, a 1902 vintage luxury resort in the village of Briarcliff Manor, New York where I live. It’s said that this pond was once the Lodge’s swimming pool. Local legend has it that if you were to dive to the bottom you’d find tiles.

The Making of “Exiles”

This is the kind of book that makes me want to give up photography. The images are just so far beyond anything I’d ever be able to make.

I subscribe to many photography-related YouTube channels. T. Hopper‘s is one of the more interesting. She recently posted a video on Joseph Koudelka. Other than the famous picture of the arm, the watch and Prague, and that he was a Magnum photographer I didn’t know much about him. Since I don’t need much of an excuse to buy a photobook I immediately went online to buy one. This is what I came up with.

At the moment I’m so blown away by this book that I’m at a loss for words, so I’ll content myself with merely copying what Amazon has to say about it. Later, when I’ve had more time to absorb it I may come back with some thoughts of my own.

“Koudelka’s unsentimental, stark, brooding, intensely human imagery reflects his own spirit, the very essence of an exile who is at home wherever his wandering body finds haven in the night.”–Cornell Capa

In 1988, Josef Koudelka published what was to become one of his most famous and canonical series: Exiles. These gorgeously austere black-and-white images described the travels and everyday life of the peoples he encountered while roaming Europe. Josef Koudelka: The Making of Exiles is an exploration of the genesis and the making of this photographic journey.

Enhanced by numerous photographs that have never been published―in particular the photographer’s self-portraits―and captions by Koudelka, it includes numerous archival documents (such as reproductions of his travel journals), thumbnail reproductions of the book’s layout, an introduction by curator Clément Chéroux and an essay by photo-historian Michel Frizot, who spent hours interviewing Koudelka.

Josef Koudelka was born in Moravia in 1938. Initially an aeronautic engineer, he launched full time into photography in the late sixties. In 1968, he photographed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, publishing the results under the pseudonym P.P. (Prague Photographer). Koudelka left Czechoslovakia in 1970 and was briefly stateless before obtaining political asylum in England. Shortly afterwards, he joined Magnum Photos. In 1975 he published Gypsies. Koudelka has exhibited at the MoMA and at the International Centre of Photography in New York, at the Hayward Gallery in London, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

Peter Lindbergh on Fashion Photography

I haven’t shown a lot of interest in Fashion photography. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it – I do, and I have a number of photobooks by/about well known Fashion photographers including Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz and Edward Steichen. I’m also somewhat familiar with the work of others including Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Horst P. Horst, William Klein, David LaChapelle, Lord Snowden, and Mario Testino. It’s just that I don’t think, much as I might like to take pictures of gorgeous women on a beach I don’t think I’ll ever have the opportunity to do so. Moreover, I’m not really comfortable taking pictures of people in general.

However, my interest was piqued when I saw this video on one of my favorite YouTube channels: Alex Kilbee’s: The Photographic EyeThe Photoshoot Which Changed Fashion Photography

I’d heard of Peter Lindbergh, but had not really appreciated how influential he had been. So I immediately ordered “Peter Lindbergh. On Fashion Photography“, Taschen Books, 2020. In his introduction Lindbergh says:

In 1987, I got a call from Alexander Liberman then the creative director of Condé Nast

I’ve got a couple of books by/about him too. I decided that I would get them after being invited over to the house of, as it turned out, someone who used to work for him). But back to the post:

He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to work for American Vogue. I told him, “I just can’t take the types of photographs of women that are in your magazine.” I simply felt uninspired by the ways women were being photographed”. He said: “OK, show me what you mean, show me what kind of women you’re talking about.” I wanted a change from a formal, particularly styled, supposedly “perfect” woman – too concerned about social integration and acceptance – to a more outspoken and adventurous woman, in control of her own life and emancipated from masculine control. A woman who could speak for herself.

A few months later, following Mr. Liberman’s proposition, I put together a group of young and interesting models and we went to the beach in Santa Monica. I shot very simple images; the models wore hardly any makeup, and I wanted everyone to be dressed the same, in white shirts. This was quite unusual at the time. Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, and Karen Alexander were all there that day.

Back in New York, Vogue’s editor in chief at the time, Grace Mirabella, refused to print the images. But six months later, Anna Wintour became the the magazine’s editor and discovered the proofs somewhere in a drawer. She put one of them in Condé Nast’s big retrospective book “On the Edge: Images from 100 years of Vogue (1992)”, calling it the most important photograph of the decade. The “supermodel” would go on to represent the powerful woman that I had articulated, and their images dominated fashion visuals for the next 15 years.

The book consists of two distinct parts: a short, but very interesting introduction by Lindbergh himself followed by the heart of the book – Over 300 hundred images (that’s what the book’s sleeve says, but the book actually has 505 pages and the introduction – in English, German, and French – takes up only about 30 of them, and itself contains a number of photographs). Such a large number of images requires some kind of organization and in this case it’s alphabetical by client e.g. Azzedine Alaïa, Heider Ackermann, Giorgio Armani etc.

I like this series of Taschen books. Most photobooks are quite expensive, large format, heavy and difficult to hold. This series is more compact (6×9 inches) and fairly inexpensive. I have a number of them. I guess the only problem with them is that the photographs are relatively speaking rather small, but they’re good enough to provide a thorough overview of his work. Taschen also has a larger format series. I have a few of them too (e.g. Sebastião Salgado‘s wonderful “Genesis” (10×14 inches, but still quite inexpensive for a photobook of this quality), but I find them too big and too heavy to comfortably hold and read.