Thursday, July 23, 2015

The First Portrait Lens

Petzval Lens
Petzval Lens
In the earliest days of photography, sitting for a portrait was a long and uncomfortable process. The low sensitivity of the glass plates combined with the small aperture lenses to require an exposure time of 15 to 30 minutes.  Any movement during the exposure resulted in a blurred image. It is little wonder that everyone looked unhappy in those early portraits.

The situation was improved dramatically by the development of the Petsval lens by Joseph Petzval in 1840. With an aperture of f/3.7, the exposure times were able to drop to 15 to 30 seconds.  The 160 mm focal length made it a perfect portrait lens for the large glass negatives sizes of the period.

The Petzval lens consisted of two doublet lenses with an aperture stop mounted in the middle. The front lens is designed to correct for spherical abberration, but it introduces coma.  The second doublet corrects the coma and the aperture stop corrects most of the astigmatism. The lens suffers from field curvature and vignetting which limits its field of view to about 30 degrees.

The Petzval lens was one of many photographic innovations that would simplify photography and eventually lead the the smartphone cameras we use every now.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

State of the Arts in State College

Meteoric - Photography by Jana Scott
Photography by Jana Scott
Last weekend I visited State College, Pennsylvania for the Central PA Festival of the Arts. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I remember.

For me, the environment and atmosphere of a festival are almost as important as the art itself. It is much easier to catch the nuances of the work and talk with the artists when everyone is excited, comfortable and in a good mood.  

The cool mountain breezes and the shade of the magnificent American elms of the University campus and  downtown streets make State College the perfect setting for a festival. Although it is a large show with 300 jury-selected artists and an expected attendance over 125,000, the booths were spaced along one edge of the streets and mall which allowed plenty of room for everyone without feeling crowded. 

This was my first show outside the Midwest which exposed me to a wide body of work that I hadn't seen before as well as some favorites that I have seen at several shows.  I only have room to mention a few favorites.

The Final View by Walter Arnold
The Final View by Walter Arnold
Walter Arnold is one of my favorite photographic artists and the person who recommended that I come to State College for the festival. While I have written about Arnold and his unique Art of Abandonment before, this is the first time I have seen his work at a festival. It was fun to stand across from his booth and listen to the comments and expressions of awe as people first saw The Final View.

Jana Scott's photography captures the beauty and bold color of rusting metals. She accomplishes this through close ups that show us the detail we would normally overlook. The tight cropping on the organic shapes of the rust patterns create a hauntingly beautiful abstraction.

Ceramic shelf and horse by Paula Brown-Steedly
Ceramic shelf and horse by Paula Brown-Steedly
Paula Brown-Steedly of Virginia Clay Studio also focuses on organic shapes in her ceramic sculpture and shelves.  She explained to me that nature is not symmetrical so she doesn't make her art that way. Her pieces "reveal the force of wind, the rhythm of falling rain, the warmth of the sun, and the fluidity of time, as I see them in nature."

The natural shapes of the earth were also an inspiration to Ursula Perry and her husband Bud Scheffel of Earth Saver Wind Sculpture. Their amazing kinetic sculptures are held together through shape and gravity without welds or solder joints to mar the form. The perfectly balanced pieces ranged in size to grace a table, a room or a garden.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

It has Always been a Small World

George Eastman and Thomas Edison
George Eastman and Thomas Edison
The Internet is often credited with bringing people with common interests together and making the world a small place. But in many ways, the world has always been a small place.

I remember my first visit to the George Eastman house in Rochester, New York and how impressed I was that George Eastman met frequently with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. These must have been sessions of extreme creative collaboration.

Any deep exploration of history reveals a number of times and places where inventive people clustered together and came into frequent contact with each other. Think of Athens and ancient philosophy, Vienna and classical music, London and the Royal Society, New York and the development of railroads, and Silicon Valley and the Internet age.

In every age, there are places that draw the best and the brightest and inspire them once they arrive.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

When You Don't Feel Like It

Sleeping Dog
There are days when I don't feel like working.

As jobs go, mine is pretty nice. I work with talented and pleasant colleagues and serve talented, interesting and nice customers. The work is diverse and interesting. Even so, there are days when I don't feel like working.

There are days when the link between activity and results seems so remote that work seems senseless. There are days when some other issue is creating so much mental distraction that work feels unimportant. There are days when staring out the window, reading a good book, or going for a walk seems far more appealing than talking on the phone or typing an email.

Like many in the modern economy, these feelings are particularly dangerous because I work frequently from home and my work is mostly self directed. I could probably get away with not working very hard for quite some time. But, I do the work anyway.

The most reliable key to success in any endeavor is consistency.  You can't learn to play the clarinet or hit a golf ball straight without frequent practice. You can't grow your sales base without constantly reaching out to contact new people. You can't satisfy your existing customers without consistently following through to provide the products they want and resolving their concerns. You can't build a strong investment portfolio if you sell every time an analyst lowers a rating.

It takes discipline to stick to a plan even when you don't feel like it, but over time it becomes a habit that gets easier. If you force yourself to get started, you soon get into the flow and get some things done. And eventually, the efforts begin to produce results.

Sometimes plans really don't work and need to be revised. But those types of changes need to be the result of patient evaluation of results over a reasonable period of time.  Not based upon the feeling of the day.

What do you feel like doing today?

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Lots of Pots

My wife and I enjoy functional art. Years ago, we began to replace the machine manufactured items in our kitchen with handmade pottery. We enjoy the individual personality that each pot is given by its maker.

Currently, we are in the process of trying to sell our home and invited interior designer Anne Tuckley to help us stage the home for potential buyers.  In addition to removing some antique furniture from the dining room and most of the books from my library, she took our handmade serving dishes out of the kitchen cabinets and used them to decorate.

Here are pictures of Anne's placement of our pots:

The serving bowls are from Fox Pass Pottery in Fox Pass, Arkansas. The pitcher was made by Always Azul Pottery in Villa Grove, Colorado.

This shot shows the plates from Always Azul that go with the water pitcher. We are afraid to move the angled dining room chair for fear of breaking Anne's feng shui.

My morning coffee routine has changed now that our mugs and cream pitcher from Fox Pass are decorating this shelf above the fireplace in the kitchen. The larger pitcher and the tumbler were made by our daughter Jennifer.

This book case features two of Jennifer's bowls on the middle shelf. The large raku platter is from Enchanted Circle Pottery in Taos Canyon, New Mexico. The small piece sitting on the book is our salt shaker so cooking now involves gathering items from all over the house.

We picked this up at Columbia's Art in the Park several years ago. I believe the name of the maker was the Wichita Mudslinger, but I have not been able to locate them online.

Our newest acquisition, that we purchased from Barry Bernstein Raku at the Oklahoma Festival of the Arts a few weeks ago, has been assigned to hold this orchid to "give a splash of color" to the hearth in the family room.

Overall, we really like the way Anne redecorated our home. But we are looking forward to selling it and moving into our new place closer to the center of Columbia.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

In the Zone

 "Ansel Adams and camera" by photo by J. Malcolm Greany

"Ansel Adams and camera" by photo by J. Malcolm Greany
Ansel Adams is probably the world's best known landscape photographer. Working mostly with black and white film and a medium format camera, his landscapes of the Western United States, particularly the Yosemite area, have become iconic for photographic perfection.

Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916 with his family and captured his first photographs of the area on a Kodak Brownie that was a gift from his Father. He returned to the park the following year with a better camera and a tripod.

While in Yosemite, Adams met Virginia Best, whose family owned Best's Studio in the park. The couple married in 1928 and inherited the studio upon her Father's death in 1935. They operated the studio until 1971. The studio is now the Ansel Adams Gallery.

El Capitan and Merced River by Ansel Adams
To ensure the best possible exposure for each photograph, Adams and his colleague Fred Sharp codified the Zone System which applies sensitometric methods to calculate a camera's aperture and shutter settings. To use the system, a photographer meters the light reflected from different elements in the scene and adjusts the exposure based upon the photographers knowledge of the desired brightness of the object being metered. The Zone System assigns numbers from 0 through 10 to different brightness values, with 0 representing black, 5 middle gray, and 10 pure white. The difference between the zones represent one stop of exposure on a camera's aperture or shutter speed settings.

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Half Dome and the Merced River by Ansel Adams

Friday, June 5, 2015

Photograph like a Painter!

Henri Cartier-Bresson with his famous Leica Camera
Henri Cartier-Bresson with his famous Leica Camera
The 20th Century French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson is generally recognized as the first master of candid photography. Shooting exclusively with a 35mm Leica and a 50mm lens, his images often have a informal, almost casual feeling that doesn't seem like the work of a professional photographer.

At the same time, his best work shows an understanding of story-telling and balanced composition that many professional photographers would benefit from studying. Cartier-Bresson studied oil painting and classical literature at the Lhote Academy in Paris and Cambridge University before deciding to work primarily in photography. The influences of the classics as well as the cubists and surrealists can often be seen in his images.

Image by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Image by Henri Cartier-Bresson
He described his approach in these terms, "For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression."

In addition to his body of images, Cartier-Bresson also developed the concept of "The Decisive Moment" to describe the instant when the photographer recognizes when it is time to click the shutter. In the introduction to his book, which carries The Decisive Moment title, he explains it this way: “Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

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The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson