Thursday, August 27, 2015

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone

John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz
John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz
In the 1970s, the best way to wind up on the cover of Rolling Stone was to be photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Strongly influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Richard Avedon, Leibovitz developed her unique portrait style as the chief photographer for Rolling Stone for 10 years followed by a position at Vanity Fair and numerous personal and commercial projects.

In a body of work filled with famous iconic images, one of the most iconic was the last picture ever captured of John Lennon with Yoko Ono only hours before his assassination in New York.


Self portrait by Annie Leibovitz The Blues Brothers as captured by Annie Leibovitz
Self portrait by Annie Leibovitz
The Blues Brothers as captured by Annie Leibovitz
The Blues Brothers as captured by Annie Leibovitz
Leibovitz is a master at finding unique poses, sets or situations than bring out the individual character of her subjects. She usually meets with her subjects a day or more before the photography session to find out first hand what makes them who they are and what they care about. That insight gives her work an feeling of intimacy that sets her apart from other portrait photographers.

Some of her most interesting recent work includes celebrity portraits as characters from Disney classics, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

Which Wizard of Oz character would you like to be?

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Leibovitz captures Keira Knightley as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Like 1992 Without the Supercomputers

Oculus Rift headset image by Rebke Klokke
Oculus Rift headset image by Rebke Klokke
Last week I attended the SIGGRAPH conference at the LA Convention Center. The name is an acronym for the Special Interest Group for Graphics, one of the largest special interest groups in the Association of Computer Machinery. 

For me, the SIGGRAPH conference is one of the most educational and inspirational experiences of the year. It is the best place to learn what is technically possible in the field of imaging as well as how the technology works.

Every SIGGRAPH seems to have one overwhelming theme and this year the focus was on Virtual Reality. It  was like 1992 all over again, but without the supercomputers. I remember being awed 23 years ago by the demonstrations with ten pound headsets tethered to computers that were larger than my office. Despite the hype at the time, there were few applications that could justify the expense of the hardware and the content development.

This time, the headsets are smaller, lighter and driven by the GPU board in a desktop computer or by a smartphone. In a session titled The Renaissance of VR, Ron Azuma of Intel Labs gave three reasons why virtual reality will be successful this time:

  • Performance - The graphic performance of the new generation of devices is high enough to provide compelling immersive experiences.
  • Price - The new hardware is cheap enough that many people will be able to afford and experience virtual reality first hand.
  • Investment - The huge investments being made by several large companies will lead to high quality hardware and content.

Interestingly, Azuma concluded that augmented reality might have an even bigger future than virtual reality.

In what reality would you like to be immersed?

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fashion in Motion


Veruschka by Richard Avedon, US Vogue, 1967
Veruschka by Richard Avedon, US Vogue, 1967
When most of us think of fashion photography, we picture the elegant style pioneered by Richard Avedon, staff photographer, then lead photographer, for Vogue from 1962 to 1988. Many of the most iconic celebrity images of the late 20th century were his creations.

When Avedon opened his first studio in New York in 1946, he didn't conform to the usual technique of capturing models who stood without emotion and appearing indifferent to the camera. Avedon's models were full of energy and emotion and were often smiling or laughing. He also liked outdoor settings with the models in action.


Avedon with his twin lens reflex camera.
Avedon with his twin lens reflex camera.
After leaving Vogue, Avedon continued as a portrait photographer and joined The New Yorker as a staff photographer in 1992. Interested in the emotions of his subjects, he would lead them into discussions of difficult topics or ask them psychologically probing questions. This allowed him to reveal aspects of the subject's character and personality that were typically missed by other photographers.

Twiggy by Richard Avedon
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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Toeing the Filament

3D printed shoes from Naim Josefi's Collection Melonia
3D printed shoes from Naim Josefi's Collection Melonia

For several years, fashion designers have been experiment with 3D printed clothing. Generally, their fanciful creations have been unique, but unlikely to be worn beyond the runway. The thermoplastics that work great in the typical 3D printer are not conducive to creating comfortable, flexible garments.

Shoes are another story. They are perfect candidates for 3D printing. Every foot is slightly different than every other, and a shoe that is perfectly matched with the foot may be more comfortable than a mass produced shoe. A shoe needs to be strong and lightweight which are characteristics well suited for 3D printing. Finally, people are willing to spend significant resources on finding and buying shoes which justify the extra design and manufacturing costs required for a personalized product.

Image from Feetz press kit
Image from Feetz press kit
Feetz, which has just completed round one of beta testing, bills itself as the digital cobbler. Using three pictures of each foot, the Feetz app allows you to design a pair of custom made shoes that they will build and ship to you. Their marketing claim is "We offer 7 billion sizes: 1 for everyone in the world."

 For a more traditional look, People Footwear have combined 3D printing and digital knitting to create a line of shoes that look remarkably normal. These, however, are produced in a standard set of colors and standard sizes which leads me to wonder how much they differ from non-3D printed shoes.

Nike Vapor Laser Talon
Nike Vapor Laser Talon
Nike is using Selective Laser Sintering to print the cleats on the Nike Vapor Laser Talon which is designed to improve traction and acceleration on football turf. The process shortened the prototyping time and enabled the manufacturing of a unique mesh that weighs only 159 grams.

What type of shoes would you to print?

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3D printed shoes on the catwalk in Paris





Thursday, July 30, 2015

19th Century Wallets


Four Lens Disdéri Camera
Four Lens Disdéri Camera
In the professional portrait industry, an 8 up wallet unit is a 7x10 inch sheet of photographic paper containing 8 identical portraits. These are intended to be cut apart and shared with friends and family members. During the later half of the 20th century, wallet prints became one of the most popular items in school portrait and family portrait packages. All eight wallet prints were exposed from a single negative simultaneously using an array of eight lenses between the negative and the photo sensitive paper.

Clara Silvois, Andre Disdéri. 1862. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Clara Silvois, Andre Disdéri. 1862. Metropolitan Museum of Art
While multi-lens printers were a late 20th century creation, multi-lens cameras date to the earliest days of photography. In 1854, André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri patented a system for creating
cartes de visite , which translates into English as visiting cards. These were 2.5x3.5 cards, the same size as modern wallets, which were intended to be shared with family and friends. Within a few years the calling cards became extremely popular and turned Disdéri into the most famous photographer in Paris for a time. 

The Back of the Disdéri Camera
The Back of the Disdéri Camera
The Disdéri patent called for mounting eight Petzval portrait lenses in an array on the front of the camera, but his actual implementation used four lenses.  There was a separate slide on the back of the camera for each lens which allowed the photographer to capture four images in a single exposure or make four separate exposures for each card. To create eight cards, the photographer would expose the first four, then slide the film into position to expose the remaining four.

The cartes de visit photos remained popular until the early 20th century when George Eastman introduced the Brownie camera and everyone started taking their own photos.

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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.