Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Book Teardown

I pulled a book off the "free books" cart at the library, with the intention of taking it apart to show you all how regular case bound hardcovers are made. It didn't quite turn out that way.

First, some terminology. I'll introduce a few more words as we go along.

Text Block - the content pages of a book are first made up into a text block by joining them on one edge, the spine, to create a sort of book but just of the pages of content. Normally pages are joined either purely by gluing the raw edges of paper together, essentially embedding the edges of the pages into a thin block of glue, or the sheets of content are folded, nested together to form quires, and the quires are sewn together along the fold. In this case a sheet may be thought of as a double-size page, which has to be folded to produce a book sized pamphlet-like thing.

Cover - Just what you'd guess it is. The decorative/protective covering for the text block. In a paperback, this is a piece of cardstock, more or less, that wraps around the book. A hardcover uses a more complex structure involving two boards, from and back, and another narrow piece of the board material at the spine the whole thing fasted together and hinged with leather, book cloth, decorative paper, or some combination.

Spine - Again, pretty much what you'd guess. This is the edge of the text block the pages are joined together at, and I will also use it to designate the portion of the cover that goes over that part of the text block.

Endpaper - just inside the front and back covers of a hardcover book, you will find a piece of decorative paper twice the size of a page, half of which is glued to the inside of the cover board, and the other hand of which acts a lot like the first or last page of the text block. It is, however, not part of the text block. Opening the book to that page and inspecting the spine will generally reveal that it is in fact glued to the first (or last) page of the text block, and is not connected to the spine of the text block.

Pastedown - the half of the endpaper which is glued down to the inside of the cover board.

Here's the book, ready for tearing apart. The tool is an Xacto knife, an essential tool and really the only one you need. You use it for cutting, gentle prying, and separating of glued layers of paper. There is a separate device made for the non-cutting jobs, but I haven't got one. Real book nerds have like 10 of them in different sizes.

Another view of the victim. Looks like an ordinary hardback. It's not, which surprised me.

The spine looks perfectly normal, but it's not. The sort of checked blue and white thing you see is a "headband" which used to be a sewn thing, but is now a simple thing you glue on at one point. We'll see it again. The point is, though, it's attached to the text block. The grey-covered board to the right of it is the spine of the cover, as you probably can easily guess. The first point of weirdness I noted is that when the book is opened, there is no sign that the headband is moving separately from the spine of the book. In a normal hardcover, these two move separately, although it may not be completely obvious.

Indeed, it looks very much as if the spine of the text block has somehow become fastened to the spine of the cover. I assumed that this was some sort of slight adhesion due to age or something.

This next picture is just a side note. We're looking at the endpaper here, the pastedown specifically. The text block is in the upper third of the frame, then the hinge is the diagonal crease, and then the pastedown fills the lower 2/3 of the frame.

Notice the slight lines, as if there was some sort of material underneath the pastedown? One at the hinge, and one along the edge. The material, the "mull", does indeed come off the spine of the text block to be glued onto the cover board. That's the excess thickness visible along the spine. Along the other three edges of the pastedown, we're seeing bookcloth folded around the cover board from the exterior. The pastedown covers all. So we know our book has a mull.

Endpapers are just tipped onto the first (and last) pages of the text block. A narrow stripe of glue on the face of the page, at the spine, attaches the end paper to the text block. This is generally step one of disassembling a book, you can just gently tug on the end paper and peel it off the text block.

Normally this is not structural, but occasionally you see very light, or very cheaply made, books with no mull which rely entirely on this tipping-in job to attach the text block to the cover. In a well made book, the mull, or the mull plus some tapes, do this structural job. In these cases, the endpaper is decorative only, and carries no loads.

Continuing to peel it off. We're actually lifting the pastedown a little as well here.

And now the endpaper is entirely free of the text block, here, and the pastedown is lifting off a little as well all the way down.

Here I have torn the endpaper away entirely, much of the pastedown got left behind. The hinge of the book is exposed here, that's the visible crease down the center of the frame.

In this next frame, I've run my Xacto knife gently down the hinge, cutting the text block away from the cover board. The text block, still attached to the other board (indeed, the endpaper at the other end of the book is completely intact in this picture), in on the left, the cover on the right.

I have discovered that the spine of the text block was glued to the spine of the cover, which is extremely weird. The exposed raw cardboard down the center of the frame is where the spine of the cover, a narrow strip of book board, actually delaminated under my knife. A layer or two of book board is still on the text block, which lies off on the left of the frame.

The spine of this book was completely inflexible, being glued down to a quite sturdy chunk of cardboard. Book board is merely a dense and sturdy grade of cardboard, hopefully acid free.

Another view of the same stage of things.

Repeated for the opposite side, the text block is now free of the cover. I cut the endpaper free on the other side, rather than lifting the pastedown, hence the cleaner edge visible right of the cover's spine, as compared with the ragged one left of the cover's spine.

Lifting off the half-endpaper still tipped onto the text block, since I cut it rather than peeling it up previously.

See that stuff in the next picture, that looks like cheesecloth, glued down to the book covers under the pastedowns on each side of the spine? That's the mull. Everyone uses this cheesecloth shit, and it is awful. In this book, it was not merely awful, but irrelevant, and I find its presence quite puzzling.

The loading on the mull involves a lot of shear, under which loading this cheesecloth shit is useless, which is why heavy modern books disintegrate under use. I rebuild them using book cloth, which is basically light canvas, for a mull.

Anyways, this is the stuff we noted underneath the pastedown some number of pictures above.

In the next photo, we see the other part of the mull, glued to to the spine of the text block. Before I got in there with my knife, this part was contiguous with the stuff we saw glued to the covers.

A wide strip of this stuff is glued to the text block, leaving "wings" on each side of the text block. Those wings are glued to the cover boards (as they were in this book). Normally the point of this is to attach the text block to the cover without having to glue the spine of the text block directly to the spine of the cover. Normally, these spine areas move independently, allowing the spine of the text block to flex.

Not for this book!

So how the hell does this book work at all?

It turns out that this book is "backed", which means that the spine of the text block has been formed into a mushroom shape. It's somewhat inelegantly backed, but here it is.

To be honest, I know that backing makes books function better, but I don't quite know why. I think it's because the pages are sort of pre-bent to permit them to open more easily and fully before they begin to ask the spine to flex. In this book the spine cannot flex at all, so backing is pretty much required.

Headband detail. It's just a thingy glued onto each end of the spine of the text block, to cover the exposed end of the spine.

You can see the mull here, again.

By now I am convinced that this thing isn't even a sewn binding. The page count was all wrong, a sewn binding is always a multiple of 4 pages in length. This thing is 208 pages, which is indeed 4 x 52. But what size are the quires? 52 is 13 * 2 * 2. So are we looking at 52 quires here? Or 4?

Neither makes any sense. I wondered if we had variable sized quires, or if I had just miscounted, and moved on. In hindsight, opening the book wide shows no sign of sewing, but then the spine is stiff as hell, so maybe we're just not looking deep enough.

Time to clean up the spine of the text block. I ground off the glue and crap on the spine with coarse sandpaper, and here we have the result.

Detail. No sewing.

This weird thing is perfect bound, like a paperback, but with a crippled spine. Who the hell even DOES that? Even a paperback's spine can flex, because it hasn't been glued to a damned piece of lumber.

Next up, I'll try to find a normal book to take part, to show you mull details, and then maybe I'll show you my interpretation of modern hard binding, which is I think better than any machine bindings available. Although, it's sort of moot, since a good machine binding is certainly good enough for normal use.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hasselblad, Again

It's in the news! Perry Oosting has stepped down as CEO, and some other chap is in as an interim CEO. Lots of speculation and so on. Some suspect that this is a harbinger of doom for H, others that it is a new beginning.

Let me add my own speculation.

Perry's a luxury guy, remember? Bulgari, Gucci, Prada. Then he put jewels on cell phones (VERTU) and now he's some kind of management consultant type (Perely BV). So he's a CEO-type, professional business/management guy with strength in jewelry and luxury. As I've said before, he was obviously plopped in to H to try out a luxury play. So he did that, first restoring the brand's credibility with the H6, and then rolling out the X1D to see if there was something there, and also the always-forgotten True Zoom Moto Mod (a clip-on add-on camera thing for a Motorola phone).

This was a relatively broad set of products.

The goal was, obviously, to see if there was a way to make an H branded object that would be a coveted status object for every wealthy woman in the PRC.

The answer seems to be "no, there is not." Hasselblad can make many beautiful things, but not that. It's entirely possible that there is no camera-like device that is that coveted object. They did not quite take the path I recommended or predicted or whatever it is that I did, but close enough.

Perry has, to my eye, clearly gone back to the board and told them that there is no billion dollar luxury play here. Mass photography is at present firmly in the hands of the mobile phone, H has no capacity to build a mobile device, and there does not seem to be a point of entry through which H can use their brand power to dominate a photographic aspect of the sector.

But, there is a decent little camera company and some cross-branded and technology transfer possibilities. He no doubt recommended to the board that they hire someone with specific expertise in those areas to CEO this thing going forward.

In my opinion, there is no way he was unwillingly ousted by DJI. He was operating as a workout specialist, not a long term CEO. He was there to explore and repair, not to run the thing as a career.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Jim Kasson's Story

ETA: Please note various corrections Jim has generously provided in the comments. It is worth noting that the problematic bindings do appear to loosen up to a state of reasonable lay-flatness, with use, and that the dust covers are holding up just fine. (these remarks will make sense in context, I promise)

In the comments under Ming's "I am making a book" post, this link has been offered up. It gives a really interesting parallax view into the world of making your own book. His process is absolutely, diametrically, opposed to pretty much everything I have done.

The summary, as I read it, is that Jim Kasson had some money available and decided to have an edition of 1000 books printed up. Very nice books. He probably spent in the general area of $100,000 on this, which may seem foolish but I am damned if I can think of a much better way to spend a spare $100,000. But the story is a bit fraught.

Jim hires a book designer he likes, and finds a press that he likes. The design is awesome. Then Jim spends a great deal of time fussing with color and formatting. It turns out that many of his pictures have a lot of what he perceives as important color that is out of gamut for the press and paper he's selected. So he spends a lot of time culling and then re-editing pictures both for crop and color.

It is the cropping that ultimately leads to a lot of trouble. He and his designer decide that they need to print things across the gutter, which means they want a more or less lay-flat binding, which the bindery used by the selected press basically cannot do reliably. There's a lot of discussion and fussing with dummy books, and sometimes the bindery gets it right and sometimes they don't. They promise to get it right on the order of 1000 books, and they do not. Well, that sucks. Ultimately, I suspect that the spines loosened up under use and the books looked OK.

Don't print across the gutter if you care about what your pictures look like. If your photos are content-driven, you might be OK as long as content isn't getting lost in the gutter, but it's still not a great solution. I am surprised that Jim's designer did not suggest that they walk away from the bindery somewhere in this process. Lay-flat bindings are not rocket science.

One other minor point. Jim wants the cadillac book, so he orders up french folded dust covers, which are a nice touch. Then he notes, somewhat pedantically, that there's a sharp-folded corner that might catch on things, or something, and asks what the press can do about it. This is the answer they came up with which I got to say I hate. The die cut rounded corner puts a sharp point into the cutout region, pretty much guaranteeing that under any sort of use the dust cover will tear along the crease. Sharp points concentrate stress.

From where I sit, this is actually a "tell" and suggests that perhaps it's time to find a new press. These guys may be great at smearing pigment on paper, but they're pretty bad at paper handling.

Anyways, let's put my experiences with doing blurb books, and hand binding books, together with Jim's story, and see what we can discover.

This first and most obvious thing is that it will pay you will to shoot with your book in mind, rather than trying to fit an already extant project into a book. If your print shapes are all over the place, it's going to be tough, no way around it. This is the root of Jim's big problem, the across-the-gutter pictures that he needs. There's just no way this looks good. Best case, you have a crease in the middle of your picture, worst case you have a bunch of glue and string and the picture all jammed into a dank valley because the book won't open enough.

Interestingly, as the problems with the binding unfold, one thing we do not see Jim doing is taking apart the dummy books that exhibit problems in the binding. I'd have had them apart in 10 minutes, and I would have known what the problem was.

I'm not blaming Jim at all, here, but I didn't find his story surprising. He jumped into the deep end, without really knowing what he was doing.

Let's say you're planning to do something similar, you've got a pile of money burning a hole in your pocket and you can't wait to fill your garage up with books.

First, buy a "build your own journal" kit from some source, such as Hollander's in Ann Arbor, and build it. Read Artemis BonaDea's definitive (and free! just google it!) book on conservation book repair, and take some books apart. It will be fun, and you'll learn a lot. Cost you $100 and a dozen hours.

Do some books on blurb, mypublisher, whatever. If you're working with an independent designer, do a book with them. Blurb, at least, has an InDesign plugin. Yes, these places have a very shallow design palette. Make your designer show you what they can do anyways. And, more importantly, get used to the process of working with the designer, of selected and sequencing photos, of proofreading, writing, laying out. Whether you're working with or without a designer, these are all things you'll be doing on the "real" book eventually. Cost you a few hundred bucks and a few dozen hours (plus whatever the designer costs -- a lot more than that, if they're any good, but still cheap at the price).

Now you actually know something about books, both how they're built, how they're written, laid out, designed, printed. You've invested a relatively tiny amount of money and a small amount of time.

Now go find a printer and a bindery. You now, perhaps, know enough to lean on them harder and fire them if need be. If there's one thing clear in Jim's story is that he does not know enough, and if relying primarily on his designer and the printer for guidance at every step. He's learning as he goes, bleeding fistfuls of money at every stage.

Whether he could have gotten a better book, I don't know. Maybe this really is as good as it gets, and the best you can hope for is to have 1 or 2 fairly serious issues with the final product. Still, Jim might have saved some money or time, and certainly would have had a better personal experience if he'd gotten into the process with more knowledge up front.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Your First Book is Shit

Most of your other books will also be shit, but sometimes less so. This is why it is probably a good idea not to venture much on your first book. More on this point in a little while.

Before I start in calling out other people as idiots (which I assure you I will get to shortly), let us examine my credentials. It turns out, to my astonishment, that I have made quite a few books.

It turns out that I've done around 20 books in my life, a figure which surprised me. I'm actually getting to be kind of experienced, perhaps. I've certainly made a lot of mistakes.

25 years ago or so I did a PhD thesis. No design whatsoever, except what was dictated by the prescribed formatting guidelines for theses at Wesleyan U. Organizing the content for 70 pages took 2 years, and this is content that largely organizes itself. The content is pretty good, and has very few typos and mangled sentences.

In the intervening decades I did masses of technical writing, but only a few things that resembled books. Those "books" were largely filling in a supplied template (in this case a literal Adobe Pagemaker template, rather than a written set of instructions/rules). The design was, therefore, someone else's labor, and the organization was supplied. Much of the other technical writing required me to organize the content as well as write it, but there was essentially no design, and so it doesn't really count as "book" making. My exposure to Pagemaker was probably the most formative relevant thing here. Pagemaker, even in the early 1990s, had a lot to teach you about book design.

Of course, you don't write a million words or whatever without picking up a few things along the way.

In recent years I've made some half dozen illustrated children's books for my and various other children. Some hand written, others printed, mostly sewn bindings either quarter-ish-bound or full-bound with cloth and decorative papers. (I do own other colors of bookcloth.)

Content? Well, I had to write the things and draw the illustrations. Design? Judge for yourself. There's not a great deal of design, but there's some, and I think I mainly comported myself quite well.

I've also done an eBook on composition which I originally did a full print design for. I learned a lot about print design, but it's probably best that it wound up as an eBook. And then there are various photo books, on blurb and hand made. Here, and here, for instance. Here's a "magazine" of sorts. Perfect-bound, not sewn, with 140 pound soft cover. It's a mess and makes almost no goddamned sense. Also, it's missing a page. I shot it in an hour, sequenced it in an hour, and spent about an hour building it. You get what you pay for?

Ok. So, I've done some books.

I'm here to tell you, it's damned hard. Most of the books I've done have been, as books, in at least some important ways, shit. I'm a smart guy and know enough to go easy on the design, but it's still just about all I can do to get the pagination right.

Getting out enough of the typos and mangled sentences to make the thing flow as not quite an unprofessional mess? Very very hard. Organizing up 10,000+ words of material becomes unwieldy and difficult, especially for the uninitiated. Sequencing photographs in a sensible way that "reads"? Not exactly a walk in the park.

What I am saying is, your first book is Shit. So, don't bet your ego on it, don't bet your money on it. This stuff is hard, and you need a lot of practice at it to even get sort of good. Your first book should not be your magnum opus.

Which leads us around to some projects from other people.

The hapless Chris Gampat is going to do a print 'zine. The guy's rambling promo video appears to be shot -- literally -- in front of a bedsheet that he could not even be bothered to iron or place far enough back to at least render soft. God help us all, he's on track to get this dog funded, probably because he's recruited some internet-famous photographers with fans. Why he needs $3000 to get started I do not know. The astute reader will note that his kickstarter has essentially no information. Is this going to be a 2" x 2" magazine, or 2m x 2m, or what? All we know is "about 100 pages and gorgeous".

Chris: Listen up. This is your first print thing ever. It won't be gorgeous. It will be an ugly clusterfuck. Partly because it's your first, and partly because you have the design sense of a cow, I saw your La Noir Image mockup. For god's sake, don't blow your kickstarter wad on this.

Next up, Ming Thein is going to do his first book ever. It is equally vague, but it will be gorgeous, it will be a magnum opus, it will summarize all his thinking into one mighty work. Now, I don't believe for a second that he's actually doing a book. This is posturing to produce the desired burst of slavering sycophancy from his cultists, and it will eventually peter out because it is simply beyond the ability of others to produce a book to Ming's high standards, etcetera and so forth. But, let us for a moment grant him credibility.

Ming: For god's sake, do some smaller projects first. Unless you are blessed with an editor and design staff from heaven (see below), with a budget of infinity, your first book will be Shit.

Onwards. Let's take a look at Katrin Koenning's first book, Astres Noirs. Interestingly, I think this might not be Shit. Katrin has collaborated with another photographer, as well as a very snappy publisher with access to some serious design chops. Isn't that interesting. Hat tip to cphmag, and I may have more to say about Katrin later. She's interesting.

Katrin: Well done.

Finally, let me throw into the mix Peter Lik's hilariously awful Equation of Time. It might not be his first book, but it's surely his biggest book, and boy oh boy is it Shit.

Peter: Oh, the hell with it. Carry on mate, you're doing bloody brilliant.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Please note call for submissions -

On my other little project, the Manifesto page details a permanent call for submissions, but I have posted as well, putting that call front and center. Click Here!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Public Funding of the Arts

This is just an essay stitched together from ideas and facts borrowed from other, wiser and more knowledgable, people. I recently ran across a comment from a perfectly intelligent left-leaning fellow (a Scot living in Spain) to the effect that there should be no public funding of Art.

Firstly, what's the point of Art anyways? It's a luxury we permit ourselves when times are good. Did you manage to gather a few extra edible roots and bugs this summer? Hie thee to the cave, and get to daubing pigment on the walls! Is this notion of agriculture and trade working out? Mix pigments with eggs, and apply the colors to wooden panels, for the education and delight of the ruling classes! And so on.

In these modern times, much of the world especially here in the west, has a surplus of resources, at least beyond the minimum required to survive and bear young. Some people choose to devote some of this surplus to work we call Art.

In these same modern times, we have come to the conclusion, generally, that Art is good for us. It enlarges our minds, delights our senses, and so forth. While people argue about whether this Art or that Art is worthwhile, the general consensus is that Art as a notion is something good for us, something our society ought to be making and consuming, that it is indeed something we should spend a portion of our surplus on.

But how should that spending occur? Those who oppose public funding will sometimes suggest that the artists should simply support themselves through sales of Art (the Scot remarked on above stated exactly that). This falls apart as soon as you admit that Art which is not particularly marketable might also be worthwhile. What about the artists whose work takes a great deal of time to come to fruition? Making Art in order to sell it to purchase the needs of life will color the work, as anyone who compares Art photography with Commercial photography for as long as a millisecond can see. And so forth. No, forcing the artists to support themselves through sales of work probably isn't what we want as an overall solution. Of course, some artists will sell work and buy food, there's nothing wrong with it. But it doesn't give us all of the Art we want.

Capitalism, while remarkable efficacious, isn't a magic and complete solution for much of anything. It certainly doesn't seem to cover Art very well at all.

Well, there's private funding, right?

Yes. Yes there is. Private funding, however, is fickle. In the USA there are a small handful of pretty good opera companies. Perhaps 3 that are really quite good. Funding is largely or entirely private, and is an increasing struggle as the fickle wealthy turn increasingly to funding medical research, hospitals, and so on. Art is on a down cycle, Medicine is up. In large swathes of Europe, I am given to understand, the attitude is that Opera is basically a utility. You can no more operate a city without an Opera Company than you can without a Sewer System. Without opera, you might as well be living in Australia, or the United States. That simply won't do. The result is that there's a fair bit of public funding, and a lot more very good opera in Europe.

Opera companies are, it turns out, quite expensive to operate, and to excel they really require reliable funding. It takes decades, at a minimum, to build a really good company, and if your main donor decides to buy a wing at the new hospital one year, well, that sets you back quite a bit.

Public funding is necessary, as I see it, to fill in those gaps. To support the unpopular artist, the long-term project, to cover the gaps when private funding fails. Isn't this always the role of public funding for anything? To cover the gaps between what we collectively want, and what can be funded properly by other means. To fill those gaps, we pay taxes and hire people to spend them as wisely as they might.

Of course you can argue that the result is My Tax Dollars going to fund terrible art. Yes, that's going to happen. There's no way around it, you take the good with the bad. You can argue that it's a way to funnel My Tax Dollars into the hands of greedy art dealers, and that's probably true as well. I don't see anyone saying that ought not fund fire departments, because it's just a way to funnel tax dollars into the hands of greedy hose manufacturers.

There is no doubt that government funding of the Arts is wasteful and rife with graft. The annual budget for the USA's National Endowment for the Arts is slightly more than the cost of a single F-35 fighter (without engine), which is a deeply inferior military aircraft that the USA absolutely does not need, but will end up buying some thousands of eventually.

Your country is probably not as bad, but I expect you can think up some pretty good examples. There are more immediate areas deserving our attention on the point of graft and waste.

Furthermore, graft and waste appear to be simply part of the package to one degree or another. In order to collective fund the things we want but cannot otherwise fund, we accept a modicum of graft and waste. It's the way of the world, although railing against it is also a good idea.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

New Project

I'm not happy unless I'm doing something, I guess. I have a new project under way.

The United State of Americans.

Read the Manifesto and submit work, if you like. Pictures of Americans, ideally, and ideally illustrating that we all pretty much look the same regardless of politics. Or just follow along. I'll be taking pictures of people to make that point, as best I can, from time to time.

Crit: Andrea Costa

Andrea asked nicely, and so I am finally getting around to looking over his work! We've collaborated slightly, so I have a personal bias here, but I think it's fairly slight.

Andrea has a Zenfolio site and I'll look over a couple portfolios he's got up. One of the problems with a portfolio website like zenfolio is that they tend to degenerate into disorganized, or at any rate not sensibly organized "notebooks" of stuff. We see Andrea has a group of pictures around a lens, groups of pictures around camera types, that kind of thing. While useful for Andrea, I don't consider it "best foot forward" as it were! No offense meant, these things are doing double duty as a personal notebook and a public face, there's not much to be done about that.

However, there are two portfolios that are clearly designed as groups of pictures that go together for the sake of the pictures, and let's take a look at these.

The first one is "24 Origins" which I think is a really well designed project. 24 very similar pictures of the artist's feet, in the same shoes, allegedly taken in 24 different time zones. I confess that I am dubious about whether Andrea actually did that much traveling to get the pictures, but if he did, well done on getting the similarity of look in all 24 pictures!

At first glance this looks like a fairly stupid vanity project. And let's be honest, I am not setting out to prove that it's not. Still, the conceit of 24 time zones, 1 common element (Andrea's feet), is a good one. Looking more closely at the pictures, we see that what we're really looking at is straight-down photographs of texture and pattern as found on the ground. Now, we see this sort of thing (without the feet) all the goddamned time too, and generally I don't much like it. You can point the camera straight down almost literally anywhere and get this sort of thing. "Process" it up to look "polished" and there's a class of people that will click Like over and over.

But Andrea has done one better than that, and it's that step that makes it, I think, worth the while. He's sequenced these pictures really really well. I mean, it's possible that he chucked them down in random order and that I am simply finding pattern where none was intended, but I really doubt it. Watch how the textures and patterns flow.

Each photograph has a strong connection, in terms of texture or pattern, to both the previous picture and the next one. Sometimes the pattern in the previous picture even appears to be "scrolling off" to the left, to bring in a new pattern.

Without the feet this would read as deadly serious Abstract Art, and would likely fall apart under the weight of its own conceit. With the feet, we can take it more lightly, as an exercise in whimsy, and I really think it works.

Is it Important Art? Certainly not. Is it a bit twee? Yep. But it works. There's real charm to it. This would be perfectly charming and appropriate printed and hung down a long hallway, perhaps. One by one, the pictures are mildly witty, mildly artistic, inoffensive and easy to look at. And then they reward a slow amble down the hall with a cup of coffee in hand, picking out the flow of pattern.

And now the second portfolio, "The Thin Veil" which appears to have been judged already by heads no doubt wiser than mine. Nonetheless, I will offer my thoughts.

The first thing we note is that there are massively strong graphical elements pulling the whole project together. A heavy vignette, loads of grain, and an interestingly soft tonality in the pictures themselves which conflicts with the heavy blacks the vignette brings in. I quite like the look. Also, I heartily approve of selecting a strong look, any look, to bind the pictures together.

The look creates a strongly dreamlike feel, which is supported and emphasized by the long exposure times yielding motion blur, and often the subject matter.

The subject matter is all over the place, and I cannot detect a theme as such. I see a lot of pictures which could easily be deeply symbolic (two dice on the dash of a car, a silhouetted airplane, trains, reflections, a shaggy pony grazes, statuary). Two photographs of the same street fair (?) taken hours apart might mean something. A few of the pictures don't seem to yield and strong sense of "a symbol" to me, but most of them feel symbolic. Symbolic of what? I don't know, and I don't think it matters.

Possibly, even likely, the locations would be meaningful to a local. If, as the surrounding text perhaps hints, these were all shot in the same city, it's reasonable to assume that there's some sense of that same place throughout. Certainly much of the architecture looks similar, and the overall flavor is, even to this American, distinctly European. It feels even to me that these certainly could have been shot all in the same square kilometer, on the same day, but I don't feel an inevitability there. They could also, I feel, have been shot weeks and countries apart. Which may or may not be the point?

In any case, I feel that this is a somewhat stronger portfolio in terms of being Important Art although it's still leaning too heavily to my eye on graphical elements rather than any deeper "meaning" whatever I even mean by that. Not to suggest that I would weaken the graphics -- I would not. Rather, strengthen the "meaning" somehow. "The Thin Veil" does, I think, a genuinely masterful job of evoking a sort of dreamlike, almost hallucinatory sensation. These could easily be images (I use that word deliberately, and not as a fancy way of saying 'picture') drawn from a dream of the city.

What is lacking, to my eye, is a stronger sense of what I might feel. Do I (or does Andrea) love the city? Fear it? Was this a good dream, a bad dream, or a dream that we learned something from?

All in all I was happy to look at these pictures. I looked them over pretty thoroughly a few weeks ago, and went back today to find that I liked them even better today than before. I think the work is well done. It doesn't blow my socks off and excite me the way new work occasionally does, but it's leagues better than 99.9% of what's out there. "The Thin Veil" earned its award, and deserves it.

As for the rest, I confess that I didn't even click on most of the other portfolios!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Notion I Cannot Shake

I have this peculiar idea that I cannot really put in to words, past what I am about to write.

I think I like photos (which is the same as saying "I think good photos are...") which are what they are trying to be as hard as they can.

It's some sort of authenticity thing? Weston's pepper is an eroticized green pepper, as hard as it knows how to be. Powerful photojournalism/documentary photos genuinely are photos of something powerful and perhaps important. A good portrait is trying as hard as it can to be a window into the subject's soul.

Most photos aren't trying very hard to be anything, except possibly a copy of another photo.

Anyways, that's several days of noodling there, and it's not a lot.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Crit on Crit

Hopefully I won't spend too much time talking about other people who are talking about pictures, but we shall see.

Today I'm going to dissect, a little, a recent essay on Conscientious Photo Magazine.

Let me begin by noting the irony of a man who said, recently:

How or why her [Susan Sontag's] On Photography came to be seen as so revelatory has always escaped me.

laboriously recapitulating so much of Sontag's material. Admittedly, he's largely repeating material from Regarding the Pain of Others here, but not entirely.

Onwards. Colberg begins with a bit of background, reminds us of a couple relatively recent pictures of Suffering with a capital S. Then he makes the remarkable statement that by arguing that a photograph, because it was exploitative, ought not to have been made, that we are in fact pretending that if we don't have to see a problem then it is as if they problem does not exist. This is a planted axiom. He's is, specifically, planting this axiom:

If you argue that a photograph is exploitation, you are secretly motivated by a desire to ignore the problem.

This is right up there with "if you're opposed to homosexuality, you're probably a closeted fag yourself" as far as rhetoric goes.

In fact, if you argue that a photograph of a suffering child is exploitation, you are quite likely motivated by the inarguable fact that converting someone else's suffering into career advancement, into money, is a pretty grotesque thing to do. It seems to be unavoidable and ultimately I don't think people ought not do it, but it is grotesque. In the end, we want people taking these pictures. These pictures are hard to take, in a bunch of ways, and therefore we need to compensate people to take them. Like much that is grotesque, we're stuck with it.

Colberg waves a vague hand in this general direction, but then declares that his original, absurd, thesis is the main thing and simply dismisses everything else.

Colberg spends a little time going on about the artifact of the photograph itself, versus the depicted thing, the distance/separation this creates, and so on. Pure unadulterated Sontag. Perhaps Colberg should go back and skim On Photography again to see what the big deal it.

Then he spends the remainder of the essay claiming that we are all complicit in these terrible things depicted, that we're helpless to do anything about it, and that we ought to do something about it. Which I have to say, if a fairly puzzling collection of assertions.

There is clearly an element of Judeo-Christian Western White Guilt here, the stuff that the Catholic Church weaponized. As the Israeli foreign minister once jested, "There's no business like shoah business" which I interpret as "you can always persuade those Americans that they are, somehow, personally at fault and ought to pay up."

Look. Either there is something you can do about the conflict in Syria, or there is not. If there is something you can do and you're not doing it, well, sure, it's partly your fault, you jerk. If like most of us there is literally nothing you can do, well, it's not your fault, stop beating yourself up. Colberg does, somewhat half-heartedly, argue that we're benefiting from the fruits of all these global wars and oppression and are thereby complicit even though we're individually helpless to actually change the situation.

Frankly, that's a tenuous argument. You can argue that without the crushing burden of endless proxy wars between Russia and the USA, I would be able to buy even nicer shirts for an even smaller percentage of my income, so perhaps the global oppression is actually harming me as well. Not that I necessarily buy that line of argument, the point is, it's complicated. The paths of blame are not obvious.

On the other hand, if you can do something about it, then you probably ought to. There's a whole spectrum of "well, I could, but the personal cost would be enormous, so, uh, what then" and it gets complicated, I guess. I give you permission to not travel to Syria and take up arms against whichever side you most oppose.

I've made a personal commitment to be more politically active. I'm writing letters on a regular basis to elected officials, because I am informed that This Actually Works (at least, when it's performed as a collective action -- but I can only do it for myself). I'm going to shoot a protest march this coming weekend, and if there's anything at all to be had photographically I'm going to publish it. I don't expect to change the world with a tiny publishing effort. No single soldier ever won a war, but put a whole batch of them together and they can blow up a hell of a lot of real estate. Kaboom.

The odds are that you're pretty irritated, upset, worried about some damn thing or another that your government is up to. Do something about it. Write grouchy letters, if nothing else. It turns out that politicians listen to whoever talks to them, and in the west the biggest problem is that the only people who talk to politicians are moneyed interests. Because of the money and the interest.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Snowdon has died. I shan't bore you with the usual hand-wringing, but will say that he was one of my favorite portraitists.

If you don't know his work, it would behoove you to spend some time with google image search. He did some really marvelous work.

You Can't Add Significance in Post!

I liked the idea of adding "significance" with Photoshop or Lightroom so much that I have taken a little poetic license with the title of this piece. What I mean is something slightly broader.

It seems obvious, perhaps, stated this way. You can't compose your way to significance. You can't push-process, or photoshop your way to it. You can't analyze or explain a photograph to the point that it contains substance. While this is obvious, surely, we see a lot of attempts, through, both from photographers and from critics.

The web is filled with deadly serious photographs of nothing. Landscapes processed lovingly, focus-stacked pictures of bugs, reams of black and white "street" photographs, all basically pictures of nothing much. In many cases, the photographer doesn't have any great aspiration, but in some cases it's clear that the photographer is really hoping to have Made Something.

We see this thing:

which is visually arresting, but ultimately not about anything. It's some cops hustling a protester off the street in exactly the way they are supposed to, in exactly the way that we wish fervently they always would. And so, despite the efforts of the critics, it's not significant.

Compare with this one:

The guy in the background is DEAD, and the guy with the upraised finger just now SHOT HIM. In the west we're pretty confused by this because the dead guy is a Russian (i.e. a bad guy) and the guy with the finger is obviously a TERRIST (i.e. also a bad guy) so the story is not sufficiently black and white for us. Regardless, the picture is and always will have significance. I suspect that in other parts of the world, it's resonating just fine.

Recall the trivial and silly picture "analyzed" on readingthepictures, of the kid "dabbing" as his dad is sworn in. Compare in your mind's eye with the famous photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc. In one a kid is mostly likely indicating that he thinks the pompous and silly ceremony into which he has been drafted is pompous and also silly. In the other on a kid is ON FIRE, as a result of geopolitical fuckery of a fairly high order. One of these pictures has weight, the other does not.

The point, here, is that subject matter trumps all in photography. Because a photograph is a record of what was real, that reality dominates. A painting could be of something trivial or weighty, and be great or not great independently. With few exceptions, not so the photograph.

All we can reasonably expect to accomplish with all our composition or our handling of tone and color is to midwife the content

Which leads us around to the obvious question, which I will phrase here as "Ok, smartass, what about Weston and his goddamned pepper?" To which I respond, "well, obviously there's something a bit more going on someplace, eh?" and that something has, I think, to do with artistic intent, ideas, and the expression thereof. I'm pretty sure Weston's picture has weight (and, obviously, it stands in for a whole class of pictures that have weight while also being of trivial things), but I'm pretty sure Weston put the weight in before he shot it. I'm pretty sure he shot 29 others, for starters.

Also, it's a different sort of thing, somehow, than the pictures above.

More on this as I think about it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Role of Composition

This is a sort of follow-on, perhaps "conclusion", for these earlier remarks.

If the purpose of Formal Composition is to clarify, support, underline the intent of the artist, the obvious corollary is that there must be some intent to clarify.

This is, it occurs to me, one of the great reasons that "rules" are so harmful. They permit the photographer to ape some of the forms of composition, without any particular purpose to it.

It is as if someone, observing that in such and such a great novel, an owl appears as a metaphor for death. The rule is then derived "use an owl as a metaphor for death", and then all the amateur stories on 50000wrds.com start having an owl jammed into them. Sometimes the owl works marvelously, but more often the owl doesn't really fit and we wonder why the author is heavily belaboring this avian death-metaphor in a story about a puppy.

Later, the rule is modified and becomes "stick an owl in your story" or "use birds as metaphors" or "kill everyone in the story" and now we at any rate have variety, but less sense than ever.

The proper lessons to learn from the novel and the owl are that a metaphor for death, perhaps an owl or similar creature of the night, can be a useful tool in the kit. You need the right sort of story to deploy it, and you need to deploy it in a way that makes sense.

In a similar way we can learn many a useful trick for photographs. Separate the objects of interest from their backgrounds with tone, color, and focus. Visual weight is a real thing, and placing forms within the frame one way will produce a sense of equanimity, of balance. Placing them in the frame in another way will produce a sense of imbalance, unease. Diagonals might introduce a sense of dynamism, or energy. High contrast looks this way, lower contrast looks that way. Deep blacks versus softer greys. These are all the owl as metaphor.

The formal composition of the frame always has to be taken as a whole (Arnheim) to understand anything of the formal qualities of the composition.

When you start a business, or plan a project, the more detailed and thorough your plan, the better the chances of success even though success is rarely just what the detailed plan describes. No plan survives contact with the enemy, but planning is essential. We have a lot of experience with this, without a plan nothing much happens.

I believe that the more intense and detailed your awareness of these three disparate facets you are as you shoot, the better:
  • Your own intentions.
  • The formal tools and details of composition.
  • The stuff that's actually in front of the lens.

The job of the photographer is to bring these three together simultaneously, as best we can. Your intentions may not be fully realized, or even realized at all. The tools of composition may not play out quite the way you hoped. The stuff in front of the lens may misbehave. Still, you're better off prepared than not, even then. Or so I claim, without much in the way of proof.

It feels right, dammit.

But let us never forget that the subject matter rules all. About which more anon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pseudo-Intellectual Wankery

I was perusing Conscientious Photographer today, as I know I ought to more often but don't, and was directed to No Caption Needed. More about that latter site shortly, but let me remark here that the title is misleading, since they seem to be in the business of providing rather excessive captions to photographs, presumably on the grounds that the photos need a caption after all.

From No Caption Needed, I was directed to that bastion of wankery, Reading The Pictures, which Lewis Bush also cites from time to time, which should give you the general thrust. So there's a little community of these people out there, it turns out. All with, based on their comment rate, about the same engagement as the blog you are currently reading. That is, very very low. Which, as we shall see, is a good thing.

Let us take a moment and examine the current head post on that last web site. Hello Orwell: On the Congressman’s Kid Who Dabbed Paul Ryan. Great start, a gratuitous reference to Orwell in the title, never explained or expanded upon. The reference to Orwell is pure dog whistle, signalling that we're going to get into some heavy police-state big brother shit (or was Big Brother Aldous Huxley or Yevgeny Zamyatin? It's likely that the author of this piece of shit neither knows nor cares).

This long pseudo-intellectual analysis wants to connect some sort of dots here, suggesting that the "dab" move at that moment "opened a channel from the halls of Congress to a strata of race, attitude and sensibility, as well as language, meme and symbol that largely defies the white, conservative ruling class" to which I can only respond "what the hell?" White liberals seem to think that "dabbing" is some sort of powerful and yet problematic move, like a Black Power salute.

The kid, being a 17 year old white american male certainly intended no such "channel opening", and RtP manages to stop short of claiming that he did, thankfully. But then, how is this magical channel to race, attitude, and all the rest opened? Are we, the viewer, supposed to make that connection? Obviously we cannot, unless RtP shows us the way, because it's an idiotic over-reading of the thing, so is it actually just RtP "opening the channel" here? If so, is this actually just an essay about itself?

Then there's a bunch of shit about how the GOP views the move as sacrilegious, as if the Democratic Senatorial Windbags are somehow more open to laughing these things off.

The whole piece is pseudo-academic posturing, which boils down to "the GOP sucks, hur hur hur" and reminds me of the classic high-school English Lit teacher (I had one of these) who finds allegories for sex and for Christ in absolutely everything.

It's bad analysis of photography, and it's even worse politics. The average person can recognize this sort of thing as BS instantly. This is exactly the sort of thing that the Intellectual Left Wing Elites gobble up with the joy and devotion that my dog eats cat shit (and let me tell you, my dog is devoted to that particular treat, horrible beast that she is). This sort of nonsense does nothing that isn't politically harmful.

Before we move on, let me remind you that I am one of those Intellectual Left Wing Elites. I differ from these people mainly in being less of an idiot.

Before I dig any further in to this, let's see another example this time from No Caption Needed: Fires, Floods, and Photos. Just for fun, let's break it down a paragraph at a time and see what it's actually saying.

Fires burn stuff up. Here is a picture.

Wildfires are the fault of man. Anthropogenic Global Warming, and other human activities.

I like small fires. Big fires are very photogenic, but they are sad because they burn stuff up.

Forest fires are actually necessary for forests but I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about how terrible fires are. They are terrible and, like all forces of nature, they don't respect personal property very much. Maybe we can learn something here?

Fires don't burn up rivers, or rocks, or air, or dirt, or clouds, or lots of other things, but I want to ever-so-cleverly segue to floods so lets stick to rivers. Fires don't burn up rivers.

Floods are also caused by global warming. Floods are sad, like fires, but different.

Floods are different from fires. Slower, and muddier.

Here is a picture of a woman drying out photos after a flood. I like saying "memory work" it sounds cool. Floods are sad.

Floods, like all other things that affect groups of people like fires, the economy, and rain, are both collective and personal experiences. After a flood, or any other kind of disaster, there is stuff to do to put things right.

There is something to learn from looking at pictures of floods and fires. Different things. I'm not going to tell you what either one is, though, because I don't know.

Yes, I am being sarcastic here, but that is literally what it says. It's like reading the thoughts of a 10 year old who has access to a good thesaurus. When you actually look at what it says, it says "Fires and floods are sad, and caused by Anthropogenic Global Warming" and then twice suggests that we can learn something without so much as hinting what, exactly, we can learn. The last paragraph, maybe, says we can learn that the planet is in danger yet worth saving? But it begins by saying that flood and fire would teach us different lessons, so which one is this, and where's the other one, if so? Also, I kind of knew that the planet was worth saving. I'm using this planet to live on. So is that even a lesson?

This piece seems to me to be, basically, Global Warming is terrible, it's burning all this shit up and flooding the rest! This is a hugely problematic statement. While Anthropogenic Global Warming is a real thing (fuck off, deniers, I won't even publish your retarded comments) but the consensus is that current flooding and fires and whatnot remain within prior normal bounds and should not be ascribed to Global Warming. Indeed, people have been putting out too damn many fires for the health of the environment, ditto controlling floods. For the present, the fire/flood problem isn't Global Warming, it's that people insist on building houses on flood plains, and maintaining picturesque forests where they ought to be radically trimming them down for fire management purposes. In future, the consensus is, it's likely to get a lot worse. Global Warming will, eventually, play a major role. Just not right now

Both RtP and NCN are basically 100% this sort of bullshit. Half-baked political commentary dressed up in pretend analysis of photographs. It is, essentially, identical to the sort of Fake News the authors would decry. While it's not quite the same as "Hillary Wants To Sell Your Organs To Mexico" it is nonetheless false commentaries dressed up in clothing designed to slip the commentary past the inattentive. It's "Republicans are Awful" and "Global Warming is Awful" and "Wars are Awful" served with a side of "Our Side Would Totally Put A Stop To It" which is absolutely untrue. The left wing is just as awful, and is just as in the pocket of the oligarchs whose interests are served by doing not very much about any of these problems.

Any plumber of average intelligence, if confronted by this sort of crap, knows it's BS. His or her instincts are spot on. Furthermore, the plumber is insulted by the pseudo-intellectual elitist tone of the thing, and goes and votes for Donald Trump, or Brexit, because, god damn it he is sick of these wonks in their ivory towers turning (or attempting to turn) this sort of shoddy thinking into endowed chairs and other cushy berths from which to belch.

In short, RtP and NCN and Lewis Bush are precisely the kind of thing that so disenchanted the Average Bloke that he voted for crazy things, just to shut these idiots up. Which didn't work, because the idiots are convinced that if they just double-down, their dumb strategy ought to work.

The hell of it is that I am absolutely on the same side as these idiots. I agree with basically all of the same things, although we probably differ on the details. Mostly I want to punch them in the face until they stop it, but otherwise we're blood brothers.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

H/DJI and Ming

Note: People have been referring to Ventizz, but the correct name of the firm is Vorndran Mannheims, and they are a private equity firm not, as Kevin Raber suggested, a venture capital firm. I botched the name earlier, sorry. I will use VMCap here, which is how they seem to refer to themselves.

Ming Thein's written a remarkably silly bit of analysis of the Hasselblad/DJI situation in which he adds exactly one bit of information, namely Chinese businessmen are sharp dealers who do not invest in things they think will fail. As opposed to whom? Are the Swedes famous for investing in things they're pretty sure will collapse?

First a little background. Suppose that a year ago Hasselblad's outstanding stock consisted of 100 shares, and that VMCap, the private equity firm that acquired H some years ago, owned 80 shares, and DJI owned 20. This is, obviously, simplified for clarity.

In order to infuse cash into H, would DJI buy some of VMCap 80 shares? No, they would not. That is the wrong layer of the ownership onion. Money given to VMCap to buy, say, 31 of their shares, would go to VMCap's fund, and become cash potentially to return to their investors or whatever. That money would not be accessible to H, unless VMCap elected to either loan to it H or purchase new shares of H with it. It is VMCap's money, not Hasselblad's.

If I buy a share of Microsoft from you, does Microsoft get the money? No. Even if I buy every share of Microsoft that's out there, Microsoft sees not one cent.

No, the only way money actually goes to H to fund the company is if H issues more shares. They print up another 100 shares and sell them to DJI. Now DJI owns 120, and VMCap owns 80, and DJI is the majority shareholder. The value of H has changed by the value of however much money DJI gave them for the shares. That cash is now sitting in H's bank account, and counts toward the value of H. So VMCap now owns a smaller slice of a larger pie, not even including things like "and now the projected growth is much bigger to blah blah blah" which is the usual story. There's a thing called a Balance Sheet which you can look up.

There are some odd corner cases. For example, if DJI actually loaned Hasselblad the money, but the loan was collateralized with either newly issued H stock, or paper which can be turned in to newly issued H stock (warrants, I think these things are called). This might actually have happened, and been misinterpreted by Kevin Raber's sources. In a case like this DJI would not be a majority owner, yet, but would be in a position to become one if the loan doesn't get repaid.

Ok, with that background, let us now quote the Marvelous Mr. Thein:

One thing I haven’t yet seen postulated is that the DJI investment was not necessarily a buyout: it may well have been an expansion with issue of new shares (Note: I don’t actually know if this is the case). This makes quite a bit of difference to the interpretation, because buying something over implies that the other party has decided there are better uses for their capital, as opposed to perhaps having to maintain portfolio diversification, or not having more to invest being a closed fund. This kind of corporate action is quite common when companies have to raise more capital for expansion.

Now, I don't actually know what the second sentence really means, it appears to be word salad with a hint of VMCap maybe thinks there are better uses for their money, or maybe they ran out of money in that pot which is frankly self-evident, since they chose not to infuse the cash. Given the background that you and I now both have, this whole paragraph a ludicrous statement. Of course H issued new shares (or, possibly, doled out some shares they had issued but not sold in the past which is functionally identical). Of course it was not a buyout, that would give H $0 in new capital, thereby quite missing the point. I think this is a remarkable statement from someone who has, well, let's quote him again:

I did work in M&A, private equity and at senior operational positions for the better part of 10 years

Mmm hmm.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Formal Composition, What's it For, Anyway?

Contemporary studies on how people look at Art have largely debunked theories of "eye leading", which were never that mainstream anyways. Leading lines are bunk, so are various "it leads the eye out of the frame" kinds of ideas. Bunk, nonsense, rubbish. Untrue and not useful.

Arnheim's book Art and Visual Perception makes these two things clear. That formal composition does have an effect on how we feel about, how we react to, a picture. Secondly, that any specific detail of line, form, placement, light, and so on, must be considered in relation to everything else in the picture. It is not the placement of the subject, considered alone, which matters. It is the placement of the subject relative to the other elements of the picture and the relations of those elements to one another which, considered as a whole, produces the effects. The Rule of Thirds, Golden Whatevers, indeed anything that prescribes or recommends ways to handle specific elements of composition in isolation, are all bunk.

And yet, the gestalt, the whole of the picture taken as formal arrangements of graphical elements, does something.

(the book makes many things clear, these two items are among them)

Molly Bang's book, How Pictures Work, may be viewed as a taut little manual based on Arnheim's survey of research, and illustrates many of the ideas quite neatly. One of the things that becomes exquisitely clear is that the line between formal composition and things like story, even trame, is completely blurred. She creates complete stories using only formal shapes and colors. The red triangle becomes the protagonist, the vertical bars are a dark forest, and so on.

So here's a theory for you, really just an expansion of these earlier remarks.

The formal elements of a picture are going to produce some sort of effect on you, insofar as they can be separated from the subject matter itself. Any arrangement of tone, of line, of form, is a composition. When we have a photograph, as a general rule, there will be some clear subject matter in the frame, some real objects, people, and so forth. This real scene will also produce some sort of effect as you read it and attempt to discern what was actually going on in front of the lens at that moment.

In a nutshell, we have the formal properties of the photograph, and the reality represented by the photograph. Each produces an effect.

These two effects can conflict, or align.

I think you can make an argument that, generally, it's a good idea to have them align.

Your picture of Little Red Riding Hood, worriedly walking through the dark forest should, when you squint at it to blur it into an abstraction of a red triangle for the girl and dark verticals for trees, still read as a worried red triangle walking through a dark forest per Molly Bang.

I don't really know why this alignment is a good idea, but here are some hypotheses:
  • It makes the intent of the artist clear.
  • It makes the picture look like it was made on purpose.
  • Possibly there is something deeper going on in our visual cortex of whatever.

In any case this covers a lot of territory. It's why we isolate the subject, when there is one, with tone or color. It's why we manage white balance to create a cool mood, a warm mood, a sickly greenish mood -- whatever mood is in keeping with the idea of the picture. It's why we light the beautiful woman with soft beautiful light, why we light the chiseled athlete with hard, directional light. It's why we strive for visual balance, visual dynamism, visual imbalance, as needed to reflect the idea we're after.

Here too is a hint, perhaps, of how pure aesthetics might play in to the program. A beautiful subject, photographed with beautiful formal details, will generally produce a photograph which is itself a beautiful object. Similarly ugly, or horrific, but the market interest there is somewhat lower. I think there are many who would argue that it is enough to make a beautiful object, in which all the elements are pulling together toward beauty. Who am I, really, to disagree? The intent is clear. The picture looks like it was made on purpose. And perhaps there is some deeper cognitive satisfaction, or some deeper understanding of God, to be had from the picture alone if it be well enough made.

It all seems sort of obvious, stated this way, I think. But still, I feel good about being able to clear away a lot of clutter and underbrush, and to find that's what left is really what we knew all along, and that this seems to be on firm ground.

At any rate it is not clear to me how to knock the foundation out from under it.


Correction: an earlier version of this post cited Ventizz, the name of the firm is Vorndran Mannheims, or VMCap

Noodling on this over the last day one question keeps cropping up.

Why was VMCap (the private equity group that purchased Hasselblad) unwilling to infuse cash into the firm in order to ramp up manufacturing of an apparently successful camera? This is the nub of Kevin's article on LuLa, that VMCap was not and that therefore the outside investors (DJI) had to be asked for more money.

Infusing capital in order to build out successful business lines is literally VMCap's business. This is what they exist to do.

Apparently the X1D manufacturing buildout was not what they had in mind. Are they getting cold feet on the whole deal, or were the expecting Oosting to do something else, which they would have funded?

Back to posting about Art and Process shortly, I swear it. I'm working on a piece.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hasselblad on LuLa

I want to take a moment to tip my hat to LuLa. I've had my differences with them in the past and no doubt will again, I find much of the content to be a bit fluffy and a sometimes a bit sycophantic, but this piece on Hasselblad is a good, solid, piece of industry reporting. It's legitimately news, in the sense of New Information, it's interesting to, well, to the people it interests, and it's thorough.

Has Perry Oosting become an M&A guy, or is he still a luxury guy at heart?

It would make sense to divide the Hasselblad brand at this point, into a premium drone-camera thing, and a luxury/pro camera thing. But splitting a company that small up is challenging. Still, the question remains, what on earth is DJI planning for what we perceive as the core products of the company? The products DJI's investments seem to have actually funded?

It's possible that the game was, all along, sure, we'll fund your stupid pet projects until we acquire control, and then we're going to shoot them all, fire you all, and stick your logo on our drones. It's possible nobody really has a long term plan, and everyone's just standing around waiting for someone else to discover some mysterious synergy, which may or may not materialize. I've seen both.

I expect DJI to drop in an executive or two to, as I like to put it, "see if there's a pony in here somewhere."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Diamond Ratio

Victory. Ai-ap.com seems to have linked to here in all seriousness. Which shows you just how shoddy a publication they are.

You have no doubt heard of the Golden Ratio, which is somehow or other connected to the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci Spiral, which is oft-touted as the basis of all great compositions. It is less likely that you have heard of the Diamond Ratio. This predates the Golden Ratio by 1000 years or more, having been first described by the Greek Philosopher Diogenes in his Disquisitiones Ultimatum dos Artes.

Socrates calls is the "Lord of Ratios", Archilochos called it the "Hero's Rectangle", and Plato refers to it constantly as the most pleasing of proportions.

Begin with a square. Inscribe within it a smaller square, rotated 45 degrees as shown. This is the Diamond.

Bisect the Diamond. This line is the Diagonal of Diogenes, who we denote with the letter R for Kalamari R. Diogenes (his full name):

Rotate the Diagonal of Diogenes around its endpoint until it is vertical. This gives the length of the long side of the Diamond Rectangle.

And finally complete the rectangle.

A little calculation gives us an approximation to the Diamond Ratio, the ratio of the sides of the Diamond Rectangle, as 1 to 1.4571. This is quite similar to our modern 3:2 ratio, the standard from 35mm film, which has been inherited by most DSLRs. Note, however, that the result is a more solid, pleasing ratio than the slightly-too-long full frame standard. Who has not looked at the standard 3:2 frame and thought to himself "nice, but I'd trim it down just a little on the long side." And so, apparently, knew the ancients just as well.

The Diamond Ratio appears throughout Art from antiquity to the modern era, of course. The pyramids. The Sphinx. The Egyptians naturally knew it. It appears in several of the important architectural features of the Parthenon, the Pantheon, and the Pantherone of ancient Greece, Rome, and Gaul.

The uses of The Eye versus The Foot in arranging things within the frame of the Diamond Rectangle is subtle, powerful, but a little too complex for the present introductory essay. Suffice it to say that The Eye shows the way toward placing the most important lightnesses and the heavier structural elements, when possible, lend themselves to The Foot of the Diamond Rectangle.

Sticking to the well known visual arts, though, here are some examples to illustrate the point. The most famous painting in the world is built on Diamond Rectangles, obviously:

And another well known painting:

It's perhaps even more blindingly clear on Botticelli's Venus:

And perhaps the clearest example of all, Leonardo's Last Supper is a textbook example of how to use it. Those skilled in the art will see near perfect utilization of the properties of The Eye and The Foot throughout.

No philosophers were harmed in the production of this helpful essay.