This is post N°150 – again – on Dear Susan S ! A new landmark that makes me happy because the blog has endured through the doldrums of my creative time squeezes and thrived thanks to its collaborative approach, which was the main goal from day one 🙂
Though most of the original authors have taken other paths, some occasionally come back for the odd submission and the two main authors are now settled into a rhythm that has seen their friendship grow over time. And that is even better than visitor count or fame, isn’t it 🙂
So after co-author Philippe so badly dented my shy modesty in the previous installment of post #150, here’s my reciprocal tribute to this wonderful person !
First, just look at this highly symbolic and absolutely beautiful photograph and I won’t need to tell you any more about Philippe. Anyone with the sensitivity, the ability to “F/8 and be there”, and to master the technical know-how to produce this sort of image can only be a great photographer. Anyone doing so after taking up photography only 2 years ago is actually frighteningly good ! (as always, click for larger versions).
What do you think ?
Philippe is a highly respected world-class consultant called upon by most of the uber-corporations whose products are in your pockets and cars all year round. Yet, he is also the type of person willing to lug heavy gear, tripod and himself to remote uncomfortable locations (not to mention beds … ;)) to bring back this sort of jungle gem.
Some will say it’s easy to bring back masterpieces from the most exotic locations with the most exotic gear. The two examples above and below are typical examples of what the best scenery and the best lenses can get you, in some people’s minds. And that’s rubbish (the reasoning, not the picture …)
If there’s one thing this blog stands for, it’s that gear and location (and money, in general), have nothing to do with it. I brought back my most beautiful pictures of Australia with a waterproof compact when my main camera died in the heat. My current camera is a top of the range Nikon but my lenses are 30-year-old manual battered soldiers that cost next to nothing compared to modern DSLR lenses. Most of the world’s most expensive and revered pictures were made with gear speccing way below what 300$ buys you on amazon today.
Plus, there is nothing more difficult than bringing back great pictures from a great location ! Unless you’ve been there 10 times, know what to expect in terms of lighting and can afford to shut down the venue to all other tourists, you’re more likely to bring back that average post card with 30 heads sticking out in front of the temple and the white mid-day sky that often kills a shot.
Rigor, therefore, is what first came to mind when Philippe showed me these beauties after a work tip to Japan (our first collaboration on this blog). There is a rectitude to all these shots that imparts dignity but not stuffiness. Philippe is one of the dedicated few who will do what it takes to make a shot right. A trait I wish I had myself … to be honest.
And that rigor has remained a constant throughout Philippe’s posts. There has never been an unwanted highlight or Victory signaling teenage girl posing in any of the pictures. And in his more recent tests of the Zeiss Touit lenses, the light is so well judged and captured that the test pictures (of hardly inspiring scenes) remind my of master Dutch painters and Edward Hopper.
Then, there’s the ability to explore a subject fully. The grand vistas people flock to to recreate Adam’s Snake River or Grand Canyon shots will *never* reward you with a great picture. First because you did not select the location but stood where you were told to. Secondly because, copying someone’s images is never conducive to creativity (though copying someone’s technique is extremely good training). Thirdly because you ignore the zillion other possibilities an area has to offer.
Take this Lofoten series, for instance. One sunrise, one sunset. 90% of photographers would have been indoors eating when that light was available. It’s quite likely yours truly would have been among the lazy hungry ones. Philippe was out in the cold in spite of belly protest.
Trait #3 : A willingness for abstraction. An important one for me, that.
My contention is that we should all look for the abstract, whether that is our style or not. To be drawn into a scene is the surest way to lose you creative juices. Once you have been seduced by a scene, you should (more often than not) step back and analyse how to make the best out of it. Think. Of you course you can react with your gut. Go ahead, digital photography is cheap. Make a picture. But then, look at it with critical eyes. Now you have grabbed it, now it is safe on your card, are you sure this is the best picture you could make of it. This is particularly true of landscapes, that can wow us by their grandeur or exotic quality but do not photograph well because of a lack of features and turn our bland and boring. Looking for the abstract makes you look hard for patterns and features. You don’t have to take the picture, but the change of perspective is almost always good. If Turner could get away with abstract paintings centuries ago, so can you in your photography today 😉
Anyway, I love abstract pictures, regularly bur things on purpose, shake, alter focus mid shot … Philippe does not. We have regular discussions about what constitutes art. We regularly disagree. And in my initial choice of 26 pictures I considered his best, not 1 would have been on Philippe’s list 😉 Abstract is not his thing, but it’s plenty obvious his eye can see, analyse and capture abstract.
Plus, abstract can be found anywhere, even in the bed of a Patagonian river, where many others would see only a dried up stream.
Which provides me with a neat transition to another location and another quality photographers should share : post-processing integrity.
Now I’m not immune to the odd cleaning up in Photoshop and certainly don’t understand the ayatollah who rage against digital manipulations (as if film based photography wasn’t riddled with post-processing wizardry). I used to spend hours in the darkroom and enjoy performing the same in LightRoom today as much as taking pictures. But, unless you’re Steve McCurry, I do recommend you keep the right foot light on the saturation and contrast pedals.
Any of the following Patagonian pictures (plus the red forest above) could have been made much more startling with 2 second push of a slider. More startling, better rated in a 3 minute attention grab contest and Liked more in Facebook.
So ? Are you after great pictures or cheap pats in the back ?
As elusive as a definition of art can be, most agree that it should be as appealing/interesting after a few years as on first sight. A picture whose principal discriminator is a heavy hand on the red button will fade to “forgetableness” much more quickly than one that grows on you slowly. How many steamy nights do you think convert into happy marriages and meaningful relationships ?
#4, sensitivity. It takes quite a bit to get strangers to smile into your camera like this …
I will end the compliments here, not wanting to turn this into a mutual contest of congratulations that mean nothing to readers.
All I wish to say is that, besides the privilege of exchanging with such a wonderful person, I’m happy to share this blog with someone as committed to getting photography right. And that is not following a set of rules laid out by others but by experimenting and applying thoroughness to the process.
Philippe uses Leica and Zeiss lenses; so it would be easy to just attribute the high quality of his results to money and gear (again). But his lenses are not just any Leica and Zeiss. These lenses are carefully cherry picked for character. He buys and sells and settles for what serves his vision. This has nothing to do with showing-off a big white Canon phallus on your holidays but putting your money where your eye is. Philippe thoroughly dislikes my Leica Summicron-R 35/2 because of the wide open quirkiness that makes it so special to me and loves his 24 Elmar because it suits his style so well.
Let me leave you with the following 3 jewels, all of which I would happily had on my office walls alongside my Paula Chamlee, Hans Strand and Julius Shculman lovelies.
Yes, they a re wonderful sites in their own right. Yes, they are remote and exotic. But who out there has made the efforts to capture them in these conditions, with carefully selected and calibrated gear and produced these results when only boring postcards usually emerge ? Not me, that’s for sure.
I give you Philippe ! Thank you for bringing so much to this blog.
So, our styles are very different and complement one another well. I hope readers get and enjoy that. I hope Saint Susan would approve 🙂
Which leads me to …
3 other authors have contributed over the years. Here’s remembering them and welcoming them back whenever time and families allow. Thank you to all 3
Thanks guys, feel free at any time.
And if you, dear reader, would like to contribute and feel serious about it, you are more than welcome. Just drop me a line at pascal dot jappy at gmail dot com.
Thank you all for reading (150 000 of you in 2012) and commenting. Running a blog like this is much more work than it seems. Your support means the world to us !
Be seeing you.
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