#764. Monday Post (3 Sept 2018) – Photographic gear, from Arles to the rumour mills

By pascaljappy | Monday Post

Sep 03

We’ve been getting very excited about the new gear announcement recently, and covered those with the joy of anticipation that only today’s rumour-based marketing can allow. It used to be that a new product was announced and that was it. The press releases informed the mags and websites which, in turn, carried on the news to the consumer, possibly with some comment of their own and the fact was laid before our feet without much possible appropriation.

But now, we can make these announcements our own.

We get teased, not informed. The information comes to us in fragmented form, sometimes to be contradicted a few hours or days later by a new leak or rumour and speculation can take on a whole new direction under the powerful steam of our personal desires or clan-minds. Gloves, lacing, shirt … the slow reveal of the exact specification of the new camera builds up pressure that can be released in torrents of often hilarious comments when something new blows the collective mind.

I am not yet convinced it is the most credible way to go about marketing the work of a huge R&D, the result of which can have a really stong impact on the company’s bottom line, but sure am loving the process and the associated fun of it.


Structure (c) Simón Vélez & Stefana Simic


And since we’ve been having so much fun with gear talk lately, I thought we could look at it from three very different perspectives: fanboy, consultant, artist.

Fanboys just love their gear. Sometimes, worryingly, their brand of gear. As much as I’d like to poo poo from a distance, I have to include myself in that group. The paragraphs above describe us. We thrive on gear news, anticipation, discussion about the finer details of a feature or technicality. We’re all sickoes and love every minute of it. For illustration, just look back at my post about the coming (????) Zeiss camera. One rumour and we’re elaborating plans, even visualising the photos from this (so far non-existent) camera. Then the rumours stop, and it’s all a joke, possibly a hijacking of Zeiss’ social accounts. But then SAR maintains the camera will be released and it’s Episode IV all over again (“A New Hope”). This will go on until the big final reveal or total absence thereof. Yay.


Chillin’ in Arles


Now, here’s (a very brief version of) how a consultant looks at photography. Philippe kindly volunteered these few words to describe the nascent mirrorless competition between Canon, Nikon & Sony.


Now we have some idea of what the forthcoming Canon mirrorless system will look like, it is obvious that both Nikon and Canon have decided to capitalize on the Sony’s weaknesses:

  • Sony’s grip is perceived as undersized, even after the incrase of Gen. III ? Both new cameras sport deeper, beefier grips.
  • Sony have no super-fast lenses ? Nikon promise a f:0,95 (!) Noct-Nikkor, while Canon will introduce a 50mm f:1,2, and a 28-70 f:2,0 (!).
  • Sony have long struggled with « premium zooms » (until the 24-105 G), that is exactly what Nikon and Canon will ship from day 1.
  • Sony have a weak array of better-than-entry-level-but-not-fully-premium-priced standard lenses ? That is exactly where Nikon pitch their initial 35mm f:1,8 and 50mm f:1,8, with promises of full-premium performance.

Some say, only 1 card slot for the Nikon. Some say pricing is not agressive enough to wrest market share from Sony. I say : this is all to the good for consumers. Yay !


Gear as fuel for business strategy. Thanks Philippe.

And for the 3rd perspective, I’ll try to give you an idea of what the photographers represented in the Rencontres d’Arles are using as gear.


4×5 work, photographed in gallery (by the author) with a M43 camera.

Please bear in mind that this is not an exact survey. The artists listed below are merely a reflection of my personal taste, for one thing. The Rencontres are a huge gathering of exhibitions and there’s no way you could walk through all of them in one day. Probably not two, either. So those are just some whose work I enjoyed and about which it was easy enough to find gear info.

Before I start enumerating though, let’s make 35mm film the outright winner here, with Polaroid and 6×6 film also well represented. Not just because some of the exhibitions portrayed work from a few decades ago (see Robert Franck and Raymond Depardon, below) but because, unlike gearheads, artists are obsessed with an idea and gear is so often a “whatever works” consideration. It’s quite incredible to realise how much our fave manufacturers are selling their stuff to gear lovers and how little to actual artists … But on with the show.


(c) Robert Franck

(c) Raymond Depardon


More interesting is the heavy reliance on large format film. High pixel count digital backs may claim to have relegated large format film to the museum, the reality is that … No, wait. That’s exactly what they’ve done. Digital backs seem the tool of choice of commercial pros but high-profile artists, those in museums, still seem to prefer 4×5 film. Cue Nadav Kander and Gregor Sailer, below, as well as Candida Höfer and the lady in her gallery, above, whose name I have forgotten (so sorry).


(c) Gregor Sailer

(c) Nadav Kander


Going even bigger, consider William Wegman and his 11×14 and 20×24 Polaroid work. The quality of the (contact) prints obtained from those huge Polaroid sheets has to be seen to be believed. And although Wegman shoots Hasselblad medium format in his studio for convenience and to print larger, the real starts of the show were absolutely the polas, sometimes assembled 2 by 2, or more, for incredible panoramas. To me, the highlight of the whole show.


Digital photographs by William Wegman

Polaroid photographs by William Wegman


Back to smaller formats but impressive prints nonetheless.

Buddhists are an inspiration. Detached from possession but comfortable with owning quality. The Dalaï-Lama is known for owning a collection of very expensive watches (most being presents from state officials) and for his passion of watchmaking and servicing. Matthieu Ricard, famous author and close collaborator to the Dalaï-Lama, is also a very proficient photographer. To many visitors, his exhibition was the pinnacle of the day.

Matthieu Ricard learned photography with film SLR cameras. He credits the quality of his work to the fact that he couldn’t afford film and shot very few photographs and thought very hard before every shot (hear that, the 10 fps, ISO a million brigade that want your camera to do the work for ya ?) and switched to digital Canon bodies in 2000. The Rubin Museum of Art gave a Canon 1Ds to Matthieu Ricard (who’d donated 12,000 Himalayan shots to the museum) and he never switched brands since. The huge (7 foot wide Awagami paper) prints possibly lacked a little resolution for loupe inspection but had an astonishing impact from an intelligent viewing distance. Here’s one.



And art has a lot to do with impact.

One of the most photographically interesting exhibitions was Taysir Batniji’s “Gaza to America, home away from home”. It abundantly proved that message and presentation are far more important than resolution by presenting small prints in extremely clever ways.

One such ways was a real-estate presentation of beautiful villas that have been destroyed by raids on Gaza. Below each photograph was a traditional listing detaling the numerous rooms, in a very enticing way, ending with the number of former inhabitants. High impact, to be sure.


Photographs by Taysir Batniji


Another clever idea was borrowing the concept of typologies formulated by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Noticing the resemblance of the Becher’s water towers to Israeli watchtowers, Taysir Batniji used the same formula to present the watchtowers in a manner that lets you first notice the graphical surface than progressively understand what you are really looking at. A very, very powerful way of capturing your attention for a long period (and attention is today’s #1 currency).


Photographs by Taysir Batniji


Ann Ray’s decade-long work about/with Lee McQueen was also mainly 24×36, film. And exceptional.


Photographs by Ann Ray


I don’t have the time or the information to describe the works of all the artists here. But most of it was small format film. Mostly because most of it was documentary. But also because real artists focus on their project and gear is just one minor component of that project. A lesson for all of us gearheads if we want our work to hang on prestigious walls rather than die inside multiply-backed-up disks ! Sobering.

Me? Like 90% of other visitors in Arles, my Smartphone. A sure sign that I am utterly bored by my camera and don’t have a project in mind that will make me pick it up. Hear that Zeiss ? No, wait …


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  • NMc says:

    One key difference to be seen in many of your examples is that photos are not the actual artwork; it is the arraignment, the presentation of the framing or collection of images. The exhibitions are as much the art as the components images; Is it photography or is it installation art? Just a thought that requires no definitive response. In addition non digital printing methods are important for the art market because it is not infinitely reproducible, nothing to do with merit or art, everything to do with perceived value as a commodity through rareness.

    For art and photographic books the paper quality, printing quality and binding methods do feature heavily in art book discussions and reviews, and indeed enjoying these qualities is to be relished. So don’t give yourself a guilty conscious about coveting better quality gear, providing you don’t expect it to make you better in some way. Reading rumour sites on the other hand may lead straight to hell, they are the work of the devil. 😉
    Regards Noel

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      ” Reading rumour sites on the other hand may lead straight to hell, they are the work of the devil. ”

      Well, now, depends on why and how you read them…

      For a brand fanboy that brand’s rumor sites may hold him and buy his soul for, well, nothing in the end.
      For us more sensible gearheads hints on rumor sites may point to interesting developments and so make us wait with upgrading.

      Well, anyway, the road to hell is said to be paved with good intentions. 😉

  • pascaljappy says:

    Hi Noel,

    that’s completely true. Art gives more attention to how it is presented than we usually do. But it’s not a strict rule. Instead of focusing on backup we could focus on how to make a message resonate more. For that, we need projects more than just random shooting.

    I’m going to buy some nice paper and print a set of photographs on it and will have it binded. A photograph a week, one book each year 🙂 That could be a fun project, even if it’s very personal and doesn’t convey a message for anyone else. That Awagami paper is fantastic. Once you focus on painting the rest becomes irrelevant.

    All the best,

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      What I find interesting is that ‘togs tend to prefer “art” paper for their prints, and the general public seems to prefer glossy.

      For general purposes, I prefer semi gloss (doesn’t show finger marks so readily, if grubby people pick up the photo!), but for portraits I much prefer art paper.

      And if you want to create a book, have a look at Affinity’s “Publisher Beta” – all free, folks, for the time being!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    No digital backs among artists?
    I think maybe I can see two reasons.
    They are (damned) expensive, and artists often want to experiment with different techniques when starting a new project.
    An artist might want a hands on approach developing his ideas through working with his hands.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pardon my curiosity – what is the “Structure (c) Simón Vélez & Stefana Simic”?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Simón Vélez and Stefana Simic are architects that specialise in bamboo structures. They designed and built a superb 70m long bamboo pavillion to host the Matthieu Ricard exhibition.

  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    Just happy to see “art” brought back into the subject of photography on DS. Kind of tired of “equipment” discussions. After all, isn’t equipment just the tools we use to make our art?
    Pete, I really like your statement that “togs tend to prefer “art” paper…”. A few months ago I started a project of printing some of my bird pictures for my own archives. I experimented with several of the best quality papers and all were good. But for this project I have settled on (and I have no connection at all with this company) Breathing Color Pura Velvet paper. It is a 310 gm watercolor-type fine art paper with all the attendant natural texture you might expect. The matt surface holds tones that make the images almost 3D. Portraits are incredible. I could have done this project in gloss, but I’m doing this for myself, and I want to enjoy my art prints on heavy matt while I’m channeling Johan Vermeer. 🙂
    I also enjoyed the statements by Noel regarding the placement of photos in a gallery. Is the photo the art or does the placement of the photos together create a piece of installation art? Something interesting to think about if I ever do another one person show.
    One thing I’m sure of, presentation becomes an important part of the art when your audience comes to the gallery to view it. Presentation is the glue that holds your show together and creates an overall impression of the quality of your work. Maybe that’s regrettable because I would love to do a complete gallery show with my prints stuck to the wall with push pins. Let the work stand or fall on its own merit.

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