#800. Monday Post (17 Dec 2018) – My 3 photographic aha moments of 2018.

By pascaljappy | Monday Post

Dec 17

What’s your most memorable (photographic) aha moment of the year ?

Century posts (#100, #200, #300 …) are typically a time to celebrate having enjoyed photography together for another 100 articles, a time to look at the future of our craft and of DS’s editorial line, and to maybe recap what we enjoyed or not during that period.


Let me extend this to the whole year, #700 was close enough to the beginning of the year, and #800 is close enough to the end, to make this OK. In #700, Paul launched us off with this :



And, in 799, published this week-end, he ended with this :



And I can only wonder whether there’s a predator / prey relationship here? πŸ˜‰


More seriously, though, I’d like to tell you about my personal podium of photographic highlights of the year. And what they mean to me, in terms of those aha moments that tend to shape our lives.


#3 – Reviewing the Hasselblad X1D



Leaving aside the build quality, the quirks, the deliberate shooting experience, what this camera (re)taught me above all else is that photography is a craft. A craft in which subjective is far more important than objective (no pun, no pun).


Photography is increasingly seen as a valuable form of art and appreciated as much for the meaning or mood it conveys as for the visual beauty of the physical object presented to you on the wall. The two aspects (meaning vs aesthetics) sit at either end of a spectrum and artists seem to fall somewhere along the rainbow, with the very best of them encompassing the whole (for a blend of deep meaning and stunning, breathtaking, beauty, I can’t think of anyone more impressive than Hiroshi Sugimoto).


What most of those artists share is a love of film or large format digital. Whether they use that deadpan aesthetic that is so in vogue today (Gursky and friends) or stand firmly in the corner of fine art, many produce prints that are exquisitely finished, sometimes spending months in post-processing.


What the Hassy X1D showed me is a glimpse of that world. For a minute there, with that wonderful camera in hand, I felt like an artist more than a technophile.



It’s silly and objectively unjustifiable, but that’s what it did to me. With its blend of slow, deliberate shooting and exquisite image quality straight out of the box that goes sooo far beyond the price or resolution differences with my usual workshorse, it made me feel like I was in complete control of my images.


And because its IQ was so obvioulsy unrelated to any technical specification, it taught me that IQ and enjoyment have very little (if anything) to do with tech. A lesson I should never have forgotten in the first place.


2018 Photographic aha moment #3 – Never again will I give a f.ck about technology in photography. I won’t run away from a camera just because it has high res but I have come to realise that most specifications truly are vacuous drivel and completely unrelated to real IQ or enjoyment. From now on, I will use cameras and decide whether to buy them or not based on a more holistic evaluation.


#2 – A trip to Japan

Wow. Talk about misconceptions.



If you’ve been brainwashed into thinking Japan is that fast-moving, ultra-modern country full of stressed out xenophobic people where you eat raw whale all day long, think again. Our experience, and the experience of most of the people who have spent any time away from the main tourist attractions and rail stations at peak rush hour, is almost the exact opposite.


Slow-paced, welcoming, old, some might say fading, and extremely relaxed. Food ? Well, take it from gluttonous French guy, it is incredible. Again, staying away from tourist hotspots and doing as the locals, that is. 



Most striking and photographically memorable to me, though, is what the Japanese call Wabi Sabi aesthetics (long article on this coming very shortly).


Wabi Sabi roughly means an almost spiritual longing for all that is decaying, passing. It translates into areas that look old and immaculately maintained, ugly cement walls used to hastily rebuild Japan after WWII’s savagery, slowly acquiring a patina while plants in cracked pots grow at their foot. It means eating in some of the world’s most legendary and expensive restaurants, out of chipped bowls, each worth the price of my camera. It means constant maintenance rather than replacement. It means a partial rejection of skin-deep beauty in favour of a deep reverence for the grace of decay.


I imagined it to be an empty concept, much like Feng-Shui in most of the Western world, but some Japanese people very much live it and breathe it. Even the neon-lit commercial streets Tokyo is famous for have that quaint old look to them when you look closely. 



This has changed my appreciation of old things (for lack of a better description) and my shooting style. I used to enjoy applying heavy vignetting and some scratches to photographs of glass buildings in London but now realise that is the exact opposite of that Wabi Sabi philosophy that feels so serene and natural. Ever since my (recent) trip, my photographs have been more direct, my PP being more focused on revealing what is interesting in the file and far less on adding artificial flavouring.


 2018 Photographic aha moment #2 – Essence over processing. By which I mean I will now try to reveal more than cover up, to let intrinsic qualities shine through rather than applying my personal point of view on the image. Obviously, this ties in with #3, because I’ll be wanting a camera that’s truthful and doesn’t mess with tones or colours.


#1. Starting printing again

I knew something was wrong. Owning a modern Sony camera with arguably some of the world’s best glass and feeling unsatisfied either means that you’re a spoiled brat or that something important is missing in your hobby.


Shibuya river from Inari bridge, Tokyo.


For me and, again, this is a very personal post, that missing something was printing. And the ramifications of this go far deeper than the simple but profound satisfaction of holding a good print and thinking “I did this”.


Heck, I don’t even own a printer, yet. Mine has conked out and I’m waiting for end of year offers to buy a new one, presumably a Canon Pro-1000. But that hasn’t stopped me getting prints made by Picto a very good pro lab in Paris, and by Christ Stump, a very good amateur printer who prints for fellow amateurs at a very competitive price.


Even better, friends and readers have been sending me prints (in the spirit of printswapping) that look and feel wonderful and I cannot wait to reciprocate when my equipment arrives.


Silver Pavilion, Kyoto


But there are still more benefits to printing than pride of creation and the joy of sharing, community and friendship. What I find the most rewarding with printing is the change of focus from digital image on a screen to a physical object you can touch and hold. That sounds painfully obvious, but the associated engagement of more senses than just sight has had a profound impact on everything else in my approach to photography.


The reality is that what makes a print good is quite different from what makes a picture nice on screen. It’s harder to create a print that sings, but the result has far more impact. So your priorities change significantly.


First, who care about resolution anymore? A good 24Mpx file will allow a very nice A2 print to be made (240dpi). The final product is the paper. You chose what size you want to print and work backwards from that to find the resolution you need. I’m not sure many brands sell a camera that won’t cover A2, these days.


Also, what looks nice on screen rarely looks perfect on paper.  In particular, weird or sloppy PP doesn’t cut it. So that feeling of converging, over several days, towards something that’s really deeply satisfying is a fabulous antidote to overexposure to social media or other fast-paced nonesense.


Orbit slide


Also, printing isn’t really environmentally sound, whereas I try to be. Which means my selectivity towards files that will end up inking expensive paper is much, much higher than for online sharing. On a given month, I’ll be happy if 2-5 new photos make it to a really good print. That means the portfolio grows veeeery slowly, but every picture in there has a lasting effect on me.


If you’re thinking this has made me more mature and less vulnerable to GAS, think again. The focus of my obsession has simply shifted from sensors to papers, inksets and printers. But the implied experimentation is incredibly fun. In just a few months, I’ve tried papers from Awagami, Canon, Hahnemuhle, Ilford, Moab, Red River and 3 printing processes : inkjet, good ol’fashon silver halyde and piezo. This is soo much more fun than obsessing over megapixels and frames per second.


2018 Photographic aha moment #1 – If I’m not printing, it ain’t photography.

Yes, this is the big one for me. When I hold up a print, or look at one on the wall, that missing something just vanishes.  The process feels complete. And, because the number of keepers is so much lower than for online sharing, the process also feels meaningful and rewarding. It creates a sense of achievement that no file on screen has ever produced for me. Printing again has definitely filled a gap that had been nagging for many years.


Old Man of Storr, Skye, Scotland


So, there you have it. Those are my 3 photographic aha moments for 2018. All 3 are closely related and see me taking a step back to let the subject shine through, on beautiful paper.


Of course many of you were already printing on Jan 1. Many of you have different priorities when it comes to your gear, your goals or your process. So I’m curious: what were your major photographic takeways in the past year? And how have those changed you?


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  • philberphoto says:

    All of you know that I am Pascal’s curse. Like a late-in-life soul-hate with Siamese link. It is thus normal, predictable even, that his 2018 and mine were so different. Mine evolved around gear theft, and how much better off I am for it. Before the theft I was burdened (in all meanings of the word) with more gear than ability to carry it around or use it to the full of its potential.
    Now I have one new-but-not-the-latest body with (only) one brilliant-but-not-state-of-the art prime lens. And I am having a ball. And I am producing pics which I like. And I know more about what I am lusting after in photography than before, when ΓΌbergear obscured the need for that.
    Pascal has just sent me (A zillion thanks, bro’!) a fabulous print (his NΒ°1 event this year, and he ain’t kidding!) of one of his very, very finest shots from Japan, and I need to return the favor. My only problem is, to get anywhere close to the quality of what he has sent me, I need to sneak out and buy a pic from a master, and then call it mine, hoping he won’t notice. Or engage in his print-swap idea (what an abfab project) under an assumed name, trade with someone really good and slip Pascal the goods…
    Hmmmm… what a strange year…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Well, I’m very sorry your process had to go through trauma, but it seems our very different experiences have taken us to similar conclusions : simplicity, focusing on what we like, detachment from gear …

      Glad you like the print πŸ™‚ Just print what you love, how you love it and it will be great. And you don’t need to return anything πŸ™‚

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Well you both beat me off the starting gate – I had diving boots on, so I couldn’t (I spent the past few hours wrestling with computer problems and techs trying to sort them, so you had a head start on me).
    But here I am – ROTFLMHAO – there’s an incredible “fit” between your comments and my feelings on these aspects of our hobby. So much so, that this is all I have left to say – you’ve gone and said it all for me! πŸ™‚
    (PS – was listening to Ludwig’s Symphony No. 8 while I read this post)

  • John W says:

    “Ansel The Great” said it perfectly … ” … the negative is the score; the print is the performance”. Fast forward to the digital age and that becomes … the RAW file is the score; the print is the performance. May your performances be all standing ovations.

  • Dave says:

    Dear Pascal
    You article and photographs are a reset to all the photographic hype on the internet these days.
    Thank you

  • Dallas says:

    Pascal, great article, printing can become and obsession so watch out!, Agree it’s great to see you work on paper, I plan to do a lot more when I’m more stable residency wise. My printer will need replacing due to lack of use and clogged nozzles! So print swapping will happen from down under at some future date.

    The Hassy looks good but no flip screen, so its a no go, I more favour the Fuji GFX50R. I would love to play with them both before handing over the large amount required for the body plus glass. I can dream I suppose. A Nikon Z will most likely be my next purchase must sell the D4s to achieve this. Philippe did mention the other morning that Milvus 85 & 25 are both superb lens, now he has my mind ticking, new body or lens?

    Your photos are modern wonders.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you Dallas, you make me blush πŸ™‚

      Body or lens? I’d go for lens any day πŸ˜‰ The 25 I haven’t used. It’s supposed to be excellent. But my heart sure goes to the 85. It has superb colour and feels very organic, for lack of a better word. Soft, but very sharp. If I started over, I buy that rather than the Otus 85.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Since this got under way, I have been busy elsewhere.
    1 – post processing and printing more of my nephew’s wedding photos – we’re having Christmas dinner together at my brother in law’s place, we’re ordered not to bring presents, so we’re taking wine and I’m putting together envelopes containing photos of the different family members that I’m not supposed to give presents to. πŸ™‚ Never tell me what I’m not to do – it’s way too likely to be treated as the one thing I WILL do!
    2 – ordering junk from B&H – partly because it’s unavailable locally and partly because it was miles cheaper fromB&H than any price I could hope to find here! And no, it’s not cameras or lenses – it’s accessories that are far less “showy” – although the gimbal might raise one or two eyebrows here, I can’t remember seeing anyone here using one – hmm
    3 – working through prize winning photos in a number of competitions – and in one case after another, noting that they were NOT taken with highly expensive gear – of a zillion mega pixel sensor. A lot of them were taken on sensors in the 24MP range!
    Two of the stand out choices were taken with half frames – one on a Nikon D500 (which I regard as a pro’s camera – and BRILLIANT to use!) – one with a Fujifilm X-T2, which is apparently mirrorless and rifffing through its specifications, I am mightily impressed. If it wasn’t for the cost of fitting it out with all the trimmings, like lenses and other ancillary gear, I’d be sorely tempted by this creature – it might not impress gear heads, but it looks to me to be a damn fine camera for any serious photographer. Oh dear – did I just imply that “gear heads” are not “serious photographers”? – my “woops”! Pardonnez-moi!
    You can probably work out from that drivel, just exactly why Pascal’s posting was like reading the notes someone had taken, looking over my shoulder, this past year.
    Pascal – your posting is an open invitation to everyone to roll up their shirt sleeves and get stuck into “photography”. The REAL stuff! From planning to trekking, from camera to “dark room” (actually we now have to work in a relatively constant, well lit space), to prints! Yes – prints are back! – albums are back! – it’s OK to replace all those calendars and VESPA posters with real photos!
    And we don’t need 8 Leicas – we just need the standard recipe of genius – 1% innate, and 99% hard work! – to create masterpieces – and a working camera of ANY description.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    PS – while I’m nattering away – here’s some more stuff, relevant to #800.

    #170. A pond, a pond, my D800 for a pond. Tell me, Pascal, was that Philippe the same one we know as philberphoto? Whoever he is, I LOVE his photos!

    Oh dear – I could just mention #132, #136 and #169 – but perhaps I’d better not – the flame burned bright for a short time, before the fire sale that ended it all – and raking over burned coals might cause embarrassment. πŸ™‚

    • pascaljappy says:

      The name’s Pond. Philippe Pond πŸ˜‰
      No, that pond Philippe is my neighbour. A very talented ornithologist and wildlife photographer.

      #132, #136 and #169. Oh my! How is it that I realised all those years ago that small *isn’t* beautiful and still find myself muttering against a tiny uncomfortable grip in 2018. How did I fall for this again?

      This is what’s so wrong about quantitative reviews. On paper, the Sony is lighter than the Hassy. But the Hassy is so much more comfortable to hold that you’re a lot less tired at the end of the day. Will I ever learn ?

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        That’s exactly why I fell in love with my D500 at first sight – well, first handling! It fitted my hand perfectly! And then I compared it with the D810, which I also love, and it’s almost the same. Couldn’t give a damn about the weight – it’s the FEEL that grabs me!

        FYI – the 1.4x converter arrived today (well not really – I had to cross the city & back, to pick it up) – so will soon start training for my ridiculous pano, with a 1.26M tele! Let’s see what it produces! It won’t be the same as a ‘blad – but I can’t afford a ‘blad anyway, so I’m doing this instead – because I know I’ll have fun doing it. As the Tourist Bureau for the Northern Territory of Australia keeps telling us – “if you never never go, you’ll never never know” – and as an ex Territorian that speaks to my heart! So I giving it a go. The longest tele I’ve had up till now stopped around 150mm – now I can go anywhere, from 18mm to 1,260mm, and all points in between. And I’m going to have fun finding out all the stuff I’ve never been able to capture before!

  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    #800 and the comments is a prime example of why I look forward so much to each issue of DS.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Hi Pascal, and Merry Christmas!

    Re. Canon Pro-1000:
    New to me, but after reading about its supposed anti-clogging feature I googled a bit and found this:

    Just in case you haven’t seen it…

    Re. Wabi Sabi:
    I often wonder how much preserved old stuff we in the “western” culture will collect before we realize that going on living is more important and needs a living, not a conserved, past in connection with the present and a future.
    Perhaps our obsession with new products and our obsession with ruins and museums are amplifying each other?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Kristian, Merry Christmas to you too

      Thank you for the information on the Pro 1000. Let’s hope that’s an isolated case, though I fear not.

      Interesting theory about our relationship with past and shiny new. Could that mean we have trouble living in the present ?

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Well, I think we are living in the present, more or less, what else is there?

        ( But I guess that e.g. a GAS driven person lives a bit in the future and is ever so often catapulted back a slight bit into the past when he realizes that his previous gear was in some sense superior… πŸ™‚ )

        I wonder what a historian would find if comparing the timeline of the growth of consumerism with that of the growth of preserving artefacts and ruins?
        ( The question of the hen and the egg would remain though…)

        What I was thinking was, that the way you described Wabi Sabi also described living more in a “longer” present, kind of more of a continuation of the past and a more humble anticipation of the future?

        The western consumerist way of life also honours tradition, but more like repeating it than using it as a source, me thinks.

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