Friday, March 24, 2017

RIP- Chuckie Baby! Chuckie Baby! Chuckie Baby!

We lost two Chucks this past week, and although one can never overemphasize the contribution(s) of the one and only Chuck Berry, it was "the lesser of the Chucks" that stole my heart...

For a time back in the Seventies it seemed I'd almost quit TV cold turkey; not that I meant to mind ya, it's just the way it worked out- least that's how I remember it. I was just too busy: going to college, partying, working P/T, partying and failing abysmally at street photography. So I was more than a little amazed when quite by accident, I turned on this wondrous gem of a program that was literally a portal into someone's hysterically manic and manically hysterical mind. 

It was called... The Gong Show- here at last was the epitome of everything TV had ever aspired to- home entertainment at the peak of creativity! How could one possibly explain its appeal? Bad jokes, and sorry "talent," in a god awful format that repeatedly held me transfixed with a big shit eating grin, one solid half hour at a time. The cast, the "talent," The Unknown Comic and... Gene, Gene The Dancing Machine!!! Thank you, Chuck Barris for ART writ large in any decade!

"We'll be back with more... stuff!" 
Murray Langston (still alive)- The Unknown Comic

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Banned On PetaPixel!!

I know- Oh, the Humanity... I, Stanley Joseph Banos- officially banned on PetaPixel! How does one ever live this down... 

PP is like the Yahoo News of photography, and the comments section is very much likewise. I don't blame it for the former, while it features a shitload of shit (far as photography is concerned), it also features the occasional worthwhile news bit if only by default. And the really sad "commentary" on all of this is... it's one of the few online forums left anywhere today where one could "openly" discuss (ie- comment on) the various photographic topics at hand. Unfortunately, many of the commenters (not to mention many of the actual posts) are as knowledgeable about photography as... the average Trump supporter commenting on Yahoo. 

OK, OK- who the fuck do I think I am anyway... Mr. no name, no gallery, nobody! Admittedly, no one. So why was I booted off PP? For being misogynist, homophobic, racist? No, no, no- you can find plenty of them commenting on PP on any given day! I was officially booted for being... "negative!"

Here are the lengthiest comments (again, in response to queries) on the last post I was officially banned on, which were the very... very... last... straw:


Yes, no doubt you too can no doubt feel the abhorrent, malevolent "negativity" soothing from my very pores! Almost makes one ill- doesn't it? My preceding comment on this post was in response to a comment asking what National Parks had to do with politics. I had simply responded that it was the political activism of concerned citizens that established our National Parks to begin with! Again- the epitome of "negativity. " Of which I was informed I had a long, lonnnng history of over the past years...

And my "negativity' knows no bounds- as one can plainly witness... here.

But fuck me, and fuck Petapixel- Again... the sad thing in all of this is that there are so very, very few places left to discuss photography in a fairly decent manner anywhere online (FB be damned)....

Sunday, March 19, 2017

RIP- Jimmy Breslin


Jimmy Breslin was always about the little guy, the guy in plain sight (usually somewhere within the 5 boroughs) who never got the press, the spotlight, the praise and adulation. He didn't give one small shit about the Trumps and Kardashians; for him, it was all about those that had to struggle both for a living and a life, and did so with a shrug, a laugh, or a finger pointed high...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Curious World

 
Photo: © S. Banos


We now live in a rather curious reality of competing truths and alternate facts. And if anyone was actually listening to the other, they'd soon reach the same paradoxical crossroad where they discover that either side accuses the other of the same crimes and abuses- and often... using the same terms and language. It's the other that's corrupt, the other that is trying to take away and tear down our rights and Constitution, the other that manufactures and believes fake news- and on and on it goes...

And so the question arises- could both sides possibly be... right? Well, many are most definitely mad at the very same things, and while either side most definitely deserves to be angry- the difference comes down to who and what to blame, and why. But like the saying goes, "You have the right to your own opinion- but not your own facts."

The mid-America that overwhelmingly elected Trump is now besieged by every plight and ailment that was previously perceived as the "exclusive" domain of inner city America: massive under and unemployment, wholesale societal neglect and the resulting and inevitable, wanton drug addiction. Those were always their problems, that they single handedly brought upon themselves because of: poor choices, bad life styles and flat out laziness, if nothing else. But now the shoe is more... one size fits all, and it is anything but a comfortable fit. How could this happen to the proud and silent majority, the flag waving patriots, those who traditionally got to look down and point the finger at darker regions elsewhere?

We could as mature, responsible adults recognize our common plight and future, and finally strive to work together to end these historic national ills (that clearly affect one and all), once and for all. But we are neither. 

So we gather on round the usual tried and true- the "savior" who will protect us from all the savage ills and mendacious accusations inflicted by "the other." Once again, he will lead us straight into the redemptive repetition of shameless blaming and vindictive attacks- the easiest, most well traveled road, for those who seldom venture. And once again end up exactly where we started... except, worse.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Every photograph by definition is previous and elsewhere. -John Gossage


Don't know if you bothered watching the video (in the previous post) featuring John Gossage talking about The Pond. To be sure, the book doesn't exactly contain the most exciting photographic imagery ever produced, although quite a few of the photos do sustain a rather hypnotic allure about them. But Mr. Gossage does impart a sizable chunk of photographic wisdom to those willing to listen, while also revealing (amongst other things) that the number of people that approached him at his first book signing amounted to exactly... zero. Oh, and it was the first photo book to not include a photo on the cover (I just caught up to that trend... last year!) and was conceived to be a book only- he turned down Mr. Castelli's request for an actual exhibit (can't tell ya how many times I had to turn him down).

The Pond is loosely inspired by Thoreau's Walden; truth is, it's not even the actual Walden Pond, in fact- some of the pictures contained within the essay are taken in different countries! Gossage did not care about remaining true to documentary constraints, he was concerned about remaining true to his own vision...

"A photo is a fiction. It's not the fiction that implies a lie, it's the fiction that describes the experience you're getting is fleeting, transitory and at the same time, permanent. It is not reality as we normally navigate it."

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Soft Eyes"

Photo: © S. Banos

One of the reasons I (and so many others) will always be condemned to mediocrity is the fact that I lack the proverbial "soft eyes," as Henry Wessel describes it. Basically, it's the condition where we empty our minds into a zen like state of being that allows us to be open to all the photographic possibilities around us. Usually, that would be yet another, nice photographic adage- if it wasn't for the fact that if you look at his work, you can see that is exactly how he operates. The majority of his work is as simple as simple can be: Leica, Tri-X, 28mm- and yet the diversity of his images is striking; he most definitely practices what he preaches. 

I like to think I do the same, but I know I don't succeed very often, or very well- most photo ops have to hit me upside the head to recognize them staring me in the face; and I know that I too often look for those exact things that meet my limited criteria- at the risk of failing to notice all that do not. And that's a failure to grasp opportunities that help one grow and develop. It's something I continually strive to overcome, but something which continues to constrict and limit my vision- tell me to empty my mind, and it's an automatic cue to endlessly ponder the most obvious.

John Gossage is another photographer that can often transcend our mundane world and reveal it for the visual miracles that abound within it. It's a gift which they've obviously honed and mastered. That doesn't mean we won't get some share of keepers to be sure, if only from our constant, if impaired, effort- it just means that we'll forever remain the small fish (in a... small pond).


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Two For The Road


Photo: Louis Porter

Bought two other books while in NYC, one was called Bad Driving by Louis Porter. Although I've never met Mr. Porter, I find it relatively safe to say we share two things, a love of photography, and a not so great fondness for the road- or more specifically, driving upon it. The book features various signs and other roadside sundries that have been knocked silly by the careless and accident afflicted. Porter's keen eye transforms these funny, colorful snapshots into compositions that appeal to an art house, aesthetic banality. And his other essays, like Crap Paint Jobs and Emergency Assembly Points also delight with their humor and engaging visuals- always great to see in the, oh so serious, world of photography!

The other book is Manhattan Out by Magnum photographer Raymond Depardon. A series of street photographs taken in the seventies- it depicts "my" New York, so I'm particularly drawn to them. While not particularly innovative or spectacular for that matter- they do have a dark, foreboding dread about them. Besides, how many Steidl books can ya pick up for a twenty (at Strand)?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Adrift- Magda Biernat

Recently when in NYC, I made it over to Dashwood Books as is my custom (after a a coupla Cajun Martinis and some blackened catfish at the Great Jones Cafe a block away) and started the monumental but always welcomed task of investigating their entire inventory. Of course, you're always guaranteed to find things that you will both like and love, the only question being, how much can you afford to buy. This time, I actually had some pocket money, and in addition to buying something from their sale bin (more on that one later), I was also able to buy something special, something precious, something I don't usually allow myself the luxury of- a small, but oh so special book called Adrift

Adrift- Magda Biernat

I've become a big fan of small photo books- Jason Eskenazi's Wonderland and Gus Powell's The Lonely Ones  for example. Somehow they come off as more personal, more intimate (as well as more portable). Like all small, precious objects- this one's a tad on the pricey side ($60). And there are several things that make this little gem so special- unfortunately, they are things that cannot all be appreciated online. For it is in large part the physical layout and presentation of the book itself that make it so wonderfully unique! Upon opening, all pages concerning text are adhered to the front cover, the photographs fold out and are adhered accordion style to the back cover.

But it's not all flash and mirrors. Magda Biernat's photographs work on several levels. First of all, it's the most ingenious (and successful) collaboration of color and B&W in one essay that I've ever witnessed. Most times when color and B&W are combined, they are inevitably imbalanced, suffer continuity problems and leave one with a rather unsettled feeling. The balance here is simple, yet strikingly effective: a square format repetition of one photo of an iceberg in colors of muted grey, white and blue, contrasted with a B&W photo of Inupiat Eskimo hunting lodges. The square format emphasizes the overall gestalt of consistency, while the alternate juxtaposition of color vs. B&W lends a pronounced and pleasing contrast. 

The connection? Actually, they are two essays ever so convincingly molded into one. The icebergs are from Antarctica, bits and pieces of larger ice flows that are now becoming all the norm due to global warming. The hunting lodges are from the Arctic, many of them now abandoned as traditional prey have moved on elsewhere, again due to ongoing, man made climate change. 

Content, aesthetics, presentation- all in one beautiful, thought provoking book, lovingly assembled as testament to a worldwide disaster befalling us all...

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Crap On Cropping

Swish! The most cherished sound in basketball, when the ball enters the hoop eluding even the metal rim that engulfs it, and touches nothing but net on its homeward descent towards success. It means the trajectory of the shot was pure, confident, and barring the rare "lucky shot," the end product of countless hours of toil and practice.

All Photos: © S. Banos

Recently, I was challenged (to put it politely) on PetaPixel (see comments) to write something concerning cropping, more specifically, on why cropping in camera is such an important discipline to learn and master. Now, I don't usually do "tutorials" of this sort, but this is something I firmly believe in- one of the most important practices one can adapt towards becoming a better photographer. That said, I'm also a believer that every dog has its day, and that yes, there are those certain instances in which cropping after the fact is necessary, particularly to eliminate distracting elements that were just impossible to eliminate in the moment. Frankly, if you are shooting with a long telephoto, you are already cropping to an extreme- so have at it! And yes, many famous photographers (even Robert Frank) have cropped, do crop, will crop. I know, I know...


All B&W photos: Tri-X, Nikon, 20mm

But if you really want to develop your photographic eye, your sense of composition (and timing), cropping in camera is one of the most important disciplines any photographer should practice, practice seriously, and adapt for life- particularly in this digital era when we now have the incredible luxury of selecting various aspect ratios right in camera! It is as essential (if not more so) as consciously shooting in color or B&W, and not just converting to the latter as yet another last ditch attempt at visual redemption.

When you are out shooting (whatever your subject or genre), you should be looking for those compositional elements that either make or break a photo (and how to visually maximize or minimize them), and you should be doing so with the mindset that those are the very decisions that will ultimately decide your photo's fate. If you are operating in that mode, you are automatically disciplining yourself to look harder, work harder- you know there won't be any quick and easy shortcut at the end of the day to try and salvage that... which doesn't... quite... work. 

Wide angles are invaluable compositional tools for comparison and contrast, balance and emphasis.

That doesn't mean you don't shoot till you have the so called "perfect shot," it means you practice and discipline yourself to the point where you are making each and every corner of that rectangle work for the image- whatever the circumstances. And when it doesn't work out, instead of trying to salvage a mediocrity, you study and assess why it failed, and vow not to make the same mistake twice (don't worry, you will- just not as many times). Hone your craft to the point that when you see an opportunity, you are capable of composing it in the moment to its fullest potential- and no, it most certainly is not easy. What's that? Life is happening too fast and doesn't wait for you!? Is that what Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Friedlander, Cohen, Gilden, Papageorge or HCB said when photographing the street? Learn to anticipate and make movement work for you, grasshopper- theirs and yours! Learn where to place yourself; street photography in particular is a dance between you and your subject matter. Study the masters' images, along with good lighting, their success and spontaneity derive from placing the main subject matter and supporting details where they matter most to balance, complement or contrast- no space is wasted

Color photos: Ricoh GR

Finally, to help facilitate this most crucial of exercises- know your tools. Many of the aforementioned masters use very simple kits, and they've shot with it for years; in particular, they know the strengths, limitations and perspective of their lens- how it renders various subject matter, and how, where and when to position it for maximum effect. Every millimeter of that image should be sacred, hallowed ground to be used to your advantage- if you go into it with that reverence and respect of craft, you won't be so nonchalant about mutilating it after the fact. 

Someone once implied that this process was rather anal, this automatic rejection of shots that were not composed properly from the get go- I simply asked what they would call the repeated practice of trying to recompose and (re)crop a photo after the fact, into something it already wasn't...

Color automatically adds more information- a 28mm (e) lens can prove ideal.

“If you start cutting or cropping a good photograph, it means death to the geometrically correct interplay of proportions. Besides, it very rarely happens that a photograph which was feebly composed can be saved by reconstruction of its composition under the darkroom’s enlarger; the integrity of vision is no longer there.”
– Henri Cartier-Bresson

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Validated

All Photos: © S. Banos

I was on a mission- find the bar I had accidentally encountered one long hot summer's day in Greenpoint on a rather prolonged walk from Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to LIC (Queens) via the Pulaski Bridge. I knew the approximate area but... 

Anyway, long story short, I was walking about taking note of all the latest tributes to gentrification writ large and small, when from a distance I saw the most surreal stone visage lording over its marbled domain. Hoping to get close enough take a decent photo, I noticed there were actually two imposing colossi of classical yet seemingly alien hybridization, and that the gates were wide open- I apparently had the entire area to roam free and unmolested (more like tentatively squeeze through the giant stone slabs, hoping they didn't collapse unnoticed upon me and become my own marble tombstone)! If only gentrification was a guarantee of such splendid surprises- instead of the monied banality it usually yields...

Much thanks to Dave Reichert for the tough love in editing, the first photo proved particularly problematic- considering my admittedly limited color/software skills. My "original" version proved an exercise in embarrassment of world class proportion!

It was a most magical interlude on my sojourn to reconnect with what I would soon come to know as The Achilles Heel, a place I could readily visit every day of the year. Within it's Depression Era, unfinished wood interior (unlike so many a newly minted "authentic Irish Pub" with multiple 90in TV screens), one could easily imagine oneself in any of the first four decades of the century past. Beer in belly, I continued unto LIC for a very nice (and free) encounter with PS 1, currently celebrating it's 40th anniversary with free admission to all NYC residents (still got me NY Driver's License). I hadn't been there in a good decade, and it was certainly good to see it still retained it's playful yet challenging attitude toward art in general. A most validating end to a most validating day in NY indeed...

@ the foot of the Pulaski Bridge

Friday, February 10, 2017

An Inextinguishable Fire

Recently while in NYC, I ended up at MOMA on Free Friday (hear that SFMOMA... FREE!)- which is a good thing since it definitely wasn't worth anywhere near its $25 Regular Admission fee. In fact, the one thing, the only thing that really caught my eye was a vintage B&W video describing the evil that is... napalm. Nothing terribly "entertaining" to be sure, but I found it of interest on several levels, not to mention for its minimalist presentation and historical value, but mostly for its brutally honest narration that grabs your attention and forces you to honestly consider just how we absorb and interpret information- particularly that which records and documents the pain and suffering of others...

Still, I could in no way predict, anticipate or even contemplate just how this rather stark and straight forward accounting would culminate. See the entire video here...


Monday, February 6, 2017

One GR Anniversary

All Photos: © S. Banos

Today marks the one year anniversary of shooting (almost) exclusively with a Ricoh GR, particularly significant since I've been a decades long B&W, analog, SLR kinda guy (who can't tolerate the bulbous blobs DSLR's have become). Hesitantly forcing myself into the 21st century, I had first taken the digital dive with the much heralded Fujifilm XT-1; I lusted for it's compact, drop dead, gorgeous body- and the quality of the lenses and overall IQ certainly did not disappoint. I just couldn't stand looking through its EVF in contrasty and direct sunlight; it was like using an SLR in a much diminished capacity. So much for the grand experiment...

Meanwhile, every winter I would get increasingly frustrated by the shortage of daylight hours, while my digital cohorts simply upped their ISO whenever necessary. The last straw came while pointing out a possible indoor photo op to my wife, I decided to get the camera, tripod and maybe a light or two to explore the possibility. By the time I turned on the room light just to look for all the above, she had already made the shot, applied a filter and posted on Instagram with her iphone- and I was supposed to be the photographer!

The Kiss- 2016.

So how then did I settle on a camera that forces me to squint with my now aging eyes at a ridiculously minuscule screen in any and all kinds of light? How could I even contemplate a camera that removed all my beloved analog buttons and dials? Where was the fun to be had in any of this? Well... this time, I simply decided not to make the same mistake twice. My next digital device would not replace my analog SLR's- it would instead, complement them. Least, that was the plan...
 
I soon realized however, the freedom and potential this little gizmo offered- the ability to shoot various subject matter in a wide variety of situations using a wide variety of approaches: straight on, from the hip, in various aspect ratios, in all kinds of light! Even my trusty, compact FM3A looms large these days when pointed by persons unknown at an increasingly paranoid public. The GR has the visual imprint of the ever ubiquitous cell phone, thus making it considerably less threatening, and the user, considerably less conspicuous. The end result has been more than twice as many keepers this past year than any year previous.
 
Up Close and Unawares!

It's still not my do everything tool, then again, neither is any camera- but it is my new everyday camera. Admittedly, it took some time adjusting to that squinty little screen, and the lack of a traditional tactile interface (which to this day makes me sometimes forget to set the required settings). And I just didn't know if I could trust it at first; it looked as much toy as real camera. Was it capable only of haphazard results- or could it deliver consistently as a real and serious image making machine? Well, the IQ of the files did not lie- technically, it kept its part of the bargain and consistently produced outstanding results. And if you concentrated and took that little 3in space of real estate on the camera back seriously, it could actually reward one with some handsomely framed compositions. Respect it, and the damn thing respected you back!

Squared.

I was used to shooting B&W almost exclusively with a 20mm, love how it allows one to position disparate scenarios into one composition to contrast or complement. Could I live with a longer, fixed focal length? Actually, I had made a point of shooting exclusively with every focal length from 50mm on down for at least a year, decades ago; I was already familiar with and a fan of the 28mm perspective. Color adds considerably more info with its various hues, sometimes it can be a bit much with extreme wide angles. The Ricoh 28mm(e) was just right for color, and that focal length certainly worked out just fine for that Eggleston guy (not to mention numerous others). Did I mention it's tack sharp, corner to corner? 

ISO 3200- 1/30 f2.8

Still love B&W analog, and may even get a mirrorless ILC in the near future, but I have no plans on changing my new everyday camera any time soon. A lot of people suggest ways on how to improve the GR in its next iteration: more pixels, weather proofing, an EVF, a faster lens, and better this and that. Some of those suggestions would significantly add to its size- not good. I sincerely hope they do add a flip screen, that too would increase its depth- but not dramatically, and it would add significantly to its ease of use and stealth in the field!

After using analog exclusively for so long, using the GR has been like stepping into the future via warp drive- a palm sized, space age device capable of producing Big Time Results. It's been one fun ride thus far, and it's gonna stay in (and out of) my pocket for a long time to come...

Landscape/Action