YouTube Channel: Cinematographers on cinematography

“Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff is a 2010 documentary film that explores the work of the cinematographer Jack Cardiff. It reviews his work and with the input of many of his contemporaries, examines his legacy as one of the most influential film makers in the world and details how he became master of the Technicolor process. The film includes interviews with Cardiff as well as Martin Scorsese, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Lauren Bacall, Kim Hunter, Kathleen Byron, John Mills, Alan Parker, Richard Fleischer and many others….”

Commentary

Earlier this year I accidentally came across this cornucopia of documentary videos by and about, oddly enough, cinematographers and cinematography.

It is an invaluable learning and teaching resource I would have loved to have had when I was a student and a teacher.

Nice to see the name of my long-deceased distant relative and my father’s namesake Robert Gottschalk of Panavision in the USA flash up on screen in at least one of the documentaries here!

Links

  • YouTubeCinematographers on cinematography – “All material for educational purposes only. Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976. Joined 7 May 2020.” – I wonder who is responsible for putting this incredible collection up here?

Considering the Pentax Digital Spotmeter

As a kid in art school during the analog era I learned far more about photography from the books of Ansel Adams and the newsletters and products of Fred Picker’s Zone VI Studios, Inc. than I ever did from the school’s under-qualified photography teacher. 

One of the most important lessons was that accurate exposure is crucial and that the best way to do that was with a spotmeter and the Zone System as formulated by Ansel Adams. 

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Pentax Digital Spotmeter. I still have my copy of this analog era essential item, in the version modified by physicist Dr Paul Horowitz for Fred Picker of Zone VI Studios in Vermont. Photograph courtesy of Ricoh.

When Zone VI Studios released its version of the Pentax Digital Spotmeter, modified by Harvard physicist Dr Paul Horowitz, I placed my order for one and a leather holster.

The case succumbed to the mould problem that keeps getting worse in this part of Australia as climate change continues to set in, but the spotmeter itself is in good condition and so is perfectly usable.

Pentax Digital Spotmeter

The sticky paper Zone System label that denotes zones I through to VIII has seen better days though and I have been searching for a decent replacement for years now without success.

Then, today I came across not one but two versions of the label made by photographer James A. Rinner and retailed on ebay.

One version reproduces the look of Fred Picker and Paul Horowitz’ original label sticker, while the other is designed by James. A Rinner himself.

Zone System labels by James A. Rinner

While there were other spotmeters made during the analog era, and some current digital light meters have spotmeter capability, the Zone VI-modified Pentax Digital Spotmeter proved unique in its accuracy under all sorts of lighting conditions.

I made great use of my spotmeter when photographing in some truly terrible industrial lighting for commercial, industrial and mining clients in Western Australia during my corporate photography phase before I found a more pleasant home in magazine editorial photography in the east.

Although I also carried several other light meters of various types and brands, the Zone VI Pentax Digital Spotmeter proved to be the most accurate, most reliable and most durable of them all.

I cannot recall exactly what modifications were made to factory standard spotmeters, something to do with internal baffles, filters and possibly circuitry, but have read some online discussions about it.

Unmodified secondhand Pentax Digital Spotmeters are available on ebay for prices between $AU500.00 and $AU750.00 but so far I have not seen a modified one for sale and no doubt one would cost more than the factory standard version.

I hauled mine out from storage this morning, intending to carry it on a coming shoot in the city where I want to use my venerable Canon EOS 5D Mark II with East German and Japanese M42 manual prime lenses adapted with a Gobe M42 Lens Mount to Canon EF & EF-S Camera Mount adapter, intending to ignore the camera’s meter readings for the sake of what the spotmeter tells me.

Links

Considering Adapting MS Optics Short-Run Hand-Made Manual Leica M-Mount Lenses for Fujifilm XF Cameras

It has been fascinating watching the emergence in recent years of Chinese makers of manual focus stills photography and cinema lenses adding their expertise to those of more established brands like Lumography, Voigtlaender and numerous others. 

And then I came across Japanese brand MS Optics at Japan Camera Hunter. 

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MS Optics Perar 17mm f/4.5 Leica M-Mount manual focus pancake prime lens, designed and handmade by Mr Miyazaki in Japan. Photograph courtesy of Japan Camera Hunter.
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Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 manual prime lens for Leica M-Series. This was my automatic go-to lens for documentary photography and photojournalism for many years since I bought it new as a young photographer. Photograph courtesy of Japan Camera Hunter.

Back when I was considering my first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera I looked into vintage manual focus lenses like those made by Zenit but set the idea aside when considering the scarcity and cost of buying them locally.

I had sold my Leica M-Series cameras and lenses several years before during a financially challenging period and before mirrorless cameras began making a dent in digital photography and video production.

The value of vintage manual lenses on mirrorless cameras became clear when Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT Pro dropped by our studio and kindly gave us two lovely little M42-mount lenses in 28mm and 50mm focal lengths.

After purchasing lens mount adapters from Gobe, I began using both lenses on Fujifilm X-mount and Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras, and later my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the latter when my copy of Canon’s notoriously shoddily-made and optically-poor Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0 L IS USM kit zoom lens failed just after end of warranty and the technician gave up on trying to render it usable.

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Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R prime lens.

The 28mm focal length in the 35mm sensor format is my standard for documentary photography and one that I favour for documentary video as well.

When adapted for Fujifilm X-mount, a 28mm lens becomes 42mm, and when a 50mm lens is adapted for the same mount it becomes 75mm.

Likewise, adapting both lenses for Micro Four Thirds effectively turns them into 56mm and 100mm lenses, great focal portrait lengths.

One of my favourite focal length pairs for documentary video in Super 35 is 18mm and 50mm, equivalent to 15mm and 37.5mm in Micro Four Thirds and 28mm and 75mm in the 35mm sensor format.

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Zeiss Distagon 18mm f/4.0 ZM prime lens for Leica M-mount, now stupidly “discontinued” according to Zeiss and retailers.

While the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R is good enough for most documentary photography work provided its optical and mechanical quirks do not get in the way, I find it next to useless for video work and have long been asking Fujifilm to at least update the focal length with a Fujicron-style f/2.0 lens if not a Fujilux-style f/1.4 lens with the manual clutch focus that is invaluable for serious movie production.

Meanwhile I have been searching for manual focus alternatives to Fujifilm’s 18mm semi-pancake lens and was almost settled on the reportedly excellent Zeiss Distagon 18mm T* f/4.0 ZM in Leica M-mount when it suddenly vanished from retailers, listed as “discontinued” and without a replacement.

@#$%^&*!!!

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Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4.0 Leica M-mount manual prime lens, now long-discontinued. Photograph from ebay.com listings.

An utterly stupid decision in my opinion, with no equivalent offered by any other current lens maker, especially given how much high praise the Zeiss 18mm Distagon has received over the years.

The closest affordable 18mm lens I have found online second-hand is the long discontinued Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4.0 in Contax/Yashica aka C/Y mount made by Kyocera, but I have no experience of these lenses or of the cameras for which they were designed though they are often described as “not to Zeiss standards”.

On the other hand cinematographer/director Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT Pro speaks of his set of Contax Carl Zeiss C/Y mount lenses with affection, having adapted them all to EF mount with some filing down of the tab protrusions to allow speed booster compatibility for professional movie production on a range of cameras and sensor formats.

Mr Miyazaki’s MS-Optics lenses

I don’t know much about the limited-run Leica M-mount prime lenses handmade by Mr. Miyazaki of MS Optics save that they are clearly designed for stills photography and would be less useful for video production.

If it were not for the fact that MS Optics lenses are made in tiny production runs and are apparently not reissued after selling out, I might have considered the MS Optics Perar 17mm f/4.5 Leica M-Mount for use at hyperfocal distance settings for, say, urban documentary photography.

I have been keeping an eye on the ever-growing list of Chinese manual lens makers but so far none have shown signs of an 18mm lens in Leica M-mount or any other mount.

All one can do is hope beyond hope that Fujifilm will finally act on the reported deluge of requests made by XF-mount camera users to Fujifilm to release a radically upgraded Fujinon XF 18mm lens, one better suited to professional video and stills photography.

Outside the bounds of affordability nowadays: Leica M-Series lenses

I relied on two Leica M-4P cameras and several Leica M-Series lenses as the backbone of my kit for years of corporate, magazine and newspaper photography and while the fees were nothing like the ones I used to pay photographers when I worked in advertising in London, they were enough to help cover the cost of Leica and other gear.

While Leica manual focus prime lenses remain my personal benchmark for optical and mechanical construction, I can no longer afford them and so keep a keen eye on the growing number of Chinese lens makers.

I hope they will be emboldened to go beyond the usual standard, moderate short and moderate wide focal lengths and develop lenses such as, for example, Kipon’s Iberit 75mm f/2.4 and Iberit 40mm f/0.85 Mark Ⅱ for Fujifilm X-mount, or even an 18mm lens for the same mount.

Links

ffoton: Ron McCormick in Conversation with Paul Reas, Cardiff, June 2019 – audio interview

https://www.ffoton.wales/interviews/2019/9/ron-mccormick-1

“Ron McCormick trained as an artist at Liverpool School of Art and the Royal Academy Schools in London before moving across to photography. He played a significant role in the formation and development of photography galleries across the UK in the 1970’s – including Half Moon Gallery in London, Side Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne and the original Ffotogallery in Cardiff.

Ron taught on the Newport Documentary Photography course alongside David Hurn and established ‘The Newport Survey’ publication that students worked on as part of their studies – produced over a decade in the 1980’s….”

Commentary

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Exhibition preview invitation for ‘The Urban Landscape’ by Ron McCormick at Galerie Düsseldorf, Perth Western, Australia in the mid-1980s.

Ron McCormick was a Visiting Fellow in the School of Art and Design at Curtin University in Perth when I was teaching after being a student, all the while engaged in my own efforts to radically reform art and photography education there and in other places in Western Australia.

Ron spent most of his time photographing in the goldfields and other outback locations and three images from those trips are featured in this set of interviews along with his earlier work in the east end of London and south Wales.

Meeting Ron and seeing some of his work led to spending a year in the United Kingdom shortly afterwards, meeting a number of photographers including the great Brian Griffin, stiffening my resolve to continue my reform efforts back in Australia by whatever means possible despite the gatekeepers and power brokers controlling the medium.

Links

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The Cut: The Electric Intimacy of Alice Springs

https://www.thecut.com/2019/02/alice-springs-fashion-photographer.html

“It’s a joy to contemplate the photography of June Newton, a.k.a. Alice Springs. The Australian-born Springs is the 95-year-old widow of the provocative fashion photographer Helmut Newton, but that’s the least interesting thing about her.

Under Springs’s gaze, world-famous actresses like Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling, and Audrey Hepburn look like people, not icons — conversational, intent, their eyes telegraphing depths beneath. Springs respects their beauty, but doesn’t accept it as a mask. There are shadows beneath Deneuve’s perfect features; Hepburn looks gorgeous, but her age….”

Charlotte Rampling. Photo: © Alice Springs / Maconochie Photography

Commentary

While preparing for an extensive documentary portrait photography project on Australian female creatives and innovators, I came across this article about June Newton aka Alice Springs published earlier this year along with a series of links to other articles about her and her work as a photographer and director of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin.

Links

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Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay [video]

“”The fate of photography in this country is at stake. And that is more important than my opinions, or your opinions of me.” Bill Jay – Creative Camera 1969….”

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The New York Times: The First Female Photographers Brought a New Vision to The New York Times [paywall]

“As revolutions go, this one got off to a quiet and unassuming start in the early 1970s. It was achieved slowly, one female photographer at a time, each hired by The New York Times for her talent with a camera and her desire to practice the best journalism possible.

The men who hired the first of those women quite likely weren’t thinking about altering the prevailing concepts of photojournalism. But over time, as more women were hired and gained acceptance, they began to push successfully for publication of images that were different, for the truths they saw in people and events, for assignments that had once been denied them and for assignments that had not been envisioned before….”

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Ivan Joshua Loh: Happy 8th Birthday X100.

https://ivanjoshualoh.com/2019/03/05/happy-8th-birthday-x100/

“My earliest memories of X100 was at a shopping mall. I was walking pass an electronic store and on display was a gorgeous camera. I actually stop and spend a little moment admiring how good looking it was. It was a Fujifilm camera. Wow. I have never own the original X100. I have used a X100s and owned a X100T and now a X100F.

The X100 series is always special to me. I love the design of it. Kudos to the designer; whom I have the privilege to meet on two occasion. Thank you Masazumi Imai; you have design a timeless looking camera that is loved by photographers all over the world….”

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Fujifilm Finepix X100 with lens hood and hand grip, still in use after all these years and still producing great photographs.

Commentary

The X100 was the first camera that showed me I was going to love digital photography, after too many dodgy and disappointing premium compacts, bridge cameras and DSLRs.

I ordered one immediately and have loved it from the day it eventually arrived.

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  • Fujifilm camerasB&H
  • Fujifilm lensesB&H
  • FUJIFILM X100F Digital CameraB&H

Design Your Life: Episode 011 with the Douglas Brothers [Podcast]

http://designyourlife.com.au/podcast/ep011-vince-frosts-design-your-life-with-the-douglas-brothers/

“British photographer/director siblings Andrew and Stuart Douglas are renowned creatives, known primarily for their rebellious approach to photography and film direction.

Having grown up in Southend Essex and later, London, the pair’s legacy began in the midst of the London punk movement, where they used their “incorrect” style to snap some of the world’s most iconic figures during their youth, including Richard Gere, Morrissey, Timothy Roth and Tilda Swinton.

Since then, their work has evolved and continued to disrupt the creative and commercial worlds alike, with their left-of-centre work for Adidas, Coco Cola and Hollywood feature-length films.

In this episode, Andrew and Stuart share their personal and professional stories – which are often one in the same.

They recount their origins, moving from stills to videos, how working with your brother can simultaneously result in your best work and decade-long feuds, and ultimately how they “find wellness while keeping the hamster-wheel going.” …”

Daniel Day Lewis, copyright The Douglas Brothers. This was apparently their breakthrough image, the one that established their style, and it was made for US start-up magazine ‘Mirabella’. As ‘Mirabella’ publisher Julie Lewit Nirenberg said after the magazine’s demise in the year 2000, “It had such amazing potential. There was a really wonderful vision behind that magazine.” Been there, done that, saw the same kind of thing occur with ‘not only Black+White’. “It was such a promising magazine.”

Commentary

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The Douglas Brothers for the Gap ‘Individuals of Style’ advertising campaign, photographed in the early 1990s by Annie Leibovitz. Image kindly supplied by the inimitable Dave Dye, formerly of The Leagas Delaney Partnership.

Kudos to Australia-based strategic designer Vince Frost of Frost* collective for recording this podcast with The Douglas Brothers, Andrew and Stuart.

Whether they realized it or not, the Douglas Brothers played an instrumental role in my life when they recommended me to their apparently one and only advertising agency client at the time, the brilliant copywriter Tim Delaney of the then Leagas Delaney Partnership, on the basis of my having come up with the idea of ‘not only Black+White’ magazine.

I had travelled to the UK as the magazine’s European Contributing Editor several years after its founding in order to meet some of the great photographers I had been working on articles with remotely, via telephone, in those days before everyone used email, chat and the World Wide Web as they do now.

I was rewarded with considerable time spent face-to-face with many of them, met plenty more of them and better yet experienced an acceptance and a respect from all entirely unknown to me back in Australia before or since.

My experience with The Douglas Brothers was a standout, and that is saying something.

Their work, their experiences and backgrounds had some key similarities to my own, enough to amply validate a saying I had long shared with my photography students over the years before leaving Western Australia, “Be yourself, only, more so”.

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Self-portrait © by The Douglas Brothers.

The Douglas Brothers’ approach to portrait photography came about through the same lack of time allocated with their subjects, lack of funds available for the best and most versatile equipment and back then a lack of recognition from potential clients able to grant them real money for their work.

That recognition was about to come, though, due to the way that photographers overseas were not locked into career-limiting labels like magazine photographer or newspaper photographer as apparently occurs here in Australia still.

At the time I met them, The Douglas Brothers had begun producing longer-form television commercials, evolving beyond the 10-second spots with which they broke into directing, their TV work possessing as much the unique Douglas Brothers stamp as their photographs.

They truly were being themselves, only, more so, a lesson that should have been well-heeded by the students  mentioned in a comment made by Stuart Douglas in an article for advertising industry bible Campaign:

On their photographic style: ‘We used to see students’ photography portfolios with work that identically copied ours, only it was better. We never knew how to take this,’ Stuart comments.

During the time I worked at The Leagas Delaney Partnership, now simply named Leagas Delaney, I encountered quite a few young photographers toting portfolios of work copying that of their idols though The Douglas Brothers did not count among them.

My advice to those fresh young wannabes?

“Be yourself, only, more so.”

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