Lock-down in pictures – a photo a day

With New Zealand going into a 4 week lockdown (which ended being a little longer, running to 33 days in total) I decided to create a photo series documenting our personal life in lockdown. To suit the classic documentary style I opted for black and white. So this is a personal pictorial document of the New Zealand Covid-19 lock-down 2020.

NZIPP Iris Awards 2019

After entering my work into the Iris Awards for the first time in 2018, I was all fired up to go big in 2019. However, as is often the case life got in the way and I only ended up creating two images for the competition at the last minute.

Ended up with two bronzes, which I am fairly content with under the circumstances.

Two sides of Jacob.
Printed on lustre paper and window mounted.
“Bronze” in the Portrait Open category.
Infrared eucalypt.
Printed on matt paper and window mounted.
“Bronze” in the Landscape Category – Landscape In-Camera Section.

NZIPP Iris Awards 2018

My first time entering the Iris Awards. Working for myself I could never justify the cost of entering (including the professional printing etc) but thankfully teaching part-time at UCOL has meant that I can enter at academic rates and be supported by the organisation.

Entered 5 images and got awarded one Silver with Distinction, three Bronze and one Professional Standard. Pretty pleased, seeing that only one of the images was taken specifically for the competition, while the rest were taken from my normal work portfolio.

Plastic triptych.
Printed on matt textured paper and flush mounted.
“Silver with Distinction” in the Illustrative category
Forest reflected.
Printed on lustre paper and window mounted.
“Bronze” in the Landscape Open category
Fantasy graveyard.
Printed on matt paper and window mounted.
“Bronze” in the Landscape Open category.
New Zealand farm.
Printed on matt paper and window mounted.
“Bronze” in the Landscape Open category.
Whitebait buggies.
Printed on lustre paper and window mounted.
“Professional Standard” in the Landscape category.

Innovative new camera system for tracking fast-moving objects

I just read about an amazing new camera system that certainly falls squarely in the domain of ‘science photography’.

The system, called the Dynamic Target Tracking Camera System, is currently under development at the University of Tokyo’s Ishikawa Uko Laboratory. What makes it newsworthy is its amazing ability to track fast-moving objects, as shown in this impressive demonstration video:

From a design point of view, this is one of those wonderful examples where innovation is achieved by taking a novel approach the problem at hand. Instead of trying to develop a system that can move a (rather heavy) camera quickly enough to track an object, the system contains two mirrors, one panning and one tilting, which can, through their combined movement, track objects moving at very high speeds. The camera system used with the mirrors can film objects at a rate of one image per 1/1000th of a second, allowing for great slow-motion playback.

Beyond its ability to track ping-pong balls in a lab environment, the Dynamic Target Tracking Camera System has massive potential in the real world, particularly in fast action sports such as tennis, cricket and baseball. In addition to being a great tool for umpiring, it could potentially enable some very interesting and unique slow motion playbacks.

As a second, equally impressive, application, the system can also be used to project images onto an object, as shown to very amusing effect in the above video. I am sure this also has huge real-world potential, particularly in the marketing and promotions space – imagine a sports brand projecting it’s logo onto the ball in a basketball game, for example.

No doubt a system like this can also potentially enable be a whole new dimension in computer gaming – just imagine all the potential applications!

I just love the concept – definitely an innovation worth keeping an eye on!

Celebrating the legendary portrait photographer, Yousuf Karsh

It’s 13 July, and today we commemorate the death, 11 years ago, of one of the true greats of portrait photography, Yousuf Karsh (23 December 1908 – 13 July 2002).

Of Armenian descent, Karsh was sent by his family to Canada at the age of 16, where he went to live with his uncle, a photographer. He started assisting in his uncle’s studio, and quickly showed potential as a photographer himself. After a stint as apprentice with US portrait photographer John Garo, Karsh returned to Canada to start his own business in 1931. After five years he had his first solo exhibition at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottowa, Ontario. His relationship with the hotel continued for many years, and in 1973 he moved his studio into the hotel, from where he continued to operate until his retirement in 1992.

Karsh’s skill as a portrait photographer attracted many high profile clients, but it was a portrait of Winston Churchill, shot in 1941, that elevated him to legendary status. It is claimed that his Churchill portrait is the most reproduced photographic portrait in history. After this image, having your portrait done by Karsh became a celebrity status symbol – of the 100 most notable people of the 20th century (named by the International Who’s Who in 2000), Karsh had photographed 51. George Perry, a journalist with the Sunday Times, succinctly described the prominence of Yousuf Karsh as portrait photographer to the famous and important, when he said, “when the famous start thinking of immortality, they call for Karsh of Ottawa.”

The famous 1941 Karsh portrait of Winston Churchill. According to legend, Karsh only had a few minutes to photograph the great man - quite a daunting prospect. When Churchill entered the room where the portrait was to be taken, he appeared in a fowl mood, seemingly less than keen on the photo shoot. This attitude actually suited Karsh, who relished the challenge to capture his subject's character in his photographs. However, he thought the fact that Churchill had a cigar stuck between his teeth wouldn't work in the portrait, so he instinctively reached out and removed the cigar. This really aggrevated Churchill - his scowl deepened, he thrust his head forward and he angrily placed his hand on his hip. Noticing that this was the perfect moment, Karsh took the picture, and immortalised Churchill in a pose of unconquerable defiance. Despite being difficult during the shoot, Churchill acknowledged Karsh's photographic mastery - he is quoted as saying "You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed." This prompted Karch to title the portrait 'The Roaring Lion'.
The famous 1941 Karsh portrait of Winston Churchill. According to legend, Karsh only had a few minutes to photograph the great man – quite a daunting prospect. When Churchill entered the room where the portrait was to be taken, he appeared in a fowl mood, seemingly less than keen on the photo shoot. This attitude actually suited Karsh, who relished the challenge to capture his subject’s character in his photographs. However, he thought the fact that Churchill had a cigar stuck between his teeth wouldn’t work in the portrait, so he instinctively reached out and removed the cigar. This really aggrevated Churchill – his scowl deepened, he thrust his head forward and he angrily placed his hand on his hip. Noticing that this was the perfect moment, Karsh took the picture, and immortalised Churchill in a pose of unconquerable defiance.
Despite being difficult during the shoot, Churchill acknowledged Karsh’s photographic mastery – he is quoted as saying “You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed.” This prompted Karch to title the portrait ‘The Roaring Lion’.

Karsh’s mastery of studio lighting was legendary, and he has become associated with a number of distinctive lighting techniques. Lighting the face, Karsh often used two lights placed somewhat behind his subject, on either side, resulting in light bouncing off the sides of both sides of the face, towards the camera. This lighting setup resulted in distinctive highlights on both sides of the subject’s face, with the centre of the face slightly darker.

A portrait I did using the double strip-light lighting technique favoured by Karsh, to create a distinctive double rim-light effect on the face.
A portrait I did using the double strip-light lighting technique favoured by Karsh, to create a distinctive double rim-light effect on the face.

Another unique Karsh trait was to very pertinently light his model’s hands, often with a separate light dedicated to illuminating the hands. In this way he elevated the hands from being mere appendages to being ‘stars’ in their own right in the portrait.

All his classic portraits were shot on a large format Calumet camera dating from the 1940s.

Yousuf Karsh’s legacy looms large over the portrait photography domain, especially in Canada, where he has been honoured through events such as ‘Festival Karsh’, and through the establishment of the ‘Karsh Prize’, recognising Ottowa-based photographic artists.

His work has been included in the permanent collections of many of the top galleries in the world, including the National Galleries of Canada, France and Australia, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film.

Ditching the drinks during Dry July

It’s the start of the month of July. For many in the southern hemisphere that means lots of snow, thermal undies, down jackets and snuggling up to a fire with a glass of fine red wine, while our northern hemisphere friends undoubtably think about beaches, sunblock, ice cream and a frosty lager.

An alternative approach to the month, however, is as a great detox opportunity – this month is also known (in New Zealand, at least) as Dry July, a challenge to go without alcohol for the whole month. To quote the Dry July website, “Dry July is a non-profit organisation determined to improve the lives of adults living with cancer through an online social community giving up booze for the month of July.”

Those who take up the challenge are known as DJ’s, or Dry-Julyers. You can either do it on your own as a personal challenge, or formally sign up and have a go at raising funds for the Dry July charity, thereby potentially helping those living with cancer towards an improved quality of life.

Refrain from pouring your favourite tipple for the month of July. (© All Rights Reserved)
Refrain from pouring your favourite tipple for the month of July.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Dry July started in 2008 as a challenge among friends, but even in its first year close to a thousand people participated and more than $ 250 000 was fundraised. The initiative has gone from strength to strength, and to date more than $ 11 million has been raised.

Even if you only enjoy the occasional social tipple, giving up for a month is not easy – there are always special occasions, social events, parties and more where we typically enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. It’s all about self-discipline, for your own health and wellbeing, and to support a good cause. Not to mention the amount of money you can save by ditching the drink for a month!

So, cheers to a Dry July. I see lots of water, fruit juice, coffee and tea in my immediate future!

Remembering Bert Stern, commercial and celebrity photographer

I just read about the death, two days ago, of Bert Stern (3 October 1929 – 26 June 2013), the commercial and celebrity photographer who made his name in the 1960s as being one of a group of photographers who revolutionised commercial photography from being merely illustrative to being a valid form of conceptual art.

stern_smirnoffOf his commercial images, a shot of a martini glass with an inverted image of the Pyramid of Giza showing through the glass, done for a Smirnoff advert, remains one of his most enduring commercial images.

A self-taught photographer, Stern’s style was generally clear and uncluttered. His best-known work was probably his 3-day shoot (for Vogue Magazine) with Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death in 1962. The shoot resulted in some 2500 images, including some of the most enduring images of the iconic actress. (Years later, he did a similar session with Lindsay Lohan, trying to replicate the success of his Marilyn images, but these were widely criticised as being exploitative and tawdry.)

He also photographed many other famous models and actresses from the 1960s onwards, another of his most recognisable images being an evocative portrait of 13-year old actress Sue Lyon posing with a red lollipop and heart-shaped sunglasses – this became the poster-image for Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film version of Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’.

lolita_kubrick_film_cover

Stern’s work is featured in the International Museum of Photography, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Chewing gum, barcodes and conspiracies

It’s 26 June, and it was on this day 39 years ago that an inconspicuous little pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum hit the spotlight, to become perhaps the most famous packet of chewing gum in modern history – it became the first barcoded product to be scanned in a supermarket, fundamentally changing the way we shop.

A testbed barcode system was installed in a supermarket in Troy, Ohio (near the factory producing the barcode scanning equipment), and at 8:01 on the morning of 26 June 1974, an unsuspecting shopper, Clyde Dawson, presented a packet of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum to the supermarket teller, Sharon Buchanan, who successfully scanned the product’s Universal Product Code (UPC). Sadly for Dawson, he never got to eat his chewing gum – the pack of gum, together with its receipt, is now on display in the Smithsonian Institute, representing the first commercial appearance of the UPC. (I can only assume he was well compensated for this special little item.)

A barcoded pack of chewing gum - it may be a common sight today, but in 1974 it was special enough to end up in the Smithsonian Institute. (© All Rights Reserved)
A barcoded pack of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit chewing gum – it may be a common sight today, but in 1974 it was special enough to end up in the Smithsonian Institute.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The introduction of barcode scanning at the supermarket checkout introduced a number of benefits – it simplified the job of the teller, who no longer had to key in the price of each item, it reduced human input errors, and it captured a lot more sales information for the shop, thus allowing them to to achieve greater responsiveness to customer needs and buying trends. Barcodes on products have also significantly reduced the price tag swapping technique of shoplifting.

Shops in the US converted consistently over time, and by the early 80’s, 8000 stores per year were adopting the UPC. Adoption soon spread internationally, causing a fair amount of consternation among conspiracy theorists, who considered the barcode a visible and intrusive example of ‘big brother’ watching and monitoring their personal shopping habits.

From the retail sector the use of barcodes has spread to a wide range of application domains – healthcare centres and hospitals use it for patient identification and medication management. Postal services use it to track and trace mail. It is used as part of ticketing at events and transportation services. Barcodes have even appeared in art, for example Scott Blake’s Barcode Jesus.

It is certainly impossible to imagine modern life without the familiar little striped strip that appears on almost everything we deal with in our daily life, except perhaps for fresh produce. But times change, and slowly but surely so do the barcodes we see around us. These days more and more products are appearing carrying so-called Quick Response (QR) codes – probably the most popular 2D (or matrix) barcode – which can represent more data per unit area.

But that, as they say in the classics, is a story for another day…

Winter solstice in the South

It’s 21 June, it’s Winter Solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere, and at just after 5pm in the afternoon in New Zealand, the shortest day of the year is already dwindling fast.

And what a winter solstice it has been for the country – some of the worst snow storms in recorded history covering much of the South Island in a thick white blanket, while other areas are bludgeoned by extreme tropical storms. Over the last two days, the capital Wellington has been one of the worst hit areas, with flooding and winds of up to 200km/h.

A chilly winter solstice down south. (© All Rights Reserved)
A chilly winter solstice down south.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Scary stuff, but then again, winter solstice does kind of give one that feeling that from here it can only get better – longer days, increasing temperatures, new growth, new life…

And if nothing else, crisp winter mornings are just the greatest for some amazing frosty photo opportunities all around us. That’s the joy of photography – no matter how cold, or how extreme the conditions, there’s always something amazing to photograph (often the more extreme, the better, in fact!).

To everyone in the southern hemisphere, enjoy the opportunities the cold bring. And for my northern friends, have a great summers day (hard to imagine down here, I have to admit)!