Saturday, October 23, 2021

Recent books

I like going through the photography section in the library. I think they rotate the stock of books between the libraries. Between one visit and the next a whole bunch of older books might show up, and periodically some newer ones. 

Seeking Stillness by Olivier Du Tre. 
I think I've read this before but can't find a photo of the cover. It's all black and white landscapes, and as advertised, quiet and serene. It turns out that the reader's lighting is really important. I started reading while sitting in a chair facing the sunny south windows, and had so much light coming in that most of the images were really dark, and most of the shapes were blobs. Once I moved it got a lot better.

Rainbow Revolution by Magnus Hastings. 
Colour! Provocative! Imaginative! And a whole lot more. This is what you get when you give creative people a white box to pose in, with any props they want to bring along to pose with, and anything goes. I can just imagine the setup (and take down) time required for some of the shots, and the number of tries to get it perfect. 

I like looking through photography books to get ideas about what other photographers are doing, what they think are good images, what the models think are good images, and all the associated props and poses and lighting and effects and on and on. There's some fabulous ideas here, though let's just say I'm not going to suggest some of them to some of my potential models.

Some of these photos are in your face, and I know people that would be upset by them. They'd probably be upset by the whole book, what with the creative explorations of gender identity and expression. The world is bigger than what the binary sex cisgender white bread world imagines it to be. 

I'm just now thinking of the contrast between Seeking Stillness and Rainbow Revolution. Going from a book of quiet, subdued landscapes done on B&W film to the exuberant portraits was a bit of a shift. A lot of a shift, but it makes me think about images and their place in the world and the images that I want to produce. 

It's easy enough to create a unique image out of all the billions of images that have been produced. I just need to step into the back patio and take a photo of the garden. The combination of plants, this time of the year, the lighting, the equipment and settings will be unique. Boring, but unique. Or take a photo with the settings screwed up, or with a damaged lens, or expired film, you get the idea. That will be unique, and might be interesting, but much more likely is just a bad photo, another one in a near infinity of them.

I want to produce images that are interesting and have a particular flavour of unique. My particular flavour. I can sometimes recognize other photographer's work without seeing their name, regardless of subject. One of my goals is to produce images that hit a sweet spot of technically good, unique, interesting, and recognizably mine even without the watermark. I'll probably be working on this the rest of my life. 

Technically many, perhaps even most images are unique, but often you can't tell. Two skyline or landscape photos taken at the same time from the same vantage point are likely going to look pretty darn similar, unless the photographers deliberately try to make them look different.

Sean and I were discussing this during our ramble in Bowmont Park yesterday. So many Instagram photos are commercial products to generate likes from the lowest common denominator. Or if not the lowest, a low one. Instagram is a terrible platform to share photos on. So many are not interesting, at least to me, but then, I'm not Instagram's audience. There are people surprised I'm on Instagram, and I'm surprised too some days.

In another sense, we've been taking photos of people since cameras were invented, so that part isn't unique. Individuals are, but unless the person has really striking looks, it's just ho hum another photo of a person. (Unless you happen to be related to that person, or you're a cop looking for that person, or a model selling your particular image, or a few other ors.) 

So, how to take interesting photos? Find interesting things or people to shoot. Find or create great light. Find or create a theme or a hook that ties the photos together.  Or become so famous that your photos are declared good regardless of their actual merit. In today's society that might actually be the easiest way. 

The 100 best Celebrity Photos. (from People magazine.) 
You've seen most of these photos before. Maybe all of them if you're a celebrity kind of person. However lots were new to me, but generally the most interesting part was some text putting context around the photo, plus saying who's in the photo, when it was taken, and by whom. It's interesting seeing famous people when they were young.

One Face Fifty Ways by Imogen Dyer and Mark Wilkinson. The cover pretty well says it all. If you're a new photographer interested in shooting people this is a great book to get. Not too technical, or condescending, but some good info to get you started. There were some good reminders for me. It's interesting to see how different the same face can look under different conditions.

In other reading, The Truth be Told by Beverly McLachlin was surprisingly good. It's not just the story how a girl born in Pincher Creek during WWII became the Chief Justice of Canada's Supreme Court. It's a story about how roles for women have changed over that time, how the law has changed. The rule of law is fundamental to a civilized society, and she gives a bit of a window behind the scenes of how and why that works. 

While reading I was reminded of the time I watched a video of a Supreme Court hearing. One of my buddies was a lawyer arguing part of the case (Canadian Egg Marketing Agency v. Richardson, [1998] 3 S.C.R. 157) and it was fascinating to hear her commentary while we were watching the video.

One of the things that pisses me off big time is someone ranting and raving about some issue and who's fault it is or who should do something about it, and getting the order of government wrong. Meaning they are mad at the province (probably because they disagree with the ideology of it, or the gender of the party leader (you would be disgusted by the things some Albertans said about Rachel Notley), and it's a federal issue. Or maybe they get the law wrong, or quote American law, or maybe they're just making it up out of their imagination.

One recent example is our municipal election. As if sorting through 27 mayoral candidates wasn't enough, the province inserted a couple questions. One was about equalization and the other about senators. Now, these are purely federal matters. The easy one is senators, the Prime Minister of the day can appoint anyone they like to be a senator. The qualifications for the job are trivially easy to meet (although one did fail) and it's easy well paid work with an amazing pension. Every politician in Canada dreams of being appointed to the Senate. It's one of the major clubs the Prime Minister can use to keep their MPs in line.

Equalization is complicated and I'm not going to get into it here. There are probably only a few dozen people that actually fully understand it. I'm pretty sure that none of them live in Alberta. Again, this is a purely federal matter. Kenney is looking for leverage to change it, and is hoping nobody remembers that he helped create and voted for the current version of it. It isn't going to change no matter what the vote results are, or how much Kenney threatens to hold his breath till he turns blue. The whole issue is Kenney posturing to his base.

Mayors gone Bad was fun. So many bad mayors, so many ways to go wrong, with some of them being mind bogglingly stupid. My mom once told me that anyone that wanted to be a politician shouldn't be allowed to have the job. Most of the mayors mentioned in the book are classic examples of why. 

Our about to be former Mayor, Naheed Nenshi was listed as one of the three good mayors in the book. I'm wondering when the research on him was done in relation to the Olympic bid and Flames arena debacles. It's probably good for him that he didn't run again, because I don't think he would have won. This way he can go out on his own terms as a winner, and move on to whatever is next for him. He is not quite 50, so I doubt he's going to retire and write his memoirs. It will be interesting to see what he gets up to.

Of the Day



Eagle. This gives you a sense of just how big it is. 


  1. Thanks for the book suggestions. They all sound interesting. It's been awhile since I spent time browsing in the library. Maybe I'll add that to my list for next week.

    Thanks too for your take on McLachlin's book. It's on my reading list, but I've got a large stack ahead of it. Really appreciated your political rant. I have many of the same frustrations. And people like Kenney who exploit people's ignorance make my blood boil.

    Look forward to seeing where you go with photographing people. Are you planning to set up a studio or rely on more natural lighting?

  2. That is a nice set of books. You are lucky to have a browsable collection of art and photography books. Our local library in the NE does not have a browsable collection. In terms of looking at the work of others, I am reminded of a quote that goes something like "it is important to look at great art, and equally important to forget you have seen it". This in some tangental fashion leads me to add to our discussion on Friday. A quest for uniqueness is a false god. Perhaps the more fulfilling quest is to be true to whatever we love at the time, and that can be anything from cracks in pavement to Victorian tea spoons. I still maintain that the photograph knows when we care, and so does the viewer. Cheers, Sean


Looking forward to reading your comment!