Monday, December 8, 2008

Monkey of the Day

Another monkey from Tito's collection of stuffed admirers... Lena Philipson photo.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Children Of the Mangroves Redux

--Archive Photos--

A Salvadoran boy in El Espino, 2006

A Roma girl in Ukraine, 2008

LUND--I am (I hope) declaring "News From El Salvador: The Children of the Mangroves" finished, done, complete--at least in its present form. There were always some parts I wanted to tighten, a music track to add, a short interview to add and one or two or three parts of different interviews to cut. That is all done, finally, and if it isn't perfect then it will remain imperfect until I go back and spend a month in El Espino getting the footage the film deserves for a second incarnation. But this incarnation is done and better still, it is accompanied by a 20 minute short version that concentrates solely on the currileros, the clam-digging children of the mangroves. The short omits a lot of the background interviews and footage on the state of El Salvador today and though most of the footage it contains is present in the long version they are really different films. But both, along with a slide show, are contained on the DVD.

It is good to get that finished. I want to go back and will just as soon as I can find the funding to do so. But in the meantime I have been putting new galleries up on my website so go and check out Faces of Transcarpathia and one of a Roma settlement outside of Barackzas, Transcarpathia. Both were taken this summer while I was in Ukraine with SARA. If the unrelenting black and white social documentary gets to you then check out Swedish Summertime in Skåne for a colorful look at the lighter side of life. Now it is time to begin editing the Ukraine footage in earnest.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Monkey of the Day

Here we have a sad, stuffed monkey from Tito's museum of sad, stuffed animals...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From the Archives: Semana Santa in Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras, 2006

LUND--When I went to Central America a few years ago I shot a fair amount of film as usual. That was the trip, however, that I discovered SARA and was introduced to the currileros. Upon return most of my energy was put into printing shows of that one subject and raising money to make the film, "News From El Salvador: The Children of the Mangroves" which I finished this winter. Many of the printed stills, in fact, were taken digitally with a Nikon D1x though many were shot with the Leica as well. The point remains, anyway, that the huge majority of the film I shot on that trip has never been scanned or printed. The additional fact is, out of a four month trip no more than two weeks were spent in El Salvador. In other words there is a large amount of widely varied material from around Honduras and Guatemala.

A while back I began chatting with a guy working at a local photo lab. Turns out he is an American named Justin who has lived here about nine years. The other day I asked him if he could give me some tips on my negative scanner as he is not only a knowledgeable and skilled photographer but a highly experienced lab man. So he came over and gave me some tips on my Nikon CoolScan V and then we tried to unravel the mysteries of Sweden and the Swedes. I don't know if we accomplished that but we did manage to scan this picture (shot on Ilford HP5 with a Voigtlander 15mm on the M6) drink a few beers and have a good conversation.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Salva-dillo: From the Archives...

USULATAN PROVINCE--We turned from the main highway down a narrow, two-lane road that until only a few years ago had been a dirt track that often washed out during the rainy season leaving the coast cut off from the rest of the world. We saw these two boys playing with their pet, perhaps future dinner, and I asked the driver to stop. The armadillo didn't seem all that happy with the attention, would most likely have been off doing whatever it is that armadillos do, but he posed politely anyway.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Was I Thinking Anyway??

LUND--I don't want a D700. I want a Nikon D3. Of course I want a D3. Yeah, the 700 is smaller but not so much smaller I'd carry it anytime I wouldn't carry a D3. If I wanted a small, easy to carry SLR that would be a D40 or D40x. Even if it is an amateur model it is still an SLR and takes real lenses. And if I really want to carry a small camera it would probably not be SLR time anyway but pocket camera time. So there, that is it, this time I mean it. The D3. Now I just need $4,500. But I did finally get a Swedish freelance job today. It even pays real money. Just not that much...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Monkey of the Day

Nikon D700

LUND--I went by one of the local camera stores the other day and played with the new Nikon D700 with the full-frame sensor. Awesome. Incredibly fast. It had a 50mm f1.8 lens. The auto-focus version of my very first lens. It is a big camera but not nearly as large as the old D1x or the D3. And so much faster than the D1x. Did I mention the full frame sensor. And a big, big focusing screen. I use a lot of manual lenses on the D1x and the screen is really tiny. My eyes are good but I have to be very careful with that screen not to be slightly off-focus. The old screen of the FM was a true luxury. Anyway, I like, I want, a D700. Good job Nikon. Now if you'd only make a digital FM. Basically something digital like the FM3, I would be happy. And don't trick up the body. Make it as close as possible to the FM design that worked so well for so many years (and still does).

Now the question. Why does Nikon, who does and has always done so well with their SLRs (and rangefinders for that matter) make such unsatisfactory point and shoots?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Monkey of the Day

A booth on Stortorget in Lund for the Jehova's Witnesses. Apparently they don't believe in monkeys...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Things I Carried Redux

LUND--Now I know everyone of you three or four people who read this has been waiting with bated breath to find out how I fared with my camera equipment and well, here, finally, is the answer. I do think, given what I have, which is plenty and I shouldn't complain but I will, worked fine. It was all the correct choice. But I am rather a stickler about equipment and I am not satisfied.

First, the Panasonic DVC60. It is an excellent camera and takes great video under every situation and has never given me any trouble. And the shoulder mount can be nice. But it isn't a terribly good solution for someone doing what I am doing. It just is too big. It is physically large and given that I am never going to give up taking stills too much to carry. It might be viable for a person completely dedicated to motion pictures. However, that being said it is, especially for a lone cameraman, obtrusive. If you were backing up a reporter who already got the, "I am invading your life." stuff out of the way it would be pretty perfect. But I am, to date, solo. I am not discounting or ignoring all the people who pave the way for me, translate, drive, fix and explain, but I am alone in the reporting business with no other person to shift the attention off of away from the BIG FRIGGIN CAMERA AND THE OTHER TWO AROUND MY NECK.

The Leica M6ttl performed splendidly as usual but here in Sweden getting 24 rolls of 36 exposure Kodak 400CN developed, no prints only crappy scans to CD cost nearly $300. That ain't near the price of a digital Leica M8 but it's a statistically significant portion. The old Leica Digilux 1 also performed nicely but, well, it just is a very old cmera in digital terms. Still, I am very happy with it. For lack of a better term it takes magical pictures, at 4 mega-pixels, and, well, a lot of contemporary cameras should be ashamed. But still it is not what it could be in terms of modern technology. Still, I will keep using it, at least in certain circumstances, for a long time to come. It is truly an outstanding picture-taker and deserving of cult status.

But here, I think, is what I want. Like Jimmy Carter for other women, I lust in my heart after a Leica M8 but unlike Mr. Carter I find that no sin. Or maybe I do. I put the M6 away today and had a good hour of near panic attack. But right now I cannot afford the film and cannot afford the temptation to load it up and then have that film to develop. The M8 sounds good but, practically speaking I need a new SLR. The old D1x is just that, old. And maybe I need to reevaluate it because it takes very fine photos but it too is big and unwieldy and I often and am not prone to carry it. So perhaps a Nikon D300 or full sensor D700.

As for the video camera, the Panasonic DVC30 with the tiny Sennheiser MK400 microphone would, I think, be ideal. So there, that video camera, the Nikon D700 with the 55mm Micro Nikkor and 20mm Nikkor, and the Leica M6 with just the 50mm Summicron and black and white film. Because it is expensive but if the subject is right I'm not ready to give up changing a piece of reality forever by making the choice to expose some film, of recording history. And of having with me a camera that will keep working without the need to charge a battery.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Few Photos

Sue Keller, one of the SARA delegation, sent me some photos she took of me on the trip to Ukraine.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Friday, July 18, 2008

Once More Into the Scrubs Dear Friends

MUNCACHEVO--I filmed some surgeries in Ukraine for the first time since Hospital Regional de Occidente in Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras a few years ago. I remember when I first filmed and photographed surgery, back at that hospital in 2000, I was very excited and enjoyed the experience very much. It was, and it still is, a great privilege, to watch and to document many talented and dedicated physicians at work. In this case it was Ukrainian orthopedic surgeon Dr. Yuri Demjan. And it brought to mind watching many procedures in Honduras, most memorably those with the brilliant reconstructive work of Columbus, Ohio plastic surgeon Dr. Les Mohler and anesthesiologist Dr. Paul Potter.

But there is somewhat of a limit to enjoying surgery, at least when one isn't actually doing it (and that I wouldn't know although I have always taken great pride in my splinter-removal technique). After a while, at least to the camera, the most fascinating surgery becomes a bunch of masked people, intently clustered around a big blue or green sheet, digging in a small, bloody square of flesh. And pretty much that's it. Often for hours on end. And the next case, no matter how interesting, looks pretty much the same while it's going on. The truly fascinating parts are before and after. Meeting the people, both the doctors and the patients who are about to go under he knife. And then afterwards, seeing them or their relatives and how this procedure has changed their lives.

And that is the true pleasure. Of seeing how the doctors of groups like SARA or CAMO have changed lives by fixing a spine or a cleft lip or any number of other procedures. Of how, most importantly, they have helped train local doctors to keep doing the work day in and day out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Return From Transcarpathia

LUND--I would say that overall the trip was a success. Over the month I was pulled in many different directions and shown a rather vast overview of SARA projects around Transcarpathia. I shot 24 rolls of 36 exposure black and white film, a lot of digital and I haven't counted the tapes yet but they add up to many, many hours. I don't, however, think I have a full-length documentary. There are too many pieces and disparate themes to tie together in that way. Fortunately, however, in speaking with the SARA team, what they want (as I suspected they would) are shorter films. When they are speaking to a group there simply isn't time to do that and to show an hour-long film. So, News From El Salvador, which only mentions SARA in the credits, as it is a stand-alone, film, as straightly journalistic as I could make it, will be something of a prestige project. I will now edit for them a short (10-15 minute) film based on the El Salvador footage and then a similar length film detailing the projects in Ukraine. From there I will make several short, reportage films on different subjects I encountered. The State run mental hospital in the Carpathian mountains, the gypsy settlement outside of Baraczsasz etc. Check back as new galleries will be posted on the website soon and new stories on the blogs, both from Transcarpathia and from life here, back in Sweden.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Design for New Point and Shoot

LUND--Since Leitz listened to me so well about the design of the M8, minus a few details of course, but pretty much exactly what I asked for (other than them sending me one or two free ones and some lenses) I have decided to tell them how to design another camera.

My first digital camera, bought in 2002 shortly after returning from Honduras, was their Digilux 1. For those unfamiliar with the Digilux 1, it is a 4 megapixel camera with a relatively large and fast variable f2-2.5 Leica Vario-Summicron lens. In many ways it is a large and glorified point and shoot. It is roughly the same size and shape as the old American made Argus C3 (in other words shaped like a brick). This, in itself, is ironic as the C3 was an inexpensive rangefinder that Argus sold zillions of to people who couldn't afford Leicas! The styling of the Digilux 1 is determinedly retro and people are always surprised to discover it is, in fact, a digital machine. What sets the D1 (as I will call it from now on, but not to be confused with Nikon's SLR of the same designation) apart are several things. For a P&S it is very fast. There is a very short lag time between pushing the button and the picture being taken. It is stunningly, almost creepily quiet. It has a built in flash as well as a hot-shoe. Covering the large and sharp back screen is a removable hood and the whole thing is well and solidly built. It won't fit in anything but a large pocket but it is meant more as a working camera, big enough to hold steady and able to hang around the neck above or below (as you see fit to work) your film M6 (or M3, MP, M7 or whatever). And for being a mere 4 megapixels it produces beautiful pictures that kick the crap out of most but the most recent P&S cameras. The pictures are far better than the general crop of pocket sized snappers even though they brag 8, 10 and even more million pixels. Still, all that being said, 4 is really not quite enough in the end. Were this camera to have 6 I would be almost completely happy with it. Still, it is the digital I am going to take with me to Ukraine along with my M6ttl loaded with black and white film. Since I am going there with the primary purpose of making a movie I think these two will do fine indeed for the stills.

But this brings me to what Leica needs to do--are you listening you horde of lens-polishing Huns? You über-machinist Boche? Efficient and meticulous Kraut bastards? Don't make me come over there and get all 8th Air Force on your lederhosen-wearing butts.

What we need is a very, very fine P&S. It is OK for it to be a bit on the large size, we need to be able to hold onto it. It should be shaped like the M series cameras, perhaps the size of, or even a little bigger than the Canon G9. It should be made of metal. And it should be ALL BLACK with no shiny areas except one cool little red dot. Or, for those who like it as such, come in a traditional black and silver body AS WELL. Its lens should retract into the body, leaving the camera at least basically flat on both sides, a short, protruding flange protecting the lens is OK, however. The camera should come in a zoom-lens model (about 28-135mm) as well as in fixed 50mm and 35mm models with correspondingly better and faster optics. It should have a built in flash as well as a hot-shoe and the controls should be simple. It should shoot in RAW, have a larger sensor than a normal P&S, and have a finely-tuned black and white mode with the ability to set it to shoot both color and black and white simultaneously just as many cameras will shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time. It should be around 10 megapixel and, if you can do it, have dual card slots. There, that's pretty much it. If you have any questions get in touch. Don't make me get all up and Patton in your face.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

LUND--A little over two years ago I spent four months in Central America working and studying and traveling with Katy Kropf. It was in El Salvador that I was introduced to the coastal fishing communities that I would make the documentary film about I recently finished. After we got back to the US I put all my energy into that project and, more or less, the only negatives and digital files I worked with were those relating to that project. The other three and a half months of negatives have been neglected. The other day I went in the darkroom here at Hemgarden, the local community center and printed these. I photographed them then and in low light so they are less than sharp. But at least it is a start.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Things I Carried

LUND--Movie making is a complex business in the best of circumstances. This statement would seem laughably self-evident, but the more one becomes involved in this insane business the more evident the complexity of the undertaking becomes. Before I left Wooster for Sweden I helped my friends Adam and Rhio Ginther and their fledging production company Nightmare Pictures film a zombie movie (soon to be released). Even on the set of The Rising Dead, as close to a no-budget movie as is possible (one's time, gasoline and tape still cost money even if the actors are unpaid and the equipment borrowed) I became thankful that, at least for now, I am not involved in making fiction cinema. I may have to crawl through swamps, interview people in other languages, carry thousands of dollars of equipment in unstable, crime-ridden places and remember to take my malaria pills but at least I don't have to deal with actors.

On the other hand, not dealing with actors or any other willing hands means I have to do the whole thing pretty much by myself and that is a mixed bag. The more you do on your own the more there is to worry about, the more there is to forget or to simply be unable to accomplish. I simply cannot film, take stills and, for example, hold a microphone boom alone so, often, I have to keep the microphone on the camera and not as close as I would like to the interviewee. Of course to say I made the last film all on my own is, in point of fact, absurd. SARA funded it, John Gilberg made my plane reservations, Dr. Jake Kuttothara drove me to the airport, Mike Butcher helped me with technical equipment issues and picked me up at the airport, Leonidas Maravilla drove me all over El Salvador and carried my still-camera bag when I was shooting video and my video bag when I shot stills and on and on. In the editing process Jesse Ewing designed the DVD cover and Jeff Pasek composed the instrumental soundtrack. Still, if I hadn't had Jesse I would have made the cover myself and I at least tried my hand for a while attempting to compose music in GarageBand. If you have a DVD of Robert Rodriguez's "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" watch the extra short film, "Ten Minute Film School." Rodriguez in no way makes movies all by himself. On the other hand he is now shooting digitally and personally does a lot of the editing, music and filming, involved in every step and thus in control of every step.

So this is my situation, in the end it is me that is responsible in every way for the finished outcome of my documentaries. I get all the credit (except where other credit is due and duly given) and I take all the blame as well if there is any to be apportioned. I would like, very much in the future to have, sometimes anyway, another person to work with. Someone to talk out problems and simply to talk to at the end of the day. In El Salvador I ate a lot of lonely meals with nothing but my notebook to keep me company or to hash out the day's and the next day's shooting. It would be a boon to have someone to help carry the equipment, have a second camera running and a second pair of eyes. But that is not for now. Which brings me to my dilemma. Those who know me know I spend a lot of time obsessing about packing. Frankly I think it is a form of personal therapy, a meditation exercise with practical applications. I envision my backpack, my camera bags, the contents of my pockets both before the plane flight and afterwards. I think of what I will need in, one hopes, any situation I will find myself, what I can and cannot manage to carry and how it will all work together. I have been trying to figure out, then, what cameras I will take.

Before I was doing much video this was still an issue but a much smaller one. In my old Domke bag I am able to fit my Leica M6 with its 50mm Summicron, 15mm Voigtlander and 135mm Hector, my Nikon D1x with a 17-35mm 2.8 zoom and a Tamron 28-300 zoom (that, although has taken some excellent pictures I am not happy with) a big Metz flash and a 55mm MicroNikkor manual focus lens. This bag, however, is quite heavy with all of that but not unmanageable. On the El Salvador project I decided I could not take the big Nikon, however; not with the addition of the video camera, a shoulder mounted Panasonic DVC 60 with a Røde NTG-2 shotgun mike on top. Instead I took the M6 with the Summicron and a Leica Mda with the Heliar SuperWide as well as an old Canon Powershot digital pocket camera and a Sony palmcorder. This worked quite well all in all. The advantage I had there, however, was that the year before I had already taken numerous color stills with the Nikon D1x. I already had several hundred digital stills in the bag.

With this upcoming Ukraine film I have none. I have decided, however, to take only the Leica M6 with its three lenses. In the main, I do my best work with it and I need to concentrate on filming more than stills. I need, because I am doing this essentially by myself, to simplify the things I carry. I think that trying to manage a rangefinder loaded with black and white film, a digital SLR set to color and a full-size video camera would not only be to darn heavy to carry but would also, ultimately, detract from the finished project by giving me too many options, too many things to use, too many modes of shooting to manage and switch between.

Of course I could be wrong and there will be that once-in-a-lifetime shot that only the Nikon could have taken. But I think I will take that risk and think that that wasn't so great a shot anyway and instead I got those once-in-a-lifetime shots only possible with a Leica and a video camera.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

After Edit Blues

LUND--I am experiencing a letdown phase after finishing the movie. It isn't, I am thankful, a Hemingway "black bottom" mood, but rather a sort of general listlessness. This project has been about two years in the making, coming across the story of the children of the mangroves when traveling with Dr. Katy Kropf through Central America and first working with SARA during that time. It was then I took a large portion of the still photos and we shot some of the footage that I eventually used with a small hand-cam. Then, back in the US I wrote the grant to SARA, received the grant somewhat to my surprise, and began planning for it--researching equipment, making my lists, talking with friends and colleagues about ideas and themes and structures. In the middle of all that I came to Sweden and my life took another turn. But I went back to El Salvador and the mangrove jungles of El Espino, filmed for a month then spent the next months packing up and moving to Scandinavia. And then a long dark winter, editing, thinking, editing, thinking about editing. Almost everything revolved around or came back to the film. Now it is done. My friend Jeff Pasek did some of the soundtrack, practically at the last minute, Jesse Ewing did the DVD cover. Now I have sent out two copies to Bettyann Larson and John Gilberg and in the next days will be mailing more. It really is done. I still want to make a short film on the subject but more or less, for now, I am finished with the material. I hope to go back and make another film, a more intimate portrait of the children's lives and work but that is in the unknowable future. Now I am preparing to go to Ukraine and make a second film with all I learned from the first, in a very different setting. I will be taking much the same equipment, with the addition of a sturdy monopod and a long XLR cable with which I can put a microphone on a boom (which the monopd will double as). I plan to shoot a fair amount more tape than I did in El Salvador and have ideas for particular types of scene to shoot, particular extra footage to acquire and ways to better organize my material.

And now the sun is out in Sweden. I suppose it is a good time to be a bit listless. At least I can wander around aimlessly in the sun.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

That's A Wrap....!

LUND--I believe I finished the film today. It was a beautiful day here in southern Sweden and I was bound and determined to go to class but this is also a week where Lena goes to work late and comes home even later so I got up early, as it were and began work. At a certain point where it comes down to class (language school) or continuing when the editing is going well I chose the latter, knowing that I could finish, today, with one last push.

I ran into a few problems earlier, forgetting to lock a few audio clips in place but, luckily, I noticed before I had saved much. I went on and the hours went by. I was adding some crucial scenes I had shot illustrating child labor in El Salvador: children working in a home bread factory, in the markets and, most dramatically, in a municipal trash dump. I cut these with statisitcs from the International Labour Office (ILO)/International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) and then adjusted the sound. And then it was done. I called my friend Matt, another American here in Sweden who just bought his first rangefinder and he came by with the requisite supplies and we solved the problems of the world and some of its lenses.

Jesse Ewing sent the final drafts of the DVD covers and it was pretty much a full day. Manana I WILL go to class and after that back to the darkroom for a long-overdue printing session with the paper Michelle sent me from the U.S.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Notes and Thoughts

LUND--Budapest was amazing, my new favorite city. The morning we left I put a copy of "News From El Salvador" in the mail to Bettyann Larson who will be showing it several places in the next weeks. Finally, a few days ago, it arrived and her response to watching it was very favorable which was a huge weight off my shoulders -- finally someone who has never seen any of the film (though is very familiar with the subject matter) has seen it and thought it good. It is interesting to think of it being shown to 100s of people in San Francisco and elsewhere. A film shot in El Salvador and edited in Sweden.

There is a scene I want to add, which I am working on now, but the film in one version is finished. Soon it will be wrapped up for good, this film, though I hope to find funding to return and make a film exclusively about the currileros, the children of the mangroves -- a more intimate portrait of their lives and not just the somewhat of an overview of conditions in El Salvador that this film is.

And Budapest. We met my old girlfriend Blair and her husband Chris there. I shot a lot of photos, taking only my Nikon D1x (and pocket Canon digital and pocket Olympus Stylus film camera and Sony palm cam). I felt distinctly unfaithful to my Leica but developing film is very expensive here and I knew I would be mostly shooting touristy stuff. I did get some footage of the statue park. Shots of the imposing Lenins and workers and proletarian soldiers that might come in handy for my upcoming Ukrainian documentary.

I have been pre-packing my bags for that, making sure everything is present for video work including the new 20 foot XLR cable and monopod Blair brought me from the US. Budapest was the beginning of what promises to be an ongoing exploration of Eastern Europe. It is exciting to begin a new project in a new place, some familiar themes but a very different look and feel I am sure, to Central America which I miss but from where I needed to take a documentary break.

Friday, April 18, 2008

To Sleep Perchance to Pest

LUND--I wrapped up a preliminary cut of the film tonight to send to Bettyann Larson who will be showing it in San Francisco in a few weeks. It goes in the mail tomorrow morning before we leave for a few days in Budapest. There is always more to do, more one could have done, but I am pretty happy with this version. I recently got instrumental soundtrack music from an old friend, Jeff Pasek, in Ohio. Jeff is a very talented painter and graphic designer and musician. The tracks he sent me make a huge difference in the film and I thank him profusely. But now it is time to lay my weary head down to sleep for manana I make my first foray into Eastern Europe. To the old towns of Buda and Pest and I hope to sit by the fabled blue Danube, eat goulash, waltz, go to a bath and wander streets that have seen mankind pass since before the days of Rome.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Call to the Arms of Manual

LUND--Digital imaging has dealt photography a serious blow. Now believe it or not I am not a purist. If Joe Rosenthal had been able to carry a relatively small camera with all lenses imaginable up to the top of Mt. Suribachi along with cards capable of carrying a few thousand shots I'm sure he wouldn't have turned it down. Of course it does beg the question that, were he to have had all those options instead of waiting for the perfect moment with his Graflex 4x5, would he have taken, arguably, the best shot of WWII? But that isn't the question and if you want to carry around a large format camera for news work, then go right ahead.

But the serious blow to photography I am writing of is the ability to use a camera in the manual mode. Now before you start sniveling about how your camera can be set in all sorts of manual/landscape/ultra-portrait/more-Minolta-friendly modes than you can wag your swinging monopod at, I will simply say this: no camera, not a Nikon D3, a Nikon F5 or 6, no Canon EOS Mark Blahblah, can be quickly and efficiently set manually in the same way that any true manual camera can be utilized. The thumb-wheel/LCD screen controls cannot be used in the same intuitive manner that the shutter-speed dial/aperture ring/3-dot LED light meter system (or arguably match needle) because they were not designed to thus be used. A camera such as a D3 or F5 is designed to operate fully-automatically--auto-focus, auto-exposure--and to do it supremely well, to, quote one Nikon advertisement perhaps imperfectly, "Snatch Perfection from the Jaws of Chaos." And this these cameras do better year after year. And no one denies that they can be set in manual or any combination of mixed manual/automatic modes. But that is not what they are meant for and to do so is a conscious decision that takes extra time in order to achieve a specific result.

When one is familiar with the usage of a true manual camera, and I believe the best and highest form the manual camera ever took was in those with the three dot LED internal meter, one can, with practice, often operate surer and even faster than with a fully automated camera. And one can certainly finely adjust the vagaries of motion and depth-of-field faster. And one never loses a picture by having one's auto-focus confused and hunting (which, contrary to what the adds will have you believe, can happen with any auto-focus-wonder).

Which leads me to my point. Leica recently released the M8. It is almost exactly as I designed it myself. Shutter speed dial, aperture ring, metal body, simple light-meter, same shape. A true manual camera, with some automatic settings, in modern, high-resolution digital form. Granted it isn't perfect. It should, among other things, have a full-size sensor and a CF not an SD card, but for now that's quibbling.

But now Nikon needs to step up to the plate. They need to release a digital FM. Their FM and FM2 are, simply, the best manual SLRs ever made. Ever, in the history of humankind that is. Beyond solid, three-dot LED meter, will mount about any Nikon lens ever made and will work and work and work. Give photographers back a real tool, Mr. Nikon, whoever you are. Your F series was the best, from 1 through 6. Your D1 and 2 and now 3 are incredible. But make me a digital FM, made of steel and brass, with a sturdy but small back screen with a built in shade to protect it. And an F3 while you're at it. But first the FM.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Filming In El Salvador

Sharon Fiely of the S.A.R.A. group took this photo of me on an estuary in western El Salvador. This was not in El Espino, but rather in a location called the Costa del Sol between there and San Salvador -- a series of rivers and islands where much of the local population goes to relax, play on the beaches and eat fresh seafood.

Editing Begins to Wind Down

LUND--I worked on the film from about 0830 until 1730 today, taking a brief break to eat a sandwich, shower and take a walk to the second hand store around the corner to see if they had a bookcase. Then back to the desk. Tonight we'll watch the whole thing for the first time in a while and the last time it was about 15-18 minutes. Now it is pretty much at its full, 50 minute length. It has a beginning and an end. Now, all that is left, and I am sure it is quite a bit, but still, it is now a matter of some fine-trimming and the adding of sound: voice overs, music, etc. I have already been working on the DVD menus and the basic graphic design for the case which is now in the much-more-capable hands of Jesse Ewing. I can think of all the things I would have liked to have filmed, the things I hope to do better next time and what I would do if this was a two hour instead of one-hour movie. But soon it will be done and I look forward to wrapping it up, calling it done and done well, and moving on to the next chapter, the next photo essay, the next film.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lenses in Their Prime

LUND--I have never been entirely happy with my Nikon D1x. It is an incredible camera in almost every regard and shooting in JPEG Fine can produce prints with no visible pixels to at least 24 by 36 inches. But it is big and heavy and unless I am very actively working a story I don't feel inclined to carry it much. If you know me then you know my love of film but even I will admit that film has its drawbacks in terms of expense and workflow. But I will carry my Leica whereas I simply won't carry the Nikon at times. The other drawback is that I am both used to and generally take better pictures with a manual camera. My first was a Nikon FM and both it and the Leica use a three dot LED lightmeter that is, when experienced with it, incredibly fast and intuitive, in my opinion absolutely the best and simplest metering system. Now of course you can set a D1x or an F5 or what have you in any manual way but using the thumbwheels and the top LCD display is not nearly as good or quick as the old combination of shutter speed dial and aperture ring.

I am happy taking pictures with my D1x again. I have never much liked zoom lenses but when I bought the D1x used from another photographer he included the 17-35mm continuous 2.8 Nikkor. I bought a tele zoom as well and used them mostly in full-auto mode and, truth be told, have taken some great pictures with them. But I was never happy. Recently I began mounting my old prime lenses on camera and while it is still big in itself the small primes make it much nicer to carry (35mm 2.8 Nikon E series, 55mm MicroNikkor 3.5 and 20mm 2.8 Nikkor). The primes work in Aperture Priority mode which, since owning an F3, I consider essentially speeded up manual exposure. If you know what your camera is doing then you know about what shutter speed is being selected when you change the aperture and thus can easily play back and forth with motion and depth-of-field. At the same time these lenses are manual focus and you never have the camera hunting for focus, it fires when you push the button and your focus oint is always chosen by you and not the computer. As well, the lenses are incredibly sharp.

Of course they aren't the same as they would be on the FM or F3 given the D1x's magnification factor. My favorite lens is the old 50mm which is about what the 35mm becomes. The 55mm MicroNikkor is a joy, however, giving me a short telephoto but allowing me to focus from infinity to about three inches. It opens up a whole world of photos. The only real downside is that the beautiful 20mm becomes a rather average wide angle lens. But then again I am usually perfectly happy toting around the Leica with often nothing but a 50mm (I have a 15mm and a 135mm).

In the last days I have taken more photos with the D1x that I have been happy with than in a very long time. I feel that I am actually using the camera as a true photographic tool, perhaps with some of the limitations that make you try and think a little harder and thus obtain better, more original images.

Philip and Ingmar

Lena's paternal grandfather, Philip Philipson (left) with Ingmar Bergman (date unknown).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spongebob Meets His Fate

On, and Down, and Up the River into the Jungle

We headed south and west from San Salvador towards the coastal regions of Jucuaran Province and so did the film...

On the timeline "News From El Salvador: The Children of the Mangroves" is now over an hour long. That means there is a lot of trimming to do but in the space of a few days we moved out of San Salvador, down through Usulatan and down the road to El Espino, interviewed a doctor, a few campesino/fishermen/currileros, went up the river and into the jungle and came out again.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Making Movies

LUND--I must confess to a certain distaste for making movies, which may go hand in hand with my certain distaste for the digital world. The thing is, if you asked any photographer 100 years ago, if he wanted what digital can offer he would have run over his sainted grandmother to get a Nikon D1 (2,3) x. Go ahead, raise Matthew Brady from the grave and see if he would turn down unlimited photos of high quality in a compact package with lenses from the extreme wide angle to the extreme telephoto, and in color no less. Nah, he would have turned you down flat and said, "No, I stand by the artistic integrity of black and white wet plates and the need to carry a darkroom on a wagon around with me." Yeah, I'm sure that's what he would have said. When is the last time anyone had to consider hay as a necessary photographic accessory?

But I do see, when I film, that I sometimes jerk the camera because I am trying ever so slightly to reach with me eyes for my still camera. I often think of the potentially great photos I am missing because I am filming. I think I would feel that pain less if I knew I was running costly film through my Bolex instead of almost limitless miniDV tape through my Panasonic. But I do remember I wanted to make film since I was a kid. Just that those dreams were put aside because of the cost whereas I have had a Nikon FM since I was 12. I had a whole WW!! movie plotted out and even filmed the first few scenes with an old hand-wind 8mm camera. It was called "Code Word to Rome" and, perhaps luckily, I have no idea what happened to the footage. As a senior in High School we studied Eric Marie Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front". One of the guys in my group had a surgeon father who was an amateur video enthusiast with some early home video editing equipment. We made a short movie of Remarque's book. I remember it as being pretty good, all things considered.

But now I am making films and it is amazing that if you are crazy enough to do it you can find the money, now, for the equipment that not so long ago would have cost one, well, so much that I was perfectly happy toting my already expensive still rig around the world.

Maybe I would feel less ambivalence if I had someone to help me carry everything...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Onward to Usulatan

LUND--I had been a bit stuck, bogged down in the fine tuning process which, of course, is necessary but also can be an excuse not to move forward. So, I broke that today and headed out of San Salvador (on the video-editing timeline that is) towards Usulatan. I have the outline written down and mapped out and most of the clips captured so now I need to continue placing clips, moving from San Salvador, through Usulatan and down to El Espino and the coast, coming full-circle from the opening montage. From there it is up the river and into the jungle. I'm re-reading "Heart of Darkness" as I do this and underlining... significant passages... A few interviews and a fade-to-black closing sequence I think will look awesome and I can start making the credits, doing the final trimming and do the soundtrack. Then on to Ukraine. Da.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Children of the Mangroves Slideshow

LUND--I made the slideshow in IPhoto and exported it to IDVD on a 15 inch MacBook Pro. The music I taped with a video camera (Panasonic DVC60 and a Røde shotgun mike) and imported to IMovie, stripped out the audio file and set the slideshow to it. The material is composed of stills I took on several different trips to El Espino, El Salvador, taken with a Nikon D1x and various lenses, a Leica M6ttl with a 50mm Summicron, a Leica Mda with a 15mm Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar (Ilford HP5 and Kodak 400CN films) and a Leica C-Lux. The piece is a both a preliminary exploration of the material and partial structure as well as a short, stand-alone film that will eventually be included as a DVD extra with the feature-length movie.

Editing Progresses

LUND--The full-length documentary film, "News From El Salvador (The Children of the Mangroves) is almost half-finished. The film is being produced on a grant from SARA (Sharing America's Resources Abroad) with whom I have been working for over two years. It details on the current state of affairs for society and the situation of child-workers in El Salvador today and focuses on the currileros, children who dig clams (currilos) from the coastal mangrove jungles around the towns of El Espino and Arcos del Espino. I finished principal photography last June and July during a month in that country. Since that time I moved to Sweden and have been editing the film. This coming June and July I will travel to Romania and The Ukraine to produce a second film about SARA's relief projects in Eastern Europe.