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.