Oh! Cecilia....

<note> if I was a girl I’d have tons of shoes. I’d have tons of shoes, tons of handbags and tons of skirts. But I’m a guy so I own camera bags and camera straps; can’t get enough of ’em. One of these days they’ll make a reality show called Hoarder Photographers and there I’ll be, sitting in some weird, tiny apartment, half-buried in nothing but straps and bags. And coffee grounds because… Coffee. </end note>

At the beginning of summer I received an email from McLean Fisher, one of the partners at Cecilia — a young company specializing in camera straps and based in Mamaroneck, just north of NYC. I say "young" but they work with a leather family-business that's been around since 1803... So experience isn't much of an issue here.

McLean wrote in to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing their product. When I get these types of requests I always make it a point to check out the website and see what the company is about — I never write about anything I don’t believe in so this is just basic courtesy. If I sense I won’t be a good fit I’d rather let folks know right off the bat. In this case I was quite pleasantly surprised: the landing page felt more like a gallery than a store. In fact, the first link I saw lead to a section featuring a handful of very talented photographers. Subtle, clean, very nicely done.

We exchanged a couple of emails and he offered to send me the model of my choice. Full disclosure: I received the strap free of charge. But I wouldn’t be writing this review if I didn’t like it — it would’ve gone straight back.

straps — fashion alert

Some of you may remember the review I wrote for Tap & Dye, another New York outfit. I still love that strap, perhaps even more so now that it’s started aging. The Cecilia flavour is quite different — I’ve been using both side by side for about two months now (Tap & Dye on the X-T1, Cecilia on the X-Pro1) and while they’re both equally comfortable they’re from different worlds: one is like a worn out, rugged pair of Levi’s jeans; the other is a sleek designer jacket. That is unless you go for one of the patterns… Then it’s designer meets Hendrix ;)

Cecilia currently offers 16 models, all adjustable in length and either entirely made of leather or a combination of leather and alpaca wool. This combination of material was apparently the genesis of the project:

During a trip to Cusco, Peru in 2011, Michael Fleisch crossed paths with a woman selling handwoven alpaca wool belts. He decided to combine the belt with leather in order to make a camera strap. Michael showed the strap to friend and now business partner, MacLean Fisher, who encouraged him to perfect the design and take the straps to market…

…The leather selected for the straps is full-grain Argentinian cowhide. The tanning process gives the leather its supple feel, deep color, and traditional aroma, and its full-grain structure provides strength and durability. The hides are finished in the USA with surface treatments that further protect the leather.
— Cecilia

I went with the brown baby alpaca wool / brown leather strap. I chose this model because I wanted something discreet when I’m working. At first I was a bit affraid the wool would end up feeling gritty around my neck but it doesn’t — all you feel is the smooth leather, the wool side merely adding a visual (and texture) accent. Don’t be fooled by the chic factor though: I’ve been carrying this around on shoots and never once had second thoughts about leaving the X-Pro1 to dangle freely around my neck. It's as tough as it's pretty.

I could’ve shot those pictures when I first took the strap out of the box but I’m glad I waited: like all good leather products it has softened, wrinkled and already gained personality in the short time I’ve had it.

The choice of a camera strap is like everything else: it can be purely utilitarian, a chance for self-expression or a combination of both. For years I never even thought of purchasing a third-party strap and went around with a big yellow Nikon logo boldly printed across my chest. And yes, I survived. But I have to admit these types of straps add a level of comfort I’d now find hard to leave behind — given the time I spend with a camera around my neck, I don't see them as luxuries anymore. Hey, we all get picky eventually… Might as well look good right?

I do wonder about the name Cecilia — didn't even think to ask really. All I know is I had Simon and Garfunkel playing in my head all the way through this shoot... You could do a lot worse ;)

Prices for these range from $60 to $90. 
For more info visit ceciliagallery.com.
 

Stuff: WPP. X30. Photokina.

Bit of a hodgepodge this fine morning — tying up loose ends so to speak. Here goes…

Photokina

I mentioned a few posts ago that I'd been invited to speak at Photokina: the ramp up to the event is now in full swing with Fujifilm releasing a dedicated mini-site as well as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. The site includes the full schedule and roster of speakers which (I can now say) include my KAGE comrades Bert Stephani and Kevin Mullins, Zack Arias, Eric Bouvet and tons of other inspiring photographers. I’ll be speaking at the dedicated Fuji stage on the 16th at 2PM and on the 17th at 11AM. I’ll also be at the Fuji booth to answer questions or chat for at least an hour following each event; quite a few of you have already told me you’ll be dropping by so I’m looking forward to seeing everyone out there. Then on Thursday night I’m indulging in German beer — just sayin’ ;)

Speaking of Instagram, I’m thinking of creating an account for this kind of stuff. I’m still on the fence about it though. Truth is I’m a bit pissed against Instagram because they’ve essentially hijacked thelaroquephoto account I created some years ago without ever using it (it contains a single test image taken with a crappy Blackberry phone). My password no longer works (not sure why) and the password reset email NEVER comes in, even though I’m using the correct email address — this is an ongoing problem apparently. And then there’s the whole Facebook background: I. Hate. Facebook. So… Meh. Not sure. But I figure it could be a fun way to share “backstage” images or BTS stuff. I’ll keep you posted…

X30

I’m not in the market for this camera — gotta set SOME limits for myself to avoid divorce ;)
But what’s most interesting about this release is how it sheds light on the road ahead: there are a lot of super nice improvements; important improvements that could eventually (fingers crossed) trickle up/down to other bodies: spot metering is no longer confined to centre (it now meters from any selected AF point), exposure compensation in manual mode in conjunction with Auto ISO, a dedicated raw mode for the EVF that bypasses the JPEG engine, stratospheric improvements to movie mode (that list alone goes on and on), a customizable Q Menu (YAY!!) etc…

Of course it also incorporates the wifi capabilities and all other features that are now becoming standard across the board. As I said, this isn’t a camera I’ll be purchasing but man… It paints an exciting future.

WORLD PRESS PHOTO 

I attended the opening of the World Press Photo exhibit in Montreal last night. An impressive gathering of some of the most stunning images of the year across several categories. Always a pleasure to see actual prints of pictures you’ve only been experiencing on a screen — the physical experience is something else entirely. The room was packed, they had a very good Italian lager I’d never tasted before… See how this comes back to beer? Great evening overall.

Leaving you with a few images from that — very warm — night below…
Later


Shot with the X-T1 and XF 23mm f/1.4


Montreal Science Centre — 12 X 2.


Shot with the good ol' original X100.


COLOUR

MONO

Introducing The Shadow Workshops

I mentioned having worked on some personal projects over the summer... This is one of them: The Shadow Workshops. Yes, the name is a nod to KAGE. Two sides of a coin that are bound to become closer eventually (ok that's not physically possible but you know what I mean).

Workshops, as an idea, are something I began to wrestle with about a year ago. I say wrestle because while I’d been asked about doing this a number of times, I wanted to make sure I’d be adding some sort of value proposition, not just randomly throwing my hat in an already crowded ring. My biggest concern was with focus — what would these be about? The idea of doing something purely technical didn’t appeal to me. After expending so many words talking about how the X Series taught me to slow down and let go, teaching about lighting and how to use a camera felt like a cop out. Plus, there are tons of amazing photographers out there doing a very good job of it already. I wanted something more… At the risk of sounding conceited, "philosophical". My other issue was with a very real fear of becoming THAT guy: The-Guy-That-Does-Workshops. I’m very much aware of how it can easily devolve into a circus of sorts if not managed properly.

All of this is brewing in the background when I get a call from someone called David Kruse: “I’m coming to Montreal for a few days” he says, “I love your work, do you give workshops by any chance?” — Hmm… There’s nothing like a big bold sign showing you the way is there? We chat for awhile and it turns out he’s looking for exactly the type of format I’ve been working on; call it serendipity. Long story short: I drew up a quick syllabus and we fixed a date for a one day, one on one workshop…. Which eventually turned into three days of an incredibly enriching experience for both of us. By making this about ideas as much as image making, it had become a dialogue; it was also exactly what I’d been hoping to accomplish.

So I'm jumping in, offering two packages to begin with: MONTREAL 1:3 and MONTREAL 1:1, both one on one workshops. Obviously, narrative and storytelling are at the heart of these because there’s no denying that everything I do is now tainted by those ideas, by the notion of constantly building around more than a single image to spell out the message. Along those lines I’m also focusing on a "cinematic" approach, building from small images in sequence as opposed to that magical be all and end all perfect picture. The workshops are geared towards lot’s of shooting time as well as editing, storyboarding and image processing (more of this in the 1:3 package which includes a studio day). If you’re a Fuji shooter I’m obviously including tips and tricks on setup and how to make the most of these cameras. And we get to geek out about Fujis ;)

I’m not going to claim any sort of epiphany here… But I believe this formula might just be different enough to make the entire journey worthwhile. And hopefully it’s in keeping with how I’ve been approaching photography as a whole.

EXPLORERS

That’s step one. The next step will be EXPLORERS, destination-based workshops consisting of very small groups. Same focus, same approach but introducing the concept of collective work into the process. A photographic think-tank if you will. I’ve got some homework to do on this before taking the plunge but if any of you have ideas, are interested or want to suggest locations or venues let me know; it’s all open right now and I think it could be quite exciting.

For more info on all of this you can check out my brand new Workshops section. Here's hoping to see you soon :)

Later


P.S I'd be remised not to mention this in passing: David Kruse is now engaged in a project called Operation St-George. He's riding his motorcycle and praying to raise awareness to the current plight of Christians in the Middle-East. Now, I'm not a religious man and I usually steer clear of issues involving religion in any way — mostly because I don't believe in good and evil as simple, one dimensional concepts. It's a loaded and dangerous idea that's been at the root of way too many atrocities on all sides. Also because humanity tends to get easily confused and power, regardless of intentions, always becomes part of the deal at some point. But this, like so many other catastrophes, is about human suffering and injustice. If his project can help by shining a light on what's happening then the goal has been met. David knows I don't necessarily identify with the faith-based aspects of this journey — but as a purely social, altruistic and humanitarian endeavour, he has my utmost respect.

Invisible Summer. Photokina.

What a strange, short, hectic and incomprehensible summer this has been. I see the few weeks left ahead and can barely make sense of where the time has gone; it’ll go down as l’été invisible… Some of it had to do with the weather but most of it was about work: paid and/or personal. Exciting? Sure. Restful? Nah.

Some of the fruits of this labour will be announced in due time, mostly over the next several weeks, but I can at least mention one of these today: I’ve been invited by Fujifilm to speak at Photokina 2014. Am I thrilled? Am I nervous? Going crazy with anticipation? Have I been working on this in my sleep? All of the above. I’ll be talking about visual storytelling, the X Series cameras and also doing a live studio shoot on stage. What we in the biz call a “feature packed presentation”. Sorry, using “the biz” at some point in my life was on my bucket list — done. Never again, promise.

So I’m headed for Cologne, Germany on September 14 and I’m scheduled to speak on the 16 and 17. What’s even more exciting is who’s also appearing: everyone. It’s nuts. And this includes two of my KAGE COLLECTIVE comrades with whom I’ll be meeting for the first time outside of our virtual offices. I’m hoping others can make it as well so we can have the closest thing to an actual “live” meeting in our short history. Speaking of KAGE: lots of new and exciting changes ahead — stay tuned for those.

After Cologne Cynthia and I are going to Venice, then Rome where I’ll be giving a quick one on one workshop, eating pasta and losing myself in the Eternal City. We’re very excited about this trip — our first long one together since France —and I’m already giddy just thinking of the photographic opportunities ahead.

If you’re planning on attending Photokina while I’m there, come and say hi — I’ll be hanging around quite a bit and I always look forward to meeting other photographers. As opposed to gladiators. Although I’m sure they’re a fine bunch when they're not looking to hit you over the head with… You know… Tridents or something. Right, can you tell I’m tired? Yeah, silly tired.

I leave you with images from a recent family gathering — going with a stacked gallery for kicks. Man, this already seems like ages ago...
Later


Shot with the X-T1 and XF 23mm f/1.4R