Flux & Fuel

It's so easy, in this world of instant accolades, to get complacent and stop searching. To believe we've somehow made it and resist change for all the wrong reasons: vanity, fear...repetition and formulas just waiting to comfort us. It's perfectly normal to develop habits and go to skills, to build a niche and exploit our individual strengths—but do we run the risk of it becoming a prison? A box from which, at some point, we can no longer escape?

Maybe it's the season—this bad cold, the lingering headaches and lack of melatonin—but I've had trouble looking at my work lately. Something's been off and I'm spending a lot of time deconstructing my workflow; trying to force myself out of my comfort zone. Because easy equals standing still, eventually. Formulaic. There's nothing new about this feeling—it's been a recurring theme my entire life. But it's rarely been this acute. I need to look elsewhere. Admittedly, part of this is due to my anticipation of the GFX.

I've read a few conversations on Facebook, Twitter etc...questioning why X-Photographers, who for years have extolled the virtues of a smaller system, are now praising a return to the "big" DSLR-like GFX 50S. How this essentially proves we're all paid shills, ready to push anything Fujifilm releases. It's absolute BS. The excitement surrounding the medium format camera—at least from everyone I know—stems from what I hinted at above: the opportunity it represents for reinvention. For pushing the envelope. My friend Bert Stephani—who's been testing it for the past week—put it best when he said during a conversation: "My feeling is that the camera doesn't necessarily make better pictures but I make better pictures with it". Perfect point. Sure, the format itself, the sensor, the glass...all of it contributes to the end results and I do believe there's a quantifiable difference. But it's how it alters us that's most important. That creative influx and change of pace. In many ways it's the X100 all over again, potentially transforming how we approach our work as a whole. Tweaking our eye. That's the pull here. It's not a bloody conspiracy.

But I'll say it again: there's no such thing as magical gear. In a recent interview I even expressed concern about this, at people potentially getting in over their heads, purchasing a GFX 50S and ultimately ending up disappointed. Realizing they now have sharper and higher rez images that...don't look all that different. It's always the photographer, not the gear.

The excitement I've expressed is genuine and it also has zero to do with my relationship to Fuji. None of us are paid to push their products and we're all (AFAIK) buying our way into this new format. No free lunch. I mentioned it before: if this camera hadn't been in the works I likely would've invested in a Pentax 645Z this year. And I would've approached MF the exact same way: as an invigorating, complementary system to the X-series. Not a replacement.

The images below—like most from the past several weeks—were processed in Capture One 10. In many ways I've found myself going back to the drawing board in terms of processing, trying to leverage what this application brings to the table. The results probably aren't radically different from my usual work, but I'm excited about the possibilities I'm seeing and a certain renewed sense of discovery.

I guess the one truth in my life is that—for better or worse—I feel bound to eternal exploration and flux. It can be hard to bear at times but it's the fuel that feeds the fire.
And I'm itching for a few gallons of kerosene.


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR


Monday Morning S.O.C (as in stream of consciousness)

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I blame George W. Bush.

We woke up in darkness again, after weeks of sunlight—or at least some form of natural illumination—gently tugging at our circadian rhythms. Bush didn't invent Daylight Saving Time, but he did change the dates on which we do the clock dance for no good reason...and fucked it all up in the process. Legacy is a bitch. So I'm on my third cup of coffee, trying to get my ass in gear; and it's not really working so it's a good thing there's nothing urgent on the agenda. Stuff I should get to? Sure. But the current will need to flow before it happens.

I've got a serious case of G.A.S RE the GFX 50S, probably made worse by the fact that the order is in and I'm now in limbo...waiting for shipment and gushing over photographer Palle Shultz' latest portrait tests with that 63mm. Good. God. They're gorgeous. Most importantly, they confirm what I saw a few weeks back: that hard to define look of medium format images that's all about tone transitions and dynamic range.

Lightroom now supports the camera's raw files but I've heard they're apparently messing it up again, with high ISO noise results that don't represent what the camera can actually produce. I hate Adobe. Last week's update to Lightroom mentioned a fix for the Tone Curve cursor bug which has plagued the app since November. Good bullet point...except it's not fixed. No change at all on my end. But then they did work real hard on that new iPhone HDR capture so...way to go. Never mind how Lightroom is basically in standstill mode in terms of useful advancements to its core functionality: as if there's nothing left to add or refine. I'm talking about making that stupid app work as well as it did a year ago. Too much to ask?

I'm again working in Capture One and—in terms of pure processing—it makes LR look like a toy. Plus, it works gangbusters combined with Fujifilm X Acquire. But GFX support isn't here yet and may not come at all, in spite of what I'd heard. The Adobe curse is apparently eternal and all encompassing. Keep those monthly bills coming guys...love it.

Alright, enough bitching: I've made the cover of Photo Life again :)
The April-May issue features an article I wrote on documercial photography, entitled On Blurry Lines. It also includes the results of the annual photo contest I helped judge just before the holidays—and leafing through the issue I'm quite proud of our final selection. The magazine has loads of beautiful content as always and is out on newsstands right now if you're interested.

Speaking of contests: I'm also judging round 8 of the 12x53 competition held by fiftythreemm.com. It runs through the entire month (March 2017) on their Instagram account. A few tips and more info available here.

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Learning, in photography, is as much about seeing images as it is about developing technical skills. I'd even go so far as to say it's probably more important at a certain point. So I tend to retreat into other photographers' works when faced with downtime. I mentioned Koudelka last week, but I've also been revisiting Dan Winters as well as several other anthologies I own. I look at album covers. A few months ago, someone contacted me from Artsy—an art curation and auction platform. They reached out because of an article I'd written a long, LONG time ago on the beautiful and tragically haunting work of Francesca Woodman. So I downloaded their iPad app and discovered an amazing source of visual inspiration: a huge collection of artwork, all free to peruse and browse and lose yourself into. If you're looking to dive into painting, sculpture, photography...I definitely recommend this.

I'm still moved by the poetry of Woodman's images, her ongoing, all too fateful study in apparition—and disappearance. Something like a universe slightly out of reach. And as we stare into the unblinking eye of a March snowstorm, bracing for impact; as we long for warmth to return and colours to bloom again...her dark and unfolding parallel world seems as good as any.

Ok...more coffee.
More explorations.

Out.

Zaventem & Other Territories - I moved through someone else's everyday.

"You're home", Bert said. And I was. 

We made coffee in the morning, talked for hours, remade several worlds in the process. I lived a family life away from my own...sports practice, ice cream, frituur. A quiet evening at Griet's house after a beautiful day in Leuven, looking at photo books and drinking wine. Wandering is easier with friends, when the ground we stand on is level and our feet are anchored, firmly.

But eventually, someone else's everyday reminds us of ours.
The one still stirring, a few oceans away.


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR


Exceptions

I sat down with a cup of coffee, the winter sun almost warm, deceptive. I opened Koudelka's Exiles and once again, I wanted to leave everything behind and wander. Some books are like that. They breathe and die in a low whisper, barely audible words whose abstract meaning is all too clear...go they say. Become.

I looked at my surroundings for the millionth billionth time. I saw the common but chose the exception.


Shot with a pre-production X100F


Speed Tethering: Fujifilm X Acquire

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This is a really quick post to mention the new tethering software Fujifilm released yesterday: Fujifilm X Acquire is a Mac and Windows solution that allows the X-T1, X-T2 and GFX 50S to be used tethered to a computer. It’s free. And it frickin’ works.

OPTIONS

This isn’t the first tethering solution available for X-series cameras, which first gained that ability a few months after the release of the X-T1. But these were paid options using either a standalone Windows-only app or a Lightroom plugin that could be purchased through Adobe Exchange. Personally, I never had a problem with the plugin and it always performed flawlessly. But on the Mac it was an enclave, forcing us to use LR as its backbone. Not anymore.

I tested Acquire in Capture One Pro 10 using that application’s Hot Folder feature and all I can say is “Holy Speedy Gonzales Batman”…I’ve never seen images pop up so quickly. And I’m talking about ingesting both JPEG and uncompressed raw files at once—about 3 seconds from clicking the shutter to seeing both images appear on-screen. Shooting consecutive images didn’t seem to slow it down nor did removing the card from the camera. For now, all I can test this with is the X-T1 (so roughly 33MB raf) but the speed at which those images are imported gives me plenty of confidence for the GFX 50S.

Blazing fast ingestion of both raw and JPEG files.

Blazing fast ingestion of both raw and JPEG files.

To be clear: there’s no need for a host application at all. Acquire is working at the system level and is simply importing images to a user specified folder. 

INSTALLATION NOTES

I admit I was a bit thrown off when I first launched the app (not sure if I missed a Read Me) because it doesn’t have a front-facing UI. Not on the Mac anyway. What you get is a menubar item that offers just a few simple options:

The floating window is nothing more than a display of the camera settings with no control whatsoever—this is something you’ll find in the higher end tethering solutions now offered by Fuji. But really…colour me impressed. Is this long overdue? Probably. But it’s here and it’s fast.

Now…let’s get the X-Pro2 in on the party shall we?