Stop the Tower

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The one upside to this topsy-turvy world is an increased awareness to the dangers of complacency—apathy is much easier to fight after seeing how quickly and intensely lives can devolve.

Telus wants to build a ten-story cellular tower in the middle of our very small town. More precisely, smack dab in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, at the edge of a small protected forest surrounded by schools, homes, a church, several parks and day-care centres. The mayor and city council are against it; the citizens are against it; our provincial MP is against it. And yet the federal government has given the go ahead, its minister—Navdeep Bains— apparently refusing to even answer repeated phone calls from all parties involved. Money talks, always.

So on Sunday we gathered the kids and we marched. Our two teenagers weren’t crazy about the idea (of course), our youngest proudly raised her sign as high as she could—but in the end I think they all got it.

Honestly, three years ago we probably would’ve signed the online petition and stayed home, content in having contributed the bare minimum to our civic duty. Now however...there are lessons to teach.


Shot with the X100F


I have no voice

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This morning I woke up, looked at the news and something strange happened: I suddenly felt completely empty. If you’ve followed this blog long enough you probably know how I feel about the current situation in the US. I’ve been consumed by dismay and a deepening sense of horror ever since the very first MAGA rallies. But as terrifying as these were in 2015-2016, the case could be made at that point for Clinton fatigue, for resentment towards a broken system and a willingness to gamble on Trump almost as a form of nihilistic resistance. It made no sense to me, personally, but I could still understand the undercurrents fuelling this reaction. I don’t anymore. That is, not unless I accept a reality too hard to bear—that humanity is incurious and willing to accept demagogues if they feed their egos and dangle fake shiny baubles. That we are unkind. That we haven’t learned a single thing from history.

On the eve of a watershed election in which I have no voice, I should be up in arms, devouring polls, biting my fingernails. And yet, nothing. I’ve turned off the screens. I’m looking away—I’ve seen and heard enough, I guess.

I published a short essay entitled RUBICON on KAGE today. Images shot in Vancouver last week, words I wrote over the last couple of days, in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote.

Here’s to hope.

First moments with the X-T3

I mentioned getting an X-H1 a couple of times—how it made sense, ergonomically, with the GFX 50S, how IBIS would “improve” certain lenses...I still believe all of it. But I waited just long enough for the X-T3 to crash that equation and mess with my rationale: a new generation of sensor and CPU is hard to pass by, knowing the improvements it usually brings to the table.

So last Friday the saga ended and I now own a brand new silver X-T3. I won’t rehash all that’s already been written about the camera at this point—if you’re looking for an extensive review (that also happens to include great photography) I suggest checking out my friends Jonas and Kevin. Their work is hard to top, honestly. I will say this however: I kinda love this camera. I kinda love it way more than I thought I would.

Now If I’m being picky, I do find the exp comp dial to be a bit too stiff...which I believe is actually a response to so many people saying this dial was never stiff enough over the years; so I guess those folks will be happy with the change. I also could’ve used a bit more space for my finger when operating the metering dial that sits beneath shutter speed—but I’m already getting the hang of it. Every new body brings growing pains. Overall though, the X-T3 feels mature: the buttons, the latches, the doors and the entire body...it all feels exactly right. There’s no unwanted wiggle, there’s nothing that seems plasticky or flimsy. I’m still a huge X-Pro2 fan but honestly, this is a joy to hold. And the new tech is nothing to sneeze at either in terms of performance.

My friend Bert shot his with the classic 35mm f/1.4 when we were in Germany for Photokina and I decided to emulate him. That old lens will never be a speedster...but man does it get a boost from this new body. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s still one of the Great Magical Lenses, bar none.

The images below are my very first frames shot with this setup. All processed from pushed Acros settings (JPEG) in Capture One Pro 11.3. They were all slightly “warmed” in-camera with the new BW option (I used +1 which is the lowest red value available). I don’t necessarily intend on using this often but ...new toy and all.

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada.
Best wishes to everyone :)


Shot with the X-T3 and XF 35mm f/1.4 R


The Stages

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Bert shot with a bag full of Ikea items—a salad bowl as beauty dish, a shower curtain, an artificial plant...I don’t think he ever found a way to use that toilet brush though. Zack showed off the mood of light, Sara wrapped her model in fabric and Mindy revealed the world of Forbidden Tattoos. Elia took us around the globe, Kevin brought us home and Ruddy made us think about it all. Jonas, of course, made us all feel like underachievers: how the hell can this guy also be a doctor? Bloody hell. And then there was Ines and Jan and Anushka and Peter and Elke...what moves me most about Fujifilm’s presence at Photokina is this focus on photographers and their work. We all get to learn so much from everyone that returning home is almost a letdown; Jonas spoke of withdrawal in his Chronicle post this week...it’s not a bad analogy.

My set was half/half: I told a couple of stories about commercial jobs and the importance of visual exploration—then I switched to studio mode with the help of Fabian, our male model. The idea was to create five different looks, using nothing but the small Profoto A1 strobe and the included Dome Diffuser. No softbox, no umbrella...this was all about positioning the light and subject to achieve different results. Although I did cheat on the last day by bouncing it off the white wall—I wanted a different take on the cinematic look I’d done in the previous sets. Sue me ;)

A few of those images below, all processed from GFX 50S raw files using the brand spanking new Capture One Pro 11.3. Side note: Am I excited about this? Oh dear god, you have no idea. It doesn’t just work: it works WELL. Still waiting on the upcoming film simulations support, but this is already like waking from a long slumber. Any concerns I had about C1 have now evaporated completely. More on this eventually...


VARIOUS MOODS AND GRADINGS (PROFOTO A1+GFX 50S+CAPTURE ONE PRO)


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Machine to Companion: One year with the GFX 50S

Ever since my very first X100, I’ve made distinctions between cameras. Some quickly become a part of me, not just extensions—a threshold most fine tools eventually cross—but something more intimate. Others I consider machines, precise instruments that don’t necessarily pull at my heartstrings but are perfectly suited to the work I need to do. The X-T1 was like that. The X-Pro1 was too...at first. Because sometimes, somewhere along the way, that relationship can change.

I purchased the GFX 50S as a tool. A machine. And over the course of the past year I’ve used it constantly on various jobs, often alongside X series cameras. But just like the X-Pro1 all those years ago...it’s become more than it initially was.

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The pull of medium format

Everything I’ve ever said about the X series remains true to this day. I still love the footprint, the stealth, the psychological impact of these cameras on subjects—either aware or unaware of a shot being taken. I’ll never travel with the GFX 50S and it’ll never become my 1EYE camera. But those files...they’re incredibly hard to dismiss. After all this time I’m still struggling to express the pull they have over me, but it remains impossible to brush off: I get a visceral reaction to the images I shoot with it. If the role of our tools is to inspire, then the goal of this camera has been met, tenfold. No question. The result of course, is that I’ve been willing to compromise on stealth: I’ll now reach for the GFX in situations where I usually would’ve chosen an X-Pro or X100. Which may seem like a serious  shift...until you factor in the beat.

Rhythms

The GFX 50S isn’t slow—especially for a medium-format camera. But it IS slower than its APS-C siblings. It uses contrast detection, for one. The files are also much larger which, regardless of storage prices, is definitely something floating in the back of my mind as I’m shooting; in raw especially. All of this, combined with the camera itself, affects the rhythm somehow. But this is not a negative in my mind. In many ways it brings me back to my early days with the X series, the way the system made me much more aware of each moment, more deliberate in my approach to photography. It’s amazing how much evolution we’ve seen in such a short period of time—how far we’ve come from that X100. But it’s also easy to fall back into that “performance-driven” groove, to forget about slowing down when the cameras don’t force us to do so. Medium-format photography nudges me back into that softer flow. Yes, the footprint is larger...but the intent is familiar. For me, the lineage is clear and very much welcome.

 

Another detail I’ve mentioned in passing a couple of times: the addition of the EVF Tilt-Adapter, which was an important turning point in my relationship with the GFX. This is the small revolving plate that fits between the camera and the —brilliantly designed—removable viewfinder. I first used it on the shoot we did in Toronto for the Lexus+GFX video. Before this I’d only spent a few minutes with it and never while actually working. This small change—being able to look down into the viewfinder for instance—suddenly transformed the camera into a very different tool. Different from my other cameras that is. It gave me a new point of view and ADDED an element to my photography workflow, beyond the bigger sensor. Needless to say it’s stayed glued to the GFX ever since. The only times I remove it is for packing.

Expansion

Ok, enter the rabbit hole. With this camera taking on an ever increasing role in my work, I’ve looked at expanding my visual options. So the initial GF 63mm f2.8 has since been joined by the GF 120mm f/4 Macro, a Pentax 50mm f/1.7 (through a Fotodiox adapter), and recently the superb GF 110mm f/2.

 Family picture

Family picture

The 120 and 110 may seem redundant—they are. I first chose the 120 for its macro abilities on this system which, physics being inescapable, is much less accommodating in terms of minimal focusing distance. And I’m glad I did. It’s both superb and handy. But I now believe the 110 is (so far) the GF line’s magic lens ...much like the 56 f/1.2 or 35 f/1.4 on the X series. Don’t ask me to explain why, I just feel it. Yes, shallow DOF but more importantly character, imprint...something.

What I’m “missing” in this system is a super-wide zoom along the lines of the XF 10-24mm. But I’m using quotation marks because...I do have the XF 10-24mm don’t I? I know. I told you this was a rabbit hole.

 Fun with the electronic shutter...

Fun with the electronic shutter...

Conclusion

A few years ago I spoke of the possibility of a medium-format camera as a companion to the X series—how, in my mind at least, there was a logic to using both systems in tandem. A philosophical kinship if you will. Today I know this to be absolutely true: apart from a size and ergonomic shock when shooting systems side by side (which will be less obvious once the X-H1 arrives), both make sense as a pair. Both complete one another.

Now in some cases, I admit, the GFX 50S has added a layer of uncertainty—I need to think for a second or two before choosing which camera to pick up. But then, every new piece of gear usually has a similar effect, taking away from simplicity. It’s called the paradox of choice and, well...such is life. I consider myself very lucky to even have these choices.

And man, one year in...I don’t regret a single moment.
I've found the soul in the machine.