The dull, the smeared...

My bag was much heavier than usual when we left on saturday morning. Not that I had anything specific in mind...I only felt this need for something else that I couldn't pinpoint. It happens, in times of emotional uncertainty...an impulse to expand and retreat all at once. To forget what I know and escape into chaos.

In it was a very old friend, one I've now repurposed, just for these moments of mental fatigue: my X-Pro1, fitted with a cheap Nikon adapter and the Lensbaby Edge 80. Slow-food for the eyes, baby.

Inside, outside...nothing to do but react to the smeared landscape and melted rooms. Smudges to dull my senses
as we all waited for signs of the incoming storm.


Shot with the X-Pro1 and Lensbaby Edge 80


Now she reads...

"Argh...I can't read on my own!" We knew she could. She was already there, already deciphering every sign or panel or label around us. She was just being stubborn, a bit of a drama queen too…wonder who she got that from. 

Now she won’t stop, just like her brother and sister. We sit on the deck and she goes through a book or two while I write. That door will never close.

Oh and yes: that’s X-Pro1 not 2. Nostalgia.


Shot with the X-Pro1 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR


Aux Écuries | An Installation

Last year I had the great pleasure of shooting Mammifères, a young new theatre group whose first play—Les Grand-Mères Mortes (The Dead Grandmothers)—is a surprisingly funny and touching performance that aims at helping children cope with the tragic loss of a loved one. I was very impressed by what they had achieved with such a delicate subject, so when the beautiful and talented Karine Sauvé asked me to shoot an art installation derived from the same play, I jumped at the opportunity.

In collaboration with Théâtre Aux Écuries—a stunning space in the north end of Montreal—this offshoot project allowed a group of children from a nearby school to participate in the creation of the artwork on display, as well as lending their voices to the audio environment (an ambient piece by Nicolas Letarte-Bersianik).

I shot with what has become my go to kit these days: X-T1, X100T and X-Pro1. The X-Pro1 is usually in my bag, fitted with a specific lens that I know I won't be using as much, while the other two hang around my neck. At any time I can switch one of the two bodies to get a different combo. Of course I could technically strap on three bodies if I REALLY wanted to... But at that point it tends to hinder movements—ditch the prime fetish and get a zoom already bucko ;)

I used the X100T (23mm), the 35mm and the 56mm: so 35, 50 and 85 equivalents; the holy trinity of focal lengths. I knew beforehand I wouldn't need anything wider but I had the 14 just in case. Didn't use it.  I had also brought a full contingent of lighting gear, but although the ambience was notably subdued, the pinpointing of the small light sources on each piece allowed me to mostly shoot handheld at very comfortable shutter speeds and ISO numbers (200-400). When it comes to lighting, it's always about gathering just the right amount of photons for the subject: spot metering and a soft glow can be surprisingly powerful if you don't need to light an entire room. Darkness was an ally here, contributing to the mood of the space.

 

With the morning sun streaming in through the colored glass windows, I couldn't help shooting B-roll of the theatre itself; I just love this kind of stuff. Turns out they did too and a few days later I got a call to licence some of the images for their website redesign—a totally unnexpected perk. Great folks over there.

The participating classroom was invited as part of the opening of the installation and I shot the reception, which was cute as hell—kids grinning from ear to ear, wide-eyed, glasses of sparkling cider in hand... Non-alcoholic obviously. I'm not showing these images because children, permissions etc... But I love a bunch of them and I'm pointing this out for one specific reason: while Karine was giving her short speech, I noticed kids looking at me everytime I'd hit the shutter of the X-T1 (I had the 56mm and the X100T around my neck). As quiet as it is compared to a DSLR, in a silent room, at close quarters, it was still drawing attention to itself. I didn't want that. So I switched to the electronic shutter and boom... Incognito. It's amazing how much being as invisible as possible can impact the results of a shoot and the ES is just one more way to blend in we now have at our disposal. I LOVE this new feature. And with the last update making the camera intelligent enough to allow a signal to the hotshoe when the shutter is set at or below flash sync speed, I'm pretty much always on MS+ES (don't make me go into the details of a very infuriating 5 minutes spent cursing against my triggers during a shoot... Because MS+ES. 'Nuff said). 

That and shooting wide open at noon. At 1/30000 sec. Seriously, I get giddy every time this happens.

Huge thanks again to Mammiferes and the great folks at Théatre Aux Écuries.

Later

P.S The very last image breaks my heart. But it deserves to be there.


AROUND



INSIDE


Introducing The Curated Archives

The flip side to writing a blog for any decent amount of time is that, at some point, content gets buried. Sure, there’s a search page and a tag cloud and categories to dig through but in the end —especially for a photo oriented site— all of it tends to lack visual appeal: you’re looking at a bunch of titles or scrolling a long list of posts, chronologically. Time pushes everything down, regardless of value. The other issue is formatting: over the years I switched from Wordpress to Squarespace; then new templates with bigger images, a different signature. It adds up to a disjointed look as you move back into the archived work.

So for a while now I’d been trying to find a solution, a way of unifying past and present. Not to wallow in old stories but just to level the playing field and bring buried content forward, a window into more than simply the newest of the new. Allow things to remain visible. The result is now available and can be found under the Blog heading: I call it The Curated Archives. Think of it as another way of browsing the site.

The main page of The Curated Archives contains two grids giving access to a selection of reviews (going back to the original X100) but also to stories and essays shot with every X-Series camera I’ve used over the years — a maximum of 30 posts per model. Using cameras as the differentiating factor allowed me to keeps things manageable while including material that went all the way back to 2011, which is when the site format really started to take shape (yup, when I got my hands on that X100).

I’m not just linking to existing posts: all images have been re-uploaded at the current resolution, larger and formatted just like they’d been shot yesterday. In some cases I re-processed the work in Lightroom but I did it as an exercise, staying true to the originals.

The selection is pretty extensive but I have, however, omitted two things:
1) Tutorials.
2) The Lutetia series.
Why? Well, in the case of the tutorials I feel they’re showing their age. A lot of these centre around Aperture and while most concepts are transferable to other software, they now seem woefully outdated. I constantly receive emails about this topic and have plans regarding processing articles, but I’m still brainstorming on the shape these will take. As for the Lutetia series: I just think 1EYE, ROAMING does a much better job of it; I spent a lot of time on that material and the original posts now feel like drafts—interesting but not worth revisiting all over again. Of course all of the above content is still available the same way it’s always been; those posts simply don’t appear as part of the selection.

It’s always interesting to go back and look at where we were before. It provides orientation, a sense of the path we’re on. In preparing these archives, I was surprised at times by things I’d forgotten, by certain experiments that could still prove useful in the future. I also couldn’t help but see how our kids have grown up through all of this… The biographical aspect of it is hard to deny.

I’ve set the archives up in a way that will allow me to easily manage content and I must say it feels pretty good:  like I now have an anchor, something to hold it all together instead of pushing stuff away as time passes and life moves on. I’m hoping you’ll see the value in this as well.

I leave you with a few weekend images, all shot with the X-T1 and XF 56mm f/1.2… Gotta let that X100T breathe a little ;)
Later

An in-camera process

Today I'm taking a break from my This European Diary series so I can talk to you guys directly for a change — that is, without the filter of a story between us. It's been an odd couple of weeks since our return from Italy and I have to admit I've been struggling a little; as in a rather unexpected creative slump. I guess a crash was inevitable after such an overdose of visuals that basically keeps you ON, 24/7. It's also the season: the ever-darkening mornings, the colour slowly whisked away with every gust of wind through the trees. This time of year, our entire world seems to be calling us to a long slumber.

When I feel this way I know I have to step back and breathe. Pick up the guitar and scream in a mic for a few hours. Anything to throw my mind elsewhere really. I also know it's helpful just to do things a bit differently — there's nothing worse than an old routine in these cases. It'll just drag you down even more. So this weekend I left the house with a setup I hadn't used on its own in awhile: the X-Pro1 and 35mm f/1.4. And when I found myself walking through those same woods I visit time and time again, I looked at the camera's Q Menu and on a whim decided to create a custom setup on the spot: Velvia, Color -2, Shadows +2, Sharpness +1, everything else standard. To be clear, I never use Velvia. I never use it because I find it too saturated, but also because it blocks the shadows quicker than any of the other film simulations... And here I was pushing those shadows even more. Straight JPEG too, no safety net. I also set the white balance to Cloudy, knowing I'd be adding quite a bit of orange to the mix.

You know what? I got excited. The viewfinder, set to EVF, was suddenly displaying this intense, glowing and magical world, two or three steps away from reality. So I walked around, my hands slowly getting stiffer and stiffer from the cold. When I came back inside Cynthia was busy stitching some curtains for the girls on her mom's old sewing machine. Window light from an overcast sky, the small incandescent bulb just above the needle... I looked into the camera and it was all perfect. So I spent a few minutes hovering while making conversation, watching her work. These were the last images I shot that weekend.

I sat at the computer a day later, waiting on these to import and half-expecting all of it to be a black over-saturated mess... But damn, I like 'em. I also didn't do anything other than apply a very soft curve in post — no tweaking of exposure/contrast, no local adjustments, no clarity either positive or negative. Nothing. Didn't feel I needed to. 

Is this a preset I can use every day in every single situation? Of course not. But I love that I can set these parameters in-camera, shoot accordingly (by using both the EVF and histogram) and have next to nothing to do in post. And I'd love to be able to do even more, get even finer control given how powerful these small machines are today.

Btw: what a joy it was to use this camera/lens combo as a main kit again. Yes, the 35mm AF is a bit slower at times and I've been spoiled by the X-T1 viewfinder and manual controls but.. It's still such a great setup. As for the orange: Halloween's coming up right? Orange and black feels like a good fit ;)

Later


Shot with the X-Pro1 and XF 35mmf/1.4 R


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