Monday, February 29, 2016

Which Would You Choose!?!?

This is one of Life's toughies- no hints, no clues... ya just gotta man up, steel your resolve and hope for the best!

Photo: © S. Banos

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Pride And Cost Of Techdom

Photo: © S. Banos

The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day."
 -Justin Keller
There is some kernel of truth in what Mr. Keller says- the homeless population in San Francisco has reached insanely ridiculous levels... and it has remained so for at least the fifteen years I've lived here. It was made more than blatantly obvious this past Christmas season (ya know, that time when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of their homeless god) when many a native was outta town and its major streets were left with what appeared to be an SRO crowd of homeless street inhabitants milling about en masse in post apocalyptic, zombie, sci-fi fashion. I-kid-you-not.

Of course, there's a myriad of explanations as to why this continues to be such a plague in this tale of two cities. But computer avatar Keller chooses to simply place all the blame on the homeless themselves. Case closed, problem solved- jail 'em, ship 'em out, and crucify the whole bloody lot if all else fails...

Actually, some of San Francisco's homeless denizens are in fact shipped in from other cities (eg- Las Vegas). But even those numbers are but a fraction of the total that compromise the walking wounded and their cardboard/tent encampments that can be seen throughout certain portions of the city. Many of these people clearly exhibit mental health problems and/or long term drug dependency issues. And this country's major answer to both those problems are twofold: a) have them wander the streets until they're finally... b) incarcerated.

Those with mental disorders  have been increasingly incarcerated during the past three decades, probably as a result of the deinstitutionalization of the state mental health system. Correctional institutions have become the de facto hospitals, and there are more seriously and persistently mentally ill in prisons than in all the state hospitals in the United States.

Photo: © S. Banos
Long term, drug rehab/mental health programs are every bit as critical to solving the homeless situation, as the lack of living wage jobs and affordable housing. Of that there is little doubt or argument. These common sense solutions for this ongoing plague are both proven and effective, should anyone, anywhere care to seriously employ them to the degree needed.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee insists the multi-million dollar tax incentives these software giants and start ups have received are offset by the extra income trickling down to this fair city, while: Google, FB and Genentech buses crowd public bus stops to ferry their private passengers to and fro in luxury; the giant block long Twitter citadel on Market St. remains a totally self contained and self serving bastion of exclusion from the neighborhood beneath its unbreachable walls; and the community give backs for those massive tax incentives remain the cosmetic, unkept promises they were always meant to be. Meanwhile, longstanding residents and neighborhood businesses continue to be booted out to make room for their high end "needs."

San Francisco rent has skyrocketed to obscene levels. Median rent in San Francisco is over $3,000 a month, with some neighborhoods in the $4,000-$5,000 range. Average rent is in the same range. 

So what is the viable alternative to self serving twits like Justin Keller- socially involved and emphatic human beings like... Justin Keller

Photo: © S. Banos

Monday, February 22, 2016

It's A GReat World

The Ricoh GR is incredibly, almost unbelievably compact- well built, like some kind of rare, precious object, and the quality one can squeeze from this diminutive operator is near legendary. It certainly doesn't supply the classic camera, tactile satisfaction, but being the rather unique creature it truly is, it nicely creates its own individual user aura. And because of that nearly non existent environmental signature- you want to (and can) take it everywhere!.

Photo: © S. Banos

Frankly, I detested the very thought of having to compose on a tiny 3 inch screen; it's hard enough trying to make sense of 'em in the best of light with glasses on- what chance does one possibly have in real world circumstances!?!? Easy it ain't; that still doesn't mean it can't be done... and the photo up top proves it.

I was left eyed all my life- until ten years ago when I developed floaters in that eye. It made focusing difficult- easier to change what side you bat from, what hand you throw and write with! Nevertheless, I was forced to adapt, and adapt I did. It certainly wasn't overnight, but with time and practice- I've been a right eyed shooter for several years now with no ill consequence.

Likewise, I was always a manual exposure, full control kinda guy; with the GR, I set the shutter speed and let the autofocus and other bells and whistles that I configured do what they do, while I concentrate fully on somehow trying to position that 3 inch rectangle. Problem solved? Yes and no. Not perfect by any means, but that selfie photo was done on the quick, in very BRIGHT light and is every bit as well composed as if I had done it on my F3. Beginner's luck? Believe it!!! I was damn lucky to get that shot on the second day with the camera, shooting in a completely foreign manner- and I'm sure there'll be many a cussing shit fit yet to come on many another occasion... Right now though, it seems almost magical that despite the odds- sharp, colorful, well exposed images manage to regularly pop up.

The GR opens some doors, while making you you jiggle the lock on others- you accommodate to it, learn its strengths and let it "free" you, or spend your time wallowing in its shortcomings. Why am I so much more forgiving of the GR than the full featured XT-1? Because: A) This was never meant to be a "do everything" camera, and B) It's near supernatural portability is, in fact, it's greatest technological feature and asset. Also, unlike the XT-1, where I was shooting similarly to my analog SLR (except with a crappy EVF that made shooting outside less satisfactory in every way), the GR forces one to use the LCD screen (a la Avedon shooting with his 8X10), or shoot from the hip- you can't condemn it for what it wasn't made to do; either way, people are less threatened by it since it shoots and looks as much phone as camera. Some photographers can't handle the 28mm coverage (too wide), I've been married to a 20, so it's a change for me as well, if from the other direction. But shooting in color with a 28mm isn't that bad for me, being that color adds so much more information- and that combo kinda worked out well for that Eggleston fellow as I recall...

Photo: © S. Banos

Must say, the add-on (3rd party) OVF makes it! Accurate? Hell, that cheap ass piece o'plastic'll give ya a goddamn headache if ya even think of looking through it!

This time round, I'm not particularly looking to make B&W files from digital, and although I've read the GR renders B&W well- when I specifically want B&W, I'll make certain to pack the Tri-X. One thing's for damn sure though, it takes well under a half an hour to process most color files! Having devoted myself to B&W most my life, I'm not at all well versed with color temperature, hues, etc, and am very happy to even go full, all out, auto color correction in Elements (again, see above). That's the other real world of difference, equal if not more so than the actual shooting experience- minutes for color in post vs days for (getting the tonal values just so in) B&W. That is truly miraculous!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Where To Invade Next

I was tepid at best about seeing Michael Moore's latest, Where To Invade Next. The previews looked, well... not only lackluster, but silly, seen it before and- no longer funny. But being that we hadn't seen a flick in quite a few, off we went- and I celebrated by taking... my first senior discount ($1.50- Woo Hoo!).

Surprisingly, the movie itself did not disappoint. Unfortunately, at this point, Moore's movies only preach to the choir- it's pissed off Trump Republicans that need to watch and learn. Watch and learn how the US has chucked, forsaken and forgotten what once made this country great- and what we could now undertake to heal, repair and restore. As usual, Conservatives go on and on about how the US is overtaxed, and yet they never mention the crippling amounts we have to pay for: health care, higher education and a whole host of other social/civic services that we either pay top dollar for- or (increasingly likely) learn to do without. Our health, economy and hopes breaking down before our eyes just as the very environment and infrastructure we so desperately depend upon. And as Moore points out, insult to injury- many of the very ideas that could alleviate so much suffering and right so many of our current economic and social ills that other countries so effectively employ... originated right here in the good ol' US of A!

Sadly we have allowed ourselves to become so tone deaf and dumbed down, so marginalized in our own frustration, that we can only now seek to blame others as we mindlessly chant on in ever increasing fervor- USA, USA, USA...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Curing My Digital Impotence- Take II

Thought I was done with the very thought of digital for quite some time when I bought, and then rather quickly sold, my XT-1 last year. An ill fated love affair, I was done, cured, free of digital's ominous curse, and back in the analog arms of my one true love. And then something happened this winter that turned my head in an unforeseen direction...

The picture that started it all (over again)... Photo: Lisa Wood (aka- The Wife)

On my way to get a beer in the kitchen I noticed a small cute footprint on our living room table top. It was a very light and powdered print (probably made by the cat's litter residue), not easily seen. When I pointed it out to my wife she immediately reached for her iphone as I told her to wait until I turned the light on. As I took the two steps to do just that, she had already taken the picture, applied the proper "filter," and was posting it on Instagram.

Here I was, the alleged photographer of the household, and she had taken pretty much the exact picture I had imagined- while all I could do was think how long it would take me to: get the tripod, set up lights, look for close up filters... All to get as good a shot as the one above- now that set me to thinking...

What I really need is not the digital do everything (and more) equivalent of my current analog kit- I need a digital tool that will supply certain options... A camera that will allow me to: extend the winter light, get me the occasional square format photo, the occasional color photo, the occasional shot from the hip, etc. A tool (don't say iphone- just don't) that will help me do what I can't already do- at least not very easily. And on budget (of course), say... under $500!

Now I had several (used) options to consider: a Sony Nex 6, a Lumix GX1, a Nikon Coolpix A, a Ricoh GR (amongst others); all having their pluses and minuses. The Sony is fairly attractive, but the GX1 is a lovely little thing, and at $150 for a VG Cond body, ever the more attractive! You can get get inexpensive quality 28 and 40(e) lenses for it, and even an optional EVF- this started to look the winner. A refurbished Coolpix A (a formerly $1,000 camera) could be gotten for a cool $300, and then there was the GR, despite the cult raves- it doesn't even look the camera, not really. Time to think some more...

The Sony compact kit lens sucks incredibly bad at the wide end where I'd use it most, and their 28mm(e) pancake is no winner either. The price of the Coolpix A was tempting indeed- but no 4:3, 1:1 aspect ratio options! Did Nikon do that strictly out of spite? The GX1 seemed the hands down winner: good looking, interchangeable lenses, versatile- even an optional EVF! And that's when I really got to thinking...

This wasn't about a versatile digital replacement, already been down that road. And already learned that focusing and composing on an EVF is not my cup o' tea; could using an LCD be any worse? Maybe, probably- but this after all is going to be my emergency supplement camera, not my main squeeze. And that's when the Ricoh GR, the camera I had dismissed as some kind of cult freak toy really started to come unto its own as the most viable option. Here was a functional, bring anywhere tool that could fit my emergency needs as well as my pocket (literally and figuratively) quite nicely. When I saw a very minty version for $450, I bit.

Its actual usage remains to be seen, and I'm anxious to find out- but it's supernatural portability seems to guarantee it's longevity (even if the wife says I'll sell it within a month)...

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Under Construction

Photo: © S. Banos

I've been restoring my least damaged files at record pace in my spare time (and will continue long as I can). Along with some recent work and a few previously completed, I've completed over 60 hi res files; anxious to self publish and show something for the effort, I was wondering how the hell I would eventually edit an appropriate number into book form since there is no particular theme or set subject matter. The photography world in particular is prone to conniptions when things are not edited into a neatly packaged and uniform viewing platform, and understandably so- to a degree. I've never understood the photographic art world's  complete aversion to viewing images that are not specifically related, particularly since we do it every day without chronic after effect.

So I did a preliminary walk through, and it just so happened that approx 30 contained people, and an equal number didn't. Talk about self presenting solutions... how about a two volume set (never thought I'd utter those three words!), each approx 40 images- one featuring various humans; the other featuring only their signature, tell tale signs of chaos and achievement. Certainly not a tight enough edit for most photography connoisseurs; then again, I'm not operating under any delusions of curators beating a path to my door. This "legacy project" is one of several more to come in securing what I've continued to accrue- and what is left me.

And everyone will most assuredly be welcome to view the results, I'm guessing sometime late next fall- barring any major lifestyle complications...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Most Of The Global Economy Will Be Dedicated To Keeping The Water Away"

Most of the time when you tell people that climate change will raise the temperature worldwide a few degrees- they either glaze over or... laugh in your face. This brings it on home in no uncertain terms- unchecked global warming (which is what we continue to have despite and because of all the political hot air rhetoric) will be a world wide catastrophe in a hundred years (and even worse a hundred later), with many a major and world renown city abandoned and underwater...