Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Lee Friedlander

In 1972 I saw Lee Friedlander's book "Self Portrait". I found it a strange but amusing book. It reminded me of Robert Frank's photographs in some ways - handheld, 35mm Leica, spontaneous photographs. These were much more lighthearted than Frank's photographs. Many of them had this great deadpan humor. I liked how much of his work had a dreamlike quality that was attained in the shooting of the photograph, not the darkroom. They had a documentary quality to them, yet they didn't look anything like what you would see in a newspaper or news magazine. The book had been published in 1970 when Friedlander was 36 years old.

His work has been shown extensively at the Museum of Modern Art since 1967. They began collecting his work in 1964. By 2000 when Friedlander was 66 years old the Museum of Modern Art had over 200 of his photographs in their collection. At this time they purchased 868 prints as well as the right to select 132 future prints.

In 2005 when Friedlander was 71 his work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in a show that was hundreds of photographs and spanned several large galleries. A 469 page catalogue accompanied it. This is a very large heavy book filled with amazing photographs.

Friedlander works with exceptionally accurate equipment - Leica and Hasselblad cameras and lenses. He works in black and white not color. He works with film not digital files and a darkroom not Photoshop and an inkjet printer. His range of subject matter is huge - spaces on the street, candids, portraits, self-portraits, nudes, landscapes, and still lifes. He works indoors and outdoors. Common to all of this work is a mastery that shows no signs of waning. Friendlander will take very common situations and show them to you in a way you could never imagine.

He does not have a website which is too bad. At 74 he remains one of the most important voices of contemporary photography. A small selection of his photographs can be seen at Fraenkel Gallery and Janet Borden.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Mystery of Sensors

When I used film I did not always find it possible to fully understand all of the technical data, but enough of it to choose film without too many surprises. The sensor in a digital camera is the digital equivalent to film in many ways. With the right sensor most photographs look technically accurate. But what should be watched - megapixels or the size of the sensor? Sensors are measured by diagonal size. Most point and shoot camera sensors have a diagonal length of 7.7mm. An SLR camera might be 25mm. To make matters worse there are "Bayer pattern sensors". There are two types of these - CMOS and CCD. And then there are Foveon X3 sensors.

If you have a 10 megapixel camera with the smaller sensor the pixels are smaller and of lower quality than a 10 megapixel DSLR. This is one of the principal reasons point and shoot cameras don't always produce photographs like those made with larger sensor SLR cameras. Sensor size is more important than the number of megapixels. The best choice would be a large sensor with lots of megapixels.

I work with both a SLR camera and a point and shoot camera. I have found that with the point and shoot camera if I work in low contrast light and keep the ISO at 100 I get some pretty accurate photographs. For more technically demanding situations, of which there are many, I use the SLR.