Time for Recovery

SF Monochrome

It’s funny how a few days traveling, some dental issues and work can so quickly shift the environment from one of reflection to one of the constant pressure of activity.

As my posting over the last few days shows, I had time to capture images while in San Francisco. My goal was just to get back into visual mode after some months of ignoring the cameras. But the light in the city and the capability of the tools was enough to very quickly get me into that mode of looking that leads to making images. I brought the Leica M10 Monochrom which is a camera with a digital sensor that captures only black and white images since it lacks the color filters needed to reconstruct colors in a digital image. I brought the Monochrom because I wanted to be deliberate in capture, something that the rangfinder focusing M10 brings. And since my final product is monochrome, the B&W camera takes me a step closer from capture to image- The more casual approach compared to the cinematic imagery I’m made in recent years.

So I more or less picked up where I left off, trying to abstract the bits of the city that I can isolate with my lens. I brought my newer 35mm Summicron lens, ending up shooting mostly wide open in that sharp, defining California light. And I definitely enjoyed collecting the images and there’s a pretty high percentage of interesting captures. So I’ve been having fun doing a very quick set of image adjustments and publishing here and Instagram. The 35mm lens opens up the view a bit. While in San Francisco, I stopped in at the SF Leica store to look at the images on display and look over the cameras and lenses. It turned out they had a used electronic viewfinder for the M, the Visoflex, at a good price. So the rest of the trip was variously shot with the EVF, the glass rangefinder or the back screen.

On Sunday, before heading back to the airport for the red-eye flight back to Baltimore, I spent a few hours at SFMOMA, the wonderful San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Not much going on in the way of photography because of new exhibit being hung. So I spent more time looking at paintings this time there. I’ve noted here a number of times that my formative experience with art was with the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Motherwell, Johns, Rothko, Diebenkorn. The headline show at the museum were the paintings of Joan Mitchell. I’d seen them before, but there’s nothing like a retrospective like this to get to know a artist well. Of interest to me was how she wasn’t afraid as an abstract painter to let here images drift back to the landscape enough that the underlying structure of nature starts to emerge from the abstraction. And color. Color is emotional.

Joan Mitchell, La Grande Vallée XVI, Pour Iva, 1983

While viewing the show and since I’ve been thinking about how abstract expressionism informs the images I make. I like the tension between my formal abstraction and the concreteness of the photographic image. I can’t hide the fact that what I’ve photographed a fire plug. But you have to ask why did I capture the image? What did I see in that moment that compelled me to capture an image and publish it here. One of the ideas that I took away from Joan Mitchell’s paintings is that the view wants some challenge. Enough to make viewing a way of participating in the creative act. You see, art presents ambiguous, noisy sensations allowing the viewer to participate in finishing the creation through inference. If there’s no sense of participation with the artist, looking is boring and no fun.

In the Creator Economy We’re All Creators

Since I appreciate art in many forms, I’ve also been interested in the economics of producing and distributing it. In the last decade, delivery and viewing art in digital form has transformed the landscape.

One of the clearest changes has been the fall of the big distributors and the rise of direct interaction of artists with their audience. The profit has gone out of recording and distribution of music because of streaming services. Movie theaters and big studios now join or cut deals with the many streaming channels that aggregate viewers. Newspapers, publishers, galleries have all similarly collapsed and consolidated, limiting traditional outlets for artists to sell their work for reasonable returns on their time.

Over the summer I read The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Techby William Deresiewicz, a survey across media of how difficult it is for artists to provide for themselves and their families with this loss of intermediaries that often functioned as a supportive ecology for the arts. Publishers and newspapers needed writers and essayists, so enough money went out to ensure a decent pool of talent to create content. At the end of the book, there’s a discussion of how artists are now directly addressing their audiences, but sees the shift of burden from intermediary to artist as a burden for the artist that limits their time and motivation to create.

From my point of view, I treasure some of the artists I follow closely and am more than happy to provide some direct support. I always bring up Craig Mod in this context only because I watched his turn from freelancer to online creative as it happened. For example, Craig invited his supporters into his home to watch him pack for his upcoming walk. You see, Craig’s art is walking, producing books, podcasts, essays and photos along the way.

Starting in about 30 mins: Running a members-only packing and Q&A livestream about my upcoming Ten City Walk.

Folks with money and internet platforms (Instagram, Pinterest, etc) have noticed and we now have a name for direct to consumer art transactions. It’s The Creator Economy. I’ve seen repeated use of this phrase

The creator economy is growing much faster than music streaming – Water & Music

To understand this gap, it’s important to reiterate that music streaming is not part of the “creator economy” by most definitions of the latter term. As I’ve written in the past, some of the core tenets of the creator economy (or “passion economy,” as some investors formerly called it) include defying commodification, enabling direct support from fans or followers and giving creators the ability to charge a price that matches the value they provide, not just the cost of bringing their products to market.

Sounds cliché, I know. But looking back at industry discussions in the last year, it’s been practically impossible to avoid the term “creator” — which could be loosely defined as anyone who creates something online that someone, somewhere, finds valuable and wants to pay for — as the universal signifier of what’s to come, culturally, technologically and financially.

Anecdotally, the FedEx shop near my home has seen a huge increase in creatives at home during the pandemic using them to ship out goods to their patrons.

The Pandemic Has Been Very, Very Good for the Creator Economy – Bloomberg

The business around digital talent has gotten so big that it’s spawned a new phrase, “the creator economy,” that has become one of the business buzzwords of the year. Look no further than the rise of Substack, Patreon, OnlyFans, all of which are giving journalists, podcasters and sex workers the chance to replicate the business models of YouTubers. 

It’s now more clear to me that the extra burden that’s been imposed on artists with the loss of traditional intermediaries won’t be empty for long. A new breed of convenience intermediaries are rapidly rising to fill the gap. It really is like watching an ecology adapt in real time. An external event- digitalization causes the near extinction of some key participants in the ecology. Things move out of balance for a while and other populations may suffer, but the system destabilizes with new or newly adapted organisms that fill the empty niche.

One more thought. Is programming another one of these arts? Have app stores also been one of these extinction events as boxed software died. Maybe we didn’t notice because the app stores and software payment services were part of the disruption that killed typical software distribution of expensive, big products.

Just like so many more of us are photographers and musician because the tools are so good and so easily obtained, I think more of us are leaning programming- at least automation and complex No-Code apps.

Chrys Bader had an interesting take on the rise of software tinkering: HyperCard and what it means for the future of No-Code

My theory here is that the more people become software developers, the more the knowledge permeates culture, and the more the number of hobbyists and tinkerers grows. That means our competence in technology becomes more sophisticated as a society.

Apps get smarter and software development moves toward creating the tools used to create the art. Even if those tools are only tools for thought.

A Very Good Day

Some advice to myself to mark the day.

Make some time to create today and everyday. Be sure you use whatever means of self expression is at hand, whether words, images or sounds. Don’t be concerned about how many likes it gets on Instagram or even whether you yourself like it.

Trust that you know enough to start, then use that feeling to do something that tells everyone else what’s inside you. The value is in making yourself bigger than the chatter and imagination in your head. You’ll be impressed with what you can do.

Someone’s personal junkyard. Nikon D850 24-120mm f/4G ED VR

How a Hybrid Leica M Camera Would Focus

Ever since mirrorless cameras came on the scene, there’s been hope for a mirrorless Leica M camera. Usually what’s suggested is a hybrid system where the electronic viewfinder (EVF) could be swapped or somehow superimposed on the clear class rangefinder view. Leica has been making mirrorless cameras now for years.1 I’m sure Leica has prototyped the idea, but based on my experience, the essential problem with the hybrid M concept is focus.

My youngest with the M10 Monochrom

Mirrorless means autofocus

The mirrorless L-mount Leicas are all autofocus. The first, the TL, didn’t even have an EVF when introduced. When you mount a manual focus lens on one of these cameras the only way to get decent focus is with “focus peaking”, where the in focus area is signaled in the display as an area of color, usually red. It is never very accurate and becomes almost useless once the lens is stopped down.

Does anyone really want to only focus a manual lens on an M with focus peaking? I can’t imagine capturing a moving person or shifting subjects in a street scene this way. With practice many of us get pretty good at moving focus with the rangefinder, but anyone really capturing sports or wildlife wants a sophisticated, predictive autofocus mechanism. Sure I focus in live view sometimes with my M, but EVF really works best with autofocus.

How could autofocus be added to the M then?

So to add autofocus to the M, Leica would need a new line of M size lenses with autofocus capability. They would then work on both a Rangefinder M and an EVF or hybrid M. That would bifurcate a 100 year history of the M39/M mount, similar to what happened with the Nikon F mount over the years as there was mixed backward and forward compatibility depending on focus mechanism and aperture control.

One way to enable manual focus in an EVF that I can imagine is a dual EVF, one large that’s off the sensor and another small patch that’s digitizing just the rangefinder spot. I think it could be done using the sensors found in every cell phone camera with a tiny lens and tiny sensor. That would truly be a digital rangefinder where the photographer was lining up two digital feeds. You’d gain the ability to see the image through the lens as the the sensor is seeing it. You’d have a rangefinder that was easy to focus in low light. You’d have those lovely small M lenses to work with.

Really, if there is any failing of the Leica SL2 it’s really just the size and weight of a fully outfitted mirrorless camera with a modern large digital optimized mount compared to the M. The SL2 is pretty comparable to the Nikon Z7 in size and the lenses are similarly digital optimized and larger than we were used to in the SLR systems. It’s the Leica Q2 that’s the sweet full frame, small and light camera but you have to get used to a 28mm lens like that of your phone and the need to crop way more often than when you can change lenses to frame better.

The M hybrid approach to exposure

I actually like the current M10 cameras as a hybrid system. I rely on the rear display to optimize exposure, but prefer the direct viewfinder with frame lines to compose and the rangefinder to focus. I’m learning that exposure with mirrorless is a process all its own. I highly recommend Greg William’s course2 to learn a more about how to work mirrorless or with a phone to optimize light and exposure in a casual workflow. It’s all about getting the image right in camera, which of course has always been the goal, but now is even more valuable given our digital post-processing tools. I generally push to get the midtones looking right which gives me maximal ability to recover either highlights or shadows given the huge dynamic range of modern sensors.

  1. The Leica TL, an interchangeable lens APS-C camera was introduced in 2014 and the full frame SL with a compatible mount in 2015 

  2. Skills Faster: Candid Photography Skills