Friday, November 30, 2012

Who Are These People?

So I was talking with my anchor the other day as we drove to shoot a story, and we were discussing how often TV equipment (including things like nonlinear editing programs) seems to have been designed by someone who has never actually used it in the field.  Quirky functions, difficult to use aspects, impractically fragile parts ... all part of one's daily life with both TV and still photography.

My favorite anecdote on this, though it begins to age now, is about when Sony first introduced the Betacam in the late 1980s.  The camera itself was transformative, in some cases unfortunately, as it made it much easier for broadcast networks to reduce the average TV news crew from two technicians -- one with the deck and audio kit, usually a shotgun mike on a fishpole -- to just one cameraman, as the deck was now part of the camera.

However, as part of that original kit, there was a brand new plate to attach the camera to the tripod.  This was a longer affair than in the past (because of the longer camera), but also had a very different quick release system, involving a trio of bolts that fitted into slots on the bottom of the camera.  When one wished to release the camera, one pulled a small, plastic lever on the side, which caused a series of mechanical pieces inside the plate to move around, which in turn moved the bolts.  Even in my late 20s, as I moved the clever but elaborate piece, feeling the parts inside slide and interact, I knew that it would last about three weeks in the field before something broke.

Then, as now, I joked that somewhere in Tokyo was some bright, young engineer showing this to his colleagues and bosses proudly, saying: "Look what I did!"

But I just know there are people who test these things before release.  I was once told the story that, in the 70s when Olympus made a decent play for the photojournalist market, they dropped some cameras and motor drives by the UPI offices in Washington.  One photographer there already used and liked Olympus, and promptly took them on.  But the motor drives in particular were oddly designed, an intentional step away from the traditional thick bar clamped to the bottom of the camera with a handgrip ending in a shutter release in front of where the camera's own release was (a design developed and long used by first Leica and then Nikon).  Instead, if I remember correctly, the handle went down, like a pistol grip, with a trigger release.

Some months later, the Olympus rep returned to ask what the photographer thought.  "It's over there," he gestured vaguely at a nearby table.  Nothing more needed to be said.  In the intervening time, he had taken the drives apart and taped them back together in the more traditional form.  The pistol grip just wasn't practical.

More recently, Leica has come out with a series of new developments on its legendary M design, finally ending with the Leica digital M.  With each release, for those in the Leica obsession world, there have come stories of a select few given prototypes to field test and recommend improvements, as well as others who are then allowed to borrow the new cameras after they've been announced but before the production numbers are high enough to be seen regularly in stores.  Who are these people?  And more importantly, what do I have to do to get on that list?

Of course, in the case of Leica, it's pure jealousy on my part.  (Though I'm very available and easy to contact -- are you listening Christian Erhardt?However, in the case of, say, Panasonic or Sony, I would gleefully explain to them how what they are doing makes life easier or harder for your average TV professional.  Or perhaps the legendarily uninterested Apple corporation?

But in the end, it still leaves me wondering: Where do they get their testers, or do some of these companies simply not care?  Do they just trust that clever little engineer who is so proud of his complicated design?  What are they thinking?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Ghost in the Machine

So in my quest to continue posting frequently, and also to avoid continuing to clean up the house, I was going through my old posts, and I found the one about getting into Cy Twombly's studio after his death.  As I said in the post, it produced a nice little piece, one I was and continue to be very proud of.  Unfortunately for me, I left WDBJ shortly after I did that to go to work for the Fox 21/27 Morning News, and so my hopes to rack up a few prizes for it were dashed.  So it goes ...

Anyway, I have it still on tape for my personal use, but I haven't seen the piece for a long time.  It runs over four minutes -- exceedingly long for a TV news story -- and has no narrator at all, yet I think tells a good history in an entertaining way.

So as I was looking at the post, I noticed I had hot linked to the video playout at ... and I got curious.  Would it still be there?

It is.  The entire page comes up, complete with a freeze frame in the video player ... but it doesn't seem to play.  Curious. like the aftershadow in your eye after a bright flash.  (Or like the frozen figures in Ray Bradbury's story in Martian Chronicles.  You know, the reverse shadows of the people charred into the house walls after a nuclear attack?)

Guess I'll just have to dig out that tape sometime ...

Monday, November 26, 2012

N is for Neville, who died of ennui ...

Got this email today, from the head of a large photo agency:

Just curious, what sort of photographic projects are you working on?

Which got me thinking ...

Problem 1: The answer is both nothing and quite a lot.  The first answer is the one that inspired me to write this, because -- though I have a lot of things in mind (that's half of "quite a lot") -- I'm not really working on a personal project.  And that's disappointing.

You see I have stacks of stuff, piles of papers and books and files, all the inspirations for various personal projects.  I have all sorts of immediate ideas running around in my head for things I'd like to do right now.  I even have a couple I've made some minimal effort to do.

Like what?  Like this:

This is one of a series of what I've called "test shots" of nighttime views of Roanoke, Virginia.  It's a vague, lazy, passing effort at a larger project of proper, night shots of the city shot with a Speed Graphic on 4x5 film, or perhaps with a Leica using a Zeiss 21mm.  (The Speed's lens wouldn't be wide angle enough for a view like that above).

It's a vague, lazy test shot because I shot it with a Nikon D80, basically on the fly on the way into work on the morning show where I am the staff photographer.  (That's the other half of "quite a lot" -- producing all the visuals for a daily, two-hour show is really time consuming.)

Anyway, this is a continuation of a project I did in DC with the Speed, shooting pictures of the city at night reminiscent of those by Volkmar Wentzel.  And I haven't really put a lot of time and effort into it.  As it is, I keep patting myself on the back for bothering to get out of the car for 10 minutes to shoot these pics.

But the point is: Why am I not working directly on a project?  And why haven't I put more effort into this blog, or my other one?  Well, hopefully with this post, that last part is gonna' end...

Problem 2: Why am I getting an email from the president of a major photo agency?  My ego knows no bounds, and I like to think he's heard of me from my work with the NPPA, or perhaps from friends who work for the agency, but it just doesn't compute.  I think he got me off a list (again, NPPA?) and did a mass mailing.

But why?  What does this say about the state of photo agencies, that he's trolling for new ideas?  In an age where many outlets think viewer photos and random input from Instagram is sufficient, photo agencies -- many of which have vanished or been eaten up by their competitors in recent years -- need to rethink their position and role in the media world.  I think there's a place for them, once the public realizes that any ol' picture isn't as good as a truly well done picture by someone who spends his life making pictures, and then publications (or whatever falls under that term, since literal publishing and its role in the media is a separate question) see a profit from using good, professional photos.  The evidence is there, but I guess it just has to become numerically obvious.

Something to think about.  Maybe while I buckle down and get to work on that next project ...