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Thursday, February 24, 2005
1:46 PM      


From: Sethu Sethuraman
Date: Feb 24, 2005

Every once in a while I have a blissful experience I just have to share - yesterday I saw Million Dollar Baby. I don't know whether its the pin sharp script (every word uttered is important). Or the photography (the whole movie has a look like its shot with the available tube- lights and push-processed for graininess). Or the many deep statements the story makes quietly without preaching - on relationships, on taking chances, on death. Maybe its just the way Clint Eastwood has ripened in cinema and become one helluva storyteller. If you haven't seen it, just do it.

[My reply]

I totally agree on how masterful the storytelling is in 'Million Dollar Baby.' In saying 'every word uttered is important,' I think you're acknowledging how the story is a fabric of interwoven plot threads -- so many bits of dialogue interconnect with situations in other parts of the movie. Writers talk about coming full circle in the telling of a tale. In this movie, numerous circles are completed. The foreshadowing is never heavy handed or forced.

A comment from IMDB:
'Clint Eastwood is a man of faith. He is an artist who is confident and experienced enough to have a deep faith in the audience that he is trying to reach. He is also a master of omission, of the left-out detail/line, trusting in his gut that his audience is willing to participate in his films by exercising their imaginations; that they never want any aspect of the story to be 'dumbed-down' for ready consumption. In fact, his trust in the audience to use their own minds to fill in gaps is like a gift of part ownership in the film. "Million Dollar Baby" is a beautiful gift, and a masterpiece of film-making....'

Re: Clint's having ripened in the film-making medium: This is the 25th film Eastwood has directed, the 57th film in which he has acted, and the 21st he has produced.

Credit is due Paul Haggis, who created the TV series 'Walker, Texas Ranger' and wrote for 'Thirtysomething,' 'The Tracey Ullman Show,' and 'LA Law,' among others. His rich filmography shows he's also produced and directed, making him the perfect collaborator for a seasoned movie director.

The other person who had a major hand in the finished product is Tom Stern, the cinematographer, whose credits as Chief Lighting Tech include 'Unforgiven,' 'American Beauty,' and 'Road to Perdition.'

Finally, you can't ignore the flawless editing of the film by Joel Cox, who's worked a LOT with Eastwood.


Photo Shop-Talk
Went to a talk last night on photography by 'Great Unknowns.' It's part of the Aperture Foundation Lectures series at The New School. It was a very interesting and inspirational presentation. It also inadvertently underscored some of the hurdles yet to be crossed in presentation technology – especially where color photography is concerned.

Julie Saul of Julie Saul Gallery presented the work of Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri. His work is well known in Italy, but pretty much unrecognized in the US. All of his monographs are in Italian. His earlier work explores abstract themes and architecture. Later work is more commercial.

Daniel Wolf, founder of Light Gallery, presented two photographers: Giroux de Pongy and Jerry Shore.

Shot in the first two or three years after the invention of Daguerrotypes, de Pongy's work masterfully demonstrates the potential of photography as a medium. He shot sophisticated horizontal and vertical landscapes with superb composition. He also did telephoto shots which abstracted forms out of their recognizable context. In Wolf's estimation, de Pongy may well be the Da Vinci of photography.

Jerry Shore's work is about beauty and form. Mr. Wolf commented that Jerry Shore's work invited him to take a fresh look at the city around him, and to see the beauty in it. His work is all about the use of space and color.

That's where the technology problem comes in: Wolf was working from a Dell laptop connected to what looked like a Dell digital projector. His images were Powerpoint slides. He apologized several times for the poor presentation quality of the images. They looked decent on the laptop screen, but color casts and saturation problems with the projector completely distorted the appearance of the images. In one, a red wall looked green. In another, yellows looked purple. I've been to enough presentations where digital projectors are used, to say that color, saturation, and contrast problems seem to be the norm with digital projection.

Competing color correction workflows exist for digital cameras, scanners, monitors, and printers. I don't know of any for digital projectors. I think a reasonably-priced system would be very well-received.

Bonnie Yochelson showed the work of Esther Bubly, a freelance photojournalist. In the Q&A session, Yochelson advanced the argument that photojournalistic and commercial photography are unfairly excluded from the canon of great photographers simply because they give client needs priority over artistic development or expression. One of the other panelists, however, pointed out that photojournalism as a discipline has a canon of its own. In the end, I think it's clear that canonization is a competitive process that is neither completely democratic, nor completely 'fair.'

The next Aperture Foundation Lecture is on 'The Mind of the Photo Editor' at 7pm, Wed March 9, New School Tishman Auditorium, 66 w 12 Street, Manhattan.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005
3:15 PM      

I forgot to mention a couple of other good photo shows in yesterday's post:

William Ropp's 'Children' show is at Clamp Art. Ropp placed children in a dark room and illuminated them with a moving flashlight, using long exposures to 'paint' his subjects with light. The resulting images are extraordinarily ethereal.

Fotosphere is showing the exceptional photographic prints of Dominique Bollinger. The compositions and the top-quality prints make this a stand-out show.

André Kertész, one of my favorite old masters is on display through 3/5 at Howard Greenberg.


Double [digital] Negative
For the last few months, I've been hearing about gelatin silver, platinum and palladium, albumen, cyanotype, gum dichromate, and other photographic prints made from 'digital negatives.' At the same time, I've been reading about Adobe's efforts to standardize the photo industry on a file format they refer to as a digital negative (DNG). The two are not the same. The latter is a unified RAW format specification for digital cameras, while the former is literally a negative generated from a computer with an ink-jet or light valve printer.

The big deal with making digital negatives for alternative photographic processes is the degree of control the photographer has in making the negatives. Many of these processes use contact printing to expose the final image – in other words, there is no enlarger involved. Making the negative through a digital process gives the artist a degree of control and options of scale that were unavailable with older methods. offers courses, and Mark Nelson's e-book Precision Digital Negatives for Silver and Other Alternative Photographic Processes covers the subject.

In the digital camera world, companies are offering cameras with proprietary RAW file formats and corresponding reader/converter applications. Adobe's idea is to provide one format that everyone can write to, so that raw files captured today will still be readable 10, 20, or 40 years from now, when some of those manufacturers may be gone from the digital photography market, and their proprietary software no longer runs on available systems. It's even a good idea in the present-day, in cases where a proprietary raw file format might make a particular digital workflow impossible. It has garnered immediate support.

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Monday, February 21, 2005
4:12 PM      

Hard to believe most of the month has gotten by already. A lot has happened that I had the thought to blog about, but never put fingers to keys. Today will be my opportunity to catch-up a little.


The Gates are a big deal here. I finally saw them for the first time on Friday. I was actually expecting to be underwhelmed after hearing from a couple of friends, even though others were raving.

I approached from the South along Fifth Avenue around 5pm. As I reached the fountain in front of the Plaza hotel, I got my first glimpse of the saffron colored fabric. My expectations were unfounded. Immediately, the enormity of the installation began to sink in.

I think I understand why Christo and Jeanne-Claude chose February: the color comes alive against the grays and muted greens of the park at this time of year. At times, the moving fabric almost looks like flames, giving a tangible example of the phrase ‘a blaze of color.’

My first encounter with the Gates was actually quite frigid. After an hour in the park, my fingers were getting stiff and I had to warm my hands. I'm certain I gave myself a mild case of frostbite; I still have a strange sensation in my left index finger from it. The light was wonderful, though, so I couldn't bring myself to stop shooting – even with the discomfort. I shot until the light was gone.

Supple, yet insufficient as my cashmere-lined leather gloves had been during that first cold encounter with the gates, my iPod served me extremely well. I tuned out the sound of the people around me, and listened instead to my own personal soundtrack, as I framed and shot image after image. It was mostly jazz, blues, and R&B. Sometimes, I hummed or sang along to the music, not caring who might overhear.

But there was a surprise waiting for me when I returned the next day: I already thought the fluid motion of the draping had a certain visual music; without headphones, I realized that the cloth had its own song. The gates sang and danced for me.

Back to the first evening's shooting. I always lose some shots around dusk, because I lose sight of how the shutter speed is dropping off to compensate for the decreasing light. A few pictures blur from camera shake, and then I catch it. At that point, it's time either to increase the ISO, or start using the monopod – I'm not in the habit of carrying the full tripod that much.

Fortunately, I'd made sufficient corrections to capture this last shot on the first day:

From the first moment I walked the gates, I began to think about the meticulous engineering involved, and the enormity of the project. Along the way, I saw so many people photographing, filming, and being photographed. These people were not simply recording a spectacle, they were making themselves a part of an event. The most fascinating aspect of this undertaking that began in 1979 are the millions of conversations it has spawned, even among people who will never experience it for themselves.


More Art Pursuits
Remy Toledo gallery is showing the photography of Mathieu Bernard. It's an intriguing modern take on surrealism.

The Lucien Clergue exhibit at John Stevenson gallery is a special treat. Vintage museum prints are exhibited downstairs, while amazing color prints from in-camera multiple exposures are presented on the upper level. A free CD catalogue is available.

“These are not my Shoes” – Recent paintings by Antonio Petracca – is a very interesting look at how Italians (and by extension, many other ‘outsider’ ethnic groups) have been perceived in American culture. At Kim Foster Gallery.

The fascinating and intense Pop Pluralism show at Jonathan LeVine gallery marks the relocation of Philadelphia's Tin Man Alley Gallery to Chelsea. The work is sophisticated, complex, and dark.


For people who work with text: T.F.M.
Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style (version 2.5) is both enlightening and entertaining. This book takes you way beyond simplistic treatments of how to pour text or define typographic grids. It explores the mechanics and architecture of text, placing it in a historical and practical context. If you want to do more than just pour text – if you want to design with confidence – your copy of this book is likely to become well-worn and dog-eared.

Seasoned book typographers recite in their meditations not only the mantra of points and picas – 12,24, 36, 48, 60, 72... – but also the mantra of octavo signatures: 16, 32, 48, 64, 80, 96, 112, 128, 144, 160, 176, 192, 208, 224, 240, 256, 272, 288, 304, 320, 336, 352, 368, 384, 400... These are the lengths of the books we read.

You can read about the birth of the comma on page 76, poorly-designed punctuation marks on 76-77, and how the ampersand derived from the Latin word et (which means and) on page 78.

On page 119, Mr Bringhurst explained how printing from moveable type was actually invented in 11th century China, not 15th century Germany. It was Bí Sheng, not Gutenberg. Moveable-type printing had even reached Korea by the mid 13th century, but it wasn't a major success until Gutenberg, probably in large measure because Chinese and Korean have immense collections of symbols compared to the basic alphabet of Latin and Germanic languages.

Earlier in the book, he points out that typesetting was one of the last crafts to be mechanized, but one of the first to be computerized.


A poster in the subway announces ‘Be a Bus Maintainer.’ The starting salary for a 40-hour week is $23.8050/hr. It rises to $25.8375/hr. after four years. Interesting that the salaries are calculated out to four decimal places. Looking at the starting salary, that extra $.005 amounts to a whopping twenty cents per week, and maybe $10 a year, compared to $23.80/hr.

When I was studying chemistry in high school, I remember learning about paying to significant figures when performing calculations. The idea was that when you multiplied several numbers together, the number with the least decimal places dictated how many decimal places were significant in the final result. That extra 20¢ certainly doesn't seem significant.

I climbed onto a C train, and saw a young couple. She was carrying a shoulder bag with an embroidered patch that read ‘Most People Suck.’ It still makes me grin.

February 1, I'm in Starbucks again (feeding my habit). A guy with what appears to be a roll of architectural drawings spies my camera, smiles, and says ‘That's a real camera!?’ I smiled back, said ‘Yes, it's real. It's digital.’ His smile withered. ‘Oh– it's digital?,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I replied. He had nothing more to say.

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