Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Month: December, 2013

Day of the Dead in Mexico: A Photographic Exploration Of Dia De Los Muertos

Day of the Dead Boy, Zacatecas Mexico

Day of the Dead Boy, Zacatecas Mexico

In the fall of 2013 I attended the Morbid Anatomy Day of the Dead Field Trip called, “Death in Mexico” exploring Dia De Los Muertos. I had seen photographs of this holiday from my friend and mentor Harvey Stein and I was certainly interested in learning more and turning my cameras eye to capture the macabre beauty of the celebration. Accompanying us on this trip was Salvador Olguin, a Monterrey born historian of Mexican cultural artifacts with an emphasis on studying the relationship of Mexico and death. He was our Beatrice as we travelled into the underworld and offered insight into the history and artifice of the Day of the Dead.

Salvador Olguin in cemetery, Guanajuato

Salvador Olguin in cemetery, Guanajuato

Background of the Day of the Dead

Mexico is wonderful country that has its share of issues and grandeur. Faced with a complex history of tyrants, corruption, poverty, and of course drug trafficking Mexicans are acutely aware of death and have the most interesting way of negotiating what we in the USA put at arms length and treat with abject distance. Something completely unique to Mexico’s Day of the Dead is that is has a sense of humor, a moribund smile of sorts.

Sculpture, Zacatecas

Sculpture, Zacatecas

The holiday is celebrated on November 2nd and can be confused with Halloween, which it is not. Day of the Dead is about honoring the deceased by building altars, visiting grave sites, and offering (ofrendas) foods, flowers and drinks to the departed. This all adds up to a festive environment where children paint thier faces in sugar skulls and adults arrange parties in the cemeteries and cities. The festival has its origins linked to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl who presides over the underworld and rules the afterlife. She a flensed goddess and is often depicted with a skull agape. Very fitting since in death, our bones remain as all that is left of our mortal trappings.

Sugar Skull Girl

Girl with sugar skull and instant photo portrait, Zaccatecas

To gain access when needed or to just pass on good photo karma to my subjects I also used a Fujifilm Instax Mini 25 instant camera. If you want to charm your subjects and get them to open up to you, a smile and an Instax shot is your ticket.

Man with sugar skull and military costume, Zaccatecas

Man with sugar skull and military costume, Zaccatecas

You could find altars to the dead in civic building, markets, universities, and even just occupying a niche in the street. This altar was nestled between a parking lot and a major street in the city of Zacatecas.

Simple altar on the streets, Zacatecas

Simple altar on the streets, Zacatecas

Mexico is practical, they don’t feel the need to be modern, if it works, they will adopt it to suit their purpose. Using a mule to carry your cactus drink across town for thirsty denizens is not for a tourist show, the man has a work mule and it does it’s job better than anything else the man has, so he uses it. No license, no department of health, just a real world application. I imagine we could have found this same image 200 years ago, but a modern car would not be parked across the street!

mulevendor

When we were planning this trip I considered what I wanted to get out of it photographically. I wanted to capture the spirit of the day of the dead and the people of mexico. My parents brought me to Mexico when I was 13 years old and what struck me was the sincerity of the people. Shooting with a super sharp lens I walked about with a smile and pointing at my camera to my subjects in order to make these images. I found a purity in the shooting of these mexicans on their holiday, and went for a wide open aperture to soften the background so to make the attention fall on the subjects while hinting at the environment.

Jicama, lime, and chili  snack man, rest stop between Monterrey & Zaccatecas

Jicama, lime, and chili snack man, rest stop between Monterrey & Zaccatecas

Our trip took across four cities and I found interesting subjects at highway rest stops, in alleyways, and on the streets. As I shot the images and edited them I began to fall in love the subjects. Take for instance this father daughter team, it was taken at the Festival of Skulls and it may just be the most honest image I have ever made. The affection is evident in the fathers closeness to his daughter and the child is innocent in a way that North American children have lost in our modern age.

Festival of Skulls father & daughter vendor, Aguascalientes

Festival of Skulls father & daughter vendor, Aguascalientes

The celebrations culminated in parties in the cemeteries. Families would gather in a festive way on the graves of their dead ancestors. These little girls were above their grandmother. I believe that no matter where the spirit of their grandmother is, the smiles of her descendants warms her soul.

girls at grave

Young girls celebrating over grave of grand parent, Guanajuato

breadofdead

Selling Pan de muerto (bread of the dead) on the street, Guanajuato

Mexico Sunset on highway between Zacatecas and Monterrey

The landscape could be ominous between the cities as seen in this sunset.

We visited the Mummies of Guanajuato, where well preserved mummies from a cholera outbreak were on display. These images were shot through display glass and I had to keep the lens touching the glass to avoid reflections.

mummyhead2

Mummy Head

To see more of this work, I have created a book with 76 plates and resources on Blurb. It’s not a cheap book, its $120 dollars but it is 12″x12″ and I’m quite proud of it. Please take a look here, I have the full preview permission set so you can see the entire book.

 

My Day of the Dead Triptych is also available on Fine Art America. This site allows you to choose varying sizes and presentation styles. I have priced them very affordable, so if you’re a fan of this work,  you have a choice of ways to own the photograph without breaking the bank.

Art Prints

The work I shot during the Day of the Dead was photographed exclusively with a Fujifilm XPro1 camera and three lenses; the Zeiss 12mm f2.8, Fujifilm 18mm f2.0 and Fujifilm 35mm f1.4. Settings were raw+jpeg, b&w mode, auto iso to 6400. All jpegs were imported into an iPad and final processing was done using Google’s Snapseed.  This is a workflow I have been using for over a year now and am very excited to present it in a new seminar at the B&H Event Space December 30th at 4 pm.

Resources for learning more about Death in Mexico

Morbid Anatomy – Brooklyn based blog, library and cabinet, museum, and educational collective that survey the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture.

National Museum of Death – A museum in Aguascalientes dedicated to the culture of death in Mexico. A must visit for those with an affinity for the macabre in art and culture.

El Museo De Las Momias (“The Mummies’ Museum”) – A museum exhibiting The Mummies of Guanajuato that consists of naturally mummified bodies interred during a cholera outbreak around Guanajuato, Mexico in 1833. The bodies appear to have been disinterred between 1865 and 1958. During that time a local tax was imposed requiring relatives to pay a fee to keep their relatives interred. If the relatives were unable or unwilling to pay the tax, the bodies were disinterred. Ninety percent of the remains were disinterred because their relatives did not pay the tax. Of these, only two percent had been naturally mummified. The mummified bodies were stored in a building and in the 1900s began attracting tourists. Cemetery workers began charging people a few pesos to enter the building where bones and mummies were stored and eventually a formal museum was founded.

and lastly, here is the entire tour from Morbid Anatomy’s Death in Mexico field trip. A wonderful trip, with wonderful people and the opportunity to make great photographs of super interesting subjects.

The tour group photo picture.

~David Brommer

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Sony RX10 Review – The Perfect Travel Camera

photo

The great digital camera buyer Ben at B&H gave me a call about a month ago and said come down to my office, Sony has something to show us. I was busy and told him I didn’t have time and he replied, “you should come down, they have a game changer here… a 24-200 mm 2.8 constant aperture camera that is compact”. I ran down. Now how can you get that fast aperture of a zoom lens to go from super wide to tele in a compact ZLR (Zoom lens reflex)? What I beheld was the Sony RX10 which actually can do all that. I got to mess around with the prototype and was impressed. Last week I actually got a production model to play with. The following are my observations and some quick work produced while testing it. Like my other reviews I’m not going to get super technical, but I will show you a load of images so you can judge for yourself.

WashingtonUnionSqNYC

Union Square shot at 180mm f2.8. The camera make cropping distant subjects so easy.

So first off lets get back to that lens, because that’s really the reason to consider this camera. The RX10 sports a Carl Zeiss 24-200 mm f2.8 lens. That focal length is the 35mm equivalent. It is not a 2.8-5.6 variable aperture; it is a fast f2.8 throughout the range. Sweet. Very Sweet. The lens is damn sharp, and in my testing I couldn’t help but put the zoom out and bring in distant subjects. For those of you who know me, I’m a wide guy, and prefer getting more in my picture from using a wider perspective. My testing would have to get me out of my comfort zone, so I decided to shoot something that’s out of range of my wide lenses, NYC water towers. They make great subjects!

This short study was all shot with the creative B&W mode. The RX10 allows you to fine tune the creative mode and I chose a +1 contrast and +1 sharpening for good measure.

watertower1

WaterTower2

WaterTower3

WaterTower4

WaterTower6

Lets discus this lens. You zoom by twisting the lens (or a use the toggle on the top of the camera) and it activates an electronic servo zoom. The zoom was fairly slow, and that leads to a precise adjustment of focal lengths, but again, it is a slow process. From 24mm to 200 mm it took me 4 seconds to zoom across that range. The aperture control is very nice, instead of changing aperture from a dial on the back or front of the grip like most cameras, the aperture ring is located like a traditional slr optic, on the back of the lens near the body. Those who appreciate a manual feel will dig this aperture ring, it has a very solid tactile feel with positive 1/3 stop clicks. I want to reiterate, it feels very substantial and of quality. You can also hit a slider button and the aperture ring then looses its clicks for adjusting aperture silently in movie mode. I suggest a 62mm UV filter as an add on. You want to protect that Zeiss goodness right? Go for B&W’s standard 62 mm UV.

gabenbarry

Gabe and Barry Biderman. Two generations of great photographers. Love these guys.

The camera measures 5.1 x 3.5 x 4” and while certainly not a pocket camera it is not overly large. It is about the size of an entry level DSLR like the Canon Rebel t4i or Nikon D5200 with a fat kit lens. There is ample rubber around the body and it feels good in the hand. The viewfinder is superb and has a diopter. I don’t wear glasses, but for me, it was very easy to view through the finder and the EVF is a High-resolution XGA OLED Tru-Finder whatever that hell that is, it works very well. You can with custom functions make sure you see exactly what you to see meaning things like iso, exp comp, levels, metering mode, and more is visible or invisible. The viewfinder has a nice rubber coat, and there is a built in diopter as well, so I assume that if you did wear glasses, it’s not bad at all. The LCD is a 3.0″ / 7.5cm 1,228k-dot tilting Xtra Fine TFT design and works very well. I have to say, it was very nice to use the tilt at ground level to get a cool perspective. Auto focus rocked, super fast and very modern. For those that want manual focus you have a very nice large focus grip on the lens which you can then rely on Sony’s excellent focus peaking feature. Whether you go AF or MF you will be content, both modes work wonderful.

zoomrange

Running through the zoom to get an idea just what 24mm to 200mm can give you. And the answer is, “a lot”.

RX10 sports a 20 megapixel 1” sensor that is up to the task. The camera rocks in low light and also has a new generation processor that builds raw and nice jpegs. I’d say pretty much you have a top of the line sensor in this camera, Sony has been making leaps and strides in their sensors for the past few years. The sensor leaves nothing to be wanting.

The following images are fine in their own right, but when you need to crop in post, how does the jpeg file hold up? Judge for yourself.

nocrop

Sunset Creative Mode- notice the helicopter in the distance?

helicrop

800 % crop into the image to pick out the ‘copter. Notice the detail in the blades? wow.

elviriawavingnocrop

Can you find the mother in law waving?

Elvirawaving

There she is! That’s Elvira and she is at about 600% magnification. Great detail is still in the shot. That 1″ sensor really shines.

The camera has a clean design, it’s not cluttered. The top left of the camera has command dial with the usual modes, but also adds two custom settings, so if you like to profile the camera with specific style, it’s a breeze to recall the settings. The top deck LCD panel is lighted so you can see what your doing in the dark or dimly lit room (a feature from mid-line & high end DLSR cams)  There is also a exposure compensation dial that has a firm feel and is not easy to misadjust when the camera bumps against you (I really like that, my go to camera the XPro1 is so dang easy to accidentally move that dial).

JayDickmanUnionSqNYC

This was taken at Photo Walk with National Geographic photographer Jay Dickman in Union Square NY. Image is shot at 24mm.

The buttons and dials on the back of the camera make sense, there is one Fn button you can assign to a multiple of tasks or get into a high level menu adjustment mode. The deep menu system is easy to navigate, you can access almost anything you would want to change and I found it easy to get in a make an adjustment on the fly quickly.

gabetimndavid

Gabe grabbed the camera and turned to a mirror to make this image of our party table with photographer Tim Cooper. I’m on the phone in the background struggling with AT&T’s crappy service.

So I didn’t play with the movie mode, I’m not into that but my research confirms the camera has an excellent video system that borrows a flicker free scan system that is only found on the FS700. It has a headphone mini jack and audio in with manual level control miniphone jack too, and for those who want XLR connections you can add the pricey Sony XLR-K1M Adapter and Microphone Kit to get perfect audio. Pretty impressive if you’re into that sort of thing.

librarynyc

The range of the zoom lets you really work your perspective.  Shot of the James A Farley Post Office steps in NYC.

And since the camera is a modern high end jammer, you get some other cool bells and whistles, like built in WiFi that can download to your mobile phone and tablets. The RX10 is also weather proof, so feel free to take it out in the rain.

rainyday

The only negative I can see on the camera is that it is a slow start up and shut down. The camera has to move around that big lens it takes its time. I counted a solid 2 second delay on the start up and shut down. That could be annoying. My other concern is that its not a small camera, that is the trend and cameras these days are high performance in small packages. This camera is super performance in a relatively large package.

tulips

So the camera sells at $1299. Yikes! But you do get a serious lens and really you don’t need to buy anything else to make some great images. The question I asked myself is who is this camera for? Well it’s not for the soccer mom and those that are looking for a bargain. This camera is for someone who appreciates high quality and has some disposable income. I am known as a camera whisperer and today I had lunch with the actor Alan Arkin. Alan is on the quest for the perfect camera, not to large, not too small and super high quality. I had been suggesting to him the Fujifilm X system for over a year and just when I thought I had him set, I busted out my RX10 and he fell in love right away. When I mentioned who I thought this camera was for, he proclaimed, “me!”. Needless to say, Alan bought an RX10 on the spot. I look forward to hearing how he feels after shooting with it. I hope he enjoys it, but he really couldn’t keep his hands of it at lunch.

Alan Arkin at MercadoNYC

Alan enjoying some lunch at Mercado in Hell’s Kitchen NYC. Between being a wonderful actor and teaching acting, he enjoys a good camera.

I would say it shines for travel photography; this is the ONE camera you need to pack when on the road. You will travel light, and be assured you will take great images in any light of near or distant subjects. At 10 frames per second and that great AF you wont miss anything. I give it 9 of 10 ten stars. Speed up the start up and shut down time and I’d give it a perfect 10. Now if you ready to buy the Sony RX10 be a mench and buy it at B&H.

girlinalaska

This was taken at B&H’s Event Space during a Sony A7 demo. The lights are Ikan LED and the theme was Alaska. I like that soft bokeh of the background.

Specifications

Imaging
Pixels Actual: 20.9 Megapixel
Effective: 20.2 Megapixel
Sensor 1.0″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm) CMOS
File Formats Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: MP4, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, MPEG-4 AVCHD
Audio: AAC LC, AC3
Max Resolution 20MP: 5472 x 3648 @ 3:2
Other Resolutions 10MP: 3888 x 2592 @ 3:2
5MP: 2736 x 1824 @ 3:2
18MP: 4864 x 3648 @ 4:3
10MP: 3648 x 2736 @ 4:3
5MP: 2592 x 1944 @ 4:3
0.31MP: 640 x 480 @ 4:3
17MP: 5472 x 3080 @ 16:9
7.5MP: 3648 x 2056 @ 16:9
4.2MP: 2720 x 1528 @ 16:9
13MP: 3648 x 3648 @ 1:1
6.5MP: 2544 x 2544 @ 1:1
3.7MP: 1920 x 1920 @ 1:1
12416 x 1856
5536 x 2160
8192 x 1856
3872 x 2160
Aspect Ratio 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9
Image Stabilization Optical
Color Spaces sRGB, Adobe RGB
Optics
Lens Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar, 14 elements in 11 groups
7 Aspheric
(35 mm equivalent: 24-200 mm)
Aperture: f/2.8
Filter Thread 62 mm
Zoom Optical: 8.3x
Clear Image Zoom: 16.6x
Digital: 66x
Digital: 93x
Digital: 133x
Digital: 249x
Exposure Control
ISO Sensitivity Auto, 125-12800 (Extended Mode: 80-12800)
Shutter 4 – 1/3200 sec in Auto Mode
1 – 1/3200 sec in Program Mode
30 – 1/3200 sec in Manual Mode
8 – 1/3200 sec in Aperture Priority Mode
30 – 1/3200 sec in Shutter Priority Mode
Exposure Metering Center-weighted, Multi, Spot
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Bulb, Intelligent Auto, Manual, Movie, Program Shift, Programmed Auto, Scene Selection, Shutter Priority, Superior Auto, Sweep Panorama
Compensation: -3 EV to +3 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
Shooting Modes Anti-motion Blur
Black and White Copy
HDR Painting
Handheld Twilight
High Contrast B&W
Illustration
Landscape
Macro
Miniature Effect
Night Portrait
Night Scene
Partial Color
Pop Color
Portrait
Posterization
Retro
Rich-Tone Monochrome
Sepia
Soft Focus
Soft High-Key
Sports
Sunset
Toy Camera Effect
Vivid Color
Watercolor
White Balance Modes Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature Filter, Custom, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent (Cool White), Fluorescent (Day White), Fluorescent (Daylight), Fluorescent (Warm White), Incandescent, Shade
Burst Rate Up to 10 fps at 20.2 MP
Self Timer 10 Sec, 2 Sec
Remote Control RM-VPR1 (Optional)
Flash
Flash Modes Modes: Auto
Fill-in
Off
Rear Sync
Slow Sync
Compensation: -2 EV to +2 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
Built-in Flash Yes
Effective Flash Range 3.28 – 33.46′ (1 – 10.2 m)
Up To 66.93′ (20.4 m)
External Flash Connection Hot Shoe
Memory
Memory Card Type Memory Stick Duo
Memory Stick Pro Duo
Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo
Memory Stick PRO Duo (High Speed)
Memory Stick XC-HG Duo
Memory Stick Micro
Memory Stick Micro (M2)
SD
SDHC
SDXC
microSD
microSDHC
microSDXC
Recording
Video Recording Yes, NTSC
Resolution 1920 x 1080: 60 fps, 24 fps
1440 x 1080: 30 fps
640 x 480: 30 fps
Video
Video Clip Length Up to 29 Minutes
Audio Recording Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo
Optional External Mic: With Video, Stereo
Viewfinder/Display
Viewfinder Type Electronic
Screen 3.0″ LCD Rear Screen Tilt (1,229,000 pixels)
Screen Coverage 100%
Connectivity/System Requirements
Connectivity DC Input
HDMI D (Micro), USB 2.0
USB 2.0
Wi-Fi Yes
Software Requirements Windows: XP (SP3), Vista (SP2), 7, 8
Mac: OS X 10.6 or later
Power
Battery 1x NP-FW50 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.7VDC, 1080mAh
AC Power Adapter AC-UB10 (Included)
Physical
Dimensions (WxHxD) 5.1 x 3.5 x 4.0″ / 129.0 x 88.1 x 102.2 mm excluding protrusions
Weight 1.79 lb / 813 g with battery and memory card

 

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