Suspect Photography

words and images from david george brommer

Tag: tuscany

Fujifilm XF 18-135 3.5 ~ 5.6 OIS WR Lens Under a Tuscan Sun Review

Zoomed all the way in, Castle Fiorintino. The sun was setting and it really worked. I had to pull over for this one.

Zoomed all the way in, Castle Fiorintino. The sun was setting and it really worked. I had to pull over for this one.

The Tuscan summer vacation always leads me to a mini photo project using specific gear. In the past years the cameras have been diverse such as the Instant Italy summer, using only Fujifilm Instax cameras. Other times I had the pleasure of weeks resorting only to Deardorrfs and Hassalblads, Nikon rangefinder and toy cameras and of course the summer of water color not using a camera at all. This year since a Tuscan darkroom is available after setting one up last year, I knew I’d grab a film camera and using periscope (the social media livecast software), it was decided that the Zeiss Icon 535 medium format would be employed. But I did want a digital, and after the past year of using the cream of Sony’s crop of cameras I was distraught on what to use.

The light in the kitchen is always perfect. Processed in Snapseed.

The light in the kitchen is always perfect. Processed in Snapseed.

On my shelf, gathering dust was my trusty Fujifilm XPro1. I was down to only two lenses, the 18 and the 35. Why was a layer of dust on it? Well for one, this past year as I said I had been using what I would call, Ultra Modern Digitals, in particular the Sony RX series and a few short weeks ago, the brandy new Sony A7rII. Scroll back on this blog to see the many posts about these cameras.

18mm range and nice and wide. Processed in Snapseed.

18mm range and nice and wide. Processed in Snapseed.

Handling the XPro1 was a joy as it always has been. With its viewfinder allowing the option of analog or digital, the classic rangefinder look, the fit and finish and of course, the solid click of the shutter I resolved that I would bring that. But I must say, I know those two lenses inside and out, just like I know Cortona and the local country side, and I needed a new lens to inspire the exploration with the Xpro1.

Cortona and heavily processed in Snapseed.

Cortona and heavily processed in Snapseed.

So I reached out to my Fujifilm connection and long time friend and photo confidant, Brandon. He replied to my text contritely saying, “or be so not Dave and do a crazy zoom 18-135”. Sometime over a year ago, Fujifilm unveiled a “super zoom” that was weather proof and a slight departure from the old school primes that preceded it. For one, it is an image stabilized lens, and secondly the aperture ring while being where you would expect it, near the lens mount, is electronic. It’s not a small lens, and on the camera takes the compact Mirrorless and makes it DSLR size. The aperture is a variable f3.5 at 18mm and at 135mm is a slow f5.6. I figured the best way to deal with the slower zoom was to keep the stabilizer on and reset my auto iso settings. Jumping into the menu I selected 200 to 6400 auto with a min shutter speed of a 1/5th of a second (taking into account the stablizer).

Amazing I was able to catch focus, that's what 3 years with this camera does to you. Wide open and zoomed in, processed in Snapseed.

Amazing I was able to catch focus, that’s what 3 years with this camera does to you. Wide open and zoomed in, processed in Snapseed.

Brandon explained the weather proofing as ingenious. The back of the lens has air conduits built into it for intake and exhaust. This keeps dust inside the lens or pushed out of the lens, and not on the sensor. A fear of long zooms is the vacuum they create as they are zoomed. Fujifilm engineers figured a work around this inherent problem and I had no issues what so ever with dust contamination on the sensor.

Around 80 mm and wide open.

Around 80 mm and wide open.

I enjoy using the lens. It’s a big beast for sure, but by strapping the camera on backwards to my shoulder, the lens tucks nicely into the nook between my but and flank. How about performance? The images will speak for themselves. I found the images tack sharp from edge to edge. Shooting wide open on the wider focal lengths makes for a lack luster bokeh, but certainly at the tele settings on close up subjects, the bokeh improves. It’s no 35 f1.4 for sure, but the flexibility of the zoom overrules that objection quite nicely. Don’t buy this lens for sweet out of focus blurry for and back grounds, buy it to pull in distant details- of which it will do very nicely.

Winter is Coming.

Winter is Coming.

Those steps are special to me, in 2003 that was Barbara and I walking down them freshly married.

Those steps are special to me, in 2003 that was Barbara and I walking down them freshly married.

Also Fujifilm is now offering a line of filters. They are made of metal (not brass) and feature glass Fujifilm Super EBC coated optics. They are not thick and burly B&W filters, but inexpensive and well matched to the system. I would match them to any lens purchase I will make in the future. The threads are perfectly suited for the other lenses in the line up.

Fujifilm Branded Filters for the perfect fit. Shot with iphone 6

Fujifilm Branded Filters for the perfect fit. Shot with iphone 6

A crazy zoom, OK I like it!

~David

Performance
Focal Length 18 – 135mm
Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 27 – 206 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/3.5 – 5.6
Camera Mount Type Fujifilm X mount
Format Compatibility APS-C
Angle of View 76.5° – 12°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.48′ (45 cm)
Magnification 0.27x
Elements/Groups 16/12
Diaphragm Blades 7, Rounded
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front:67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.98 x 3.85″ (75.7 x 97.8 mm)
Weight 1.08 lb (490 g)
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The Summer Project: Back to the Analog 1950’s

NikonGear

 

Every summer I self assign myself a photo project for my August Tuscan vacation. Sometime in May or June I start to think about what I’m going to do and since I have been going to the same spot for 12 years straight now, in the past I have shot 8×10 landscapes (twice), 4×5 landscapes (and made 4×5 cyanotypes under the Tuscan sun), a study of the Terontola house with a Hassalblad (for a handsome book), Instant Italy (all shot with Fujifilm Instax), Olympus Pen FT half frame, and many digital photographs including Italy Looking Up (shot with the Leica M8.2). The past two years I have enjoyed using the Fujifilm Xpro1 extensively and showed them in this blog.

This year I was in a quandary. I considered doing portraits, but truth be told, the effort to work my Italian subjects is too daunting for a vacation, I enjoy the summer work because it shouldn’t be hard, it should be completely relaxing. Over the years I have set up a primitive darkroom in the back of the house. Primarily for developing film and lately doing contact printing. I always dreamed of having a full force darkroom back there, since I have been darkroom-less in NYC since I arrived.

This week I have read two interesting web pieces about film photography. One about an Indian Photo Club dedicated analog film and the other from an old buddy of mine who has relocated Japan and makes a strong case for shooting film with personal reasons. Both of these musings have these influenced me, they got me thinking. I am not going to drone on and on about the film vs. digital argument. That’s moot, and I have done that already in my article “The Merits of Shooting Film in the Digital World” for F295. What got me was the simple joy of hearing a shutter click, and the feel of advancing film with a lever. Loading film, unloading film, and then loading film onto a reel and putting it into a light proof tank. Mixing chemicals, timing it all, reviewing the exposed negative up to a light, cutting the negative, and then lastly, printing the negative. Working in the dark, holding that finished print in your hands after it has dried. Showing the print off, examining the print and noting how you could have printed it just a little bit better.

It’s simply sublime. There is no substitute for this process. It is the essence of photography; skill, vision, craftsmanship, and art. It’s black and white, it’s subtle, and it’s shadows and highlights dancing on fiber paper. Even as I write this, I’m contemplating bringing the last of my marshals oils and perhaps, doing a little hand coloring!

I fired off an email to my friend Nicola, one member of the triumvirate that is behind Cortona On The Move, a photo festival that occurs in the summer months in Cortona, if he could source me an enlarger. He replied he had a cold light Kodak sitting in storage! Perfect, I love a cold light source, and better yet since the back room of the Terontola house is dusty as the days are long.

So this leads me to the choice of cameras. I have a nice collection, actually I pride myself on my camera collection. Since I’m going back to roots here, I think I’d like to keep it simple and that means lets forego large format. I’m thinking 35mm. And my favorite 35mm camera system I have is my vintage Nikon S2 rangefinder. She’s a beauty right out of 1953. Sexier than a Leica, made like a tank, and unlike the more popular Nikon F system cameras, the S2 is a rangefinder. For lenses I’ll bring the entire collection, which includes; a super duper sharp 50 mm 1.4, a great semi wide 35 mm f 2.5, a sweet portrait shooter 105 mm f 2.0 and then just for fun, a 135mm.

I can’t wait to shoot all day and print all night. So keep Suspect Photography bookmarked and I’ll be posting some classic photography during the rest of August.

~David

 

The Old Tuscan Farmer and Every Picture Matters Lesson

The Old Tuscan Farmer in the Cortona market

The Old Tuscan Farmer in the Cortona market

On Saturday mornings in Cortona the market comes to the squares. It’s where we buy our produce, and Barbara’s family has been shopping there for seemingly forever. We have a favorite farmer, and when I met him, he was old. Italian countryside old, which means he looks older than he is due to that famous Tuscan sun. Plus farmers always age harder than regular folk do. His stall was attended by his extremely nice wife (equally as old, but very sturdy), and who I think is his daughter in law, along with his son and a few others who might be family but might be farm hands helping to bring the crop to the market. For as long as I have been coming to Cortona, this has been the same. They are very nice, and the old farmer is jolly and congenial, he always has a firm handshake and a grand smile. For the life of me, I have a problem understanding older Italians and we would go back and forth talking and I never really knew what he was saying or if he understood me, but I grew to like him immensely, he became part of what I love about Cortona.

Two years ago he stopped working the main part of the stall, and broke off to the side setting up next to a wall, sitting mostly, and selling herbs in little pots. No more the heavy melons and sacks of tomatoes, this aspect of the business was now delegated to his wife and the kids. His hands would be always wrapped around a cane, and it was understood he was letting the next generation take over and he would just be in charge of a much smaller crop. When asked how he was feeling, he shook his head and said he was fine, but age was taking its toll on the old farmer, and his pride wouldn’t let him stay home, complain, nor stop what he had been doing his whole life. When I was working on my Instant Italy project (shooting Fujifilm Instax photos exclusively) I took a fine photograph of the old farmer and tried to give it to him but he didn’t comprehend an instant photo so I slipped it in his top pocket as the image was developing. I shot a second photograph of him, the one I would keep, but didn’t come out well. Pointing a camera at the old farmer produced a random result because he didn’t keep still and was always in conversation with who ever would be near him. The next year, I came with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and had decided that I would shoot the people I knew, but I would do it unobtrusively and I would focus on thier hands frequently.

I was eager to be shooting him, and as Barbara and mom selected produce I chatted him up and photographed his hands wrapped around his now ever present cane. I made one exposure, that’s all. I didn’t want to be intrusive as he was now engrossed in another conversation. We saw him a few more times that year on following Saturdays but I had my image.

This year we trotted through the market to buy our produce. I looked forward greatly to seeing the old farmer and being in the presence of his smile and hearing his undecipherable Italian. When we turned the corner the herbs where there, in little black plastic pots but he was nowhere to be seen. His wife upon seeing Barbara and mom greeted us, and mom and Barbara had an exchange with her. They asked where he was and I was hoping for another story of what I had already gotten and inkling about. The farmer’s wife looked down, and said something I of course couldn’t follow. Barbara turned slowly to me and lamented, “he’s gone” with a long face confirming what I had already suspected. He had passed 4 months ago, and further details were absent. I hoped it was an easy passing, and I walked away sadly, feeling empty, like a little part of my summer was forever gone, and then I thought about the photo of his hands. Holding on to his cane, and perhaps a grip onto this world for his last year here. The old farmer will live on in my memories and in that photograph, as well as the Fujifilm Instax photo. I don’t have the latter, but I hope his family found it in his belongings and it’s sitting on a hearth in the farmhouse.

Photography is powerful, it can make a man immortal or conjure the emotions of a past moment. As I lamented the passing of my nameless old farmer I knew I would treasure that image for all time. When I made the image I was thinking of how I could elaborate on my style and work that I shoot in Tuscany. When I edited the image I was unimpressed and not too excited about the photograph I had made. Now, with his passing the condition has changed dramatically, the importance of the image magnified.

Never ever take an exposure for granted. What is drab can become brilliant, what is mundane exceptional. Photographs like wine can into something far more important and relevant than what you thought during the 1/60th of a second it took to expose.

Every picture matters.

Image made with Fujifilm XPro1 and 35mm 1.4  shot in film sim B&W Mode 1:1 format. Processed in Snapseed.

The Exhibition at the old Hospital and the Zeiss Touit 12mm for X-Pro1

View of Val di Chiana from the Old Hospital

View of Val di Chiana from the Old Hospital

I’ll be honest, I’m not that much of a super wide guy. My preferred focal length is just a little wider than normal view. The 28mm to 35mm is pretty perfect for me. Back in May, I got two lenses from Zeiss to try out, the 35 1.8 and 12mm 2.8 Touit lenses. I walked with the 35 1.8 around NYC for a few weeks testing the lens before I passed it on to Gabe from Ruinism and wrote about it on my “Part 1” of the Zeiss Touit tests which can be found here in this earlier blog. I then began to shoot with the 12mm and actually had trouble making images I was excited about. It wasn’t that the gorgeous lens was anything less than a great optic, it was I who had issue with the lens. For those who follow my blog, its not just words, the images have to back up what I’m saying. The environments that I was testing the lens in were just not coexisting and the lens wasn’t working for me. Well, all that changed yesterday when I took the 12mm and mounted it on my trusty Fujifilm X-Pro1 with the aim of checking out some exhibitions at the Cortona On the Move Photo Festival in Italy. All of the images are shot using the 12mm 2.8 at ISO Auto 1600, color shots are Velvia Film Sim Mode unless I chose the B&W Y mode (I used film sim bracketing so I was able to capture it all).

Study in the geometry of Composition in Tuscany

Study of the geometry of Composition in Tuscany

This photo festival is really unlike any other that ever existed before. Taking place is Cortona Italy, a hilltop medieval city made famous lately by the Frances Mayes book, “Under the Tuscan Sun” (Mayes tells the tale of being an expat American and finding herself while rebuilding a Tuscan villa) the festival consists of a series of exhibitions that are found in odd locations throughout the city. By using spaces that are currently unused or abandonded, the festival curates photography with a theme of movement, travel and exploration. It’s a super cool way to explore the old city and see some photography and also, gain entry to spaces that would otherwise not be available.

The festival for the second time was able to procure the old hospital and transform it to a gallery featuring edgy and stimulating photographers as well as a retrospective look at the now defunct Newsweek magazine. For me, hospitals are associated with death, and I found it fitting that Newsweek (which ended publication in December of 2012) a perfect fit to showcase multiple news themes that it was known for, along with some of the brightest documentary shooters. Indeed, the exhibition is aptly titled, “An Autopsy”. RIP Newsweek.

Crowd sourced installation where readers of La Republica were asked to submit photos taken prior to 1999

Crowd sourced installation where readers of La Republica were asked to submit photos taken prior to 1999

I have a new hero, Zed Nelson, who over 5 years shot in 18 countries across 5 continents the diaspora of western concepts of beauty being exported as a new manifestation of aesthetic globalization. His work is akin to Lauren Greenfield and Erwin Olaf but has a technical savvy and execution I was moved by. The room that Zed is displayed in has wide-open windows that over look the city and the valley below. Visitors are torn between looking at glass jar containing fat taken during a liposuction procedure and a view to die for. The dichotomy is exquisite.

Sol Neelman is a North West photographer who couldn’t cut it as a jock, and became a photographer. His are larger than life shots of extreme and weird sports. The subject matter is instantly interesting and his timing for the camera frame impeccable. I look forward to purchasing his book of the complete project, the exhibition left me wanting more.

Salvatore Santoro documentary of his childhood home and despotic local of Campania was what I felt the weakest of the exhibitions, yet still the spirit of the festival pervades the curation of work. While Salvatore’s work is solid, the subject matter is sad and the locations simply run down from the effects of mafia and pollution. I preferred to look at weird sports and go back in history with the covers of Newsweek.

The 12mm super wide lets you explore space unlike a normal view.

The 12mm super wide lets you explore space unlike a normal view.

The crazy Italian photographer I met at Photo Show Milan, Antonio Manta led a workshop at the opening of the festival. This wild spirit and master printer always works with a quirky twist on his portraiture and his workshop embodided that spirt. He set up a red carpet with an inspired throne in front of the signature building in Cortona, the Palazo del Comune and had his class photograph tourists and while choosing the theatre location for the Cortonesi (locals) to be photographed. A selection from his class is on exhibit and shows the organic nature of the festival, work from students attending on display.

Charlatan

I loved how with the use of Newsweek large proofs the festival was able to make a political commentary on thier home country and the world at large. Seeing a Tim Hetherington print as well reminded me what a genius we lost in Libya and I lament that we can’t have Tim’s eye look at current events any longer.

fallensign

Walking the corridors of old hospital and looking at great examples of photography is inspiring, but doing so with the super wide 12mm Zeiss Touit was the icing on the cake. I wanted to take it all in, not just a slice. What better way to examine it all than with a larger than life lens? After all the trying with the lens, I found its home in my bag, as I travel. All the shots in the blog entry are shot with the 12mm, I’ll let the images do the talking.

View3

The super wide is great at taking it all in, and perhaps if Cortona On The Move festival is about travel going places, then its official lens should be the Touit 12mm.

B&W  w/ Yellow Filter Film Sim mode

B&W w/ Yellow Filter Film Sim mode

David Brommer on August 22nd and 23rd will be conducting a Composition seminar in Cortona that is part classroom, part portfolio review, and part photo walk. A trip to the old hospital will be in order!

Steps leading to multiple levels of the exhibition

Steps leading to multiple levels of the exhibition

Finding Photographic Style In Italy

Vespa rider in Milan

Achieving photographic style and understanding the traits that make imagery posses its own distinguishable idiom that resonates with the photographers voice is a daunting and difficult artistic undertaking. As each devotee explores photography and builds their visual vocabulary inevitably certain photographers will rise to the top. Highly crafted and odd works by Joel Peter Witkin, Perfect landscapes of Ansel Adams, snippets of time expertly caught by Bresson, they all share their own unique photographic style that differentiates and identifies the photographer to the photograph. There are many more of course, but those three come to mind as evoking strong, and yet vastly different styles. I’ll invite you later to watch a two hour lecture where I delve deeply into the anatomy of photographic style but this moment I want  to show off an exercise if you will, a self assignment that I give myself every summer for the past decade.

Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo bucolic, Florence

Every year my wife Barbara and I spend our vacation in Tuscany. We have this wonderful home that was Barbara’s grandmothers and has been in her family ever since. The back room is used as a dark room, and there is even a “camera ready room” for coating cyanotypes, loading film holders, and organizing gear for shoots. This photo “mini” project starts in Milan, and then migrates to a small village below Cortona. For a decade now I have spent weeks of my summer in this bucolic medieval countryside and the narrow streets of hill top towns.  I have shot sun flowers (warning: an August trip is a bit late for sun flowers, if you are into shooting them, then I suggest a early July visit), cipressi trees, castles, farm houses, and graveyards. In many ways it’s a photographic paradise and the hordes of tourists with all manner of cameras will surely stop and shoot these unique characteristics.

Florence Duomo

Florence Duomo or The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore aka Florence Duomo

I am interested in having my vision standing out from the crowd. I seek to create images that capture the subject, yet show it in a way that is uncommon and unique. I have to look deeply into my photographic skill set, decimate the technique, subject matter, capture, post process and imagine a way to complete the project with a single voice. It’s hard work and for me, I had to really delve deeply and think about it.

vicolo in Cortona

VIcolo in Cortona

In the past, I have worked on projects such as “Italy Looking Up” where I only shot aiming the camera upwards. No straight on shooting what so ever. I have shot “Adams” style large formate with my Deardorff 8×10, Lensbaby and 35 mm film, Toy Camera with a Black Bird Fly, Nikon Rangefinder with Ilford XP2, and Hasselblad 2 1/4 color print. The project “Instant Italy” was captured using Fujifilm Instax cameras exclusively. By creating sever restrictions on gear you can emerge with a unique style, simply because your confined to something that allows less visual options.

Cortona

Cortona

This year I resolved to shoot with my new and trusty Fujifilm X Pro 1. I would get a chance to explore the nuances of the 35 mm 1.4 and of course, old faithful, the 18 mm 2.0. On the road to photographic style, shooting with primes or limited focal lengths add a common visual denominator, that of the angel of view. No sloppy zooming back and forth here… its either wide or normal view. If I can’t get close to a detail, then its going to be small in the frame.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan

I also decided to make a dramatic choice that would really effect the way I composed my images, I set the camera aspect ratio to 1:1. I’d be working in square format, like my beloved red Hassy. I would also assign a B &W or monochrome film simulation mode. This also means I would be capturing less information on each picture I took. The files went from being 45.7 megabytes to 15.2 megabytes under these setting parameters. I know, I could shoot Raw and have both the big fat files and also the smaller “assignment style” files, but I like to live on the photographic edge.

Either I make this work or I have nothing. I love drama, so the B&W film mode I used most often was the B&W Red filter.

Snack cart, Milan

Snack cart, Milan

It’s not easy to shoot this way, by not falling back on Raw + Jpeg capture you are showing a level of conviction on shooting using a specific technique. Square and B&W however is an interesting choice, because a perfect square is geometrically pleasing and lets face it, B&W is cool like the Fonzie.

Rock and Roll

Rock and Roll

Time was limited, and I had other projects also on the burner. I thought about how the technique could apply to more specific subject matter, like hands, or people. In Camucia, on Thursday mornings the market attracts lots of genuine local flavor. In particular is a vendor who I call Senor Porchetta. His porchetta wagon always has a long line of bustling Tuscans getting their porchetta fill. He is jovial, equally good with pig or knife and knows his fegatini like Silvio Berlusconi knows a 17 year old.

Senor Porchetta

Senor Porchetta

Hands in the Cortona Market

Hands in the Cortona Market

I can’t recall the name of the photographer who said, “if you’re not sure, get closer”, but they were was certainly on to something. Engage your macro, and come in close. I love the macro on the 18 f2.0 is 7.09″ (18 cm) as compared to the 35 f1.4 which is 11.02″ (28 cm), the 18 lets you get in a little closer, but beware, the lens takes in a lot of the scene.

Detail of locks on the Ponte Vechio, Florence. Shot with 18mm f2.0.

Moms sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana.

Mom’s sewing kit in the Casa Tuscana, 18mm f2.0

Fujifilm also has a macro 60mm 2.4. I’ve yet to test this one, but as I continue to work with the 35 1.4 I’m sure to add it to the arsenal later in the year.

35mm 1.4 with a 200% crop

If you have read this far and are liking these images and wish to develop your style or just hear more ranting from me on style, here is a link to the 2 hour program on Youtube, “Finding Photographic Style” recorded in the B&H Event Space this year.

Cortona Cops

Cortona Cops

I also brought my Speed Graphic 4×5 on this trip loaded with Fujifilm Acros to do some cyanotype work. But thats a post for another day.

Ciao!

~David George Brommer

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