The Leica File Thirteen

Hey folks, a little something different here. I’ve posted this image before, as part of a story about my travels to Peru. I am by no means a landscape photographer, but there is something about this image that I absolutely love. I wanted to explain what this is, and also how this image fits into the realities of covering something like the Amazon with a Leica rangefinder. Please follow the “travels” link above and see how this image fits into the overall context of the photo-essay. Also, listen to the Macaw soundtrack again, if you haven’t before because one of the surprising things about the Amazon is how loud it is.

Peru black and white. 2011

Countdown to Peru 2013: Winds of Machu Picchu

Smogranch_Machu_Picchu_

Machu Picchu Wind, 2011.

I’ve made the trip up to Machu Picchu about six times now, and I realized after the second visit there was no way to predict what I would see. I’ve seen the place completely and uttering deserted and I’ve seen it overrun with tourists. Both situations were fantastic. I’ve seen it rain. I’ve seen the sun shine. I’ve seen incredible clouds and I’ve seen wind which is what this post is about. The wind comes up from the valley and just rockets past the areas near the edge of the site. If you are lucky people slap on their plastic rain sheets and let the wind take them for a ride. I’m not really a ruins guy, but I don’t think I will ever tire of this place. I could stare into those mountains forever.


Flemming gets blasted, Machu Picchu 2011.

This second image is of Flemming Jensen, a student from last year’s workshop. It had been a slow, wet day at the site, perfect in so many ways, and Flemming and I ended up in the same area. As you visit the site everyone breaks off and goes their own way, but you keep running into people you know here and there. I ran into Flemming just as his rain gear was in full revolt. Oddly enough he’s Danish, and in Denmark they routinely wear their rain gear this way, something about their Viking past, but I still found it worthy of a quick snap with phone.

Machu Picchu Wind from Smogranch on Vimeo.

This is maybe the worst video footage in history but someone had to shoot it. Might as well be me. We are headed back to this sacred site at the beginning of this year’s workshop. I’m already scheming and planning as to how I’m going to work this place. Can’t wait.

Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Three

BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND…MORE PHONE PHOTOGRAPHS. OKAY NOT REALLY.

Since my last post about the upcoming Peru trip I am holding fast to my goal of black and white only during the 2013 trip. However, something else just creeped into my mind………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Okay, by now you should be getting a good feel for just how INSANELY good these Peru trips are. These are simply phone images, but they will describe to you the route and trajectory of our time together. And when I say, “simply phone images,” as I’ve stated before, I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Remember, if the phone is what you carry then just commit to that. You could create something pretty darn cool and wouldn’t even need to complain about a sore back, tired shoulders or pinched nerve. Power on.

It’s odd, when these trips happen I get wrapped up in the logistics, the conversations and I forget what all we did.

You can’t imagine what it does to me to see these images. The pull of places like Machu Picchu and the Amazon are so overwhelming it’s hard to deal with. Heck, South America in general is so stamped on my brain I’m ruined forever.

Last time I checked we had a few seats left for the 2013 voyage.




Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone Two

Round two of Peru iPhone snaps. What I think is important is the range of moment and location. Imagine having the time to work these scenes, these places, etc. Slowly, building the days and weeks, image by image, moment by moment. I’m sitting here foaming at the mouth in anticipation. If I could leave right now I would.

In 2013 I’m going all black and white, all 35mm. No color on this trip.(This is what I’m saying right now, today, but tomorrow I might tell you something different.) Going to just streamline even more and focus on making the best black and white snaps I can. Oddly enough, what is making me okay with this is the fact that I am contemplating a portrait lens for 35mm, meaning something in the 85mm range. I haven’t had a longer lens like this in several decades, but I’m thinking about getting one now. I don’t want to continue to work in both color square and black and white 35mm. It’s just too much and what I end up with is too easy, to predictable and too fractured. I’ve written about this in the past but color square is a VERY easy way of working because everything looks great. The great medium format falloff, the ease of the lack of composition using the square, etc. Working with the square is a crutch, unless in my opinion, you just entirely devote yourself to that format, which oddly enough in the age of digital has really seen a resurgence. When you work with the square it FEELS good because again you know you can snap a garbage can at 2.8 an it will look great(I actually did this last year in Peru). Black and white 35mm isn’t exotic and it sure as Hell isn’t easy. It takes far more time, more effort and more concentration. It is also, at least in my experience, a far lower success rate. It’s a very difficult decision to do this, believe me. We are surrounded by an industry that screams DON’T DO THIS. I just looked through a catalog from an art-photography fair and there was exactly ONE black and white reportage image. It’s not like there is a huge demand for it.

The industry screams shoot digital so you don’t have to travel with film. Shoot digital so you can have an endless amount of imagery. Shoot digital so you can have color and black and white on every image. Shoot digital so you can see those images at night in the hotel. Shoot digital so you can share your moments with the world as you go.
These are all valid points depending on who you are and what your goals are. The vast majority of my workshop students will be, and are, digital, but for me I like chipping away with a visual chisel. I would not, and am not, suggesting everyone do this. Just me talking here. But let’s move on.

I will no longer have an iPhone. I switched to a Samsung phone, which I feel has advantages over the iPhone, but again this is me talking. There are a bevy of reasons why I like the Samsung/Google pairing more than the iPhone world, but again, this is like debating Nikon vs Canon. Use what you like.

The images here were all iPhone from last year, and as you know if you follow this blog, I’ve done one post already about this work and have another on the list after this. Nothing wrong with these images, but when I studied what they REALLY were, I realized they were simply not good photographs. These images were about software more than photography, moments, light, timing, etc. When you strip away the Snapseed filters you are left with images that simply aren’t great. I feel this way about many of cellphone images I see, but I actually don’t think that is entirely bad, and I also feel this same about the vast majority of photographs I see for that matter. I think these mobile-images, for most people. serve a certain purpose. I think at this point when I see a project being sold as a “cellphone project” I just wonder why we still need to highlight that? Maybe I’m missing something but didn’t Robert Clark do a cellphone book back in the 1990’s? Once I saw that project I was under the impression the genie was out of the bottle, but again, I’m probably missing something. They are what they are. I think we should simply judge them like the rest of photography. Are they good photographs or not?


However, this isn’t why I’m NOT using a phone while I work. I’m not using the phone to make pictures, any phone, while I WORK because I can’t do two things at once. I surely can’t do three, which is what I was doing last year in Peru. Actually, I was trying to do four. I was shooting color square, black and white 35mm, recording audio and using my phone. People, this just doesn’t work. Did I get some decent images? Yes. Did I make anything cohesive? No. Now, to muy credit, I’m teaching, which is priority one, but I wasn’t making it easy on myself, that is for sure. I’m left with the question, “What would I have made had I only done ONE thing?”



I want to make something VERY clear. If you are using, or want to use your phone to make images, than by all means DO IT. I know several people who have fully committed to this device and are making interesting images and then fully utilizing the real-time delivery methods the platform was designed for. My ONLY suggestion is that if you are going to do it then commit to it and don’t do what I did. Don’t multitask because it really doesn’t work, not for you, or me, or anyone else. The bottom line is that the mobile phone has contributed HUGE amounts to the visual literacy of the world, and it will continue to do so. And, the options for how you use it, print it, showcase it etc, will only get better. I just know I have to pick my visual battles, WHEN I’M WORKING, and when I say “working” I mean those rare occasions when I’m in the field with the singular desire to make the best images I possibly can.

I guess what all of this boils down to is decision making. I’ve had enough time, both in the field and away, that I know now what I need to do. I know I have decisions I HAVE to make that will dramatically impact the archive I’ll have when my bones turn to dust. For me, in many ways, it’s not about the NOW. But again, to each his or her own. I think it is really interesting to have a workshop class where there is a range of angles working in the background, someone on a laptop, someone building a fire to heat chemistry and someone scouring the Lima streets for flash powder. Come July it’s game on.