Rodin Unbent

The Kiss seen from the front

We went to an exhibition at the British Museum on the theme how Rodin was influenced by the Ancient Greek sculptures he saw in the British Museum.

His ‘The Thinker’ and ‘The Kiss’ were there.

In my mind’s eye I already had an image of how the couple in The Kiss were entwined and melted into one another, and here in the photo above is the couple, seen from the front.

The Front and The Side

I know there isn’t a ‘front’ and a ‘side’, exactly, on a sculpture that is by its nature something that can be seen all the way around.

But I think that is more or less the ‘front’ – the position from which the two are seen most entwined, having a good old smooch.

But come around the side and surprise! The man is sitting upright, straight backed.

The Kiss from the side

Rodin

Dorothea Lange and What Is Sharp

Dorothea Lange At The Barbican Art Gallery

This summer, Barbican Art Gallery stages the first UK survey of the American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895–1965), one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.

If you are in London and want to see Lange’s work, there are 250 of her photos along with books, letters, and notes in an exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery.

The exhibition describes how Lange started her working life as a society portrait photographer in San Francisco and was doing very well for herself.

Then the Depression came and the Government Farm Securities Administration hired her and other photographers and writers to document the exodus of Oklahoma tenant farmers to California following a drought that had turned the mid-Western states into a giant dustbowl.

The experience opened Lange’s eyes, and from then on her mission was to document social issues to bring about change to make a more equitable society.

The exhibition is well worth seeing if you have the opportunity.

What Is Sharp

Lange’s photos are held in the Library Of Congress Library. This one (held as a 58.5MB tif file) is Dorothea Lange’s photograph of Florence Owens Thompson and two of her children. It is one of a series that Lange shot over 10 or 15 minutes when she was following and documenting the lives of dust bowl tenant farmers. The photo is one of the icons of the period and has become known as the Migrant Mother photo.

Lange’s notes at the Barbican exhibition details what took place when she took the photographs. Lange mentions that the session was unusually short and she describes how she and Florence Owens Thompson and the children related during that 10 or 15 minutes.

I am not sure what camera Dorothea Lange used to take this photo. A search on the Web says she used a Graflex Super D for a lot of her work. The Graflex Super D uses or used 3 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ film, which equates to 82.5x108mm.

In principle, the bigger the linear difference (not the area) of one size film to another, the greater the detail that the film can show.

35mm film, the kind used in most film cameras before the advent of digital sensors, is 24x36mm.

So in linear comparison, the film in Lange’s camera was more than three times as long on each side compared to 35mm film.

But now we have digital sensors, and the vast majority of photographers shoot with cameras that have AP-C sensors, or micro 4/3 sensors, or smaller.

Here is a 35mm frame, and within it is an AP-C sensor, and within that is a micro 4/3 sensor, and then a 1″ sensor. The sensors in the majority of compacts cameras are smaller still.

The film that Dorothea Lange used would be several times bigger than any of these formats.

In other words, the sensors in most digital cameras are tiny compared to the size of the film that Dorothea Lange shot.

Here is a close up of part of Florence Owns Thompson’s face. I’d say the close-up represents about 5% of the full frame.

close up of tif file of Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother photo

Looking at the full frame of Migrant Mother, it looks very pleasing, but home in on the detail and we can see that it does not look sharp. Of course, maybe her shutter speed was too low or her focusing was off – but still, it makes you wonder.

Well wonder no more.

In 2016, Ctein – a master printer who has printed medium format slide film and micro 4/3 digital files – was asked when micro 4/3 sensors would surpas medium format film for sharpness.

His answer was that micro 4/3 digital sensors had already surpassed medium format film and had done so back in 2010.

Why Get Hung Up On Sharpness

I could direct this question to myself, because I am always looking for that extra bit of detail in photos. The reality is that at a normal viewing distance we are already well past the point at which the eye can discriminate any additional amount of sharpness.

There’s one more twist, of course, and that is in Photoshop one can sharpen Lange’s photo by increasing the micro contrast. I did that with the close-up with this result.

I could have sharpened it more, but the grain started to intrude with big black and white splotches so I backed off at that point.

There is a lovely tonal range in the original Lange photo. And that ability to capture fine gradations of tone and not just sharpness is a bit part of what makes a pleasing photograph.

I would use film, but developing and printing film is a labour of love that requires a permanent darkroom in which to settle in and be comfortable. And we just don’t have the space.

Street Photography In Edinburgh

I went on a candid street photography photowalk with some people when I was living in Edinburgh. It was just the one walk because other things got in the way of finding time to go on others. I’m mentioning it because yesterday I was looking through old photos from my D7000 and I came across this one from that photowalk.

Let’s call it candid street photography on the streets of Edinburgh – woman tired, sitting and resting on a bollard.

The first shot is ‘straight out of the box’ as it were, with blown highlights and just generally overexposed.

Photographers talk about how digital cameras behave somewhat like shooting slide film was in film cameras. Don’t blow out the highlights because you will never get them back again, was the mantra.

With digital, it means that once a certain amount of light hits the sensor or parts of the sensor, it overpowers it and turns everything to blinding white.

Except that the Nikon D7000 manages to recover highlights very well, as you can see here.

candid street photography on the streets of Edinburgh - woman sitting and resting on a bollard

candid street photography on the streets of Edinburgh - woman sitting and resting on a bollard - properly processed shot