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How many professional photographers does it take to get a decent photo?

In Uncategorized on April 23, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , ,

Myself and Susanne at the artist's talk by Laurie Anderson at Sensoria 2012, Sheffield, UK

More than two, apparently.

In 1981 Radio 1 DJ John Peel played the eight-and-a-half minute single “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson. This was the first time I had heard her name and also the very first time I had heard the term “performance artist”.

Since that time Laurie Anderson’s work, marrying words, music and visuals, has been a seminal influence on my own creative and production technique. However, it never occurred to me that I would actually get to speak to her, never mind make physical contact. Consequently, confronted by an unexpected meeting, I delivered the brief eulogy of an awkward seventeen-year-old, recalling my first exposure to her work in 1981.

Myself and Susanne Palzer, also an artist and professional photographer, managed to get a sum total of three poor mobile phone photos due to us being absolutely star-struck. I have worked on events for many years and have met many famous people. On one occasion Henry Winkler called me “sir” and on another I directed Morgan Spurlock to the toilets, but this is the first time I was actually giddy.

More than 30 years later, I was present at the UK premier of Laurie Anderson’s new performance work “Another Day in America” at Sheffield City Hall as part of Sensoria 2012.

Fortunately Jacqui Bellamy aka Pixelwitch Pictures was at the gig to cover the official photography.

Sensoria is Sheffield’s annual festival of Film and Music, named after the track by iconic Sheffield band Cabaret Voltaire.
http://2012.sensoria.org.uk/
http://www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk/

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Nerds and geeks and dorks, oh my! – The New Ridicules

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Martyn Eggleton of Access Space, Sheffield, UK wears it with pride.

According to Wikipedia Nerd is a derogatory slang term for a person typically described as intellectual, socially-impaired, and obsessive … A synonym is geek, though some believe it is less derogatory. Another synonym is “dork,” but it doesn’t suggest any intellectual aspects.”

In a world awash with technology, it’s hard not to get involved, but I have always been interested in computers, which I guess makes me a nerd. My introduction to programming was on a borrowed BBC Micro back in 1982, and I taught myself to program in BBC BASIC with an incomplete user manual.
http://www.proudnerd.com/

Later on I had a ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, various Apple Macintoshes, Windows PCs and now Linux PCs. So I suppose I’m also a geek.

More recently, these colloquial insults have been adopted by their targets and are now treated as badges of honour. GeekUp is a “grassroots knowledge sharing and networking social for folks involved or interested in the web and technology industry.” and we have a branch here in Sheffield, UK.
http://geekup.org/

Even the word dork, which was traditionally more insulting, has been reclaimed by people “doing strange things with electricity”. So I guess I’m a dork now too.
http://www.dorkbot.org/

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time at Access Space, Sheffield, UK, researching and developing software tools for streamlining my post-production timelapse workflow. This overlaps significantly with the collaborative documentary project, Flying Monkey TV, that I started with artist Matt Lewis in 2010.
http://flyingmonkey.tv
http://access-space.org

We’ve had a few false starts to the project, but in partnership with Access Space (one of NESTA’s “New Radicals”), I am making progress.
http://www.nesta.org.uk/news_and_features/britains_new_radicals

One line of investigation is using UNIX / Linux libraries on legacy Mac computers. I have a handful at home, doing nothing, and am interested to see if they can be used as workhorse machines for post-processing timelapse image captures. What interests me in Linux is not for the sake of it but the idea that I can leverage a lot of computer power cheaply, efficiently and legally.

The geek in me wants to see if it’s practical, the dork in me is stubborn enough to do it even if it’s not, and the nerd in me wants to tell everyone about it.
http://macports.org
http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/ports/releases/hardy/release/
http://cdimage.ubuntu.com/ports/releases/lucid/release/

Other derogatory monikers that may be appropriate are noob, dweeb and spod “one who wastes time on nonproductive activities online.”

I suppose I’m also a bit of a spod, although I am less proud of that, but dweeb sounds almost lovable, and as far as Linux is concerned, I’m definitely a noob.

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Sharp Knives and Blunt Instruments – The Bash Street Monkeys

In Uncategorized on April 2, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , ,

Recently, I decided to get back into programming. I used to be a computer programmer but have been a bit out of the loop for the past 10 years, although I’ve dabbled with various tools.
Having started to dip my toes back in the water it seems that everything has changed and remained exactly the same. Reassuringly, the principles of programming are exactly the same, although a lot of the detail has changed. But the most radical change is access to resources. The internet is awash with examples, tutorials and discussions.

At one time, visual programming seemed to be the way forward, and there are some excellent tools out there, including Max/MSP/Jitter, but the utilities I need to create require something more basic.
cycling74.com

At a recent panel discussion in The Showroom Cinema, entitled The Beauty of Digital, James Wallbank, CEO of Access Space, Sheffield, UK, compared the relative utility of the Swiss army knife and its British counterpart, and how this comparison works as a critical metaphor in the digital world.
The British knife has only 3 blades: a sharp knife, a bottle / can opener and a marlinspike. The marlinspike is what we always refer to as “that thing for getting stones out of horses’ hooves”. However, as James pointed out, it is actually a tool from world of ropework and is used for undoing knots. It’s a spike, but not sharp-ended.
http://www.creativetimes.co.uk/events/the-beauty-of-digital-4-new-technologies-old-aesthetics-and-where-the-two-meet

The picture above shows my own pocket knife which is small and elegant, but the scissors are only just strong enough to cut thin cardboard and the blade does not lock, so you’re in danger of of losing your pinky if you try to cut with it. I rarely use the nail file.
For my purposes, the software development equivalent of the miniature scissors is Apple Automator. Every time I have attempted to use it I have found it is missing the one function that I need. I’m sure it is invaluable for some purposes but not for me.

My blunt instrument of choice is Bash aka the UNIX shell, and it can be compared to the marlinspike, currently absent from my all-purpose toolset. Sometimes it’s necessary to just get the knot untied, even if it’s not a pretty sight.
With digital video, shooting is easy, and that’s the problem. It’s too easy to accumulate hundreds of gigabytes of media, but publishing it in a useful form is very difficult, and this is where all that redundant technology comes in.
UNIX, in the form of the free, open-source Linux, will run on pretty much any old computer and can give machines that cannot run current operating systems a new lease of life as workhorses. Software libraries such as gPhoto2, FFMpeg, mencoder, transcode, ImageMagick etc are amazingly powerful, but you’ve got to get your hand dirty and learn how to program them, rather than just checking options.

My first attempt at installing Linux on an old PowerMac G4 comprised 2 hours of mostly waiting as the installer downloaded software, then a further 4 hours failing to get it to work with the monitor. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Fortunately, my heart is not faint, and I am getting a lot of help from Access Space. Also, there are easier ways of accessing these libraries using the OS X Terminal and Macports.
macports.org
access-space.org

My own aim is to develop a range of utility programs for automatically capturing, compiling and publishing media so that it can be accessed quickly and meaningfully, and this is what Flying Monkey TV is all about.
flyingmonkey.tv

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Access Space, Sheffield, UK – One of NESTA’s New Radicals 2012

In Uncategorized on February 20, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Volunteer Access Spacers and staff in full swing, recycling, re-using and re-purposing.

It’s a terrible irony that Access Space, Sheffield, UK, has finally been recognised for its contribution but has had its funding cut by Arts Council England.

Access Space has just been named one of 50 “New Radicals” by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) in partnership with the Observer newspaper, identified as organisations who are making Britain a better place to live an work.
Nesta’s 50  New Radicals 2012

I first went into Access Space in 2001 to collect some obsolete BBC Micros for artist Paul Granjon to use in an installation for Lovebytes. Since that day, I have had a continued relationship with Access Space, scrounging hardware, visiting their shows, attending workshops and showing my own artwork there too.
It’s very easy to walk past their building and not know that they are there at all, and their low profile belies the enormous impact the organisation has had. They provide open internet access to anyone, and run a programme of free events, exhibitions and workshops.

Here are just two examples of how Access Space has supported me.

In 2004 they provided me with a group of compact Apple Mac computers that allowed me to create my series of HyperScape generative works. These would simply not have happened otherwise, and this led me to be invited to exhibit and visit the Electrohype Biennial in Malmö, Sweden in 2004, and again in Göteborg in 2005.

HyperScape 1 being installed in the Malmo Konsthall, Sweden in 2004 (left). HyperScape V (top right) and HyperScape IV (bottom right) in Access Space, Sheffield, UK.

In 2011 I was awarded a Small Research & Development Bursary to progress electronics and software development towards external camera triggers for capturing timelapse video. I spent 8 days working at Access Space and progressed my project significantly.
fmtvmissinglink.wordpress.com

A number of my own projects would not have happened at all without Access Space, and after many years of receiving support from them, I am trying to bring something back into the space. Here is a promo video I made using timelapse shot during one of their computer recycling marathons. Most of the people you see are volunteers, paid only with pizza, and give their time freely.

Their website is here:
Access Space, Sheffield, UK.

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Blue Monday – Reasons to be cheerful in Sheffield

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , , ,

This January is the first time I heard the term “Blue Monday” attached to the third Monday in January, “officially” the most depressing day of the year. Apparently, the cold weather, short days and post-Christmas come-down combine to make January particularly depressing. Not for me. I had a fantastic day. Inspired by the beautifully clear and frosty sub-zero temperatures, on Monday 16th January 2012 I decided to walk the entire route of the Sheffield Round Walk. I live close to Meersbrook Park (above), which is on the route, and am lucky that the 14 mile circular route brings me back home.

Sheffield Round Walk connects several parks, green spaces and woodlands in the southern part of the city, and takes you all the way out to the edge of the Peak District at Ringinglow. It’s a full day’s walk and it’s best to do it on a long Spring or Summer day, rather than in the middle of January, so that you can stop a bit more than I did. Sheffield is widely known for being built on seven hills (like Rome), and as England’s greenest city. It is also famous for the highest stay-on rate for university students moving here to study, and you can see why.

I’ve done the Round Walk many times before but never in such amazing weather conditions. Here are a few high dynamic range (HDR) photos of my walk. There are more photos of Sheffield and many other places on my Flickr account.

There are maps of the Sheffield Round Walk route on the official website, and a guide book can be ordered from there too.
sheffieldroundwalk.co.uk

In no particular order, here are just a few of my other favourite things about Sheffield.

Sheffield Live! 93.2 FM community radio station – number 1 slot on my car radio.
sheffieldlive.org

Sheffield Contemporary Art Forum – an umbrella organisation promoting the fine art scene in Sheffield, which has the largest number of artist’s studios outside London.
artsheffield.org

Peak District National Park – Britain’s first National Park. Over 500 square miles of moorland, hills, woodland and dales.
peakdistrict.gov.uk

Showroom Cinema – the second largest independent cinema in the country and one of the few cinemas still showing both digital and film formats.
showroomworkstation.org.uk

Sheffield Theatres – the largest theatre complex outside London, including The Crucible, one of the world’s finest thrust stages.
sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Tramlines Free Music Festival – winner of the Best UK Metropolitan Festival at the UK Festival Awards 2011.
tramlines.org.uk

Stay frosty.

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No such thing as an authentic photograph

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , ,

“For a creative writer possession of the “truth” is less important than emotional sincerity.” George Orwell (1903 – 1950)

I grew up in a world where professional photography was a distant and unattainable world. Nowadays everyone has a camera. Everyone. And taking pictures has become as much a part of our daily lives as eating our meals and, in my case, sometimes simultaneously.

I was first drawn to high dynamic range (HDR) imaging in 2008 after seeing very striking images online. My own approach is to make authentic looking photographs, that capture more of the detail and colour depth that is seen by the human eye, rather than the limited range represented by “normal” photography.

I always say “there is no such thing as an authentic photograph”, and when I say it I think of the iconic photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei (1917 – 1997), of a Russian soldier raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag after the invasion of Berlin during the Second World War. The high-contrast black and white photograph has become a benchmark of authenticity, but only because it has been made universally familiar by newspapers. However, neither a still, nor a moving image can ever be more than an impression of the scene.

The original photograph (above), the added smoke (top right) and the final manipulated composite (bottom right).

Without going into too much detail, current information claims that the photograph was manipulated to remove the extra wristwatches (obviously looted) from the Heroes of the Soviet Union, and to add more smoke in the background, making a more dramatic composition. Whatever the manipulation, there is no doubting the veracity, or truthfulness, or as Orwell would say “emotional sincerity”, of the image. The terrifying fragility of the situation in a blasted city still in a state of war is clearly communicated.

Here are the 3 original shots used to create the image above. It was a very bright, windy day and the composite, adjusted and cropped, tone-compressed HDR (using Photomatix Pro) gives an “authentic impression” of the scene.

My own dilemma is informed by my desire to capture what I see as authentically as possible, but no camera nor combination of techniques will ever capture a “true” image.

Lots more of my photography on Flickr.

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New Year and the tyranny of choice

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2012 by Admin Tagged: , , , , ,

Happy New Year. It’s quite natural to be thinking about new opportunities at the beginning of a new year and if anything, working in digital media, the problem is not what to do, but what not to do. The automation possible with desktop computers and the availability of high quality image capture devices means that it is very easy to shoot lots and lots and lots of material. But the real challenge is in post-production and critical choice.

My own tyranny stems from having too many ideas and too many options. Digital photography does not require me to be selective at the capture stage and I can always see more than one composition. Here are 3 shots of the same subject with different composition. Which one to use and how to crop? I’m still unsure which one I prefer.

My major challenge for 2012 is to clear my backlog. I have dozens of small projects, and a few large ones, that I shot on spec but need to find time to edit. And that does not include all the conceived projects that are fully formed in my mind but not even begun in production.

2011 was a bad year, cursed by technical failures, equipment losses and late payments, and much of my own work has been delayed.

Happy New Year and here’s to a more productive and prosperous 2012.

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Midwinter

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2011 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , ,

Augustus "Gussie" Fink Nottle

When Checkov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark, and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here, among the people of Sheffield, and basking in the warmth of their hearts and arts, I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.

From Sheffield, it’s Richard Bolam. So long.

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There and back again: In-car timelapse experiments with CHDK

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , ,

Rain, plane and automobiles.

Here are a couple of timelapse video edits made from material I shot from in-car cameras, timelapse-enabled with the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK). The software is an amazing achievement and I use it regularly, although I only use a small part of its functionality. Installing it can be a bit fiddly and you need to spend some time with it, but I have found it extremely useful shooting timelapse and HDR.

Both videos were shot during car journeys that were at predetermined times so I had to accept the routes and weather conditions. One camera is on a suction mount on the inside of the windscreen on the passenger side. This position means that it is mostly in line-of-sight with the roof pillar and does not obscure the driver’s view. In the first video the other camera was mounted behind the passenger seat’s head rest, looking out of the rear passenger’s window.

Shooting through glass is always problematic, but there are ways of reducing the risks. Internal reflections can be reduced by masking internal features with blackout cloth, and/or mounting the cameras very close to the glass. Also, I use black cardboard masks to stop the camera seeing its own reflection. Cleaning the glass helps too. These two videos are just experimental and exhibit a lot of shooting faults.

I use CHDK on Canon Powershot cameras. I have several A560s and a few other models for various reasons. CHDK requires a different build of the software for each camera model so I mostly use several of the same model so that I can swap memory cards between them.

In unpredictable and and extreme conditions such as this, I mostly set the cameras to Program auto-expose and auto-ISO as it is impractical to change the settings during a shoot. This mostly works, particularly for video, as the movement hides a lot of the shooting faults.

I used the script Ultra Intervalometer and set the interval to 0 so the cameras shot as quickly as possible. This is about once a second for A560s. This depends on exposure time and they shoot slower in low light.

I performed various exhaustion tests on the batteries. I’m working on external battery boxes but running them on the two internal AA rechargeable batteries I get variable results depending on shooting period and interval.

Using fairly new Maplin 2,500 mAh rechargeable NiMH batteries (all numbers are approximate):

0 second interval – 9,000+ shots in about 4 hours.
5 second interval – 5,500+ shots in about 11 hours
10 second interval – 3,200+ shots in about 12 hours
20 second interval – 2,200+ shots in about 14 hours

To extend battery life I switch off the screen and this introduces a small problem that focus-lock is not preserved. This is not usually a problem for distant subjects but can be in some circumstances. Problems with the focus are apparent in the Jean Marc Calvet video, though not a big issue. When I’ve shot HDR timelapse, it is better to use external power so that I can lock exposure and focus in order to get higher quality results.

Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK)
chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK

The music for both videos is by Jason Shaw.
audionautix.com

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It’s a toilet invasion! – Pixelwitch JaQ’s Latrino Boyz

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 by Admin Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Jacqui Bellamy aka Pixelwitch JaQ has a secret obsession with shooting beautiful people in toilet cubicles.

After three series of Latrino Gals, here are some stills and behind-the-scenes video from the first series of Latrino Boyz. The good, the bad and the fabulous from the music, arts and creative scenes around Sheffield and beyond.


There is a 2012 calendar available and the prints will be exhibited at the Rutland Arms, Sheffield, UK from 11th December 2011.
rutlandarmspeople.co.uk

Contact latrinoboyz@gmail.com.

Special thanks go to The Common Room, Sheffield, UK for allowing us to use the ladies.
latrinogals.co.uk
common-room.co.uk