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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .


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Third Day (Avoiding infelicities)
Old 02-27-2017   #1
Roger Hicks
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Third Day (Avoiding infelicities)

All too often, a place that looks really picturesque has faults we don't notice when we're just looking around but which jump out at us if we photograph them. This new piece is a follow up to Misty Day and Sunny Day on our .eu site, about how we need to be quite careful in checking our viewpoints in order to omit stuff we don't want in our pictures. No doubt you have had similar experiences...

Those interested in elderly equipment may be interested to know that I used a Vivitar Series 1 35-85/2.8 Varifocal (1975-1981) which I also discuss briefly in the piece.

Cheers,

Roger
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Old 02-27-2017   #2
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^ Keep them coming Roger . Peter
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Old 02-28-2017   #3
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Hi Roger,

interesting piece and I fully empathize with your annoyance (photographically speaking) with modern conveniences inappropriately inserted into our idyllic images.

But.. you're a hopeless romantic (and I'm no better)..

Let me elaborate, and start with reminding you this; Cleopatra was born much closer to the invention of the iPhone than to the building of the Great Sphinx at Giza, even though we in our time could well imagine her overseeing the construction of it. Just let that sink in..


That donjon you show, was it really all constructed in a single go a thousand years ago? Didn't these towers ever get extended, like three centuries after, or never partially rebuilt using newer building materials and techniques? To us they may look natural as they are now, but such changes are at least equally anachronistic as the double glazed windows or plastic shutters on a hundred year old house..

In 100 years time, no-one will consider a 21st century plaquette, or a mid 20th century wall out of place next to a building from the 1800's. Together with the plastic bins, they'll all see it as a harmonious demonstration of the charms of rural life in the long passed past..

So, go out there and shoot that red-white ticker tape, those rainwater drains, and that pink milk churn like you would shoot the pyramids and be proud that you documented history as it really happened...
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Old 02-28-2017   #4
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There's something to be thankful about Roger.. at least the gentle citizens of Moncontour have not yet learnt the prized skill of carving discarded vehicle tyres into swans (painted white, of course).
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Old 02-28-2017   #5
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Managing to "make it pretty" by avoiding the wires, poles, signs, and things that exist in reality is a challenge. It is what I have always tried to do. As much as I like wide angle lenses, too wide a lens is sure to capture some unwanted thing--perhaps a transformer or trash can--I have even run across a weather station shack in the middle of what I thought was a totally pristine area.

There is always the Stephen Shore approach: just snap the picture and whatever shows, shows. I think that is also a valid approach to photography; albeit not a pretty one.
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Old 02-28-2017   #6
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Well, I have several copies (in several mounts) of the Series 1 35-85, largely based on your high opinion of it in your and Frances' The Lens Book! But I haven't used them in years. Time to dust them off.

I expect for a lot of photographers, the "modern features" in an old landscape are just that, features that can be used to good (ironic?) effect. And trying to avoid them is pretty tough to do. It's not like we're shooting a movie set 200 years ago, where we can more or less take over a village for a period of time and pay the inhabitants for the inconvenience of temporarily removing all the evidence of modern living. But still, it can be frustrating to have the perfect vista spoiled.
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Old 02-28-2017   #7
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Hi Roger, this is a problem we encounter quite oft. Sometimes we go to a place supposed to be "out of time" but we find yes, apparently there is a certain atmosphere but almost impossible to take photographs, unless we go to make only small close up details!

But these are our times...

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Old 02-28-2017   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pvdhaar View Post
Hi Roger,

interesting piece and I fully empathize with your annoyance (photographically speaking) with modern conveniences inappropriately inserted into our idyllic images.

But.. you're a hopeless romantic (and I'm no better)..

Let me elaborate, and start with reminding you this; Cleopatra was born much closer to the invention of the iPhone than to the building of the Great Sphinx at Giza, even though we in our time could well imagine her overseeing the construction of it. Just let that sink in..


That donjon you show, was it really all constructed in a single go a thousand years ago? Didn't these towers ever get extended, like three centuries after, or never partially rebuilt using newer building materials and techniques? To us they may look natural as they are now, but such changes are at least equally anachronistic as the double glazed windows or plastic shutters on a hundred year old house..

In 100 years time, no-one will consider a 21st century plaquette, or a mid 20th century wall out of place next to a building from the 1800's. Together with the plastic bins, they'll all see it as a harmonious demonstration of the charms of rural life in the long passed past..

So, go out there and shoot that red-white ticker tape, those rainwater drains, and that pink milk churn like you would shoot the pyramids and be proud that you documented history as it really happened...
Sure: agreed. The example my Latin master gave 55 years ago was that Caesar is closer to us than he was to the pyramids. But I didn't include the fluorescent tourist-department sign that says that the Vienne has everything to seduce you: fluorescence (and blue plastic) are NEVER going to fit in with time-worn stone and wood.

Equally, of course the donjon was rebuilt and extended and repaired and (most recently) heavily restored; but it was restored sympathetically, not with gobs of grey cement and shiny plastic.

The contrast of our present life with the past is something that has long fascinated me. As a small boy I was in Malta from 1952-54 and 1958-60, and of course there are ruins there which make the pyramids look new. The latest suggestion -- far from proven but entirely feasible -- is that they date back to when there was still a land bridge to Sicily: perhaps 13,500 years. And you might find it amusing to read a story I wrote in which I imagine welcoming a time traveller from 300 years ago to our village today, in the same house: http://rogerandfrances.eu/short-stories1/time-travel-1

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-28-2017   #9
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. . . I have even run across a weather station shack in the middle of what I thought was a totally pristine area.. . .
Dear Rob,

That's the thing, isn't it? We unconsciously edit out this sort of thing when we just look at a scene. Then we see it in the viewfinder...

The $64,000 question: how much cloning out is tolerable? And to whom, and when?

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-28-2017   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robert blu View Post
Hi Roger, this is a problem we encounter quite oft. Sometimes we go to a place supposed to be "out of time" but we find yes, apparently there is a certain atmosphere but almost impossible to take photographs, unless we go to make only small close up details!

But these are our times...

robert
Dear Robert,

"Atmosphere" is exactly the word: well phrased!

See you and Simone at Arles? Our room is already booked.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-28-2017   #11
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There's something to be thankful about Roger.. at least the gentle citizens of Moncontour have not yet learnt the prized skill of carving discarded vehicle tyres into swans (painted white, of course).
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Mercifully this is one I have yet to encounter. Can you oblige us with a picture? Or on second thoughts, maybe not. It's quite hard to un-remember things.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 02-28-2017   #12
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Quite right, Roger, you wouldn't want the local citizenry to even get a hint of the "art" that can be made of discarded tyres with a little help from power tools.

About the visual clutter of poles and wires: one of our RFF members (luiman) made quite an art out of this, in his pictures of historic Italian towns.

As to the $64,000 question, ask Steve McCurry - it was probably a lot more than that
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Old 02-28-2017   #13
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But Roger!

Those cute little TV antennas on the roof are already evidence of a past that is rapidly disappearing in much of the world. Today's reality is that parabolic dish aiming at some satellite that is sent up to hover conveniently over our heads.

I remember photographing a beautiful mountain sunset and later noticed the large, 12 foot, parabolic dish in the neighbor's back yard that was inadvertently included. At the time it was an ugly monstrosity.

We kept the photo but now we don't look at the beautiful sunset and the mountains that were the reason for the photo in the first place. Instead we chuckle over the monstrous satellite dishes we used back then to get our TV signals. That ugly parabolic dish has become the subject and the mountains and sunset have assumed the role of background.
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Old 02-28-2017   #14
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You are on-target as usual, Sir!
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Old 03-02-2017   #15
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Roger, your piece is excellent. However, I've come to accept the ugly as potential additional elements in my photographs. Sometimes, as the main element. This tiny epiphany occurred to me over a decade ago after visiting Yellowstone National Park and returning home with dozens of calendar perfect photos that looked...well, just like the photos on the calendars sold at all bookstores near the end of every year. In other words, photos that were not special at all--standard vacation photos.

Sometime after that, I started to expand my photographic book collection. I began to look closely at books of photos by William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Robert Adams and past masters like Walker Evans and, especially, Eugene Atget. After a time, I began to see the beauty in the ugly, or perhaps a better description might be seeing the beauty in arranging and framing the ugly into something beautiful. It's a working method that works for me quite well.

I recently underwent surgery with a few follow up complications and I've been limited in my mobility to just very short walks in the vicinity around my home unless I've felt up to riding to the supermarket with my wife. (This is improving and I expect to out and about before long.) At first this was frustrating but I decided to make the best of it. I've managed to make some very interesting and, dare I say, beautiful photos of subjects most people consider not worth spending a moment of their time looking over.

This brings up William Eggleston's oft repeated quote, "I am at war with the obvious." I know this type of photography doesn't appeal to everyone and I understand the philosophy of photography being an art of exclusion. I practiced this for years. However, the change in my methods and vision has been a liberating force in my photography over the past decade or so. I don't have any calendar pictures these days but I'm much more satisfied with the photos I do take.

And just to add a comment on the Vivitar Series 1 35-85mm lens you mention. When I was hired at a daily newspaper in 1976, the chief photographer was using a recently purchased copy of this lens. I played around with it and found it to be very good optically although the photographer in question had some difficulty managing to keep all photos in focus when on his occasional assignments--it probably was his vision since he was fairly elderly at the time (yet considerably younger than I am today--thank God for autofocus). Many of us photographers at the newspaper considered zooms in general to be inferior and wouldn't use them. A few years later, I decided to try out zooms with (I think) a 35-70mm Nikon Series E. It was fairly cheap, push-pull zoom with a variable maximum aperture. It actually was pretty decent and more than up to newspaper reproduction requirements. Eventually and up to the day I moved out of new photography, I was using zooms for all my routine assignment, saving the faster aperture primes for times I knew I needed the speed. The mention of that Vivitar lens brought back a few fond--and not so fond--memories of those days.
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Old 03-02-2017   #16
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Dear Roger,

The following article might be of interest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england...shire-31037446

Bibury is a village I know fairly well, having visited numerous times over the years. When I first read this (2015) article it made me smile. Subsequently I understand things have taken a nasty turn, with the owner's yellow car being frequently vandalised.

Not to be intimidated, I read recently that the owner intends to buy a new car... a bright green one.
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Old 03-02-2017   #17
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. . . I've come to accept the ugly as potential additional elements in my photographs. . . . After a time, I began to see the beauty in the ugly, or perhaps a better description might be seeing the beauty in arranging and framing the ugly into something beautiful. It's a working method that works for me quite well. . . . . . . the change in my methods and vision has been a liberating force in my photography over the past decade or so. I don't have any calendar pictures these days but I'm much more satisfied with the photos I do take.
I totally agree. I was just trying to point out that "picturesque", "photogenic" and "actually making a good picture" are not necessarily identical. I might even go for Day 4 where I try to illustrate the point you make so well.

Hope you're better soon -- I'm recovering from gut surgery myself -- and thanks for the kind words.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 03-02-2017   #18
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Dear Roger,

The following article might be of interest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england...shire-31037446

Bibury is a village I know fairly well, having visited numerous times over the years. When I first read this (2015) article it made me smile. Subsequently I understand things have taken a nasty turn, with the owner's yellow car being frequently vandalised.

Not to be intimidated, I read recently that the owner intends to buy a new car... a bright green one.
Dear Brian,

I am quite familiar with it -- and thanks for bringing it to the attention of others. As I say in the article, villages like Bilbury and mine are not just for the benefit of tourists and photographers.

Cheers,

R.
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Old 03-02-2017   #19
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I'm forever crawling around trying to avoid everything you mentioned.
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Old 04-01-2017   #20
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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england...shire-39456449
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Old 04-01-2017   #21
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The article must be an Aprils fools joke. It says the vandals caused £6000 damage, but the car is hardly worth £3000.
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Old 04-01-2017   #22
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Recording a view and creating a beautiful picture are two entirely different tasks. Unfortunately, the two are often incompatible.

One partial solution , not to change, but to overcrowding of worthwhile places , is the "keep your mouth shut" - principle.

Advice given by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zappfe who did not think much of advertising scenic and quiet valleys..

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Old 04-17-2017   #23
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I bought a what as I recall was the first of the Series 1 Vivitar lenses, the 75-210 lens and the 35-85mm varifocal, with a Fujica ST 801 from a pawn shop in Maryland some 17 years ago. The 75-210 I eventually got rid of as it was not in good shape. The 801 went to my daughter. I have seldom used it but I still have the 35-85mm as it is just so neat, even if a bit of a monster. Quite the cat's meow in the 70's. Wish I could have afforded it then, I probably would have used it some. Now if it is zooms, I tend towards wide angle zooms.

That aside, I enjoyed you article and the photos with it. I guess all photographers have some photos taken when enthralled with the possibilities of some photo opportunity, to the point that we see no more than what has caught our eye. I certainly have. It can be disheartening.

But I always try to take it as a learning process. I try to learn from all my mistakes. Looking back, it is amazing how much I have learned.
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