Saturday, August 12, 2017

Digital and Film: Lima, Perú

I am aware that I'm interrupting my intended project of the Leica typology, but these images came to me as a result of a trip to Lima, Perú (professional conference).  I took with me a Fuji X-Pro 1 with a 23mm/f1.4 lens, and my trustworthy Leica M4-P with an Elmarit 28mm f2.8 (third version).  As the TV show says, "these are their stories..."  Let's begin with the digital material.

 A classic, casually parked across the street from my hotel.

 The cathedral steps.

A street off the Plaza de Armas.

Family at Parque Kennedy in Miraflores. 

 Ketchup texting in Parque Kennedy.

Guard change at the Palacio Nacional (in front of the Plaza de Armas).

Facade in Jirón de la Unión (street between Plaza de Armas and Plaza de San Martín); mostly commercial, but still may have a few interesting scenes (you will see below).

 Sandwich restaurant near Parque Kennedy.  They have a cute ode to the potato on the board right above the counter, and it's no small matter: Perú has a lot of different potato varieties.

 San Francisco church.  Famous for its catacombs (in which photography is not allowed), the church still has a rich interior and an interesting altar.  Not to mention a painting of the Last Supper that features lots of American foods...  Very odd. 

 Miraflores Church, late at night.  It's in a nice park, always busy with people.  Peruvians live in the streets... a lot!

A very fine, gourmet restaurant called "Haiti," near Parque Kennedy. 

Chess players behind a traditional Peruvian fast food joint ("Salchipapas"), on a cool night in Lima. 

My Leica M4-P was loaded with Ilford FP4, which is contrasty and sharp.  I took a walk down the Jirón de la Unión (again) and took a few snaps along the way to the Plaza de San Martín.  For some reason, I felt more comfortable approaching people with the Leica than with the Fuji.  Here, take a peek at the scenes in this area.

 Ice cream vendor (Jirón de la Unión).

Workers on break (Plaza de San Martín)

 Street seller (candy, snacks, cigarettes) in Jirón de la Unión.

 Money changer.  They are perfectly legal and operate in the streets of Lima.  They're dressed in such a way that they advertise the currencies they handle. 

Young indigenous woman selling traditional candy near San Francisco.  She agreed to pose for me after I purchased three packs of her stuff.  It wasn't bad...  BTW, this is the only shot I made with the Konica 90mm f2.8 I had with.

There we go.  Soon enough, before returning to the Leica typology project, I'll share with you some of the images I managed to make in Europe this last May-June 2017.  In the meanwhile, feel free to comment below!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Just to break the monotony... A Leica typology!

Of course, all this is in jest.

For some reason, one evening it occurred to me that each of the different models of Leica M camera reveals its own psychology.  There's something in the design and consequent modifications that tells us what each body is all about.   Hence, without further ado, let me begin with the very first Leica M model.

The Leica M3.  We're in front of a stoic, stern laborer.  This camera exudes discipline, speaks about duty and work, does the job, and doesn't suffer fools too well.  Its lines are straight and direct, and even if there's a very slight ornamentation around the frontal viewfinder window and the rangefinder small eye (see those diminutive frames), this camera commands respect, speaks with a firm, loud voice, and either it doesn't get jokes or has no sense of humor.  But boy… can it work?  Non-stop, 24-hours per day, 7 days a week and all-year around.  And if the M3 takes a break it won't be for a beer, no siree… It may be for a nice, cold glass of mineral water mit Kohlensaure (although this camera will keep it a secret that it's very fond of a good cognac). 

Then, the Leica M2.  This one requires a comparison.  Let's say that, if the M3 had a military rank , it would be one with command, like a captain or lieutenant or anything all the way to general.  The M2, however, would be a corporal, perhaps a sargent.  This one can have a moderate amount of authority, but it doesn't exude it like the M3; it simply has it… because someone else has granted it to the camera.  It's an efficient soldier, a productive worker, an active community member, a fast runner, somebody effective and useful, but nothing that radiates leadership or command.  It's still serious, but, unlike its predecessor, may kick back ocassionally and have a beer… ready to stand on attention.

Let's move onto the Leica M4 and allow ourselves to wonder… What were the Leitz people thinking?  That silly little rewind crank… Why tilt it?  It simply shows irresponsibility, flirtiness, light-headedness, some very irrational and unjustified joie-de-vivre that doesn't belong in a Leitz product.  But let's reconsider… how bad can that little crank be, even tilted?   Horrific!  It looks like a slanted beret.  Heck, it looks terribly… gallic!!  There it is!  Granted, its lines are clean, pure and straight, it has more framelines that both its predecessors, it's easier to load with film, but then, it has… such a shallow attitude.  It's the camera that says "let's go places and have a ball!"  And, indeed, once in place, it'll grab anything ethylic and get itself pretty happy.  Not thoroughly drunk, mind you, but joyfully sloshed nonetheless, but never (and let's not forget this) compromising the high standards of function and design behind it.  In short, this camera is a tool and a pal.

The liveliness of the Leica M4 (and its followers, the M4-2 and the M4-P) offers a stark contrast with the next in the line-up: the Leica M5.  This camera has all the Leicas wanted to have: its own sense of style, a slick layout, a unique design, flawless performance, and a particular brand of seriousness that also suggest some kind of mischiveous streak.  In short, this camera is… James Bond!  Serious at first, very clever, quite surprising, full of tricks, it has the proverbial stern looks of the perfect instrument, but nicely combined with an idea of enjoyment, of some discreet and wholesome fun… not without pushing the limits whenever possible.  Here's a camera to have next to a nice mixed drink, or cocktail.  Not a silly, pink- or fruity-colored drink, but rather something elegant and classy, like a Martini or an Old-Fashioned. And the Leica M5 will be unobtrusive and quiet, sipping its drink modestly and silently.  Think George Clooney here… and that'll give you an idea.

Enough for now... we'll come back soon with our characterization of the rest of the film M-bodies. In case you feel like, leave a note in the comments (whether you agree, for instance, or want to add to this profiling of the Leica Ms). 

BTW, the M3 photograph's is Ken Rockwell's, the second—Leica M2came from Vidarphoto from Flickr. The M4 belongs to La Vida Leica and the M5's is my own.

So long!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Toledo, adventures in light, or what I did with a hand-held meter

Let's begin with a little technical note about my meter. It's nothing fancy, but it's quite reliable: a Sekonic L-86. It was made for about 15 years, and it was only replaced by a less reliable (I speak from experience) but fancier looking: the L-158, a battery dependent thing.

Thus, armed with my M2 and my Zeiss 35mm lens, I proceeded to wander in the Toledo streets, and capture images like the one below. 

As any astute reader will imagine, I metered on the wall (or a similar light-reflecting surface) in order to make the light stand out.  I cannot remember the exact exposure, but I do recall using a lot of small apertures (I was shooting at 1/125th), so it's very likely that I used f5.6-f8 here.  A similar situation came up here.

All for the sake of emphasizing the beautiful Toledo light, I metered on the walls. If I remember well, this is a view of the same street above, which leads to the beautiful Calle Santo Tomé. Now, the street pictured below is behind the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, which is where my students were staying and taking some classes. The man you can see coming up was patient enough to greet me when he reached the corner from which I photographed him.

Since I had been standing at this corner for a while, I managed to take a quick reading on the wall to my left (which isn't a lot brighter than the ground).  This image still needed a bit of correction in Photoshop (levels only), but not a large slide of the indicator.  The figure in the distance gives the photograph an old air, as if this shot had been made decades ago. 

These, now, were a lot easier to meter.

Just the steps did the trick.

A quick read of the light reflected from the ground. 

Customary 1/60 at f2, but since I was using ISO 100 I lowered the speed to 1/30. 

With the sunny 16 I shot this landscape at f11 (or perhaps at an even smaller aperture); I was hoping for a darker sky, but a yellow filter cannot perform miracles.

Lately I've been using my M5 with other types of 35mm lenses (one f2.8 and an f1.4), and despite their being metered bodies, or perhaps because of their meters, it takes me longer to shoot.  The meter in both cameras is a bit distracting, and when metering is added to the whole operation (compose and focus) it definitely adds time and substracts fun. However, as soon as I get the results of my last experiment I'll try to post them here to see what it is to shoot with a Leica metered camera. But it'll take time because I'm not really good at developing. Before I do all of this, I can always offer the results of another trip with my black M5 or my silver M5. Both are decent cameras and I really like using them...

Despite their built-in meters.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Toledo and Avila, sun and shadows

Here are some street shots from Toledo and Avila... or rather streetscapes.  Again, the tools were my Leica M2, a Zeiss 35mm f2 lens and my reliable Sekonic L-86 meter.  Most of these are from July 2016, while we were in Spain with a remarkably nice group of students.

Girls in a swing in the playground of Plaza Juan de Mariana, in front of my favorite café.

Damasquinado (Toledo's exclusive handcraft) demonstrated in a small store.

I seem to remember that this photograph represents an area near the Plaza Tendillas in Toledo.

Calle Santo Tomé was always intensely lit by a strong light. It's an interesting place littered with small stores and eateries, and leads to the church that houses El Greco's Entierro del Conde de Orgaz.

Smaller but just as proud, Avila boasts a singular Jewish neighborhood. This photograph comes from a spot on the way there.

Man entering Avila's Plaza Mayor.

Nuns crossing the Plaza Mayor in Avila.

I still have a series of photographs in the bag.  These are the ones I'd like to share right now mostly because I'm impatient.  However, I'll post another group (mixed bag) and, if I can, I'll explain my metering criteria. BTW, before I forget, my lens was protected with a nice yellow B&W filter.  Not the darkest, but enough to add one stop for exposure compensation. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Madrid at Night

In early August 2016, we were saying good-bye to Spain, we were giving our farewells to Madrid, spending time around the Plaza Mayor, having something to eat in Plaza Santa Ana and then walking back to our hotel. 

That's when I made these photographs. Most of them shot at 1/60 or 1/30, lens wide open.

 Plaza Mayor side street.

 Light effect in Plaza Mayor

 Serenade in Plaza Santa Ana

 Waiter and customers at a restaurant near Plaza Mayor.

The lights of Café de Oriente, right in front of Palacio de Oriente, at dusk.

All these shots were done in relatively slow film (ISO 100, Kentmere stuff).  I was expecting somewhat fuzzy stuff but instead I got these very nice, sharp images. Even with the lens wide open, the sharpness is quite surprising. Look at the very first photograph and the waiter's image to see. 

Coming up soon, more Madrid images (night and day), along with photographs from Toledo and Avila, another medieval city.  These are all images that came from my most recent stay, this summer of 2016. Some of them needed just minimal level adjustment to hike the contrast up.  This means, to me at least, that my meter and my own eye-meter have been working fairly well... which is a reason to be happy.  I will return soon!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Salamanca in Black and White

The beauty Spain offers is its light... Some may call it strong or harsh, but it's also a challenge, and it offers a lot of situations like the one above, in which one wonders where to meter and what to do. Since I wanted to show the contrast and still reveal some detail in the shadow areas, I metered on the sunny spot, then on the dark, and negotiated a comfortable middle ground... only to give it a little more aperture.  The result is this (which still needed a little tweaking with Photoshop): a nice corner in Salamanca, with an unsuspecting pedestrian to offer the human dimension.  

This is a contrast of old and new, very often done and overdone... but I liked it and here it is. I was after the great display of clouds in the sky. 

The odd effect of the sun on old stone appears here on this detail of the cathedral of Salamanca.  Again, a metering challenge (which zone is brighter?).  I ended up taking a reading off the wall in the center of the frame, as I figured it'd be the most prominent in the final image.   

The inside courtyard of the Salamanca cathedral.  There's a number of small chapels and rooms around it, but the light creates a particularly inspiring effect in the corridors. 

Salamanca Plaza Mayor.  We were there a bit too early for the local "marcha", which explains the chairs unused and still piled up.  I like this image simply because it offers a certain geometry in the interplay of straight and curve lines, light and shadow, and an inevitable touristy or post-cardy look to it.  Who cares!  I saw it, liked it, photographed it and now I'm considering printing it and framing it and hanging it. 

I began with the interplay of light and shadow, and so I end.  This is Salamanca, a street on the way to the famous bridge over the Tormes river.  I was walking lost in thought, lifted my head and saw the shape of a house cut on a corner.  "Why not photograph it?" I thought.  So, here it is.

For the next post I may dig some images from previous trips or experiences, whether local or abroad, done with my M4-2 or any other Leica.  There's going to be a theme: metering.  

BTW, even though I don't find it absolutely necessary, these images were all done with my faithful friend, my Leica M4-2 and my Konica Hexanon 35mm f2, on Kodak BW400CN film.  No longer made, alas, but then, I'm switching to other choices and exploring other possibilities. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cartagena in 2010 with a Leica M5

Back in 2010 I went to Cartagena, Colombia, to a conference, and brought back some six rolls of film with a number of images. Here are some of them...

At nights, life doesn't stop, and people get hungry and buy food from street vendors like this lady.

If I remember correctly, this spot is called Plaza Bolívar, and it's one of the many in which dancers of African music gather to display their skills. 

Another view of Plaza Bolívar.

During the day, right after the rain, the streets show a particular brightness... and the air is still as humid as a thick, damp towel.

The Plaza del Reloj is the gathering point for candy makers, some of whose production is weird but delicious and hard to describe. 

My Leica M5 performed great under the circumstances (hot and humid environment). I had a Nokton 35mm f1.4 lens, which together with Arista/Agfa ISO 400 worked wonders in low light.  However, it wasn't skimpy with details.  Look here...

I still have evidence of what this camera and film combination can do under the conditions I was (high temperatures and humidity). Considering the sudden changes it was subjected to every time we returned to our hotel or went to a restaurant (high air conditioned areas), this 1971 body turned to be resilient and tough... and still turned nice exposures. Right now, a few years later, I am concerned about its meter, but otherwise, the camera is still going strong.

Soon enough we'll see some more samples of Cartagena, and perhaps more from Toledo.  Let's see what happens first.  In the meantime, I must go back to work, but the photographic-gear stories never end!