Tuesday, June 24, 2014

My Residency

Dan McInturff, Rabun Flea Market, Rabun Gap, Georgia

My two weeks at The Hambidge Center was the most intense period of creative energy I can remember having. It was the first artist residency I've ever had and I certainly hope it isn't the last.

I started on a new project called American Flea. I traveled to four different flea markets in rural North Carolina and Georgia shooting portraits of vendors and customers. I'm very excited about the results and plan to continue the project for the foreseeable future. I met unusual and interesting people and recording their faces and hearing their stories is a great experience.
Shannon Pyle, Uncle Bill's Flea Market, Whittier, North Carolina
 I read over six hundred pages. The new memoir from Tom Robbins, Tibetan Peach Pie, was a delight and I burned through that in three days. Then I dove into The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. I last read this masterpiece forty years ago or so. It's massive and brilliant and I hope to finish it soon.

The biggest surprise to me is that, at the urging of my wife and daughter, I started writing again. Fifteen years ago I started writing a novel. I got fifty or sixty pages into it before life got in the way and I put it down. While at Hambidge, I went at it again and wrote over forty new pages. I figured out several important plot points and I hope to be able to continue on it in a more timely fashion now.

It's kind of amazing what you can accomplish when you have no cell service or television and the only internet connection is a quarter of a mile away. And it's great fun to be reminded that I still have something to say.

Oh, one more thing. Today is my birthday. I've realized that being in my sixties doesn't suck.
"Uncle" Bill Seay, Uncle Bill's Flea Market, Whittier, North Carolina

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stags, Hens, and Bunnies- A Blackpool Story

A year ago, I spent three weeks traveling through England, Scotland, and Wales. I spent a Saturday night in Nottingham and was amazed at what I was told is a very common ritual. "Hen-dos" and "Stag-dos" take the experience of the pre-wedding party to an extreme that American brides and grooms would be surprised by. Besides the requisite heavy drinking and generally outrageous behavior, Brits like to dress in themes, carry sex dolls and sex toys, and make very public spectacles of themselves.

London based photographer Dougie Wallace has spent what I assume is considerable time documenting this tradition. His pictures are raw, vivid, and occasionally a little obscene. And really, really good.

They've been published as a book, available from the UK here. It should be avaialbe here in the States in a couple of months. Here's an excerpt from what's written on the web site:

"Blackpool,  a Northern English town once the granddaddy of the seaside resorts.  Enjoying renewed popularity as one of the UK’s major hen/stag destinations.

Blackpool… A dirty great whorl of debauchery, licentiousness, laughter, vomit, furry handcuffs, fancy dress and drunken oblivion. Turned every weekend into the heart of social darkness. Marauding packs of brides and grooms, close friends and family, on a mission to consume dangerous, liver-crushing levels of alcohol. This, their rite of passage acted out on the last night of freedom, before the conventions and responsibilities of marital life, mortgage, children.

Once a fun diversion from the industrial heartlands – a bit like Las Vegas with a Victorian twist – is a town that has a palpable and genuine energy of its own. The promenade offers up its gala of grotesque and carny seediness; a whole Golden Mile of pubs and bars for swollen bodies to crawl through flashing scary, carrot coloured midriff flesh. The unbridled hedonism is magnified by an inter-pack competitiveness that manifests itself in drinking games, fights or sex in the toilets! Its twisted and ghoulish, and it’s hard not to laugh."


Take a few minutes and check them out here.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mena Ethopian Restaurant

I visited Mena, 3680 Clairmont Rd. near Buford Highway, on the spur of the moment. I had been shooting in a Cuban place and someone mentioned that there was an Ethiopian restaurant across the street. I went over to check it out and it took a little time to realize it was in the back of the Bethlehem Food Store through an unmarked door on the side. Not a terribly auspicious start, but once inside I was greeted with wonderful smells. There's a large dining room with a full bar in the center and the walls are a riot of bright colors.
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens, ISO 1600, 1/45 @ f/3.2

There's a dimly lit back room with a hookah bar.
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens, ISO 3200, 1/2 @ f/3.2
And off to one side, a woman was crouched on the floor roasting coffee beans.
Munu Wasse roasting coffee, Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens, ISO 2000, 1/17 @ f/2.8 
This, I learned, is a traditional Ethiopian ceremony and ritual. I sat and asked my waitress what she recommended. She liked the gored gored, she told me, so that's what I had. I was a little surprised when she brought a plate of cubed and spiced raw beef.
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm, ISO 200, 1/30 @ f/6.4
After getting over my initial hesitance, I was delighted. It was very tender and delicate. I used the slightly sour injera bread as a scoop and dipped it in mitmita  and other spices. I later learned it is very popular in both Ethiopia and Eritrea and is considered a national dish. I finished it completely satisfied. I plan to return and try other (cooked!) dishes, but I'm not sorry I tried the gored gored.
Miheret Bekele, Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm, ISO 1600, 1/25 @ f/3.2

Friday, May 9, 2014

New Elinchrom ELC Pro HD Review- A Lot of Technology in a Compact Package

I've been using the new Elinchrom ELC Pro HD strobes for a few weeks now. My friends at Manfrotto Distribution and Elinchrom were nice enough to send me both the 500 watt second unit and the 1000 watt second unit to test. I've been using their Style RX strobes for several years now and when they told me they were updating them, I remember saying to myself, well, that's nice, but the only thing I could think of that they needed was to build the Skyport receiver into the unit instead of having to plug in an adapter. Boy! Was I wrong! The ELCs are a serious overhaul and upgrade to the RXs.
At first glance, they look pretty much the same as the RX 600WS model. Although they're slightly larger (about an inch longer and little bit bigger around) they actually weigh less than the comparably powered RXs. The 1000WS unit is exactly the same size as the 500, too, which is especially nice when you look at the giant size of the older 1200WS RX.

The front of of the ELCs looks like what you'd expect. The only changes from the RX is that they've added a protective dome and the wattage of the modeling light has been increased from 150 watts to 300. The bright modeling light in the ELC generates a lot of heat, but it's no problem, partly because the cooling fan in the unit is extremely efficient. It's also very quiet- so quiet that you have to listen closely or you won't realize it's on.

The back is significantly different from the RX.
The biggest change is the OLED menu readout. If all you want to do is shoot with basic use, it's easy to do just that. Left and right arrows change the power up and down in full stops. The center dial, glowing green in the picture above, changes the power in tenths of a stop. Speaking of power, the strobes re-cycle VERY fast. The 1000WS recycles in under two seconds- 1.7 sec. by my measurements and 1.8 sec. stated in the Elinchrom specs. On lower power settings, of course it's much, much faster.

As I said above, these lights will perform admirably in the vast majority of "normal" uses. But the reason it has a menu system is that there are a couple of features built in that are very cool. The first one is that it is designed to have short- very short- flash durations. Many photographers don't realize that different strobes have different flash durations. For most brands and models, this may range from as slow as 1/300 of a second to much faster, say 1/2,000 of a second. And that duration changes depending on the power setting. For many kinds of shooting, the flash duration is relatively unimportant. The problem is when you're shooting something moving quickly and you want to freeze the motion- say a splash or a dancer leaping. If the duration isn't short enough, there will be some blur.

The ELCs not only have short durations, but the exact duration reads out on the menu. You can see what the duration is at every, single power setting. This allows you to adjust the power to find the balance between what f/stop you need and the duration that is fast enough to freeze whatever action you're capturing.

I'm just starting to play with this and I hope to have more pictures to post soon.

The other feature the ELCs have is a stroboscopic function. This allows you to set them from firing one time per second to as fast as 20 times per second. You can set the time of the burst from 1 second to 4 seconds. The following shot was my first effort. Joe was practicing his serve and I set the lights to fire 15 times per second for one second.

With the very talented Deborah Hughes in the studio, I thought I might try some motion studies with her, too. In the first, I just had her dance across the frame. The ELCs were set to fire 10 times per second for 2 seconds.

But then she showed me some fabric she had brought with her. Now the magic began. . .

I can't wait to get Deborah back so we can keep playing with this. I want to try it with different colors, with multiple dancers- there are tons of possibilities. They also have a sequencing function that allows the user to time up to twenty different strobes with a pre-programed  delay.

These effects aren't unique. There have been strobes that have done this for some time. The big difference is that, as far as I know, these are the first ones that can do it in completely customizable ways and at a very reasonable price. The ELCs will be available for about $1050 for the 500WS and $1450 for the 1000WS when they start shipping in the US in June. That's less than one fifth the price of other strobes that can do the same things. In fact, that would be a good price for monoblocs that don't have all these special features.

I really can't wait to continue working with the ELCs. They're excellent performers for regular shooting. And their special features are giving me lots of ideas on new ways to shoot. I really think these lights are winners.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

#19 from Out on Buford Highway

Way back in September, the third post I put up from this project was shot early in the morning at La Chiquita Cafe. A couple of weeks ago, I finally went back and shot inside. The owner, Jose Lopez was nice enough to let me shoot a portrait.
Jose Lopez, Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens, ISO 800, 1/140 @ f/3.2

Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens, ISO 800, 1/220 @ f/2.8

Sunday, March 16, 2014

#18 from Out on Buford Highway

Contigo Peru at 3567 Chamblee Dunwoody Road is a little off Buford Highway, but it was good enough that I thought I should include it here. It's a Peruvian seafood restaurant. The day I was there it was virtually empty when my friend and I arrived around 1:30 in the afternoon. We both had the pescado sudado, a fish stew common in northern Peru. It came as a decent sized piece of white fish swimming in a broth of tomato, onions, peppers, garlic, and a melange of herbs and spices. It was truly delicious! It came with a side of rice that I slowly added to the stew to soak up the broth. The price is reasonable at around $15.

By the way, make sure you look at all the pictures, because my favorite is the last one.

Pentax K-3, 16-50mm, ISO 200, 1/1000 @ f/8

Pentax K-3, 16-50mm, ISO 800, 1/125 @ f/5.6
Lis Ramires, Pentax K-3, 16-50mm, ISO 1600, 1/60 @ f/4.5
Hector Esquivel, Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm, ISO 1600, 1/100 @ f/4
Maria Ordonet, Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm, ISO 1600, 1/180 @ f/3.2
Maria Ordonet, Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm, ISO 1600, 1/100 @ f/3.2

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My New Toy

The other night, Andrea and I got home around 10:00PM after a long day and I discovered a box addressed to me that had been delivered earlier. Inside was a device called the Theta made by Ricoh. After poking around the limited instructions and looking at this little thing, I realized it was a small camera that had fish eye lenses on both sides and, when viewed with their software, made a 360 degree, spherical photograph. That's right, not a horizontally stitched, 360 panorama, but vertically, too. SPHERICAL! You can scroll up, down, sideways- every which way!

I've been playing with it for the last couple of days and I can't wait to spend more time experimenting. I plan to take it with me to Baltimore for the SPE National Conference and I can already imagine using it on the plane. at the hotel, on the street. I'll be posting them to my Tumblr. If you want to follow it, the title is Theta 360. Please check it out. In the meantime, here's a few of my early attempts:
At the High - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Baggage - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
At BWI - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA