Saturday, 26 May 2007

Greenland Ice-music & Carbon Neutral

Last week, my remarkable cousin, Linda Beilharz, finished skiing 540kms across Greenland, the Arctic icecap, part of her pledge to ski four icecaps of the world (in a team with Rob Rigato and Roger Chao). In 2004, she was the first Australian woman to cross Antarctica from the sea to the South pole on foot (c.1200kms). The Arctic journey, sponsored by Bendigo Bank was a carbon neutral initiative. This means that they had a neutral carbon dioxide emissions effect on the environment, partly to draw attention to the climate and ecological changes occurring in melting ice areas. This involved unassisted journeying with no food drops, no guides, dogs, kites or powered vehicles and offsetting carbondioxide emitted during preparation and flying to get there. The journey was in conditions of winds up to 150km/hr and -50 degree Celsius wind chill temperatures, climbing to 2600m at the highest point.

[photo from IceCap Journeys]

I have been using GPS as a data source for music and photographic interactive installation, towards an artist residency in Japan later this year. I proposed to Linda that it could be really interesting to develop musical composition of ice-music derived from the waypoints (coordinates of the Greenland journey). I intend to use dimensions of data to form significant large-scale structures in the piece, e.g. coordinates to centre temporal and pitch/harmonic regions in the piece and perhaps a couple of other dimensions like temperature and wind-speed or altitude to affect timbre (tone colour) [inspired by Stockhausen's approach in Studie II]. Within these structural parameters the musical layers will take shape according to my compositional methods. Linda today supplied all the information I need so I am ready to go!

[photos from IceCap Journeys]

In this spirit of environmental awareness and to tie in with my ice-music project, I am making my Japanese trip carbon neutral by offsetting and counteracting the plane travel et al with carbon credits from Bendigo Bank and trying live green daily - a good challenge in consumeristic Tokyo!

The 13,808km Sydney-Tokyo return flight generates around 2,485.44 kgs of greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, my modest Vespa emissions back home means that my vehicular emissions annually are much less than an average family car's. That said, air travel is one of our individually single largest offenses against emissions, planes contributing around 3% of humanity's total CO2 emissions/greenhouse gases according to WorldChanging. The opportunities to buy carbon credits or offesets are popping up, as well as the aforementioned Bendigo Bank, including Carbon Planet and you can use the Australian Government's Greenhouse Gas Calculator to estimate your household's, car's and waste disposal emissions. On a related subject, I am reading Lonely Planet's Code Green book about eco/enviro-friendly travel destinations and practises (quite interesting) and Selected Essays and Interviews with Jeff Wall (relating more to my research, very informative).

[photo from IceCap Journeys]

[New Keyspan VoIP Skype phone, Yosh, and 'The Science of Sleep' DVD directed by Michel Gondry: my current favourite movie, for its imagination and creativity, very lateral]

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Ichigai calligraphy exhibition & readings

This afternoon at Kinokuniya I had a serendipitous encounter with a calligraphy/painting exhibition by Japanese (Osaka) Zen artist, Ichigai Kanamori These cheerful, though not sparsely Zen, beautiful brush paintings featured traditional themes like Daruma and monks, as well as individual topographical features.

In Kinokuniya, I read an engaging art book by Joao Penalva (a textual dialogue to accompany his photographic exhibition) including several works featuring Japan, such as Kitsune, translated by Martin Dale; Bill Viola's exhibition catalogue from the Mori Art Museum; and 'Selected Essays and Interviews' with Jeff Wall (photographer/artist): "conceptual art does not reflect the development of revolutionary ideas in culture, but of the emergence of certain preconditions for the development of such ideas".

Meanwhile I am working on a journal paper concerning A.I. in automated processes of sonification and multi-modal information representation. Here is an interesting site about creating digital music, not just because it references my students and this blog(!) but also because it links to numerous innovative developments using Wii controllers, wireless sensors and other spatial/gestural devices for controlling computer interaction.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Urban Island 'Cuttings' book launch

Thursday saw the opening launch of our Urban Islands book, edited by Joanne Jakovich, my Ph.D student. The launch took place at Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, accessible only by water [ferry/water taxi], an urban island of the kind alluded to in the book. In Joanne's words:

"Urban Island (n):
a post industrial site devoid of program or inhabitants;
a blind spot in the contemporary city;
an iconic ruin;
dormant infrastructure awaiting cultural inhabitation."

It is a book of writings by architects, urbanists, artists, academics considering ‘Islands + Urbanism’, ‘Sydney + Cockatoo’, and ‘Works + Critiques’, [the latter arising from the Urban Islands studio held on-site in 2006 in Sydney]. The University of Sydney Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning Faculty will again hold its architecture studio at Cockatoo Island in 2007. It is my hope to hold the Interactive Sound Design studio there in 2008.

‘Cuttings’ Urban Islands vol.1
Ed. Joanne Jakovich
ISBN 1-920898-55-7 University of Sydney Press 2006, 276pp.

Chapter contributors from Sydney University include: Kirsty Beilharz, Liz Bowra, Tom Heneghan, Jin Hidaka, Olivia Hyde,Joanne Jakovich, Ingo Kumic, Henri Praeger, Dagmar Reinhardt, Tom Rivard, Jaime Rouillon, Marc Aurel Schnabel, Nguyen Khang Tran (Sam) and Satoru Yamashiro.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Greg Gorman Talk at Sydney Maritime Museum

David and I went to the Greg Gorman talk at Sydney Maritime Museum, sponsored/hosted by L&P and Epson. Gorman is renowned worldwide as a photographer of celebrities. He has worked primarily in black and white and until a few years ago, purely in analogue. Since switching to digital in around 2001, Gorman has taken responsibility for his own digital workflow and the majority of his printing (using PS, Lightroom 1.0 and Epson print manager for colour management and print processing) and working in conjunction with a talented retoucher who can perfect the appearance of all the stars (evidenced by his before and after shots of famous people).

The nice feature of this presentation was that it was an invitation-only professional event and so Gorman was able to pitch his discussion of processes at an expert technical level. The black and white conversion tutorial and raw conversion tutorial Gorman discussed are on his web site These, it needs to be said, show toning and extreme contrasting reiterating Gorman's distinctive and assertive high contrast analogue black and white style. His signature style is characterised by sharp contrasts, stark lighting and natural lighting through windows, tight shots close in to the face with simple, usually dark or black backgrounds or dark greys.

Gorman stressed the importance of establishing a "unique and discriminating style", to develop an inherent style. In his own work, he aims for balance and harmony, simplicity of (dark) backgrounds, not always being explicit. The subject is the important part of the photo. He takes a traditional focus-on-the-eyes approach, sometimes with a single element to contribute to the semblance of style, such as Grace Jones' dominant hat. He accentuates strong highlights / harsh shadows, forms, lights, shadows. He mentioned the importance of communicating with subjects, afterall the difference between portrait photography and other is the consent and co-operation / facilitation of the subject. "Don't give up on your own ideas" he recommended, referring to his decision to shoot Kim Bassinger in an unconventional way. Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, as it was back in the 80s, was a good source of opportunities for portrait photographers, now over-processed and changed. From window lighting, Gorman likes the effusive wrapping quality. There was a stunning picture of Mark Wahlberg's abs! Gorman spoke of the increasing difficulty of accessibility of celebrities theses days, one reason he is starting to diversify and move into other areas, due to the array of psychopaths who surround celebrities. "Good images are created in the camera, not in PhotoShop" ... "see the light" not only in the sense of the light meter and auto balance but looking for lighting opportunities and interesting angles. He pursues more harsh lighting for black and white shots so increasing contrast and gamut are part of the B&W conversion process. Sometimes he intentionally chooses a higher ISO to accentuate the noisy/grainy aberration look more akin to old analogue images.

[Adobe Lightroom 1.0 screen-capture, click to enlarge view]

Most of Gorman's conversion and enhancing process occurs in Adobe Lightroom 1.0 Develop module in which there is an array of fine increments and adjustments - levels, luminosity, saturation, curves with clipping paths, levels in different regions [shadows, dark tones, mid-tones, light-tones], the usual exposure slider and wonderful unique recovery slider to pull in over-exposure in-camera blow-outs common in modern digital cameras. I really like this feature. Some of the additional subtlety lies in being able to control colouration of shadows, highlights, colour casting and lens correction for chromatic aberration and vignetting. It also allows rapid contact sheet production (much faster than PhotoShop). The purpose, however, was not a Lightroom plug but to illuminate the Epson print processes which permit black and white conversions in the print manager as an alternative to PS or LR. The other stuff, about paper types, colour management and not double colour managing in PS and Epson's print manager were revision but worthwhile reminders. Gorman uses these methods to make his own digital prints. For the B&W conversion in PS, Gorman uses lab colour and the colour channels and luminosity using curves on adjustment layers.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Power of the portrait ACP afternoon

[Greg Weight - portrait photographer]

This afternoon at the Australian Centre for Photography, Robert McFarlane talked with guests, Belinda Mason-Lovering, Joanne Saad and Greg Weight about the continuing relevance of contemporary portrait photography and culture and the lure of photographic prizes for photographers and audience alike, on the site of the 'Head On' portraiture exhibition, curated by Moshe Rosenzveig. Extremely popular in attendance, the unveiling of motivations, titling, subject choice and intimacy, rapport and sensitivity to delicate subjects, contentious areas and indigenous subjects, carefully explained by the photographers. A continuous slideshow of the speakers' portraits backed the discussion.

[Greg Weight, Joanne Saad, Robert McFarlane & Belinda Mason-Lovering]

Robert McFarlane, the protagonist or interviewer and commentator throughout, is a noted Australian photographer and critic whose career spans more than 40 years in Australia. "Robert McFarlane has concerned himself primarily with social issues, with a long, but intermittent involvement with the Aboriginal community and the disabled. McFarlane has also extensively documented the world of performance in Australian Film and Theatre since 1980. McFarlane's approach has consistently used the grammar of photojournalism to get as close as possible to his subject - intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and, where necessary, physically. His objective is to achieve an intimate level of understanding of the images he creates." FotoFreo . Joanne Saad, a Lebanese Australian, talked about careful naming of images and the readings/misreadings press can interpret from these and she presented her recent series of Karaoke pictures that won the Sydney Life Photography Exhibition Prize in 2006, capturing the emotional aspirations of one-night stars performing in Karaoke clubs in Western Sydney. Belinda Mason-Lovering seems to take a more mainstream approach to photographic style and also runs a commercial (rather than art~) photography business, yet her sensitive subject matter distinguishes her agile ability to develop rapport and comfort with scarred and burned victims, people with physical disabilities, and Australian Aboriginal people from Arnhem Land. Somehow she manages to reveal glimpses of knowledge normally unseen. She is so mild-mannered and aware of the fine balance, that the potential for voyeurism or exploitation in such situations seemed to be circumvented. According to her web site, Belinda's work "focuses on taboo social issues that explore the very personal and sometimes difficult subjects of grief, body image, identity and family".

For me the highlight, however, was hearing [and seeing the images of] Greg Weight. He was the inaugural winner in 2003 of the Australian Photographic Portrait Prize, held in conjunction with the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne at the NSW Art Gallery annually [but discontinued after 2006]. His winning picture was a portrait of Jim Conway, 'Railroad blues'. Conway is a blues harmonica performer (with the Backsliders and Big Wheel) who is confined to a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis. Weight's book Australian Artists, portraits by Greg Weight was published by Chapter and Verse in 2004. You will notice my fascination in the photos included here: for a portrait photographer, ironically Greg Weight himself has such a richly expressive and characterful face: he is well suited to being photographed!

[full audience at the Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington]

Amongst the issues raised by the audience during question time, people were very concerned about titling or captioning photographic works, especially in exhibition, i.e. concern not to instruct or imply how how the image should be interpreted by the audience, nor verbose explanatory titles. Questions of ownership and rights for photographing indigenous people were raised and well handled by Mason and Weight, both of whom give copies of their images to the subjects and, by definition, portrait photography is complicit imaging. The subjects are consulted every time an image is published or exhibited. McFarlane surprised me by raising the issue of photographer rights (being taken away), referring to the escalating number of situation in which photography is not permitted. I was surprised because I already find this phenomenon fairly pervasive, especially in entertainment or performance and commercial events and in art galleries and museums. The latter, in a way, protects the intellectual property and rights of the exhibited artists so I support this kind of restriction. He criticised the former regulation of taking photos at concerts, for example, as the motives are clearly ulterior or adhering to an agenda. I think that agenda is so blatantly commercial that it is, frankly unsurprising but he makes a good point that these restrictions detract from the livelihood and validity of the photographer's documentary. Conclusion: if you have the chance and are in Sydney, see the Head On exhibition at the ACP. It demonstrates the diversity of approaches to portraiture and its associated issues.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Underexposed and panoramic experimentation

Thanks to Oat Vaiyaboon [hangingpixels on Flickr] for suggesting I use PTGui for photo panoramas. [Funnily enough, I think he used to be a student of mine in Digital Media at Sydney Uni, way back at the beginning of the century]. Oat is, for me, a very memorable name. Today, therefore, I set about taking another set of images at twilight from McMahon's Point and stitching together 10 high res images from Milson's Point Harbourview and Luna Park right around via SOH and bridge to Darling Harbour. I think it looks much better. This was still just using a regular tripod (not a pano-head - will try to borrow that some time).

These images I took -2/3 f/stop for the reasons that follow. The second image shows the ant-like dimensions of the bridge-climb tour group atop the SHB, using the 420mm 35mm-equiv (Leica 88.80mm) zoom.

Another experiment I tried today was inspired by the advice of amateur (yet remarkable) photographer (and heart specialist), Marco Pozzi from the U.K. who was featured in Photography Monthly. His self-professed inspirations include Steve McCurry (photographer of the notorious Afghan Girl image widely employed by National Geographic, a Magnum Photographer) and Pozzi's images share the intense rich, saturated and dark colouration and textural detail that McCurry's have. Both also photograph seemingly exclusively abroad in exotic locations, especially portraits and people in context, people in countries like Afghanistan (McCurry), India and Nepal (Pozzi), Cuba and fascinating cultural contexts, capturing people posing or going about daily activities. I very much admire the images by both. Pozzi's article states that one of his standard techniques is to underexpose, then treat contrast, levels and saturation in PhotoShop, which seems to achieve what I call the 'Leica-look' (though he uses Nikon primarily). This is the aesthetic of depth, darkness and more underexposed appearance more closely resembling film than typically seen in digital photography. This method is especially well suited for portraiture of people with darker and coloured skin. The overexposing for scenery, landscapes, urbanism is not such a marked advantage: its greatest impact is for portrait shots. I took the picture of myself and the majority of harbour shots -2/3 f/stop.

Two of my currently favourite books - Lonely Planet Code Green traces a series of eco-tourism, small footprint and remarkably unusual places on the earth - the atypical tourist destinations - acclaimed for their natural beauty. The National Geographic photography book is self explanatory but fascinating because it covers a range of photographers and their disctinctive approaches.

Today, reading Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers (ed. Ivan Vartanian, Akihiro Hatanaka, and Yutaka Kambayashi), I enjoy exploring the different reasons these photographers give for pursuing variously their passion, profession, documentary, investigation through picture. Daido Moriyama, for example, states that he keeps pondering about what photography is, what the camera is ... i.e. he concludes a photograph is a commemoration and espouses that the camera goes with him to capture interesting or surprising events but his agenda is never fashion, journalism or art photography. On principle, he thinks a photograph cannot have the same status as a unique work of art. Naoya Hatakeyama in his chapter on Lime Works on the other hand offers a less serendipitous, highly astute observational eye and descriptive narrative eschewing spontaneous for a considered and very conscious understanding of context. He seems very contemplative and photography seems to awaken for him his raison d'être. I like his rationale pointing out that perhaps there are as many worlds as there are instances looking at and re-looking at it, i.e. it exists in a moment and every perception is distinctive and fresh, and to that photography can bring new glimpses. We also share an empathy for nature and his potent desire to remove the denatured, distant we have of nature, over-idealised yet un-integrated with our daily experience in many cases. He questions the very core assumption that modern objective photography facilitates a stepping away from collusion and participation, finally rationalising that "understanding the multifaceted nature of the world based on this ideology of looking at things may serve to broaden the world's surface. In my fantasy, three spheres cling together as they expand and contract: the Earth, the brain, and the eyeball". Takuma Nakahira asks the same question "what isa camera?" that Moriyama asks. Nakahira concludes that it might be the embodiment of our desire to look, a technology resulting from historical accumulation - or a system unto itself". It locates the photographer relative to the world, distances(?) and frames and isolates single elements of reality. "The entire 'memory' of the world is the truth of looking".

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Images on blogger

Of the image quality on blogger, it must be pointed out that images are re-'optimised', i.e. severely compressed and downsized from the quality at which originally uploaded, understandably a product of server space limitations and the textual intention of blogs, as opposed say, to flickr which is a distinctly and non-textually oriented photo library facility. This may seem obvious but people should not assume that the quality of images here is representative, even if the purported topic is 'photo-documentary' blog. Symptoms of this conundrum are that sharpness and colour profile (which particularly bothers me) appear more under-saturated and fuzzier than on flickr. Hence, this is a place for preambles, overviews and *words but flickr is still the preferred conduit for photos. Please look there if you're serious about quality [under links]. The only problem pervasive of flickr or Google's own picasa photo-album style is that both unfathomably use a white background. Ever wonder why photographers' web sites are often black? There is a good basic visual perception explanation that, simply put, means darker backgrounds enhance our visual perception of saturation and colour and it is a more flattering for displaying photos. There are some other unaesthetic page styling issues with the afore-mentioned, too.