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THE ENVELOPE

By MICHAEL PERKINS

HAVING LIVED IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST FOR OVER FIFTEEN YEARS, I HAVE NEGOTIATED MY OWN TERMS WITH THE BLAZING OVERKILL OF MIDDAY SUNLIGHT, and its resulting impact on photography. If you move to Arizona or New Mexico from calmer climates, you will find yourself quickly constricting into a severe squint from late breakfast to early evening, with your camera likewise shrinking from the sheer overabundance of harsh, white light. If you’re determined to shoot in midday, you will adjust your approach to just about everything in your exposure regimen.

Good news, however: if you prefer to shoot in the so-called “golden hour” just ahead of sunset, you will be rewarded with some of the most picturesque tones you’ve ever had the good luck to work with. As has been exhaustively explained by better minds than mine, sunlight lingers longer in the atmosphere during the pre-sunset period, which, in the southwest, can really last closer to two hours or more. Hues are saturated, warm: shadows are powerful and sharp. And, if that dramatic contrast works to your advantage in color, it really packs a punch in monochrome.

This time of day is what I call “the envelope”, which is to say that objects look completely different in this special light from how they register in any other part of the day, if you can make up your mind as to what to do in a hurry. Changes from minute to minute are fast and stark in their variance. Miss your moment, and you must wait another 24 hours for a re-do.

In the West, the best action happens after High Noon.

In the west, the best action actually happens after High Noon. Just before sunset in Scottsdale, AZ: 1/500 sec., f/4.5, ISO 100, 35mm.

The long shadow of an unseen sign visible in the above frame lasted about fifteen minutes on the day of the shoot. The sign itself is a metal cutout of a cowboy astride a bucking bronco, the symbol of Scottsdale, Arizona, “the most western town in the USA”. The shadow started as a short patch of black directly in front of the rusted bit of machine gear in the foreground, then elongated to an exaggerated duplicate of the sign, extending halfway down the block and becoming a sharper and more detailed silhouette.

A few minutes later, it grew softer and eventually dissolved as the sun crept closer to the western horizon. There would still be blazing illumination and harsh shadows for some objects, if you went about two stories high or higher, but, generally, sunset was well under way. Caught in time, the shadow became an active design element in the shot, an element strong enough to come through even in black and white.

If you are ever on holiday in the southwest, peek inside “the envelope”. There’s good stuff inside.


TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE

This image may not be a masterpiece, but it's mine....unless I willingly give it away. 1/80 sec., f/8, ISO 100, 55mm.

This image may not be a masterpiece, but it’s mine….unless I willingly give it away. Why should we help dig a grave for authorship of our photos?  1/80 sec., f/8, ISO 100, 55mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE CONUNDRUM OF AUTHORSHIP, OR WHAT WE NOW TERM “INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY” RUNS ON A PARALLEL TRACK with the history of photography. Being a mechanical process of printing and reproduction, imaging has, from the first, proven more vulnerable to theft than anything created by the painters’ hand. Indeed, the very means by which photographs became reproducible in mass media such as newspapers and magazines became the first access afforded to thieves of what we ourselves had crafted. It became an unholy bargain. To be seen and discussed, our work had to employ these methods of distribution, and, at the same time, render ourselves vulnerable to those who would spirit away and claim as their own that which they did not create.

Which brings me to the recent brouhaha over Instagram, and its latest user agreement, going into effect in mid-January 2013, which allows the site to redistribute, lease or allocate use of members’ images with no obligation to inform or compensate the creators of those images. This is not my “representation” or “interpretation”. The language of the agreement is so brazenly clear that it’s breathtaking.

Read it.

Reality check: it can easily be argued that our best efforts to certify our claim to our images, through copyright laws, watermarks, terms of service, contracts, etc., still leave us as exposed to harm as a naked mountain climber on a blustery day. But, dear God, that is no reason to help the thieves, or, worse yet, to put ourselves in jeopardy by willingly consigning our work to websites whose stated purpose is to financially benefit by the exploitation of our work.

Instagram has millions of subscribers around the world. Do not ask me why, since I have never seen the benefit of taking mostly mediocre snapshots and rendering them murkier, darker, dirtier or more flawed by the post-application of “fun” filters. I spent my childhood longing for cameras beyond the scope of the cheap plastic boxes affordable to a 12-year-old. Light leaks, color streaks, vignetted corners and lousy chroma were the chains I was longing to break free of, not the post-ironic posturings I thought would render me hip. Toy cameras made bad pictures compared to the cameras grown-ups were using.

Period.

However, while personally writing off Instagram as a harmless toy (even one which has yielded some superior images, by the way), I never saw it as a threat to the sanctity of authorship. Until now. The digital imaging age has encouraged all of us to “give it away” just to get our work noticed (that unholy bargain from Paragraph One), encouraging us to do insane things like send our “on the spot” photos of events (unpaid..!) for use on-air by local TV stations too cheap to put their own photographers in the field. How nice that we have volunteered to be their uncompensated photog team. What a feeling of community, of belonging. Ick.

It should be noted that, following a crap-storm of anger over their announced new user agreement (as of 12/18/12), Instagram has sought to “clarify” their intent, claiming that the agreement’s “language” may have caused consternation.

No duh.

We’ll see what happens, but as of this writing, throngs of tweeters and others have announced their intention to bail, like the jilted lovers they feel themselves to be.

Like I said at the top, it is our need to have our work seen that has often made us shake hands with the devil. With the Instagram debacle, however,we are also fixing him a hot lunch, offering him wine and cigars afterward, and finishing up with a deep tissue message so he can digest properly.

If we sign up for this swindle, it’s on us.

Thoughts?