January 2005 Archives

While in Minnesota, I bought a Leicaflex SL kit for about half of what it was worth on the open market (even
given ebay-driven depreciation). Prices have really dropped on R-equipment. If you like old mechanical cameras, you should definitely check out Leica SLRs as they've become very reasonable. I've updated my classic camera site with information on the two:

http://www.photoethnography.com/ClassicCameras/Leicaflex.html
http://www.photoethnography.com/ClassicCameras/Lens-R.html

Leica R lenses can be used on Canon EOS cameras (including the 10D/20D) with an adapter. I've posted information on this on the Lens-R page.

Suggestions and fixes are more than welcome.


Update: Now in Kyoto

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This weekend, I moved into my new apartment in Kyoto. It's just 500 meters away from the Imperial Palace and 1.3 kilometers away from Doshisha University, which is where I'll be a affiliated as a visiting researcher. All very exciting.

Readers know that I'm conducting my research on disability politics in Japan and the United States. I just finished five months in Tokyo. I'll be in Kyoto until June. Then it's back to the United States where I'll be spending a few months in Berkeley, CA and Washington, DC. The goal of this research is a book comparing disability politics in both countries from a grassroots perspective.

More news and photos as I get settled.

This is more of a link list for my own use. My favorite store in Osaka is Camera Planet, although prices have gone up recently there. I'm sad that Lemonsha Camera closed its Umeda store.

Osaka - Umeda Station:


Kyoto - Imadegawa

Hyogo

Suggestions and additions are more than welcome.

Update 2005.01.31 On the Japan Photographer photo list, two sites for used camera stores in Japan (in general) were recommended:


Although we often think of skyscrapers, financial markets, and banned chewing gum when we think of Singapore, Peter Chou has a very nice photoblog of rural Singapore:

http://www.pbase.com/kepha/ubin

It reminds me very much of the photos of rural Malaysia that I took millions of years ago:

http://www.photoethnography.com/gallery/malaysia2002/index.html

Update 2005.01.31: Peter wrote to me telling me of a new project he's currently engaged in. It sounds fantastic. Check his site for updates.


For digital photographers, there's no avoiding buying Photoshop CS. While there are some free software equivalents such as the GIMP (http://www.gimp.org/), the GIMP is 8-bit only and does not have color sync profile support on it -- making it nearly useless for professional photographers. On the Mac, the $30 GraphicConverter is very popular (and I still continue to use its batch processing functions from time to time), but is similarly 8-bit and non-ICC limited. Other commercial software such as PaintShopPro has other limitations that also make them difficult choices. At this point, Adobe has a lock on the professional photographer market.

That doesn't mean you have to pay the full fare of $600/copy though. Practically any scanner or digital camera you buy will come with a free copy of Photoshop Elements, the very limited version for amateur putzing. You can upgrade from Photoshop Elements to Photoshop CS for $300:
http://store.adobe.com/store/products/master.jhtml?id=catCanon

And if you're an educational user (teacher, student, etc.), you can buy the Photoshop CS bundle for about half-price. The same goes for Dreamweaver MX. You have to go through your educational software purchasing agent (i.e., I ordered mine through the college bookstore). There are some companies that purportedly will sell you at educational prices (such as JourneyEd.com) but I have no experience with them. You can also try calling up the usual mail-order suspects (MacConnection/PCConnection, MacWarehouse/PCWarehouse) and asking if they have an educational software sales division. You will have to fax in a copy of your student/faculty ID.

Update 2005.01.29: Many people think 48-bit color is unimportant because the human eye can't see more than the millions of color represented by 24-bit color. This is not the case. We can easily see more than 256 shades of grey so if you're doing B&W work, you want to have 16-bit grey support. 48-bit color (16-bit per channel) is crucial if you're doing any image adjustments such as black/white point adjustment, contrast changes, etc. If you have less than 8-bits/color to begin with, you'll start to see posterization, especially in the shadow/highlight areas. At the final stage, you'll flatten the image to 24-bit color to print it, but you should maintain 48-bit color as long as you're actively editing.

Update 2005.02.11:Updated with reference to GraphicConverter for the Mac.

Comments are more than welcome on this post.

I received a very nice letter from Valentin Sama, who teaches photography at Madrid University who is also the technical editor of FV Magazine. We share many interests. If you can read spanish or want to know what's happening in the continental photography scene, follow these links:

There's a new meta-blog website specifically for photoblogs. It's called (not surprisingly) Photoblogs.org:
- http://www.photoblogs.org/

Some of the blogs listed are quite good. Browsing through, these were favorites:
- http://www.chromasia.com/
- http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/

They also have a wiki on photography/photoblography related subjects:
- http://wiki.photoblogs.org/wiki/Main_Page

If you have to itemize all of your expenses while you're in the field, there's a new portable scanner with OCR/database software designed especially for scanning and itemizing receipts: http://www.neatreceipts.com/.

It's PC-only so I haven't had the opportunity to test it. But if it works as it promises, it would be fantastic. I'd be the first on the block to get it if it came with Mac OSX software (I've written to them requesting it). And it would also be great if it had the option of ditching the scanner and allowing us to image our receipts using our digital cameras. The software would still be responsible for OCRing the receipts, entering the item categories and amounts, and managing the database.

Debate: Film vs. Digital?

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Ken Rockwell (a nature photographer) has an excellent essay on why the so-called "debate" of film vs. digital is just a scam by camera magazines to sell more issues. I agree wholeheartedly. I shoot both film and digital, SLR and rangefinder, and find the two technologies to work together more than they work against each other.

From http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/filmdig.htm:

Film and digital do different things better and complement each other. Neither is going away, although film will decline in areas where digital excels, like news. Film has already disappeared from professional newspaper use a year or so ago, although small town papers may still use it, and likewise, no digital capture system has come anywhere near replacing 8x10" large format film for huge exhibition prints that need to be hellaciously detailed.

When radio became popular in the 1920s people knew that newspapers would evaporate, when FM radio became common in the 1960s everyone knew AM was doomed, and when TV became practical in the 1950s everyone knew movie theatres were history, too. Wisdom shows us that every time a new medium, like digital cameras, is invented that the older media survive continuing to do whatever they do best and get better at it, although the older media may no longer be dominant. Even awful media like LP records still have their followers.

Digital and film are completely different media, just as oils differ from watercolor, macrame, Prismacolor or bead art. Non-artists misguidedly waste their time comparing meaningless specs like resolution and bit depth when they really should just stand back and look at the images..... read rest of article...


Mark Hancock, a professional photojournalist, has a nice blog discussing the various aspects of his profession:

http://markhancock.blogspot.com/

Three photographers immediately come to mind when I think of the intersection of documentary photography, fine art photography, and photojournalism.


  • Dorothea Lange
  • William Eggleston
  • W. Eugene Smith

What I enjoy about all of them is that they managed to capture the ordinariness of everyday life. Lange gave poverty a face; Eggleston focused on the beautiful banality of suburban and urban modernity; Smith on the heroic nature of daily existence. They do with film what anthropologists try to do with words.

One of my friends, documentary photography Wing Young Huie, was strongly influenced by Eggleston. You can this in his work on Frogtown (a neighborhood in Saint Paul MN) or Lake Street in Minneapolis. One major difference is that Eggleston works in color and Huie in B&W (mostly). Eggleston's influence is much more apparent in Huie's latest work on Chinese-Americans and ethnicity in the United States, post-911.

Nan Goldin also seems to fit in this list, but I have never found warmth in her photographs. They are devoid of humanity. I think this gestalt is what makes them appealing to many, but it is not why I photograph.

Blog: Japan Window

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This is a cute photo diary / blog of a foreigner married to a Japanese woman, trying to make sense of Japan through the lens of his camera:

http://www.japanwindow.com/

He has an extraordinary collection of links to other blogs (photographic and Japan-related) in the sidebar. Worth a few hours of browsing. My favorite from his list of links (I haven't gotten through them all yet) is:

http://www.tokyotimes.org/

Nikon SP 2005 announced

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Nikon (Japan) has announced a limited production run (2500 units) of the Nikon SP rangefinder with 35mm f/1.8 lens. The SP is of course famous for being the most sophisticated rangefinder of its time (circa 1957), surpassing even the Leica M3. The SP had a higher magnification viewfinder (1.0x), more lens framelines (28/35/50/85/105/35), and motor drive option. Interestingly, they are using the original 1957-design rubberized cloth shutter rather than the titanium foil shutter which was implemented in 1959.

Nikon surprised everyone in 2000 with the Nikon S3 2000 commemorative model. But sales of the $6000 reproductions were never high and it ended up being discounted at about $2500 in Tokyo camera shops. The general consensus was that the lower-end S3 was never what people really wanted, what they wanted was a reproduction of the original SP. Now they have it. Whether they can afford the $7000 camera is another question.

The SP shares the same camera chassis as the S3. It was the optical rangefinder that differentiated them. For a while in the 1950s, you could even upgrade your S3 to an SP. Since Nikon already had the engineering for the S3-2000 reproduction, making the SP-2005 repro model was only a matter of recreating the extremely complex rangefinder unit. The only major difference between the original 1957 SP and the SP-2005 is that the 35mm f/1.8 lens will be multicoated. Otherwise, it's true to the original: no light metering and no electronics whatsoever. A fully mechanical camera. Nikon says that it even copied the sound of the original self-timer right down to the same frequency bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt.

Small print: MSRP is ¥690,000, ¥724,500 with sales tax. The yen is currently around ¥103/$1. Most camera stores offer at least 10% off. Production is limited to 2500 units and on an pre-paid basis. I am assuming only black paint models will be made since the chrome S3 reproductions were not popular. As a side note, used SP's in near-mint condition without box in Japan go for about $4000-5000, minimum. So $7000 is not expensive in that market

I'll be buying one when they get remaindered at $2500 in Tokyo camera shops, although the pre-paid order system seems to ensure this will not happen. :-)

Along with the Nikon F6, Nikon seems to want to firmly establish itself as the (last) manufacturer of professional film camera equipment. They currently do not have any competititon in this field with every other German and Japanese manufacturer announcing that they are not investing any further money into film camera R&D. Canon EOS film development has stopped; Contax is dead; Leica is focused on the DMR and limited-run M6/MP editions; Konica-Minolta is all-digital; Pentax may have something at the consumer level but nothing professional; etc. etc. Long live Nikon and film!

Links:


Equipment: Murphy's Law

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Anthropologists and photographers both know well the veracity of Murphy's Law. From the appropriately named "phantom mikes" to frozen leaf shutters; equipment always seems to fail under two conditions:

1. You have no backup - or it's located 400 kilometers away.
2. You desperately need it to work.

True to form, on the eve of my trip to the States, I decided to make a backup of my laptop which contains my entire life. My laptop harddrive failed with a hardware failure before the backup was half done. As soon as I arrive in the States, the laptop is off to DriveSavers....

This is all by way of saying that I'll be offline for about two weeks until I can get this fixed.

Update 2005.02.02: All of my data was recovered successfully using a software program. See this blog entry for more details.

Karen Nakamura

Every cultural and visual anthropologist should listen to This American Life on WBEZ/Public Radio. They have almost every episode available as a free download on Real Audio. I've been downloading them to my iPod using AudioHijack Pro and listening to the train during my commutes in Japan. Simply wonderful.

Ira Glass opens up an entirely new field of what I would call audio ethnography. Anthropologists regularly use tape recorders in the field for data collection. Anthropologists interested in folk studies and other ethnologists also use tape recorders to study ritual interaction and mythmaking. But Ira Glass goes one step further, using the tape recorder to present us with diverse and profound aspects of contemporary American culture.

Some linguistic and cultural anthropologists come close to this aspect of thick audio description, although the rules of academia limit their publications to the printed word. If you have some time, read some of Abu Lughod's work on Bedouin love poetry or Geneva Smitherman's books on African-American Vernacular English. Both women share a love for the individuality, vitality, and language of the people they talk to.

I'd love to see what the Society for Visual Anthropology thinks of the possibility of audio ethnographies. With the increase of podcasting, this is also an area of ethnography that more laypeople could get involved in although the issue of translation may limit it to only domestic audiences. Comments and suggestions are, as always, very welcome.

The National Press Photographer Association (NPPA) posted their NPPA Photojournalist of the Year Awards 2004. The section I'm most interested in is the photo essay (Feature Picture Story =FPS) awards:

http://www.nppa.org/competitions/best_of_still_photojournalism/2004/winners/still/index.cfm?category=FPS&place=1st

The winner this year is Paul Hansen with Dagens Nyheter with a photoessay on Thalidomide activists in Sweden. A must read. I also like Chris Curry's (Peoria Journal Star winning photoessay on Amish farmers in America.

http://www.nppa.org/competitions/best_of_still_photojournalism/2004/winners/still/index.cfm?category=NAA&place=1st


Karen Nakamura

Digital Camera Sales
The latest stats from Japan's CIPA (the Camera and Imaging Products Association) suggest that digital camera sales may have peaked.

In November 2004 (the last period for which public data is freely available), 806,079 digital cameras were sold in Japan. This is only 87% as many that were sold in November 2003.

From January-November 2004, 7.7 million digital cameras were sold. This is 102% as many as were sold from Jan-Nov 2003.

(Same month data for exports is 6 million sold [94%]; and year-sum is 47.6 million or 151%)

The data trends suggests that consumers are happy with their 3-5 megapixel compact digital cameras and the market may be reaching saturation. Especially in Japan, compact digital cameras are under pressure from digital mobile phones. The latest models have 2-3 megapixel cameras built-in and are heavily subsidized from mobile phone providers. Production is remaining constant, however, mainly due to increased sales to North America and Europe where there is still very strong growth.

Digital SLR sales are strong and show no signs of peaking yet. Production is running at 300% of last year's figures. However with only 2.3 million DSLRs made during Jan-Nov 24, this is only a small percentage (4.2%) of the entire digital camera market of 55 million cameras produced during the same period.

Film Camera Sales
The situation is much bleaker for film cameras. Production during Jan-Nov 2004 of focal plane cameras (i.e. mostly SLRs) were only 47.5% of last year's Jan-Nov figures. Point and shoots were a bit stronger at 63.6% of last year's numbers. Still, the downward trend is inexorable and is the same regardless of world region.

Perhaps reflecting greater sales to people with digital SLRs, production of SLR-interchangeable lenses was running at 117% of last year's figures.

Data from CIPA, analysis by Karen Nakamura.

Update 2005.01.06: Asahi.com (Japanese) is reporting on this as well.

I recently received a very kind letter from a photojournalist and critic named Robert McFarlane who works out of Sydney, Australia. Curious, I explored more of his work and found it very moving. I won't engage in copyright theft by placing his photos here, but follow these links to his work. I'm sure you'll be as touched as I was:

McFarlane's use of negative space and shadows (especially in his portraiture of his son, Morgan) is both delicate and poignant. He's not a name familiar to most American readers, so I'm happy to feature him on this blog.

KN

Photo: Hyogo Evening Skyscapes

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I took a series of photographs this evenings from a balcony in Itami City, Hyogo Prefecture. There was too much light pollution for astrophotography, but I have some nice skyscapes. These have been posted on my PAW gallery:

photoethnography.com/gallery/paw2005/index02.html

Equipment: Canon EOS 10D

A nice reference to my site on Chautauqua:



Karen Nakamura's site, photoethnography.com , provides an interesting glimpse into an area of social science research that is almost entirely untapped. Photojournalists have been documenting our times for well over a hundred years, and ethnographers have a long and respected tradition of fieldwork searching to map the insiders' knowledge of a given culture.

And we have documentary filmmakers. But still photographs still have unexplored potential as a research tool.

more...



Even though Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Gregory Bateson all pushed for greater use of photography in anthropology, the visual image has been greatly disdained. Ethnographic film is considered by many anthropologists to be appropriate for high-school use, early undergraduates, and maybe to show on PBS, but certainly not what serious scholars engage in. And still photography is considered the lowest of the low. When was the last time you saw a gorgeously photographed ethnography by an academic anthropologist?* We have entirely relinquished the market to documentary photographers and journalists.

* My favorite photoethnography is Corinne Kratz's (2002) The ones that are wanted : communication and the politics of representation in a photographic exhibition, but this has not made a dent in the field.

I have been pushing for greater acknowledgement of the power of the image in mainstream anthropology. We anthropologists need to get off our anti-National Geographic bias and recognize that if we (mainstream academic anthropologists) continue to marginalize visual anthropology, then we will lose control of it entirely. We need to make visual anthropology a core element of undergraduate and graduate anthropology curriculums -- so that the people who go on to become National Geographic photographers or videographers for PBS will do so with some recognition of appropriate fieldwork methods and techniques. Because right now, all we are doing is alienating them.

I open the new year with some photographs from my visit to a Kyoto shrine on New Year's Day. Rather than visiting the larger shrines inside the city which were sure to be packed, my partner and I decided to go to a shrine on the western edge of Kyoto....

Full story and photographs here: photoethnography.com/gallery/paw2005/

Update 2005.01.05: Asahi.com reports that over 93 million people in Japan visited shrines or temples in the New Year's period. Given that the population of Japan is 127 million, that's pretty impressive - about 73%. Does anyone have stats on church attendance in the U.S. on Christmas?

Happy New Year

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The year 2004 ended on a very sad note. My hope is that this new year will open with humanity showing its better side. Please give to the rescue effort in any way that you can.

This is my new year's card (nengajo 年賀状) for this year. Nengajo are Japanese traditional season's greeting cards. Unlike American Christmas cards which are sent and arrive rather randomly from Thanksgiving to December, nengajo are collected by the Japanese post-office starting December 24th. You have to stamp your postcard with "nenga" otherwise it is delivered immediately. Properly marked nengajo are stored by the postoffice and delivered in one huge pile on the morning of January 1st (yes, the Japanese post office works on New Year's day, it's one of their busiest).

You're supposed to send cards to all of the people who you were indebted to in the year because they helped you in some way or another. This is a rather Japanese concept - that one is continually indebted by the help and assistance of others. In reality, this means that you might send out about 100-200 cards a year to all of your kin, co-workers, friends, company management, vendors, etc. etc.

Managing nengajo lists requires a major database. The ones on the market are quite sophisticated, such as Atena Shokunin to the right here. It will let you know if the person you are sending the nengajo sent one last year, or the year before (missing two years in a row frees you of the obligation to send one in return); if there was a death in that family (you send a bereavement card instead of a nengajo); fill in the address using the 3+4 digit zip-code; print the cards and so forth.

Receiving a big bundle of nengajo on new year's is exciting. Tradition has it that you should do your own nengajo so each one is unique. Also, each official nengajo postcard comes with a lottery number pre-printed on it. If you match digits, the post office will give you small presents. For folks that receive 300+ cards, this means that you can usually get several sheets of stamps, Hello Kitty post office items, etc.

p.s. You're also supposed to send greeting (and gifts) in the middle of the year as well (ochugen お中元) and department stores make a big fuss about this, but many people don't get around to that.

The end of the year

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Many people in Japan spend New Years Eve at home watching TV. NHK, the embattled quasi-public TV network always broadcasts Kohaku Utagassen (紅白歌合戦; Red White Sing Off)*. Two teams of celebrities compete singing Japanese enka and pop songs. Sort of like a giant karaoke competition. This year we were supposed to have Korean soap drama star Bae Yonju but he couldn't come. Rumor was that he was asking for more than NHK was willing to pay. Instead, another Korean soap drama star came. I'll have to comment on the current Korean-boom (韓流; hanryu) some other time.

* Update: The popularity of Kohaku has been dropping in the past several years. Asahi News reports that this year, it fell below 40% for the first time (39.3% to be exact).

Instead of watching TV at home, my partner and I went to our local bathhouse (sento around ten pm. Although sento began to decline in popularity in the 1970s as the demographic shifted to nuclear families with their own bathtubs, they have staged somewhat of a comeback in the last decade. Renamed Super-Sento or Kenko-lands they now feature jacuzzis, hot/dry/mist saunas, salt rubs, herbal tea baths, and hot spring baths. You can arrange to get your hair cut or an oil massage too.

In Japan, cleanliness is literally a religion. A large part of Shinto is dedicated to physical and spiritual cleaning. My favorite documentary photograph is Tomoko being bathed by her mother taken by Eugene Smith. It reminds many people of the Pieta but its setting in the bath has Japanese spiritual connotations as well. The water is washing away not only the pollution that poisoned Tomoko, but also the sense of guilt of her mother towards her daughter. There's some controversy over the withdrawal of the print from circulation.

At the sento, I spent most of the time in the outdoor hot spring (露天風呂 rotenburo) soaking away the stress and spiritual and physical dirt of the old year while gazing up at the night sky. What could be better? We spent about three hours at the sento and walked back home around 1 am. In the distance we could hear the bell at the local Buddhist temple bell slowly toll 108 times (除夜の鐘; joya no kane) representing the 108 desires of humans.

This year is the 17th year of the Heisei era of Emperor Akihito. It is the Year of Cock (酉).

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2004 is the previous archive.

February 2005 is the next archive.

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