Sunday, 28 December 2014

This is the strangest Christmas card...

 ....I ever received in my life. But since I got it from my lifelong friend and videographer  Daniel Jouanisson, I am not surprised by his whacky humour:  
It's a photo of a photo, by Jacques-Andre' Boiffard, a surrealist photographer
who has his first exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris, where Daniel just went. Check the link!

Here is another couple of shots:

Sensor shift in the New Olympus EM5 Mk.2.

The refresh of this v. successful model by Olympus will be introduced in February, so all I have is some rumors. Movie rate, EVF, many of the features introduced by the latest Olympus models will be there, but the killer feature will be sensor shift (SS).

So far we know v. little: that it takes 8 pictures byf the sensor by 1/2 pixel, and achieves an image of 40 Mpx. We also know that IBIS stabilisation works in a bracket of 5 pixels . Since  1/2x8 = 4 pixels, so my bet is that sensor shift will happen as part of IBIS, with no need of a tripod.

By my early experience with a superresolution program called 'PhotoAcute' I know that you must slightly shift an image after the first so the program can compare pixels, and increase the information as a result. The program, created by a Russian mathematician,  was v. processing intensive, since each pixel of the preceding picture had to be compared with each of the following one.

Thankfully camera processing power doubles each year, so presumably each 8 pictures can be compared in a reasonable time, seconds instead of minutes.

We also know that the 'old' E-M5 could shoot at 10 fps, so again 8 frames can well be taken  within just one second.

The old E-M5 'Its going to be redesigned anyway.

I assume that stotal shutterspeed of the 8 frames shouldn' be more than one second: shutterspeed defines how fast the objects in front of you can move, fluttering leaves in a windy day being the typical problem for the landscapist. The other problem is people moving through the landscape, but freezing that  should be well within the capacity of the new system, provided one operates in fair weather.

What is the rationale for SS? First you don't need to change system anymore to have v. high definition. You don't even need to change lenses with more resolving ones, since the process is sequential.

At any rate the feature is excellent news for landscapists, portrait and macro users, down to PJ. An Editor is always happy to crop pictures (and a noob too).

People are asking if there will be less noise and better colours. Going by PhotoAcute, I'd say that the colours stay the same, but noise is filtered, while the sofware compares pictures.
A user also advocated more Dynamic Range a' La HDR.
But I'd rather bet that exposure is determined by the first shot and doesn't change for the following 7. The opposite would be a loss of time. So HDR will stay a separate feature, like it was in Photoacute.

BTW the E-M5 already has 12 bits of DR, so it's more than enough. Introducing more would mean to lessen the contrast and having flat pictures. Same goes for colour, it probably stays the same of the first picture, so what you earn with SS is really more detail and less noise.

All this was based on a pure deduction a la Sherlock Holmes, (!) but it might be v. different of what Olympus' engineers have concocted. Then wait for February and check how much of this set of assumptions is wrong :)

To me staying with one system only, and only one set of lenses is a remarkable advantage, and SS has stopped me in my tracks while taking an interest in Sony's A7 and having a fit of GAS. So well done, Olympus, with your 40 Mpx! My wallet is grateful...

When you are able to dabble with single pixels, small sensors still have the advantage. Less processing to do, quicker reactions of the camera.
Olympus' genius is to have designed a superresolution device working within IBIS, and therefore avoiding the need for a tripod like the Sony A7r is reported to need.

Now to recap: Sensor shift must work within IBIS.  IBIS shift works within 5 pixels. If so 1/2 px x 8 frames = 4 px, well within IBIS.

EM5 also has a fast 10 fps so all could happen within a second. With a new double speed processor integrating the eight shots shouldn't take more than a handful of seconds, like an Art Filter.The result is more than twice the resolution and less noise.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

About the difference between Oriental and Western Perspective

A Picture of Mount Fuji by Karel van Wolferen

I use here the word Oriental, instead of Asian, because Atmospheric Perspective, as against the Linear Perspective of the West, belongs to the history of China and Japan. Nowadays in Asia they use a camera with built in linear perspective like everybody else on the planet!
Differently from Linear Perspecive that relies on the diminishing size of objects towards the horizon along converging lines Atmospheric Perspective conveys the impression of depth through a colour shift to blue in the distance, and the use of atmospheric haze. You can still observe in Leonardo's portraits, but it is still a factor in more modern painting like Turner's. The fact is that Asians didn't use Linear Perpective until the arrival of the Westerners, notably the Dutch in Japan, which might have imported their camera obscura and the first lenses.

As an introduction I will post a seminal article from Luminous Landscape: The Synthesis of Chinese Landscape Painting and Photography  By George DeWolfe & Lydia Goetze, and their first diagram here:

3 plane diagram. Please check also Lydia Goetze lovely pictures in China.

By comparison this is the well known linear perspective, that we obtain from cameras:

So, three planes, or stages,  instead of lines converging at the infinite distance. One must remember that the Camera Obscura, was originally invented as an optical help after Giotto, in order to help the painter to dispose objects at a distance in a logical, hierarchical order. Before that, even in Europe all objects (saints, their churches, the countryside) were either on the same plane, or two. Therefore they looked very flat.
China being a Confucian country, kept traditionalist views much longer, and transmitted them from the Ming Court to Japan, by the way of trade.

A Japanese view by Ten-Yu Shokei, 15th CE.

George DeWolfe & Lydia Goetze also insist on the role of Negative Space in Chinese Imagery. I have a theory that this is related to the Taoist and Buddhist views of creative emptiness. How could things simply be if they had no empty space and time in which to flow? And since they are so fleeting, what sort of reality do they have? Thus we are introduced to the world of Samsara, appearance, from which the hermit struggles to reach enlightnment, through the intermediate stage of emptiness, distancing from the ego and from there going to the permanent Self, which is Nirvana. Thus the origin of Negative Space.

I find corroboration of this in the Chinese travelogues of John Blofeld, a Western Buddhist who visited most of the ten sacred mountains of China in the 1930s. Look at Amazon for the Wheel of Life, or Journey in Mystic  China.
Blofeld makes landscape descriptions from the mountains which are almost exact equivalents of the hermit view. They are usually plunging views from a mountain shrine offering the colours of dawn, a rainbow of pure saturated colours, from peach coloured to deep purple, before the retreating shadows,For the fasting hermit nature beauty is already a foreboding of Nirvana.
This plunging perspective on coloured peaks which dominates the foreest, above mists rising from the valley (negative space) while human activity awakes in the foreground is almost exactly the theme of many landscape Chinese and Japanese watercolours

Fisherman by Hirosige

Pilgrim by Kumi Yoshi

The lightness of the paintbrush can evoke a contour with just a line, and use colour patches to suggest the material world. The light touch of the watercolour is not going against the subtle perception of meditation. 
In some landscapes you will also see a tiny line of men in the distance climbing steep passes: they are the pilgrims nearing a sanctuary. While the diagonal line conveys a sense of movement and depth it also shows the pious effort the pilgrims to ascend and reach the steep sancuary of their faith. Note that personal effort is the key of buddhism, where it is also known as 'accumulation of merit'.
Can modern photography even catch such subdued and spiritual feelings? Curiously the photographer I find nearest is Andreas Gurtsky, because he uses masterly the dual aspect of material reality and illusion which is specific of Photography. 

Andreas Gurtsky, Engadine

 Thus I contend that there is a lot to learn in Oriental painting even for a modern photographer. There are also some young Chinese photographers that I follow on flickr, which seem to still use traditional iconography. Let those forgive me if I use some of their pics for didactic use.

Chinese Landscape by  五味雑陳

by  五味雑陳 flickr

In both you will notice the importance of Negative Space.
I do suspect that the mists they make use for Atmospheric Perspective, might be in some cases simply be heavy pollution. Never mind it is still part of reality. :) But enormous rivers like the Yang Tse can also contribute, with their evaporation to plunge the plains in mists.
Let me end here by some other striking difference between our worldviews.
Linear Perspective has emphasized the separation between objects, which are disposed like troops for a review in front of a general.
In so doing it has reinforced our modern sense o duality between subject and object and between matter and spirit (or soul) which is the exact opposite of the Asian concept of Wu Wei: let things be, let them flow, be part of them. 

In Taoism the observer is always part of what he sees. The only Western equivalent that comes to my mind are some descriptions of solitude in the wild in Walden, by Thoreau.
But  he too had to become a hermit, and restrict consumption, to enjoy fusion with nature.
This 'being part of the whole' also helps other photographic genres. It's only when you stop feeling separate from things and beings that you begin perceiving  what is happening. Seeing situations instead  of mere objects.
Because of this fusion with the flowing reality you will soon be able to predict in advance how the flow will progress. Blofeld explained very well how hermits found clairvoyance a very minor consequence of their years of meditation. 
It is not a coincidence then if HCB quoted the book the Zen and the Art of the Archery, to explain his extraordinary awareness. It really has to do little with intellectual perception, the body is involved too in total perception of the whole.
HCB's was Magnum emissary to Asia, and he made good his encounters there. The decisive moment is nothing else than a Zen moment, he discovered. And Negative Space in photography is the canvas of illusion on which you project an image. Thus there is a lot to learn from Oriental painting, especially because it relies on a different worldview from the West.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Women of Srinagar

Just to make an example, in some languages, Chinese I suspect, one  would never say that one 'shoots' a person or a landscape. It would seem a very unlucky thing to say. And yet Buddhist believe in the instant nature of reality, so meditation is no restriction to the instantaneousness of Photography. One must feel connected.

If one does not feel connected to the landscape one is facing, perhaps a moment or two of meditation might obviate the separation. There is really no separation between Self and landscape if one can suspend exploitative, aggressive attitudes, and concentrate on vision only.
 That might be the teaching of Oriental Art to a mechanical world that got caught in the dualism between subject and object.

To conclude, don't miss this fascinating feature about Nature in Chinese Culture, from the Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, here:


 American Postmodern photographer Jeff Wall makes a peculiar use of a 19th century Japanese print by Hokusai, patiently rebuilding  a windy day  for a photograph, as discussed in my article on Postmodernism

A fleeting world really, which took ONE year to re-compose by computer, by placing each leaflet in a consistent way! Quite a different concept from the original Wu Wei!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The GM5 or the Personal Jewelry trend

Am I being unfair in treating such a powerhouse as the GM5 as a  Personal Jewelry item? 
Perhaps, but admit that at $ 999 (€ 800)  with the 12-32 it needs to be not a camera only but something you can display proudly. BTW if you buy it with the Leica 15/1.7 it will make even a bigger hole in your pocket. But it is a match made in heaven, which will bring you even bigger kudos.
I found the orange version even more gay and attractive, but here I am stopped by other considerations. Won't it attract too much attention in the street? Compare to the black GM5 :

Or the silver one with with the 15/1.7 (€ 1100)

The GM5 is v. similar to the GM1 I reviewed time ago, and which has not been discontinued:
There was an interesting comparison with a Canon dSLR:

The GM5 is slightly bigger than the GM1, probably because it now sports an EVF, but it is still a whole different proposition than an ordinary camera. It is the smallest ILS (EVIL) camera to do so. It has also some additional new features in its v. powerful engine, i.e.:

"The casual snap mode creates video snapshots of 2, 4, 6 or 8 seconds. Several different effects are included, including several fade in/out: black, white and color fades. We found the most interesting effect mode to be the rack focus feature, which allows you to select two spots using the touchscreen, then rack the focus from one to the other smoothly. The efect was pretty neat." Imaging Resource says.

The GM5 has also an enhanced panorama mode, integrated time lapse and some 20 ways to personalize Jpegs, what Oly calls Art Modes, so it is really a full blown art tool, despite the size. No need to go RAW, you modify the Jpegs in camera and see the effect in the EVF, even before shooting.

BTW I haven't found many reviews. You can try those:

Photography Blog, which is a full review

Imaging Resource here, which is a pre-review:

ePhotozine, a short review, here:

Plus you will find various interesting user reviews at the DPR's m4/3 forum. Owners are usually quite happy with the GM5, if not starry eyed.
Only complaint I heard was short lived battery (210 shots officially), slippery shape, slow flash synchro (1/50). I would probably keep it as a second camera anyway., and batteries are cheap and small, so hardly a problem. 

The beauty of m4/3 is being 'scalable', meaning you can use the same sensor size through different body sizes, so why not take advantage? I have a small equivalent, the E-PM2, that I bought for a song as a display unit. 

I use basically in Program and with either the P17/2.8 or the P14/2.5, without even looking at the screen since I have learned to frame by heart, and I don't want to attract undue attention in the street, by raising the camera to my eye.
By knowing my frame, and trusting the camera exposure I can approach a subject down to one meter, without him/her noticing.

The advantage the GM5 has is a real EVF, although some complained that it does tunnel vision. Never mind in the Summer it is probably a godsend , or when you want to frame exactly a landscape (with the E-PM2 I have my add on VF-2 for that).

Now to return to the initial concept let me show you some sylish variations of a German design studio of the GM1. I suppose they'll do the same with the GM5, if people enjoy them. Do you? Despite what some say a camera is not only a tool, but an object of enjoyment, and in fact the GM5 is both. So why not have some fun?

This is a concept by  WertelOberfell and 3D printing company Materialise .

Finally, if I had a stroke of luck I would buy the GM5 in kit with the Leica 17/1.7, which is a lens with a lovable rendering that I could use on both the diminutive GM5 and, say, my E-M5, for more serious shooting. 
That is where scalable comes into play again. the E-M5, contrary to the GM5 has a 5 axis IBIS, and that in landscape counts a lot. No need of a tripod. Just stop down and use shutter speeds down to 1/8!
No IBIS means that you'll need a v. firm hand with the GM5, and either add a rubber grip or use a tripod. Please notice however that the 12-32/3.5-5.6 kit lens is stabilized.

Nevertheless  I am a firm believer in v. small cameras. If Leica seize was the standard for small rangefinder in the 1950s, 60 years later electronics allows half the size for the same IQ. 
Watch out not to drop the GM5 on the floor, it is nowhere as sturdy as its ancestor. But it is pocketable, where the Leica never was. And you can still get a Leica lens in kit with it :)

Message to Navigators

Hello, long time no see :) As you noticed the refresh rate of posts has declined considerably since last June.

That is a period I have been in and out of hospital for some checks, and I will have to undergo some surgery soon. So this  has prevented me to update this blog.

The post about the GM5 will probably be my parting gift for the next 2 months.
I have my sights on the Sony A7 II and the A9 with Sony's 50 Mpx sensor. January will seee the new EM-5 II. There might be also a fixed lens Olympus

However here was also another motive for slowing down the blog. In 8 months existence, I haven't seen a single cent, either in donations or Amazon commissions, despite messages of support.

I think that most don't understand the nature of Internet work: it is not free, it must be paid somehow. The advantage is a large public doesn't need to pay much, but some it must, otherwise the flowers will wither.

So, after convalescence I'll have to take some decisions. Perhaps to beef up the Amazon regional access, say add the  Italy logo, explore AdSense icons, or  beef up camera reviews, but password protect them.

Meanwhile you could decide if you want to do a donation for the past blogs.

Next, I have in mind a new long post about the Oriental Landscape tradition, which is very different from the Western one. It is indeed related with the buddhist and taoist tradition of hermits, and Wu Wei - the spontaeous mindless activity of nature. Instead of linear perspective, it relies on atmospheric perspective, the same we had in Europe before Giotto. It is centered on mountainous landscapes, sinking in fleeting mists, as seen by the hermits. Can photography convey such deep feelings?

So if all goes well, we'll have some very interesting stuff for January of February. Meanwhile please enjoy what has already been done, and think about how to finance the blog. I am open to suggestions, since in the same period I'll have to take decisions on how to modify the blog.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Return to the real?

Frieda Khalo and Tina Modotti

I was surprised to find that under 'Realism' Wikipedia had nothing. To me, Realism was the very stance that guaranteed the relevance of photography.

Documentation, reportage are the very activities I grew up with, not only with HCB, or Magnum, I certainly grew up with Life, Paris Match, and the lesser illustrated magazines that catered about film stars. 

Images of the Vietnam War and McLaughlin also defined v. well my youth. But suddenly all this was gone, replaced by Postmodernism, a re-photography at best, where the very concept of tangible reality had become doubtful or even disappeared.

I found a useful British site that provides theses,  so let me quote it about Realism:

"Photography was now used extensively in art, and in the new postmodern culture. Postmodernism discarded the idea of finding something new and original and instead focussed on recombining elements from existing culture. Nothing new was being created which soon meant that art had become exhausted. The postmodern culture played ‘with signs of never ending reference, where the more you played the less anyone seemed to know what reality it was touching’ (Bate, 2004a: 31) and we had ‘lost touch with what we thought reality to be’ (Bate, 2004a: 31). The constant referencing and re-referencing had led to us being absorbed in representation. We no longer knew what reality was, and what it was not. We were lost. ‘The fear about postmodern culture was that there was no longer any anchor to reality at all, and that ‘reality’ had disappeared into an endless chain of other representations’ (Bate, 2004a: 31). 

"This never ending reference meant that all grip on reality had disappeared. There was a wish to return to something more stable and basic. There was a need for change, for something new to emerge from the endless trail of reference. In this culture, in which reality was discarded in favour of mass intertextual referencing, there was a desire to return to reality. As David Bate says, there was a, ‘wish for a grittier, ‘closer to reality’ relation through realism’ (Bate, 2004a: 35). Many people wanted a ‘return to the values of modernism (the straight and pure photograph) to contemporary art photography, this is a return to description, originality and actuality – precisely all the things that were strongly rejected by postmodernism’ (Bate, 2004a: 33).

I am not really presuming that with digital you can't do less or better than imitate film.You can with  Fuji's Film Simulation modes, or Olympus Art Filters. To me Kodak's Tri X. or Ektachrome are the very modes in which reality appears.

One knows wowever  perfectly well that in Digital Adobe reigns supreme, and with any of its sliders you can fetch any tone or colour your brain can conceive. So what is real?

There is also a social side of the question. As we saw in Rodchenko life in the streets, or in the city, squares,boulevards, was always meant as a presentation of the workers' life in the open, so it was the result of class struggle and social interaction. It is interesting to see that American humanist realism (The Family of Man) stepped back  from such a socialist endeavour.

For instnce Vivian Maier couldn't be packaged as a socialist photographer, but we can probably use classical photographers like Paul Strand and Tina Modotti, who were part of another interesting institution like the Photographers' League in New York. In the 1930s it put together all the progressive photographers of the era, without many of knowing that it was a Communist project.

March of the Mexican artists by Tina Modotti

Tina is interesting: the daughter of a communist artist in America, she was many things, a model, an actress,  a lover of Weston, a photographer, notably in Mexico, where she made friends with Frieda Kalho. She drifted towards social symbols (see her in the sombrero with sickle and hammer).

Campesina and self portrait, Tina Modotti

 After being expelled in Merxico, Germany and Switzerland she eventually fought in The Spanish Revolution with Moscow envoy Vidali. Although by 1940 she was herself a professional revolutionary, she gave up photography for more clandestine work.
Realism is certainly connected with social awareness in my conception, but not necessarily with communism. In the 1930s however the choice was stark between Nazifascism and communism, so one can't really use the same metrics of today. Just to remind of the times, Tina was actively researched by the Italian Political Police for assassination.

 It was while on a fieldtrip in this class that Strand first visited the 291 art gallery – operated by Stieglitz and Edward Steichen – where exhibitions of work by forward-thinking modernist photographers and painters would move Strand to take his photographic hobby more seriously. Stieglitz would later promote Strand's work in the 291 gallery itself, in his photography publication Camera Work, and in his artwork in the Hieninglatzing studio. Some of this early work, like the well-known "Wall Street," experimented with formal abstractions (influencing, among others, Edward Hopper and his idiosyncratic urban vision). Other of Strand's works reflect his interest in using the camera as a tool for social reform. He was one of the founders of the Photo League, an association of photographers who advocated using their art to promote social and political causes.
Mostly because of the same Internationalism, Paul Strand came to incorporate the same ideals: his portraits in Ghana a or Sardinia wouldn't show only portraits of the individual, but also the social relationships.

Paul Strand, Ghana

Paul Strand, Sardinia

In both social relationships jump to the eye. There is no beautification.

In June 1949, Strand left the United States to present Native Land at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Czechoslovakia. The remaining 27 years of his life were spent in Orgeval, France where, despite never learning the language, he maintained an impressive creative life, assisted by his third wife, fellow photographer Hazel Kingsbury Strand.
Although Strand is best known for his early abstractions, his return to still photography in this later period produced some of his most significant work in the form of six book ‘portraits’ of place: Time in New England (1950), La France de Profil (1952), Un Paese (featuring photographs of Luzzara and the Po River Valley in Italy, 1955), Tir a'Mhurain / Outer Hebrides[2] (1962), Living Egypt (1969) and Ghana: an African portrait (1976).

portrait by Paul Strand

The timing of Strand’s departure to France is coincident with the first libel trial of his friend Alger Hiss, with whom he maintained a correspondence until his death. Although he was never officially a member of the Communist Party, many of Strand’s collaborators were either Party members (James Aldridge; Cesare Zavattini) or were prominent socialist writers and activists (Basil Davidson). Many of his friends were also Communists or were suspected of being so (MP DN Pritt; film director Joseph Losey; Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid; actor Alex McCrindle). Strand was also closely involved with Frontier Films, one of more than twenty organizations that were identified as "subversive" and "un-American" by the US Attorney General.
Strand also insisted that his books should be printed in Leipzig, East Germany, even if this meant that they were initially prohibited from the American market on account of their Communist provenance. De-classified intelligence files, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and now lodged at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, reveal that Strand’s movements around Europe were closely monitored by the security services.

All This took place under the auspices of the Photo League in New York (wikipedia):
The League’s origins traced back to a project of the Workers International Relief (WIR), which was a Communist association based in Berlin. In 1930 the WIR established the Worker’s Camera League in New York City, which soon came to be known as the Film and Photo League. The goals of the Film and Photo League were to “struggle against and expose reactionary film; to produce documentary films reflecting the lives and struggles of the American workers; and to spread and popularize the great artistic and revolutionary Soviet productions.”[1]
In 1934 the still photographers and the filmmakers in the League began having differences of opinion over social and production interests, and by 1936 they had formed separate groups. Paul Strand and Ralph Steiner established Frontier Films, to continue promoting the original goals, while at the same time Strand and Berenice Abbott renamed the original group to simply “The Photo League”. The two organizations remained friendly, with members from one group often participating in activities of the other. The goal of the newly reformed Photo League was to “put the camera back into the hands of honest photographers who ... use it to photograph America.”
The League quickly became active in the new field of socially conscious photography. Unlike other photography organizations, it did not espouse a particular visual style but instead focused on “integrating formal elements of design and visual aesthetics with the powerful and sympathetic evidence of the human condition.” It also offered basic and advanced classes in photography when there were few such courses in colleges or trade schools. A newsletter, called Photo Notes, was printed on a somewhat random schedule depending upon who was available to do the work and if they could afford the printing costs. More than anything else, though, the League was a gathering place for photographers to share and experience their common artistic and social interests
Among its members were co-founders Sol Libsohn and Sid Grossman (director of the Photo League School); Walter Rosenblum, editor of the Photo League Photo Notes; Eliot Elisofon, a LIFE photographer; Morris Engel (since 1936); Jerome Liebling, who joined in 1947; Aaron Siskind; Jack Manning, a member of the Harlem Document Group of the League and a New York Times photographer; Dan Weiner; Bill Witt; Martin Elkort; Lou Bernstein; Arthur Leipzig (since 1942); Sy Kattelson; Louis Stettner; Lester Talkington (from 1947); Lisette Model; and Ruth Orkin, a member from 1947.[4]
In the early 1940s the list of notable photographers who were active in the League or supported their activities also included Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, Helen Levitt, FSA photographer Arthur Rothstein, Beaumont Newhall, Nancy Newhall, Richard Avedon, Weegee, Robert Frank, Harold Feinstein, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White. The League was the caretaker of the Lewis Hine Memorial Collection, which Hine's son had given the League in recognition of their role in fostering social activism through photography as his father had done.[
Most of the members who joined before the end of World War II were first-generation Americans who strongly believed in progressive political and social causes. Few were aware of the political origins of the movement of the communist "Workers as Photographers" (Arbeiterfotografen) in Berlin. This had in fact little to do with what the organization did as it evolved, but helped its downfall after the war, when it was accused by the FBI of being communist and "subversive and anti-American." In 1947 the League was formally declared subversive and placed on the U.S. Department of Justice blacklist by Attorney General Tom C. Clark. At first the League fought back and mounted an impressive This Is the Photo League exhibition in 1948, but after its member and long-time FBI informer Angela Calomiris had testified in May 1949 that the League was a front organization for the Communist Party, the Photo League was finished. Recruitment dried up and old members left, including one of its founders and former president, Paul Strand, as well as Louis Stettner. The League disbanded in 1951.By chance however I discovered that there was an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of New York, witnessing how much the European migrants had made for the city, between the two WWars.  Robert Frank was one of the most notable, although he would end persecuted himself:

by Robert Frank
Now can witness that in just one century the direction of photography changed completely: From social sensitivity to unbridled fantasy and reprophotography of Postmodernism. The question that matters, methinks, is if there is any advantage in going back to simpler times, where people mattered for what they did,  for the useful work they did, and not the money of the equipment they manipulated.

by Robert Frank

by Robert Frank

PS  check the Paul Strand exhibition just opening at Philadelphia, an anthology not to be missed:

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Pen Light Saga

Detail of the Olympus E-PL7, with the lovely 17/2.8 pancake.
The first annoucement to anticipate the coming Photokina is the E- PL7 by Olympus. It has been dubbed the Selfie Pen, for its tilt down screen, allowing an optimal, plunging angle of view. The sensor is the by now unremarkable, but excellent 16 Mpx sensor that has been gracing Oly for the last three years. It has almost 13 stops of Dynamic Range,  25600 sensitivity limit, and a per pixel sharpness that rivals Full Frames like Leica.

Please see two excellent reviews here:

However the real news is for the Europeans. While the PL7 with kit will cost $ 700 in the US, ilt will be only € 499 in the EU, this reflecting the true exchange rate - a first however for Olympus.

The E-PL7 with selfie screen. Note the pancake zoom, and the second wheel around the shutter button, under the index. Body only the camera is € 399!

This reminded me that  the PL1, the first of the saga, was my first buy into m4/3 and mirrorless, some 4 or 5 yrs ago (how time passes!) for € 350. Before that the Pen line had been an unapproachable € 900!

Additionally it had a plug for an EVF, which changed completely the useability of the little one. Yes it was also much smaller, it came only in black like the Ford T, and it was with it that I began the joys of Street Shooting, nobody taking any notice of the little 'toy' sized camera.

the E-PL1. CC by Benoit Marvhal. The Ugly Duck, now in Silver :)

The PL1 was a big success, followed by the PL2, PL3 (I had that one too) all 12 MPx, and then followed by the 16 Mpx PLs.

The Pen Lights rested on a paradox. Designed for P&S, thy had a secret software switch, which made them  serious second cameras, by showing the full configurability of the camera in the menus.

They rested on another paradox. While marketed in the West as Volkscameras, Cameras for the People, they were bought by adventurous males - but in fact they had been designed in Japan, especially for Camera Joshi, the Girls with A Camera!
I tried to divulge the notion but it was v. poorly received by Western machos at DPR  :)

Whatever, today the Pen Lights are the mirrorless top sellers in Japan, and by now I can hardly walk in Rome without seeing a Camera Joshi tourist with one!

A couple of months ago I bought an E-PM2 (for a paltry 150 Euros!) which is the smallest of Oly, not even having a tilting screen, although it has a touch one.

In the recent Pen Lights you can also focus in any point of the screen, and focus/shoot by touch. Priceless! (E-PM2)

Fact is that it has the same 16 Mpx of my Queen, the E-M5, but it is really pocketable, therefore I use it much more!
Even, the PLs suggested me a series called 'Citizens of Rome', based on my shooting blindly from the hip with one of them, and thus becoming the Invisible Man.

Behind its desultory, but shiny appearance, the E-PL7 is a dragster of a camera. It has the fastest AF in the Industry and a pancake 12-42 which is prodigy of design. It has  3 axis IBIS stablization, meaning that your old adapted MF lenses will be stabilized too. It shoots at 8 fps. It has good movie speed at 30 fps, with 3-axis stabilization making it a breeze even without a tripod.

And last but not least it has an array of Art Filters that will allow you to pre-program the camera in all the crazy ways that photographic ingenuity has designed over time.
My favourites are the Pin Hole, like the piccie above, and the Dramatic Tone B&W:

The two new filters the PL7 adds to the array are Partial Colour, and Vintage, resembling Snapseed and Instagram.

In the next episode, I'll review the GM5, which is the Panasonic equivalent of the Pen Light.

It will have the big advantage of a built in EVF, and silent electronic shutter. We'll see however how big and expensive it is. People around the Web are protesting that it might be a replacement for the well loved but bigger GX7.  Unfortunately GX7 sales were spoiled by the OM-D series by Olympus. But Panny might still take a vengeance with the diminutive GM5.

This leads me to  a last consideration.
Smartphone sized, WiFi, connected little cameras are replacing the old dSLR paradigm. Size is not anymore a guarantee of quality. Even, smallish might become not only the trendiest, but also a synonym of the best quality: the true Leicas of the XXIst century.

Camera Joshi discovered it years it ago: Light comes from the East :)


Here is how I set a Pen Light. First I activate the Super Control Panel (SCP) from the Menus:

This gives me a matrix of controls that I can activate by touch. In P like Program, I leave the defaults, except that I choose Auto ISO, and Center Focus.

Secondly, I usually set the camera for high or low contrast days. This entails correcting  EV for Brightness, and/or setting Auto Gradation, instead of 'Norm', for relighting plugged shadows.

 I also made a preset B&W with high contrast and orange filter.

If I want to go into WoW! territory I use B&W Dramatic tone, or if I am moody, Pinhole or other Art Filters.

Oly's colours out of camera are extraordinary, and I was regularly losing them when doing RAW, so I went back to Jpeg. I am told the same happens with Fuji, and its Film Simulation modes.

I can now activate or not the 'Keep Warm Filter' from the Menu, according to the season. And I can fine tune the WB according t the light, if it's warm or cold: there are may presets, and you can devise yours.

So as you see there's a lot of interpretation allowed even by using the camera controls. You can do all at the scene, and compare with your eyes, if they fit.

Of course I aim to maximum resolution, and can consider increasing brightness to the limit to lighten up shadows, but basically I am after quick content, so I usually rely on auto exposure (ESP), and change settings only after a set of shots, not to create tone or colour discrepancies.

I usually shoot in Jpeg Super Fine, but of course many will be happy to use RAW, or both.

If you are into landscape, don't forget that you can add a VF-4/3 to any Pen:

This 2,36 Megadots beauty should cost you around $ 250 (€ 200?), but you can carry it across bodies when you change cameras. It will show you all the tone subtleties and details of a Landscape. Note that in the menus there is a Tone Control Curve, that can be split in two, for better effect.

Don't forget that by activating the built in  WiFi you can duplicate the camera picture, and use some same controls in your smartphone, as if the camera was tethered to it.

And you can instantly send a Jpeg from the Artic to your friends, if your ship has WiFi! Think a Selfie in front of an Iceberg :)


Saturday, 16 August 2014

Adventures in the Western Desert (2)

The forgotten civilization, and the birth of hieroglyphs.

Landsat satellite picture of the dunes of Saad Plateau, resolution 100 m.

As you can see from the satellite the Northern part of the Gilf is totally engulfed by the Great Sand Sea. This is a formation of dunes between 50 and 100 m. high which is near impassable by an offroad. For better or worse all 12 of us  had to push our cars on scales, and follow them on foot, till we reached an interdune corridor: it had taken the best of a day to do some 15 km.

The GSS is the largest extention of dunes in the world, with the Taklamatan desert in China. For  centuries the GSS had prevented exploration of the remotest reaches of Egypt, giving rise to legends such at the Lost City of Zerzura.

Exiting the Gilf - Picture by Georg Zenz

Marc trying to keep abreast with our Landcruiser, by me.

 The day after our departure from the Gilf, I showed Andras on the map the old coordinates of where Patrick Clayton, and Dr. Spencer some 70 yrs before had discovered the glass strewn fields. 
In fact Andras steered the Landcruiser convoy by the readings of the GPS receiver only, with no need of maps. 

Suddenly there we were, in an interdune corridor, all spread with pebbles of the most various colours. The glass pebbles, if any, seemed lost among them. But by walking in rows, in a scanning mode, never leaving eye contact with the ground, Georg and I soon begin to score, with findings of the precious glasss that had graced Tutankhamun's necklace. 

Green-yellow, extremely viscous, and yet clear and hard, with wisps of dark dust trapped inside, it is clearly a matter generated in a cosmic explosion. I later discovered in the evening that if you hit two chunks together it will make sparks, i.e. it is triboluminescent, a feature that must have caught the imagination of the early stone splintering cultures, thus giving it a magical aura. 

One day later by the remnant of a thermal lake, I discovered a lovely arrow head in sculpted glass, that might have had a ceremonial role in the Propitiation of the Hunt - as a vector of the sun arrows (See Leo Frobenius).

Hanna on top of a Mud Lion (Thermal Lake)
Note that to this day an ejecta crater for the glass has not been found. Farouk El Baz of NASA's remote sensing facilities detected  in 2007* a v. large one between the Gilf and Libya, he christened the Kebira crater, and made the assumption LDG might have come from there.  Indeed nearby the glass is strewn for 6500 sq. km. Later analysis  by samples collected at Kebira showed however that the signature between the crater matter and the glass is different.

A Kebira Crater's picture, seen from man's height
According to Wallis-Budge 'Egyptian Magic' the scarab over the heart of the Pharaoh had a protective aim. The heart was the seat if the Ka the soul that transmigrated into immortality.  The Egyptians might have considered  that a green-yellow stone of cosmic origin was a good candidate to protect the Ka, and to sculpt the scarab with. Again a solar symbol, since the scarab rolling its ball of dung is a symbol of the resurgent Sun, and thus of the soul of the immortal Pharaoh. (W. Budge, 'Egyptian Magic')

After having spent a night by a prehistoric circle of stones, we reached the next stage on our return trip, Abu Ballas, Pottery Hill as it had been dubbed by English explorers in the 1920's. 

Our Landcruisers at Abu Ballas, one of us is on top.
The conical hematite red hill is entirely surrounded by jar fragments, going from Pharaonic to Roman times. This shows that it was a staging post for caravans. The jars were still in one piece at the beginning of last century when the Caliphe decided to have them destroyed so they couldn't act as a water depot for raiders coming from the South (Tibesti raiders, Libyans) who had preyed on the oases, up to Dakhla.

Abu Ballas in the 1930s. Jars are still whole.

Abu Ballas today, everything is broken.
Indeed one of the remarkable findings at AB is a Libyan warrior of Pharaonic times, next to some hieroglyphs. There is also a little cave whose entrance is prevended by a seal of the German Henri Barth Institut, which is doing research there. To them is also due the exploration of the so called Abu Ballas Trail (more about it later). One of them, Kuhlmann, speculated that King Tut's glass might have been traded there by the fellows of the Libyan warrior. 

 Libyan Warrior at Abu Ballas
It dawned on me that from times immemorial the road of Libyans invasions  might have gone from Khufra Oasis to the Gilf and hence to Abu Ballas by making use of the last water sources, and depots of jars.

Keep in mind that at the Uweinat three borders meet: Chad, Libya and Egypt - as shown there by some ruined iron military structure - but we had crossed the borders, various times insouciantly.

Picture of Zayed and Salama at Wadi Bakht,

I climbed to the top of Abu Ballas, with other fellow travelers to have a breath taking view of the road behind us, and of the receding dunes of the Great Sand Sea. Next to me was Salama,  fumbling with something on the ground, with a large smile. He presented to me what looked like a long piece of wood and encouraged me to touch it, without releasing it.

 I complied, and I felt it was alive. At the same time I saw that Salama was holding a head with eyes and a wispy tongue. A snake! A long beige body made of scales, with a white belly. To this day I don't know it it were a local adder, of the same kind that bit Cleopatra! Salama broke in one of this neighing laughs, as if it were a good joke.

Salama and the  snake he is offering me.
On our return way, along the military tar road to Dakhla oasis, nothing remarkable happened, except that we were caught  by a khamsin while we were dining between the calcium formations of the White Desert. It was ending badly, as it had begun. By dinner time, looking for camp with no possible fire, I would have lost my way in the sand blizzard, if energetic Andras had not caught me in time. 

Our Toyotas in the White Desert, as the khamsin is beginning to blow.
Where is the camp do you know? - he asked with a little unassuming smile. I pointed  into the deep haze. He laughed at me. 'rather it's there' he pointed in the opposite direction. By going into nothingness, I could have died, such is the Khamsin. Nothing is ever far in Egypt from the Desert, the Land of the Dead, as it is called.

The morning after, still shuddering at the risk incurred, I looked at the jerrycans on the rooftops of the Toyotas, and asked Andras: 'They look all empty, is that what they are?' 'Yes, he answered, all we have left is a box of mineral water bottles'. 
This is a testimony to the exact planning of the expedition leader, which I hadn't suspected. Chapeau!, as they say in French.
I enjoyed all the more a couple of iced cold beers, with the group in Dakhla Oasis, the same afternoon.
For some years after this foray, I tried to keep abreast with the other expeditions, progressively shifting my interest from Geology to Archeology.

Information trickled slowly, the main issue being how far Pharaonic expeditions had pushed into Africa. It was known that from time to time they had procured precious minerals, and Elephant tusks for the ceremonial needs of the Pharaoh and his court. 

But these could be temporary things, no Pharaonic inscription was known in the Gilf or the Uweinat. 
I even discussed what might have happened with Barbara Barich, head of Archaeology at Rome, Uni and former head of mission at Dakhla. 

She mantained that nomad Saharans had fluctuated between the deep wadis of the Sahara and the Valley of the Nile, according to climate and water fluctuations.

The Henri Barth Institut, the German mission there, however remained far more dismissive. One thing were the (savage) Libyan tribes, another the Egyptian civilisation on the Nile. The only way  to allow intermittent contact had been the fragile Abu Ballas Trail. The posits of classical Egyptology didn't suffer to be revised. Pharaonic Egypt was the son of the Nile.

Foerster map. Abu Ballas Trail, and archaeological sites. 
The real discoveries came after a few years. While Sahara specialists were still discussing  how LDG, that precious mineral might have reached the Pharaoh, Carlo Begmann a self taught archaeologist, was exploring with his camels during a decade the many parallel paths connecting Dakhla to the Gilf Plateau. He did it on foot, and I can only refer you to his findings

Among the most extraordinary is his discovery of a military and trading post established by the Pharaohs deep in the Sahara. 
In what he dubbed Djedefre Water Mountain (DWM) Carlo Bergmann found 'Watercastle' pictograms, and posited that those were the first hieroglyphs ever. I'll let him speak,  Please help yourself to a map of Egypt like this, and look at the bifurcation, DWM is at the beginning of the Northern branch:

Map from Zerzora Expeditions
I took some notes from Carlo:

"Among the many proofs that are emerging of an African origin of Egyptian Civilisation is the matter of how hieroglyphic writing was born. Carlo Bergmann, the German explorer, claims he has an answer. By following a line of cairns that departed from the pharaonic police station south-west of Dakhla he found a stone temple, a conical hill about 30 metres high and 60 metres in length. “On its eastern side there is a natural terrace with an average width of 3 metres and a length of approximately 35 metres, about 7 metres above the ground and fenced by a dry wall of stone-slabs... 

Djedefre Water Mountain by Bergmann
"When setting my foot onto the terrace my eyes glanced over a breathtaking arrangement of hieroglyphic texts, of cartouches of Chufu (Cheops) and of his son Djedefre, of short notes from stone-masons, of two figures of a pharaoh smiting the enemies and of enigmatic signs ("water mountain-symbols") evidently placed on the rock-face in willful order. All these engravings were depicted in the midst of representations of animals and human figures from Prehistoric and Old Kingdom times...  In one cluster of "water-mountain symbols" closed vertical double lines with numerous horizontal strokes are incorporated...In two cases, the mysterious pictograms are connected with a "water-mountain symbol" respectively a double waterline. "

Animals and Watermarks, by Bergmann
"After a second thought I interpreted the arrangement as a map. Dating most probably to Late Neolithic period the "map" shows 10 wells and a number of irrigated fields, two of them connected with a water-source.

"This map led me to Biar Jaqub where I (on two expeditions) identified the locations of all the wells. They and the surrounding area comprise an ancient "lost" oasis (Wilkinson´s 2nd Zerzura). The map, therefore, is the oldest one in the world...” Bergmann claims. Not only he boasts having found an ancient oasis which might have fed the myth of Zerzura, but also he detected there the origin of hieroglyphic writing:  

“As proved by similar finds at Abydos (symbols of irrigated fields on tiny clay- or ivory-palettes) the representations used by pre-dynastic people for artesian wells and irrigated fields were, later, incorporated into the hieroglyphic language. Their being depicted at Djedefre´s Water-Mountain and at Biar Jaqub, therefore, is striking evidence that the Western Desert of Egypt was one of the places where the development of the early stages of the hieroglyphic language took place... "

Hence, the area of Djedefre´s water-mountain and Biar Jaqub can be considered as one of the possible birth places of the hieroglyphic writing system. The author believes that at the end of the Neolithic wet-phase  (with the influx of drought-striken desert dwellers) these early roots of hieroglyphic writing were transferred from the desert to the Nile Valley.

Blue parts are mini glaciations, i.e. dessication periods in the desert.

We now have some very good proof that the first language must have been pictographic, at the very beginning of our Western languages, 7000 yrs ago when there were still hunting-gatherers roaming the steppes of the then verdant  Sahara, and the Pharaonic civilization was still in its cradle.

Explorer Carlo Bergmann has done an impressive work of mapping the extent of penetration of Egyptian expeditions towards the Gilf, and the traces they left, thus providing an explanation about how LDG might have reached the Pharaoh (see below). But he also documented Egyptian penetration by donkey in the farthest reaches of the Sahara, by an accumulation of Water Depots along the Abu Ballas trail, and parallel trails.

All very remarkable, considering that even today, because of the hard conditions (30mm of rain/Year only) no deep expedition can survive for more than 15 days, since it must bring with it its own jerrycans of water and gasoline on the roof, and is therefore is limited by weight. That was the reason why research was delayed by decades, while most mysteries remained such.

Instead, by dropping transportation by car and reverting to the traditional  desert animal, the camel, Bergmann multiplied autonomy, and at its slow pace, chances to spot archaeological features that had been missed by earlier car expeditions.

Warning: technical part. You can safely skip to the conclusion, if Egyptology leaves you cold, or you find the tale too long.

Below  some interviews I had with Carlo Bergmann in 2005-2008:

Q: how  did you come to discover the Abu Ballas Trail ? - the ancient highway connecting the Nile to the extreme reaches of Southen Egypt, the Abu Ballas Trail, in short ABT.  Did your traveling by camel make any  difference?

A: I came to discover the ABT because Abu Ballas had been found in 1917 by Ball and Moore and, later, the pottery there had been analysed and age-checked by a French archaeologist. He dated the pottery to Middle Kingdom times. This is a period where camels were not yet used as beasts of burden in Egypt. If donkeys were used there must have existed water-depots between Abu Ballas and Dakhla. These I wanted to find. As I found traces of the road itsself, there was the need to follow it further to the southwest up on top of the Gilf Kebir Plateau and into the vicinity of a mine-field. This is the place how far I got.
The travel by camel has the advantage of slow movement and precise observation of the surroundings. One can "read" the landscape and stick to the faint traces of old trails much better than travelling by car. 

Q: how did you begin your explorations?

Begmann at DWM with neolithic inscription and a Watermountain one
A: I began travelling by camel in 1982, after having graduated as an economist. [Note: he was a Ford's representative in Egypt] but I decided to change my life  by taking post doctorial studies. I got in contact with an egyptologist by travelling to Sudan and Jordania to Sudan with camels and once there I got  the Desert Fever… Now every year I spend 6 months in the desert, this is my life, you know.

I changed my job, what I wanted to do was more fulfilling and I could not believe from the beginning this Egyptologist idea that the Western desert of Egypt was empty land, the land of the dead and so on...  I travel alone. It is impossible to do otherwise, you can get in such troubles otherwise, so I decided to do it on my own. I started my exploration from Dakhla.

Q: I am amazed that you could reach the edge of the Gilf Kebir from Abu Ballas alone on camel: more than 440 km!

A: I had portable water, sacks of beans... One travels slowly because when one finds out ancient remains, one cannot pass them. Often I wouldn’t get anything to eat from eleven in the morning to three or four o clock until the sun is low, and then one can see the profile, the shadows of the old trails. On the other hand you cannot see them at all traveling by car.

 When not researching my average is 40-42 km per day on foot, with the camels behind me. If I see something then it is only 4 or 5 km per day, sometimes less. If I see the remains of a track, it is a privilege to find it, and one has to stay in the corridor and look for further remains. So one has to 'bite' into the track and stick to it.

Q: what do you mean by trail, what is there to see? Is there pottery?

Along the ABT I foud more than a thousand jars altogether, about a third were still complete, in different depots. (By comparison At Abu Ballas the archaeologists  claimed there were between 2 and 4 hundred.)

Carlo Begmann on the Abu Ballas Trail

Q: this means the there was a Middle Kingdom trail to the Gilf?

A: Yes, yes. At Abu Ballas they claim there is 6th dinasty material. At Bir Jakub, half way between Dakhla and Abu Ballas, there is some 6th dinasty pottery.
To the West instead it’s Middle kingdom and some is from Ramses the Second. There is also roman pottery.

Q: what is your assumption, a caravan to Libya or to Tibesti?

A: Well, Tibesti is the most probable place. Close to Peter and Paul craters there is a semi precious stone that could have been mined. It was used in old kingdom times to make beads. Abu Ballas trail could lead to it...But I have to continue my search behind the minefield.
At any rate one can see in part the trail (ABT). It is still there, not in the sand, but in the hard gravel...And it is 4000 years old. And you can see its beginnings at Superintendent Mery’s rock.  
You see alamats (cairns), as road signs, they are all over the trail, at a hundred meters’ distance each. I found more than 7-900 alamat on this road. I got their GPS waypoints for some of them, but I couldn’t stop for all of them. 
But the trail could lead to Chad for trade reasons as well, for elephant tusks.

Q: do you believe that the first Zerzura was in the Gilf as Almasy thought?

A: Well, Some say there are many Zerzuras... I called mine, the one I found (at Bir Jaqub) the second Zerzura. Wilkinson mentioned it as at two days’ marches, while the first one, at Wadi el Melik,  is at seven days’ marches’ distance, in the Gilf.
Almasy’s one in the Gilf is OK because I saw trails leading to it from Dakhla oasis. There is no doubt for me that Almasy’s is Wilkinson’s first Zerzura, at the moment [at Wadi el Melik]. 

Count Almasy with waddan
A: From Biar Jaqub there  are about 5-7 roads leading to the West. One of them I followed up to the western fringes of the Gilf. It is marked by a few alamat and at places of rest one finds "Clayton Rings" (pottery devices to hold water in water jugs) which have been dated to late predynastic period. Because of these finds the road I followed must be very old.

 I have not the financial means to explore the 5-7 roads further to the west. I would like to perform this work and I am in a position to obtain a permission for it, but I lack the money. 
Most certainly, one of the roads will lead to LDSG-area. About 40km west of DWM I already found a windscreen filled with charcoal and some small fragments of  LDSG. 

Q: I thought it interesting if you could find a direct route from Dakhla to the Saad plateau. You mentioned a piece of silica glass found by archaeologists at Djedefre Water Mountain. Would this point to a road west to Saad Plateau -  where the glass strewn fields are - from there?

A: Yes. it would lead from Dakhla to Dedjefre to the windscreen and then continue to somewhere, more to the northern part of the Gilf. 

Q: Kuhlmann made two separate assumptions about Silica Glass: either it was prospected by the Pharaohs, or it was traded by the nomads with them.

King Tut's necklace, with a Silica Glass scarab at its center
A: The latter could have happened at Bir Jakub because there are [ancient rock drawn] calendars there, and a water supply, or it could have happened at Abu Ballas. 
You see it is my aim to find Pharaonic traces in the Gilf. I am looking for inscriptions there. Andras found what he considers a Libyan figure (in 2003) on the western side of the Gilf. It shows two naked persons, one has feathers on his head, which typical of Libyans. 

the 'dancers' found on top of the Uweinat By Andras Zboray
(you can find his most complete collection of rock art here)

Now this is in contradiction to what egyptologist think. They used to think the Libyans were in the coastal district, not so deep to the south in this remote area of the Gilf.

 If there are chances to detect settlements of them and charcoals, and one can date the material near the rock pictures, it would give a new fantastic insight. 
One could  get closer to an answer if the desert dwellers like the Libyans were supplying the pharaonic civilisation with the desert glass.

I would like to emphasise a point, however. That the Abu Ballas Trail consists of 4 different roads. One of them has been used recently, since camel bones have been found on it. But we also we have old representations which have been dated as Old Kingdom times. 
So the road has been used for a long time. It does not lead to Khufra, as Almasy speculated when he found Abu Ballas, but further to the south west. 

On the other hand DWM is situated at the northern end of Wilkinson´s 2nd Zerzura. In the German text on my website I have outlined  why the Chufu-expeditions went there to fetch pigments. Because there was water available! 
A line of alamat (cairns) is leading from DWM towards the West. And as shown in the film -  2nd German TV, 2001 "Unternehmen Cheops - Die Seidenstraße der Pharaonen" - archaeologists have found a piece of Lybian Desert Silica Glass - LDSG, at DWM. It has been checked by scientists. So there is no doubt about its quality.

Q: and then there is the question of the prehistoric ‘map’ at Djedefre WM. Did you retrace all of the wells? Weren’t they covered with sand?

 Bergmann's map of the wells

A: The wells are gone. You find playas on the lee side of hills. It’s a land of thousand hills. In this area the playa was up to nine meters high. Because of the region having dried out, maybe around Middle Kingdom, or New Kingdom times, the playa has been swept away by the wind. And the wells have been put - this is my hypothesis - into the playa, into the ground. And when the wind swept away the playa, it swept the boreholes of the playa as well. You only see a sign with a watermark symbol.. I checked the hill but I am not a geologist, and I don’t want to dig. One would want to get debris and find wells that are close to the signs on the flanks of the hills and drill into the sandstone, but I cannot do it.
by Bergmann
Q: so the main proof are the playas corresponding to wells on the map?

A: not only playas but the water mountain symbol on the rock faces of the hills. At Djedefre WM you find eleven WM symbols in a certain order. Two of them connected with camels and irrigated fields. I had the idea that this was done on purpose on the rock face at Djedefre WM. And this could be a map. And so I went and Kuhlmann said: no, you are crazy, you’ll never find any. So I went around with my camels on 2 trips and found all these signs. It is a land of thousand hills between which you find small wadis with the remains of the playa, up to 9 meters high. And at the rock faces of ten of these hills you find the watermarks symbols. 

I have talked to Miroslav Lama, a  professor in Prague, egyptologist. He has analysed the WM symbols as a root of the old egyptian language. As Kuhlmann says it is a combination of mountain and water. It is a pictogram but it might be the root of a hieroglyph. The French have found one in Dakhla combined with hieroglyphic text from a person called Supervisor Mery.

Archaeologists from the Henri Barth Institut went at Djedefre WM and they found pottery sherds, ‘kitchen pottery’, and  rock pictures of the oasis dwellers there - the Sher Muktar culture from Dakhla. These people were living in a symbiotic relationship with the first Egyptian people coming from the Nile valley, up to Middle Kingdom times. They could have been the [first] Oasis Dwellers. 

Thanks to the pottery finds you have the first proof that the Oasis Dwellers were out there at the time, because they were in a layer where you found  Old Kingdom pottery, of Djedefre and Cheops pharaohs. In Bir Jakub we were lucky that in addition to pictorial remains we had pharaonic text.

Q: but you say that the WM pictogram is found in asssociation with hieroglyphs also in Abydos, on the Nile?

A: Yes it was Dreyer's expedition digging there, at Umm el Kab, and he went trough all the rubbish material and found a small pieces of pottery and ivory tablets where you have these roots, before the pharaonic language began. And you among them thisere  this irrigated field system, the same you have on Djedefre WM rockface.

By Bergmann
The sign with parallel, crossed lines, is associated with a Sa Wadjet sign. Did Sa Wadjet (the Son of the Cobra)  attach his name as a traveler to an older pictogram? If he had done it on purpose and drawn the irrigated fields perhaps it would mean that he was a peasant, doing agriculture at the time of the Middle Kingdom in Bir Jakub. This would be fantastic, but we should find organic material to date  it in order to prove it, and I can’t do the digging myself.

Q: The origin of hieroglyphs begining at the very start of Pharaonic Civilisation was rather a mystery, was it?

A: yes but Dreyer with his work brought some insight in it. He found a list of king names of the First and Second dynasty in Abydos, on the Nile. The fields symbol is the same there and in Abydos. He found the root of a hieroglyph, a field's symbol, not the water mountain one. In Djedefre we have already a combination of different signs.

In Dakhla oasis  you have the water-mountain sign without the ears on top. You have this kind of bucket with the waterwaves in it. And buckets like this are along the watermountain symbols as well at the different sites. 

Photo of Watermountain with ears - the mountains. By Bergmann.

Q: how did you do 440 km from Abu Ballas to the North of the Gilf?

A: In fact I did 1040 kilometres in a row  the first time I was looking for the Abu Ballas trail, from Sudan to Abu Munhar. The camels then were very strong ones, and I conditioned them, in wintertime, not to drink and work hard for 18 days.
 And I did about 43 km per day, in the average. I went from Bir Oju in north western sudan to Bur Tojur, then to the Djebel Uweinat, then to Abu Ballas, Regenfeld and Abu Mungar where I got water. It is I believe, a world record."

To recap, the discovery of the Silica Glass at the heart of the Pharaoh focussed the archaeologists' attention to the means that Ancient Egyptians might have used to connect such a distant region like the Gilf to the Nile.

From pottery shards with the drawing of a donkey, they guessed that they had used donkey caravans. Meanwhile  Bergmann was discovering the staging posts of the caravans, with water depots and the hierogyphic roots inscribed there.

By checking the superposition of pharaonic signs and the Desert Dwellers' animal drawings,  Bergmann realised the influence that  the Desert Dwellers of the Sahara might have had on the early kingdoms of the Nile.

This led to  the thesis of the recent book 'Black Genesis' (2011),  that Ancient Egypt had its roots in African communities. Suddenly it was all the buzz for African internet navigators, feeling proud about the contribution of their black countries might have given to the oldest civilization, and the longest lasting, of the African Continent.

The book mentions Bergmann's pioneering work, but it's not all. In 2011 Bergmann went to an Egyptology  meeting in Prague, where he published his results about these proto-hieroglyphs in a PDF, among the papers of the meeting.

Even before, his discovery of Djedefre Water Mountain had been published by a German academic review in 2003. It was at last public recognition for more that 20 years of solitary exploration.

His conclusion?

"Contrary to the prevailing opinion in Egyptology, it was not bureaucratic needs which facilitated the invention of a written language but rather, necessity per se (that is, the vital necessities of life itself). This event was triggered off in the Western Desert of Egypt by gradual degradation of environmental conditions which slowly began to take effect at the beginning of the Predynastic period, circa 5.000 BC.

[i.e. water signs were created  by the need of Sahara Dwellers to label surviving water sources]

"Thus, the precursor writing of the Pharaonic script which had resulted as a consequence of an adaptation process to climatic change, had already come  into existence in the Western Desert of Egypt more than 1000 years before tribes, societies and/or (unknown) bodies of people, had developed their bureaucratic procedures & structures [in the Nile area]."

According to egyptologist Herman Te Velde, in a PDF at Groeningen Uni, the evolution of hieroglyphs was not unlike that of modern news. First Egyptians combined drawings of animals and people in a composition, then they added signs of sounds, resulting in what was a a relatively simple rebus to interpret.

Egyptians didn't invent the alphabet  but a syntax of images, with labels. Exactly like we do with photographs today, when putting together  a reportage.

One can also see an evolution from rock drawings depicting social ceremonies in the Sahara to the hundreds of hieroglyphs of the Nile that were needed to keep accounts of agricultural produce belonging to the Pharaoh. 

The earlier animalism however never left the hieroglyphic writing, pointing to an earlier African origin.

Let me conclude, with a vision of what might well have been  the Queen of Zerzura, taken more than 30 years ago in Timbuctu, on the southern edge of the same Sahara.

 The Queen of Timbuctu, a Touareg nomad, playing a welcome song for her guests.

To the nomads of the Sahara the desert has never been impassable.


Where not otherwise stated, pictures are by me. The Interview with Carlo Bergmann is copyrighed to Giles Stanhope-Wright.

Here you have a quick course in hieroglyphs, a  PDF, by Wallis-Budge,  the early curator and father of Egyptology at the British Museum. Very easy to understand!