Thursday, 27 February 2014


P2232450 by amalric
P2232450, a photo by amalric on Flickr.
The Ponte della Scienza, Rome 2014


P2232426 by amalric
P2232426, a photo by amalric on Flickr.
The river harbour, Rome 2014.

Pasolini the unforgotten

I am always surprised at discovering how a quintessential Roman figure keeps being celebrated in the most unlikely places. The French seem to have a passion for him, but Americans in the know have a place for him too.

This is a recent multilingual exhibition made about him in Paris: The Poetics of Margins. Here is the infographic:

I could elect him as a saint protector for this blog, together with Francesca Woodman, Both were Romans for a time, who created powerful, unconventional visuals. I might have met both, and instead I am left to weep their early disappearance.

When he was alive I didn't have  much passion for PPP (as he was known). He was part of the literary Clan Moravia which was acting as interdiction on all young writers. Their style was later to be known as 'Neorealismo'.

PPP had risen to fame with the long poem 'Gramsci's ashes'.
It was a lament over Gramsci, the Italian Communist Party founder, buried next to Shelley at the 'Englishmen Cemetery', the non-Catholic one in Testaccio.

"It’s not like May, this impure air

that darkens the foreign garden

already dark, then blinds it with light

with blinding clarity… this sky

of foam, above the pale yellow eaves

that in enormous semicircles veil

the bends of the Tiber, the deep blue

mountains of Latium… Spilling a mortal

peace, estranged from our destinies,

between the ancient walls, autumnal

May. In this the grey of the world,

the end of the decade in which appears

among ruins the profound, ingenuous

effort to restore life over;

the silence, rotten and barren…"

Translated from the Italian by Michelle Cliff, full text

 It was a cumbersome poem, of difficult interpretation, which brought down my young libertarian hopes, by reminding me the bleak defeat that fascism had imposed on the proletarian masses. Gramsci had indeed been killed in prison.

A kinder, more liberated approach to Pasolini's psyche I had through his movies.

'Teorema'  seemed more in the Surrealist Fellini style. An angel arrives in a bourgeois Milan family, and by going to bed with each of its members destroys the bourgeois nexus that kept them together. I still remember the levitation scene of the servant on the roof of a farm, who thus attains saint status in her peasant community.

Pasolini, originally a teacher from poor Friuli, had a direct understanding of the underprivileged classes. In the 1968 uprisings he took sides with the proletarian policemen against the affluent students, which they didn't take kindly. 

His other films, like those inspired by 'Decameron' and 'Fiore della Mille e ulna Notte' he showed the irreverent proletarian sexual  behavior of the origins. As many Italians I didn't like his half manifest homosexuality then, not suspecting that our intolerant attitudes would bring him finally to a violent death.

I also saw him coming out one Summer from a turreted villa in High Latium in an off road with Moravia,  and deduced that he had become rich, while preaching compassion for the poor. At the time he also was touring Africa documenting primitive peasant communities  that he couldn't find anymore in Italy. The mud buildings of Yemen offered him some uncanny surrealist footage.

Yes, he had become part of the intelligentsia of the left, but it is also when he released his two more brutal attacks to the Italian bourgeoisie: 'Salò or the 120 days of Sodom', a fiction about the orgies of the last days of the Fascists,  and  'Petrolio' a novel about the murderous corruption in the Italian oil establishment, which had brought down various governments.

In the end PPP  was savagely beaten and killed by one of his lovers at the Ostia idroscalo (harbor). Many think that various people must  have been involved, and that it was a vengeance against 'Petrolio'.

He came back to my memory very naturally as I was shooting that part of town where the river Tiber runs towards the Sea through the dilapidated Industrial area of Rome. There one still finds wild boys and gipsies sleeping by the river, and I documented the area before it gets gentrified. It's a dead land where many proletarian ghosts of the past come forth.

My wine seller who was a mechanic at Alfa Romeo in the fifties, used to do test runs along the river at full speed. And because of that he had seven fiancées at the same time, if you believe him :)

Monday, 24 February 2014

a study of roofs 0

P7311442 by amalric
P7311442, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

A study of roofs 1

P7311441 by amalric
P7311441, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

A study of roofs 2

P7311437 by amalric
P7311437, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

The new Triangle of Exposure

Only a few years have passed since we were shooting film and now everybody is making images with their Smartphones. So where has Photography gone?

In a nutshell taking a photograph since the 1850s involves exposing a sensitive surface to light for a short instant through a hole of variable size.

This is still what we do: through the size of the aperture we control the quantity of light, but also the Depth of Field: we determine how many things are in focus along the perspective. The smaller the hole the more objects in focus.

By controlling the time of exposure, the Shutter Speed, we freeze (or not) the action we are recording.

The third element is the Sensitivity of film, that in Digital has been replaced by that of the Sensor. 

The sensor is made by wells which are filled by light. If you increase the ISO of the camera it becomes more sensitive. How? In the same way any a radio, a Hi Fi, works: by electronic amplification: Gain.

Increasing the ISO however will translate in Noise. the image will become more dirty, just like your sound when you increase the volume: you will hear background noise. In the camera it will show with little dots and colour smearing.

None of this will be perceived by you if you use a smartphone, but being a photographer is precisely wanting to control personally the values of the Triangle of Exposure. 

(Courtesy Cambridge in Colour)

In a camera there is another control in addition to those above: EV, Exposure Value correction: with a wheel (or button) you can control the brightness of the image i.e. the proportion of the image which is in light compared to that which is in the shadow.

In film times this acted like a small correction to the aperture of the camera, but in digital it works by a small  electronic 'gain'. Exactly like in the ISOscale, +1 EV stop correction is exactly the same of the difference between 100 and 200 ISO.

Since the camera companies adopt ISO scales that are not always the same, many have cried foul, and protested that there should be only one dimension: Brightness - and no sensitivity scale anymore.

There is an interesting discussion at DP review on the concept, and the subtle semantic differences between Exposure, Brightness and Brightening here at DPR:

Although I am aware of the problem it doesn't influence me one bit. When the light goes down I increase the ISO (or I let the camera do it) like everybody - in order to keep elbow room in my choice of camera Aperture and Shutterspeed.

What I am aware however is that by doing so I increase  Noise. So perhaps the Triangle of Exposure could be revised in Aperture - Shutterspeed - Noise.

One should be aware that a digital camera, differently from film, converts photons to electrons at the cost of noise. So you rate a camera for its Signal to Noise, its S/N. 

The more a camera has S/N the more it will be tone sensitive. The wider the tonal scale i.e. the Dynamic Range of shades between absolute white and absolute black.

See here for the different kinds of noise, in relation to gain:

So shall we abolish ISO scales? Both companies and gearheads would never had it. They are the conventional way to rate a camera sensitivity, and thus to promote sales. People want to shoot as late at night as they can, presumably because they have their fun after work.

I prefer to shoot at Dawn or Sunset, with daylight anyway. I don't go over ISO 800 - I was going to say. But in fact I leave my AutoISO climb up to 2000, so little is the noise in my EM-5.  I relish in the operational speed. But how would I even express this without an ISO scale?

It is important to know that the camera processor knows only about brightness in Digital. The ISO scales are just a conventional way to express how the camera is able to offset  the decline of light, by electronic gain.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Horkstow Church - Summer

Horkstow Church - Summer by D H Wright
Horkstow Church - Summer, a photo by D H Wright on Flickr.
A picture showing the high resolution of a Sigma Foveon camera. Click to check the large version.

The Strangest Camera today: the Sigma Quattro

Some will remember the clumsy view cameras of the last public parks photographers, which harkened of calotypes and the beginnings of photography. Here it is:

In fact it is quite the opposite: the Sigma Quattro has the latest of sensors, called the Foveon (Fovea=human eye). The three primary colours, red green and blue, instead of being placed in a mosaic, like in the ordinary Bayer sensor, are placed in three layers, a bit like in the human eye, thus guaranteeing a superior clarity.

In fact you have to multiply per two its resolution to compare it to another camera. Don't believe me? Here above is an English country church by D. H. Wright that I found on flickr.

The oblong shape of the Sigma terminates in a lumpy grip, which houses a big battery, the Foveon being power hungry.
There are two buttons that are welcome in an Art Camera: the Auto Focus button, and the AEL button, Automatic Exposure Limit, which both allow the Photog to choose precisely his bearings in the Scene.

The Sigma is not an interchangeable lens camera. To the opposite it come in three flavors, or better, focals. A wide angle one, a normal one, and a small tele model. So you should have a bag to fit all three, in case. I am interested only by the landscape one, so no harm done!

The reason? Sigma says that it is the only way to optimize the cross resolution between the sensor and the lens.
You can check the data of the camera below. It will be in the shops this Summer 2014, and I will give you some shops were to get it. 

The best resolution of the industry, for a price that should be below 1000 $, if it is based on the same price of the earlier models.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A missed appointment with Francesca Woodman

I received her invitation to an exhibition in Rome 20 years after she was dead! 

Francesca Woodman was one of the preeminent artists and photogs. of her generation. She first shined in Rome at the end of the 1970s, but was later to have recognition in the US, after her suicidein NY , still in her early twenties.

She brought Photography at a cross between Surrealism, Body Art and Feminism, but was generally interpreted according to the latter. Only later critics understood her importance as a contemporary artist in the Conceptual/Body Art arena. She was also dubbed the Rimbaud of photography for her blazing imaginative vision.

You can imagine my  consternation when I discovered that she had send me a personal invitation with a real print of hers stuck on it, and that I had never received it! 

In fact the owner of the gallery had stolen all the invitations, and they resurfaced at an exhibition in Rome after 20 yrs. Here it is: a friend saw it and brought me a photostat. I publish it here as a proof.

I should really sue the gallery owner, but thanks to this psychological shock I have made an even stronger bond with Francesca. In my mind she has established the strongest rapport between photo and poetry. Therefore I propose to make her  into the 'déesse tutélaire of this blog.

Woodman had had a classical education, including one year in Florence, and was educated  at the Rhode Island School of Art. One of the references I like to have from her is how to set the human body in a cube-like empty room, an act of visual cruelty, that she might have learned from Francis Bacon. Curves against angles.

I don't do staged pictures, however I am sensitive as she was to the unheimlich, the unfamiliar, and the passage to the other side of the mirror. It is probably a familiarity with things of the Spirit non-Western people would call it.

The exhibition of her naked body, which people identified with feminism, I see more in terms of Body Art and the liberated sexualization of the 1970. I was myself active in conceptual theatre at the time, and nudity was an unremarkable feature of the times. She did refine it to the quality of statuary, giving to photography the timeless dimension it deserves.

More modestly I am attracted to the female body in the street and by 'les jeunes filles en fleurs', Sometimes people reproach it to me as voyeurism, but I belong to the same early period of woman liberation of Francesca Woodman, and body is no shame. Moreover they fit in the panorama of Rome as the other actors of the 'comédie humaine'.

In memoriam, Francesca. Long live your body as it persists in your photography!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What is real?

PC285027 by amalric
PC285027, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

What is real?

Photography offers us two stories about the making of photographs. One, call it the "frozen moment of life," is associated with photojournalism, street photography, candids, and snapshots. It capitalizes on modern photography's ability to capture some part of the way the world looks in a given place and instant ("modern" because you need decently fast emulsions and sometimes good flash). The photographer may take many exposures from numerous angles and lens settings, but she will look for and try to seize "the decisive moment" in which the fullest significance of the scene is manifest. There can thus be only limited planning; graininess, high contrast,cropping which breaks objects, and blur give authenticating testimony to the unplanned "catching" of the unstaged life of the moment.

The alternate story of the scene of taking photos contrasts on most of these points, bringing it closer to studio-composed oil painting. Here nothing is left to chance--nothing occurs by chance--and the viewer may ponder as long as he wishes why this or that detail is exactly as it is. It is a tableau vivant . There is still the difference from painting that all objects are seen in the camera's eye in one exposure, none in the artist's imagination only, so that the "actual moment of time" assumption is still maintained . This is perhaps why photography is so effective as a medium of pornography: the photographer must have been just a few feet away from the subjects who were doing exactly what you see to each other (or to themselves). (It is sometimes suggested that as people begin to realize what digital manipulation of photos can do--that the participants may never have been together in one place, exchanged looks, or bodily fluids--they will lose their appeal as a focus for fantasizing.)

Friday, 14 February 2014

The earthly journey.

Psychogeography, in two words

The science of strolling one could call it. In fact the word appeared in the 1960s among an Avant-Garde group of artists and militants issued from the Cobra group and later known as the Internationale Situationniste, the Mother of Mai '68.

The theory was that by the Dérive, i.e. the dedicated stroll, by which one or a group of people can recover  urban spaces lost to bad industrial planning. It is only in recent years that the concept has reached the attention of photogs under the name of Urban Shooting or Urbex.

See here

Curiously it is this picture/scenery that reminded me of the word. It is Piazza Iside in Rome, that I associate with a monument to Death, probably because of the Goddess Isis, the Egyptian Queen of Death and Rebirth, whose cult was well spread during the Empire. And I dubbed it:The Earthly Journey, since the crossing of the stairs seemed to me a crossing to another world - through the dimension of perspective.

Some places are ominous, or all of a sudden I become sensitive to them. I try to convey them through Photography, B&W here seemed appropriate to the theme.

Abandoned places, Urbex, is akin to the same disposition, The Situationnistes, the architect side, also connected to topology, places where to make connections. But I take it in the psychological sense, to find a place where you would like to meet somebody, or take an ominous picture.