Naming New Work & Mighty Nikon Platinum Photograph

The Act of Naming
Like any creative work, my photographs nearly always earn a title, and I view a title as another creative aspect of the work itself, sometimes offering a subtle layer of meaning, like “Fly don’t walk,” “First Light, Winter Solstice,” or even something as simple as “1491.”

Naming new work is always a challenge, because we generally want something “short and sweet” as they say, without being too blunt or factual. It’s a fine line, because hopefully the title is also perhaps a little poetic and a natural reflection of the work itself without seeming to force anything. It seems to me that a lot of the best titles leave something for the viewer’s imagination too, so that they’re able to fill in part of the idea with their own interpretations with whatever meaning they may find in the work.

My son and I did a collaborative photograph last year, which was an adventure for both of us, because he’s way better at various tasks than I am, and this photograph couldn’t have had this look without his input and actual work with the various parts, like the camera, gas mask, and film.

Nikon asked whether I'd be interested in making a photograph last year as part of being one of their International Judges. It was a very gracious invitation, so since the judge's photographs were going to be shared internationally, I make a photograph specifically for them, and used the new Nikon D800 to see how good it could capture subtle details within the photograph.

From the International Nikon website; Nikon asked whether I’d be interested in making a photograph last year as part of being one of their International Judges. It was a fun photograph to make, but went unnamed for nearly a year.

I generally like to name new work fairly quickly, but had way to much stuff going on to name a few of the photographs. Since this was a collaboratively made photograph with my son T’naa, it was only fair that we named it together too. We bounced a lot of ideas around in my office the other day, including why the photograph looks like this, and all of the elements we made to put in the composition.

The gist of what we imagined before picking up the camera was having Raven walking through what appears to be the remains of human badlands. I liked the idea of cameras being amongst the detritus. T'naa and I worked on the production for this photograph over a couple of weeks; it was a true labor of love.

The gist of what we imagined before picking up the camera was having Raven walking through what appears to be the remains of human badlands. I liked the idea of cameras being amongst the detritus. T’naa and I worked on the production for this photograph over a couple of weeks; it was a true labor of love.

At any rate, we were in my school office last week bouncing names around. T’naa played in a metal band as one of two lead guitarists who would sling riffs back and forth, so I asked him to look up the titles of a lot of the metal bands, because they seemed to have the attitude we were looking for. Some of them were “Criminally Insane, Spirit in Black, Hell Awaits,” and so forth. Good stuff. We were inspired, but didn’t want to steal any of their names and were at kind of an impasse.

Just by dumb luck, T’naa is taking a college writing class right now and he explained that some classic writing verses have what’s called an “iambic pentameter.” For an example, Shakespeare used an iambic pentameter which consisted of five pairs of two syllables (or iambic feet). This means that there is a quantified rhythm to the English language (same with the Tlingit language, and most likely others too), so we looked up many of my own existing titles and they were mostly five or eight syllables. I wasn’t fully conscious of using this rhythm for years, so this became a part of our discussion too. T’naa has a natural gift for language, so this was a lively, fun discussion.

Having established attitude, rhythm and meaning, we started writing down a list of words; some humorous, some a bit presumptuous, and some just plain way too serious for it's own good. I insisted on keeping "Raven" somewhere, because after all, he's the one walking around the scene.

Having established attitude, rhythm and meaning, we started writing down lists of words; some humorous, some a bit presumptuous, and some just plain way too serious for it’s own good. I insisted on keeping “Raven” somewhere, because after all, he’s the one walking around the scene. I still like a plain little notebook for brainstorming ideas and have stray notebooks around the studio.

Ready for what we came up with after all this? Drumroll please, and preferably from a Metal band:

      “Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands”

We both liked it because the idea of a sunrise is about hope, a literal new day that we can make our own. The word “stroll” seemed perfect because it infers something leisurely and maybe even kind of carefree, like the idea of a relaxed walk through a park or garden. Much like the photograph itself, the words are juxtaposed with the last word “wastelands,” which is what helps add momentum to the idea that the photograph may be a bit satirical. When we tossed this title into the mix it made both of us laugh out loud, so we knew we nailed it.

The meaning of the work and the new title
This photograph was designed to go along with the existing body of work “The Home Planet, Global Climate Change.” The broader body of work is about taking a peek at what’s happening with planet Earth with the human impact of burning a seemingly endless supply of fossil fuels for decades. Hopefully, the work will help people to realize their own contributions to this problem, because it seems that when people do things like buy a new car these days, they’re not giving a second thought to all of the fossil fuel emissions that this new car is going to spew into our atmosphere.

I don’t have a single friend or acquaintance who has purchased an electric car yet, they’ve all opted for new gasoline powered cars, knowing full well how bad they are for the environment. Same here, I have a gasoline powered car, and am looking for a way to get rid of it after being a bicycle commuter for over five years. It means that from a real life point of view, people still really don’t care about what’s happening with our global climate crisis, because their actions speak louder than words as they say. And millions of cars still emit mass quantities of carbon dioxide every day, with hardly any hope of it decreasing, even as we’re in the midst of an ecological meltdown. It means that most of humanity is already doing the metaphorical “Sunrise Stroll Across the Wastelands,” blissfully enjoying the new day without considering the dire straits in which we live.

 

Transforming the digital photograph into platinum

This Nikon photograph was designed to be in both color and made into a platinum print. There are a multitude of variables with making the transition to a digital negative, but in my opinion, it's way easier to make the shift into digital negative form when the photograph itself originated from a digital photograph, as opposed to scanning actual film.

It’s way easier to make platinum photographs with a digital camera than it is to scan film. I found that I didn’t have to give up image quality while using a Nikon D800, as opposed to scanning something like 4×5 film. After importing the Nikon photograph, I simply applied a curve, converted it to a negative (Command-I in Photoshop) and printed out the negative with Pictorico Ultra transparency material to make the large negative (in this instance, for an 11×14 platinum print).

This does not mean that film is quite dead yet, I still love the look of a darkroom photograph printed with skill and artistry, such as the mural prints made by our good friend Sage Paisner. Shawna Hanel, Sage and I have been printing scanned medium format negatives for months, and they look great. In the meantime, I’ll be shooting more photographs with this Nikon D800 for future platinum prints.

This high resolution Nikon D800 makes stunning digital negatives for platinum prints!

This high resolution Nikon D800 makes stunning digital negatives for platinum prints! The 36 megapixel sensor makes highly detailed photographs that can easily rival a large format scanned negative. The problem with scanning negatives is that you also pick up lots of grain, even with a fine grained film, and of course, since digital cameras have zero grain, there is no transition from film to digital media, and as a result, you end up with extremely high quality digital negatives from high resolution digital cameras, such as this mighty Nikon D800. This snapshot of the D800 was made with a Coolpix by the way, handheld at 1/5 sec. with window light at a Tokyo hotel.

By using the professional grade Nikkor lenses coupled with the Nikon D800, you’re essentially able to make photographs with impeccable sharpness. One of my favorite lenses is the Nikkor 24-120mm F/4 with ED glass (extra-low dispersion elements), which renders photographs that rivals the sharpness of a prime lens. When I need photographs that are as sharp as a 4×5 lens, I pull out one of the Nikkor prime lenses, and lately I’ve been partial to the lightning fast 85mm f/1.4 lens with the stunning bokeh (SHARP image area juxtaposed with a beautiful bokeh, or blurred background). At any rate, this is a knockout combination of using the D800 with Nikkor lenses.

Nikon_Digital_Neg_McNeil2014

The moment of truth! Checking the negative’s fine details on a light table with a high resolution magnifying glass. This is the most critical step for going from digital media to a high quality negative that is all ready for being made into a platinum print with a great dynamic range and detailed information.

For most photographers, they generally don’t need to transition their photographs back into analog form; there is little reason, because their photographs usually get used via a digital file. What I’m doing with the digital Nikon cameras and lenses is pushing their capabilities to the very edge, and pulling as much quality out of them as possible to successfully emulate what was formerly made with a 4×5 camera and film to make a 19th century process platinum photograph. I love the look and am looking forward to making more platinum photographs with this extraordinary D800 and Nikkor lenses. In reality, it’s going to make my platinum printing faster without compromising image quality, which is what us photographers are constantly chasing around the planet. With ravens.

PS, this photograph is going to be included in the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian exhibition “Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and William Wilson” later this year.

 

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Read more.. Friday, March 14th, 2014

"Tonto's Earthen House," Global climate change

Tonto’s Earthen House is a hip hangout. It’s new public art that is also a part of a fundraising auction back home in Tlingit country.

"Tonto's Earthen House," was made for a public art project in Boise and is around 12 feet wide.

Aldona Jonaitis Ph.D., the Director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North wrote a very brief description of “Tonto’s Earthen House” for a catalog produced as part of the Tináa fund raising auction for the Sealaska Heritage Institute:

Tlingit photographer Larry McNeil, well known for his compelling and often humorous and satirical collages, has become increasingly concerned by the global climate crisis that so few people today seem to be taking seriously, and fewer still endeavor to do something about.  His current series, “The Home Planet,” is addressed not so much to today’s audience, but more to people born after 2031. By that time, people will wonder why we were so careless with our environment.

According to this photograph, part of the explanation is our insatiable appetite for gasoline. This complex image first appeared in Boise as a 12 foot wide public art project and incorporates Tlingit imagery — the Chilkat weaving design juxtaposed on the “Chilkat blue” 1959 Cadillac and silver engraved bumpers — as well as the ambiguous pair of Tonto and the Lone Ranger (here inside a jail).  Since he’s an Indian, Larry is supposed to be spiritual, so his “sacred symbols” are the strip of film drawn onto the wall, and, next to it, the swirling, “cosmic” image of an aperture. The self-referential camera sits in the back of the car, ready to take more photos. Indicators of the climate crisis include that gas-guzzling car as well as the bicycle Larry used to drive to work before being destroyed by a 5000 pound SUV.  Sitting at the wheel of the gas-guzzling car is Larry himself, who wears a particulate mask woven from spruce root “because it’s a health hazard to pedal my bike in the thick carbon dioxide emitted from cars.”

Chilkat Blue

Killer whale silver engraved bumper.

Spruce root particulate mask.

Sacred signs.

Commuter bicycle.

I named my digital desktop "Larry's Place." It's where there is always good coffee and interesting conversation. Our son T'naa helped make some of the photographs like the bike that were a part of the storyline.

I was a bicycle commuter for five years prior to being hit by a monster SUV, which is why the bicycle is a crucial part of this and other works. This is a saddle bag with new inks for my big printer.

Raven coffee is a requisite for cool art! The mug was a gift from our good friend and Keet Gooshi Hít sister Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie.

It's often said that technique informs style; many of the components were shot with a Nikon D800 camera and a Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 "prime time" lens. Photo of Larry hard at work by his assistant T'naa Z. McNeil.

“Tontos’s Earthen House” was made as part of the Boise Traffic Box Public Art Project, and is installed across from the downtown theater.

Gunalshéesh, thank you everyone, including my home team whom helps make all this work possible: Debi McNeil, my wife, partner & studio manager, and T’naa McNeil, our son and most excellent photographer’s assistant.

Please help support the Sealaska Heritage Institute's Tináa Art Auction on February 1, 2014.

“Tonto’s Earthen House” will be amongst many other contemporary masterpieces of Northwest Coast art. The auction is designed to help raise funds for the construction of the Walter Soboleff Center.

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Pixel Lounge Workshop

In reality, anyone who knows me realizes that the title “Pixel Lounge Workshop” is an inside joke, and you’d better be awake long before 5:00AM to keep up with this kid.

Today is day two of a 2 day digital art workshop that I’m leading as a guest of the Evergreen Longhouse Educational and Cultural Center at Evergreen College. We are using the very cool facilities of the Evergreen College Photography area, which resembles a low-key lounge, yet is very efficiently designed with state of the art digital gear. Thank you to everyone for helping to make this happen, we are enjoying it very much.

Okay, tell me that this doesn't seem like a comfy lounge. The ambient light is just right for viewing the monitors so that you don't get eyestrain, and this is just the front part of the lab. To really make it feel like a pixel lounge we need some hip jazz to fill in the mood of working with cool images. Come on over, and bring a nice espresso and images to work on.

Gato Barbieri playing “El Parana.”

Patrice Rushen, Stanley Clarke, Ndugu Chancler, Oleo (Sonny Rollins)

Here’s to a great day of making new art!

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2013, All Rights Reserved. All musicians retain their own copyrights on Youtube.

Read more.. Saturday, November 9th, 2013

1491, The Feather Series, The Creative Process & Platinum Printing

"1491" from "The Feather Series" of five prints; platinum print, 1992.

The here and now with this classic series: For the past four months, I’ve been working on new digital negatives (off and on, due to a car accident) to make “The Feather Series” into new platinum prints. The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian will be exhibiting the series (and others), at a future date, and they are in the process of being made into platinum prints. The platinum prints are a bit on the etherial side compared to regular silver darkroom prints, or even inkjet versions.

Making platinum prints a very intricate process; one that stretches all of your photographic skills to the limit. You need serious photo technique, a healthy measure of shadowy and mysterious alchemy, a hearty splash of  mojo, and regular sacrifices to the Photo Gods in order for the magic to unfold. It also seems surreal to be making digital negatives here in 2013 where the photo world is dominated by digital stuff. Digital Negatives? Wait a minute, we got digital cameras so we don’t have to mess with pesky negatives, didn’t we?

Anyway, as with any creative process, it’s the idea that drives everything else, including ones having to do with process, and how process often becomes a layer of meaning too, but more on that later .

The first step was doing creative problem-solving, then figuring out which film and cameras to use (1992 was the pre-digital camera era), and then more subtle things like composition, lighting and fine coffee. Lots of fine coffee.

Flashback to 1992: Back in 1992, the 500 year anniversary date of when Columbus arrived on the shores of the Americas, a group of indigenous artists were asked by Theresa Harlan to participate in the “Message Carriers” exhibition that was graciously hosted by the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University from October 7 through November 8th, 1992. We were asked to make photographs that had to do with this notourious date in history when so many people of the world were forever impacted in various ways. I’ll confess to being repelled by this idea at first, but warmed up to the idea the more I thought about it.

Theresa Harlan remains one of the most thoughtful curators I’ve met, and she was a former Director of Exhibitions and installations for the “American Indian Contemporary Arts Gallery” in San Francisco, and a curator at the C.N. Gorman Museum at UC Davis for many years. She also wrote a very intelligent and insightful essay on Indigenous Photography titled “Creating a Visual History: A Question of Ownership,” for the Aperture series of Photographic Journals; Issue #139 “Strong Hearts” in the spring of 1995, in which this and other series were published.

The Aperture website masthead. Minor White started the photographic journal with a number of other photographers, including Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan, Ansel Adams and the History of Photography scholars, Beaumont & Nancy Newhall. Minor had a writing style all his own, which sometimes seemed quite poetic, and sometimes had the surreal effect that he was from another planet, which made for entertaining reading, if nothing else. In my opinion, Minor's great legacy was his endless struggle for maximizing the visual integrity of the photographs he published. For decades, Aperture nearly always had the best photo reproductions of any photography journal. At some point, I'll have to share my short correspondence from Beaumont Newhall from the late 1970's when he was encouraging me to apply to the University of New Mexico MFA in Photography program.

The Creative Process: The proverbial moment of clarity struck in early 1992 with this work, and I set about photographing a very beautiful, yet simple feather with different skies, found sites, and constructed studio scenes with distinct lighting setups. I liked the idea of reducing the visual aesthetic to something akin to a “common denominator” or a very simple set of photographs that carried various ideas.

“1491,” the first photograph in the series, served as a visual metaphor for a future that never was- what would have happened had we indigenous people of the Americas evolved without outside interference?  I found myself simply wondering how humanity would have evolved had the humans indigenous to the Americas been allowed to continue to evolve without European interference. It’s about decolonized minds. Can you imagine a world not in the midst of a human- induced ecological melt-down?

As it turned out, this set of creative ideas wasn’t so simple after all, because in reality it was very challenging to make the photographs that I’d imagined. For an example, regular black & white film wasn’t working; it lacked the drama I’d envisioned, so I tried black & white infrared film and it worked.

Process and how it informs meaning: A few things were starting to gel, including the idea that “1491″ and the rest of the Feather Series needed to be made via the photographic process. Not only that, a layer of meaning had to do with a kind of visual simplicity that only photography could really perform. This is because even today in the digital age, there is a clarity and veracity attached to how photography is perceived as a medium of creative expression. I was on a poetic search for truth, camera in hand, eagle eye silently contemplating the horizon.

It's easy to forget that film ruled the world in 1992, and for lots of us pros it generally meant using a larger negative for better quality photographs. I bought my first Hasselblad in 1977 at the age of 22. Like many other photographers, we shot with three basic film formats: 35mm, 120 medium format, and 4x5 large format film. I chose the Hassy for this series because I was going to be shooting both on location and in the studio with tricky lighting setups. I needed a Polaroid film back for preview prints for all of the sessions so I could see precisely what the compositions looked like, because a couple of them were going to be composite photographs where various images were double exposed and I needed precise placement for the feathers. It was a pre-Photoshop layering task where the images were layered on each other. I used acetate taped onto the ground glass and used a sharpie pen to draw in where the various parts were in the composition.

If you go to the Hasselblad website, my portfolio is still up, including the bottom center photograph which is from "The Feather Series."

McNeil Hasselblad Coolness here.

Transforming film into platinum prints: As if making the original negatives all those years ago wasn’t complex enough. There are a number of steps to complete and any one of them can make the entire process collapse, which is what is so maddening about the process for making platinum photographic prints. I’m thinking that it would be way easier to just shoot with an 8×10 film camera if you want to make platinum/palladium prints.

  1. Make the film negatives & process the film.
  2. Scan the negatives. LOTS of precision & highly advanced work here.
  3. Interpret the file information/make a digital curve/Print the Digital Negative/ LOTS of testing here.
  4. Make a custom platinum emulsion that matches the digital negative/ LOTS of testing here.
  5. Make a series of exposures via an Ultra-violet exposure unit/LOTS of testing here.
  6. The easiest step of all is to make the final print based on 1-5 above.
  7. Print finishing/ get rid of spots. Celebrate!

Scanning Film Negatives: The next step was scanning the original black & white medium format negatives into the computer. In this age of cool digital cameras, this seems a bit weird, and even quite retro to be even thinking of film negatives. This series was shot with a Hasselblad 500 CM about a decade before digital cameras were any good. The digital cameras from 1992 were 1/3 of a megapixel, costed nearly $2,000.00 and made photos that were essentially low quality junk. Most people were still shooting with film for their high-end photography in 1992.

Drum scans are way better than the consumer scanners, but if you can believe this, the ones commissioned for this project were way too large, and also scanned in an incredible amount of dust. It was taking forever to work on these huge files, so I tried scanning with a consumer scanner, and this worked beautifully for my purposes, because I was going to keep my high resolution output size to below 20 inches.

Someone on eBay sells these little tabs that holds the film flatter in the scanner negative carrier, which makes for sharper scans.

I have a preference for SilverFast scanning software, because it’s a fairly easy interface to learn and it allows users to input a very beautiful dynamic range of midtones, highlights and shadows from the negative. It gave me the 36 bit .Tif files that input all the subtle information I needed to make the digital negatives for the platinum prints.

To be continued… In the following entries I’ll include information about making the digital negatives, hand-coating the platinum emulsions, exposing the paper and processing the prints. Please come back and see how things are progressing.

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Monday, November 4th, 2013

Nikon Retro Digital Camera

Word on the street is that Nikon is nearly ready to release a new digital camera that has retro styling. Maybe even with a full frame sensor. Cool.

Here is their teaser ad, and the camera is due to be released any day now. You hear a couple of manual clicks of what sounds like dial adjustments; the shutter has a quiet authority and the guy in the video says, “It’s in my hands again.”

While in Tokyo in June to help judge their 2013 International Photo Contest, I was introduced to one of their camera engineers, whom was working on a new compact digital camera. We were at at a hip lounge celebrating the Judging with food and drink, and I mentioned that two of my favorite 35mm film cameras as a young pro were the Nikon F2 and the Nikon F3 bodies.

It’s true, I really loved the clean, pure designs and how rugged they were. There were never any unpleasant surprises while shooting with those bodies and you could shoot briskly and precisely. I once had three Nikon bodies freeze while shooting on the North Slope way on the northern tip of Alaska in -55º F winter weather, and they just kept right on shooting. At any rate, this made their engineer smile, and he said, “You will like the new camera we are working on right now. I can’t tell you what the design is, and all I can say is that if you liked those camera designs, you will like this new camera.”

My eyes lit up and I asked “F2? F3?” He only smiled and said mysteriously, “You will like this new camera.”

I’m betting a mug of fine coffee that it is a Digital version of the classic F3. Any takers?

For you Nikon connoisseurs, here is what the classic F3 body looked like (its from one of their early brochures).

I hope it is a take-off on one of their classic bodies. That would have a coolness factor that is off the charts, especially for us pros who paid our dues with these rugged pro bodies before digital SLR’s roared over the horizon. For you photography purists, here is a link to the Nikon F3 information.

Cheers, man.

Story Copyright Larry McNeil, All rights reserved, 2013.

Read more.. Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Beijing International Photography Week, 2013

I was invited to China for their “First Beijing Photography Biennial,” which is part of their “Beijing International Photo Week,” starting October 24, 2013.  My role was as an honored VIP guest, and they had set up a two week stay for me, which included visiting many parts of China and meeting Chinese Photographers associated with their exhibition “Images, Times and Impressions.”

Beijing International Photo Week poster, 2013

Unfortunately, due to my bicycle accident, I'm not able to travel, so I'm literally grounded. Many apologies to my most gracious hosts... this was going to be the exhibition highlight of my year. "More than 1,000 photography masters, experts and professionals from over 20 countries and regions, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, South Africa and South Korea, will gather in the capital city to share their expertise and understanding of photography."

This Beijing International Photography Week has clearly been the result of a lot of careful planning, spearheaded by the Ministry of Culture. I am very sorry to have missed out on this wonderful opportunity to see a lot of fantastic photography and to met many other photography professionals from around the world (If you see an empty seat in the VIP section, you’ll know why it’s empty). The value of International Photography venues like this is that they present the opportunity to share the humanity that links all the people of our world together, and this is always to be applauded. Good job everyone, keep it up, regardless of which country you are living in. It seems that here in the 21st century, we humans have the ability to recognize how we can collectively better ourselves, and the humanities are a great way of accomplishing this collective task.

According to the “This is Beijing!” website, “The 2013 Beijing International Photography Week will open on October 24 at the China Millennium Monument in Beijing’s Xicheng District. The photography week, with a theme “Photography: World in Focus,” will highlight a series of exhibitions, lectures, forums and themed activities at the main venue, as well as at the 798 Art Zone, Caochangdi Art Zone, Wangfujing Pedestrian Street and Cable 8 Creative Culture Zone. The First Beijing International Photography Biennial Exhibition series will focus on the social landscapes in different countries and regions. The “Image, Times and Impression” themed exhibition will unveil the most famous works by well-known photographers at home and abroad.”

For those of you who make it to Beijing in the next week, get ready to see lots of most excellent photography, and save me a seat for next time.

Story and Photographs Copyright Larry McNeil 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Cyber Attacks, Adobe Products & working offline

First of all, I offer my sincerest condolences to Adobe regarding they and their customers becoming the latest victims of cyber attacks. We don’t wish that on anyone, especially the people out there just trying to get their work done.

The BBC's report on the Adobe security breach last week.

Cyber attacks are becoming all too common, and the sad reality seems to be that we can’t really do much to protect ourselves against them. If you watch what’s happening all over the world regarding cyber attacks, it seems that even the most secure organizations and governments are falling victim to the attacks, so as average consumers, how can we expect to be safe from all this mayhem?

What are we to do to protect ourselves against cyber attacks? I have no idea. It just seems that all we can do is stand by the wayside and witness the craziness while our information is becoming increasingly vulnerable to attack. Which is why Adobe’s new online business model seems so strange, as mentioned in my May 7th, 2013 blog entry that discussed the pluses and minuses of this shift from stand-alone programs to leasing them via monthly online subscription services:
Adobe Creative Cloud, from a Critic

The above essay talks about the inherent risks associated with taking a business model online via the software subscription service, and how it’s very likely to be open to cyber attacks. I’m sorry to say that the cyber attack risks that I wrote about have come to be true. I did not sign up as a subscriber for that very reason; it didn’t seem to be a safe bet for doing my Photoshop work. I can’t risk my work being down for an afternoon, let alone an indefinite time.

My solution was to purchase the most recent version of Adobe Photoshop CS6 and use this as opposed to the subscription service.

The computer I use for most of my Photoshop work is completely offline. No emails, no web browsing, no file downloads, no nothing. I use my laptop for all of my online work and keep the Photoshop computer completely offline. Turn your Wi-fi off and keep it off at all times, including other things like ethernet & bluetooth.

Keeping my digital photography computer offline isn’t new by the way. I’ve had this computer offline for about two years, long before Adobe decided to put forth this new subscription service. I did this because my livelihood depends on having at least one computer that would keep on working even if the net came crashing down at any time. I wasn’t thinking specifically of Adobe when I took it offline, but now that they have a very vulnerable site, you can bet that this specific computer is absolutely staying offline.

On the other hand, my laptop stays online and is the computer I use for everything online, including emails, web browsing, file downloads, etc. My work would likely grind to a halt in very short order if I went offline. Just like the rest of you, the vast majority of my interactions with other people is done online these days.

In reality, I’m not anything near a computer security expert. If you’re a hacker, please don’t attack my site, because I know you can do it, you don’t have to prove anything to me or anyone else. At any rate, my only solution is to “throw in the towel” as they say, and not even play this game that I know I cannot win. So off goes the internet connection to the computer I use for my nitty-gritty Photoshop work, which for me and many other photographers, artists, and business professionals has become a mainstay for our work.

If anyone else has any suggestions on how to keep their computer running without cyber attacks, I’m all ears. Until then, that digital photography computer is simply staying offline. Sorry Adobe, I hope your problems get solved soon, I sincerely do, because I really like your products.

Read more.. Monday, October 7th, 2013

Pro Cameras Favor Leftys

Did you know that just about all pro cameras made today favor lefties? It’s true, we’ve finally got a basic tool that’s made for us leftys, as opposed to all the people using that “other” hand.

Back when Kodak had the top flight camera design crews on their payroll in the 1930′s and 40′s they discovered that cameras were being designed incorrectly. This was hard to admit, but Kodak bit the bullet and engineered their new professional 35mm camera system with the pro photographer holding the weight of the camera with their right hand, as it should be from a purely ergonomic point of view for right-handed folks.

To put it simply, Kodak designed a pro camera (the beautiful, precision built Kodak Ektra 35mm system) that used the photographer’s right hand to support the camera’s weight, since their right hands are stronger. The left hand fired the shutter, focused & operated the aperture and shutter settings. In other words, right-handed people operated most of the controls using their left hand. I bet these right-handed people thought that Kodak was just messing with their heads.

This classic Kodak Ektra was one of the few pro cameras ever designed that had photographers supporting the weight of the camera with their right hand, as it should be if you're right-handed. This Kodak Ektra was one of the best cameras released in the early 1940's and even had things like interchangeable film magazines and pro lenses. It was clearly way ahead of it's time.

At the end of WWII, with the release of millions of affordable, very lightweight cameras, it didn’t matter which hand held the camera’s weight, so the designers moved the shutter release back to the right side of the amateur cameras, where it resides on nearly all cameras to this day, including professional DSLR cameras.

Since us lefties support the weight of the camera with our strong hand, just about every pro camera made today is designed for us lefties. How cool is that, fellow lefties? Finally, lefty photographers get a common product designed for us, even if it was inadvertent. This is ultra-cool, and it’s what I often think about in the midst of using my pro DSLR’s that do weigh in a bit on the hefty side.

Just in case you're interested in buying one of the few cameras ever truly designed for right-handed photographers, it'll set you back around $3,000.00 on eBay, as of the fall of 2013. Shoot with Kodak Tr-X and process the film with Rodinal for that classy black & white look.

Okay lesson over, have a nice beverage. But use your left hand.

Story & Photos Copyright Larry McNeil, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Read more.. Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Sneak Preview, "The Home Planet"

Here is a sneak preview of new work. I’ve had a few collaborators, including my son T’naa who has contributed lots of his own talents. Thank you all, you have my sincere gratitude, because I couldn’t have done this myself.

This below print is titled “The Home Planet,” and is about four feet wide.

"The Home Planet."

Spruce root work detail.

There are a number of images in this series, but are not titled yet. It was inspired by earlier work, and a commission early this spring. I’ll post the new work on my website later next week prior to my departure to Tokyo.

Stay tuned!

Story and Photography Copyright Larry McNeil, All Rights Reserved 2013

Read more.. Friday, May 31st, 2013

Adobe Creative Cloud, from a Critic

Since this is such a dramatic shift for not only Adobe, but for all of us users, I do have a lot of very pointed questions regarding Adobe's switch to a cloud service for their software, where users become subscribers as opposed to buying the program outright. Adobe's shift raises lots of other issues too, such as precise levels of privacy, potential ad clutter, the ability to control one's own images and so on; things that Adobe hasn't yet discussed in depth. I've noticed that during this announcement week, the regular Adobe experts are not really asking the hard questions, some users are a bit on the shrill side, and yet others are bored that anyone's taken the time to talk about it. I'm somewhere in the middle of the fray, just trying to figure things out.

I’ll take this issue apart piece by piece, and take a closer look at each component.

1.There is a perception that users may be saddled with non-stop payments to infinity; let’s take a calm look at this. This perpetual subscription agreement is perceived to be negative from many users, but in actuality, it may be a non-issue, or it may be true. Let’s take a closer look here without getting all excited about it. There has been a flood of people presenting their math formulas for what they’ll ultimately pay for the various aspects of this new Creative Cloud service. Adobe has assured us that the pricing is reasonable at $19.95 per month (Adobe, please correct me if I’m wrong) for Photoshop by itself, or $49.50 monthly for the entire suite.

Okay, I’ll do some math of my own and round out just the Photoshop subscription number (again, not the entire Adobe suite) to $20.00 per month, or $240.00 per year. Everyday people pay about $600.00 for the full version of Photoshop (on disc). This means that for the average user, it would take 2.5 years of subscribing to reach the $600.00 price mark, and after that, Adobe would be making way more money than they did in the past. For an example, if the average user would subscribe to Photoshop for ten years, the cost would be $2,400.00, which is an obvious dramatic jump for the price of using Photoshop.

Of course, Adobe has the right to increase their subscription fees at any time, so this is a minimum number and it could easily end up as way more than that. This means that Adobe could be more than doubling their fee for Photoshop for long-term users, even when you take past upgrade prices into consideration. On the other hand, if you only use Photoshop occasionally, it’s a fantastic deal. But for us who have already used Photoshop for decades, it’s clearly a dramatic price increase, and is an enormous fee increase for us pros. Wall street calls this subscription model an “annualized recurring revenue” into the transmeida world, where much of the financial action is unfolding. The financial verdict? Easy, Adobe reaps in increasing amounts of money as long-time users pay very notable increased fees as described above.

2. Potential Privacy Issues & targeted advertising. What, who would be the real product? Privacy: With the Adobe Creative Cloud (ACC), we users will be working with a desktop program as usual (not via a browser), but under the umbrella of  Adobe. It appears to be an impossibility that we’ll be working privately in our studios as before. I’m obviously making the assertion that we users will not have the same level of privacy that we had working with our own purchased disc program for the following reasons.

Subscribers will be working via an online connection directly to Adobe. Adobe explained that users will download the online version of Photoshop and will work with the standalone program. This cannot be entirely true, because the connection to Adobe is predicated on the monthly fees, so it is clear that there is a basic level of monitoring that occurs with the Cloud version. The million dollar question is “How much monitoring?” I’m sure that subscribers will have highly detailed statistical profiles produced by Adobe, but what other monitoring will be happening on a regular basis? I’d take it as a given that users will be giving up a significant measure of privacy using the Cloud, and of all the issues associated with the ACC, Adobe is being the most shy about specific answers to this topic. Maybe nobody’s asked them yet, so I will.

We have no idea whether Adobe will have the ability to view what you are working on at any given moment, so what’s the scoop Adobe, what is the precise level of monitoring you can do? As far as I know, subscribers can’t control the level of privacy they have, so this appears to be an issue of “no privacy” unless Adobe says otherwise.

You as the product? What if Adobe decides that they need to cash in on the advertising revolution that online companies like Google are reaping? Would Adobe jump the boat and go off on an advertising tangent now or in the future? Well, Adobe, what say you? Sorry to be sounding heavy handed about discussing online business models, but it’s common knowledge that Google receives the lion’s share of their revenue from advertisers who buy user profiles from Google. Advertisers then produce targeted ads for anyone who strays anywhere near Google online. With Google you don’t even have to sign a user agreement, anyone in their universe is fair game to become their product. This scenario is wide open for Adobe to use under this new Creative Cloud scenario.

If the above rings true it may mean that users of Adobe’s new Cloud service may be inundated by targeted ads like never before, and the floodgates may be poised and ready to be opened. If this advertising scenario comes to be a reality, it may mean that we ACC subscribers could become a primary revenue resource for advertisers, and ads targeted specifically at us may set a new record for ad clutter nearly everywhere we go online and not necessarily at the ACC site. I’m betting that Adobe may likely hold back on this at first, but a year later? Who the heck knows? What do you say Adobe? What are your short and long-term plans for using ACC subscribers as a source of income for advertisers? Are we ACC subscribers going to become the product like Google and Facebook’s business models?

3. Wifi Connection to make subscription work It’s obvious that one defines a Cloud server as being connected to the Internet in order for it to work. Adobe has made it clear that users will download a software version for their desktop. Just the same, there are times when I and other Photoshop users are working under extremely tight deadlines, and to have the software go dead in the midst of working is totally unacceptable. If there was ever a Cloud glitch, this could simply make the Adobe Creative Cloud go dead.

There is precedent for this, because major Clouds from just about all the Cloud servers out there (including Apple Computer) have already crashed many times. This is a major concern for me and thousands of other users. Adobe would have to install safeguards that would prevent this from happening. For Adobe a Cloud crash would be an inconvenience; for us users, it could mean the difference between completing a critical contract by a set deadline.

For us pros, the scenario is simple. If the software dies at a critical time, we could lose our critical sources of income, which means the mortgage doesn’t get paid and the kids go hungry. For amateurs it’s a non-issue, like losing their iTunes for the afternoon.

Adobe, you need to build in a foolproof safeguard for subscribers potentially losing access to our files and the program. This online connection is the weakest part of this entire scenario, and could be a deal-breaker for many of us. Not only that, but our own private servers could crash too, which would put us in double jeopardy. An accounting error could put us in triple jeopardy if our service was ever accidentally turned off due to an accounting error. The list of potential errors goes on and on, not to mention hackers who make a sport of breaking into all systems, including Cloud servers, or even our own Wifi connection. Google made a bad joke of this by just driving around neighborhoods, breaking into any Wifi connection they pleased, which leads us into the next issue.

4. There is no way to protect yourself against online hackers. The United States government recently stated that the only way to protect yourself against malicious online intruders is to disconnect your computer from the Internet and not import files from outside sources. Virtually every government agency in the world has been hacked into, not to mention corporations, businesses, organizations and individual people.

For the past two years, I have removed my “working computer” that does Photoshop work and printing from the Internet. It means that even if the world comes crashing down from malicious hacking, my own computer would keep on going and my professional work would remain unscathed. For everyone working with digital media as their primary source of income, I’d advise you to do the same thing and remove your revenue generating computer from the Internet completely. No email, no online browsing, no software updates, nothing. Zero. It’s the only way to protect your livelihood. I use my laptop for everything online and use my desktop computer solely for my digital imaging work.

This is a stark reality that the Adobe Creative Cloud pretends doesn’t exist. Adobe seems to be more interested in generating new sources of income than ensuring  that their own software works, and as a critic I find this to be not only irresponsible, but also flagrantly disconnected from the reality of the vulnerabilities of the Internet. It’s almost as if Adobe is living in a parallel universe where malicious hacking does not exist. Adobe, please come back to our universe and take a look around. It’s not a pretty sight.

Three times in the last few years, companies I’ve been doing business with have been hacked, and these companies have had to provide me with online protection via digital security companies. My bank account was hacked while I was in Germany and I couldn’t use my credit card to pay my hotel bill because my account was frozen. This is not unique to me by any means; if you do online business, chances are that your confidential information has already been compromised not once, but many, many times. We’re all in the same online boat here. Do I want to do my primary revenue generating operations completely online? Are you nuts? Hell no.

Other issues.

File access in the future. It appears that there are innumerable other hidden issues that could be perilous issues for both Adobe and subscribers. Such as the notion that Adobe may be able to lock your files from you if you ever drop your subscription. If Adobe has the ability to lock your files from you, this is a monumental issue that may lead to groundbreaking legal findings at the end of long and expensive litigation, regardless of what the subscriber agreement says. Subscribers should be able to open and use any files they made, period. Word on the street is that Adobe will prevent ex-subscribers from opening any files made on the Creative Cloud. If this is true, it falls into the gutter under the heading of “cheap money grubbing rats,” and Adobe should do the honorable thing and jettison this feature, because it’s wrong, plain and simple. What say you Adobe? Is this part of  the Creative Cloud user agreement? Please tell me that this was only a malicious rumor designed to make you look exceptionally bad, because you are way better than that.

Online archiving. I have been an archiving advocate for creative professionals for decades. The simple truth is that the only way you can safeguard your own work, your legacy, is to save your work on site, NOT on a cloud server. Clouds should be for things like iTunes collections, snapshots, or anything that is already in your own on site permanent archive. Clouds are places for temporary storage of anything you need for casual or convenient use. Clouds should be a place for temporary parking only, certainly not as a repository for your professional work. Many clouds have not only crashed, but some have also unexpectedly gone out of business. A couple of years ago, a major photography cloud went bankrupt and photographers lost millions of irreplaceable photographs. What was their recourse? Nothing. The photographs were simply gone. This was a tough lesson that I hope nobody else has to learn the hard way.

The current status quo. In the meantime, I’ve heard from a few satisfied ACC subscribers, all of whom only use Photoshop for fun or an occasional job here and there. I haven’t heard from any hard-core pro users yet. None of these “lightweight users” has had any issues with down time due to Internet problems yet, and they are very happy with the price. This is likely because the full-blown subscription service hasn’t really been launched in all it’s glory yet, and the ACC hasn’t felt the pressure of mass numbers of pros online yet. I’ve already witnessed indignation from Photoshop pros who are usually calm by nature, so I know this new subscription model is already a hot topic. Feelings of betrayal abound. I’m betting that there is likely going to be a spike on sales of the CS6 disc program as pros ponder the various tactical methods of jumping off the ACC boat before it even really launches, but we’ll see I guess. To be fair and accurate, I’m guessing that a lot of pros will give the ACC a spin to see what unfolds.

Keep an eye out for where the Adobe Cloud has their physical servers in place. Apple tried to keep theirs secret because they didn’t want subscribers or Wall Street to know about crashes or physical problems they encountered that dramatically affected its online performance for subscribers. Wall Street investors don’t like to read stuff like that, and server glitches often show up in their stock prices nearly instantly. You can bet that Adobe is acutely aware of this and will do everything in their power to keep any glitches under careful wraps, which means that they’ll be fighting an internal battle that has subscribers who want to know what the heck is happening with any glitches on one side, and the desire to keep Wall Street in the dark on the other side. Somewhere in the middle, hopefully ACC will be scrambling to keep their servers, the Internet, and Wifi everywhere running smoothly.

The appearance of this new ACC also means that Adobe now has a vested interest in making the Internet more secure, because as mentioned before, it’s the wild west out there where shootouts from hackers are running amok. Again, the reality everyone in the world is facing is that there is no protection from malicious intruders who wish to cause havoc, outside of disconnecting your computer from the Internet that is. My next question to Adobe is “What are you specifically doing to make the Internet safer? Can you list the things you are doing to make the Internet safe for your ACC and the world?” In my opinion, any initiatives have to be very broad and have to include external safeguards too, not just what is going on in their server facilities, because obviously, the Internet is global. It means that Adobe has to shift their priorities and allocate resources to help make the entire Internet more secure, not just their own connections, because their subscribers are out there exposed, not holed up in a secret secure location.

Am I going to become an Adobe Creative Cloud Subscriber? If I were an amateur, this whole debate is nothing more than an abstract idea for other people to argue about. I’d just pay my twenty bucks every now and then, and be done with it. It’s a non-issue for amateurs, because they don’t have a long-term financial interest with what promises to be unpredictable upward spiraling costs as a subscriber to the ACC. For me, I’m ensuring that I do indeed have a fully paid disc version of Photoshop CS6, and if I go over to the subscription service, it’ll only be out of curiosity, because of all the reasons explained above. I’m not sure how academia and large businesses will respond to this new model; I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope that Adobe listens to independent critics too, and not only their “Yes guys,” or outside consultants who are more than likely reticent to be honest since they’re paid by Adobe.

*I’m both an artist and scholar who’s used Adobe Photoshop since 1992, set up the curriculum at various schools for digital photography starting in 1993, and have taught it to the present. That’s a lot of years, and miles of files with Adobe at the side as a provider of vital, innovative tools. Don’t get me wrong, I love Photoshop and have been not only teaching it, but advocating for its use for over twenty years. It remains the absolute top program for editing photographs, period. Nothing else comes close and I’ve lost count of the number of students who’ve learned digital photography from me. Not to mention my own large body of work that is exhibited at international museums, and so forth. These are high accolades for a digital photography editing program, and even though we’ve heard these testimonials before, it’s worth repeating.

Story Copyright Larry McNeil, 2013, All rights reserved. You must have the written permission of McNeil to use any of this material for anything.

Read more.. Tuesday, May 7th, 2013