Tag Archive: digital


Daylight Digital launches with new work by Alec Soth

Daylight Digital

Daylight Digital

Non-profit photography publisher Daylight has started an iPad magazine called Daylight Digital. Published twice a month at $2.99 a month, Daylight Digital focuses on individual artists.  The first issue, which is available for free, features new work on Florida by Alec Soth. Here’s a direct link to iTunes to get the magazine.

And while we’re on the subject, the Daylight Photo Awards deadline is May 1.

Mark Fiore on cell phones, consumer demand, and warlords

Political cartoonist Mark Fiore produces weekly animations for Newsweek. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched any of his cartoons before, but this one, found via Newsweek’s odd Tumblr blog in turn found at the Nieman Lab, is well worth the price of admission. We’ve talked before about the environmental cost of new digital technology, and this cartoon sums up the issues all too well.

Readability: a tool for surviving reading online


Readability : An Arc90 Lab Experiment from Arc90 on Vimeo.

I have lived in a world without print media, and it is horrible. Until a couple of weeks ago, when I found a source for cheap issues of Newsweek International in Nanjing, my news diet has been entirely digital. Armed with Newsweek, and a shipment of magazines (Time, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, New Yorker, among others) from a visiting friend made me realize again how much the switch to digital reading has affected news consumption. If my experience is any indication of the future of newspapers and magazines, I’m frightened for our collective sanity and eyes. Readability has saved my life, or at least, made reading online a lot less awful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still bad, but the news has once again become…well…readable.

I’ve been reading the news online for most of the time that I’ve been aware of the news. In fact, I don’t think I really remember a time when I’ve read the news when most news wasn’t available online, generally for free. The change from print to digital has ruined my reading habits. First, without a ready supply of print media, I’m without the news over breakfast, in the subway or bus, waiting in a doctor’s office, in a park, during a lull between assignments, nodding off at bedtime…. A raggedy looking, folded up periodical has been a constant companion. Moving to China a couple years ago, though, all but eliminated print journalism from my life.

On the screen, I can’t concentrate on an article for more than a few minutes (a new email has come in, or maybe there’s just one more picture that needs to be toned…). Long form articles spread over multiple pages are annoying at best. More than that, I sit looking at a screen plenty already during the day, and would rather relax while reading than hunch staring at a bright monitor. The Kindle might solve this problem a little, but have you seen how awful the New York Times looks on a Kindle?

And let’s not forget about how completely unreadable most major media sites actually are. With ads, blurbs, top right and left navigation bars, and the like, it can be hard to find the content, especially when reading the local newspaper sites. While some sites provide a no-frills printable version of articles, not all media give the option. Enter Readability, a customizable bookmarklet that automatically eliminates page cruft and resizes the page to a custom width, type size, and typeface. I think I’m in love. Put the bookmarklet in your toolbar and click on it when you’re on an unreadable page. More often than not, you’ll get a perfect-sized column of easily readable text that is exactly the article you want to read and nothing more. Photography included in the article will be interspersed throughout the text, though captions sometimes end up looking like part of the next. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a far sight better than every newspaper and magazine website currently on the internet.

Another great option that I used to use is the Multi-Column Articles greasemonkey script (wikipedia explanation of greasemonkey), but I haven’t been impressed with greasemonkey support in Chrome, my new browser of choice. The usefulness of that script, which emulates a newspaper’s multi-column layout, is limited to a dozen or so websites, though most of the big news sites are covered.

A Film vs. Digital Debate

I strongly believe that one is not ‘better’ than the other. They are different. And I think most photographers should use both, and it should depend on what kind of project they are working on and what they are trying to say. I switch between the two all of the time .. my Kosovo work is shot digitally and my long-running projects on Homelessness and New York City are shot on good old Tri-X film, all in 35mm format.

6x7 color negative from Lt. Nic Madrazo's service, part of Lutton's Graceland project

6x7 color negative from Lt. Nic Madrazo's service, part of Lutton's Graceland project



So, the question is, Which am I going to use for this project?

35mm from same scene.

35mm from same scene.

As I mentioned in this interview with Rachel Hulin for Nerve.com, I try hard to think about which medium I want to work in when starting a new project. To quote from the interview,

“When I shoot black and white things are dark and gritty, very much intentionally, and they compliment and draw things out of the subject matter. As I move forward I am approaching new stories that don’t have this feel to begin with, and it wouldn’t be natural to cloud it under an arbitrary choice of color vs. black and white. I want everything to compliment each other – tones, composition, and everything else. For me, longer and slower stories are ripe for the way I work with film but the faster pieces almost demand we shoot digital. And, for me, digital means color these days, as I’m still trying to get something that looks ‘right’ for me in grayscale (back to that feel that compliments), something that matches or surpasses what I get shooting black and white.”

35mm picture from Nic's service.

35mm picture from Nic's service.

6x7 of same scene, a moment before or later

6x7 of same scene, a moment before or later

I was referring there more to the choice between color and black and white, but this more or less amounts to the choice between film and digital for me. I think I’ll always have the mantra hammered into me as an intern at Black Star back in 2005… to paraphrase, ‘If you want it black and white, shoot it black and white!’. Meaning, of course, shooting it ‘right’ the first time, on black and white film. This applies to so much in photography (I also was smacked then in to learning to not crop pictures .. get it right when you click the shutter .. and this has stuck with me remarkably well except for extremely rare circumstances when I break from my rule .. like below on this post!): get it right the first time and don’t rely and get dependent on photoshop ‘fixes’.

As I mentioned rather furtively earlier on DVA, I’m starting work on a new project called ‘Graceland’, about America today and the stories we’re missing or ignoring due to the election cycle and wars. My original thought was that this project had to be shot on film, in color, and in a new format for me, 6×7.

A lot of things went in to this decision … I wanted something that looked new, and stood out from, the work I have done before. I’ve been shooting the color digital (Kosovo) and gritty black and white film (Homeless, I See A Darkness) for awhile, and wanted something that stood out from that work both in ‘feel’ and ‘impact’. I felt a larger negative, in a new perspective and format, would accomplish that. I also was interested in exploring how medium format (which I haven’t shot since ’05) would change my approach to photographing, and how that would impact how the pictures looked, and were interpreted. I’ve been looking a lot at art-editorial shooters lately (hard to define or give examples off.. think Ziyah Gafic, Mikhael Subotzky, Simon Norfolk, Alec Soth and Alessandra Sanguinetti, amongst so many more) and I wanted to explore. So, I started shooting test rolls on a rented Mamiya 7 and eventually took one to my first real shoots of the project, the Boeing Strike and Lt. Madrazo’s funeral.

Nic's service, digital 35mm file.

Nic's service, digital 35mm file.

Partly as a backup, partly for ‘deadline’ sake (I was thinking of immediate turnaround for news publications), I also shot digital at these events, and it has turned out to be a lucky blessing. After getting my 220 film back and spending time and money getting it scanned, I was rather underwhelmed. Maybe I wasn’t giving it enough time to push myself with a new piece of equipment requiring a different method, but my first few rolls did not have that feel that I was looking for.. that new thing that would really distinguish this project from my other work. There wasn’t hardly anything different between the film and digital except for the format (35mm vs. 6×7). The color, perspective, depth and much more importantly how I was working with the scene were not changed from everything I had done before. Why is that? I can’t really say.

The rare better picture, from a cropped 6x7 negative.

The rare better picture, from a cropped 6x7 negative.

There is more backstory to getting this Graceland project, which I hope to get to at some point, but suffice now to say that it has been a struggle to find funding and outlet for the work. To date, wholly unsuccessful. So when it came time last week to get ready for a shoot in Eastern Washington at an apple orchard I had to decide whether or not it was worth it to continue shooting film (at $35/day rental for the camera, $10/roll (20 pictures) for film plus $11 per roll developing, and 15min per frame to scan) on an unfunded project. Given my apprehension about whether or not this new format was impacting the final product, it was a clearer decision to go strictly with digital. In many ways, I felt I had to: the investment, in time and money, in shooting film was not paying off. An experiment that failed my assumptions, but I must still go forward, as I believe in the story (as M. Scott said after reading a draft of this, he thinks of these debates are concerning ‘packaging, rather than substance’. of course, but the packaging must be considered and utilized to its fullest extent. I quote, paraphrasing again, Paolo at the Oslo Magnum workshop, “We’re photographers. Aesthetics are all we have got”, meaning, I think, that we’re working in visual medium and have to grab our audience in the most efficient and important ways, and that will be done visually)

So, I might have to toss, or crop (something I do only as a final, regrettable resort), some of the medium format frames to fit in to the new edit, but I’ll be able to work more cheaply and certainly quicker. I wish I could have pushed the 6×7 further, and I hope to try it (or square! can’t wait to work with it again) again soon.. probably when I get some funding behind me.

Worker in the processing plant of the Phillippi Fruit Company.

Worker in the processing plant of the Phillippi Fruit Company.

So when I headed out last week to photograph the apple farm and its migrant workers, I only had my digital camera with me, shooting in my ‘normal’ way. “Graceland” will now be some extension of the method of my Kosovo work, for better or worse. We’ll have to wait for a while longer to see how it all looks together. For another post is that crazy process of conception to individual days and shoots to the final production of a story. I’m always amazed at how it works out.

Leaving my neighborhood for the 3hour drive to Wenatchee, Washington to photograph an apple farm.

Leaving my neighborhood for the 3hour drive to Wenatchee, Washington to photograph an apple farm.

(maybe you could guess, this last picture is a loving nod to my favorite Eugene Richards book, “Americans We”. The best link is to go to his webpage, go to ‘Books’ and click to see the spreads. I hope I can one day accomplish something as important as this book, in the same way that Richards dedicates his book to Robert Frank)

The environmental calculus of digital media

 

M. Scott Brauer - An unregulated garbage dump lays open next to high-occupancy housing in Nanjing, China.

M. Scott Brauer - An unregulated garbage dump lays open next to high-occupancy housing in Nanjing, China.

A couple of posts over at Rob Haggart’s always excellent APhotoEditor.com got me thinking about an old post on technology news site Slashdot about the coming exhaustion of rare earth elements used in the production of LCDs.  Specifically, the NYU student’s comment that “Bringing the [hard-copy] New York Times [to class everyday] pains me because I refuse to believe that it’s the only source for credible news or Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and it’s a big waste of trees.” (my emphasis added)  

I’ll agree that credible and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism can be found from sources other than newspapers (magazines, for instance, are a great source…), but I just can’t believe the environmental argument against deadtree publications.  To be sure, thousands and thousands of trees are felled every day to allow for the printing of daily newspapers (numerous sources online state (without much citation) that it takes 75,000 trees to produce each Sunday’s edition of the New York Times).  More than that, the gasoline used to truck newspapers’ raw materials and the finished product from place to place is not an insignificant amount.  That’s where e-ink, electronic paper, e-readers, laptops, kindles, iphones, and other digital delivery methods come in.  See Esquire’s cover for the recent 75th anniversary edition (video below).

 

Environmentalists (I consider myself one) have done a lot of work over the years to push for more paper recycling, the use of post-consumer waste paper products, and a general reduction in the use of paper. In 1975, Business Week predicted a future of “paperless offices,” but anecdotal evidence suggests we have a long way to go despite reliance on computers, email, and the internet.  Paper use needs to be reduce, surely, but at least trees are a renewable resource.

 

M. Scott Brauer - Trees line a road in a nature preserve outside of Dongtai, Jiangsu, China.

M. Scott Brauer - Trees line a road in a nature preserve outside of Dongtai, Jiangsu, China.

Over the past decade, the rapid increase in production of LCDs, used in laptops, flatscreen televisions, cell phones, and pretty much every screen you see throughout the day, has caused a run on a number of chemical elements that exist only in small supplies on earth.  The Wall Street Journal summarizes a New Scientist article about the quickly depleting supplies of gallium, hafnium, indium, zinc, and copper.  Experts estimate that gallium will run out in 2017, zinc in 2037, and copper in 2100.  Indium sold for about $60 a kilo in January 2003 but was up to $1000 by August 2006.  Coppers used everywhere (pennies, plumbing, wiring) and the rest of the elements mentioned in the articles are vital components in the production of computers.  Without them, there are no LCDs or computers, or at least not ones as good as we have now.  The depletion of gallium and indium already threaten the development of solar panels, apparently.  Those elements allow for the production of panels nearly double the efficiency of ones currently on the market.  

All of the computers (here meaning anything from desktop powerstations to ipones and kindles) used in the production, distribution, and consumption of online news require a tremendous amount of electricity.  Online data servers usually reside in multiply, geographically redundant, climate-controlled rooms, chugging away 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The technology becomes more efficient each year, but when multiplied across the computers used in the production of any electronically delivered publication (editorial, advertising, business, in-house and online backups on the production side; web servers, web storage, gateways and routers that transfer web traffic from origin to destination; and each of the thousands of of consumers’ computers), the energy consumption is huge.  All of these computers need to be maintained and replaced periodically, too, leading to the damning part of the whole digital revolution: the disposal of electronic waste.  

Most discarded electronics (think about how many cell phones or iPods you and your immediate family have had over the past few years) end up in poor villages in Asia or Africa.  The metals are harvested by poor workers with little or now safety equipment.  A Salon.com article, “Where computers go to die…and kill” paints a dire picture: 

In the southern Chinese village of Guiyu, many of the workers who dismantle high-tech electronics live only steps from their jobs. Their children wander over piles of burnt wires and splash in puddles by the banks of rivers that have become dumping grounds for discarded computer parts. The pollution has been so severe that Guiyu’s water supply has been undrinkable since the mid-’90s. Water samples taken in 2005 found levels of lead and other metals 400 to 600 times what international standards consider safe.

Evidence about the danger posed by these dumping grounds is relatively hard to come by, but a few studies have been done.  A Science Daily article summarises one study of the levels of cancer-causing dioxin in women and children who live or work in these e-waste recycling areas.  Their blood showed as much as 25 times the World Health Organization’s acceptable daily limit of exposure to the chemicals.

 

Peter Essick for National Geographic - Fumes thick with dioxins and heavy metals engulf a young man tending piles of moldering computer wire in Accra, Ghana. Metals buyers won’t accept copper wire until plastic insulation is burned off.

Peter Essick for National Geographic - Fumes thick with dioxins and heavy metals engulf a young man tending piles of moldering computer wire in Accra, Ghana. Metals buyers won’t accept copper wire until plastic insulation is burned off.

There’s a fantastic National Geographic photo essay and article on the subject from the magazine’s January 2008 issue.  The pictures show both domestic recycling programs in the US and the horrific dumps in Ghana where men burn plastic in the open without any safety precautions.  The pictures, which are quite intimate for such a taboo subject (I recently read an article about an AP reporter being chased from an e-waste town in China, but can’t find the article), show the ugly side of recent technological advances.  

The argument for or against digital media is a lot more complicated than kills trees vs. not kills trees.  As for me, I’ll choose the option that doesn’t kill humans any day of the week.  

Further reading: One of the organizations that keeps coming up in these articles is the Basel Action Network, apparently a watchdog group that tracks the disposal of hazardous waste. They maintain a list of US-based recyclers of electronics that do not export the waste to the dangerous dumps of Asia and Africa.  I’ve also run across a January 2008 New York Times Sunday Magazine article about the afterlife of cell-phones.