Book Review: Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948



This review is written by Robin Benson.

Quietly observing

This is my second book of remarkable photos by Wayne Miller. Sadly he died in September 2013, aged ninety-four but his work will be with us for years to come. My first book, a monograph: Wayne F. Miller: Photographs 1942-1958 was published in 2008 and included thirty-eight Chicago photos some of which are this title. What I like about these photos is the way he captures people doing everyday things in such a natural way. Nothing here suggests a contrived posed, helped also because no one is looking at him take the shot, it's as if he wasn't there. Many of the photos originally appeared in Ebony magazine.

Apart from a few photos of entertainers the rest capture, in fascinating detail, life in Chicago's south side. The workplace and workers, interiors of homes and bars, parades, funerals, sport and street scenes with plenty of activity. The detail in all these pictures is impressive and typical of Miller's eye to capture a scene that reveals so much.

The book uses a two hundred screen for the photos though the paper is not quite as good as the monograph I mentioned. It does have one advantage over that title because each photo has a caption beneath it, so no flipping to back pages as is so common in photo books.

'Chicago's south side' is a rich selection of Wayne Miller's photojournalism work capturing the lives of ordinary people.

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948 is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948
Another Wayne Miller book and two about colored Chicago

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948
Title page where there really should have been a photo or two

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948
Imprint and Contents

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948

Chicago's South Side, 1946-1948


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Sketching around new Smith St

We went sketching around Smith Street today. Workers are putting the final touches to the street and it seems ready to be opened soon.

Sketching around Smith Street, Singapore
They now have a statue of a Samsui woman at the road junction.

Sketching around Smith Street, Singapore
The sketch and paint gang

Sketching around Smith Street, Singapore
The headless pigeon.

Sketching around Smith Street, Singapore

Sketching around Smith Street, Singapore

Sketching around Smith Street, Singapore
All these were shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and 23mm f/1.4 lens. It's not wide enough as seen in the first picture -- should have stepped back.

I must say that I'm seriously tempted by the X-T1 which is coming out on Amazon on March 3 2014. With the X-Pro1, I still lose shots because of the shutter lag.

It also looks like X-Pro1 is now $300 cheaper than the X-T1, but they both have essentially the same image quality.


Book Review: Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light


This review is written by Robin Benson.

The night seen

An impressive book of night photos revealing abandoned structures that litter the American landscape and following in the footsteps of the master of the genre: Troy Paiva. Though Paiva tends to concentrate on his night painting format Kerns offers a broader view in many of the photos here by using the light of a full moon. Probably more than half the photos use color from gels placed in front of flashlights and strobes. Sometimes, I thought, this tends to be a hit or miss with a colored light creating a rather artificial feel but other times, used rather subtlety, it creates quite stunning photos.

The range of places and things captured by Kerns is wonderfully comprehensive. The usual abandoned gas stations on the Interstate and of course the ruins of Detroit but also rusting dead tech, factories, motels, churches, aircraft, military installations and one photo of three train coaches with most of its windows missing.

Like Paiva's 2008 book 'Night vision' this book has captions for all the photos (location and date) but also frequently a few words from Kern's about the place in the photo and what he felt about it. It's not fashionable these days, in art photo books, for photographers to add any text thinking that the photos say it all but reading Kern's comments certainly give his work a lift in my view.

There are no page numbers so I can't say exactly how many photos there are but at least 250 which makes this a value for money title. The book is a handy square format with the photos printed with a 175 screen on a reasonable semi-matt art paper. The whole book is black which unfortunately can show up finger marks easily and I found a slight annoyance with the text, because it isn't a ragged right setting there are lots of uneven spaces between the words (OK, a minor point but as a designer I notice these things). Overall though a fascinating collection of night photos and virtually every one pulls you into the composition, no also rans here.

Nightwatch - Painting with Light is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository (US | UK)

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns
A failed theme park in Italy, Texas. Still standing and you can find it on Street View.

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns

Nightwatch - Painting with Light by Noel Kerns


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Usefulness of the ISO dial?



I'm the big fan of the ISO dial. It's very useful when shooting in manual mode especially at night when you want a precise exposure but the camera is not smart enough to choose the correct ISO. That's when the ISO dial becomes really useful because you just have to go through the different ISO settings to get to the one you want.

With no ISO dial, you might be able to set it to a function button, but it's never going to be as convenient as an external dial.

Another advantage of the external dial is you get to see the settings immediately without looking at any screen.

The Fujifilm X-T1 came with a lock on the ISO dial. There are those who complain about it. Well, there's a lock on the shutter button too and have you been using it often enough that the lock becomes a nuisance? Are you going to change ISO that often until that lock becomes a nuisance? Depends on your shooting style of course.

Four outside the museum

Shot with the Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 lens

Four outside National Museum of Singapore
I can't remember if this was shot at f/0.95. The Voigtlander is a full manual lens with no electrical parts. So there's no EXIF data.

Four outside National Museum of Singapore
This was stitched with 5 photos.

I used a GF1 on tripod. And even so it's pretty challenging to get the shot.

It's not easy to use this lens on a camera with no viewfinder because it's heavy and difficult to hold still.

There's CA and strong vignetting.

The shallow depth of field is tricky to control. If you don't get the focus right, you're going to see either the purple or green CA.

The lens is soft at f/0.95, which is not surprising if you've used the other two Voigtlander, 17.5mm and 25mm.

Overall, it's more challenging to use this compared to the other Voigtlander f/0.95 lens. At the effective field of view 85mm, you need to shoot at a fast shutter speed to compensate your handshake. In this regard, maybe this lens would be more suitable for use on an Olympus EM1 as compared to Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras especially if it's handheld.

Battery technology of Fujifilm cameras

One thing that I like about Fujifilm cameras is they have a tendency to use similar batteries across different camera models.

Take for example the NP-W126 battery.



The NP-W126 is used in the X-Pro1, X-E1, X-E2, X-M1, X-A1 and the X-T1, and a whole lot of other cameras.

Same thing with the x100 battery NP-95 used in the X100s and 100 and even the older f31d compact cameras.

No amount of battery innovation can double the amount of capacity in a short period of time as compared to two batteries. Just look at the Micro Four Thirds camera where the battery models are changing so often and their capacity improvement are often not that significant. By not significant, I mean doubling of capacity. Worse, many of the camera companies introduce technology that lock out third party batteries, not so for Fujifilm.

It's great that Fujifilm reuse the same battery models across different cameras.

Book Review: 285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

This review is written by Robin Benson.

Fabulous photos in a feeble package

Chris Enos, in her preface, wonders what compelled her in 2010 to take a very boring and dreary trip along US 285 for the second time, the first journey had been in the previous year. Fortunately for us we can see the results of that second journey in these 221 fascinating photos of abandonment. Because these houses, gas stations, businesses, factories and signs are full of color, texture, shapes and in the commercial ones bits of typography, Enos has shot them mostly straight on, these structures are visually strong enough not to need any photo gimmicks.

As this is the South West there is the ever present blue sky making a clever frame for so many photos and that does throw up the feeling of a brighter tomorrow when all these buildings were occupied but now they are a record of a failed yesterday. The photos also capture the American way of failure because folks can just drive away from something that was part of their daily life. One group of photos is called 'Overgrown houses' and they have probably been unoccupied for some time and the thirty-three photos of abandoned gas stations, in various stages of decay, are a reflection of changed commercial circumstances along 285.

Wonderful though all the photos are I was very disappointed with the book's production. Instead of having one photo a page in the classic style with generous margins and the occasional blank for a change of pace there are several pages here with nine photos crammed in, sort of like large thumbnails (and bizarrely some of these pages face a blank one) other pages have four. The photos take up sixty-nine pages, only sixteen have one to a page but there are twelve blanks. In any other format this editorial style might have been fine but here I think it shows a complete lack of thought by the publishers.

After the photos there are twenty pages for an essay about the region (and there really should have been some sort of map here to help the reader follow the geographic description in the text) and five pages for the photo captions, which would easily have fitted on one page. These are just place names and State abbreviations which should really have gone below each photo and spared the reader from having to flip backwards and forwards to find out where a photo was taken.

Three stars for the broken dreams of great photos that really deserve better.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository (US | UK)

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
Some other photo books about this part of the US.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
Title spread.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
Typical of the four to a page photos.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
Typical of the nine to a page photos.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
Despite facing a blank page nine photos are crammed onto one page.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
What a pity all the photos weren't presented like this in the classic photo book style. There are only sixteen pages with one photo a page.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
First spread of a twenty page essay at the back of the book.

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos

285 Broken Dreams: Photographing Southeast New Mexico to Texas by Chris Enos
Very brief captions are spread over five pages and as they only give location and State they could well have gone below each photo.


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