Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Booklist for the Holidays

I love reading, and collecting books is a passion of mine. So this holiday season, I have selected 15 books on photography, cinema and the visual arts from my own library to share with you. Most of these books just came out this year (all are still in print) and should be available in your local bookstores.

Vacation time is a good opportunity to catch up on some reading-- in between family gatherings and binge feasting:)  I have read all these books from cover to cover, and have found them invaluable to my own work. I hope you find some of them helpful to you too...

Have a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a prosperous NEW YEAR!

Have you ever wondered how one work of art could be sold for millions, while another can be almost worthless? Michael Findlay examines this phenomenon in his book, "The Value of Art." He demystifies the process of how art is bought and sold, its commercial and social dimensions while constantly looking beyond the sales numbers to emphasize its essential cultural and spiritual dimensions. As a trained financial analyst, I have always been fascinated with "value" and how we give or assign "worth" to objects and experiences. This book is an enlightening guide to the perplexing and amusing business of Art, for the curious.

Although I also paint, I included this book on this list primarily because I believe that portrait photographers (and cinematographers) can learn a lot from studying formal Portraiture. I can trace a lot of my skills in capturing expression, gesture, personality, emotion and soul (to accurately capture character), through my personal experience of painting and sketching people. When you look very closely at each line and shade on a person's face, taking note of how each muscle contracts and relaxes, you become hyper aware of how our bodies openly express our inner state. "The Society Portrait - from David to Warhol" traces formal Portraiture's development from Napoleon's time to the present, highlighting its progress from one art period to the next-- delving into the changing outlook of society from generation to generation. The book is filled with examples from major of artists, we can all learn from.   
"The Passionate Photographer" by Steve Simon is a great book that fills the gap left-off by most "how to" photography books-- mastering the craft psychologically, translating ideas and thoughts to create great images,  dealing with your fears, gaining inspiration and passion for your art. It is filled with great insights, real world examples and practical tips on how to improve your photography and bring it to the next level. I am already passionate about my work, yet this book has helped me focus on the details of what can make my photography consistently exceptional, and at the same time help keep me inspired.  
Arnold Newman is one of my favorite master photographers. His photography has inspired me from the very beginning and has been one of the main influences for my own portrait work. The book, "Masterclass - Arnold Newman, contains more than 200 examples of his work including iconic portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Mark Chagall, Max Ernst, Andrew Wyeth, Piet Mondrian, John F. Kennedy, David Ben-Gurion, Robert Oppenheimer, James Watson, I. M. Pei, Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein and Martha Graham among many other famous and notable sitters. It also contains a section on Newman's development as a photographer, from his apprenticeship in a portrait studio in the early 1940s to his gradual experimentation with the form, and finally to his own signature abstract, simplified, cropped style that I fell in love with. I highly recommend this book for all Arnold Newman devotees.
John Harrington is the president of the White House News Photographers Association and has worked for the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the National Geographic Society, People and Life. His book "Photographs from the Edge of Reality" takes us inside his career as a photojournalist, from the spring of 1990 when he gained his press pass to shoot President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to his work with current President Barack Obama. I love looking into other people's experiences, and this book gives me a window into the life of a photographer working in the White House, a rare treat.
I highly recommend the "The Street Photographer's Manual" for anyone starting out in "Street Photography." It is the most comprehensive "how to" book I have encountered regarding the genre-- a real manual that covers everything you will need to know to start shooting. But "Street Photography" is so broad and highly individualistic that knowledge beyond this guide, can only and will only be acquired once you shoot... and shoot... and shoot for years to come. David Gibson covers as much of the basics you will need to know, with great examples from his own work and portfolios from other well-known practitioners. I disagree with some of the parameters he suggests in the book, but "Street Photography" is a subjective field and there is no way anyone can definitively tackle every detail.
"The New Street Photographer's Manifesto" is a more condensed version of the previous book. Like "The Street Photographer's Manual" it gives great tips and technical information on how to start shooting "Street," but in a more compact and economical package. Tanya Nagar provides good examples from practicing street photographers as a guide. To me, this book is a good enough backgrounder on the genre to start from. I recommend it highly as a great "stocking stuffer" for any would be street photographer on your list.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why I Shoot "Street"

My favorite "Street" film camera, a 1960s B&H Dial 35

To go forward, we sometimes have to step back...
That is exactly what I did when I decided to branch out formally into "Street Photography," six months ago. After being involved in the Photographic Arts for more than a third of a century, the practice of taking photographs was beginning to lose its magic. From an amateur hobbyist, I had successfully transitioned into a professional who specialized in commercial studio photography. But after years of doing that, photography became "work" and I lost the yearning to photograph anything outside of the "studio," without the "proper" camera set-up-- lenses, filters and lighting equipment. It became so bad, that I actually refused to bring a camera on vacation for several years (even during my Honeymoon, w/c my wife still refuses to forgive) thinking that it would be better to miss a shot than to execute one that was crappy-- of course, I was being seriously philosophical about all this. To me, it was a real choice between bringing tons of heavy equipment or bringing nothing at all, so I gave my wife the lame excuse that it was better for both of us if she just brought her own camera, because she would just lose her patience with me lugging a heavy bag on our vacations, then waiting around for the "right light" to present itself. In truth,  I actually did not want to be weighed down by anything whatsoever when I was on R&R, preferring to "live for the moment" than to be burdened by necessity.
"Levitation" Los Angeles, USA (shot on film)

I have been a student of "Zen" since I was a teenager-- reading books as well as practicing "Zazen" in private. I got into Zen Buddhist philosophy because I was practicing Martial Arts during that time and was attracted to the spontaneity it brought its practitioners, particularly to artists. For a while, I even regularly attended early morning "Zazen" sessions with the Monks in the Zenshuji Soto Mission Temple in Los Angeles, and contemplated monkhood. But my photography went the opposite direction. As I got more involved with photography and cinematography while formally studying these disciplines in film school, I slowly associated the process of making good pictures with deliberateness and precision-- with the methodical studio-based approach espoused by Hollywood. I became engrossed in the graphic simplicity and idealistic formality of studio photography, particularly in Fashion (Avedon, Penn, Newton) and Portraiture (Karsh, Newman, Halsman). To me this type of photography was beautifully "Zen" like in spirit; but learned, at the same time, that the techniques involved in their execution were consciously methodical. Their measured quality appealed to me deeply-- both aesthetically and emotionally. So I strove for this standard in my photographic work for years, after all isn't "art" rooted in "art"-ifice? But this rigid approach gradually boxed me in.

"Hound Dog" Los Angeles, USA (shot on film)

Of course I admired master photojournalists like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Sebastiao Salgado for years. But their type of photography belonged in an alternative universe to mine. I thought that there was a natural chasm that existed between "idealism" and "realism" in photography, that I came to believe that studio photographers and photojournalists were distinguished not only by their specialties and skillsets, but also by their personalities-- which I imagined to be polar opposites. For a long while, I firmly identified with the "photo-romanticists" (editorial and commercial photographers), who created images from their mind's eye, and not with the "photo-realists" (news and documentary photographers) that dealt with the more messier and unpredictable images from real life. I confused specialization as a choice between these two opposing camps.

Boy was I wrong! Because after much soul searching, I found out that like my photojournalistic brethren (and sisters of course), I do have a natural predilection for photographing/filming people more than any other subject. Like them, I am also curious about people-- I love stories and find nothing more compelling to capture on camera than human drama. I other words, I finally realized that I am a voyeur by impulse!

"A Brief Interlude" Hong-Kong, China

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #24

This week's theme: MANILA'S HOMELESS

When you take photographs on the street, in any city in the world, you are bound to come across the "homeless." But in Metro-Manila squatters abound, that it is almost impossible to ignore them. As a photographer who chronicles people as they go about their daily lives, I believe that it is my duty to also highlight the plight and the existence of these poor souls living within the borders of our communities. Some people consider photos on this subject as an act of exploitation. On the contrary, I photograph these "street-dwellers" because they are worthy of my attention (and yours)-- extending them the dignity they deserve by treating them as "bona fide" Manileños . 
(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"Bridge Dwellers"
"Give Us A Chance"
After two-dozen weeks of posting "Weekly Street Photos" continuously, I have decided to take a little break so I can concentrate on my cinematic projects. I promise to resume my "Street Photography" postings after the New Year. Thank you so much for your interest and your continuing support for my Photography:)
--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #23

This week's theme: STREET MURALS

The Metro-Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has a project of beautifying Manila city streets with murals. I have been having a blast juxtaposing them in photographs. Here are three of my favorites.

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"Sparrow Lane"


"Mind Trip"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Monday, October 27, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #22

This week's theme: FATHER & SON

I just saw the movie "The Judge" starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Robert Duvall, so I have been thinking about my own relationship with my dad and my son lately. It seems easier for guys to find differences and to just let kinships fall apart. It's specially harder to maintain a strong bond between males from two different generations. But fathers do love and care deeply for their children, they just express and manifest it in a special way.

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"His First Driving Instructor"
"Basketball Dreams"

"No U-Turn"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #21

This week's theme: RAIN
I'm sure everyone noticed the erratic weather patterns we have been having all over the world-- unseasonal thunder storms, long winters, super tornadoes, extreme summer heat with extended dry spells. In the Philippines, aside from super typhoons that wreak havoc to entire cities, we have had unseasonal monsoon rains that cause wide-spread flooding and odd daily weather that combines sunny-hot mornings with freak thunderstorms in the afternoons.

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"Simulated Lightning"



--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #20

This week's theme: WOMEN W/ THEIR DOGS

I like women and I love dogs... These are two of my favorite subjects to photograph. Together they are the perfect combination for me of Beauty and Elegance idealized as Art. With "Mother and Child," "Women with their Dogs" have been popular themes in formal portraiture for centuries. Here are some unguarded (candid) shots of "Ladies with their pet canines" I captured on the street. 

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"Out For Some Fresh Air"
"Afternoon Stroll"

"Peek A Boo"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #19

This week's theme: LUCK

Luck is elusive, but most people chase after it like it is just around the corner. Gambling has been in existence since the dawn of history. It exists in an infinite variety of formats-- from luxury casinos to neighborhood poker games, from the stock market to State run lotteries. Everyone is susceptible, since money is a key ingredient in our lives.

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"Wheel of Fortune"

"Luck (Lotto) is a Family Affair"

"Down and Out"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #18

This week's theme: ALIENATION

Alienation is an extreme form of social isolation -- separation due to a difference in opinion (thought), creed, race, social status, religion, sex or age. It can be socially inflicted or it can be voluntary, depending on the situation. I am actually intrigued that this psychological state can be visually represented in a photograph.

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"The Loner"
"The Sentinel"

"The Vagabond"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #17

This week's theme: SOLITUDE

Solitude is a state of mind, the separation can both be physical as well as mental. As a species, we naturally separate ourselves from others even in the most public places to preserve our sense of privacy and to protect our psychic space...

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"The Fastfood Blues"
"Locked In"

"Killing Time"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #16

This week's theme: ROVING SALESMEN

I have always been amused at the wide variety of products I find being sold on the streets of Metro-Manila. Aside from the usual vendors that offer refreshments and snacks to motorists, there are enterprising salesmen that peddle guitars, used clothing, toys and a variety of goods (bonsai trees, house-ware, car-care products, etc.) you will only find in stores elsewhere. This post is dedicated to these enterprising souls :-) 

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"Streetside Guitar Salesman"

"Door To Door Service"

"Car and Home Accessories For Sale"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Monday, September 15, 2014

8th Generation - IPhone 6 & 6 Plus

The new IPhone 6 and 6 plus
It has become a tradition of this blog to review IPhones as they come out. If you look to the right-hand column of this page, you can still see the ancient IPhone icon I still use to display my commercial portfolio. I have been an IPhone user since version one and have upgraded almost from one generation to the next with the exception of the last two versions (5 and 5s/5c). My wife continued to upgrade, so I have been suffering comparison with my old 4s for three 3 long years.

My reason for sticking with my 4s was two fold: I have a 64GB version and Apple never expanded the internal memory of the IPhone 5/5s beyond that; and the specs. of the camera on both versions remained essentially the same as the 4s-- 8 megapixel f 2.4 (f 2.2 on the 5s, big deal). Aside from the cellphone, text and email functions, I use my IPhones to take snap shots (occasionally for fine art photography) and as my main music player/IPod. I have been needing a larger capacity smartphone, but Apple has been keeping its maximum memory at the same levels. With just my music and Apps, I have already been topping out at 60+ gigabytes for the last two years. Why would I invest more money on a device that is essentially similar to the one I am already using?

I got a Samsung smartphone as a backup since a lot of people have been raving about them, but quickly got disenchanted because the interface is light years away from the IPhone's. It's hard to describe-- its like driving a Hyundai to Apple's BMW. They are both good functional cars, but they are just not in the same class. A lot of people are critical about the IPhone lagging behind Samsung technology, but I guess to me and to a lot of diehard IPhone users, it all boils down to feel and user experience. I want my smartphone to be an extension of me, not a fiddly gadget I need a manual to figure out. The IPhone's thoroughly intuitive interface, by itself, has kept me loyal to the brand.

When Apple finally announced the newest version of its smartphone last week, the IPhone 6 and its larger twin, the IPhone 6 Plus, the first thing I checked were their maximum memory capacity and their camera specs. I was so relieved to find out that both versions come in 128GB models, although 164GB would be more than welcome. The camera remains at 8GB with essentially the same specs. as the 5s, but with a new sensor equipped with "Focus Pixels" that Apple claims to provide more information on the image resulting in better autofocus, face detection and exposure control. The newer features that got me excited are the camera's capacity to shoot video at 60 fps in 1080p and 240 fps at 720p as well as shoot time-lapse with continuous autofocus and cinematic video stabilization (optical image stabilization too in the 6 plus version). Despite what I still consider to be slight camera upgrades, these are features I gladly welcome since I can now finally take serious video footage with my favorite smartphone.    
The camera now features super slow motion and time-lapse.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #15

This week's theme: COPS

I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the police this week-- in honor  of the recent headlines about police officers criminally hijacking a civilian van in broad daylight in the middle of EDSA (Manila's central thoroughfare) for several million pesos; and in gratitude for losing my driver's license after an officer of the law booked me yesterday for an imaginary traffic violation:((  

(Click on Photos for better viewing)
"The Odd Couple"
"Special Escort"

"Disiplina Daw"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #14

This week's theme: URBAN POVERTY

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"City Beds"
"Spare Change"
"Rhogelio's Uphill Battle"

--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Being Sensible About Street Photography

My daily weapon of choice: Fuji XE-1 with the 27mm pancake lens
I am skipping the 13th week installment of my "Weekly Street Photos" to write an essay about my own personal beliefs on the practice of "Street Photography" in general. 
I am avoiding no. 13, because it seems to be a general practice the world over (even my apartment building ridiculously omits listing a 13th floor on the elevator). Since a lot of people subscribe to this superstition without actually questioning its Templar origin, must I follow their lead blindly? If you agree, then please stop reading. What I am about to say, might seem offensive to you!
For the sake of argument, I should probably start referring to my "Street" photos as "Street Documentary" or "Street Photojournalism," because the term "Street Photography" apparently comes with a lot of baggage. Some street photographers I've come across are so dogmatic about the term "Street," they insist that "real practitioners" of the art should stick by a prescribed set of rules-- that encompasses, not only the aesthetic qualities that each photograph must contain, but also on what subjects can be included, where it must be shot and what equipment should be used.

As a commercial photographer who has shot hundreds of commissioned work on assignment, street style photography attracted me specifically because of the implied freedom to shoot anything I want, when I want, in any way I want. If what I am doing is not "Street" in the strict sense of the term, please tell me so I can stop referring to it as "Street Photography." The hard-core zealots of the movement should not worry, since I use the term loosely-- I literally shoot outside on the streets. If a lot of people have objections on my personal methodology or aesthetic choices, "Personal Documentary," "Street Documentary," "Street Photojournalism" or even "Street Safari" are equally good labels I can readily substitute to refer to the type of photography I do.

"The Hunter" Hong-Kong

Whenever I photograph out on the street freestyle, I feel like a hunter stalking game-- aiming to capture fleeting images of 'life' as it flows around me. All at once, I feel connected to my surroundings, at peace with the moment and one with my camera. This wonderfully fulfilling intimate connection to the world is driving me to pursue this type of photography with a passion that borders on the obsessive, and motivates me to carry a camera every single day.
I have come full circle. When I got into photography 36 years ago, I was essentially a street photographer-- I shot anything and everything around me that caught my attention. I transitioned into amateur photojournalism when I became the photographer for the school newspaper and yearbook. We still used film back then (early 80s), so I also learned how to develop my negatives and print my photographs in the darkroom. I neglected my photography for a couple of years during the time I was in college, and for a few years after that; but formally studied it (with cinematography) when I went back to film school in the mid-90s, then finally pursued it as an alternative career 8 years ago. I got back into personal documentary photography when I began using the Fuji X system earlier this year, because the cameras are delightfully compact yet can deliver high quality professional images in almost any environment.
It would be a tragedy to put something as magical as "Street Photography" inside a box. I agree that rules and limitation can sometimes breed creativity; but it does not work for everyone all the time, particularly for those who engage in Street Photography for sheer pleasure, not merit or acclaim. Rules are for contests and competition, not Art. The limitations (or restrictions) of an art form naturally springs forth from the limitations of the medium itself-- never prejudice. Dogma breeds a certain cerebral paralysis that goes against spontaneity,  the very instinct needed to cultivate good documentary photographs.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Weekly Street Photos #12

This week's theme: ADORABLE KIDS

(Click on Photos for better viewing)

"The Young Maître d"
"Lost In Wonder"
"The Little Goalie"
--All Photos are the exclusive property of Atom Magadia