The Semiotics of Black and White Photographs

"The black and white image was, in some essential way, photography’s defining feature – that was where its power lay and colour diminished its artfulness: paradoxically, monochrome – because it was so evidently unnatural – was what made a photograph work best." William Boyd: Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay

All photographs are simulacra, imitations of a reality that is filtered by a camera’s film or sensor to capture light and convert it to lines, shapes, and colors. Different film stocks and different cameras present the same reality in different ways. (Not to mention choices made by a photographer in post processing.) People generally don’t think about this, ascribing to photographs – at the ones that don’t look "doctored" – a certain level of realism.

As photographers increasingly use digital filters and presets to alter their photos, these images stray further and further from the reality that the camera captures. Perhaps a filter applies a vignette, a bit of texture, and washes out the colors, to suggest an old-fashioned image. Or a filter might increase or decrease saturation, sometimes to create a false ideal of accurate skin tones (this is what Kodachrome was designed for, at least for white people). Other filters are used to match current social media fads, rather than to enhance images in any particular way.

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Photo: Dahlias

My partner is an avid gardener, and we have hundreds of flowers of many kinds. As part of my recent office makeover, I have a space where I have decided that I will experiment with flower arrangement, and photograph some of my creations. While this isn’t properly ikebana, I have been perusing a book on that Japanese art to get some inspiration. Here’s an example.

Link to full-size version.

See more of my photos, and follow me on Instagram.

The Zen of Everything Podcast, Episode 3: Cars, Drugs, Busses, and Simple Living

Zen of everything artwork smallJundo and Kirk discuss what makes a car a car, whether gamblers and criminals should donate money to good causes, how a bus driver can help make the world better, and a book on simple living.

Listen to the latest episode of The Zen of Everything.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 91: Browser Fingerprinting, Hyper-Threading, Firefox, VPN, and More

We discuss a number of issues in the news, such as a 17-year old Firefox vulnerability, the threat to end-to-end encryption, and whether Apple should offer a VPN. We also answer listening questions about browser fingerprinting – what is it? we explain – and turning off hyper-threading (we explain that too).

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

My New Vitsœ Shelves Have Freed Up Space in My Office

In a recent article, I explained my new desktop zero plan to remove distractions around me when I work. As someone working at home, it’s very easy to let things accumulate, and it’s also a hard habit to break. I’ve succeeded in reaching desktop zero – at least as much as is practical, as there are some things I need on my desk – but my makeover project has gone much further than that.

In order to get more empty space in my office, I decided to remove a tall, dark bookcase from one area in my office, which was laden with things I wanted in the room, but many of which didn’t need to be visible. I did a bunch of rearranging of two pieces of furniture – low Ikea shelf units – but I needed some more practical storage. I settled on getting some Vitsœ shelves, from the company’s 606 Universal Shelving System. Designed by Dieter Rams, in 1960, and sold since then, these shelves are very modular and flexible. There are shelves of two widths and different depths, and a number of cabinets, all of which mount on vertical rails.

To buy these shelves, you measure your space, contact Vitsœ, and work with a planner, who explains the various options and creates precise plans for your installation. (They use a custom Mac app for this.)

Vitsoe plan

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Desktop Zero

In recent months, I realized that my workspace was too cluttered. Working at home, I have a great deal of flexibility, but it’s also easy to just pile things up, since they don’t bother anyone but me.

But the capharnaum that was my office started becoming a distraction. I realized that I would see the many items on my desk out of the corners of my eyes, and that many of them stood as reminders of things I had to do, papers to sort, tasks to complete.

So I set out to achieve desktop zero, or to remove as much as possible from my desk. While full desktop zero, other than my iMac, keyboard, and trackpad, is not possible, I’ve gotten about as close as I can come. I’ve done this by off-loading a number of items that were on my desk to other locations in my office (cabinets with doors), or to a new set of shelves I bought (more on them in a future article). As such, my desktop now looks like this:

Desktop zero

As you can see, it’s not entirely devoid of items. There are two speakers (which I’m hoping to replace with smaller, less ugly speakers, in the near future), a desk lamp, and a small écritoire, or writing desk, which holds a lot of the tiny objects I need to use during the day. At the right, you can see my microphone boom which is attached to the desk, and behind the writing desk, a pen holder and pencil holder. Finally, there’s a small bamboo box which holds remotes, AirPods, and a few other tiny objects.

What is not visible from this photo is a long, low cabinet to the right, on which I have my amplifier and CD player, printer and scanner, and a number of gadgets. But the angle of this cabinet (about 45 degrees leading from the near right corner of the desk) is such that I don’t see it when I work.

This change to my desktop is part of a broader program to minimalize my office. I sold a large amplifier and bought a Sonos Amp; I changed the position of a number of items; and I removed some furniture, notably a tall dark bookcase that made one section of my office uninviting.

In an ideal world, my office would have little more than my computer, some audio equipment, and a handful of everyday items. I would love to have a second room, near my office, where I could put everything else. Alas, that is not the case, but my new desktop has made my work a bit less stressful. If you can achieve desktop zero or approach it, you may find the same thing.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 46: Pet Photography with Norah Levine

Photoactive 400When you think of portrait photography, do you envision tails and fur? This week, we talk to Norah Levine about her book Pet Photography: The Secrets to Creating Authentic Pet Portraits, and how to take great photos of four-legged (or winged) family members.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 46: Pet Photography with Norah Levine.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 89: Browser Wars: Which Web Browser Is Best for Privacy?

Everyone uses a web browser, on their Mac and their iOS device. But there are many web browsers, and some are better designed to protect your privacy. We take a deep dive into web browsers and discuss the pros and cons of Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and a number of alternatives.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Mac App Store Offering Updates for Ancient Operating Systems

This morning, the Mac App Store shows me the following updates:

Mas updates

I don’t think I really need to install these updates. In fact, I can’t. I had clicked Update All without noticing which updates were available, and was told that I couldn’t update everything.

Mavericks

Obviously, this is a glitch, but a strange one. I’m sure a lot of Mac users who don’t know exactly which version of macOS they have on their computers will be a bit flustered by this.

Update: a few hours later, these updates are no longer visible.