Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Burano: Velvia: The Post-Silent Era

In the last post I had a look at Fuji Velvia, and in this post I'm going to continue looking at it. Velvia is a popular and very colourful slide film that was launched in 1990. The look quickly became a cliché and nowadays Velvia has a mixed reputation, but I'm willing to try everything once, or in this case several times. The original version of Fuji Velvia was discontinued in the 2000s, and so after finding a stack of the original stuff on eBay I decided to see what it was like.

I used my Olympus Pen, a half-frame camera from the early 1960s that takes half-sized photographs on standard 35mm film. Velvia is sharp and almost grain-free, so the reduced resolution wasn't a problem, and I got to take twice as many photographs as I would otherwise.

Burano is a dream this cat is having.

I've been to Burano before. It's a curious place, famous for its brightly-painted houses. There's nothing else there, so the houses are pointless. They draw people in but there are no shops, so what's the point? If I was in charge of Burano I would knock a few of the houses down and put in some high-class shops - Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel etc - so that Burano could be a top shopping destination. Venice attracts wealthy people. If I could swing a deal whereby Burano is not subject to Italian tax laws that would be even better. The goal would be to have Burano packed 24/7 with shoppers. Over time the houses would be superfluous (no-one lives there anyway). Venice was a major economic power once, it can be great again, on the back of cheap shoes and there could be alcohol shops as well.

Of course, the shops would need to pay my family trust a series of special arrangement fees, because I don't want any old shop in Burano, I only want high-class shops. I would need numerous samples of their wares so that my wife and her staff can evaluate their suitability. If I could find a way to extricate Burano from Italy's tax regime whilst still making use of Italy's police, welfare services etc that would be a bonus. This is my vision of the future of Burano, not weak nice-looking-houses rubbish.

Is that a swastika? It looks like a swastika. That wasn't intentional.

The Pen is manual-everything; Fuji Velvia is ISO 50, and given that the Pen has a 1/50 shutter setting I could have used the old Sunny 16 rule, and shot at 1/50, f/16. In the end I think I stuck with 1/100 f/11 or f/8 (the Pen's shutter speeds are an odd 25-50-100-200). Velvia scans with a red cast, but (again) a swift kick with Photoshop's level pickers sets everything right. I used the gap between frames to set the black point, which seemed to work. The next four shots were overexposed, which has the effect of reducing the saturation to something more realistic. In particular, Velvia renders skies in a shade of deep blue that looks much more epic than real life.

I say "mixed". Way up there in the first paragraph. I was talking about Fuji Velvia. Bad photographers were magnetically attracted to it throughout the 1990s, because it meant instant pop, and in particular is full of old men who took lots of bad photographs with Velvia in the 1990s and never once paused to actually look at the pictures they took.

In the real world it was popular with the advertising industry, and when I think of it I think of car adverts and posters. Album covers. Latter-day Absolut adverts. Viz the following, culled from Google Book's archive of The New Yorker. I'm not absolutely sure they were shot with Velvia, and even in those days adverts were processed with Photoshop into a state of heightened reality, but nonetheless the following is what I think of when I think of Velvia:

It's not so much that the XK8 was a bad car. It's that adverts don't mean anything. They don't have lasting worth, and were never meant to have lasting worth. And indirectly they have ruined Fuji Velvia for me.

The only car advert that I remember is the old Volkswagen Think Small campaign, which was shot in black and white (although the scans are often a bit yellowy). It had wit and personality and chutzpah. I imagine that modern-day advertising professionals are absolutely sick of it, because it's the only decent car advert that anybody can think of. It's the campaign that got them interested in advertising twenty years ago. By the time they realised that their jobs would consist of generating click-through headlines and tiny banner adverts it was too late. They dreamed of being asked to come up with a modern-day Think Small, but no-one asked them.

Now they spend their days thinking of different ways to write "see Jennifer Lawrence have a Taylor Swift moment", skimming Reddit for the latest youth fads, trying to crowbar Christina Hendricks into everything. Christina Hendricks, Kate Upton, the Kardashians, Nicki Minaj and so forth. Think about the kind of man whose life consists of finding tenuous ways to justify splashing the names of Cara Delevingne, Kate Moss, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rita Ora, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Middleton, Chris Hemsworth, and whoever it was that died of Ebola, comma, in the middle of a blog post. Not Lady Gaga, she's old news. Or Lauren Goodger, I don't want that kind of audience, eww. Ebola, yes. Shanina Shaik, yes. Lauren Goodger no.

But anyway, the images above are technically brilliant, and the typical "off roader in front of a lake in the mountains" image would take pride of place in any professional photographer's portfolio, but they don't mean anything. And they probably wouldn't mean anything to top model Shanina Shaik, and if you click here you will find out about her thigh gap.

The Pen has a four-bladed aperture that produces square highlights.

Nowadays print adverts aren't shot with Fuji Velvia. In fact modern print adverts are often generated with CG, and don't use traditional photography at all. Except for the actors, and I'm sure that eventually they will all be replaced as well. A hundred years from now we will think of Andy Serkis as the first true modern actor, with Clark Gable and Tom Hanks dismissed as prototypes from the post-silent era.

CGSociety has an interesting article about the CG-isation of the Ikea Catalogue, which is essentially a big thick collection of print adverts. I remember having a psychotic break when I learned that the Ikea catalogue was in fact a catalogue of lies. I realised that my home would never be as clean as the Ikea catalogue, it was all futile. Unless I could live inside a CG rendering, in which case I would be the unclean element, because no matter how often I bathed I would still be a fluid-emanating biological presence.

And that's Burano. It's an empty shell of a place, a shop front for a shop that isn't there.