Saturday, 17 January 2015

Diana: Rand

Let's do this. Let's do this. Sunshine and showers. Sunshine and showers. "There's a bit of magic in everything, and then some loss to even things out". Lou Reed wasn't a sentimental man, but he wasn't relentlessly downbeat either; he understood that life is complicated and multi-hued. He was driven by anger, arrogance, disappointment, he was an elitist, and he was a gigantic asshole. In fact if you search Google for "lou reed is an asshole" with quotes, you get 29 results, and only a couple of them are duplicates. "lou reed was an asshole" returns about ten more. In contrast there are no results for "david attenborough is an asshole" and only seven for "adolf hitler was an asshole", so basically Lou Reed was four times more of an asshole than Hitler. Google proves it.

"Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I'll piss on 'em / your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death". Some popular artists have an overwhelming urge to be loved by the public, but others imagine themselves standing atop a high mountain pissing on everybody beneath them, because if you're really good at something most people aren't as good as you; and there comes a point when you come to detest the laziness and stupidity of the common man. Some artists try to mask this, they put on a mask and pretend to be your friend, which if anything makes them even bigger assholes. Lou Reed's asshole wasn't hidden behind a mask. It was right there, in the middle of his face. His naked asshole.

Today we're going to have a look at Diana, except that mine isn't a Diana, it's a Rand. There were lots of different names. Anny, Diana, Clicker, Lina, Revue, Panax, Rand, loads. Why Rand? Diana emerged from Hong Kong in the 1960s and perhaps someone in Hong Kong had read about the RAND Corporation, and perhaps they hoped that Robert McNamara would buy millions of them so that he could take photographs of ICBM installations with them, because it was called Rand.

Eighteen million years ago I wrote about the Holga, a hipster camera that was popular with hipsters in the 1990s. The Holga is essentially a simplified clone of the Diana. In the 1970s the market for roll-film cameras in the West-o-sphere died out, and the Diana gradually faded away, but the people behind the Holga were convinced that they could sell a cheaper clone in the Far East and Asian markets.

As it turned out they underestimated the appeal of 35mm and Instamatic, but within a few years the Holga was adopted by hipsters in the West and it became an unlikely success but that's another story, frankie teardrop bedside manner.

Unlike the Holga, The Diana's viewfinder is mounted centrally, and it has three aperture settings instead of just one. Modern Holgas have a tripod mount and a second aperture. The Diana's film loading is awkward, with little flip-down tabs; the film has to be shoved underneath the top plate, whereas the Holga is a lot simpler to load.

The same hipsters were fans of the Diana as well, but the Diana was only available on the second-hand market, where prices were high because most of the cameras had been thrown away. They were novelty toys. Here's an article from the April 1982 Popular Photography in which a hipster - in New York, natural home of hipsters - uses his Diana to persuade people including women to take off their clothes:

Howard Chapnick died in 1996. Page eleven of the magazine has a short feature on David Em, a computer graphics pioneer of the 1970s.

Gary Schoichet has a website that was last updated ten years ago. Judging by his portraits he had no style, no skill or artistic vision, no ideas, and it appears he knew this; he gravitated to the public sector, photographing uncontroversial groups of boring people marching in support of public jobs. There are no petrol bombs in his photographs, no blood or corpses, no AK-47s. The celebrities all wear clothes. There are no naked supermodels being devoured by crocodiles, and even on a technical level they're just boring.

He sought out easy subjects and photographed them in the most basic way. Just like me, but he was GARY SCHOICHET: PHOTOGRAPHER whereas I am just a man. He was photographer-as-camera-operator, the kind of photographer who was uninterested in photography, the visual arts, uninterested in people or life or anything, the worst kind of photographer. The more I think about him the more I hate him.

Presumably there were lots of Diana hipsters in the 1980s and 1990s, SX-70 hipsters, PixelVision hipsters, but history doesn't remember their works because they operated in the pre-internet period, and are lost. In the days of Sonic Youth, when Andy Warhol was still alive, the Diana and plastic cameras like it were a cliché of the New York arts scene, just as images of ruined Detroit are a cliché today.

Which means that thirty years later I am performing a ritual that no longer has any meaning, that does not summon spirits any more. See, some artists are just no good, so they try and find a gimmick that sets them apart, but they aren't alone, and eventually other artists use the same gimmick and it becomes obvious that it's a gimmick, at which point the grants dry up and the conversations grind to a halt and the invitations stop coming. If you whip out your Diana in sophisticated company in 2015 people will just groan and ignore you. Women will most definitely not offer to take off their clothes for you, and believe me I've tried. It's not 1983 any more, or 1973, or 1993. Or even 2013, because that was two years ago.

It's 2014.


Here's a demonstration of SHRDLU, a vintage block-stacking AI, which has nothing to do with the rest of this post except that I like blocks:

It's odd that something so cutting-edge should look like a relic of the 1920s. And it's scary to think that 1925 is as far away from 1970 as 1970 is from today. "I don't understand which pyramid you mean" was the future once.

The Diana uses 120 rollfilm, but shoots a 4x4cm negative rather than the more standard 6x6. 4x4 is the same format as 127, and I wonder if it was originally designed for 127, but they chose 120 because it was more popular. It reminds me of the Italian Bencini Koroll that I wrote about a while back, although the Koroll was made of solid metal and has a better lens.

The Diana takes sixteen shots a roll, and judging by the box you were expected to contact print the negatives:

In which case the simple plastic lens wasn't so much of a problem. The lens is decently sharp in the middle but distorted around the edges, with less vignetting than the Holga, presumably because the frame size is smaller. The Holga wasn't really designed for 6x6 anyway, the classic Holga look comes from using the camera without the internal mask.

The shot of the baby is optimistic. The camera only focuses down to four feet, and is no good in low light. The single shutter speed is anything from 1/60-1/100 depending on your camera, the apertures are f/11 - f/16 - f/22. My tip - shoot with HP5 wide open all the time and go outdoors. The women in the following photograph are mocking my penis, I can tell.

The blurry edges and sharp middle approximate the look of professional large and medium format photography, which must have been seductive in the 1980s because large format cameras were very expensive. The Holga's look is more extreme, however, and the Diana feels a bit Holga-lite, and so I didn't really warm to it. And professional medium format cameras are a lot more affordable nowadays, because film is dead, and they give you more control (although they're much heavier than the Diana).

Holga / Shanghai GP3

Mamiya C3 / 65mm f/3.5 / Portra 400

You know, I'm hyped up for the New Horizons probe. It's a spaceship. SPACESHIP! And it's going to Pluto! And it's almost there. I imagine it moving into orbit around Pluto, and Pluto will just tell it to buzz off because if you're not going to let me be a planet then to hell with you.

Meanwhile NASA's Messenger probe has spent the last three years orbiting Mercury- only the second probe to visit that planet, and the first flew past it only briefly - and does anybody care? While the world eggs on Opportunity and waits to see whether New Horizons will find an alien artefact or a hyperspace portal, nobody cares about Messenger, even though it has sent back tonnes of pictures and spends half its time being blasted by the searing heat of the sun. "A good probe like they wanted"

It's probably wondering why it shouldn't just fire the thrusters and slam itself into Mercury. Or dive into the sun or something. It's too professional for that. Instead it will circle Mercury until... well, it's not going to run out of solar power, so perhaps it'll circle Mercury until long after the human race has died out, at which point it will charge up its batteries and drift off to explore the universe, having long forgotten the people that built it, just as we forgot it.

Edit: And just four months after writing that paragraph NASA did let Messenger slam into Mercury. I didn't realise at the time; I was thinking of the Apollo 12 LM, which was deliberately crashed into the moon as part of a seismic experiment. Messenger's propellant had run out so NASA let it crash. It saw things you wouldn't believe; traces of magnesium in Mercury's exosphere, heat that would kill a man in an instant. All those moments, transmitted to Earth like leaves on the solar wind. Time to die.