Friday, April 4, 2014

Xefina book available at Blurb

My Xefina book is available at at the following link if anyone is interested.  Cost is high unfortunately as they print on demand.  In the future I might try and find a printer so this may bring the cost down a bit, but that is sometime in 2015.  For now here is the first edition still on sale!


Friday, March 28, 2014

ilha de xefina exhibition is now live!

Welcome to my photographic exhibition on Xefina Island which is now on at the Associação Moçambicana de Fotografia (A.M.F.) at Avenida Julius Nyerere 618 (in front of Hotel Avenida), in Maputo.

Xefina is just a short hop away from Maputo and yet it is totally unknown to most people.  These pictures are part of several years study of the island’s coastal defence structures, built during World War II.  These were built away from the shore, but over the years the currents and erosion have plunged them into the sea.  Some are totally submerged, others live an amphibian life, half in the sea and half out.  One day they will be gone, eaten away forever . . .

Perhaps the best way to understand Xefina Island and it's fortifications can be shown with the following 2 pictures, taken 50 years apart.

The first photo was taken by a young artillery lieutenant, now retired Lieutenant-Colonel João de Sousa Cruz, while he was stationed on the island in the late 1950's.  
The second picture was taken by me 50 years later.  Same cannon, but over 400m of beach have gone in those intervening 50 years...


What is the story of this little sand-bar of an island, in front of a thriving metropolis but almost completely forgotten by it?  Well, the island was known to the Rongas who lived in the region before the arrival of the Portuguese, who only discovered it in 1502 with the great voyages of men like Vasco da Gama and other sea captains.  By the mid 16th century it was being used as a temporary anchorage and trading post for portuguese trading ships sailing down from Ilha de Moçambique and Beira. When Maputo (then Lourenço Marques) was finally settled on the mainland in the mid 1700's, Xefina lost it's importance, and except for the fishing village on it's landward side, passed from memory.  Then World War 2 errupted and although Portugal was neutral it's shipping was affected by the German pocket battleship "Admiral Graf Spee" which operated in the indian ocean in late 1939. 

"Admiral Graf Spee" German pocket battleship

Other German battleships replaced her when she sank and together with German u-boats inflicted heavy casualties on allied shipping in the Mozambique Canal.  The Portuguese decided that the important port of Lourenço Marques must be fortified in 1942, and in 1943 completed construction of several gun emplacements, with the English supplying the 19cm cannons.  These were installed in two locations BAC 1 (Bateria de Artilharia Costeira) on the Catembe side in what is today's FADM artillery school, and BAC 2 on Xefina.  The range of these cannons was 20km.  Eventually 4 cannons were installed at Xefina although none saw active service as the military escort ships now deterred most of the u-boat attacks and the important sea war eventually shifted to the Atlantic.

More information over the next few days.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Maputo Time

I've made my first foray into film-making..  Well, timelapse is not exactly filmmaking, but it sounded good.  Anyway, here's a link to my first movie of sorts.. a short affair at 4 minutes, and done with about 12 "takes" that I've mostly strung together.  As soon as the "final" version was posted I came up with another idea using the telephoto to zoom in on the "action, and V2 was born, which makes quite a difference to the "story-line"..  And what is the story?  Well, remember that I come from a photographer's background, and making movies is still quite alien.  I don't feel very comfortable shooting movies, but the time-lapse feature in the camera feels more like photography, which is probably what attracted me to it. That and the film Chronos which I saw a few years ago and stayed with me ever since.  The poetry of speeding up nature and showing it's patterns is beautiful and humbling, and having that "power" with a camera quite intoxicating.  And some results are quite surprising.  Like taking a photograph in a cave and discovering an amazing shot (well, one amazing shot amongst several hundred out-of-focus ones)..

Now for the story.. Well, it's a bit difficult to create a story with time-lapse, at least it is for me, so I'll need a bit more practice to come up with something a bit more polished and captivting.  My feeling with the medium now is really just to capture as much as I can and work with what I've got, and try and make some sense of what is there.. a bit like collecting magazine pictures and trying to give them some coherence in a collage.  Basically though the rythmns of the sea and a port highway, with clouds and tides thrown in for good measure.

So what were the difficulties?  Sound mostly.  The image capture was pretty straight-forward, although a dirty sensor did spoil a few takes.  As I mentioned, the big epiphany between V1 (on the Vimeo site) and V2 was zooming into the boats moving on the harbour.  That elegant dance becomes the "plot" of the story.  As for the sound, V1 and V2 are completely different through the use of different sound-tracks, which make V1 more of an introspective moody short, whereas the slightly bouncy feel of the V2 track makes it more positive and, yes how "punny", up-beat.

No worries, there are no delusions of grandure here.  I simply had fun making it, and showing my kids the production process.  They won't learn to make movies by watching me once, but I hope they understand that they have the power to create, and that's a trait I hope they inherit.

So sit down, get the popcorn and the coke out and enjoy!

Version 1 posted on Vimeo:

Version 2 right here on Blogger:


And if the above embedded video is really horrible to watch, then try this link on Vimeo for V2:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Something surprising...

I'm a hard guy to surprise.  So when Nikon came out with their Df camera body a week ago I was very, very surprised.  Rumours had been leaking for a few weeks, and I took them with a pinch of salt.  Not that I believed the rumours weren't be true, but rather that the Nikon offering would underwelm.  I mean, a retro camera by Nikon?!  Users have been clamouring for YEARS and when Nikon finally does answer a massive user call like that it's normally a case of too little and too late.  There is already a sense within Nikonista ranks that the batton has firmly passed to Canon again.  The D700, Nikon's first full frame masterpiece is long history and the replacements have been.. ahem.. iffy.  The D800, the supposed replacement is slower and more bloated.  The D600, a supposed tweener camera, for aspiring full-framists who hadn't moved to FF with the D700 and were in the market for something simpler got exactly what they wanted.. Except that Nikon users DON'T fit well into that category!!  We all just wanted a D700 replacement, as fast, as durable, as good as the old one, but.. ahem.. BETTER.

Well, now with the Df those holdouts may have actually got what they wanted.  Of course nothing is perfect in Nikon world.  Nothing ever was, nor will it ever be.  Each product is by force a compromise between differing prospective user demands, but to their credit Nikon generally erred on the side of pro users, thinking that if their buyer wasn't going to use a feature yet, they would grow into it.  Markedly different from the Canon approach, which is to segment their offerings by purposely crippling the various models so that as soon as you've exhausted the camera's limitations (very quickly in some cases) the only option is to upgrade or move up the model ladder.   In recent years Nikon was taking this approach, one adopted by fast moving consumer electronics companies like Sony and Canon, and which Nikon had not yet joined.  But following the the great adage "if you can't beat them join them" Nikon decided to adopt some of the more (financially) successful strategies of their eternal enemies, Canon.  Sad day indeed.  But TODAY..

.. we see a departure from that rather unglamerous itty bitty incremental upgrade strategy.  Today, Nikon has offered us something fresh, something new.  That it had to be a recreation of an old film-body style FM camera is a of a juxtaposition, but in this world of hankering back to bygone (read better) days, they did the only sensible thing, and made the digital camera as manual and basic as possible.  Out went the video (whoever said photographers wanted to shoot video!?).  Out went the overcrowded LCD top.  Out went the flash (on this I'm a bit less happy, but don't let my disappointment be a fly in Nikon's retro ointment).  In came some very basic dials.  Now, to manage a camera you can go back to aperture, speed (together with ISO.. digital's wonderful addition to basic controls) and just take a bloody picture.  The camera is lighter, smaller than any other full-frame animal.  It has the guts of a D4 and D600 (sensor and exposure metre respectively), a weather-sealed body as good as the D800 (just don't go near salt water!) and a very attractive FM camera styled body.  Intelligent design. Without the religious implication.  Something well thought out and almost Apple like, if Apple were ever to really design a camera (the Leica attempt was simply a branding effort, not a real camera..).

Now, who is this camera for?  I mean it's ONLY 16mps..  That's 8 less than the D600 and a whopping 20 less than the D800.  Not a sports camera by any means, nor for wildlife.  Videographers doing weddings?  Get a life and use your iphone you idiots.  So no, not those people.  Someone with lots of manual lenses at home?  Yes, you will be well served, as Roslett from Nikonians says the viewfinder is VERY nice thank you very much, and manual focusing is a real pleasure.  Kid pictures? Well, with the very physical controls, it may be easier to set up than the usual digital interface, so I have to say yes.  But in the interest of complete opinion, I'll have to check with my wife on that!  The limited mega-pixels may be a blessing for most people who photograph with intent, not people who are endlessly cropping (use a telephoto for deity's sake!), as your files won't be endlessly large.  This will be a great camera for people who actually print their pictures, versus the great majority of people out there who pixel peep at 200% in lightroom or post their efforts in Facebook or flicker or whatever photosharing service is the flavour of the month .  This will probably appeal to a bunch of Apple design people, those that don't already own a Leica Monocrome or a Fujifilm X100 or Sony ff 35mm (the model escapes me.. a sort of camera for someone who wants to show off their photographyness but who again just pixel-peeps).  This will appeal to people who have good taste and appreciate classic design (yes, more Apple people).  This will appeal to rich people.  This will appeal to professional photographers who want a lightweight camera backup, or one to take on holiday and that doesn't scare the wife away.  This is finally a camera that I can be proud to own.

Now if Nikon hadn't priced this one out of the ball-park, I might actually sell my D600 to buy one!

Friday, May 31, 2013

My love-affair with Fuji

To start things off I better explain this post's title, specify that I am a happily married heterosexual man and that Fuji is not some fling, but in fact an inanimate object.  To be specific, a camera.  To muddy the waters a bit, now that I've clarified them, I might add that I have been an amateur photographer (in the sense of loving photography, not that I'm not as good as any pro out there) for 30 years.  Having started when I was around twelve years old means that I grew up with photography, and I started firmly placed in the film world, developing my black and white negatives and prints, and sometime from 2000 onwards embraced the digital revolution.  As with the stages of man, one grows within photography, starting as a neophyte with a hand-me down camera and then slowly progressing up the "equipment" ladder as resources, techniques improve and as far as one's economic position can accomodate our camera lust.  Ken Rockwell has a nice write-up about photographers and their 7 stages.  Most of us have progressed through some or all of these stages, and although it's satire, there is more than a grain of truth in there.
As much as I've enjoyed photography, the taking of photographs, printing and showing my prints, I've also been attracted to the cameras as objects. VERY attracted.  They satisfy my manual nature, of wanting to touch and control things, discover complicated machines and make them do my bidding.  Back in the day by wallet dictated my camera of choice, which became a Canon (in part because my father also had a Canon rangefinder).  I slowly progressed up the lens path, trading in the dreadful kit lens for a more expensive and more versatile zoom do-it-all, and quite honestly took some of the best travel pics I've taken with that combo.  But then the body didn't come up to scratch, and I upgraded that.  The next body, also a Canon, was joined by a few lenses, as now the lens became my limiting factor. I took some other good pictures as well, but generally spent more than was wise on my lenses, and eventually another body change was required, as I felt my abilities were hampered by my equipment (all false, but it's nice to have all the bells and whistles).  Next body was an Eos3, a fully professional camera demanding great lenses.  My kit got bigger, heavier, more numerous, and still I tried lenses and swapped them for other models, in the perpetual search for perfect camera and lens.  But this was 2000 and film was in the space of a few years completely engulfed by digital.  The revolution took place so quickly that I didn't even manage to off-load my film gear.. or maybe didn't want to.  Within this photographer also lies a collector of objects.
So after playing around with a digicam from work (An Olympus 2020..) I decided to take the plunge and buy my first DSLR, a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera.  My Canon 10D was wonderful, as well as wonderfully frustrating.  It allowed me instant feedback, improving my photography more in 6 months than I had improved in the previous 18 years.  I was astounded at this 6mp camera and the results it could produce, and some of my best digital photography comes from this period.  A whole new learning curve was forced upon me, as everything that was analogue now became digital.  New PC, new storage device, a proper photo printer.  The internet was my haven for information on getting everything to work properly, but in general I began spending more and more time behind a computer and less actually taking pictures or printing them.   In time the 10D became old, and the new new was a 20D. More pixels, faster, more capable.  But somehow Canon had sown its own seeds of distruction when it started an upgrade philosophy that would eventually turn me away from them.  With one hand Canon gave (more pixels, faster, more responsive) but with the other it also took away (moving things around, removing features, making the camera uglier)..  I couldn't understand it.  If one builds on a previous masterpiece, surely one must keep all the good bits?  Not in their book.  And as each new geneation came out, I began "skipping" them, finding less and less to justify the next camera, except perhaps more pixels.  But hadn't my 10D with 6mp already given me A1 size prints!?  Something was happening.  Canon wasn't satisfying me, was actually annoying me, and giving me a hobbled tool to work with.  Was there no-one else who could help?
Enter stage left NIKON.  Nikon was the bad boy of the camera world.  Previously the pro's choice, until in the 80's Canon brought in their AF lenses which had motors in their lenses, Nikon couldn't keep up and everone moved.  Then came digital and Canon was innovating faster and faster and Nikon it seemed couldn't keep up.  Canon had full frame.. Affordable full frame.  The 5D had arrived.  Maybe my prayers had been answered.. Alas no.  The 5D was an amazing camera and at 12mp more than enough for my needs or wants.  But in true Canon style the camera was hobbled, so as not to compete with it's more expensive pro bodies.  Still, image quality was fantastic, the camera had enough controls to ensure I was able to expand on my picture-taking repertoire, and being full-frame meant wide-angle shots were really good.  My first work in Xefina was largely shot on this camera, beginning a documentation of  the sea and wind erosion of this former military outpost.  Sadly my 5D died one day when it took a swim in salt water.  There I was, a dead full-frame camera, a less than satisfying user experience, and Nikon, who had been impressing me with their ergonomics, their no-nonsense attitude to upgrades, and their willingness to play catch-up with Canon finally unveiled their full frame option, the D700!!  These seemed to be a true professional camera.  I was hobbling along on my old 40D (an intermediate camera, to keep me going while I divested from my substantial lens investment). As I sold off my lenses and accessories, I could finally move camp to Nikon.  It was a momentous occasion, akin to leaving your first job for a really fantastic new prospect.  Nikon was the IN thing.  And the D700 did not disappoint.  Some years went by, and the camera was mostly at my side, continuing my work on Xefina with a succession of wide-angle lenses including the fabulous 14-24 f2.8, a truly amazing wide angle performer (do you see a pattern here?).  But time wears on and development goes on, and one always ends up craving for more resolution, especially as more and more photographs just end up on a computer screen where you can endlessly zoom in to the pixel level, in so-called pixel-peeping!
And so the D700, after 4 years of faithful service, was finally let go, to make room for the "pro-sumer" D600, a step down in terms of features and body, but a major step up in terms of image quality.. I could see individual eyelashes now! But even so, along with the D700 I lost a certain love for all things Nikon.  It seemed like Nikon was now imitating Canon, but not in a good way.  Cameras were getting uglier.  Bits that were compatible before now had to be separately bought, like the battery grips for cameras.. I was seeing a re-run of the Canon debacle.. What to do, what to do..

Enter stage right FUJIFILM..  I've had a long fascination for Fuji, when they made the Hasselblad X-Pan rangefinder cameras, and more recently their digital offerings seemed to have taken the photography world by storm. Many were singing Fuji's praises, and many of these were non-traditional photographers.  Still, this was all happening from Afrar, while I was saftely coocooned in my Nikon world. But now that I felt dissatisfied and started looking around more intently, I saw a fantastic machine, and one day whilst browsing E-Bay, found something totally unexpected.  I found an adapter ring for my old Canon rangefinder lenses.  And not just any adapter.  But one for the famous Canon 50mm f0.95 dream lens.. A lens that let in 4 more times the light that the human eye can see.  A lens that Canon only made in the thousands, because of the extreme cost of production, and never went back to make.  Even in its SLR days, they only managed a 50mm f1.0 lens, notoriously difficult to focus.  So now, after 60 years that my father bought these lenses, I would be able to shoot them again.  I didn't think twice.  Fuji was for me. Or rather, I did have to think.. which body - they had 2 - the X-Pro1 and the X-E1 (the Japanese playfully refer to it as the Sexy one..).  As I wanted a camera to use my old lenses, I chose the one with the better TTL digital viewfinder. And I have to say I'm not disappointed.  Actually, that sounds pretty lame. I am ABSOLUTELY AMAZED.. I am back to manual focusing lenses, and having the time of my life, shooting in near dark, limited to 50mm and 85mm fields of view, but absolutely enjoying the limit and the wonder at each image as it pops up momentarily on the little view-finder screen.  Sure, it's not as fast as my Nikon.  Not as flexible with lenses.  Few features.  Video is difficult. Some commands are annoying and the camera so small that I inadvertantly press a button while shooting that I shouldn't.  But all that disappears once I think about the picture I want to make, or take, or catch.  I'm not so worried or enamoured by the retro styling or any of that.  What I do enjoy is the simplicity of the tool, the fact that with a minimum investment I'm using 60 year old lenses, and truly taking some amazing pictures, and ENJOYING the whole process.  I spend less time on the PC now (except in writing this blog) than before...  Hopefully a new exhibition will be in the making soon...

Some interesting sayings related to cycling... In English and Italian.

Training is like fighting with a gorilla. You don’t stop when you’re tired. You stop when the gorilla is tired.
Greg Henderson

Ride to where you ride.

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.
Muhammad Ali 

Good is something you do, not something you talk about. Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket.
Gino Bartali
Nel corso dell’ultimo conflitto mondiale con encomiabile spirito cristiano e preclara virtù civica, collaborò con una struttura clandestina che diede ospitalità ed assistenza ai perseguitati politici e a quanti sfuggirono ai rastrellamenti nazifascisti in Toscana, riuscendo a salvare circa 800 cittadini ebrei.
Motivazione della Medaglia d’oro al merito civile alla memoria conferita a Gino Bartali il 25 aprile 2006

Mi è capitato più volte di dirlo. Io tifoso di Coppi, mi sono innamorato di Bartali. Del Bartali, diciamo così, vecchio, che guidava la sua macchina, facendo migliaia di chilometri, e dovunque si fermasse, a Belluno o a Capo Passero, creava un magico convegno. “C’è Bartali, c’è Bartali”. E nella folla non c’erano solo uomini maturi che si erano cibati della sua epopea, ma anche ragazzini che, non so come, lo conoscevano e lo adulavano come si fa con un nonno. Dopo Sandro Pertini non c’è stato un italiano popolare a amato come Gino.  
Candido Cannavò

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.
Ernest Hemingway

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man's convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man's brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle. 
Elizabeth West 

Bicycling is a big part of the future. It has to be. There's something wrong with a society that drives a car to workout in a gym.
Bill Nye the Science Guy

It never gets easier, you just go faster. 
Greg LeMond

When my legs hurt, I say: "Shut up legs! Do what I tell you to do!"
Jens Voigt
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like

I will simply restate what I have said many times: I have never taken performance enhancing drugs. ~ Lance Armstrong - 2005
The cyclist creates everything from almost nothing, becoming the most energy-efficient of all... animals and machines and, as such, has a [genuine] ability to challenge the entire value system of a society.... The bicycle may be too cheap, too available, too healthy, too independent and too equitable for its own good. In an age of excess it is minimal and has the subversive potential to make people happy in an economy fuelled by consumer discontent.
Jim McGurn

If I had a dollar for every time somebody yelled, 'dopé, dopé,' I'd be a rich man.  
Lance Armstrong

Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever. That surrender, even the smallest act of giving up, stays with me. So when I feel like quitting, I ask myself, which would I rather live with? 
Lance Armstrong

Quando la strada sale non ti puoi nascondere.
Eddy Merckx
Il ciclismo è come l'amore: vince chi fugge. 
Ambrogio Morelli
La Montagna é solo per pochi. 
Marco Pantani

Tu giovane, che stai salendo la breve strada del successo, ricorda sempre una cosa sola: se lo sport non è scuola di umanità non vale nulla, e la prima lezione di questa grande scuola è quella dell’amicizia vera e leale fra te e coloro che ti aiutano. Non solo per interesse.
Gino Bartali

Il ciclismo è lo sport più popolare perché non si paga il biglietto.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Corridore: non tollera ombre sulla propria ombra. 
Elias Canetti

Per un corridore il momento più esaltante non è quando si taglia il traguardo da vincitori. E’ invece quello della decisione, di quando si decide di scattare, di quando si decide di andare avanti e continuare anche se il traguardo è lontano. 
Fausto Coppi

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Clássica de Namaacha

Namaacha done and dusted, so to speak.  Well, actually there was very little dust, thanks to the rain the whole week, which cleared the air.  And although we had as usual many predictions of rain on race day, thankfully there was none.  We assembled as usual at the Galp Petrol Station in Boane, with some riders arriving just before the start time, as well as the support vehicle,  which waited till 6:20 for riders who needed a lift but in the end didn't show.. 
The race started at 7:20.. a 20 minute delay, something we definately need to improve on.  The Peloton set off at a sedate pace which quickened slightly on the Pedreira hill.  On the way down Artur put the hammer down, killing any hopes of anyone dropped on the hill from rejoining the group.  On the flats Miguel took up the pacemaking, keeping a steady but manageable pace into a slight headwind, with Niall and Artur doing some pacemaking as well.  Once the climb started at Mandevo Miguel went back to the front, where he stayed till the end of the race.  The Peloton lined out and broke apart on the first section, with first Mario, then Nial and then Ricky dropping back to their own pace, and only Artur and Grichone managing to hold Miguel’s wheel. But they in turn lost his wheel further up the climb.  Miguel reached the summit with a 5 minute advantage over the chasers, with Artur and Grichone next, then Mario and Ricky, with Niall, Emil and Cesar following on their own.   On the descent Artur and Grichone were descending in hot pursuit, followed two minutes later by the next group, Mario and Ricky, also trying to catch the front groups on the descent.  However one of the little bumps proved too much for Mario and he detached from Ricky who then went on his own on the descent.   Meanwhile Niall, just behind was trying to come back to their wheel but the fast descent kept the groups apart.  
On the flats Miguel powered on, putting yet more time into his pursuers before crossing the line in the same record time as the 2012 edition.  Artur and Grichone worked together and crossed the line in joint second place.  Behind Mario finally managed to catch Ricky on the pedreira hill descent and they came into the finishing stretch side by side, but Ricky had the stronger legs in the sprint. 

Here's a link to a video by Miguel showing the race start.

Race results:
1st Miguel Duarte 2:45:46
2nd ArturSimoes & Sergio Grichone +10:31

4th Ricardo Trinidade +14:32
5th Mario Traversi +14:36
6th Niall Tierney +24:10
7th Emil Levendoglou +30:54
8th Cesar Rosário +40:00

Thanks again to our support vehicle sponsored by MRO driven by Januario, who made sure our riders on the road were safe, and acted as broom-wagon as well as water point at the top of Namaacha.  Thanks also to the other vehicles that showed up at the race and gave support as well. And lastly thanks to Miguel Duarte who ensured rider times were recorded at the finish line.