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18 January 2020 » Sichuan expedition: Xinduqiao and Tagong Grassland

Previous images from the expedition can be found here.

Xinduqiao (新都桥) is the first county right after Mt. Zheduo as you head westwards. It is known among photographers in China, who usually stay here for a few days to photograph. I have stopped over here a number times, too, but this was the first time I took a more or less satisfactory image of the place, below.

Image: Xinduqiao, Sichuan Province, China

Xinduqiao, Sichuan Province, China, October 2019

Nikon Z7 camera and Nikkor Z 24–70mm f/4 S lens (at 70mm)

36km to the north from Xinduqiao is Tagong Grassland (塔公草原), yet another fabulous location in the area, pictured below.

Image: Xinduqiao, Sichuan Province, China

Tagong Grassland, Sichuan Province, China

But wait... I actually took this image back in 2015—and it is still firmly stuck in my mind as if I took it yesterday, which is why I am posting it again now. Truly fascinating, how selective our memory is: how many images from the 22,000 digital files in my library (well, less than 19,000 already) do I really recall? A few dozen? This one is one of them, regardless of its "objective" artistic merit.

It also makes me think of two other points.

First, I am often asked why I keep going to the same places while the world is so big, so diverse and so beautiful. Well, the answer is quite simple: it takes many trips to cover a place you care for in a satisfactory fashion. Back in 2015 I took this image of Tagong Grassland, but I was not lucky to depict Xinduqiao; last year, I finally managed to portray Xinduqiao, but light at Tagong Grassland was a yawn.

Second, the image was taken with a 16MP Fujifilm XT–10 camera and XF 18–55mm f/2.8–4 R LM OIS lens, which I regret: looking at it now, image quality leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, I can print to A4 size and perhaps a bit bigger with nice results, but given how deeply the image is engrained in my mind, I really wish I had a file of better quality.

Photographers started ditching film cameras when it was infamously pronounced that a 3MP digital Canon camera was better than film. Then 12MP was plentiful. Then 16MP was more than enough. Now 24MP is all you need. My conclusion? Use the best gear available at any given time, and hope it will still be good enough in the future. At this time I am not going to go as far as switching to a 100MP camera, but I am happy with my choice of the 47MP Nikon Z7, thank you. And while on this subject, I am also happy that I did not ditch medium and large format film for 3MP, or 12MP, or 16MP, or 24MP digital capture.

But of course, your mileage may vary.

5 January 2020 » Relentless curation

In case you wonder about the prolonged silence and why I have not posted any more images from the trip to Western Sichuan, well, I got sucked into the black hole of image curation.

It all started when I confronted the fact that during the ten days in Sichuan I filled a 120GB card, bringing back well over 1500 images. For some photographers, shooting this much may be a regular occurrence; to me, though, this is unprecedented, particularly given that I have long shot medium and large format film. I found it impossible to make sense of so many images, so I had to stop working on individual images and edit the collection down before anything else. I managed to delete around a thousand images leaving 500 files to work with; this is still too much and I plan to go through the remaining collection with a critical eye after a while, but at least it is manageable for now.

In the process, I noted that my entire library of files shot with various digital cameras (and iPhones models!) contained over 22,000 images. Can you imagine that?! Twenty–two thousand*! When and how did things get so out of hand? It is impossible for one to remember so many images, let alone for anyone to care for much of them. This led me to spending some time randomly curating the library, getting rid of some 2000 images. I plan to throw away a few thousand images more when the time allows.

That invariably took me to my collection of slides, which represents my main (or serious, if you will) work up until I started shooting with the Nikon Z7 last year. I could not help but do some serious curation here, too. It was a very interesting process: on the one hand, I had a chance to review my own work in a now dispassionate manner; on the other hand, it showed clearly that the further I went back in time the more garbage there was. Take, for example, the period from 2001 to mid–2005 when I shot 35mm film: after this round of merciless curation I only have 280 slides left (and I can assure you I shot much, much more than that!). From mid–2005 to mid–2016, when I primarily shot medium format slide film with a Hasselblad V-series system, I discarded roughly half of the slides, leaving around 1300 transparencies in the collection. As to large format slides, which I shot from mid–2016 onwards and of which there are not that many, less than a dozen was thrown away.

Having done this exercise, I feel that my overall work looks quite a bit more solid. Not all of it is spectacular, of course, but at least I reckon one would say "not too bad at all" about most of it. The time and attention spent on this curation undertaking also allowed to distance myself emotionally from the work shot in Sichuan last year, so now I can return to working on it in a more detached fashion—more images to follow soon.

In the meantime, below is an image of Mt. Zheduo, 折多山, which in Tibetan roughly means "bending mountain". In my mind, it is the first mountain of interest on the way from Chengdu to Tibet along the national highway 318. I passed Mt. Zheduo a number of times in the past and always found it fascinating as it is a major geographical boundary: to the east is a mountainous area with deep, foggy valleys, and to the west is the eastern part of the Qinghai–Tibet plateau; this is where plateau uplift happens and the real Tibetan area begins. Watching the tremendous change of landscape over a short course of passing over the mountain is nothing short of astounding.

*A big chunk of it is family photos and visual notes, but this is still way, way too much. And I promise you I do not have food or cat images (at least not that I am aware of).

Image: Mt. Zheduo, Sichuan Province, China

Mt. Zheduo, Sichuan Province, China, October 2019

Nikon Z7 camera and Nikkor Z 24–70mm f/4 S lens (at 70mm)


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