Gear

Gear

At the end of the day these are tools, and people far more talented than I can achieve amazing results with the most basic of cameras. But I’m always interested in what people are using, and what they like, so for anyone else who shares my interest:

Canon 6D

This camera is just brilliant. The high ISO performance of this thing is incredible, extremely low noise up to 8,000, and even photos shot at 25,000 are useable, which is handy, as I like to avoid using a flash as it’s a little intrusive. Having a large and bright viewfinder is also a great perk of a ‘full frame’ DSLR. In my book it’s certainly a really viable alternative to a 5D MkIII, and the difference in price allows for an investment in lenses.

ISO 25600

ISO 25,600!

Canon 20D

So fond of this camera, been using it for 8 years and it’s not missed a beat. Beautifully built, tough, and delivers great photos. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced used camera you could do a lot worse than one of these with a nice lens. Great control layout too.

Canon 16-35 f/2.8

My favourite lens, and a fun focal length to use but also quite a challenge. Forcing myself to stick with it has really helped my composition. Watch James Nachtwey working in the documentary ‘War Photographer’ to see a master adhering to the Robert Capa maxim that ‘if your photos aren’t good enough then you’re not close enough’. Wide angles force you to try and be more creative with composition and perspective, and are really useful in crowds. This Canon one is built like a tank, fast, and produces absolutely stunning bokeh. It is bloody massive though.

Bokeh

Bokeh!

Canon 50 f/1.8 Mk1

An excellent little compact prime lens, and very sharp for its price. 50mm is a nice focal length for street photography and also for portraits. The Mk1 is a useful find on the used market as it offers a metal lens mount over the newer MkII version of this lens, as well as a nicer manual focus ring, and focus distance scale window.

 

Canon 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS

Useful and very versatile. Not the fastest, but it’s reasonably priced, and the IS can be very handy in low light. It’s a nice lens to use as a general purpose ‘walk about’, with different characteristics on full frame (semi wide to medium) and aps-c crop cameras (normal to telephoto).

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Movies

Movies

 

Blade Runner – heartbreaking, melancholic, mystical and ethereal. Not only is its underlying message one which has baffled philosophers for millennia (what makes us human?), but it is so beautifully filmed, so atmospheric, that it can’t help but leave an indelible mark. Its cinematic power is all the more impressive given its complex and challenged gestation (as explained in the documentary Dangerous Days and the book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner). The use of light by Ridley Scott and his Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth is nothing short of masterly, and it showcases superb use of matte painting to achieve sci-fi special effects in film which still look beautiful and cutting edge. Add Vangelis’ haunting soundtrack to the mix and you have a truly extraordinary piece of cinema. N.B The ‘Ultimate Cut’ is the best version to watch!

Michael Mann’s HeatManhunterCollateral, Thief and Miami Vice are all very good. Heat is virtually perfect as far as crime thriller movies go, with a great script and cast. The smouldering night-time vistas of L.A. add even more gravitas to an already enchanting production. Collateral too gloriously showcases nocturnal Los Angeles, much of it made possible by Mann’s pioneering use of digital cinematography. He also uses the high sensitivity of digital video to great effect in Miami Vice, and even manages to make digital noise in video look good, which is no mean feat. Manhunter melds a moody soundtrack and chiaroscuro-influenced cinematography to channel a gloriously ’80’s vibe and produce a powerfully atmospheric piece of cinema. Appearing a quarter of a century later, Nicholas Winding Refn’s excellent movie Drive would seem to pay great homage to Mann’s ’80s work.

Other notable mentions:

Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby, Gone (based on a Dennis Lehane novel) and The Town – gritty, but artful homages to contemporary Boston.

The Graduate

Killing Fields

Twelve Monkeys

Good Will Hunting

Vanishing Point

City of God

The Departed

Winter’s Bone (based on the novel written by the very brilliant Daniel Woodrell)

The Graduate – fantastically ‘of the era’, and yet at the same time it also manages to be timeless. The cinematography is laden with brilliantly simplistic imagery and a mix of ‘hidden’ camera wide-angle scene establishing shots and steadicam-esque work.

 

Finally:

The Wire – not a movie, but perhaps better than the whole lot above. Quite simply the finest piece of media I’ve ever seen. This series will rightly go down in history. Homer’s Odyssey for our times – a complex sprawling masterpiece with rich characters, gripping plot, a documentary of ‘The War on Drugs’, urban decay, social injustice and poverty, and a moving critique of the neo-liberal social reforms ushered in by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The documentary The House I Live In is also very good, and features The Wire’s creator David Simon. It systematically analyses and debates the merits of ‘The War on Drugs’, highlighting the failures of a blanket heavy-handed approach which fails to deal with the underlying issues of drug abuse.

Recommendations too to Game of Thrones for its excellent plotting and characterisation, but most notably for its superb thematic references to politics and the abuse of power – certainly a must watch for any students of international relations. A special mention should be given too to True Detective, which uses incredible cinematography and an atmospheric soundtrack to create a gloriously moody series.

 

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Books, Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction Books

Non-Fiction

Howard Zinn, People’s History of the United States

Michael Lewis, Boomerang

Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde

Guy Delisle, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt

Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Guibert & Lefèvre, The Photographer

Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent

Peter Maas, Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil

Joe Bageant, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Guns, Votes, Debt and Delusion in Redneck America

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Books, Novels

Novels

Novels

John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The ColdTinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and The Constant Gardener

Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby, Gone

Philipp Meyer, American Rust

Richard Price, Clockers

George Pelecanos, Right as Rain

Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities

Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, The Quiet American and The Human Factor

William Gibson, Neuromancer

Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451

Alan Moore’s WatchmenV for Vendetta, and The Killing Joke

Frank Miller, Dark Knight Returns

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