Posted on February 10, 2019
It’s a joy to contemplate the photography of June Newton, a.k.a. Alice Springs. The Australian-born Springs is the 95-year-old widow of the provocative fashion photographer Helmut Newton, but that’s the least interesting thing about her.
Under Springs’s gaze, world-famous actresses like Catherine Deneuve, Charlotte Rampling, and Audrey Hepburn look like people, not icons — conversational, intent, their eyes telegraphing depths beneath. Springs respects their beauty, but doesn’t accept it as a mask. There are shadows beneath Deneuve’s perfect features; Hepburn looks gorgeous, but her age.
Vivid personalities leap from Springs’s portraits, which depict not just her subjects but her dialogue with them. Early on, Springs decided to forgo studio portraits and photograph people on their own territory, peeling back the protective facades that prominent people — especially the famous and beautiful — often construct.
“She quickly realized that photographing people in situ, their situ, was more revealing than bringing them into the studio,” says her longtime agent, Tiggy Maconochie. The resultant photos, while artful, convey a feeling of frank exchange. “[Alice] does not use any tricks,” her husband Helmut wrote.
Springs’s earlier career as an actress in her native Australia surely informed her sensitivity to character and personality, but it was Helmut who introduced her to photography. The couple met in Melbourne in 1947, when Springs was 23, and were married a year later. She followed his career, first to London, then Paris for 20 years, and later Los Angeles and Monte Carlo, where she lives to this day.
It was in Paris that Springs launched her own photographic career, on a day in 1970 when Helmut was too sick with the flu to shoot a Gitanes cigarette ad. Perhaps sensing an opportunity, Springs convinced him to let her go in his place — and after a quick tutorial in how to operate his camera and light meter, she went off.
As it turned out, she was a natural. The photos Springs took that day, of a model smoking, launched her decades-long career in both commercial photography and portraiture. She adopted the professional pseudonym Alice Springs after a town in Australia (chosen by randomly sticking a pin into a map of her home country).
Throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, Spring’s work documented the heady world she shared with Helmut: the upper reaches of European art, fashion, society, even royalty. Under her gaze, though, these iconic, powerful, and often gorgeous people look human and approachable.
Springs captured the “shock” of the individual — that electric current you feel when you really connect with someone. And she invited us to share those connections. Look at her portrait of Yves Saint Laurent model and muse Loulou de la Falaise and Nicole Wisniak, publisher of the magazine Egoiste, both lounging on a beach in white robes.
Loulou looks glamorous even in terrycloth, with stacked bangles, dark manicure, and cigarette. Nicole, hand covering her face (in keeping with her more “behind-the-scenes” profession), looks toward Loulou, and a third figure forms the triangle’s apex — the bottom half of a man wearing a similar beach robe. He strides toward Nicole, whose head moves toward Loulou, who gazes toward us. The circuit of energy moves through them, then out, inviting us to sit down in the sand.
Such a pattern occurs also in Springs’s portrait of the designer Kenzo, leaning lovingly toward his look-alike mother who gazes outward with similar warmth — affection streaming from son to mother, through Springs, to us. We see an oddly similar dynamic with artist Anna Mahler, who mirrors the downward gaze of her own sculpture (a giant face) which hangs above her.
Springs was especially sensitive to artists’ hands. Bella Freud stands resolute, hands clasped on hips with an odd intensity that punctuates her defiance. Betty Jackson holds a cane in one hand, while the other makes a fist–balancing fragility with strength. Sonia Rykiel’s graceful fingers cast shadows echoing the sculptural planes of her cheekbones. Diana Vreeland’sfascinating hands wrap around the complicated wrap she’s wearing. And a regal Vivienne Westwood has one black-and-white glove on, and clasps its mate upward, as if holding a third, ghostly hand.
Most startling are Spring’s unsentimental portraits of mothers and children, which upend expectations by refusing any trace of a beatified Madonna-and-Child motif. These women and children are fully separate, distinct beings.
Model and actress Brigitte Nielsen, in glamazon, not maternal mode, stares impassively, peculiarly hoisting her limp, sleeping infant to shoulder-height. Princess Caroline’s toddler son twists away from her as she stares straight ahead.
Some portraits are quite witty: Margot Werts, owner of the trend-setting L.A. boutique American Rag, holds her baby who looks like a miniature drunken sailor, cap askew. Artist Mirène Le Floch’s infant might be performing a modern dance contraction. And Tiziana Zenecla’s tiny son resembles a Hollywood gangster — with spiked hair and tough-guy stare.
A similar wit runs through Spring’s socialite portraits — Mica Ertegun merges into the painting behind her, to odd Surrealist effect. Judy Peabody holds up her pampered brown dachshunds breast-high, before a painting that depicts … a brown hunting dog.
Springs never sought the limelight, content to let her husband be the famous half of their couple. But right now seems like a perfect time to shine new light on her work. With a wave of American women flooding into the political arena at all levels, Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim, and a Frida Kahlo exhibit opening at the Brooklyn Museum, we seem surrounded lately with striking examples of women’s talents and power. What better way to keep up this momentum than by drawing inspiration from Springs’s humane and insightful portraits of these complex, gifted, and grown-up women.
Posted on February 10, 2019
There have been a few film versus digital articles here and there on the interwebs, but seems like very few have approached the subject in a scientific fashion or with the advice of both film and digital experts.
However, with the help of Joe Cornish (a landscape photographer who made his living shooting on medium and large format but now shoots Phase One IQ280s), Chris Ireland (who sells Phase One cameras), and myself, Tim Parkin, (I shoot film and run a drum scanning service), a definitive test was born.
The first part of the test compared large/medium format film with medium format digital, and a subsequent part was a comparison of high end DSLRs using the Nikon D800E.
The results may surprise a few people.
Here’s our comparison of the Nikon D800E and a Mamiya 7 medium format camera (both using ~25mm equivalent lenses):
First of all here’s the full photo view showing the cropped area we’ll be looking at:
￼￼We were that impressed with the performance of the Mamiya against the D800E in terms of resolution that we thought we’d try comparing with the IQ180.
Firstly the color comparison:
￼Okay… Even though if you look closely at the way the Mamiya 7 resolves the text it looks comparable, the overall impression is that the IQ180 has the sharper, cleaner image. This is due to the fact that high resolution details in film get lower contrast, whereas on digital, everything resolved appears at a fairly high contrast.
Let’s look at the black and white results. The first image is the IQ180 and the second is the Mamiya 7 at f/8 (ignore the third for now):
￼Wow! Now the film used is Adox CMS 20, a high resolution film capable of resolving 800 line pairs per mm. In real world tests (by Henning Serger) this film on a Mamiya 645 with the 80mm Sekor has resolved 210 line pairs per mm which is greater than 24,000px across the film height!
You might be wondering what the third frame was in the above image. Well, it’s the Mamiya 7 at f/22! This goes to show just how good old lenses actually are (especially the Mamiya rangefinder ones) and on a sideline proves that f/22 isn’t the hellhole that many photographers believe it is (for more about that refer to Roger Cicala’s article about diffraction).
Here are a couple of comparisons between 4×5, 10×8 and the Phase One IQ180. This first is a section from a transparency that was placed on a lightbox (see the studio overview shots above – it’s the bottom left transparency). Here’s the full transparency and then a section from the left hand fork of the branch. Here’s the whole view for reference:
…and a sample showing just the part of the table of interest. We’ll be comparing results from the red area.
And here’s the final comparison. From left to right this is the IQ180, 4×5 Velvia and 8×10 Velvia:
4×5 shows better performance than the IQ180 and the 10×8 just blows everything out of the water.
Finally, here’s the real world landscape photograph that we took on a windy day in Yorkshire (that happens a lot!). We’ll be showing a comparison of 4×5 and the IQ180 for the area marked in red on the left hand side of the picture:
Here’s a comparison between the IQ180 and 4×5 Velvia 50.
Why are the results from 4×5 not performing as well as indicated by the studio comparison? Well in the real world we had to stop down from our optimum aperture of f/11⅔ to about f/22. This reduced the max resolution of the 4×5 shots. The IQ180 needed stopping down too but that just reduced the contrast at the sensors maximum resolution and with a bit of sharpening it didn’t really do much damage.
One of the interesting things that cropped up was the way that the digital sensors deal with color in terms of tonality and resolution. Because only one in four pixels are blue or red, quite often color resolution is reduced in comparison with luminosity resolution. These look fine at small enlargements but when images are shown larger these artifacts can show through.
Here’s a great example of the problems with having only a few red pixels from an outing a few years ago, comparing a Canon 5D Mark II with 4×5 Velvia. Obviously the 4×5 Velvia has more resolution but we downsampled it to match the 5D Mark II and got the following result (show at 200%)
On the right (the 4×5 image downscaled) we can see all of the berries on the tree but on the left (the Canon 5D Mark II image) a lot of the berries have disappeared. The only berries shown are where there were larger groups of them (i.e. a single pixel size berry is unlikely to match up with a single red pixel whereas a group of berries covering 2×2 sensor pixels will definitely hit a red filtered one).
Also film still seems to differentiate color differently to digital (depending on the camera). Here’s a sample of our test image from the cyan boxed area at the bottom next to the pond.
On top we have a 4×5 Portra 400 scan and on the bottom the IQ180. The 4×5 Portra 400 version has much more color definition.
We didn’t include 35mm film in the test – it was originally aimed at comparing 10×8 film with the IQ180. However, I had a recent scanning job for a colleague of mine who has taken 35mm film cameras to some of the highest mountains in the world (Alan Hinkes – the UKs first mountaineer to climb all of the world’s 8000m peaks) and he has allowed me to show a photograph here including 100% crops. These photographs were taken using a Ricoh GR1 on Fuji transparency film. We’ve enlarged this to 15″ x 30″ recently.
Here’s a 100% of the scan at 6000DPI:
The results are very impressive and from our comparisons we think scanned color slide film has a digital equivalent resolution of between 12MP and 24MP depending on what aspect you look at (12MP for overall sharpness appearance, 14-16MP for luminosity resolution, and 24MP for color resolution). These figures are estimates based on a good Imacon or Drum scan and would be even higher for projected or enlarged images.
Film still has a lot to offer, especially with the price of very high quality cameras so low. Using high resolution black and white film is well documented these days (although you have to process them yourself) and the latest version of slide and negative color film are stunning. Portra has been reformulated for scanning and has immense dynamic range and Fuji Provia is one of the highest resolving slide films ever made.
As for scanning, film scanners can be had for reasonable prices, even drum scanners! And finally medium format drum scans can be had from $20. My conclusion? It’s a great time to be using film AND digital!