Monday, May 25, 2015

Ernst Haas

 
 
In 1983 I attended a multi-day photography workshop with Ernst Haas. Haas was a famous photography and pioneer photojournalist. In the photo above, Haas is setting in the front with the black sweater. I am fifth from the left on the back row. Ernst died a few years later in 1986, but those few days with him and the other serious photographers from around the country was a wonderful learning experience. Actually, I have had a number of similar experiences where I have sat at the feet of great teachers where I could learn and be challenged.

Here is a Ernst Haas quote, "I never really wanted to be a photographer. It slowly grew out of the compromise of a boy who desired to combine two goals-explorer or painter. I wanted to travel, see and experience. What better profession could there be than the one of a photographer, almost a painter in a hurry, overwhelmed by too many constantly changing impressions? But all my inspirational influences came much more from all the arts than from photo magazines."

By the way, one of the photos I made during that workshop was the cover of Charles David Smart's CD "Return to the River" just last year.

I believe that life-long learning and continuing education is the secret to continuing to have a long and impactful life. Photography has a 176 year-old history, but there are new things to learn and new technologies to explore every day. Staying up on what's new and at the same time staying grounded in the tradition makes for a rewarding career.

When Ernst Haas started shooting color, Kodachrome was ISO 8, so exposure times were tediously slow. Today pro photographers regularly shoot digital color at ISO 6400. I wonder what Haas would be doing with that kind of speed and versatility.  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Photoshopped

Photoshop is a high performance image editing tool sold by Adobe. Adobe is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Photoshop this year, so in computer and software terms it is definitely a venerable product. I began using Photoshop shortly after it was introduced in 1990 so it has become like an old friend to me.

Since the beginning of photography in 1839, photographers have been editing images and faking situations to appear as something else. There is even a genre of 19th century photography featuring oversized vegetables on wagons, men climbing on huge watermelons and the like. There are some historical photographs that we now realize were made in the darkroom by combining several images. For example, I owned an original print of the above photo for years before I realized that it was probably faked. With Photoshop these types of things are easier and more believable than ever before.
  
Recently Photoshop has been getting a bad rap as a tool that allows people to appear thin, wrinkle free and without imperfections. Photographers have always strived to make people look their best, so this is not unexpected. The problem is that it produces unrealistic expectations as people compare themselves to published photos that have been overly retouched.
  
Photoshop is also a great tool for repairing damaged or faded images. I first began using Photoshop 25 years ago because of my interest in repairing old photos. Today this is a big part of my business. As Photoshop has improved over the years, restoration techniques have improved as well. Today we are able to do things that we only dreamed of 10 or 15 years ago. Additionally, we now have access to very high quality paper that was unavailable even a few years ago. The best papers today should last for hundreds of years. 
  
If you have old, damaged or faded treasured photographs or other art that you would like to have copied or restored, give me a call.
 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Web Site

I have been getting good feedback from my black and white photos that have been at Scooter's Coffee at College and Antioch for a few weeks. Then last Sunday, we went to Waldo Pizza in Lees Summit and hung a number of large color photos with musical themes. They will be there for two months. Be sure to go in for some great pizza and see my photos.

If you have a business or public space that would be available for an art display, let me know. We can talk about it.
  
My photo of the old "Texas Top Hands" Flexible bus that I made while in Austin a few years ago was on the cover of the March issue of Johnson County Lifestyle magazine. This was their "arts" issue, so there was a feature about me and various arts organization in the area. The article about the Shawnee Mission Strolling Strings also featured my photographs.
  
I have been planning to update my primary web site for sometime now. I finally got it up and running this week. I will be turning off the old one soon. In the meantime, check out the new site at Mathis.Photography. Note that ".photography" is the upper domain name, not .net or .com or anything like that. Please take a look and let me know what you think. I am trying to make it cleaner and easier to navigate. I also added "Digital Art" to my name to better reflect the type of work I have been doing for the past several years.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Marketing 101

Marketing 101 

Stanley Marcus of Nieman-Marcus once said, "Half of advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half." It turns out that a lot of advertising is not only wasted, but is very harmful as well.

For example, I have owned about half a dozen Oldsmobiles including the gorgeous 1977 Ninety-eight above. GM came out with an ad campaigning declaring, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile," implying that the millions of Oldsmobile owners were all a bunch of old fogeys. They got the message and quit buying Oldsmobiles and a century old brand died, or more correctly, was killed by poor management and worse marketing.

An even worse marketing technique is rewarding new customers while punishing your current customers. We are seeing several nationally known companies offering huge discounts to new customers while insisting that their long established loyal customers pay full price. They result is that the loyal customers are not coming back. The marketing guru, Seth Godin, addressed this in his latest blog titled, "Stupid is the brand killer."

A much better plan is to reward loyalty. This includes things like frequent flyer miles, discounts printed on cash register receipts for dollars off your next purchase and loyalty cards at grocery stores. When I managed a coffee house, we started a successful punch card system that made every tenth drink free. A coffee house I frequent gives your entire order free if you buy or add $25 to a gift card. This insures repeat business and rewards regular customers.
I have a published price list. New customers know what the cost will be, but I sometimes give discounts for loyalty to clients that I have been doing business with for several years. I would never give a discount to a new client that I would not give to a loyal client that I consider a friend. This just makes sense. 

If you have old photos that need to be copied, saved or restored, please call. You will get a fair price and be certain that you are paying the same as the next person with the same requirements. 

Nikon and Consumer Reports




Nikon

In the 1960’s and early ‘70s, Nikon ruled. Nikon claimed that 98% of all photographs in newspapers and magazines were made with Nikon cameras and few people contested that claim.

Many camera repairmen only worked on Nikons, considering other makes not worth fixing. Additionally, Nikon encouraged people who shot more than 500 rolls of film per year to have their cameras cleaned and adjusted annually. It was against this background that a major consumer magazine decided to run a test of 35mm cameras. They surveyed camera repair shops and compared the types of cameras they serviced against production numbers and concluded that Nikons were extremely unreliable and therefore unacceptable.

I first heard about this when a man came into the camera shop where I was working and said he didn’t care what kind of camera he bought as long as it wasn’t a Nikon because they were the worst. We all started laughing because we thought he was kidding. (We were the largest Nikon dealer in the area and sold mainly to professional photographers.) But he was serious having just read the review in Consumer Reports.

I was just out of college where I took a lot of statistics courses and I knew that wrong assumptions or wrong data can make you look pretty stupid. Consumer Reports numbers were right, but their assumptions and conclusions were exactly opposite of reality.

I think of this whenever I see a list of most reliable cars, best Bar-B-Que or best movies. Box office sales don’t make good movies any more than long service intervals make good cars. We are generally better off ignoring such non-consequential data, because each of us is different with different requirements. As the saying goes, “Your mileage may vary.”

I can’t tell you what percentage of my clients love their photos and which ones don’t, but I know I love what I do and I have been doing it a long time, and I have many thrilled customers. 

If you have old photos that need to be copied, saved or restored, please call.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Citroen DS-21



Citroen DS-21

When I was in college, one of the professors had a French car called a Citroen DS. It was bright yellow and very distinctive looking. I became fascinated by the Citroen and found out that it was an extremely innovative car. 

When it came out in 1955 it was years ahead of other makes in handling, braking, and styling. It was one of the few front-wheel drive luxury cars of the era. I test drove one at a Wichita dealer in 1970, but decided not to buy it simple because I needed a pickup more than a French luxury car. For about the same money I got a new Ford F-100.

The DS series remained in production until 1975. It came in second in a vote among auto journalist as the most beautiful car of the 20th century.

When Louise and I visited Paris in 1983, the city was fogged in for the entire week we were there. We never saw the top of the Eifel tower, but we looked everyday just in case the weather cleared for minute and we could get a glimpse of the top.

One day as we were walking by I saw an old Citroen DS sitting by the curb. By 1983 the DS was just another old car, but to me it was a find. I got out my old Plaubel Veriwide and made one exposure of the Citroen and the fogged in Eifel tower. It has become one of my all time favorite photos.

Plaubel was a German specialty camera manufacture. They made less than 2,000 Veriwides between 1959 and 1965. It had a 47mm Super-Angulon Schneider lens which gave a 100 degree coverage on a 6x10 cm frame. This is seven  shots on a roll of 120 film.  I don’t recall ever seeing another one other than the one I had. I owned it for about 10 years and have a lot of great photos that I made with that camera including this Citroen/Eifel Tower photo. I think I traded it to C&J Photo for a new Canon SLR in the late ‘80s.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Castle Enchante - Nice, France



Castel Enchante
It was late afternoon when we drove into Nice. We still had plenty of time to find our hotel and go out for dinner. The directions we had turned out to be less than reliable as we drove around looking for something that sounded familiar. We were also confounded by the lack of street signs. Very few streets in Nice are marked, and when they are the system seems pretty random. We eventually stumbled across a sign that was on our map and by combining our wits we were reasonably convinced that we had found the street leading to our inn.

The web-site said the small inn was close-in with great views of the city, so we knew we were looking for a hill. As the winding road started to climb our confidence soared. By now it was dark and we were all past hungry. But very soon the road narrowed to one lane and began to deteriorate. There was no place to turn around because the mountain was on one side a sheer drop was on the other. As the road got steeper I realized that we were losing traction. If I stopped, we might not be able to get going again on the loose gravel. Then we leveled off and there was a light. It was an old house. A lady came out with a couple of large dogs. We asked (in French) if this was Castel Enchante. She replied that we had passed it on the way up the mountain. She then walked over to the edge and pointed down.

Back in the car, we edged our way down the sloping road that seemed barely hanging to the side of the hill. Then we saw the small sign tacked to a post only visible from this direction that read “Hotel Rooms.” We turned in the drive which was about six feet wide and about a 45 degree angle up. I gunned the little diesel engine and popped the clutch. I then slammed on the brakes at the crest and slid into small spot inches from going over the cliff. We looked around and saw a light coming through the trees, so I dispatched my companions to see if this was really the Castel. They returned a few minute later while I was still gathering my senses, saying we had found it. They wisely chose to walk from there, since me or the car making it any further was anything but certain. I was told to just park the car in the parking lot and come on in.

I got out and surveyed the situation and realized that there was another equally steep and narrow road behind me. After a series of three-point turns, I climbed the hill and slid in behind an aging BMW. I figured that it either belonged to the innkeeper or a previous guest who decided that abandoning the car there wasn’t a bad idea.
We were shown to our room in the beautiful 16th century mansion where I collapsed on the bed. As I waited for the blood to return to my knuckles, going out for dinner seemed like the last thing I wanted to do. Instead we dined on wine and chocolate accumulated on the trip.

The next day we awoke to a find ourselves in a beautiful house with a lovely garden, and a gorgeous view of the city. After a great breakfast and conversation we decided it was time to see if we could make it down the hill. The world looks better when you are well-fed and the sun is shining. But in the daylight it was obvious that the Lord was clearly guiding us, because the road was every bit as treacherous as it had seemed the night before.

We drove along the Mediterranean to Monaco where we pretended to be royalty, eating like kings. On the way back we stopped in old town Nice for more amazing food, putting off as long as possible the trip back up the mountain.
By now we knew what to expect, but this time there were screams of terror from the back seat, with some suggesting that they might want to walk. I realized that the night before my companions were too scared to utter a sound. By the third day I was picturing myself battling it out with Al Unser on the Pikes Peak Hill-climb, as I smoked up the hill, sliding around the hair-pin turns with the Michelins clinging to the side of the mountain. I was not sure my companions would ever get in a car with me again.

The next day was to be the autoroute back to Paris, but we wisely chose to take some back roads, winding through vineyards and enjoying the people and culture of the South of France.

I understand that there are people who would rather stay home. Sorry, I would rather scare my friends in the back of a Toyota on the French Riviera.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Antique Cameras


When I was in college I bought a couple of old Leicas just for fun. One was from the 1930’s and the other was post-war. Not what you would call modern cameras.

I started working for Kenny Young at Ben’s Camera Exchange in downtown Kansas City in 1971. Kenny was an avid camera collector and I got quite serious about learning about old camera and the history associated with them. I began by reading all the books I could find about the history of photography and cameras.


I heard about a book called “Glass, Brass & Chrome, a History of American 35mm Cameras.” I mentioned it to a customer who worked at the Kansas City Library. The next day he brought me a copy of the book. When I asked him when it was due, he said not to worry about. I read the book and put it on my bookshelf. Years later, after I became a Christian, I saw the book and realized that it was stolen from the library. I took it back downtown and dropped it in the book return. I then tracked down another copy of the book and paid about $50 for it. Well worth it to have a clear consequence.

After I started my own business and began having spare money, I started buying classic cameras. I shopped Shutterbug Magazine and traveled the country to camera shows. Eventually I owned hundreds of cameras, many unique and of great interest to collectors.

In 1990 I opened a Photography Museum in the lobby of Mathis Photo Inc. at 7801 Floyd, Overland Park, KS. After about five years, I began to sense that the cameras were becoming a chore to maintain if not a burden. Plus I went to a camera show in Independence. It was at a Holiday Inn. There were about 25 dealers setting around talking cameras and about six customers, none of whom looked like they were planning to spend any money. I then drove up the street to a gun show. There were hundreds of dealers with thousands of people inside and a line out the door.  They were all waiving cash and trying to buy all sorts of weapons including military style assault rifles that I thought were illegal. The contrast couldn’t have been greater. I realized that the world had changed and nobody was going to get excited about old cameras. Guys would rather pretend they were Wyatt Earp or Rambo than Ansel Adams.

I asked an international camera dealer friend named Roger Reinke to stop by the next time he was in Kansas City. I sold him about half of my collection. I didn’t have any seller’s remorse, so I had him come back and sold him most of the rest.


With the advent of the internet and eBay, I sold a few more. I now have just a couple of the most attractive ones left. Some of the most expensive cameras were not necessarily display worthy, only rare or historically significant.
In 1996 I decided to shift my pastime to music after 25 year away from playing. I still teach a few classes on the history of photography and have a little bit of classic equipment to show, but I just haven’t seen an outpouring of excitement for historically significant cameras in the past 30 years. Maybe they will come back someday.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Oldsmobile Toronado



Oldsmobile Toronado


I have always loved cars. Not just for the freedom of movement and the ability to go wherever I want whenever I want, but for their beauty and engineering.

However, whenever it came time to buy a new car, practicality always won out. In fifty years I have owned thirty-five cars, but none were really outrageous like a Corvette or a Porsche.  In the late seventies, I decided that I needed to buy a car just for fun, so we went to the Kruse Classic Car Auction and came home with a low mileage 1970 Oldsmobile Toronado.

The Toronado came out in 1966 and was an engineering tour de force. It was a huge high-powered front-drive two-door luxury car. Later the Mercedes Benz chief said that Mercedes did not make front- drive cars because front-wheel drive would not hold up with high output engines. By this point GM had already sold 500,000 400 hp front-wheel drive Toronados and Cadillac Eldorados without a single drive train failure. I guess the Daimler guys had not got in the habit of looking past their front doors yet.

The 1966 Toronados were gorgeous and kept getting better though 1970. The 1971s were worse and went downhill with the rest of General Motors. Toronados, and eventually all Oldsmobiles, were allowed to die without serious corporate support.

Since I liked cars, I thought I should be able to work on them as well. I took a few auto repair courses at Johnson County Community College but didn’t really excel. 95% of the repairs I attempted ending up being redone by the dealer within months. I could change the oil and rotate the tires and I could change spark plugs if I could see them.
I have since learned that my skills were only slightly behind the average mechanic at a franchise auto service business or even an independent garage. In the past ten or fifteen years, every repair I have had done by an independent garage or national franchise has had to be redone by the dealer within a year. I don’t believe that most mechanics are dishonest, merely incompetent. Considering the complexity of modern cars, this is to be expected.

Proverbs 22: 29 says, “See a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” That is because there are so few really skilled people. I am more convinced all the time that our skills, more than anything else, determine our status in life.