What's New 2008
December 31st, 2008
Just before the year ends, here is a photograph from the trip to Xinjiang, China earlier this year that I very much hope will encourage outdoor (and not only) photographers to go out and photograph more in year 2009:
Photograph © Evgeny Kosenkov
To put my money where my mouth is, tomorrow I am off on a short photographic expedition. Nothing fancy or exotic this time but, nonetheless, it is a good start for the New Year. So I will be seeing you again in January and, meanwhile, wish you a safe, prosperous (well, hopefully) and happy New Year.
December 30th, 2008
I love places that bear strong resemblance to the middle of nowhere or, which is essentially the same, the edge of the world. Generally they are literal and very, very far away from where you normally reside. They can also be metaphorical, like a passage in a novel or a piece of music. The latter variety is deceptively close physically but takes the same amount of efforts to get to mentally. And the common denominator is that once you reach them you do not want to, and cannot even if you want to, go any further. You can only look back at where you came from. If you want to, that is.
Such places live at their own pace—being the brink of the world, they know that they would be easily outpaced even if they wanted to participate in what they most likely conceive of as the rat race. Nor do they follow or try to catch up with new fashion, because, again, they know that nobody is going to care whether they are trendy. This leaves them with the luxury of remaining authentic, content with their lot and free from the worry of being unfavourably compared with others.
Tashkurgan in far West of China is one such place. It is well past Muztagh Ata, the mountain that is considered the edge of the world by most of us; from Tashkurgan, however, it seems to be a part of a buzzing civilisation. And of course, the town has the inseparable attributes of the middle of nowhere: it is happily living at its own pace without caring much about what is new and all the rage. Here are a couple of images taken there:
Tashkurgan, Autumn 2008, #1
Tashkurgan, Autumn 2008, #2
What I like about the photographs is the multitude of facial expressions as they, in their totality, bring about the atmosphere of the edge of the world as well as of something that we in the so called centre of the world have long lost somewhere along the way. Unfortunately, I do not have more satisfactory images from Tashkurgan and can only hope that, in the long run, these two pictures will have a destiny not dissimilar to that of "Us and Them" (In case you are not familiar with the music of Pink Floyd, "Us and Them" was originally recorded in 1969 and remained unused throughout a couple of albums; in 1973, however, it was dug out and included in "The Dark Side of the Moon", arguably the ultimate concept album of all times.)
December 16th, 2008
I have finally had the time to start writing my observations on the Nikon D700 and today I am posting first two parts, Introduction and background and Ergonomics and handling. I am going to pace myself writing about the camera so please do not hold your breath. Nonetheless, please do check in every once in while ?We are just like British Rail, love. We may be late, but we get you there.
December 12th, 2008
One more note related to the Epson 4880 printer. In case you are wondering just how good quality of inkjet prints can be, here is a feedback comment from a reader who recently bought one of my prints (sorry for what might seem like a shameless plug but I am only trying to illustrate how gorgeous inkjet prints really can be—provided you know what you are doing, of course):
It is SO beautiful! (...) I feel this is first professional print I have ever had.?It is totally different from the ones I got from COSTCO or Snapfish, or my own HP Color Laser Jet 8500. And the difference is like between the sky and the ground!
December 10th, 2008
Continuing on the subject of meaning, here is an interesting quotation from a book that I have been reading:
The end of the race is just a temporary marker without much significance. It's the same with our lives. Just because there's an end doesn't mean existence has meaning. An end point is simply set up as a temporary marker, or perhaps as an indirect metaphor for the fleeting nature of existence.
And continuing on the subject of the Epson Stylus Pro 4880 printer, a reader has written to let me know that in September Epson updated printer driver to version v6.12. There are no more disclaimers as to the driver's functionality as was the case with previous versions, which suggests that the latest driver is fully functional. I downloaded and installed it in hope to finally see if there is any difference between 8–bit and 16–bit printing. However, the driver does not function properly, too—at the point of printing, I get the same error as with the previous beta driver: "Operation could not be completed. Client–error–not–possible". Quite interestingly, the current version of the driver on the Epson China Web site is still v3.9, which makes me wonder if the latest driver does not function properly with my printer because my printer is 4880C, not 4880 (but as I mentioned in my report, I do not know if there is any difference between the two). If you use a 4880 and the latest driver works, please drop me a line.
With respect to my review of the Hasselblad Planar CFE 2.8/80 lens another reader has written to suggest that the lens produces less–than–ideal bokeh (i.e. the look of out–of–focus areas). In particular, bright sources of light in out–of focus areas tend to have octagonal shape if you use apertures between f/4 and f/8 (here is an example of this behaviour). I have never noticed this and, wondering why so, I realised that it has to do with the way I shoot. If I hand–hold the camera, then I most likely shoot portraiture and use the largest aperture, which is f/2.8 in case of the lens in question (here is an example). Otherwise, I shoot from a tripod and use either the aperture where the performance of the lens is best or f/22 to obtain maximum depth–of–field. In other words, I very seldom shoot at apertures between f/4 and f/8 with my Hasselblad system. Lesson? We should test lesnes for our particular applications and be careful about "objective" observations that might have no implications for our personal shooting approcahes.
December 7th, 2008
Changes seldom occur out of the blue. They usually brew—from things that at first appear inconsequential and unrelated yet add up, interact and result in irreversible trends. All indications are that the way I approach photography is about to undergo yet another significant change. And this is one of the reasons why I have not posted any new content for a while.
One of the important discoveries of this year not related to photography for me has been realisation that meaning (as in purpose or significance) is not something that exists independently of our existence and you look for. Instead, it is something that is very closely interrelated with our beings and you have to create. If you create it, it exists; if you do not, it does not. This is a very simple yet profound truth and it took me a long while to comprehend it.
With these thoughts floating around my head, I have been sitting on a pile of photographs that I took in October in Southern Xinjiang Province stuck in a predicament that I vaguely felt in the past and has now become a thorn in my side: I am unable to make any sense out of the pictures or decide what to do with them. Now, do not get me wrong—there is a number of photographs from the trip that are certain keepers (or, at least, so it seems from the present level of my aesthetic perception). I really like the People of Kashgar series, there are several landscapes in colour and, as far as cultural photography goes, I have more worthwhile photographs form Tashkurgan. The problem, however, is that these several groups of photographs are irrevocably disconnected; moreover, none of them represents a finished, cohesive and meaningful body of work. Granted, they can be used in combination with other material for other purposes, but that, somehow, just does not cut it for me anymore. I want to produce and show a finished, cohesive and meaningful body of work, no less.
And this is where creation of meaning comes in. Just like with meaning in life, producing a finished and meaningful body of work implies purposefully creating it, not randomly searching in hope of finding and brining it back with you. The latter is exactly what my trip to Xinjiang was and, in general, travel photography is about. To create a finished body of work, you need to photograph in the framework of a project, where everything, including travel arrangements, is a means towards the purpose of producing finished and consistent work.
Again, do not get me wrong—I really love travel photography and fully understand why so many people practice it. It takes you to new and often exotic places, refreshes your senses and provides an environment where you can shoot to your heart's content. However, it just does not lend itself easily to producing cohesive work.
Does this mean that I am not going to travel anymore? Of course no. The difference, however, is that in the future my traveling will be determined by the projects that I undertake, and not the other way around. And every once in a while I, of course, might do the classic travel photography just to refresh my senses.
I know that some of you will probably chuckle and think, yeah, been there, done that. I, nonetheless, simply glad that I am still developing as a photographer and have not reached the point after which all is downhill.
November 9th, 2008
At long last, the final part of my Epson Stylus Pro 4880 printer user experience report. Time to move on.
I am still taking my time working on the photographs from Pamir Mountains and below is a panorama of Muztagh Ata that was shot with my Hasselblad V–series system. It was stitched from three slides scanned with a Flextight X5 at 3000 dpi. As you might have already guessed, the size of the stitched file is enormous—over 2GB. Even my latest–and–greatest Mac Pro had a seriously difficult time wrestling with it.
Pamir Mountains—a panorama of Muztagh Ata
November 3rd, 2008
I do not know if this subject has ever been explored in literature or elsewhere but something has to be said about drinking beer on the curb. In case you are wondering how I can write about drinking beer after mentioning single malt scotch in previous posts, well, horses for courses.
October 29th, 2008
Today I would like to make a couple of comments on what worked and what did not during the recent trip to Southern Xinjiang, China.
First and foremost, I strongly suggest double–checking the information you get from Google Earth when preparing for important expeditions. There are many location bookmarks that are placed imprecisely or completely wrongly. The original snapshot of the terrain of the area that we traveled through in the post of 27 September showed that Karakul Lake was on the southern side of Muztagh Ata; as it turned out, it actually was on the northern side (the snapshot has now been replaced with a correct one). This did not cause any problems for us but it easily could were we to choose between sunset and sunrise photography and plan the trip depending on the location of the lake.
If you are serious about panoramic photography, make yourself a favour and get dedicated panoramic accessories from Really Right Stuff. To begin with, leveling your tripod is a real pain you–know–where; furthermore, having to level the tripod and the camera wastes way too much time when the light is golden.
My decision to use two camera bags, a backpack for the Hasselblad system and a waist pack for the Nikon D700 kit, was absolutely spot on. Not only did this approach spread the weight of the gear, it also made the way each of the systems was accessed more appropriate for the types of shooting that the systems were intended for.
Prior to departure I was very concerned whether I would be able to do without a single zoom lens. Looking back at it now, there was not a single situation where I felt limited by only using fixed focal length lenses. I used the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D lens at least for 80% of the shots and would like to note in passing that it is an absolutely superb optic. It balances perfectly on the D700 and is almost flawless optically. The Nikkor 35mm f/2D saw a fair amount of use, too. The Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D, on the other hand, stayed in the bag most of the time. Quite interestingly, these lens preferences are consistent with when I use the Hasselblad system.
I took 17GB of CF cards with me expecting to shoot much less than that. I ended up filling up 16GB ?and that was after deleting obviously unsuccessful images in the field. Had the trip been just one day longer, I would have been stuck (well, not really, as one of the friends had a notebook computer with him but you should not count on unplanned solutions). Memory is very cheap now and running out of it in the field would be inexcusable.
Home page photograph has been updated with a photograph of Kongur Tagh and Karakul Lake at sunset; the photograph of Muztagh Ata and star trails is now below (see the post of October 11th). Here is also a panorama of Kongur Tagh taken on another day (stitched from three images taken with my Nikon D700):
A panorama of Kongur Tagh and Karakul Lake at sunset
October 11th, 2008
The expedition to Xinjiang was an absolutely brilliant experience. First, it happens very seldom that one can do both cultural and landscape photography on the same trip and, in our case, one type of photography did not simply supplement the other but was a complete purposeful undertaking in its own right. Second, the subjects were entirely exceptional and often breathtaking. Cultural richness of Kashgar and Tashkurgan is so enormous that I often felt that I was trying to bite off more than I (and my cameras) could possibly chew; the photographic potential could literally be found around each and every corner. Sweeping landscapes of Pamir plateau, on the other hand, are something that has to be seen for one's self to be believed.
Photographic opportunities in Kashgar and Tashkurgan were so overwhelming that I simply wimped out and only shot with the D700 and the 85mm f/1.8D lens, more often than not at 5 frames per second. As a result, I made approximately 2500 exposures and now have 16 gigabytes worth of images to work with. Today I am posting the first portfolio, People of Kashgar; it currently contains 16 images but could easily be expanded further. Whereas I am quite happy with the sequence, I wonder what slowing down and using the Hasselblad with black–and–white film would have resulted in... My previous experimentation with alternative approaches to cultural photography suggests that a more contemplative approach usually results in better photographs but, again, there was just way too much excitement.
As far as landscapes go, Xinjiang is a place where panoramic photography is a must. I knew this beforehand and looked into different options before departure. In the end, however, I figured that, given the circumstances, shooting for stitching, with both film and digital, would be my best bet. Although there were a couple of times when light was fairly stable and I shot panoramas using proper technique, there also were moments when the light was changing fast and the scenes were too exciting to calmly level the tripod, then the camera, then find the nodal point of the lens and start shooting. In those instances I simply switched back to the square perception of the world that the Hasselblad imposes and tried to make the best out of it.
Home page photograph has been updated with an image of Muztagh Ata and star trails, which, I believe, is a very unique photograph of the mountain. Altogether, I made three long exposures at night to capture Muztagh Ata in this rather unusual manner. The first one was three hours, the second an hour and a half and the one you see on the Home Page was just over five hours. To be entirely honest, though, I cheated with the last exposure—I simply set up the camera near our yurt, opened the shutter and went to sleep. As it turns out, it was the best of the three shots. Sometimes the greatest efforts result in no good images; at other times, great images can be produced without too much sweat off your back. That is the nature of the beast.
Let me sign off for now but please stay tuned—I still have a few photographs to post and a couple of comments to make. As always, your feedback will be highly appreciated.
September 27th, 2008
Things have been very hectic lately and, unfortunately, I have not had the time to finish writing my observations on the Nikon D700. The upside, however, is that the camera will be traveling with me to Western Xinjiang on Monday and I will have more experience with it to further substantiate my impressions and findings. In case you are interested where exactly I am going, the plan, basically, is to concentrate on cultural photography in Kashgar and Tashkurgan and travel between these two places photographing the mountainous landscapes of Pamir.
Here is what the terrain of the area looks like:
What photo equipment am I taking with me this time? My complete Hasselblad system (Flexbody and 503CW camera body; lenses: CFi 4/50, CFE 2.8/80 and CFi 4/150; 1.4X teleconvertor; two film backs) with miscellaneous accessories and a helluva lot of film, all packed in a ThinkTank Airport Antidote backpack, as well as my Nikon D700 with the 24mm f/2.8D, 35mm f/2D and 85mm f/1.8D lenses packed in a LowePro Photo Runner waist pack. I could pack all the gear in one bigger backpack that I have but I decided to spread the weight between two bags as having 13kg of equipment (plus the tripod) in one backpack is not a good idea; also, having the D700 in a waist pack will allow me having it easily accessible for shooting. I will let you know how this combination works after I return from the expedition.
So, wish me good luck (and light) and I will be seeing you on the flip side. Meanwhile, I am posting several photographs that were recently taken in Beijing (with the D700). What I really like about them is that although each image is probably rather mediocre in and by itself but, put together, they almost perfectly depict how I feel about the city.
Beijing, September 2008
September 20th, 2008
Listening to Keith Jarrett's "Bye Bye Blackbird" I have a very strong impression that Gary Peatool is a very humble person who tends to be lead by others. Is not it interesting that, similarly, you get a very clear sense of the personalities of the people behind all the major photography–related (and not only) Web sites despite you having never met any of them in person?
September 18th, 2008
I have now done quite a bit of shooting with my Nikon D700. So far I have taken it to Macao, Taiwan and Beijing, shot in all sorts of ambient light, from almost complete darkness to blinding brightness of midday sun, as well as all kinds of subjects—cityscape and people; static and erratically moving. All this, however, has primarily been an attempt to learn as much about the camera as possible before the upcoming photographic expedition to Pamir Mountains and Kashgar (喀什, the west most city in China).
Although there are a few quirks related to autofocus and matrix metering that I need to further investigate and/or understand, my first experience with the D700 has shown that it is one heck of a camera. I am now closely looking at and post–processing the files, as well as printing the better photographs. My detailed comments will be being posted in the near future; meanwhile, here are several photographs from the recent trips (all taken with the Nikkor AF 35mm f/2D lens):
Macao: foreign, modern and traditional
September 5th, 2008
I expect the upcoming couple of months to be quite active photographically. First, there will be a business trip to yet another fascinating place, which will be followed by an important personal event later this month. I am also planning a trip to Pamir Mountains in early October where I expect to do a lot of cultural and some landscape photography. Finally, there is a long–term photographic project that I hope to commence in the near future. Most of this will require high quality digital capture and, as much as I have enjoyed my Nikon D70s, the time to upgrade has come.
The successor of the D70s was the D80, which in turn has now been superseded by the D90. As great as the D90 is promising to be, I, to be honest, have had enough of scene modes, changing autofocus modes through menus, sluggish autofocus, no dedicated ISO or WB buttons... the list goes on and on. The D300 addresses all these issues but, now that the D700 is here, I realise how much I disliked the whole DX format idea where, just to mention one issue, your intimate knowledge of focal lengths is completely screwed up. Granted, the D700 is significantly more expensive than the D300; however, I would be prepared to pay more to get back to where things were supposed to have remained in the first place. Also, given the fact that I have used the D70s for over three years (actually tolerating it during the past year), I do not envision upgrading again until something fundamentally better (most likely post–Bayer sensors) comes around and is reasonably priced. If you spread the price difference over five or six years, it is not that significant. And so (drum roll, please)... yours truly has just become a proud owner of a Nikon D700 .
Completely switching from DX to FX format implies, among other things, changing lenses. Here the choice gets really tough and is where the single malt vs. blended scotch issue that I mentioned in the previous post comes in. First and foremost, I have grown quite weary of the plastic, slow prosumer zooms with variable aperture. While there might be some exceptions, most of them are fairly good at everything yet not special at anything in particular. This dilemma points one in the direction of pro–grade f/2.8 zooms and, indeed, a combination of the 17–35 f/2.8, 24–70 f/2.8 and 70–200 f/2.8 lens would most certainly be very nice. However, I am very reluctant to carry all that weight as it will be coming along with my Hasselblad system; the price of this lens setup is another issue that I do not even want to raise. It is then very reasonable to ask: where are all those f/4 zooms, Nikon? And no, do not tell me about the 200–400 f/4 . Give me a 24–105 f/4 lens with a couple of fast, high quality primes and I am a happy camper.
Now that Canon have finally announced the EF–S 18–200mm f/3.5–5.6 IS zoom (which Nikon have had for years), I kind of have hope that some day we will see f/4 zooms from Nikon, too. Meanwhile, I have no choice but to turn to fixed–focal–length lenses. Although the situation with them is far from ideal, too (the ones I am interested in are old designs without AF–S focusing), I am settling for a combination of 24mm f/2.8D, 35mm f/2D and 85mm f/1.8D for the time being. In my book, imperfect single malt scotch is still better than characterless blended whisky .
September 3rd, 2008
An addition to the post of August 18th: would it be a bit of stretch to say that the issue of fixed–focal–length (prime) vs. zoom lenses is very similar to that of single malt vs. blended scotch? In both cases most of the former are excellent and have character; at the same time, most of the latter have no character but some are absolutely spectacular. I will let you know why the matter has been occupying me so much later .
August 31st, 2008
I would like to thank everybody who has sent feedback on the photographs from Xitang. Very interestingly, everyone mentioned photo #7 as standing out. It is one of my favourite images, too—indeed, it was the first picture from the trip that I posted on the Home Page. One of the fascinating things about this image is that it represents the furthest departure from reality and the closest realisation of pre–visualisation that I have been able to achieve in quite a while. First, the reality, of course, was in colour—and the colours were not anything I would write home about. Second, it was broad daylight and the scene was a lot brighter. Third, it was one of the last places in Xitang that would draw your attention. What caught my interest, though, was the simple geometry and almost poetic humbleness, especially that of the shape of the towel on the front table. From there on it was more of a construct—I intentionally used a large aperture (f/4) to achieve the shallow depth of field and exposed film to make the image look darker than the scene was in reality.
On another note, yesterday I was working on family photos and found another picture with dramatic clouds:
Clouds en route to Moscow #2
August 29th, 2008
Part six of my Epson Stylus Pro 4880 printer user experience report, print head clogging, is now online.
August 27th, 2008
My favourite photographs from the trip to Xitang have been posted. A couple of thoughts in relation to them.
Further reflecting on the photographic approach that I used during the trip, i.e. when I would first choose an attractive townscape and then wait for someone to enter and become a harmonious part of the composition, it struck me that it is not entirely different from how a movie scene is constructed. The main difference, of course, is that what and how actors do in a movie scene is meticulously thought out and carefully executed, whereas in my approach it was a matter of anticipation, being open to what is going on, as well as relying on aesthetic sensitivity and intuition.
In Xitang I shot seven rolls of film (84 exposures). I then retained 36 negatives and scanned, closely worked on and printed 14 photographs; finally, nine favourite images are posted here (but I am far from done working on them). While I photographed for less than one full day altogether, the process from processing the negatives to posting the images here took several weeks. Thinking about the disparity in time that the two parts of the photographic process took, it seems at first that post–processing takes much longer simply because one has to do a lot of technical work, i.e. scan film, make adjustments in Photoshop, print photographs, prepare images for the Web, you name it. I, however, now realise that this is not the reason. As I mentioned in the past, one of the most important aspects of any artistic endeavour is aesthetic sensitivity and judgment, and the real reason is that their nature is entirely different in the two parts of the photographic processes—when shooting, aesthetic sensitivity and judgment are instinctive; when post–processing, they are contemplative. It is the reflective nature of the latter that results in consuming a lot of time, not the length of the technical work as such.
When doing cultural (as well as many other types of) photography one rarely has time to think. As when driving a car or riding a bicycle, you make decisions instinctively, and the instincts (photographic, or, more concretely, of aesthetic judgment in our case) are directed by all your previous experiences and knowledge that are represented in a condensed form. They are condensed to such a high degree that there is no time or space between question and answer, action and reaction.
When post–processing images, on the other hand, one can pace himself and take as much time as he wants. It might be argued that all the time goes into sorting through negatives (or digital files for that matter), scanning, making adjustments in Photoshop, etc. However, if you examine the matter closely, it is not the technical but rather the aesthetic side that consumes most of the post–processing time. When sorting through slides or digital files, the act of deleting takes no time whatsoever; what consumes our efforts is evaluating images, which belongs to the aesthetic domain. Once in Photoshop, it does not take much time to, say, move sliders; what does take a lot of time is deciding by how much you want to move them and why, living with the adjusted image for a while and, most likely, further fine–tuning the adjustments later on. At the same time you continue going through the gradual process of evaluating the image in the context of the work of other photographers that you have seen and appreciate, what and how you shot before, as well as photographs from the same shot as they are being processed. It is this entwined aesthetic contemplation that takes time, not the technical manipulations per se.
August 25th, 2008
Where to buy/sell photo equipment and film in China page has been updated with current prices of Nikon and Canon cameras in China.
August 19th, 2008
I always take a camera onboard whenever I fly. Most of the time there is nothing to photograph but every once in a while you get to see stunning light performances in the sky. I have never had problems using cameras, film in the past and digital now, onboard—until recently, that is. Flying to Moscow with Aeroflot several days ago I saw some dramatic clouds, pulled out my Nikon D70s and started shooting away. I, however, barely made a dozen shots when a flight attendant approached me and advised that the use of any image recording devices onboard was prohibited. "Yes, sure," I said, but since she did not seem too insistent I kept on shooting when no one was looking in my direction. This, nonetheless, makes me wonder how long we will be able to get away with it and whether there will come a time when they will arrest and hand you to the police upon arrival if you use your camera onboard. Strange times indeed...
Clouds en route to Moscow
August 18th, 2008
Here is a quotation from a psychology book that at least partially explains why some of us still prefer film to digital capture and fixed–focal–length lenses to zooms:
"The wealth of options we face today has extended personal freedom to an extent that would be inconceivable even a hundred years ago. But the inevitable consequence of equally attractive choices is uncertainty of purpose; uncertainty, in turn, saps resolution, and lack of resolve ends up devaluing choice. Therefore freedom does not necessarily help develop meaning in life – on the contrary. If the rules of a game become too flexible, concentration flags (...). Commitment to a goal and to the rules it entails is much easier when the choices are few and clear."
Home page photograph has been updated with another photograph from Xitang.
July 30th, 2008
I recently spent a couple of days photographing in Xitang (西塘), one of the six major water towns of Jiangnan (江南) area near Shanghai. It was my first time going to this particular water town and I have to say that it is the most impressive among the four that I have been to so far. I still have two to visit but something tells me (and that something usually turns out to be right) that they are unlikely to beat Xitang.
On this trip I further explored alternative approaches to cultural photography. When photographing in a culturally rich place such as Xitang there are two main elements that one tends to include in photographs, namely people and their surroundings. The usual approach is to start with people and photograph them in whatever surroundings they happen to be at the time. I, however, have noticed that in many instances the surroundings are not depicted adequately. To address this issue, I decided to reverse the sequence of building a picture. I would first find a compelling townscape, compose an image so that it would also allow adequate space for a person to enter and be a harmonious part of the composition, and then wait until someone would appear and become a part of the composition as I pre–visualised. This probably sounds as if you would have to wait forever but in Xitang (or any other water town in Jiangnan for that matter) that is not the case. First, there is always so much going on that you can safely count on people moving through a chosen composition at a fairly fast pace (this, unfortunately, includes the numerous tourists, too). Second, there is a number of activities, e.g. boat rowing or washing clothes at the canals, that, if you observe long enough, you can fairly accurately predict where and when they will occur again.
Equipment–wise, 95% of the time I used my Hasselblad Flexbody with the CFi 4/150 lens and black–and white film (Ilford XP–2; it actually was eight months past the expose before date but since it was stored in a refrigerator I figured there would be no problem). I used the Flexbody to primarily avoid having converging lines, which I find very distracting (do you see many converging lines in paintings?). Lens choice, on the other hand, was due to two factors. First, I really love this focal length—it compresses perspective yet is not too long; when shooting wide open at f/4 it also produces very nice out of focus background. Second, this lens has the largest image circle in the Hasselblad V–series lens lineup thus allowing for maximum possible shift.
In case you are wondering why I used the XP–2, I find that this film fits into the film–plus–digital–post–processing workflow quite well. It scans better than any other black–and–white emulsion that I have tried (not that many, mind you) and Digital ICE dust removal can be used. On top of that, the XP–2 has an enormous overexposure latitude—while being an ISO400 film, it can be rated anywhere between ISO100 and ISO400 depending on your preferences. Having conducted a few tests I normally rate it at ISO200 but for hand–held shots (for which I used the 503CW camera body instead of the Flexbody in Xitang) where faster shutter speed is needed I get an extra stop by rating it at ISO400.
July 23rd, 2008
I was forewarned not to listen to Eric Dolphy's "Out to lunch" more than twice a day and know that this will probably be somewhat controversial but, anyway, here goes—"Sunrise vs. Sunset". And no, I have not been smoking anything .
July 12th, 2008
In relation to the post of April 22, here is another album cover photograph that, in my mind, perfectly reflects the music:
Buena Vista Social Club
I absolutely love the pitch–black, lavish shadows. Some photographers will probably fret about the almost complete lack of dynamic range but we have to learn to differentiate between technical imperfections and aesthetic choices/decisions.
July 8th, 2008
Today I am posting an article that shares my experience with camera bags. It ended up somewhat long–winded – is it because I have recently been listening a bit too much to Keith Jarrett's "La Scala", first part of which is almost 45 minutes?
June 10th, 2008
When you can't make head or tail of the direction of the prevailing winds the best idea is to lie low and wait until things take recognizable shape. The upside is that, meanwhile, you can re–channel at least some of your energy and try to do something meaningful that is not dependent on the direction of the winds. I have been re–directing quite a bit of my zeal lately and am posting a series of photographs called The disappearance of old Shanghai. Any and all feedback will be appreciated.
May 21st, 2008
Some photographers tend to think that creativity ends when you finish a shoot and put your camera away. Working on the photographs taken in Cambodia in the beginning of the month I became immensely aware that it should not cease to be happening until you have produced the final presentation of a body of work. I actually have been amazed at the amount of creativity and thought that can go into the process of working on what normally would be considered as predefined work. Post–shooting work can be as defining as what you produce with the camera in your hands. Moreover, it can determine the destiny of certain images—adequate presentation can salvage individual photographs from going straight into the trash bin; two different presentations will favour some images over others from the same group of pictures. And of course, it is always fascinating how many ideas and indirect messages can go into such simple things as, say, image sequence or overall colour combinations.
I shot 11 rolls of film in Cambodia and ended up scanning and closely working on 25 images. They, however, could not be naturally organised into a coherent sequence and I spent a considerable amount of time working on an acceptable presentation of the photographs. The first presentation I came up with was passable; the second was much better yet its format did not allow including some of the images that I liked. The third presentation was a reasonable balance between the first two and represents most of my favourite photographs from the trip.
I should note that the relatively strong images that are worthy photographs in their own right went into each of the presentations; it is the fate of the "lesser" pictures that was intertwined with each particular presentation. Such images would have gone directly into the trash bin if not for the presentation; at the same time, the presentation could come into existence only with their inclusion. Is not it interesting how existence of two things is supported by their inter–dependability and how the inter–dependability makes each of them much stronger than they could ever be if presented separately? That is what creativity is about—coming up with something that makes one plus one equal a tiny bit more than plain vanilla two.
Working on possible presentations of the photographs also reminded me once again that in the game of art and creativity aesthetic perception and judgment are the kings while tools and technique are mere servants. Whereas the former would probably find it strenuous to survive without the latter, the latter would simply be an empty shell without the former.
May 6th, 2008
Photographic and travel Gods (as well as my boss) have been exceedingly good to me this year—as you might recall, I went to Morocco in January, Inner Mongolia and Hong Kong in February and India in April. "Life is too short to slow down," they whispered in my year and I, taking this advice from above literally, spent three days in early May photographing in Angkor, Cambodia.
I cannot find the right words to describe the richness of the cultural relics of Angkor—take my word for it, it will simply blow your mind. The topping on the cake is that in Angkor, unlike most remote destinations in China, you can travel in comfort if you want to. Every day I would head out at 5 a.m. and photograph until about 9 a.m. After that I would go back to the hotel to have brunch (with champagne—no less!), swim and read a book or listen to my music while savouring mango daiquiris. In the afternoon I would go out again and photograph until after sunset. That would be followed by a bit more of a relaxing time in the evening. Believe it or not, I had one of the best whisky sours in my entire life while in Cambodia .
This time I took my complete Hasselblad system with me. This included a 503cw camera body, a Flexbody, three lenses (the classic combination of the 50, 80 and 150 mm), 1.4X teleconverter and two film backs, as well as was accompanied by the Lumix LX2, accessories and several dozen of rolls of film. My Nikon D70s, unfortunately, had to stay home as it has been feeling too nostalgic about India...
Quite interestingly, I used the Flexbody most of the time as I find myself increasingly wearisome about converging lines in photographs. As good as the camera is, though, it is severely limited by the small image circle of the Hasselblad lenses (CFi 4/50 lens in particular). This has me thinking hard about a proper 4X5 camera setup—let's see where this leads .
Cambodian boy figuring out how to use a Flexbody
Home page photograph has been updated with one of the photographs from the trip.
April 29th, 2008
Part five of my on–going (or, rather, on–crawling) Epson 4880 printer report, 8–bit vs. 16–bit printing, has now been posted.
April 22nd, 2008
I tried doing concert/music photography a couple of times in the past and, whereas it is relatively easy to produce fairly descent images, I found it particularly hard to create photographs that would perfectly reflect and be consistent with the music to the extent whereby one can guess what the music is like by only looking at the picture(s).
I have always been a big fan of Janis Joplin (whose version of Summertime is my favourite among the ones that I have). However, her CDs disappeared from my life at some unknown point, most likely together with someone so precious that their evaporation went unnoticed. Missing the music quite badly, I ordered a couple of new CDs from Amazon. And there, on the back of one of the CD inserts, was the perfect photograph of Janis that, at least in my mind, pins down her music in one single powerful statement.
April 20th, 2008
The trip that I mentioned in the previous post was to India. As expected, things were way too hectic to do anything meaningful photography–wise (eight flights to/from and in India in six days ?those who travel often will know what this means and implies). Nonetheless, I tried my best to perceive what was unfolding before my eyes as if I were on a dedicated photographic expedition as I believe this to be crucial to improving one's photographic vision.
I came back with a bouquet of contradictory feelings and impressions that I find impossible to reconcile into a simple black–or–white notion. On the one hand, I was absolutely stunned by the cultural richness and excited by the photographic potential that the country offers. On the other hand, the shock induced by the pervasive sadness of the human condition as well as the state of the environment and infrastructure (Mumbai in particular) left me speechless.
Several photographs from the trip have temporarily been posted here. This collection is only what its name, "India: a first look from behind a window pane", suggests and has no pretense at being art or reportage – most of the photographs were actually taken from the car as we were traveling from one business meeting to the next. And yes, the word "first" was used on purpose .
Update: If you are interested in seeing some brilliant photography from India, visit here.
April 12th, 2008
Tomorrow I am off to a place that is far away, entirely unfamiliar and full of promises. This being a business trip I do not expect to be able to do a lot of photography but, as always, I will be looking out for photographic opportunities. Meanwhile and if you get tired of the Web sites that specialise in the technical aspects of photography, check out The Week in Pictures ?most certainly will be worth your while.
April 10th, 2008
"Technologies today are ill–equipped to store the world's digital information on digital media for the long haul, according to Gartner. To have reliable storage that can last 20 to 100 years, researchers will have to overcome challenges related to data format, hardware, software, metadata and information retrieval."
Keep this in mind when you long for or savour that latest DSLR. Looks like film gets a second breath.
April 9th, 2008
It is funny how in this age of immediate communications all sorts of implications of human nature (where technology does not and will never have a say) result in one of your Christmas presents arriving in April. Better later than never, though, as the present is in the form of a slightly stained and worn–out – read greatly appreciated – book of absolutely superb black–and–white photography that depicts China from late eighties on. It is hand–signed "(...) Here is to many more years of friendship and to an ever–keener vision of our world". Talk about essence, thoughtfulness and taste. Thank you so much, Chris.
April 8th, 2008
So I have been looking at and living with the photographs from Bashang for quite some time now and recently realised that I liked the ones with at least some human presence in them much more than those without. I have now deleted five photographs from the portfolio and all of them were pure landscapes.
Lately I also grew tired of the photographs that hang on my walls and have been thinking about replacing some of them. I even printed and prepared a few new pictures for framing but something felt wrong. It was when I printed several photographs from Zhouzhuang that it dawned on me that pure landscape, which has so far been my favourite type of photography, appears somewhat lifeless and does not seem to cut it for me as it used to. One might argue that my landscape photography is far from great but the thing is that I feel the same about others?work, too. In fact, any type of photography that does not have people in it (e.g., landscape or architecture) does not seem to be my cup of tea anymore. Looking back now I can see inklings of the brewing change but it probably was the trip to Bashang that helped it to take shape.
This is not to say that I am done with landscape photography. Nonetheless, this is quite a bit of a change that is likely to have a few implications. First and foremost, my future travel destinations, at least partially, will be different from the kind of places that I have been normally traveling to. Second, my photographic approaches as well as what equipment I use and acquire in the future might change, too. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds and where it leads. The most interesting question that I have been trying to answer, though, is what has caused this transformation, as well as whether it is going to trickle down to and surface in non–photographic aspects of my life. Very interesting indeed.
March 29th, 2008
I have never thought of photography as a potential source of additional income. However, I do occasionally receive email enquiring whether I sell prints. As this happens fairly consistently, I now offer prints for sale to those who would like to have one of my photographs not only in the form of the tiny on–screen embodiment. I should note that my primary intent is to make the photographs available to as many people as possible and my pricing policy is in tune with this purpose—any print can be bought for only USD29 (plus shipping). Further details can be found here.
March 21st, 2008
"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."
This has been one of my favourite quotations from years back. So what happens when you are acutely aware of the possibility, or even inevitability, that something fundamentally precious will leave you before you are willing or ready to let it go? Then the number of times that every and any thing related to it happens seems minuscule, you start reminiscing every occurrence while it is still happening, and unavoidable emptiness imperceptibly yet firmly overshadows your existence. And it all seems way, way, way too limited.
March 18th, 2008
My computer was long overdue for an upgrade and so I recently bit the bullet and upgraded to the Mac Pro. The picture below shows what I used for the past couple of years; roll your mouse over the image to see what I am typing this on now. As you can imagine, moving from a two–generations–old Mac Mini to the latest–and–greatest eight–core Mac Pro is a huge leap in productivity. To give you an idea, I can now easily have a dozen applications open and painlessly work on several documents at the same time. What is so unusual about it? Well, dig this: two of the documents are 500MB+ files opened in Photoshop .
As advanced as Mac OS X is, the process of migrating from the old Mac to the new one involved vastly more than one click. For some reason Migration Assistant reported a problem with the OS of the old Mac and I had to move everything manually. Transferring documents, music, photos, etc. was mostly straightforward; moving email account settings, bookmarks, contacts, and so on was not difficult, too, but had to be done in a very meticulous way. Nonetheless, all of it was much easier than moving from PC to Mac.
I had some of the original scans and RAW files on a couple of external drives and one of them failed while I was fiddling with them. Cold sweat ran down my spine when I realised that I had some important photos on it and had not backed it up for several months. I ran to a data recovery specialist and, fortunately, managed to recover all the files. The only caveat is that data recovery is a very, very expensive service ?you will be surprised! In short, buying an additional huge–capacity hard drive and backing up all important information is much cheaper. Lesson learned ?after the hardware fiasco I now have Time Machine backing up the primary hard drive hourly. Some things are not appreciated until they are almost lost.
March 14th, 2008
March 10th, 2008
I almost entirely forgot that I spent one evening and one morning (about four hours altogether) photographing The Great Wall at Jinshanling （金山岭长城） on the way back from Bashang Grassland. I have to admit that photographing The Wall is a rather strange undertaking. On the one hand, it undoubtedly is an interesting and easily accessible subject (if you are based in China, that is) that requires a minimal outlay in terms of both money and time to photograph. On the other hand, it has been photographed so many times by so many people that positively answering the question of whether the world needs yet another picture of The Wall takes a lot of inspiration and courage. Also, coming up with unordinary images of The Wall takes a lot more than it might seem at first and, not surprisingly, some of the best images were taken by Chinese photographers who stayed or even literally lived on the Wall for extended periods of time. In the end of the day, I suppose, it boils down to one's general attitude towards the "been there, done that" issue. There might be a billion of photos of The Wall out there and Pink Floyd have probably performed it a few hundred times but?Hold on, I think I am drifting?or am I? Anyway, considering the fact that I have not produced any decent pictures of The Wall (which is a real shame, given the number of years that I have spent in China), I gladly accepted the opportunity to photograph it.
With this as a background and for what it is worth, I hope that the photograph below passes as a decent picture.
The Great Wall @ Jinshanling （金山岭长城）
(A side note: there has recently been a bit of an anti–saturation movement on the Internet so, just for the record, the photo was taken with Velvia 50 slide film and, after scanning, only Levels were adjusted—in a very straightforward and judicious manner. Granted, Velvia 50 is a saturated film; however, nobody seems to have had problems with that ever since it was introduced about twenty years ago ?quite the opposite!)
March 2nd, 2008
At long last, ten favourite photographs from Bashang Grassland have been posted. The collection, however, is not the final statement—as has been becoming my regular practice, I am pacing myself and will probably further fine–tune some of the individual images and overall presentation of the portfolio.
I have been looking at the pictures and thinking, what is the most crucial element that no excellent photograph can afford lacking? Cameras, lenses, technique, etc. are important; they constitute the foundation of any acceptably good photograph and are what photographers tend to concentrate on while exploring the initial twenty percent of their artistic path. However, it is aesthetic sensitivity and judgment at every step of the photographic process, from the moment you contemplate a possible image and look at what unfolds before your eyes to when you click the "Print" button in Photoshop, that are essential to creating an outstanding photograph; they are required to depart from the land of mediocrity into the realm of true expression and are gradually developed during the remaining eighty percent of one's artistic career.
February 24th, 2008
A further comment from Tom on Hasselblad lens shutters:
My research indicates that we must avoid 1/8 and 1/15 second exposures especially – they are the ones which are most susceptible to going long. However, I experienced problems at every shutter speed (but I wasn't shooting faster than 1/30). It just shows that there is no perfect camera system – they all have flaws and trade–offs. I'll take the incredible Zeiss glass for the price of cold weather issues.
February 23rd, 2008
My friend from Canada Tom Willekes has written describing his experience photographing in cold weather, which I find fascinating ?see a part of his email and my comments below. Home page photograph has been updated with another picture from the trip to Bashang Grassland; the photo mentioned in the first paragraph of Tom's email is now at the end of this post.
I went to your page today and was greeted by the photo in the subject line ?very nice! We call them "sun dogs" in this part of the world. I've seen some before but not as complete as the one you caught on film. Nice job.
Then I read your description of your winter photography excursion. I once misjudged the timing of sunrise and had to wait 15 minutes in –30 degree C weather. Then I spent 45 minutes taking pictures, oblivious to the condition of my feet. When I got in the truck and started to warm I experienced pain like I've never had. My feet had frozen quite completely, almost to the point of frost bite. I learned my lesson that day. Ever since I've been careful not to push it. No photograph is worth jeopardizing a body part.
One question: Did you have any problem with the shutters in your Hasselblad getting slow? I've noticed this and have heard it's because they use whale oil as a lubricant. My large format lens shutters don't seem to suffer the same problem. Maybe my lenses need a CLA?
Anyway, just thought I'd drop a line and encourage you to get better gloves, a face mask, thick socks, long underwear, a thermos with hot chocolate, heavy boots, a fur hat (I find this the most vital), and keep taking pictures in the cold. The light is never crisper than when it dips below minus 20!
Here is one where it was below –20 and it made for some great mist on the water. However, my (Hasselblad) shutter slowed down significantly and I wasted many pictures.
In the previous post I mentioned some of the equipment problems that one has to deal with when photographing in cold temperatures. The list, however, was incomplete—one issue I did not bring up is that Hasselblad shutters do get slow indeed. I had quite a few severely overexposed (and unusable) photos; they were in groups of three to five shots and the groups were unevenly scattered among the fifteen rolls of film that I shot there. It is difficult to predict when the shutters slow down; I suppose it happens when the temperature falls below a certain point. Another photographer who was also using a Hasselblad system could not release the shutter in the cold at all; it worked without any problems once warmed up, though.
Photographing in cold temperatures is very challenging indeed but as Tom rightly mentions the beautiful light most certainly makes it worthwhile.
Sun Dogs @ Bashang Grassland
Natural phenomenon – no "creative" filters or Photoshop
February 17th, 2008
I do not know what hit me but instead of going some place warm I decided to spend several days photographing in Bashang Grassland during the Chinese New Year holiday earlier this month. Located in Southern Inner Mongolia and Northern Hebei, Bashang Grassland is one of the major photographic destinations in China. I photographed there before in autumn (have a look here) but photographing there in winter is an entirely different undertaking ?not so much so because of the different appearances but simply because it is freaking cold; I do not want to make extravagant claims but it at least was –20C all right. I suppose the drive behind going there was the periodical necessity to test the limits, shake off the slowly yet persistently encroaching lethargy of the day–to–day reality and shake up the idle comfort of well–established grooves.
It was my first time photographing for extended periods of time (two to four hours at a time) in such adverse conditions and I have to say that it was more challenging than I expected. –20C might not sound that bad; the thing, however, is that you have to carry on once in the field no matter what ?you can not drop by a caf?for a hot cup of coffee if you feel cold and you can not catch a taxi to go back home if you feel tired. Most importantly, though, you know exactly why you are there and you have to do it.
Wind is your worst enemy and your best friend. It pushes the cold further into the realm of intolerability and stings. At the same time, it is the very same wind that brings about subtle colours, distant vagueness and beautiful atmospheric phenomenon (current home page photograph was taken without any "creative" filters; I do not actually own any).
Snow is a blessing and a curse, too. It is one of the main reasons why you are there in the first place; Bashang, however, is a very spacious place and snow restricts movement and makes finding interesting perspectives and satisfactory compositions even more strenuous.
Snow (and us stuck in it)
The low temperature puts all your equipment to test. Batteries die in no time if you keep your camera or meter out in the open, camera operation noticeably slows down and tripod heads of questionable quality become unusable.
The harsh conditions push you to the edge of what you can do physically, too. There was one time where I knew perfectly well that I had to use a graduated ND filter. I, however, could not manage it because my fingers went numb before I could set it all up (you can not do it wearing thick gloves and thin gloves simply do not last long enough). And the disturbing part about your fingers going numb (apart from the fact that it hurts, of course) is that it is not possible to know where the line between them being temporarily numb and freezing them off is. I happened to freeze off a couple of fingertips, one photographer froze off his ears and another companion froze off the tip of his nose (which he, apparently, put against the LCD of his DSLR for longer than he should have). In the end none of it was disastrous but, again, you do not know where the line is, how far behind it you have gone and where the point of no return lies.
It is quite unexpected, then, that despite the intense and never ending challenge you unintentionally tend to look for and photograph subtlety, thoughtfulness and longing. But wait... have not I seen that somewhere... delicacy, contemplation and craving amidst a relentless and driving force? Why is it that I hear Charles Mingus' "The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady" playing?
February 2nd, 2008
At the risk of annoying millions (gazillions?) of people out there, a musical turn on the theory of relativity: the first movement of Brahms' first piano concerto (where it is over four minutes before you actually get to hear the piano; as an alternative, Miles Davis' Pharaoh's Dance qualifies, too) is much shorter than, for instance, Céine Dion's love theme from "Titanic". Looking at it from the flip side, any of the Chopin's Preludes is much, much longer than the aforementioned masterpiece of the Canadian star .
February 1st, 2008
To paraphrase a part of the dialog between Prince Feisal and Mr. Bentley in "Lawrence of Arabia",
"I understand you've been given no cannons."
"That is so."
"You are handicapped?"
"It restricts us to small things."
In late January I happened to have the pleasure of enjoying a couple of days of sterile tourism in Marrakech, Morocco. I had neither Can(n)ons nor Nikons at my disposal; instead, my rusty–but–trusty Lumix LX–2 with a half–empty battery and a half–full 2GB SD card was the only photographic tool that I could use. Photography–wise, lousy preparation on my part? You could say so; however, on this particular trip, even that sufficed to fully utilise the time available for what could pass as creative photography. In retrospect, this was yet another occurrence when it was obvious to me that working within known and well–mastered limitations is often easier and more productive than being lost in or simultaneously juggling an uncomfortable number of dubious choices. Several photographs from the trip can temporarily be found here.
January 23rd, 2008
I currently have five versions of "My funny valentine" (too few, I suppose, given the fact that it has been performed by more than six hundred musicians) and my favourite, by far, is the one by Keith Jarrett, which is on his album "Up for it". This makes me wonder who would "play", say, Ansel Adams' "Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake" best. Would it necessarily be Ansel Adams himself? With the power and flexibility of the digital darkroom, would the work be taken onto an even higher level? Would there be fascinating controversies similar to the one between Glenn Gould and Leonard Bernstein? The possibilities are very, very intriguing but, alas, as Brooks Jensen mentions in one of his podcasts, "performing" another photographer's negative (or RAW file for that matter) has so far remained an unexamined taboo in photography.
N.B. If the link above is blocked in the country of your residence, you can open it via http://zend2.com or any other proxy server (guess why I think it might be blocked ). "Look at me and my bad self!" (© Kuzco)
January 19th, 2008
There are things in life that do not immediately speak to you yet you feel compelled to conquer and, ultimately, become fond of them. The conquering process, however, sometimes takes such a long time that they unobtrusively become an irreplaceable part of your life and, in the end, the purpose of truly savouring them becomes irrelevant.
Winter sunset @ West Lake, Hangzhou, China （中国杭州西湖）
January 14th, 2008
Where is the point of losing innocence? When your intuition starts solely serving the purpose of juxtaposing, protecting and advancing interests as opposed to being finely tuned to detect, make sense of and relate to delicate fluctuations in another person's emotions, seeing artistry in fleeting moments and savouring subtle notions. Similar to how going down the hill is easier than climbing a mountain or the fact that centrifugal forces prevail over binding forces, the process can only unfold in one direction and it is only a question of time when the line is crossed. But the truly horrible part is that once innocence is lost you know exactly how, are able and almost willing to decline its return even if it happens to find a crack to come back. Decency makes an appearance when the rejection happens in a courteous manner, but what is decency compared to innocence?
Winter afternoon @ West Lake, Hangzhou, China （中国杭州西湖）
January 6th, 2008
Part four of my report on the Epson 4880 printer, swapping photo and matte black inks, has now been posted. (Report to be continued—stay tuned!)
January 2nd, 2008
I mentioned in the end of last year that Epson pro–level printers generally appear to be better–sorted products. Epson, however, is a multinational company and their policies vary greatly depending on the country. Also, there are bound to be discrepancies in products and services offered in different nations. I happen to be living in China and buying the 4880 in The Middle Kingdom was not without a few surprises.
My Epson 4880 came with a software CD that has "Epson Stylus PRO 4550/4880C" written on it. I insert the CD into my Mac, run the installation programme and guess what? It contains software for the 4550 only! In other words, my 4880 came without any sort of software. The Epson technician who came to install the printer (and was useful for moving it around only) was as puzzled as yours truly and, after making a couple of phone calls, suggested that I download the software from the Epson Web site. This eventually worked but, still, I would not call this elegant—for a company like Epson this, in fact, is a fundamental blunder.
The printer that I bought is actually called "Epson Stylus Pro 4880C". Up to this point, however, I have not been able to figure out what this "C" might imply. At first I naively thought that this might indicate that the printer I bought is the ColorBurst Edition but considering the fact that it came without any software whatsoever I scrapped that idea. I then phoned Epson hotline and they confirmed that the "C" designation means that this printer is made and sold in China. They, however, could not clarify whether there are any technical differences between the 4880C and the 4880 sold elsewhere.
As mentioned earlier the 4880 takes both 110ml and 220ml cartridges. 110ml cartridges would be ideal for the amount of printing that I do. Unfortunately, Epson's policy in China is that they do not sell 110ml cartridges in this country. Another fundamental inconvenience is that the 220ml cartridges are longer than the 110ml ones and once you install one of them (as I had to do as I use matte black ink) the ink compartment cover cannot be closed. I do not find this particularly elegant, too, but there currently is no choice.
The flip (positive) side of the above point, however, is that in China Epson sell 220ml cartridges at the price that in other countries is paid for 110ml cartridges—current price of 220ml cartridges in Shanghai is RMB450 (approximately USD61). I suppose I should not really be complaining .