Compression

One of my early heroes in photography was Ernst Haas, an Austrian who was a pioneer of color imagery and in 1962 had the first single-artist exhibition of color photography at Moma. Haas, an early member of Magnum, refused an offer from Life Magazine in order to be free to roam the world and photograph what he chose, frequently selling stories to both Life and Look.

Haas was once asked how many lenses he worked with and when he replied one or two the questioner then asked if he couldn’t better photograph something across the street or further with a longer lens. Haas’s response (now sometimes referred to as a ‘sneaker-zoom’) was that he simply would walk closer to the subject in order to photograph it in a way to approximate a telephoto lens.

But when I recently went back to a group of images I had shot with a 500mm lens (a mirror lens fixed at f8) it struck me that Haas’s approach wouldn’t work all the time. The compression of information that a very long lens records is impossible to recreate just by crossing the street. Things stack up in a remarkable way when viewing landscapes from the right distance but can also have intriguing results in tighter quarters.

These photos are also a bit of an homage to the late, great lamented beauty of Kodachrome. That film combined with that lens made the right scene a truly unique beast.

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Georgetown sunset

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