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This Website is still under construction.

I’m sorry I haven’t had the time to update my own site — like a mechanic whose own car is falling apart.

Among other functions, I’m the Webmaster for the Blackhawk Museum, which keeps me very busy.



I had an exhibition at the Blackhawk Museum (February 20 – May 19, 2002) in Danville, California, entitled Telescapes: Intimate Landscapes from a Distance. Please check out the Museum Website.

The following are some of the text panels which accompanied an inaugural 1991 exhibition of photographs at the Blackhawk Museum which I hope will aid in understanding why I think “Telescapes” and “Floral Dreams” are unique.

Photography, like other art forms, begins with imagination. However, achieving the full realization of an artist’s ideas in the final photograph is often not as straight-forward as it seems. Today’s cameras, with their ever-increasing convenience and automation, greatly simplify the process of translating idea to photograph. As a consequence, many people have come to believe that the science and technology which make this translation possible need no longer be an important consideration in the creative process.

Optimizing the Balance   Paradoxically, although science does set physical restrictions upon the implementation of creative ideas, it seems to simultaneously enlarge the boundaries of imagination. Seeking to optimize the balance is a task for the artist. The works presented here are a brief introduction to the way this balancing act is orchestrated by one artist, who has chosen to explore two very different boundaries of imagination: “Telescapes” and “Floral Dreams.” These photographs are a direct product of constantly striving to extend the technological state of the art, while simultaneously exploiting any new creative opportunities which become revealed as a result.

Eliminating Unsharpness   Two [now three] decades ago, Francis Sakamoto was not content with the sharpness available from the best telephoto lenses of the time. Performance was supposedly limited by the selection of glass types available and a universal acceptance of an optical design axiom that seemed to prohibit any further improvement of a critical sharpness-reducing error. Additionally, this error tends to become worse as the magnification of the lens increases. Fortunately, however, Sakamoto discovered a simple and inexpensive way to nearly eliminate this critical error, producing results that would not be equaled for over a decade.

Telephoto Landscapes Unexplored   Because the quality of earlier generations of telephoto images decreased rapidly to unacceptable levels as magnification increased, the unique beauty of the telephoto landscape was left nearly unexplored. Once the way was discovered by Sakamoto to produce high-magnification images of high quality, unforeseen creative possibilities emerged.

Unique Magnifications   Further, a group of mirror lenses which owe their lineage to astronomical telescope designs, have been modified in various ways to provide an unusually broad selection of very high magnifications. Many of the magnifications are not commercially available and are thus quite unique. This naturally enlarges the potential for correspondingly unique images.

“Telescapes” can’t be Duplicated   “Telescapes” (telescopic landscapes) represent small sections of the panorama and contain details too distant to be visible to the naked eye. What results is a very different impression of the scene which cannot be duplicated by using less powerful lenses at shorter distances. Even a familiar subject may be totally transformed by this more global perspective. Although these landscapes may sometimes appear manipulated in some manner, they are unadulterated glimpses of the reality just beyond reach of the unaided eye.

Two Cameras into One   A novel adaptation of two different types of cameras into one retains the advantages of both without the limitations of each alone. One important advantage of the resulting system is the ability to quickly and accurately focus on a subject not parallel to the film. Another is the ability to conveniently measure the light passing through the entire system and illuminating the film. Still another is the availability of an accurate shutter mechanism near the film. Once again, expanded creative possibilities emerge from these new abilities.

Soft-Focus Lens   A true “soft-focus lens,” in contrast to a “soft-focus filter,” relies on the presence of a normally undesirable property called spherical aberration in its optical design. With spherical aberration, a point on the film does not translate to a single point in the subject, as it would through a usual “sharp” lens, but instead to a well-defined line plunging into the subject’s depth.

Rules don’t Apply   Consequently, some familiar rules which usually define the depth of sharpness into the subject and brightness of details do not apply anymore and new creative possibilities emerge. This results in an effect similar to an airbrushed painting in which sharp borders are purposefully overlaid by haloes and a subtle gradation of colors.

“Floral Dreams” a New Application of an Old Lens   “Floral Dreams” owe their birth to the gift of a “soft-focus” portrait lens originally used in an Oakland studio by the grandfather of Sakamoto’s wife. This is the same type of lens used to great effect during the classic Hollywood movie era. At first, the lens was appreciated merely as a historical curiosity but, after being adapted to a modern camera, its unique qualities suggested the application to floral close-ups.

   A complementary group of seven specially modified lenses, in concert with the other expanded abilities, constitute a potent system for realizing these impressionistic “Floral Dreams.”

Urban Telescapes

Point Isabel & Freight Train

This and the following images demonstrate what I see through my 1,000mm camera lens (like looking through a 20-power telescope) compared to what you would see standing in the same spot. Point Isabel is on the shores of San Francisco Bay; the photo was taken from the Kensington (north Berkeley) hills miles away. In a print, you can clearly see two people on the walking path near the center of the picture. The freight train (bottom of the picture) just happened to be going by at the right time and adds an important chance element to the composition.

The following photos were not taken at the same time as the image above, so the lighting is very different — the “perfect light” only lasts for a very short time so it isn’t possible to take a series of photos with different lenses under exactly the same ideal light. However, I think they are sufficient to give you the general idea. Also, I normally don’t travel around with so many shorter focal length lenses on hand; as a result I only have a few series showing comparisons such as this between what my camera sees versus what the unaided eye would see.

When I go on my photo trips away from the Bay Area I don’t take any lens less than 135mm in focal length (135mm – 600mm zoom lens) so all of these comparison series have to be taken in the Bay Area where I have access to the “shorter” lenses.

One of the many advantages of using a powerful telephoto lens, as you can see, is that I can avoid elements that aren’t very picturesque, such as tree branches, roofs, and phone and power lines.

The real power of photography is not so much in what you can include to try to convey what you are experiencing in real life but in what you exclude that’s not important to what you’re trying to “say” in the photograph.

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