Brian's Bookshelf - Photography & Light


On this page
Photo collections: Akasegawa Genpei photo books
Technical books: Minnaert: "The nature of Light & Colour in the open air" - Shaw: "Closeups in Nature"
Reference: Konigsberg: "The Complete Film Dictionary" - Other dictionaries on imaging


Photo collections

Japan Akasegawa Genpei: "Igirisu shoutai fumei" (Oddities of England), pub. Tokyo Shoseki, Tokyo 1994; 120pp; ISBN: 4-487-75407-0


? It's difficult to convey the slightly stiff humour of the title: I suppose if you had to be literal, it's "Things in Britain whose purpose is unclear." The author, born in Yokohama in 1937, is an artist and writer, and obviously enthusiastic photographer, who has travelled round with a camera, and with his eyes open. An immediate flavour is given by the photograph inside the dust jacket above the biographical notes: a photograph not of him, but of the traffic light sign over an intersection that bears his name. (Akasegawa, that is.) The book is just full of photos of things most people would walk by and not notice, some of them very funny. A word is worth 0.001 pictures and all that - I've included just fragments of two of them here.

He has produced a couple of other similar volumes, one of bits of Japan, the other somewhere on the continent (Germany, I think?). Definitely a book to look out for.

Igirisu shoutai fumei (Akasegawa Genpei) The original book title (author).

Get it (in Japanese only) at (Popup help)

Book coverJapan Akasegawa Genpei: "Thomason daizukan - Vol. 1: Mu" (Collection of "Thomasons"), pub. Chikuma Bunko, 1994; 360 pp; ISBN 4-480-03201-0

The story goes that Thomason was an obscure American baseball player, who came to Japan in the early 1970s, when Akasegawa and friends had just started this offbeat photography group, going round looking for what they were calling "chou-geijutsu", or "hyper-art". A work of art is not normally intended to have a practical function, yet it's on one side of a fairly clear divide between things-to-be-kept and things-to-be-thrown-away. Merely telling someone it's art usually produces a response of respect (whether real or faked). But these "hyper-art" objects are things which have totally lost their function, yet are somehow surviving, often unwittingly cared for, but plainly over the line. The first was the "Yotsuya Steps" (in translation we lose a pun on the "Yotsuya ghost stories"), on the outside of a building in Yotsuya, an area of Tokyo. The door they had once led to replaced long ago by a window, yet the handrail was not only intact, but had even been recently repaired. The name that eventually fell on this class of incongruities was that of the unfortunate functionless Thomason, who so spectacularly lost form that during his couple of years in Japan he failed to hit a ball.

This book is a collection of these arcane discoveries, photographed, and arranged by category. The first group, including the very first Thomason, is a set of Functionless stairs, some long, some short, but all going nowhere. Among them is a wonderful "triple Thomason". A staircase on the outside of a building leads nowhere (an upstairs window). But it was built in front of a door downstairs, which is thus another Thomason, except that the downstairs area has been converted to an open parking garage, so even if the door worked it would go nowhere.

This is followed by Functionless gates, Functionless canopies (over what were windows, signs, and so on), Functionless windows, and Painted walls - the odd patterns that result from piecemeal repairs. The next category shows a macabre sense of black humour: Atomic bomb type. Something has completely disappeared, leaving only its shadow. Many are bits of building that have left only their shape, but there is also an extraordinary row of seats with complete human silhouettes behind them. He rounds off with a few Interior walls, typically ornate tiled patterns of fish, which once were on the inside of a bath-house.

A wonderful set of observations. It's slightly a pity that the book, although not thin, is very small format - A6, or the standard bunko book size. It just doesn't look like a coffee-table book as it ought.

Get Volume 1 (in Japanese only) at (Popup help)

Book cover Volume 2: Kara; ISBN 4-480-03202-9

I haven't seen this volume, which makes it doubly difficult to translate the names. Volume 1 is Mu, the "Absence" of zen; this volume is the Kara of karate, which simply means "empty".

Get Volume 2 (in Japanese only) at (Popup help)


Technical books

MJG Minnaert
Photo: H. Nieuwenhuijzen
Netherlands Minnaert, M: "The nature of Light & Colour in the open air" (translated by H M Kremer-Priest), pub. 1954, Dover reprint, 360pp, ISBN 0-486-20196-1 (about $10)

A wonderful book, of some antiquity; but stuff like this does not age. The layout is rather old-fashioned - 235 sections numbered through the chapters - but it amounts to an amazing catalogue of observations, from commonplace to rarity. For the sublime, we have the complete apparition of three crosses in the sky seen by Edward Whymper after his companions died on the descent from the Matterhorn in 1865, attributed to refracting ice crystals. This jostles with the mundane: the arc patterns of light seen in the spokes of a rotating bicycle wheel. In between, he deals with the basic optics of what we see in the sky, weather effects, optical illusions, reflection, refraction, colour. Even psychology, as he discusses the well-known effect that the sun or moon seems larger near the horizon.

The book is full of little diagrams, and was written in an innocent age before the term "dumbing down" was invented, but he approaches everything in a painstakingly simple way. However many times I dip into it, some new treasure always emerges.

The Dover reprint is reticent about the original publication date or even language, telling us only that Professor Minnaert is at the University of Utrecht. But the web turned up some more information. The original was "De Natuurkunde van het Vrije Veld" (Zutphen: 1937), and the English translation was first published in London, in 1940.
From: Review by J B Calvert

His full name was Marcel Gilles Jozef Minnaert, born Brugge (Bruges) 1893, died 1970.
Photo above is from a short biography (in Dutch) from a site about the Minnaert building of Utrecht University.

Get the book: (US) - Alphabetstreet (UK)

I haven't seen a copy, but there is also a newer translation by Len Seymour of the same book, with new colour plates, titled "Light and Color in the Outdoors", Springer Verlag 1993, ISBN 0387979352 (US) - Alphabetstreet (UK)

Book coverUSA Shaw, John: "Closeups in Nature", pub. Amphoto, 1987, 144pp, paperback approx. A4 format ISBN 0-8174-4052-6

I'd been trying my hand at flower photography, and reading posts at - this is the book that was recommended over and over again. Wow! If you order it, be prepared for a period of depression lasting a week or so just after it arrives, when you think you'll never approach his level.

OK, so the photographs are spectacular, but the book is packed with really practical information on how it's done, covering just about all aspects of photographing plants and bugs. He covers basic issues - exposure, focussing, film, filters - quite thoroughly, then rather more than the second half of the book goes exhaustively through the different techniques for getting a closeup from your lens. The wide variety of techniques includes plenty of options which will not cost a fortune, and there are also ideas for things you can make yourself. ("plastic bowl lighting"!)

Now a couple of niggles: the first beyond John Shaw's control. Within a few days of getting the book, the first crack appeared in the binding. I asked on, and the almost unanimous response was that with Amphoto books in what is ironically known as "perfect binding" I could expect to have a bundle of loose pages in due course. A pity - and the hardback version seems to be permanently out of print.

The second complaint relates more directly to the content. John Shaw is an American, so the book is written in jumbled up units - lenses have focal lengths measured in millimetres, but the working distance from the lens to the subject is in inches. This sounds like a minor irritant, but I suspect it contributes to a general fear of calculation. Could this be why he never actually manages to write down the single formula, 1/u + 1/v = 1/f (see here), that would enable anyone to work out almost all basic lens arithmetic? So the calculations included are all more or less ex cathedra statements.

I'm afraid to say he also fails to explain simply what f/4 means (that the aperture diameter is the focal length divided by 4). I suppose it's FORT syndrome ("Fear Of Root Two"). Never mind, he does use the traditional and explanatory "f/4" notation. But here's an oddity in the typographical minutiae department: for some reason he writes the maximum aperture describing a lens as F4, with an italic capital and no slash. Odd, but where this appears in an italic caption, as on page 107, the "inverse italic" convention means that the F is non-italic, and looks to be rather drunkenly sloping in the wrong direction.

But these are minor matters: whether you are an experienced "plant shooter" and want to improve, or you are just considering what equipment you need to start, just get the book and look at the photographs. I'll end with a comment he makes in the foreword: "To be a better nature photographer, you must first become a better naturalist." That's what it's all about in the end.

Get the book: - Find hardback through ABE



Book coverUSA Konigsberg, Ira: "The Complete Film Dictionary", pub. Meridian (Penguin Group), New York 1987; 420pp; ISBN: 0-452-00980-4

The cover says it all, actually: "The most comprehensive sourcebook on the motion picture - as art, technology, and industry - with more than 3,500 entries on all aspects of filmmaking, including essays on: technique - technical aspects - history - criticism - and many other key topics."

It's really more an encyclopedia than a dictionary: the extended articles are particularly useful for historical background. I've sometimes found it helpful in tracking down the original usage of some term which pops up in Japanese - often substantially shifted from its original meaning. And only the other day, checking on the "letterbox" and "pan-and-scan" modes for handling widescreen format output from a DVD on a conventional 4:3 television, I found myself absorbed in the history of the development of 4:3 and the widescreen formats in the cinema. As far as I can see, it is technically reliable, but the emphasis is definitely not on optics: "Focal length", for example, is disposed of in a single paragraph.

Very definitely recommended.

Get the book: (US) - Alphabetstreet (UK)

Other dictionaries on imaging

A large proportion of my translation jobs relate to image processing in general, and broadcast video in particular. Over the years I have collected a little pile of dictionaries (or similar) in this field - occasionally one comes in useful, but unlike Konigsberg (above), none of these gives a general impression of being a very comprehensive or well-edited work. They are much more like some individual's scrapbook of collected puzzlers patched up for publication: I can't really recommend any of these, because I think nowadays you would be able to find information as good or better in a quick Web search. And the prices match the minority nature of this sort of publication.

With that disclaimer, here's a list. Here are a couple of terms I picked out for comparison.

Anything interesting they say about "cue": this is used as a verb, as in "cuing up to X", to mean positioning a recording or editing device at a particular position X on the tape (or whatever). (Japanese: atamadashi) Actually none of these books (nor Konigsberg above) gives this meaning, but there are some interesting hints. There are also some related curiosities arising from button labelling: in audio, I'm reliably informed, "cue and review" (or perhaps "cue/review") is used in referring to operations for searching in either direction. Unfortunately, this metamorphoses into a button labelled "REV" which means "playback in the reverse direction", but the manual has to explain that "REV" means "review", not "reverse".

The spelling of the full form of the French television standard SECAM. There are so many of these, I'm making a collection.

lemonUK "Dictionary of Image Technology" (BKSTS), pub. Focal Press, 3rd ed. 1994, 160pp, ISBN 0-240-51364-9

Formerly the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society's terminology dictionary. Suffers from a common problem: the inclusion of generic bits of computer lore, generally not very up to date, of dubious merit. Things like: "line feed (LF) In word processing, a character which causes the print or display to move to the next line; carriage return is needed to move to the start." And this is a slim little book, considering that it costs more than 50% of the massive and useful Focal Encyclopedia of Photography.

"Cue/review - a control on an audio tape recorder, to keep the head in contact during fast winding."

SECAM: "Sequential Couleur à Mémoire"

Get the book: (US)

lemon Bognár, Desi K: "International Dictionary of Broadcasting and Film", pub. Focal Press, 1995, 270pp, ISBN 0-240-80212-8

Genuinely international: the author is apparently a New Yorker, though his wife was born in Budapest. Well, he's travelled a lot, and this shows, with acronyms for broadcasting organisations worldwide, but in the end many of the entries aren't obviously useful - PCSC is the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, we learn. Hmm.

SECAM: "Sequentiel Couleur à Memoire"

Get the book: (US) - Alphabetstreet (UK)

lemonUSA Elkins, David E: "Camera Terms and Concepts", pub. Focal Press, 1993, 140pp, ISBN 0-240-80150-4

This one can't even get the title right: it obviously refers only to film cine cameras. Can't see any silly computer terms, but the definition of K for Kelvin is pretty jumbled. What is the point of trying to define standard scientific terms if it's beyond you?

No entry at all for "cue" or "SECAM".

Get the book: (US)

lemonGermany Huber, Michael: "A-Z of Camcorders and Video", pub. Hove Foto Books, 1991, 150pp, ISBN 0-906447-69-0

A different problem: this is translated from German, so it still has the German explanation of the bits of English writing put on equipment by Japanese manufacturers. That's why "IRIS" is in block capitals, and means, not "iris", but "on many camcorders, the control for manual adjustment of lighting". (Huh?) And sillier: "SLOW" means "slow operation", we're told.

Cue, cue review - see "picture search"

SECAM: Séquentiel Couleur à Mémoire

Get the book: (Only place I can find it)

lemonGermany Hennings, Harry: "Sony Camcorders", pub. Hove Foto Books, 1991, 150pp, ISBN 0-906447-87-9

More translation - despite the extraordinarily British-sounding author's name, another credit gives: "Englisch translation: Petra Koop"!

This book has "Sony" in the title: here's a glossary entry that looks oddly familiar:

Short for Recording Review. In Record/Pause mode the last two to three seconds of the previous shot are played back.

Japanese typography reproduced faithfully: new words are made by chopping English words into pieces, glueing the bits together with full stops - block capitals of course!

Get the book: (Only place I can find it)



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