Author Archives: Leicaphila

Infinite Possibilities

Out the Car Window

Existence is infinitely charged with possibilities for meaning, that it’s always happening around us at every moment, needing only the isolation and disembodiment that something like photography provides to open it up to our attentiveness.” – James Yood

Digital Tri-X: I’ve Reached The Holy Grail

Me in the Bathtub Dreaming of Finally Conquering Digital Tri-X

I suspect that all of us Leica guys who learned our craft in the film era have a somewhat irrational fixation on “High Speed” Kodak Tri-X B&W film. It’s the film we grew up rolling into cartridges, shooting (oftentimes pushing to 1600 ISO), developing and printing. A complete end to end process.

Kodak first introduced Tri-X 1940 in sheets rated at ASA 200 and tungsten 160. It was one of Kodak’s first “high-speed” black and white films back when ASA 25 was the norm. Kodak released Tri-X in 35 and 120 formats in 1954, available in two speeds, ASA 320 (320TXP) and 400/27° (400TX) although I could never figure out why. Tri-X 400 was the more common of the two, available in 24- and 36-exposure rolls of 35 mm and rolls of 120 as well as 50 and 100 foot 35mm bulk rolls. Tri-X 320 was available in 4×5″, 5×7″, and 8×10″ single sheets.

Tri-X has undergone a number of minor engineering changes during its long history. An early change in ASA (ISO) speed from 200 to 400 around 1960 due to changes in the ASA standard rather than the film. In 2007 Kodak re-engineered the film for finer grain, receiving the new designation 400TX in place of TX or TX400. The amount of silver in the film stock was reduced. Lot’s of fans weren’t happy, suspecting the stock of morphing into a more tame version of the modern TMAX Kodak offerings.

Tri-X 400 and D76 go together like eggs and ham. Tri-X rated at ISO 400 when processed in D76 remains among the faster yet resolute black and white films today. In the film era, Tri-X photographers could change their results by using different developers (high acutance developers give more sharpness but more grain too) and by push-processing the film to higher ISO sensitivities. Pushing Tri-X to ASA 800 in a standard developer generally gets good results and pushing to 1600 is doable as long as you know what you’re doing i.e. using highly diluted developers with little or no agitation and extended development times. This is “stand” or “semi-stand” development, and can allow speeds up to EI 3200 or 6400. Of course, pushing past 800 and you’re going to have a lot of grain and contrast irrespective of the caution you take, especially if you agitate vigorously which some do to accentuate the grain.

My preferred method of shooting it is to rate it at ISO 800 and develop it in Diafine, a two bath speed enhancing developer that gives a true ISO for the film of 640. But then again, I develop everything in Diafine. It’s the closest thing to a miracle developer we have.

Tri-X was the film used by working photojournalists throughout the 50’s to the 70’s. It was manufactured by Eastman Kodak in the U.S., Kodak Canada, and Kodak Ltd in the UK. Kodak data-sheets once recommended different processing times depending on where the film was manufactured. Its sales declined in the 1970s and 1980s due to the falling price and increasing popularity of color film. Since the advent of digital photography, Tri-X is pretty much dead except as a vanity film for those of us trying to recapture the magic of our lost photographic youth. Given the ease of digital, and the various ways we’re now able to ’emulate’ the Tri-X look digitally, shooting 36 exposure rolls of Tri-X with all the attendant issues seems to me quixotic at best. There is hope, however.

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An Actual Tri-X Photo, 800 ISO Developed in Diafine.

‘Conflict Photographer’ Don McCullin has used Tri-X to excellent effect his entire career. McCullin, as of 2014 having accepted that Tri-X will one day no longer be available, is dreading the time. “I think in many ways it’s the news we’re all expecting at some point,” he says, “and having heard the rumours about Kodak I’ll be going out in the morning to buy 100 rolls to make sure I’ve got some stashed away!

“I would simply say that Tri-X is probably the greatest film ever to come into existence. I used it throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties, and I’m still using it in its medium-format form today for my landscape work. It’s still my favorite material. In terms of what film to use, there was no decision to make,” he says. “Tri-X was by far and away the best material around for the job I needed to do. There were other films that were also very good, such as Plus-X, but they were much slower and were best used when you weren’t likely to have the need to shoot in difficult conditions.

“I loved Tri-X because it was so versatile. You could always push it a stop to 800 ASA and give it longer in the developer to get you out of trouble if you had to. It meant that if the weather was bad or you were shooting indoors, you could carry on working.”

At the heart of Kodak Tri-X is grain. Over the years other ISO 400 B&W films have used new chemical technologies and are much smoother (Kodak TMAX 400, Ilford Delta 400, and Fuji Acros 400). But the rough and gritty feel of Kodak Tri-X continues to be popular, especially with those after a more traditional look. Grain is different than digital noise, regular in structure, tighter and less blotchy. Tri-X is also fairly high contrast, and has a tonal response that renders blues as lighter than reds or greens in black & white.

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Digital Tri-X. Nikon D200, 90’s Era 24mm Nikkor AF, ISO 800 RAW, Run Through Tri-X Silver Efex Exposure Curve and Grain Emulation

It’s instructive to note that the clasic Tri-X film look wasn’t based solely on the film’s inherent qualities and/or the manner in which it was processed and printed. The “Tri-X Look” was a function of any number of film era variables – less resolute film ( approx 6mp equivalent), less resolute film era optics that softened the inherent grain. Duplicating this with a digital camera is an art unto itself. I’ve found that 24+ mpg sensors give files that are too dense for the grain emulation of Silver Efex, even when increasing size of the grain to match the increased density. Modern corrected lenses just don’t seem to work either; results are too sharp and ‘clinical.’ Likewise, my Leica M9 Monochrom’s files are just too clean and don’t look right once you subject them to film emulations. And Forget about the Foveons, even though they remain my favorite for digital B&W; too sharp and tonally subtle…why dumb down such beautiful output? They’re more like digital Panatomic-X.

In my experience, the perfect digital camera set up to duplicate Tri-X via Silver Efex or simply with grain emulation in Lightroom is the 10 mpix CCD Nikon D200 coupled with an early AF Nikkor or a manual focus E-Series Nikkor shot at ISO 800. The Ricoh GXR 10 MP M-mount with a classic Summicron (or a Jupiter 8 for that matter) is also a good option. The limited dynamic range of the D200 CCD sensor shot at 800 seems similar to the native dynamic range of Tri-X (it also gives just a hint of noise that the emulated grain covers seamlessly), and the softer, less clinical rendering of the 70’s – 90’s pre-computerized era Nikkors seem a good match for the types of film era lenses people like Don McCullin was using to such beautiful effect. So, after much experimentation, my Digital Tri-X setup is a Nikon D200 with a 24mm 2.8 AF Nikkor, shot at ISO 800 in RAW, developed in Lightroom and then sent to Silver Efex for judicious (light touch) use of the Tri-X emulation curves. I typically choose the default grain amount and only make marginal edits to brightness and contrast where needed. Which is all to say that you don’t need the latest and greatest to get the results you want. It’s all about putting the variables together properly.

Voila! Digital Tri-X!

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Post-Script: Having said all this, If I had to choose between shooting Tri-X and shooting Ilford HP5, I’d being shooting the HP5. HP5 has a tonality that Tri-X can’t match…and it also has wonderful grain. And you can push it to ISO 1600 too. Like Tri-X, I shoot it at 800 ISO and develop in Diafine.

Thanksgiving 2022

As many of you remember, last August I had emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage at which time they found my cancer had returned basically everywhere throughout my abdomen. After taking DNA testing and talking to my oncologist I was told to go home “and let nature take its course.” When asked how long that would be I was told probably six months or so.

Upon arriving home I started having extreme complications – I won’t go into the details except to say that it was extremely painful, messy, smelly, generally disgusting. Apparently something inside my abdomen was leaking nasty stuff into my body cavity. So we got the doc back out and he told me I had a non-treatable infection in my abdomen which would shortly advance to a state of sepsis and would kill me – quickly and painlessly, mind you – in 3 to 5 days. Ok.

So I did what anyone who has five days to live does – I called up every person I loved and told then to come visit now. Jorge Alvarez, the guy above, flew on immediate notice from the Far East, stopped off at his place in Paris just long enough to pick up some things and then was off to Raleigh to see me. He brought a bottle of my favorite Calvados.

Jorge was just one of many friends who dropped everything to come and say goodbye. Me holding court from a hospice bed brought in the the occasion, friends plying me with the best bourbon they could find, a mix of Dexter Gordon, Led Zep, Dylan, Juana Molina, Steely Dan etc playing someplace in the background. Lot’s of smoking. Lot’s of gummy eating. Lots of tall tales. Lots of love given and received. It was wonderful.

Waiting for Someone to Bring me Another Calvados and a Smoke. Time Is Short!

And then I didn’t die. The hospice people were, to put it mildly, confused. Apparently I’m stronger than they thought as I fought off the infection. Of course, friends and family had to leave at some point, but I’ll always cherish my deathbed experiences of those 5 days. I don’t think one can have a better experience being in the company of those you love and being able to really speak about the things that really matter, to be able to laugh and cry without artifice or embarrassment.

The photos above were taken with my F5, the film thrown in a bag of about 100 other undeveloped rolls, presumably never to be seen again. A funny thing happened when I got my reprieve: I decided I really didn’t want to die just yet…and the 6 months thing was not carved in stone. I felt a real need to continue on Leicaphilia, doing so in a way that would evolve in any way that seemed appropriate. It’s been great therapy. I’ve also embarked on a quixotic quest to develop all undeveloped film (literally hundreds of rolls going back to 2015) which I’ve just finished yesterday. The photos above are part of that output.

I’m now 3 months into my death march, on hospice with not further treatment. And I’m feeling better than ever. Today, Thanksgiving, I’m giving thanks to all the wonderful friends who’ve reached out to me – academic mentors, old loves, ex wives, forever friends, family. Their love and concern have meant everything to me.

How long do I have left? Who knows. I think it’s the wrong question to ask. The real question is what do I do with my time now that I know that it might be limited. Much of what I’ve been doing is putting a lifetime of photography in order – making sure I have hard prints of those things that mean something to me. Donna can figure out what to do with it when I’m gone, although I’m not expected that to be for a bit – fingers crossed.

I have received many emails from readers saying hello and thanking me for whatever enjoyment they’ve gotten from the blog. Each of them is special in some way. Thank you. I’m convinced they are part of why I’m doing so well. There are a lot of good people who read Leicaphilia. That makes me really happy.

You are welcome to keep them coming. I prefer you tell me how wonderful I am and how much you’ve enjoyed all the years of Leicaphilia, but if you must you can tell me where I was wrong, the things I’m full of shit about, the inconsistencies etc and I won’t be offended. You can email me at tvdweert@gmail.com.

I do have one regret. I once made a snide remark- a cheap shot – about a picture of a guy with a Leica who turned out to be Kenneth Wajda … a photographer with a web presence who, unbeknownst to me was also a dedicated reader of my blog. Instead of getting all huffy and calling me out for the asshole I am, Kenneth responded like the gentleman he is, which did three things 1) It made me really admire him and realize he is 10 times the man I’ll ever be, 2) it got me watching his whimsical videos about photography (think Mr. Rogers takes up photography); and 3) has made me feel like a guilty fool ever since for taking a cheap shot at such a good man. Sorry Kenneth.

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300lb, 38hp beast

It was exactly two years ago today that I got my initial cancer diagnosis – Thanksgiving 2020. I’m still here. To celebrate, I’m going for a completely illegal motorcycle ride through the backroads of beautiful North Carolina on my 08 Kawasaki ZX2r, a totally worked on Moto3 bike that weighs 306 lbs with a full tank of gas, puts out 38 hp at the rear wheel and redlines at 15K. Forged Magnesium wheels with ceramic bearings front and back, lightweight Galfer Wave Rotor front, drilled lightweight rotor rear, steal braided lines, suspension completely redone by Traxxion Dynamics including a beautiful adjustible Penske shock out back, billet aluminum triple clamp, billet rearsets with gp shift, full wrapped titanium header with gp end cap, Forks revalved with cartridge emulators, open airbox with hi-flow air filter, head ported and polished, lightened and polished crank, 13:1 hi comp pistons, 32mm Keihin flat-slide carbs, stage 3 jetting, low-drag non-o-ring chain, ceramic engine coating, ignition advancer to punch redline to 15k.

Runs like a banshee all the way to 15,000 and wants more. It only goes 110mph top speed, but it goes 110 literally everywhere. It’s fun to dump liter bikes in the canyons on this thing. It will outrun hapless Sheriff’s deputies on semi-twistie backroads with an ease which is something I take great pride in. Nothing like running from some 21 y/o kid with a badge and a 500hp Police Charger on your 38 hp Ninja 250. Given the rural areas I ride, the lack of police helicopter support, my extensive knowledge of every backroad and county line with a 300 mile radius of Raleigh and stupid riding skills honed banging plastic fairings at 160mph in CCS and WERA Cup races back in the 90’s, riding like a hooligan while being chased by the cops is one of the few transcendent things in life with relatively no downside ….as long as you stay committed. So, today, as part of my thanks to myself, I’m going riding. Wish me luck.

The Princess and the Leica

I’m not sure why this gives me such satisfaction. The head honcho at Leica mansplains the Leica to Princess Joy Villa, she the now ex of Thorsten [von] Overgaard, way back in 2012 before sane people started picking up on the Overgaard’s weird vibe. The whole thing is cringey in the best sense. What I really like is catching glimpses of TvO to the side while Andreas Kaufman shoots the shit with the Princess, the furtive glances over to the ongoing conversation indicating a thoroughly uncomfortable Overgaard [….”shit, what’s she saying now????…is she talking about me??]

Apparently, shortly after this encounter with these grifters, Leica conveniently dis-invited them to their centtenial celebrations in 2014 and basically ignores them.

Mere Witness?

Susan on the Cape Cod Ferry 1998

“There are photographers who are mere witnesses, who see things and scoop up events. And then there are those who say what they think in their photos – those are the artists….For them, the “I” is so cumbersome that they can’t separate themselves from it.” – Robert Delpire

Couldn’t Resist

First Walk With My New Sigma Foveon SD15.

I’m in the process of selling most of my photography equipment – cameras, scanners, darkroom material, bulk film, lenses, photo books, you name it. An M9 Monochrom, an M240, a Sigma SD Quattro with 17-50 Sigma DC EX HSM, a complete Ricoh GXR system ( 3 bodies with M-Mount/28mm module/50mm module/16mpix APC-S 17.5-55 Zoom module/ VHF viewfinder/ 28mm optical viewfinder/35mm optical viewfinder (killer deal)), an S2000 Nikon with full suite of VC S-Mount lenses, a vintage Leotax, two vintage Fockas, assorted VC lenses, a Pakon F-135 Plus Bulk Scanner with dedicated computer interface (greatest thing ever), bulk film, Valuable photography books coming out of my ears, etc. etc. If I don’t do it now, it’ll be left to my wife to deal with all of it, which, in addition to being patently unfair to her, would probably result in her giving away thousands of dollars worth of equipment to friends/family who’d have no idea of its worth and who’d dispose of it themselves. I’d prefer she at least have the money and none of the fuss.

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Of course, this hasn’t stopped me from just now buying a new camera, an SD15 Sigma for a ridiculous price from Japan. I figure it this way: We spend more on a few days groceries than I did on this thing. If there’s ever a time I’m entitled to some innocent fun it’s obviously now. If I die next month, Donna can throw the thing out for all I care; I’ve spent more on a steak dinner.

The “Mint” SD15 from Japan is new, obviously never been used, having been sitting in a box on a shelf somewhere in a Toyko camera emporium. Once I figure out the Japanese langue menu I’m good to go. Foveon sensor (have I told you how much I love Foveon sensors?), the same iteration that came with the compact DP2. 4.5/14.9 megs depending how you count the stacked Foveon sensor. While you’ll get 6×9 300dpi resolution prints, my experience is you can easily print Foveon files at lower rez output, say 220dpi and the output is still stunning. Let’s agree you can easily print to 8×12 inches with no up res. Of course, if you use newer AI generated up-rezing programs like Topaz Gigibyte, you can hang wall size posters with this little $200 toy. And you get the Foveon look too. Just keep the ISO at 100.

Herein are a few of the photos I’ve taken with it on my initial shakedown walk, all within walking distance of my house, shot in an hour our two, downloaded to Sigma Pro Photo 6.8 for Raw conversion to Tiff, then outputted to Silver Efex Pro for B&W conversion. Pretty simple once you learn the workflow.

We’re now firmly in the ‘Golden Era’ of digital photography with the cost/quality ratio having essentially flattened out but yet some many photographers still replacing perfectly fine equipment every two years or so. See the progression from the M240 to the M11; essentially a redoing of some bells and whistles. Yet you can pick up a cherry M240 with assorted goodies for $2500 while the M11 is going to run you $7999. To me that’s no choice at all.

Same with the Foveon series. In my mind, the 12 y/o SD15 4meg Sigma produces as tonally rich and satisfying files as does my $3700 M9 CCD Monochrom, proving you need not spend super amounts to get good digital results, especially when so many ‘obsolete’ models like the SD15 work just like they did new. And oftentimes they’re still impressive.

More NYC Art World Elitist Nonsense

I get it. There’s a lot happening in NYC. But this over-the-top self-satisfaction so arrogantly misses a few major points: 1) Photographers are doing exceptional work everywhere; 2) Great printers are plying their craft everywhere, some sitting in front of their computer at home or in their dedicated darkroom; 3) Just because you can make a print big doesn’t mean it gains anything in the process; in fact, more often smaller prints have a more pronounced effect. Georges Fevre, HCB’s printer, used to say “if you can’t make them good, make them big!” George rarely printed larger than 8×12. That seemed to work out alright.

Videos like this do no one any favors. Somewhere, in some small town in France or Scotland or Argentina or some god-forsaken place in rural America, there are photographers and printers doing exceptional work, work that doesn’t rely on a hyper-active urban environment for subjects and personal, professional and corporate backslapping. They’re there, doing their work instead of bragging about it. Ilford needs to go find some of these people instead of perpetuating the lazy narrative that claims everything happens in NYC. It doesn’t.

Perfection in Simplicity

Woman with Broom, Front Porch, Greenwood, Mississippi

Get a terminal diagnosis and you tend to reflect on things, ultimate things of meaning in your life – people, places, things done and experienced. It’s actually a marvelous byproduct of having a limited amount of time left. Everything, even those most simple things, shine with new meaning. I’m now three months into a “go home and let nature take its course” diagnosis – when asked I was told “maybe six months…we just don’t know.” Last week again it was nearer – this week, feeling a bit well again.

One thing I am doing is a lot of negative scanning and photo printing. My family has encouraged me to do at least that and, frankly, I’m amazed at the amount of good work I’ve produced in 52 years of actively photographing. Certainly looking back over it now I can see my progression both aesthetically and philosophically. If I could characterize that progression it would be as a progressive movement toward simplicity of both thought, design and presentation. Photography as an expressive medium need not be complicated to be effective. Simple works just fine.

Simple photos, profound in their simplicity. The emotional and aesthetic payoff is the power conferred by an ostensibly “simple” visual creation. Simplicity allows space for the viewer’s creative input. Complexity turns an aesthetic event into an intellectual event. Art isn’t intellectual. Art is an intuitive, right brain response. Intellectualization corrupts it with left brain logic.

But simplicity itself isn’t a guarantee of aesthetic worth. Sometimes a simple photo can be badly framed, awkwardly composed, dull. What makes simplicity aesthetic?

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This Guy Played on 50% of the Iconic music of the 60’s, Usually Without Credit. Why? Because He Made it Simple. To the Point and Done.

I’ve been doing a lot of music listening as I’ve sat at my computer, and it’s become obvious to me that my tastes incline to the early to mid-60’s in both Jazz and Rock and Rock. In Jazz, Dexter Gordan, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins were still melodically and harmonically linked to the blues structurally, unlike the unfortunate era of “freer jazz” that followed it with Fusion and Free Jazz. Likewise, Rock and Roll. The Kinks, the Beatles, The Who, The Stones, CCR, the Byrds all made remarkably simple yet incredible powerful stuff through the 60’s. Throw on the Kink’s 1964 single “You Really Got Me” and if that doesn’t make you want to get up and move, there’s clearly something wrong with you. Its powerfully simplicity almost requires you do.

To me, the greatest single rock and roll song is the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” (1965) , with the Beatle’s “Rain” and the Byrd’s “Turn, Turn Turn” close behind. What makes “I Can’t Explain” such a perfect encapsulation of what rock and roll should be is 1) its brevity; and 2) Jimmy Page’s seeringly simple guitar lick at 1:33″-1:47″ that caps his progressive counterpoint surf of the melody up to that point and builds the song to the perfect two minute climax. (And, yes, that’s Page playing, not Pete Townsend, although Townsend has insinuated it was actually him; it wasn’t, Jimmy Page says it’s Jimmy Page; that’s enough for me). Apparently done in one take and then off to the next song. Remarkable. 2 minutes, get to the point. Done. It still brings the hairs up on the back of my neck after 55 years,

And then came the 70’s and the era of the extended instrumental rock and roll song, partly, no doubt, fueled indirectly by Page himself with Led Zep. However, one must make the distinction between the more extended blues work of latter Led Zep and their inferior 70’s era hair band camp followers. Even the latter day Led Zep is inherently simple, based as it is on blues harmonic and rhythmic structures. The skill-less imitators took the worst excesses and tried to make them virtues. They hid lack of simple vision behind faux-intellectualization They were bad bands unable to state the point and move on, false complexity as a mark of nothing to say.

What does this all mean for your photography? It’s simple. Find one thing to say. You don’t need to travel far or engage in constant novelty. Everywhere around you there are subjects for your study. You need not be covering a war in Bosnia or walking the streets of Paris or New York. Wherever you are is fine. Bring a simple eye to what’s around you. One thing at a time. Don’t overthink it and don’t overdo it. And when it looks right to you, stop and move on.

Fleeting Opportunity

Scotland Highlands 2015

“Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult” – Hippocrates (460-400 BC)

I love the photo above. I found it awhile back on a contact sheet where I had completely passed it over previously. I love the uncertain mood – unknown and maybe desolate. In the isolation of the frame, I look at it and ask myself what these people are doing seemingly in the middle of nowhere, marching off to an unknowable destination.

In reality, there’s a hotel directly behind me, and these folks are obviously just out for a short walk and back, but you can’t read that from the photo itself. Maybe that’s why I passed it up first few time around, because the reality hadn’t yet faded for me and I knew that in some sense the photo was a lie. With time, however, it’s not. It’s just three people walking someplace unknown, to both them and us. Something then must have told me to snap the photo and it would come together later. A lot of the photos I’ve liked have been that way, which tells me the best you can do is often serandipitous.

Thorsten Veblen Explains Why Your Leica Takes Much Better Pictures Than Your Nikon…And Helps You Pick Up Beautiful Women

Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) was a famous Norwegian-American economist and critic of capitalism. In his best-known book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen coined the concepts of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. He argued that wasting money on pointless possessions was hard-wired into us as a species. According to Veblen, high cost is the major factor in what we consider desirable and beautiful and those purposely engaged in wasting money on such high cost items are ultimately sending signals about their desirability by signaling they have the excess means to live wastefully. It is not, and never has been, about reasonable calculation and cost/benefit analysis.

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Suppose, says Veblen, two similar cameras, one “handmade” by a German brand known for its luxury items, the other mass produced to exacting specs from high-grade materials by a highly regarded Japanese maker. As visual objects, its merely a matter of aesthetic preference – some like one, some like the other. Objective analysis (e.g. sensor ratings, pixel peeping etc) proves that they work identically and produce identical results. Yet people will pay $7999 for the handmade camera, while paying $2400 for the mass-produced one. And interestingly enough, with time general opinion will morph into the conclusion that the expensive camera, the handmade German one, actually produces better results (see “the Leica Glow”), small but important things incapable of complete articulation but there none the less.

Now, suppose we examine the “handmade” camera and find that its signs of being handmade are somewhat of a stretch, only the last few screws of the top-plate being applied by hand; and we also learn that it’s not manufactured in Germany but through a third party camera maker in Japan. None of this was divulged to the buyer given the top-plate was actually screwed onto the camera at Wetzlar before it was put into the box. Immediately, according to Veblen, this camera’s value should decline in level, much closer now to that of the second camera even while the photos it produces – the raison d’etre of the camera – remain the exact same.

Per Veblen, this is because our sense of quality “is in great measure a gratification of our sense of costliness” i.e. hand-made in Germany by luxury goods purveyor equals costliness equals desirability; then, via sleight of hand, ‘better’ invariably becomes substituted for desirability.

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Veblen’s ideas have profound aesthetic implications. His insights have been explained away by many contemporary commentators as being about capitalism and the distortions it imposes on our tastes and aesthetic values. Dennis Dutton, in his fascinating book The Art Instinct, argues that these commentators are wrong. Dutton, citing Darwin’s work on ‘sexual selection’ (a corollary of “Natural Selection”) claims that the equation of costliness=better is hardwired into us as a species, arising as it does from the intrinsic connection we make with wealth and social status and better evolutionary fitness. Extrapolate such inherent biases to inanimate objects and you get the phenomenon of luxury goods. In other words, humans who engage in conspicuous waste – Porches, $10,000 Gucci handbags, Lenny Kravitz Leicas – are sending out signals about their inherent evolutionary fitness, i.e. “Look at me! Why mate with the loser with the Nikon D90 and when can have me, the Guy with the uber-expensive Leica with Noctilux!”

This is why hucksters like [von] Overgaard invariably marry their false claims of competence with ostentatious shows of wealth. This is why he hangs out with pseudo-designer meatballs who claim to make bespoke do-dads for the beautiful people. This explains the pathetic claims to royalty and the marriage to a woman who calls herself a Princess. This explains the supposed travel to exotic places accompanied by his designer leather bags. These are all not-so-subtle dog-whistles used to subconsciously subvert your critical faculties and to support his otherwise specious claims to being an important, high-status person to whom one should listen. Engage in this thought experiment: what if [von] Overgaard used a Nikon , claimed extensive knowledge about Nikons, but drove a Volvo and dressed like a solidly middle class Dane? No claims to royalty, no marriage to a Princess, no supposed elbow-rubbing with the rich and quasi-famous. Just a guy who loves Nikons and knows all about them and wants to impart his knowledge to you, Joe Nikon, to “help you achieve your photographic vision.” Would that work?