Today, the Sydney Morning Herald is running a column by Peter Hartcher lauding Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey’s reaffirming of his Age of Entitlement speech. This manifesto says that Aussies are basically on their own if they fall on hard times and this boils down to, “Suck it up, Princess!“
What Hartcher and Hockey don’t tell us is how our own Treasurer’s entitlements (what he claims from taxpayers over and above his salary for doing his job) have exploded in the past year. I blogged on Hockey’s previous claims.
The Herald might like to probe Hockey’s own expenses claims before it starts rallying to his side. How to square what Hockey says about entitlements when in just six months from 1 January 2013 he racked up $278,687.48 in expenses (up from $195,177.01 in the six months beforehand and $43,479.00 in the period before that).
According to Expenditure on Entitlements paid by the Department of Finance and Deregulation, this included:
Home Base $14,662.00
Overseas Travel $21,964.77
Car Costs $22,601.24
Office Facilities $119,076.88
Office Fit Outs $153.64
Office Administrative Costs $83,796.55
Family Travel Costs $8,560.38
Hockey gets a ‘dedicated data line’ in his home that costs ~$1560 a year paid for by the taxpayer where the Coalition insists if citizens want the NBN, they have to pay for it themselves. The $119,077 in Hockey’s office facilities is a single line item without further details.
But the really big blow-out in Hockey’s entitlements were in office administrative costs, which exploded from $12,789 to nearly $84,000 in the six months covering the election campaign. Family travel costs grew over three successive periods from nothing to nearly $4000 to $8560 by the middle of last year.
Hockey’s entitlements claim notes ‘adjustments’ for parliamentary travel to Melbourne on 16 July 2012 (-$160), family plane tickets (-$1250.04) and Comcar (-$81.81). As Treasurer, Hockey earns $365,868 a year salary, plus super and other entitlements.
There is no suggestion that Hockey was not entitled to make any of these claims or that he has done anything wrong in doing so.
Sydney put on its usual fireworks show, owing to the rotation of the Earth and an historical accident of cartography, the first one of a major city each year.
Here are my (copyrighted) images from last night, using the same techniques I outlined in this earlier blog post on how to shoot fireworks. I wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2014.
For those considering shooting the fireworks tonight, I prepared these tips for you.
You need to have a sturdy tripod – don’t even think about handheld shooting – shutter or cable release and, of course, a camera! You will be shooting at exposures of more than half a second, so it’s simply not possible to hand-hold the camera and keep the image sharp. Shutter releases can be bought for as little as $20 and there are even apps to do that such as the excellent Triggertrap Mobile (you’ll need the $35 dongle).
The exposure triangle
Always shoot in RAW mode. This will allow you to pull out more detail and give you more latitude when you get back to post-process the images. Don’t even think of shooting to JPEG because you will limit yourself too much and that photo that could have been great will just be average.
To get the best out of your fireworks images, shoot at a low ISO – 100 for Canon or 200 for Nikon. This will keep grain to a minimum in the darker areas of the shot.
For an f-stop (aperture), you want somewhere around f/8, which is the sweet spot of most lenses, anyway. This will help to ensure that you get those lovely fireworks streaks and blooms (apertures closed down by more than 2 stops will result in fireworks trail ‘scratches’ while those at f/4 or wider may result in lack of definition and over-exposure).
Your shutter speed is entirely up to you and is in some part dictated by the other two settings in the exposure triangle, but most cameras can manage the time up to 30 seconds. However, I prefer to set my camera to brief/bulb (‘B’ on the dial) and then just manually count the number of fireworks and try to visualise in my head what they will look like running together on the final exposure. This takes a fair bit of trial and error and some imagination. You can also hold a hat or some other covering over the lens in between explosions for a longer exposure if you don’t think you have what you need to make a satisfactory image (careful not to touch or rock the camera or tripod especially when removing the obstruction).
Taken together, a ‘typical’ (if you can call it that) exposure would be ISO 100, f/8 @ 5-15s. However, this will depend on your particular circumstances. What you don’t want is the final image to be missing fireworks or so badly over-exposed you can’t pull any detail out of them in post-processing. But between the two extremes, I’d tend towards perceived over-exposure in your mind.
Composition and other considerations
Some advocate taking the best images at the start of the show to avoid the build up of smoke, but that’s up to you. The best fireworks will be at the finale and smoke will be unavoidable, but consider that smoke also catches a lot of light, so you may need to expose for a shorter time or risk blowing out portions of the image.
From a compositional perspective, including something recognisable like a crowd can be worthwhile for scale.
Ensure you shoot as wide as you can because you won’t always know where the explosion will top out and it would be a shame to spoil a great image because you gave the chrysanthemum a hair cut, for instance. I recommend a 16-35mm lens or thereabouts.
And you can see how this plays out in a failed example where I was too tight.
Silhouettes also work really well when in the foreground against fireworks, as does a background like city lights.
A very useful feature of many DSLRs is the mirror lockup. This reduces shake caused by the mirror flipping up and, while it takes a bit of getting used to because you have to double tap the shutter release, makes for much, much sharper images. It can be the difference between an image you can blow up and one that’s suitable only for the web. Check your camera’s instruction manual for details (and don’t forget to disable mirror lockup when you get home).
Other tricks include zooming halfway through the exposure, using an ND filter (but this will also create ‘scratchy’ fireworks trails and take much longer to expose and so limit the number of images, so best used when still light in the sky), and off-camera flash or light-painting of foreground objects such as the audience or a sculpture for added interest.
Please share below your tips for shooting fireworks and any links to images so we can all admire and enjoy.
Have a great New Year celebration and stay safe out there tonight.
I intended to post this entry more than six months ago when conflict photographer James Nachtwey delivered his presentation, Testimony, to the AIPP annual conference keynote. With Nachtwey coming back for the Reportage and Vivid festivals, it’s timely to revisit his call for citizens in democratic nations to step up to their humanitarian responsibilities to help those in conflict zones.
James Nachtwey’s interest in photography dates back to the 1960s – a time of war – and influenced him to question how political policies shaped up to human values. The acclaimed conflict photographer says this was a time of “expanding realism in the world”.
“Never before had press images achieved such immediate force and influence,” Nachtwey says. “Leaders told us one thing and photographers told us another. I believed the photographers and so did millions of Americans.”
He says the work of press photographers forced a change in Western consciousness.
It made Westerners consider the damage of poor political judgment, and to put a human face on those consequences.
“All stories are local stories,” he says. Photography would “hold policymakers accountable for decisions that affected hundreds of thousands of lives”.
- James Nachtwey website
- Photos of James Nachtwey at the AIPP Event
- James Nachtwey: a visual primer
- James Nachtwey 2007 TED talk
Although the works of war photographers inspired him to enter the profession, he now views himself as an “anti-war photographer”. His goal is to ensure that people “rendered invisible” would find a voice though his images.
Nachtwey was initiated into the ranks as a conflict photographer in Northern Ireland in the early ’80s: “When I arrived in Belfast, I understood I was doing what I needed to do”, he says. He later covered proxy wars in Nicaragua and elsewhere. He photographed Contras and children who were shot on the Cold War battlefields.
But it was his 1983 image of a Catholic priest being ferried in a helicopter gunship to a Guatemala mass by Pope John Paul II that gained much attention. “Everyone believes god is on their side,” Nachtwey says.
Nachtwey has covered most major battlefields in the past 30 years from Sri Lanka to South Korea, Romania, Kosovo, Bosnia and South Africa where he’s often associated with the ‘Bang Bang Club’.
He was appalled at the treatment of orphans in Romania, which he described as a “gulag of orphanages”.
“(They were) kept in medieval conditions. There was no birth control or abortions. Women’s bodies used as instruments of state economic policy.”
The AIDS epidemic spread like wildfire through unhygienic practices that would not be tolerated in the West, often through injections because there may be only one syringe for an entire orphanage.
Handicaps handed down to children through alcohol and tobacco abuse by the mothers were also rampant. “(The children) were condemned to a living hell, their only crime having been born in the first place.”
Genocide in Africa
During his time in Africa, he witnessed an “inferno” of destruction in Somalia perpetrated by clans leading to famine.
“It’s the oldest and most primitive form of mass destruction known to man and is highly effective”, leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of people.
He rejects critics claims that photographers profit from the misery of those whom they photograph. “That photographers only take pictures and walk away without helping is a fallacy – most photographs are taken in feeding centres and people are being helped as much as they can be helped.
“In the case of famines, photos actually save lives.”
When it came to the Mogadishu famine, “I didn’t think I had it in me to see another one and planned to return home.” After some “soul seeking” Nachtwey says he decided to stay in Baidoa for a couple of weeks where the famine was among its worst.
After he “made the rounds” of news organisations with the pictures, The New York Times decided to run them on page one.
“The New York Times phone rang off the wall,” Nachtwey says.
Prodding social conscience
His strategy is to have the images hit mass media as the events unfold so “ordinary citizens and decision makers can understand the situation and influence” a humanitarian outcome.
“A constituency forms around images because they’re aware of things and discuss things among themselves and policy makers are upset and they know millions of others are upset … and they need to do something.”
Nachtwey says the paper’s decision was bold and showed “vision”. He applauds the editing at the paper at the time: “A photograph, no matter how good it may be, is like howling in the wind unless it’s accompanied by good editing.”
He acknowledges that such pictures don’t attract advertising or readers and that these are difficult photos to publish in news media now.
“The decision to publish the pictures was based on journalistic responsibility, the belief that every story doesn’t have to sell something.”
That was the case years later when Nachtwey covered the AIDS epidemic in Africa for Time magazine.
“It wouldn’t play well with advertisers or readers but it got the green light anyway. The story was put on hold for months but once Jim Kelly became editor he ran it over 20 pages” and even defaced the masthead to make a statement of the story’s importance.
“That was a triumph of journalistic responsibility over commercialism” that started a conversation in America about AIDS in Africa.
Sometimes commercialism and altruism make uneasy partners, such as the time readers of Life magazine flocked to the plight of a family that Nachtwey photographed living on rail tracks in Indonesia. The father had lost limbs, amputated by trains running over him while he slept.
Nachtwey established a trust fund for the family supported by reader donations. With it, the family built a house on land they bought and their children went to school.
“I did the pictures, but people responded with generosity because I gave them a channel for generosity,” Nachtwey says. “Journalism is a business – it has to make money or it can’t survive – but it has social responsibility and it can help people and it can change things.”
The West’s moral bankruptcy from Bosnia to Rwanda
But the West’s response has not always been so enlightened. For instance, he says its response to the war in Bosnia was “morally bankrupt” to the genocide, murder, rape and forced deportation he witnessed.
Once Europe decided to get involved, the war was over in a few weeks but it could have happened years sooner and thousands of lives would have been saved, he says.
Of his time in warzones, which also included Kenya and Grozny, he had to channel his emotions.
“I had to use my [anger], channel it to clarify my vision instead of clouding it,” Nachtwey says.
Nachtwey says it was a myth that photographers intruded on moments of sorrow and mourning. “It’s not possible to photograph moments such as this unless permission is granted – people want a photographer to be there.
“Most of the people had been exploited by powers that be but if a photographer from the outside world shows up willing to share the grief, people will open up.”
But it wasn’t all pain and death, Nachtwey says the inauguration of South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela was “most uplifting moment I have witnessed”.
Back down to Earth and the next day he went to Rwanda: “It was like taking the express elevator to Hell” as UN peacekeepers stepped aside and allowed Tutsis to be slaughtered.
He says those who made that decision apologised later but the gesture didn’t bring back the life of a single Rwandan”.
“Those responsible for genocide concealed themselves with the mass of people in the camps. NGOs couldn’t distinguish a killer from a human shield.
“The international community who walked away during the genocide now came to the rescue of those who had committed the atrocities.”
“Standing on edge of mass grave was like looking [into the] Gates of Hell.”
9/11: Nachtwey’s war comes home
Nachtwey has witnessed war on home soil, too, when terror struck New York City on September 11, 2001.
“I didn’t see either of the planes hit and when I glanced out my window and saw the first tower burning I thought it was an accident. When I saw the second tower burning I knew America was at war.
“I knew the attack was Bin Laden, I knew our country would invade Afghanistan. 9/11 represents a massive failure of foreign policy, statesmanship and diplomacy, intelligence and security and journalism.”
It then dawned on him that rather than covering separate wars in his career, he was really covering one, long conflict.
“On 9/11 history crystallised and I realised I’d been covering the same story for 20 years and the attack on New York was the latest manifestation.”
He relates this back to Afghanistan since the Russian occupation, which gave rise to the Taliban who then went on to view the Americans as an occupying force.
He became the story later in Iraq when a grenade exploded in the Humvee in which he was travelling, wounding him in the stomach and blowing off the hand of another journalist.
“Photographers go to the extreme edge of experience to show a mass audience they can’t see for themselves, things they must know about and change,” he says.
”Sometimes photographers put their lives on the line because they believe [they can make a change].”
The photographer’s social conscience
During a commission for National Geographic, he found that military medicine has become so effective that the proportion of wounded who survive is higher than at any other point in history. The most significant weapon was the improvised explosive device, leading to a rise in leg wounds. Although the effects can last much longer, with brain damage and post-traumatic stress disorder now common although often go undiagnosed and untreated.
Resident populations are also affected long after the battle ceases. In the case of Agent Orange used in Vietnam, the chemical was permanently absorbed into the earth and water supply creating an environmental condition to be cleaned up.
”Use of agent orange can be seen as chemical warfare waged against a contemporary enemy but also future generations,” Nachtwey says.
“TB is a huge global health problem and hasn’t been on the radar screen in terms of global awareness,” he says. It’s especially distressing, he says, because AIDS and TB are often co-infections, with TB the leading cause of death of people with HIV AIDS. Much TB is drug resistant and if it isn’t contained, the consequences are “catastrophic”, he says. It is especially high in India, which has the world’s highest number of cases.
“What makes TB such a worthwhile target is it’s preventable, treatable and curable – with political will and funding, initiatives can pay off and its spread contained.”
Nachtwey says objectivity in journalism is a myth.
“There’s no such thing as objectivity – it’s all filters. Maybe there’s something in my background that influences things but that’s subconscious. All my pictures are spontaneous and improvisational – [part of] instinct and an established relationship with people I’m photographing.
“Photographers go out and do things that are real and in the moment and what we’re observing are the same things that the artists were observing and they were doing in a religious context because that’s what art demanded.”
James Nachtwey Q&A
Q. How do you get access?
Access is critical – you can’t do anything without access. There is no guidebook for how to get access – it’s persistence and luck, awareness of what’s going on and the key players. It’s knowing there’s a logging road over a mountain because there are checkpoints on the main roads. It’s running blockades and all sorts of stuff. To get access in a hospital is a matter of making the administration of the hospital understand what you’re doing and then the patients have to give you permission, so I have to explain myself to them mostly through an interpreter and most of the time they agree but not always.
Q. Do awards and reputation help you get access?
It doesn’t mean a thing the places where I go.
Q. How do you cope with injustices?
I’m half deaf and it’s hard for me to cope in some acoustical environments. I use the camera to create closeness – it’s what breaks through the surface tension of reality. I’m attacking [injustices] that’s what I’m doing with my camera. It’s not like I’m going to change poverty by giving someone a morsel of bread – I do things like that but that’s not my job – my job is to make millions of people aware of a situation because that’s [how things will be changed]. I don’t distance myself; I use my camera to get closer to open myself by using a camera. I take pictures from the top of my head to my groin – I take it with my whole being, I don’t just take pictures with my eye, but with my whole body. Sometimes people are already being helped by a medic; I’ve rescued people from lynch mobs and taken people to feeding centres – it’s what anyone would do. Journalistic purity is not the highest standard.
Q. What lenses do you use?
I usually have one camera body and a 16-35mm lens. I use Canon because it’s quicker and allows me to adjust to situations much faster – sometimes a 24-70mm lens. That’s it: one camera, one lens and in my pocket a small 28mm f/1.8 for very dark situations – I don’t use long lenses. It’s a real dilemma this thing about editing as you’re shooting – its almost impossible to resist – it’s a natural thing to do. The function for me is mainly to check exposures; I do exposure readings with a handheld meter even for my 5D. I use it to check exposure but I cant resist looking at the back and it’s really dangerous. When you’re not connected to what’s in front of you … you’ll miss things and it happens to me. Keep your eye on the subject and keep shooting and look at it at the end of the day. And I wish I would do as I say.
Q. What are political barriers to access?
Sometimes they have places really locked down. In the West Bank, the Israeli army would shut off all the roads and the way I would get access then is drive through farm fields, drive through stone walls.
Q. Do you think you will return from war?
I understand I’m taking a risk and nothing will prevent me from getting images. I have lost 15 colleagues and that’s a lot even for a platoon in a war – losing 15 buddies is a lot in any profession
Q. Is there any situation you would walk away from?
I began to walk away and then I understood I was making a big mistake – my job isn’t meant to protect my delicate sensibilities it was to show what was happening. It’s my duty to do it so you just overcome it – we should not self-censor that’s really dangerous. It doesn’t change anything if you don’t take the picture so you have to overcome an emotional obstacle.
Q. Plans for the future?
If my pictures don’t make you feel those things then they’ve failed. I want you to feel people’s humanity, that’s very, very, very important – it’s not just about describing a situation – it’s making you feel humanity and compassion for humanity and if you don’t feel that I’ve failed.
Q. How will stories be told in future?
That’s the point right there. If they [newspapers and magazines] hadn’t run the pictures the effect [on people] wouldn’t have helped. They had bold editors in those days and they ran that stuff on the cover over double pages – what magazine would do that today and if not why not? What has happened to the concept of social responsibility as part of journalism? And I think it’s deteriorating it’s sad to say a lot of the decisions in journalism are marketing decisions not decisions about social responsibility so a lot of work we see now is industry and god knows how they support themselves and they put it on the net and that’s not what we see in publications any more
Q. Which photographers inspired you?
Larry Burrows (Life), Robert Capa was a big influence and the wire photographers who never had a byline and they did amazing stuff. I saw it every day and millions of people saw it every day and it had an effect. The war in Iraq began with overwhelming approval and within a few years it had overwhelming public disapproval and the difference was information. They were seeing it day in and day out despite Fox News and what was approved was now disapproved, so that’s the effect journalism can have.
Q. Is there god in photography?
Each side sees god on their side and it’s not how I think, it’s how they think. I put my faith in humanity. What I saw in Romania shook my faith in humanity, because we have each other, that’s all we’ve got. We create our own problems and we must solve our own problems. I’m not waiting for divine intervention. It’s up to us.
James Nachtwey will deliver Testimony at the Reportage Festival, part of the Vivid Festival on June 9 in Sydney (tickets are $85). Check the Reportage Festival 2013 website for more details.
Watching the video of Alan Davies at the Greatest Wonder of the World exhibition today, I was struck that he riffs off an idea I had last year that wet plates taken by 1870s photographers were the Google Street View of their day.
Davies is curator of photographs for the State Library of NSW that is hosting an exhibition of the works funded by Bernhardt Holtermann.
The glass plates contain an almost infinite amount of detail and after careful restoration and scanning leap off the paper in ways modern photos seldom do. This is because glass plates don’t have grain or resolution as modern photographers have come to understand it – they are limited only by the resolving power of the lens with which they were taken.
And they are enormous – some photographs more than a square meter.
Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss toured the eastern states of Australia systematically taking photos of every house, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse. That’s basically what Street View does today, and those guys did it 20 years before Atget and in far more difficult conditions than the French photographer.
What is remarkable, though, is that Hill End is still standing in a significant measure – at least along the main streets. What a wonderful exercise in merging the artifact buildings in reality with the detail that could be captured from wet plates, extrapolated in a virtual world and projected on to Google Glass.
I doubt there are many other places in the world where this would be possible.
Merlin and Bayliss also made thousands of photos of Melbourne and Sydney and these could also be incorporated in the same way in those cities.
But I can think of few more romantic photographic projects than resurrecting a wild west goldrush town for 21st century virtual explorers.
It would be like having your own DeLorean time travel machine.
An interesting thought exercise is going on over at Global Guerillas about how a future, open-source network of smart, aerial drones would revolutionise physical package delivery much the same way as TCP/IP revolutionised data networks.
It’s interesting because it treats a dronenet as an engineering exercise such as how to manage package flows and maps this to an internet understanding. That’s the first indication, once engineers get involved, that such a system is moving from possibility to probability. These sorts of endeavours tend to scale quickly – a working dronenet protocol could be completed in weeks instead of years but the utopia will be buffeted by reality.
The big issues I see will be social and regulatory – and that’s why dronenets won’t be coming to skies above you in any scale for 20 to 50 years.
Such a dronenet bears more similarity to wireless mobile networks than the fantasy of “packet-free” internets that exist only in the US – elsewhere, traffic charges and shaping already apply.
Such a dronenet uses scarce, public goods in the form of physical airspace and will eventually fall under multiple jurisdictions. Scarcity raises the likelihood that governments will auction off airspace, raising the cost to the operator, using Nash Equilibrium models just as they did for wireless spectrum.
I don’t see point-to-point drone delivery surviving very long once the concepts are ironed out (it would be like you and a mate talking to each other with laser transceivers today). Of course, that doesn’t preclude the evolution of “pirate” dronenets.
The plan conceives drones handing off physical packages to each other, which will require drone hubs lest the boxes risk falling from the sky.
Local municipalities will have a great say over placing of such drone hubs – would you want a million whirring drones flying through your backyard airspace every day? Such hubs are likely to live on the distribution centres on urban fringes, which will require long-distance drones. Today, such systems are typically handled hub and spoke (think airports) but could move to peer-to-peer over time. Other likely places for hubs will be on top of office buildings where airspace will be owned by entrepreneurs and freebasers (much like this happened when they realised such airspace real estate was valuable in the ’70s to ’90s). Indeed, much of this airspace is ALREADY owned and would demand rents be paid, or require longer, less efficient drone routes.
Regulation will require that drones not be operated in certain areas such as over public parks, schools etc, or only over certain trunk routes. In urban areas, this will likely follow existing arterial transport networks in the main (road and rail, for instance) owing to issues with height limits imposed by local municipalities acting on the consensus of their constituents in many places. Smart dronenet operators will be wise not to aggravate potential customers in the build-out phase. And such restrictions will exacerbate scarcity, which will lead to price mechanisms kicking in.
Just as happened with Chep pallets, the McLean ISO shipping container and so on, a single, optimal box size (or “function”) is likely to fall under patent restrictions – I expect to see a lot of these filed this year – so will require a consensus of the use of reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing or a FOSS-type of protocol to gain acceptance. But in the early phases, such “format wars” tend to have competitors battle it out, slowing the road to market, and artificially raising costs (think BluRay, DVD, VHS/Betamax etc). The best way to avoid this is with an ISO licensing approach, such as we have for paper sizes.
Such boxes will need to couple together so they can break down easily as they move from major, cross-country trunk routes to regional distribution centres and to final drop-off (again, think paper sizes). It would make sense to make these a function of ISO standards for pallets and shipping containers to facilitate international and longer-distance haulage where dronenets are not available.
This will take 20-50 years to play out and history shows first movers are not guaranteed an advantage – it will be those who come along in the third and subsequent waves of innovation who stand to gain most assuredly.