e18 lens error

dust breeding

In a box on a shelf sits 3 cameras. An Ensign Ful Vue, a Brownie and a Canon Canonet. Combined age about 120 years, all still functioning, In another box sits 3 state of the art digital cameras, all Canon, combined age about 8 years, all broken.

To lose one camera, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose 3 looks like carelessness.

I was under the impression digital was going to make photography cheaper. After spending over £1300 in 6 years suddenly I'm not so sure. I reckon £1300 would get me a classic 35mm camera and enough film to keep me going for 6 years. It might get me as many results as well, without the endless crud I seem to accumulate with a digital.

Before digital I'd gotten totally out of the habit of using the camera. I enjoyed it but simply hadn't the money to really indulge in it. Over the years the SLR got used less and less. Then I bought a IXUS V3. Not only a beautiful thing to hold but it was a self contained unit. It took the picture, developed it and showed you the result in an instant… I was off, click click click click. An orgy of photography ensued. Rain on the window. The accumulated lint in the tumble dryer. Cut carrots. The underneath of my fingernails. Tarmac. A blade of grass. The inside of a toilet roll tube. Tinfoil. It was only a matter of time before Magnum came calling!

After 2 years up popped E18 on the display. Lens refused to go back in. Camera was out of warranty and was too expensive to get fixed, besides, I'd out grown it. I wanted to shoot RAW, get more pixels and a faster, wider lens. I splurged another £400 on a S70. What a camera! RAW files. Incredible wide lens. Snap mode. Another orgy of photography. Each lunchtime was spent with the camera. Each break was spent processing, editing and uploading. I was on a real roll for about 18 months then… E18 - Lens Error. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “To lose one camera, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”.

The problem is, I wasn't careless, I look after my gear. The carelessness is Canon's fault, for building equipment that simply can't last. If you're going to install a silly 6x zoom lens, then develop motors that won't burn out/clog up in 18 months. Do that or stop fitting ridiculous zoom lenses in the first place. So I was in quandry, to buy another camera, another Canon or not. The G9 came out shortly afterwards. I saw the silly, big, fragile looking zoom lens but the camera did look solid. Some nice features. Well built. Nice ISO dial on top. It had no competitor. I thought I'd give them one last try only this time I had a sure fire plan.

I bought a Lensmate and grip. The lensmate was attached to the camera 24/7 so the lens would have 100% protection. I fitted a lens cap to the lensmate. I bought a couple of Crumpler bags. 1 bag for the camera and a larger bag to hold that. The sort of photographs I was taking by this stage were all street. This means that I wasn't using any zoom at all, simply getting as close as I could to the subject. I was also using snap mode, which meant that the lens wasn't even autofocusing! The only action the camera had to perform was pop the lens out, open the shutter and retract again. What could possibly go wrong?

E18 Lens Error! That's what could go wrong. Only it seems Canon have dropped the E18 as it has now become synonymous with Canon. It seems if you own a compact Canon, chances are you're going to be introduced at some stage. (Did I mention that the automatic lens covers scraped the front of my lens as well, there's me thing they were supposed to protect it?)

So here I am, yet again, no camera and more than a tad miffed! Only this time Canon has competitors. A lot of competitors. Most have now cottoned on to the fact that an old style rangefinders with interchangable lenses have huge appeal. The 4/3 system is starting to gain momentum and even Leica seem to be lowering the bar slightly, albeit with a zoomer.

So, for now, I'm afraid it's good bye Canon. It's been interesting, sometimes rewarding but ultimately expensive, frustrating and disappointing.

Update: Christmas '09: I sent the cameras back to Canon. The fixed the G9 E18 error and replaced the scratched lens. FREE! as a "goodwill gesture"! It'll keep me going for another while.

Man Ray's photograph has been described as one of the most enigmatic images of the 20th Century. A conundrum, a masterpiece but behind the photograph lies neglect, mathematics, a chocolate grinder and probably a game of chess.

Duchamp and Man Ray were old friends and collaborators. They were also avid chess players. Plotting, predicting, scheming, keeping one step ahead of the other.

Printed in books countless times over the years, I've usually scratched my head and tried to figure out what it was exactly. In every description I've read the photograph sounds so deliberate, so meticulously planned that it has taken on this mythical status. It's always compared to an alien landscape, a moonscape populated by mysterious, deserted architectural ruins. What gives the image this supernatural quality are the strange radiating geometric lines in the top right side of the frame. It gives the image its scale. The amassed dust creating an intriguing contrast to the crystaline landscape it envelops. Not until I read a fairly detailed book on Duchamp'sLarge Glass” did I piece it all together, well my version of it.

Duchamp and Man Ray were old friends and collaborators. They were also avid chess players. Plotting, predicting, scheming, keeping one step ahead of the other. Duchamp more so, dedicating many years to tournament playing.

Duchamp had previously invented his own language which drove everyone insane, devised a new system of measurement which involved dropping random pieces of string on a table (!) but now he'd become fairly obsessed with Mathematics. It sounds nerdy, but Mathemaics in the early 20th C was very sexy, very 'in'. Einstien was everywhere and it seemed that the answer to every conundrum was to be found in mathematics. Duchamp, now bored with painting (retinal art), decided to form mathematical theories and embark on his most ambitious work yet, to build an 'erotic machine' , The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors, Even or the Large Glass.

After a few years sketching and planning he accepted he'd aimed too high and decided to scale the project back and create a 2D, flat plan for the machine, on glass, with wires, metal, varnish and glue… and some dust. The project ballooned. I suspect it quickly became a millstone. For a man who became famous for his readymades, pieces that took no physical act to create, essentially adding his name or more usually a pseudonym to everyday objects, he was now lumbered with piece that would rattle on for another 10 years. It was meticulous, mathematical, artistic and mechanical and probably a right pain in the arse but by this stage the work had become famous in its own right, no doubt there was immense pressure on to complete it, if only to sell the thing.

As Duchamp flitted across the Atlantic over the next 10 years, The Large Glass lay in his New York studio, neglected for long periods quite literally gathering dust. On one of his returns from Paris, Man Ray probably called round for a game of chess. Duchamp probably showed him the accumulated dust and brushed some off the detailed sections to show him the detail below. Man Ray opened the shutter as they set about their chess game.

The picture is taken across of the bottom half (masculine half) of the glass, (before it was smashed), the detail is the 'chocolate grinder' a flat 2D representation of a cocoa bean grinder Duchamp admired in Chocolatier's windows in Rouen. For Duchamp this represented some grinding masculine organ. Beyond that is the 'the glider' representing chance and unpredictability. Confused? So am I and I suspect so was Duchamp. These elements were created using lead or silver wire stuck to the surface of the glass with varnish. Photographs of the Large Glass always fail to capture the intricacy of the detail captured here.

After 10 long years Duchamp finally declared it "definitely and permanently unfinished". Ironically the photograph, taken over a 2 hour exposure, has become more famous than the work itself. In comparison to the 10 years The Large Glass took to (in)complete, the photograph was a virtual snapshot

Checkmate, Man Ray.

Image © metmuseum.org