Manipulated Landscape – Part 2

Named after the bituminous sands, Bitumount is a place where the story of the Oil Sands really began. Between 1925 and 1958, experiments separating oil from sand were performed and led to the birth of the technology used today.

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The Great Canadian Oil Sands started the first large-scale mining operations in 1967. However, due to the high cost of extracting oil from bitumen, the investments and production didn’t pick up until 2000. Along with the rise in the price of oil, massive investment has been made, rapidly expanding the operations.

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Extracting oil from sand has a large impact on the environment. Forests have to be cleared in order to establish open-pit mining. The mines might have a depth of 80 meters.

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One of the side effects of such operations is the creation of tailing ponds, which contain the toxic sludge that is produced when bitumen oil is separated from the sand. These ponds now cover 176 square kilometres and hold enough liquid to fill the equivalent of 390,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

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A large amount of heavy equipment is required to extract oil. The largest trucks in the world remove up to 720,000 tons of sand every day. Interesting fact: one tire costs as much as $60,000.

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Mining operations at the sites are conducted 24/7. The majority of the workforce lives in remote camps, known as lodges.

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There is a separate housing for women and men. Men cannot visit women’s dorms but women can visit men’s dorms.

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While workers are paid very well, there are some tight restrictions and limitations while working on some sites. Workers are transported to the lodges and depend on provided transportation. 

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Work is mostly organized in 14-day intervals – 14 days on and 14 days off. Despite the challenge of working in such settings, employees find their pay compensates for the harsh conditions.

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Fort McMurray has become the hub of the oil sands activities. The growth of the city has been enormous. Unfortunately, given the large proportion of temporary workers, the city has to deal with many problems such as drug abuse and lack of housing.

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The entire project was shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm or XF 14mm F2.8 and Fuji X100S.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Manipulated Landscape – Part 1

This land stretches 54,826 square miles, an area larger than England. Structures such as the toxic tailing lakes are some of the largest human-made structures in the world – so large that they can be seen from space. The land has been rearranged, altered and manipulated by human activity to the point that it is barely recognizable but so visually appealing – so ugly but strangely beautiful.

Kasia and I have thought about photographing the Canadian Oil Sands for a long time. Even though we approached the subject from a purely visual perspective, what we encountered made a huge impact on us.

Over the course of the next few weeks we would like to take you on a visual journey to this unusual place, telling the story of this fabricated landscape and its people. Here is a small teaser of what’s to come.

The entire project was shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 paired with the XF 50-140mm or XF 14mm F2.8 and Fuji X100S.

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Where Road and Street Meet

It is a well-known maxim that specializing in one genre of photography helps in promoting and selling a photographer’s work. We agree with that.

However, such a narrow specialization, while logical and commercially viable, could lead to unwelcome reverberations. One of them is conformity and stiffness. Those of you who have journeyed with us for the last few years know that we view self-satisfaction and ease as the greatest enemy of creativity. Therefore, this year we promised ourselves we would venture into more places. One of them is street photography.

It’s not that we haven’t done any street photography before. Quite the opposite! However, most of it was personal work not shared on this blog in order to comply with the theme of road photography. To keep our New Year’s resolution, we recently started to share our street photography on this forum. We are aware that some of you may be disappointed in this detour and want us to keep laser focus on road photography. Others welcomed this addition and encouraged us to do more. We appreciate all feedback.

Part of our decision to expand is the commonality between the two genres. Indeed, both road and street photography require travel in the car or on the foot. This visual wondering and exploring could be done either on the road or on the sidewalk. Similarly, it involves finding a connection to a place or a person. Then, light and mood play a decisive role in both. A composition – one of the most important aspects – is crucial in both cases and requires careful examination. Finally, strict examination and selection is a must in order to respect the viewer and present only the best work possible.

The genres complement one another and we enjoy both. It doesn’t mean we have abandoned our road explorations. Not at all. The recent hiatus in our travels will end shortly and we will be vising some stunning and sometimes surprising places. In short, in the upcoming months you will find posts with imagery from our road trips as well as our street trips. We hope you enjoy both.

Here are some of our most recent images from the streets of Vancouver. All shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4. Acros and Classic Chrome film simulations.

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Classic Chrome (CC)

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Smile! You are WITH a camera.

Over the course of the last few years we have enjoyed sharing our work here, having great discussions and meeting our readers during our trips. The majority of the feedback we received has been constructive and well articulated – whether positive or negative. 

But there is a fly in the soup. On occasions when our writing takes a wrong turn and we publish something on a lighter note, wanting to entertain and loosen up, some responses we receive lead us to think that photography has become dead serious!

How serious exactly? Try to poke fun at any camera and you don’t have to wait long. The feedback will be flying your way. We got it all – from Fuji cheerleaders to Fuji haters. From paid secret operatives of the Fuji X-series to paid secret agents of the Dark Force who want to blow up the whole X-series enterprise. Vocabulary and arguments are rich and extensively well thought out: “Moron, idiot…” choose any word to complete the sentence.

Let’s clear the air then.

Yes, we enjoy shooting with the X-series cameras and lenses, currently the Fuji X-Pro2 and the X100S. These cameras are in tune with the way we see and shoot. They are light, friendly and fun to work with. The image quality is well beyond what is required for our line of work. And don’t forget about the XF lenses.

Unfortunately, nobody pays us a dime for our writing or for the fact that we shoot with the X-series cameras. Sadly, nobody has given us any equipment or even offered us any (apparently we are doing something wrong here).    

Finally, and most importantly, yes we like to smile. If approached with passion and dedication, photography is a very demanding and labour-intensive endeavour. There are many obstacles and challenges, especially for those who support themselves with this craft. For this reason (and many others) these special but rare moments when you loosen up, relax and poke fun at yourself or your photographic friend are so necessary. Come on, we don’t have to be that serious.

Smile! You are WITH a camera!

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Don’t shrug off the most important images you will ever take.

We joined this year’s April Fools craze with the piece “Enough of this mirrorless nonsense.” Thank you for laughing with us and not taking this babble of ours too seriously.

Today I would like to touch on a personal note. We photographers have a tendency to work hard on our professional assignments or projects. However, when it comes to family or personal photos we often shrug them off: “These are just family pics.” This laissez-faire attitude usually leads to mediocre images. In perspective, sooner or later we all realize that these are the images we value the most. These are images that will create a smile on our face, trigger a tear in our eye and provide us with the best memories. Make sure you work on them at least as hard as you do when shooting for a client or for pleasure. After all, they are going to be the most important images you will ever take.

Here are a few images of our son Oli at the University of British Columbia where he is doing his first work experience. They are all shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm F1.4 lens. Classic Chrome film simulation. Some of them are taken with ISO 6400!

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Enough of This Mirrorless Nonsense

April 1, 2016.

Enough of this mirrorless bullshit. Mirrorless – what a stupid name! It is like calling an electric car engineless.

I probably got into this Fuji X-whatever frenzy after a serious night of drinking and mixing up X with XXX. Anyway after maxing out all my credit cards I had no choice but to stick with this Fuji nonsense. What an embarrassment it has been!

I remember showing up late at the Grand Canyon photographers’ grandstand trying to squeeze between two idiots with four bags of gear. Me with my little Fuji between the whole gang of Canikons placed on huge tripods as if the whole world would suddenly become unstable.

Did I say it was cold? Very cold! What on earth I was doing there? While everybody was waiting for another disappointing sunrise I tried to take a nap but I couldn’t! No, it wasn’t even Trump talking. It was much worse than that. It was this beyond irritating shutter sound of Sony’s A7R. Seriously!? Who came up with such a noise – and the name? Even if I tried to annoy people on purpose I would have a hard time coming up with such a cacophony.

Once the Sony guy pulled himself together and stopped pressing the shutter button uncontrollably, then the rest of them started to get bored and found a new way to entertain themselves. They just stared at my camera! Dudes – are you serious? They didn’t have to say it aloud. I knew it was about me. Why didn’t the Fuji geniuses design a bigger camera? It should be HUGE – yes Trump huge. Then, these Canikons morons would leave me alone.  

In fact, this camera is so badly designed that even my wife likes it. My wife – hello! Who on earth designs cameras that even your spouse likes? You spend thousands of dollars you don’t have and then you have to fight with your better or worse half to take one shot. I’ve had enough of this.

Time to move on! Leica – God no! I have enough problems with these German-engineered Das Auto polar-bear-killing machines. I always wondered why my dog gets non compos mentis and disoriented while standing near my car’s exhaust.

Going back to Canikon? No way! Do I look like a 75-year old, fully bearded, photo-vest wearing, bird-loving photo dude? It would be like saying that you miss the time before the Internet was invented.

Then I thought about Sony. Only for a second – I already have a cellphone – I don’t need another stupid noisy toy in my collection. What’s left? So maybe Olympus? Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds?! What a stroke of genius to come up with such a bimbo name! Four Thirds – I was never good in math – pass!

What else is there? Panasonic? Sigma? Pentax? Or in short PSP? I’ve already tried playing nice with Mario on PSP while my son killed another zombie with this cool weaponry on his PS3. Thank you – NO.

But wait?! There is not much left. I guess I am going to be stuck with this engineless X stuff. After all, my wife said that my ‘software’ is well outdated and I would greatly benefit from the Kaizen philosophy.

Until the next update.

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

You were warned

The first lines of our 2016 blog said it all:

“It is easy to pat yourself on the back in this serene atmosphere. You worked hard, produced great visuals, got many ‘beautifuls’ and you reached a place that is comfortable and cosy, so why disrupt this calm?”

Well, somehow it feels cramped here; it’s static, colourless and sterile. Something inside pushes you to stretch yourself and you move toward the edge of the cliff. Whatever it is, it wants you to rip open Pandora’s box, unleash the demons and create chaos. It wants you to go back to the beginning and rehearse your trials and errors. Strangely enough, you want to comply. You want to destroy your present complacency of seeing. But why? What for? There is no answer, not just yet.

There are no resolutions or plans – just chaos to start the year. It’s so comforting, so desirable and so necessary.”

In short it is the year to “break down the walls,” explore new ideas and question our path. This is exactly what we have been doing in the first months of this year. But this chaos is not over yet and we are not sure if we want it to end. Quite the opposite!

Kasia and I are working on several projects that require a slight adjustment to our course. In fact, two of them are so important that they will have dedicated websites. More details to come.

One of the side effects of this ‘rebellion’ is our recent street photography work, which to our liking has so many elements of road photography: fascinating subjects, playful light, thoughtful composition – among many common features – and allows us to transplant our insubordinate seeing to our local streets.

It’s not that we have abandoned our road photography. Some amazing road trips are on the horizon. So please buckle up, hold tight and stay with us on this journey of seeing. Don’t say you weren’t warned!  

Here are some of our most recent images from the streets of Vancouver. All shot with the Fuji X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4. (Acros and Classic Chrome film simulations).

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and some in B&W…

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

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