New Dog, Old Tricks?

The new Nikon Df camera was released recently, a camera I thought I’d immediately start to covet but have actually been somewhat underwhelmed by. I learned my craft on manual Nikon SLRs (a Nikkormat EL2 lost in a burglary and replaced with a Nikon FM3a) and loved the direct connection with image making enforced by manual selection of exposure and focus settings. Moving to digital in 2007, I still used most of my manual lenses and generally continued to set shutter speed and aperture manually. I’ve since acquired some auto-focus lenses (great for portraits) but continue to rely on crisp, contrasty manual lenses for landscape work.

So why don’t I love the Df as a return to the good old days? Firstly it’s big(ish). The FM3a is rather svelte by comparison, principally because it doesn’t need to fit a D4’s electronic gubbins inside it. Secondly, I’m not sure what you gain from using ‘manual’ dials to set exposure settings over using the front and rear command dials as I’ve become accustomed to (and you can use command dials with the camera to your eye much easier than the rotary dials). Thirdly, the sensor size – why 16 Mp on a camera aimed at photo-purists and not something larger like on the D800? And the clincher is the cost – not much change from three thousand pounds.

I would have preferred a camera closer to the ideals of the FM3a – basic metering, no auto-focus drive and manual exposure settings (alright, perhaps aperture-priority auto-exposure). And image processing components that provide the highest quality image for subsequent development – i.e. a high resolution sensor and RAW-only files. This would reduce the complexity of the electronics inside and place the camera back into the hands of those who prefer not to be distracted by details such as number, spread and types of auto-focus sensors, metering patterns, and ‘scene-based’ image processing algorithms. It would be smaller and cheaper, too!

Moving on to Pastures New(castle)!

This week I joined Culture Lab at Newcastle University, who engage in a broad range of research into human-computer interaction and digital creative practice (basically they do lots of cool stuff that pushes the boundaries of where and how digital media and technology can support everday life). I’m part of the Digital Interaction research group, working in the Creative Exchange project.

cx_logoCreative Exchange (CX) is an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project exploring the potential of “digital public space” – i.e. the idea that anyone can now be a media producer, any time and any place (rather than just broadcasting corporations, publishers etc.). CX is based on knowledge exchange collaborations between academics, creative industry partners and the public focused as a series of PhD projects at three Universities (Lancaster, Newcastle and the Royal College of Art). As the Research Associate for the Newcastle cluster, my role is to plan and deliver the knowledge exchange research agenda through supporting the 9 PhD students in Newcastle.

There’s a huge variety of work both in CX and Culture Lab, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in!

Photographic Prints, Cards and Posters Now Available

I’m pleased to say that I can now offer photographic prints, greetings cards and posters of my images for sale. As much as I like sharing my images on the web, they really come into their own as large prints (something I was reminded about recently when we had my panoramic image of Castlerigg Stone Circle printed 1 metre wide and framed for our living room wall).

The two Yorkshire galleries where I used to sell my prints have long since closed but I’ve recently joined Red Bubble, which means that I can offer images in a variety of formats. Prices start from £1.51 for greetings cards, £6.80 for photographic prints, and £57.60 for framed prints (in a choice of styles) – prices in other currencies available on the site.

I’ll be adding more images to Red Bubble soon but, if you have any particular favourites that aren’t there at the moment, let me know and I’ll put them at the top of the “to do” list.

Buy my work

Journal Article on Digital Mementos

I’ve had an article published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies on the work I did on digital mementos during my PhD. It’s part of a special issue on designing for reflection on personal experience and describes the work I did with my colleague Daniela Petrelli (who is the second author) where I used critical artefact methods to design ideas for the digital equivalent of mementos with groups of would-be users. See my publications page for bibliographic details and a link to download the paper from ScienceDirect.

Dr. Simon Bowen

Simon at a Pop-up Lab during Metro Futures Screenshot from Layers of the Old Dock the "here and now" interactive artwork, peppered moth visualisation

I am a design researcher, designer, and photographer based at Open Lab, Newcastle University where I develop and coordinate design research projects, supervise PhD students, and teach interaction and participatory design.

My research concerns design making (sometimes called designerly thinking) as a means of collaboration and innovation, which I have investigated in a range of settings including academic-industry knowledge exchange, health and social care, and community- and citizen- led public services (‘digital civics’).

My design work includes interactive media, speculative designs and design fictions, public services, digital games, and web sites for various contexts including cultural heritage, health and social care, mindfulness and technology use, and technologies and media for personal remembering.

My photographic work includes landscape, architecture, and travel. And, since 2015, I have been exploring the potential of panoramic and spherical photography.

Lastly, I don’t ‘blog very often but you will find the occasional news item or opinion posted below.

(Another) Apple tablet prediction

I’m going to join the throng and make a prediction about the much-hyped forthcoming Apple tablet computer (variously the iPad, or iSlate, or iTab etc.). Not whether it will have an OLED screen, or an E-Ink screen, or a new form of gestural interface, or a virtual keyboard, or be an e-book and e-newspaper reader, or be for a family to share and for use in classrooms. Plenty of others are discussing these possibilities with eager anticipation. My prediction is a very simple one: it will be successful. We will buy it, use it and find that it answers needs we never knew we had.

But tablet computers are not a new idea, so why will this device succeed where the others failed? In short, because we’re ready for it. We’re now familiar with touch-screen interfaces and multi-touch gestures due to using devices like the iPhone and watching films like Minority Report (and engaging with many other objects and media, and the ideas expressed in them, before that). Technology isn’t primarily what determines the success of this, or any other, product. The technologies that Apple’s new device will employ, whilst innovative, aren’t enough to get any but the ardent gadget fans and early adopters to use it. People’s practices, perceptions and expectations provide the acid test for any new product. Is it something we can understand the purpose of, envisage ourselves using, and see a role for in our lives? We develop this understanding from the ways we live our everyday lives and the artefacts that we employ to do so, it reflects our culture (to put it in larger terms).

Apple will have a hit with their new device, but only because the iPhone and Tom Cruise got us ready for it.