The secret goes like this:
Everything arises from fields, and fields arise from everything.
You can indulge in a good eye-roll over the new-agey sound of that line.
(And over the braggadocio of the author.)
But eye-rolling aside, that line actually does refer to a very profound idea in physics. Namely, that the most fundamental object in nature is the field: a continuous, space-filling entity that has a simple mathematical structure and supports “undulations” or “ripples” that act like physical particles. (I offered a few ways to visualize fields in this post and this post.) To me, it is the most mind-blowing fact of modern physics that we call particles are really just “ripples” or “defects” on some infinite field.
But the miraculousness of fields isn’t just limited to fundamental particles. Fields also emerge at much higher levels of reality, as composite objects made from the motion of many active and jostling things. For example, one can talk about a “field” made from a large collection of electrons, atoms, molecules, cells, or even people. The “particles” in these fields are ripples or defects that move through the crowd. It is one of the miracles of science that essentially any sufficiently large group of interacting objects gives rise to simple collective excitations that behave like independent, free-moving particles.
Maybe this discussion seems excessively esoteric to you. I can certainly understand that objection. But the truth is that the basic paradigm of particles and fields is so generic and so powerful that one can apply it to just about any level of nature.
So we might as well use it to talk about something awesome.
Let’s talk about swords.
* * *
A sword, of course, is a solid piece of metal, and that means that if you look at it under sufficiently high magnification it will look something like this:
The little balls in this picture represent atoms (say, iron atoms), and in a solid metal they generally sit in a nice, periodic arrangement. (The lines in the drawing are just there to illustrate the orderliness of this arrangement.) The positions of the atoms will constitute our field.
Now let’s ask the question: how strong is a sword? How much force can you apply on it before the sword deforms or breaks?
To make the question more specific, let’s suppose that you swing your sword directly into a sharp surface (like, I don’t know, another sword). At the point of impact there will be a force that tries to push one plane of atoms in such a way that it slides across the neighboring plane. This kind of force is called shear.
How big does the shear force have to be before your sword breaks? Looking at the picture above, one very natural answer to this question might come to mind. Namely, that the breaking force should be equal to the repulsive force between two neighboring atoms multiplied by the number of atoms in a given plane.
This answer is very natural, but also very wrong. In fact, if you use that answer to make an estimate of a sword’s breaking force, you’ll find that even a laughably puny “sword” with a 1 millimeter cross section would withstand multiple tons of force before it broke. Since we do not live in a world where people go confidently into battle with millimeter-thick swords (and since, relatedly, you are probably capable of deforming an steel paper clip with your bare hands), there must be something wrong with this answer.
To understand what went wrong, we need to think about the particles in our field.
Remember that a particle is basically just a defect in a field. And if your field is a crystal of iron atoms, then there is one particular kind of defect that is especially relevant. This defect is called a dislocation, and it looks like this:
A dislocation is a place where the lattice planes don’t line up with each other. This failure of alignment produces stress in the nearby regions of the crystal (illustrated by the orangeish area), as atoms are forced into positions that are slightly closer or slightly further from their neighbors than they would prefer. Notice, however, that there is no easy way to eliminate all that stress. Moving atoms around locally just shifts the position of the dislocation, and the stress remains the same.
Of course, you should also keep in mind that the dislocations are not little points. That orange region of stress is not just a single point-like region where the lattice planes are mismatched. In a thick piece of metal, the dislocations are actually long lines of mismatched atoms.
Consequently, our “particles” in this field are better drawn as long, stringy lines that extend through the metal. I’ll draw them like this:
As it turns out, these dislocations have a serious implication for the strength of our hypothetical sword. When a dislocation is present, all you need to do to deform the sword is to move the dislocation from one side to the other. Like this:
In contrast to the Herculean effort required to make two atomic planes slip against each other, moving a dislocation is easy, since you are only displacing a small number of atoms at a time. One analogy is that moving a dislocation is something like trying to move a very heavy carpet across the floor. Dragging the whole thing may be prohibitively difficult, but if you make a wrinkle or a roll in the carpet, you can simply push that wrinkle to shift the position of the carpet.
This is also why your puny hands are capable of bending a paper clip: when you bend the clip, you are in fact just pushing dislocations from one side of the material to the other.
So what can you do if you want a sword that doesn’t bend or break easily?
You might think that the answer is to be extremely fastidious in preparing or choosing your metal, with the goal of having as few dislocations as possible. But this turns out to be a fool’s errand. Even a small number of dislocations enable the material to deform, and new dislocations can always enter the metal from either edge (as in the animated gif above).
The correct strategy, as it turns out, is to make more dislocations. And to make them as disordered as possible.
The crucial idea behind this strategy is that dislocations can’t really move through each other. When two dislocations are brought together, the stress in the crystal builds up intensely around them.
Such a stress build-up leads to a strong repulsive force that pushes the dislocations back apart, and thereby prevents them from moving through each other.
So now if you have two dislocations aligned in different directions, they can get caught on each other in a way that prevents each of them from slipping past the other.
In fact, this kind of dislocation tangling is one of the most important reasons for all that hammering during the process of metal forging.
When the mighty smithy stands at work over his anvil (the muscles of his brawny arms as strong as iron bands), his effort is largely going into creating a tangled knot of dislocations inside the metal. Such a tangle keeps the metal strong by pinning the dislocations in place, and prevents the metal from deforming under future stresses. (This part of the process is also known as work hardening, or strain hardening.)
In this way, the value of the blacksmith is not that he’s strong enough to deform crystalline steel (he’s not). It’s just that he’s pretty good at making a tangled mess of dislocations. And tangled dislocations make good swords.
I guess you could call him an applied field theorist.
One footnote is in order: I learned a great deal about forging from this excellent article written by the renowned blade/swordsmith Kevin Cashen.
I also stole the rug picture from his website, and I hope he doesn’t mind.
It's been a busy week in the world of makers! Let's dive right in:
Ron Paulk popped up this week with another great tool review, which he's dubbed "The best screwdriver ever made!" I'd previously heard tell that Craftsman's Autoloading Multi-Bit Screwdriver was a keeper, and here he shows you why.
Jimmy DiResta takes an old fireman's axe head that seems well beyond saving, and he not only restores it, but figures out how to fit a new handle into it using some molding skills. Then he crafts and fits the handle and goes the extra mile, banging out a sweet leather sheath.
Jay Bates doesn't just design his pieces, he carefully designs his process. In this video, as he creates a mortise-and-tenon table from scratch, he walks you through the carefully-considered sequence of events and demonstrates a couple of neat tricks along the way (check out the no-dust dado cutting). If Bates wasn't building for a living, he'd have a career as an efficiency expert for sure.
Huge DIY CNC
Who knew that for the past year, Frank Howarth has been secretly building a big-ass CNC mill! Now he's finally revealing it. In Part 1 we see Howarth working with an unfamiliar material—steel, rather than wood—and welding up one burly base. In Part 2 he starts building the rails and gantry. Lots of problem-solving going on here!
What Tools Cost
This week Matthias Wandel takes trolls to task, specifically the ones who say "If I had $100,000 worth of tools like you do, I could do all that stuff too." (Uh, no you couldn't.) In this video Wandel explains exactly what the tools in his shop cost, and—surprise surprise!—it doesn't take all that much to get started.
Putting a Lid On It
April Wilkerson continues building out the extension to house the dust collector for her shop, first figuring out how to roof, then building the doors herself. Mistakes are made and challenges are encountered, but Wilkerson prevails. (She always does!)
Out-of-the-Way Clamp Racks
Marc Spagnuolo and the missus have returned with an episode of The Wood Whisperer Live, which was put on hold last month as the Spagnuolos were busy welcoming a new member of the family. But they're back now, this time talking about FastCap's StileRite clamps, a Fuji five-stage turbine, the Powermatic PM2244 Drum Sander, and the Port-A-Mate Industrial Strength Mobile Base, for those that need to move 1,500-pound tools around the shop.
The new Star Wars movie's a month away, but Bob Clagett ain't waiting around. This week the father and Star Wars enthusiast built two comically huge lightsabers out of materials available at Home Depot. Only question is whether the kids will be allowed to play with them….
One From the Archives:
Monster Handheld Power Planer
Jesse de Geest shows off a beast of a tool—a handheld power planer with a freaking 12" capacity! I had no idea that Makita made such a thing, let alone that you could push it one-handed.
Obrist: This leads to my next question- about your archives. You are extraordinarily prolific. I have no idea how many pictures you have taken, it could be ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, or a million? Are you cataloguing them? Do you order them by date or by topic? You work covers all kinds of genres…
Araki: I haven’t been very organized. I have assistants working on it. Reflecting my belief that photographs are taken by the type of camera used- Leica, Pentax, or Lomo, the type I’ve started using recently.
Obrist: By the type of camera? I love that! How many types of cameras do you use?
Araki: More than ten. When I have a photo shoot with a charming model, I use five or six cameras at the same time. Big, small, they are all different in character. I like the ones with a good clicking noise.
Source: In Conversation With Araki, Hans Ulrich Obrist, July 31, 2001.
Get Featured: Eric Hessler
Eric is not your usual feature. You see, I found Eric on Instagram, and found his images of classic gear to be fascinating, so I asked him if he fancied being featured on the site. And fortunately for us, he did. Check out his film lifestyle images.
My name is Eric and I am from the good old USA. I’ve been a long time reader of JCH and was thoroughly thrilled when Bellamy reached out to me via Instagram to feature my images on the site. I’ve used Instagram daily now to show my collection of film gear (and some digital) to the film photographers of world who are interested in seeing it. To be brief about myself, I have a degree in Photography and have worked professionally in the industry for a long time. I focused on editorial advertising work and was doing well in that area, having images published in nice, big glossy magazines. (until the economy bottomed out a few years ago)
Since then I have shifted gears into a different profession but photography and cameras are what still runs through my veins. Nearly all of my professional work is done with Canon Digital bodies (and occasionally large format digital backs on the Hasselblad if needed). I use Pocket Wizards and strobes and sometimes tether to my Macbook Pro which is all very nice gear indeed, but lets be honest with ourselves and call it what it is – impersonal. I’ve never truly gotten excited about a new 5D Mark whatever. The last digital camera I can really say I got into was Fuji’s x100 – of which you’re all very familiar I’m sure. In new gear, there’s something missing.
Sure, image quality is lovely and you COULD print really big if you wanted to (seriously, unless you live in a gallery, who’s got walls big enough for that?) and there’s no money out of your pocket when you fill up those memory cards to the max. Like everyone else, I’ve fallen guilty to that. There’s an allure to a huge CF card. Got 32GB of storage? FILL IT!! Never take your finger off that shutter button until the battery is dead!
But where does that leave you? Sorting through 8,000 photos for a job that should, maybe, take a dozen shots to finalize? Isn’t all this new photo gear supposed to make us better photographers? Anybody can acquire a ‘studios worth’ of gear for a relatively small amount of money. But what will you do with it? There are many readers out here who actually do use their gear, who are thrifty and understand the economy of having specific tools for specific jobs. The ones who don’t really get this are those walking around Disney Land with 300mm lenses. Come on we all know you could see to the moon with that thing. You could see straight through to the next town! And you’re shooting family portraits with that lens. We’ve all seen them. (And maybe that’s even you.)
So, back to my point – photography is supposed to be magical. It IS magical. Push a button and you’ve got an image. Presto! Whether it’s silver halide or CMOS, you’re creating magic. Can you show me anything else in our world that’s got that power? There’s something special, I’d dare say beyond special about photography and what it means to us. There’s happy photography and sad photography and exciting photography and boring photography. Photography is historically valuable. Photography is fun. Photography is important because photography is absolute truth. Painters and sculptors have it easy – they can make it up as they go along – but for us shooters, we show what’s real. We show what was there and how it happened for those who couldn’t make the trip. There are connections to be made. “That’s me!” moments that need to be documented. The first moon landing was shot with a Hasselblad. Everyone who has heard anything about photography knows that basically everything important has been shot with a Leica. (Subjective, yes, but inarguable)
I’m not here to talk about Photoshop and Light Room workflows. And you aren’t either because you’re here, reading this article on Japan Camera Hunter, which makes you somewhat of a photo-purist. I’m not saying old gear is better than new gear. I’m saying old gear is different than new gear. Just like classic cars have a slick coolness and old books have that great smell. Vintage film cameras have that, ‘thing,’ that aura, that feeling. Old cameras transport us when we hold them. We can feel them come alive when we fire their solid shutters and crank their sprocket-toothed spools readying the next film frame. A classic camera will talk to you, if you’re willing to listen.
Browse through history – Weegee had his Graflex, Cartier-Bresson had his Leica, Eugene Smith had his Olympus. Those wet plate carts rolling through the battlefields of the Civil War had their beautiful lmahogany and brass boxes, unfolding their leather bellows for the next shot. And how many Nikons did you see hanging on Dennis Hopper’s neck in Apocalypse Now? The Vietnam war is synonymous with the Nikon SLR. Every street shooter dreams of an M3 or 4, or 4P or 5 or M6. There’s meaning here. Terry Richardson has his Yashica T4. Daido has his Ricoh GR’s. Anders Petersen has his Contax T3’s. Sure, some of these are newer and have bells and whistles but they’re film cameras and they’ve got personalities and they’ve got style. Who can say the same about a 22mp Nikon D-such and such?
I’ve got an empty feeling knowing that all this digital gear has a shelf life of only a few years. What’s next after you’ve convinced yourself that you need more megapixels? We’re jumping into doomed relationships. We understand things will be great in the beginning but we know we’ll end up unsatisfied, lusting after the next model or the latest smart buttons and touch screens.
I enjoy history and I also really like continuity. I feel better about my images when they’re shot with something that makes me feel good about what I’m doing. The camera world used to value such quality when things were built to last. I’ve got cameras that shoot like the day they were made even though they’re 65 years old! And I’ve had digital bodies that quit working completely after 6 months.
Anastasia Petukhova over at Asildaphotography.com has a wonderful essay on buying your first medium format camera. She says something along the lines of “Just owning a Hasselblad makes me feel good.” Who can argue with that? Having the right camera at the right time is like putting on a new outfit, or getting a fresh haircut or sliding into a freshly washed car. It feels good. It feels right. ‘You know who’ says “the best camera is the one you’ve got with you.” So why not make that true and carry the one you’re in love with?
I’ve got a soft spot for classics, rare stuff, cameras only made for one year – Olympus Pen W, Panon Wide Angle, Kowa SW, Leicas (of course), early rare examples like FujiPets and the Indra Lux. I like rangefinders for their focusing system – which just makes sense to my eyes. I identify with tanks, old heavy bodies like the 500C and the Rolleiflex (and the Mamiya 7, too, although that’s newer). Throw in some good leather straps from Gordys or Luigi over at LeicaTime, some nice pens and notebooks and a good bag or two (I like Filson bags and my trusty Domke) and I’m good to go. I use all kinds of film, from cheap student grade Arista all the way up to Fuji Chrome. I prefer wet printing and books (there’s depth in a fiber print that you’ll never see on a screen) but I also scan on an Epson V700 dual layer flat bed and work in Photoshop. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer or wrong combination when it comes to you and your gear. Shoot lots of bodies. All kinds of bodies and all kinds of lenses. Get to know your gear. Read the manuals and watch youtube videos. Get on Flickr and rangefinderforum and go deep. You’ll learn a lot.
Those of you who really practice photography and who live this lifestyle already know what I’ve said here because it’s inside you. You know what its like to spend your last few bucks on that one piece of gear you can’t live another day without – because you probably won’t find another one or there’s something about it that gets to you. Make images that mean something to you. Don’t worry about everyone else and who’s doing what. There’s only one of you. Show yourself off! Show the world what you see through your eyes and your lens. And it’s cool if you don’t geek out over old gear like I do. Go digital if that speaks to you. All of my Instagram shots are taken with my iPhone 6 – because that’s what I believe you should use for Instagram. (They are, however, all lit with lights) Who wants to shoot chromes on a Hasselblad and resize them to fit on your phone? Not me.
My photos show my moods. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. There’s light to be seen and shadows to play with. Light and texture and shape and color are just as valuable as sound and taste and touch. Use those qualities to the highest degree in your images. It’ll show more about who you are and why you’re using photographs to say something to the rest of us.
A friend of mine who’s been shooting for many years said this to me years ago and I will never forget it – “People who buy brand new DSLR’s become instant professional photographers with the swipe of their credit cards. Funny, I’ve owned a toothbrush my entire life and I’m still not a dentist.”
Thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts on classic cameras. I love the passion you have for the medium. Very inspiring.
Come on, share with us what you have and get yourself featured.
Click on this link and send in your project/work: Get Featured. *I am looking for mainly projects, not individual images*
Oh, and click here to see a few of the photographers that have been on the site before http://www.japancamerahunter.com/?s=featured
Please make sure you come and comment, polite and constructive critique is welcome.