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Indulge Me With This Kantei


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#31 Guido Schiller

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 10:21 AM

At least I don't owe any booze this time.

 

:laughing:

 

Not to rub it in, but I greatly enjoyed those two bottles! :glee:



#32 Geraint

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 11:20 AM

I can only echo the "thank you"s.  It's always good to re frame your understanding by applying it to really good examples, and of course excellent photographs.   :thumbsup:


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#33 Robert Mormile

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Posted 09 March 2017 - 08:58 PM

Many thanks to Darcy for providing another great opportunity for learning. 



#34 Jim P

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Posted 10 March 2017 - 07:50 AM

Thanks Darcy, Its those non general ones that sometimes give you a ? :)  http://www.nihonto.ca/hasebe/


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#35 Darcy

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Posted 10 March 2017 - 10:27 AM

Thanks Darcy, Its those non general ones that sometimes give you a ? :)  http://www.nihonto.ca/hasebe/

 

 

Yeah that Hasebe is an odd case because the NBTHK came down pretty firmly but whenever I show it there is a reaction to Chogi.  In other years it may have passed as Chogi, or so I have been told. If I was a big fish I could try to ask them to reconsider the judgment but it is pretty firm. As Chogi it almost doubles the price.

 

Anyway this is why Kanzan wrote that "Masamune, Norishige, Yukimitsu, these are three ways of saying the same thing." (paraphrased). 

 

Attribution is the first part of quality appraisal and getting it into the right arena is the key thing, not because we have a time machine and can verify anything specifically, but because you need to be evaluating quality and putting it to a smith with the right quality reputation. A big huge Soshu style suriage tachi of excellent quality has to go to a smith with a reputation for that quality and the style. When you deal with such a blade, it can't go to Hiromitsu or Akihiro because of the very few signed examples (i.e. one, and half the signature is gone), so they won't do that. But maybe mixed into the Hasebe and Sadamune attributed blades are some Akihiro and Hiromitsu. But it's not a good answer to name them because of no verified examples other than the one. 

 

And with that one, pre-NBTHK some people thought it to be Sadamune. The NBTHK couldn't possibly attribute it to Sadamune with only half the signature on it and declare it to be the only signed work of Sadamune, so they have to put it to a more acceptable answer with Hiromitsu.

 

Getting back to Kanzan, with Norishige, Yukimitsu and Masamune, each has habits that would let us put a blade to one of the three. Lots of Matsukawa hada, go to Norishige. Absolute top quality, to Masamune. More classical or even in Awataguchi/Shintogo style, go to Yukimitsu. But there is a zone where the three smiths overlap and an answer to any of them could be correct.

 

There is one tanto that Honami Kotoku (#1 judge all time) put to Yukimitsu and Honami Kochu (#2 all time) polished then put to Masamune. This blade went to Juyo and accepted as Masamune. The owner of that blade put it to Tokubetsu Juyo and it passed easily... and got the attribution changed to Soshu Yukimitsu at that time by Kanzan (who by everything I can find in his writings and opinions, believed firmly that Yukimitsu is peer level to Masamune and probably that his best works have been suctioned over to Masamune the way this tanto was by Honami Kochu). 

 

Given Kotoku and Kochu basically arguing over Yukimitsu vs. Masamune, it gives ground for anyone thereafter to take a side. If those two disagree on this particular work, none of us can be expected to have an authoritative opinion. 

 

When Kanzan died, this blade returned to the NBTHK and the NBTHK reissued it as Tokuju to Masamune. This is the only sword that exists that has two Tokubetsu Juyo papers, and you can see why once you know the full history. 

 

Coming around then, who made it? Well, I have seen the blade in my hands, at the time I didn't know the history and I didn't know a lot about swords. But when it was shown to me I realized that I loved Soshu and I was looking at something very special. Of all the Masamune I have seen in my hands (not a ton, but I think around 7 now), this one was the best. And of every one I looked at in photos (all the Tokuju, Kokuho, Jubi and Jubun) this one is still the best. 

 

So it is either represents the very best work of Yukimitsu or it is the very best work of Masamune, and so has to be one of the very finest of all Soshu works. If you can come to that conclusion while handling the blade, the label that goes on it is not so important. This blade doesn't take its value from the name of the smith associated with it.

 

Rather a blade like this gives value to the name associated with it. Because it is so good that's why Kochu said it can only be Masamune and why the NBTHK agreed twice with that. Kanzan just had the opinion that it could be at the very pinnacle of the mountain and still be Yukimitsu. 

 

So with my Hasebe, I am actually very happy to think about it as Chogi, but I can't really punch at the weight of the NBTHK and say this is what it is. If it had hitatsura all over it could rule out Chogi but as it doesn't, Chogi is not ruled out. What it is at the end of the day is a top line Soshu katana of massive size from the mid 1300s. Good answers would be Hasebe and Chogi, and if we could find useful signed work, it would let us say Hiromitsu or Akihiro. Because that may indeed be the truth of it. 

 

Similarly the NBTHK won't put a mumei Shintogo style katana to Shintogo Kunimitsu, these always go to Yukimitsu. There is one example in the Juyo and that blade could only be done because it had I think a Honami Kochu paper with it so it gives them safe harbor to say so. Otherwise they won't stick their necks out on Shintogo. I was shown about 10 years ago a beautiful wakizashi that I was told had papers to Shintogo but I never saw the papers and it never appeared at Juyo though it looks like it would pass. So I don't know what to make of that. 

 

Back to Norishige, when it is one that shows a textbook feature like this, its easier to answer as Norishige. The alternative of Yukimitsu is easily ruled out by the hada. The alternative of Masamune is not a place to go to as an easy answer. So in the method of the NBTHK judge, once you're in the right arena (Kamakura period Soshu of high quality, use this to cut down to a list of suspects to put into a lineup) you then look at the features and make a balance of probabilities call as to who it could be. And in that, there is a bit of flexibility and the use of DEN assists in massaging an answer a bit. 

 

DEN is an ongoing thing that I look at and try to improve my knowledge. One of the recent things I dug up just out of studying old books, for instance looking at the old Kokuho plates, was that it seems to have been used in the early 20th century in association with all mumei blades. Basically meaning attribution. Today Tanobe sensei has said that it means plus or minus 5% in terms of features departing from the book. The literal meaning of a mumei "attribution" without DEN would be to read it like an artwork in a museum... "An unsigned painting by Leonardo da Vinci" vs. "An unsigned painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci." They are both technically attributions but one is a bit softer. It seems from the 20th century plates of the early Kokuho, that a mumei blade must be attributed so they all became DEN meaning, attributed. There is no way around it. 

 

So, DEN was introduced it looks like around that time as the Honami never used it. Perhaps it was implied in all judgments that it was indeed a judgment. The only specific use of DEN that wasn't completely implied previously then was when it was used with signed works. Where you had something like a signed Kunitsuna and you think it is probably Awataguchi Kunitsuna but you're not slam dunk certain, you'd call that signed blade DEN Awataguchi Kunitsuna (and we still see these sometimes). This kind of uncertainty has been dealt with sometimes on signed blades by adding a second generation (there is a Juyo Nidai Norishige for instance), and in some of those cases we now dismiss that there ever was a nidai Norishige. That just means an unusual signing style for Norishige that someone didn't want to expand the book on Norishige with, the work was acceptable for Norishige, and the mei was provably from the right age of the sword and not added on top. So creating the nidai Norishige out of thin air is a politically acceptable thing to do. Better to use DEN or sometimes to-mei-ga-aru which is a statement that the mei is not false but is not within slam dunk acceptability. A lot better than erasing mei as it gives time to build the book more.

 

Anyway some later point it looks like some boldness may have entered and some judges dropped DEN on mumei swords as a way of expressing their certitude. 

 

So when we come along we get this mix of DEN and no-DEN and it seems like DEN is the add-on, where really it is something that is implied anyway and in the context of modern attributions was used across the board when introduced. 

 

That said my Hasebe has no DEN so the judges had no uncertainty. But I have my opinion as do some others. Mine can embrace Hasebe and Chogi and I am OK with that because after all this time, I accept that we don't have time machines and what the attribution is trying to say at the root of it. And I know that is their opinion, and theirs is certainly better than mine.


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#36 Jim P

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Posted 10 March 2017 - 04:32 PM

Hi Darcy,

Thank you for a most informative post  :thumbsup:  I remember reading this article, Interview with Doctor Sato Kanzan who said that

( It is certainly contradictory in a direction, but at the same time Yukimitsu, Masamune and also Norishige are blacksmiths of Soshû who studied under the same Master, Shintôgo Kunimitsu, and which all contributed largely to the great prosperity of the school of Soshû. Consequently, these three blacksmiths share similar characteristics in their practices, of which some are excessively difficult to distinguish. When these works resembling were identified, the judgment could be affected by a point of attention, or the stress laid on certain characteristics. For example, if the factor of the end of the nakago in kengyô is retained, the judgment gives Masamune, if the curve with the point is rather right and that the uchizori what is called takes the form of “standard in growth of bamboo” (takenoko zori), Norishige comes in first; and finally, if the end of the nakago formed in kurijiri is not round in an outstanding way but rather takes a lengthened form, the judgement is fixed on Yukimitsu. However, these three Masters Blacksmiths line up almost with equality in term of historical placement, statute, and three attributions point actually identical conclusions under different denominations. In any frankness, it could be more desirable than conclusions such as “is Yukimitsu,)

If den was used for a little bit of uncertainty with a mumei blade from these 3 smiths is it not then implied that probably it is going to the other two ? if not where do you go with den in this case ? Juttetsu ?Doctor Sato Kanzan said (In NBTHK Volume 9 ) most of these blades were of classical appearance so that most of nanbokocho blades are out :) IMHO just saying Yukimitsu with something extra or less does not seem the best use of it in a case like this

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#37 Mark S.

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Posted 11 March 2017 - 02:46 AM

Not trying to sidetrack this thread, but if my memory serves there was a thread or article or ? that discussed "Den" and its meaning and 'attribution' vs. 'in the style of'... does anyone remember it and have a link to that? All VERY interesting!
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#38 Jussi Ekholm

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Posted 11 March 2017 - 02:32 PM

That post on Hasebe was very eye opening, thanks for that Darcy. :thumbsup: It is always very nice to read about high-top end collecting even though it is so far away from my own world.


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#39 Jean

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Posted 11 March 2017 - 06:59 PM

Mark, did you ever try by chance the "search" button?
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#40 Mark S.

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 01:48 AM

Jean,
Yes, unfortunately it won't let you search for words less than 4 letters, so "den" was out. In the interim, another member kindly pointed me to exactly what I was looking for.
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#41 raymondsinger

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 03:45 AM

http://web.archive.o...Den article.htm
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#42 Brian

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Posted 12 March 2017 - 11:45 AM

Mark, you can always use quotes to search for something like "meaning of den" which will then incorporate the small words.
Gets you to threads like this: http://www.militaria...meaning-of-den/
But of course Ray's link points to the main article. Darcy also has some extensive writing on the subject.


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#43 Mark S.

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 01:07 PM

Thanks Brian... and all...

Lesson(s) learned.

#44 Darcy

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Posted 13 March 2017 - 06:36 PM

Jim, thanks for posting that, this is what I am referring to often and I think mastering the thoughts that he is trying to express there without stepping on a lot of toes, is extremely important and it is not possible to progress past mid level student without internalizing and accepting what he is trying to say. 

 

The way I often come around to that recently is by repeating "we don't have a time machine" which is the most concrete way I can express it. He says with some of those works it is very hard. You know he wants to be able to say "attributed to Soshu" ... it is very dicey when it comes to some of these blades. Historically the schools that are more difficult to sort out like Senjuin or Aoe or Enju, they received a template since the old days that they can give people papers for those schools and it's ok. But it's less acceptable to do so for Soshu or Yamashiro masterworks. So there is a lot of strain when it comes down to it. 

 

This is where reading the commentary is very important because it will really signify what you're dealing with. Either explicitly or implicitly. I read one Yukimitsu once where they flat out said that this blade doesn't really look like a Yukimitsu, but it is top level Soshu work and the alternatives are Hiromitsu and Akihiro and they didn't want to go there as they are an even worse match (the blade looked like mid Nanbokucho style sugata with an o-kissaki and the jigane maybe more like mid-Nanbokucho but the hamon a lot more like Yukimitsu). They just said there is really no good solid answer that will satisfy all the criteria. They would want to say Den Soshu or something like this but it won't fly, so it was left with the historical attribution to Yukimitsu and they moved on. The blade passed Tokubetsu Juyo on its merits, it is just an open riddle in the end about who to put it to. 

 

Compare that to the Yukimitsu on my site which is a dead ringer for Shintogo and you see the two different extremes. Zero uncertainty other than the unstated "well could also be Shintogo but we are not going to go there" vs. "we really do not know which one of the top Soshu smiths made this, so we're just going do the Trump and say I was given this information and leave it at that." 

 

Which way they are going to go on that is something that you can absorb by studying. If you just go to my site you can see two levels of Yukimitsu here:

 

This is like Shintogo and is 95% by Yukimitsu with the balance being Shintogo Kunimitsu which is not politically acceptable as an attribution. Nobody should ever get this wrong, the only answer is Yukimitsu.

 

http://nihonto.ca/soshu-yukimitsu

 
sugata.jpg
 

This is like Sadamune:

 

http://nihonto.ca/yukimitsu-2

 

sugata.jpg

 

 

My own opinion is that it is Sadamune. It has 300 years of documents to Yukimitsu and is one of the "Yukimitsu had a wide range of styles" type of blade rather than the Shintogo style above. The blade is wide in Nanbokucho style with an extended kissaki. The sugata is not the same at all to the classical one. It is early Nanbokucho. The jigane is gorgeous and better than most Sadamune. It has chikei that are like the Masamune on the cover of the Sano museum book. Masamune is another possible answer for it. Dr. Honma did not agree with Yukimitsu but when it passed Juyo they were often accepting blades on old attributions that they did CAT2 "needs more study" or CAT3 "certainly by a high level smith" to (see below). In the case of a CAT2 it means implicitly sideways or up, and CAT3 it means sideways or probably down. So if you have a Yukimitsu and it says needs more study, it means you are in the running for Go or Sadamune or Masamune. If you have a Yukimitsu and it says certainly a high level Soshu smith then you are looking at Shizu or Hiromitsu or maybe a Sa school smith. 

 

What is politically acceptable now is not the same as 1962 when Juyo is a relatively new thing. They are not so likely to raise more questions than they are prepared to answer in papers. People ask what is the point of a paper that comes back to me raising questions instead of answering them (legitimate beef, nobody wants that). 

 

If they determine something is really unanswerable they will be Japanese about it. As Dr. Sato said above, they will grasp an element as a lever and make the attribution based on that. It is up to you really to interpret that and it is up to you really to accept that all of this is based on calculations and odds and maybe just some minor details in some cases that can have major effects in terms of our perception. 

 

Dr. Sato is saying Yukimitsu and Masamune are like 96 to 100 in terms of difference. There is not a lot of space between them. But in the market the difference is massive and in your mind, if you sent in a mumei blade and got Yukimitsu you would be ecstatic however if it came back Masamune you may possibly not survive. You could stroke out or have a heart attack. 

 

But the practical difference is 96 to 100 with the best Yukimitsu being arguably indistinguishable from very good Masamune work.

 

All of the rest of it is just our emotional buy-in to legend .. and that is OK. Because when they say Masamune they are really saying it is the best possible. So we react to that but also to the history of Masamune. The thing to not drop though is that Yukimitsu should be given almost the same regard, though we may not have the same emotional reaction to his work, we need to have the same intellectual reaction. 

 

...

 

I need to write a new article on Den at some point. The original information I used was from Bob Benson's article on Den and conversations with Bob. I followed that with conversations with Tanobe sensei. A lot more comes from experience and reading a lot of the papers. Markus Sesko is invaluable in this as he translates the setsumei I use on my site and often we have discussions about what the NBTHK has said on this and other swords and some back and forth goes on with other examples as we try to get deeper into the meaning of some of this stuff.

 

One of the places I am at now is that when you can't read Japanese you're always in the boat of trying to find a skeleton key or a code to unlock deeper meaning. Den is one to seize on as it's there and obvious, like Chin-chin Cho-cho, the meaning has been grasped a bit too emphatically outside of Japan. Either people don't see it / don't know it / don't recognize it, and then when it suddenly clicks in as a "code", it becomes over emphasized. 

 

I think as of late as I have been looking at the documentation of every top end blade from Juyo to Kokuho, I have looked at each one individually now 3-4 times each. Given that this amounts to 16,000 swords this is a lot of glancing but I spent six years doing it... I think that its recently that the other shoe dropped as I wrote above, connecting the dots on the historical usage. 

 

As long as someone starts with the idea that an unsigned blade is always attributed as it's not signed, that there is your original meaning of DEN. And that it was a forced situation, no signature = DEN, signed = DEN if it is 100% certain which guy it was, and DEN if not 100% sure which smith made that signature. 

 

So DEN with a Shinto blade that's signed is really not anything you would ever see. DEN on a signed Masatsune that is originally signed but not entirely sure where it stands of the 7 or so documented old koto period Masatsune is a reasonable use. 

 

The unreasonable use is when you make an attribution without DEN, so the current modern use. 

 

The flip side of this problem and maybe I wrote it before, is that DEN is not used when there is kinzogan or kinpun mei on a sword.

 

So you can see this kind of situation happening:

 

This is what I understand currently:

 

Given a smith named, let's say BRIAN, and we have:

 

  1. Mumei DEN Brian = this blade is attributed to Brian but is a little bit away from the textbook work (not a quality assessment but a style assessment). 
  2. Mumei Brian = this blade is attributed to Brian and is textbook work (could be inferior or superior to a DEN blade, this is not a quality assessment).
  3. Zaimei Brian = this blade is made by Brian and bears his signature.
  4. Zaimei DEN Brian = this blade bears an original sho-shin signature and the blade and signature are attributed to Brian.
  5. Kinzoganmei Brian = this blade is historically attributed to Brian and bears an attribution signature. This does not mean the current attribution is to Brian. Though this lacks DEN and has an old attribution this could possibly be the weakest of all the styles included here, and in fact in the setsumei, an almost completely unaccepted attribution. It could also in the setsumei be enthusiastically accepted. There is no way of knowing just from the short form what exactly you're getting into.

So you can see a westerner getting a blade with kinzogan mei and no DEN and because he's thinking in terms of code and he also has a chin-chin, cho-cho on the sayagaki, he may have a great amount of faith in the attribution. But it's just not the right way of looking at DEN or the summary. 

 

If a blade has an old attribution the NBTHK says one of these three things:

 

  1. the old attribution is accepted (some variation on this, but concurring)
  2. the old attribution requires more study (expression of doubt)
  3. the blade is certainly by a top level smith of this school (I read this as a denial of the attribution, but done so with an emphasis that the blade is still maximum level quality)

So, really if you're buying a kinzogan mei Masamune that says it's Masamune on the front and no DEN and you think you have it banked and got a great price, you need to check the setsumei to see if you've got a CAT3 Masamune on your hands because if you do you do not have a Masamune even though the front of the papers say Masamune. You have probably a very expensive Shizu instead of a very cheap Masamune. 

 

No offense intended at Shizu he is an amazing smith but if you want a great Shizu you can buy one of the Tokuju ones and probably have it cheaper than a Juyo Masamune-Sorry-Not-Masamune. 

 

The higher the level of the smith the higher the stakes are and the more carefully one must parse this stuff out, but DEN is not of the greatest significance here. I think mentally it's important to repeat the mantras:

 

  1. if it's mumei it's attributed
  2. attributions are opinions, some better than others, and most probably better than yours
  3. attributed means DEN even if they don't say so
  4. DEN is not a quality assessment
  5. DEN is natural... removing it is not natural ... it is a newish style choice to indicate it being 100% textbook
  6. there is absolutely no way that smiths with no, or almost no signed work should ever not be DEN so even if there is no DEN you can't in your mind get distracted by DEN or no DEN as being of any significance at all
  7. code words mean less than the big picture commentary, if they have any meaning at all... context is everything
  8. attribution trumps everything

In terms of #8, if you attribute to Hisakuni for instance or Yoshimitsu, you are throwing down the gauntlet and you don't need to write three long paragraphs explaining the excellence of the piece. If you thought it was crap you would not put it to Hisakuni. Some of the older Juyo have very sparse commentary and that is certainly not happening now. Both because they can more easily copy and paste the introduction paragraph I think but new Juyo are much more pleasant to read and provide more context than Juyo from the mid 60s to mid 70s which may just say two or three sentences and leave it at that. It can't be read to denigrate a blade because attribution trumps everything and context is key.


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#45 Darcy

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 02:22 PM

I feel like I might be crossing the line into promotion a bit but I am working on editing the photos for the listing of this sword now and I really liked this shot (Ted did it). It shows off the intertwining effect very well and is a major kantei point for Norishige. The jihada activities are very pronounced and the ji nie are so intense they are throwing off a kaleidoscope of colors back to the camera. There is no clear distinction between ji and ha here. It isn't wading into hitatsura but it's its own thing. You can see maybe where the ideas come from for hitatsura when you combine this and yubashiri found in Go and Masamune. 

 

This marks the end-point of Norishige work and is from the period where he's really looking at Ko-Hoki and then reworking the basic design of those swords but with Soshu technique so they are much more lively. 

 

norishige-nie.jpg


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#46 Jim P

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 06:55 PM

Hi Darcy, Thank you for taking the time to post this :thumbsup: it is the best info on den I have seen to date and one of your best posts :clap: as you say context is everything and you have to get that right first. I hope you do have time to write a new article on Den, I know a lot of us would welcome this as an updated and more comprehensive understanding that's been needed for a long time.I found the non use of Den on swords with kinzogan or kinpun mei the most interesting and the one you need to look at more closely :-?

I spent a long time looking at the 2 Yukimitsu's and had not yet looked at the rest of your post my first thought was they did not look like they were done by the same smith for me the first one was more in line with what a late Kamakura should be and the other a later blade more in line with your thoughts that it may be Sadamune. For me the first is just marvelous.

 That shot of Norishige’s work is something I have not seen this before so different cant wait to see the whole blade :)   

 


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#47 Katsujinken

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Posted 14 March 2017 - 07:11 PM

 That shot of Norishige’s work is something I have not seen this before so different cant wait to see the whole blade :)


Comin' right up: http://www.nihonto.ca/norishige-8/
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#48 Gabriel L

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 04:32 AM

Hi Darcy. The shot above is gorgeous both in content and execution (kudos to Ted). However it does bring up a side topic — the angled shots on your site often have extremely shallow DoF. I know that's a natural consequence of macro (although I wonder if perhaps you / Ted could stop the aperture down even more), but have you ever experimented with focus stacking? It would be too much work for the number of shots you typically include in a gallery, unless you write a batch script… of course the artsy effect of shallow DoF doesn't hurt per se. I just itch a bit to know if more detail could be eked out.  :beer:



#49 CSM101

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 07:50 AM

I think there are several reasons why Darcy/Ted won´t do that.

 

My guess is, they use a Sigma 105 macro with f14, ISO 125. And this is the point with the best results. I prefer f11. From a tecnical aspect it wouldn´t make sense to make the shots with a f26.

 

Next point photostacking: Please don´t forget, that Darcy is a highend sword dealer. And with just the slighest hint of manipulating your photos you can loose your reputation. I think that is too much of a risk.

 

And the last point: Think about how much you will be impressed, when you hold the sword in your hands.

 

 

Uwe G.


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#50 Darcy

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 12:36 PM

Gabriel, that's a 100% accurate criticism of the photos and an area I'm trying to improve.

 

Photography ramble ensues:

 

It's an ongoing exercise as there is no manual, each time out the goal is to make better and more interesting photos than the last time. I've been training Ted for the last six years in my photo techniques and styles and we work on these as a joint project at this point. The current results are better than I ever did on my own and every time we try to do better. Often there is reshooting and in the case of the DoF issue there have been reshoots due to this.

 

DoF is a component that needs to be balanced with everything else and for a time what was coming out of the camera was a bit paranoid style pushed to try to defend ISO. With better cameras available lately this amount of ISO defense is not necessary and so DoF can improve as a result. 

 

What I went through in terms of equipment for shooting swords is a Minolta (forget what model) SLR, then Canon 5D, 5D mkII, 7D, 6D, and currently use a 1DX and 5Ds (Ted has one and I have the other). Each time requires some break-in and changing procedures to adjust to what the camera can deliver. This Norishige was shot four times and basically got run with a 5Ds set up the same as a 6D and it wasn't necessary as the 5Ds is a much more superior piece of equipment. 

 

So you're essentially noting legitimate errors that we are committing while learning and the amount of going back to fix these things is limited by time and some commercial realities.

 

I allow though that mistakes and imperfections is something that needs to be cycled through as an incremental learning process. Go back and look at my listings from 10 years ago and what looked really sophisticated then is now laughably amateur. So, refining and getting these things done better is a moving target that I am never going to give up on. 

 

However, whenever you shoot there is a basic magic that is impossible to recapture. If you reshoot you might get something new and spectacular that you didn't get before, but the best from the previous time you will certainly not reproduce. This particular shot cannot be redone as changing positions just by inches dramatically changes the appearance of a sword with this much activity.

 

When the photos are viewed in low-res the overall area of focus becomes a lot smaller and the problem more annoying. I am usually working on the photos at full screen and then the eyes tend to travel more to the area of focus and the error can be accidentally edited out in-brain. So that is my error that I won't have the same experience as someone else.

 

This photo above needs to be clicked on and blown up to full size or else the link just followed through and the DoF issue is less noticeable. That's a workaround though and the image is flawed because of this problem you have definitely noticed. 

 

Chasing down all photography problems due to the variables can end up being whack-a-mole but as long as every time out things are done a bit better then I am happy with that because I am basically very proud of making a nice research article like in this case.

 

I may eventually sell the sword at break even or a loss, and I always throw my time away and count it valued at zero. About a week of time goes into making a listing and if some errors come up in the photos, it's hard sometimes to throw a few days away to fix them but often it's done. 

 

This sword went through four photoshoots. The first shoot when rusty, the second shoot after polish, the third and fourth shoots after acquisition of a new camera. I am I think overall least sensitive to time invested in these things out of anyone putting stuff on the internet as I am not counting beans over swords or selling low level stuff at high volume. As such I can take my time and make something nice that respects the sword. If the sword has a long story to tell I will tell it all (which has come to my attention that some dealers criticize me behind my back for, and also has come to my attention as people have forwarded other dealers copying and pasting listings from my website and presenting them privately as their own research on a sword they were offering privately... so, one side putting a knife into my back and the other side stealing the work... I don't mind people reading, learning, internalizing and regurgitating... we all do that when we learn from other sources. And quotes should be quoted or cited when it's verbatim. But some people though just go through after copy-pasting and change a few words, other people go and just take it wholesale and present it as their own, and others say I am full of s**t for writing so much... can't change human nature, all of them are just acting in their self interest).

 

Anyway the lights and camera and environment is something that is in constant flux over the last couple of years with the results getting rapidly better each time out.

 

The photoshoots and process of cropping, adjusting exposure and discarding, as well as producing multiple resolutions of everything and the writing of an article is a week long process when it is a high end maker as-is without any reshoots. 

 

Focus stacking is a good idea but would probably require a very formalized setup. Shooting one shot of a flower is a lot more different because you kind of know what you are getting by looking at it with your eyes. All of us know who put a camera on a sword that what comes out of the camera is really not what our brain is experiencing when we look at a sword with our eyes. It's such a poor cousin to the equipment we have in our brain and in our flesh. What I've aimed at with the photography is to produce what I call formal and informal shots. The formal shots are the Japanese book style presentation and the informal are the photo gallery angled shots.

 

The hope was always that between the two a spectrum of experience and documentation would be available to people. The formal shots allow people to inspect at high res and see defects, patterns and structures without any "artistic" interference and the angled shots are intended at giving people the next best thing to holding the blade, so an emotional experience. 

 

They are both hard as hell to get right. 12 years of this at least and still with a list of things to improve.

 

The problem with focus stacking is in general that it will quadruple or more the time investment on the photos. So it would have to be singled out for particular shots, but since swords are such unreasonable subjects with such high reactivity to light and position, it's hard to know in advance what you want to go at for exploiting what focus stacking can return.

 

I think within 5 years that the new technologies will eclipse this, with universal type focus and choosing depth of field entirely in post. Then it can be expressed as just another slider for how you want to show something. 

 

Even an iPhone 7 with two lenses shows that new paradigms are coming for photography and the traditional body-lens-media relationship will change with that. If I can collect 250 megabytes of exposure and focus information per picture in a capture and then post process the information to set depth of field after that will be a really great thing. But already the amount of info per frame is so much that it is very difficult to handle it with existing high end computing equipment. 

 

But the technology will move in lockstep and I think that, as mentioned, with a 5 year time horizon we will enter into a golden age of capture. The only issue is that Intel hit the wall on processors so there is not a lot of room to improve that area. SSDs and USB-3.1 type speeds for accessing media has been life changing but is still not good enough at the processor to handle these photos in high res in bulk. Part of this is Adobe outsourcing development to third world countries for pennies per hour and making very fat and slow software, part of it is just that it's a hard problem and Intel is having trouble with the laws of physics in terms of giving us enough performance to deal with this stuff. 

 

I am very interested to see where things go though as there is such a direct application to photographing swords.

 

A lot of people have also suggested video and some guys are working on that aspect of it, but I think myself that photography is difficult enough as it is. Video squares the problem. It is probably though another step toward the emotional experience of a sword.

 

Ultimately you still need a good sword to work with though for all of this to mean anything. You can give a random guy in the street a poloroid camera and give him a top model to shoot walking around in New York and the results will be something you can publish in a high end fashion magazine. Ultimately the subject matter is what makes the work interesting. 

 

But when shooting people you can degrade the technical aspect substantially and the brain will fill in the gaps and maybe even enjoy it better. A big criticism of digital photography vs. film is that it's too real and has lost the interpretation that film cameras put into photography. For a sword though, that doesn't apply so much. Distorted photos don't help the experience. So this is where I look at video and I'm not so sure. I would rather see other people's experiments and see how they go. 


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#51 Gabriel L

Gabriel L

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Posted 15 March 2017 - 10:42 PM

Thanks for the thorough reply Darcy. There's a lot more we could discuss for fun but I don't want to derail the thread too much, so I'll give just a few reactions.

 

I am entirely sympathetic to the number of variables that go into photography — especially sword photography — and the somewhat alchemical nature of the process, meaning that what you see with your eyes vs. on the preview screen vs. in Lightroom / PS can vary. To some extent, at least in my own experience, there is an element of applying and refining a process, but hoping for results which may or may not always materialize in a perfectly consistent way. I think you hit the nail on the head when you note how some magic can pop out of a shot that wasn't necessary planned for, and which you cannot necessarily reproduce at will. Reshoots are another round of rolling the dice — even if they are weighted dice — seeing what the new result is, and maybe shaving the dice a little more for next time.

 

You and Ted have done a great job of pushing the envelope in presentation, detail, balance of hataraki / hamon / ji / etc., depicting more of the "color" and emotional aspect of a given sword, etc. I didn't really view the narrow DoF as a "flaw" so much as one more dimension that (like everything in photography) interacts with every other dimension. It's impossible to complain when the trajectory has been, as you reflect on, steadily upwards.

 

I am personally pretty bullish on video. Once upon a time I even did stereoscopic images as an experiment (with mixed, but interesting, results) — so much of qualities like interference, reflectivity, luminance, metallicity, diffusiveness, depth, iridescence, etc. are not only about a single PoV but a product of the brain trying to superimpose conflicting images. Proper stereo is tricky however: what is the right inter-aperture distance, for a given focal length and aperture? Do you angle the lenses toward the subject or shoot parallel? Is crossview or parallel going to give a more accurate impression? How do you deliver the content in a way that the public can easily consume it? In contrast, video (through constantly changing PoV) informs many of the above qualities in a way which the general public is used to consuming and interpreting… but also with a tremendous increase in lighting complexity and other issues, as you note.

 

Ultimately I'm also looking forward to seeing what progress is made in these areas.

 

On a tangential note, a project that has been rattling around in my brain for a while now is to do a sort of update to Rich T.'s fake swords article. In trying to point out differences (online) between swords of various characteristics, qualities, etc. I realize that a barrier to comprehension for beginners is a lack of normalization between photographs. If you already have a mental model for blades and what they look like in person, you can more easily adjust for these differences. But it would be nice to have a page to point out in which a variety of swords (including terrible fakes, guntō, swords in bad condition / polish, functional Chinese production blades, non-Japanese custom art swords, low-level / mid-level / high-level antiques, etc.) were all photographed in *exactly the same conditions and angles*. Of course this presents a logistical problem of gathering such a collection together in one place and settling on a photography setup which reveals all the characteristics you are attempting to illustrate… etc.

 

Better, but not mutually exclusive, is to simply convince people to get off their rears and get themselves to clubs / shows / museums / etc. ;-)

Gotta go, but thanks again for the reply. Like I said, many other things I'd be happy to talk about at length, but no need / there are only so many hours in the day. Cheers, —G.


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