Some Collected Notes

I always travel with a small notebook (Rhodia if you're asking) with me, either in my camera bag or my book bag. It's handy for noting addresses of people you meet, scribbling down impressions, overheard conversations and noting things you read that are of interest.

Here are few notes (shown in italics) that I've taken and expanded upon

Overheard at ICP

The ICP (International Centre for Photography) in New York was hosting a show by Sebastiao Salgado showing pictures from his book "Genesis". The photographs were stunning, to put it mildly. I wish I could have bought the huge version of the book but there was no way I'd be able to fit into even the most gargantuan of suitcases; it would have required its own seat on the airplane!

Genesis, a long term project, spanned eight years as he visited 30 of the Earth’s most pure and untouched sites. He was inspired to do the project because up until that point people had been the central subject of his work. He says that he “… wished to photograph the other animals, to photograph the landscapes, to photograph us, but us from the beginning, the time we lived in equilibrium with nature.”

I just sat an stared and dripped water on the floor (I had become drenched on the way there). I just wished everybody else would have just STFU and respect the images.

As I wandered from one gallery to the next I came upon a group of intense students led by a similarly intense instructor making the rounds of the gallery. Notebooks at the ready, hipster beards a quiver, hipster spectacles glinting efficiently, hanging on every word of the instructor they prepared for the next koan from the instructor.

Koan is perhaps overstatement as there was no subtlety in the question posed (as noted in my handy-dandy notebook):
"Does Salgado's use of aesthetics diminish the validity of the images and reduce the political content of the image...does it help or hinder the cause..."
Uh, wait, what? What cause? What political content? I saw none. Perhaps I'm naive (probably), stupid (highly likely) or both but what I saw was a collection of gripping images that reflect the purpose quoted above.

What I saw were images of stunning power, especially the mountain images taken in the Yukon. How can aesthetics reduce the validity of an image? Does an image need to be cack-handed to be "valid"? Does an image need to be gag-reflex inducing to "help the cause"?

I recommend Salgado's book. Buy the largest one you can afford (it's printed in many sizes).

A Recurrent Meme (or is it a trope?)

"I want the image that I make to be an accurate representation of what I saw through the viewfinder"
Nope, ain't ever gunna happen.

Your eye is so much more versatile than a camera. Your eye can skip and dance over its field of view, moving around the scene in three dimensions. Our image processor correlates the images, however fleeting, with past experiences, knowledge, prejudices, hopes and desires. The camera just maps a three dimensional view into a 2 dimensional rendering devoid of meaning. Your selection of framing is informed by your past experiences; a photograph will never be an accurate representation of what was there, let alone what you (thought) you saw.

It is the aesthetics of the image that bring out the meaning, taking the work of a mechanical transcriptor and turning it into a sonnet, a fugue, a short story.

The initial image is the germ of the idea, the final preparation for printing the hard labour of the poet on choosing the correct words, the author tirelessly rewriting that one section that doesn't quite work until, finally, the nuance, the feeling that you felt when you made that image weeks ago pops out of the developing tray.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't get it as right as possible in camera. At least get the exposure correct and the framing as close as reasonably possible. I have no issues burning and dodging, selectively sharpening and adjusting local contrast to tell my story, to make that poem. I deviate from the the "No crop" school as I often print images in different sizes and aspect ratios. Shooting both 3:2 and 4:3 formats I have to crop one or the other make the prints consistent. I tend to leave some slop around the edges to give me enough to "cloth" to make my suit from.

The Price of a Painting

 From a documentary on the 10 most valuable paintings every sold at auction
"The price of a painting [or any piece of art] is not the value of a painting or an indication of its importance. It's just the result of two people bidding against each other."
'Nuff sed.

Photograph is Dialectic between Photographer and Subject

Now there's an interesting note heading. Sounds like some introduction to a discussion of Marxist theory or something equally arcane. This is what I wrote under that heading:
"The subject presents, the photographer reacts and the conversation continues. Almost like an ongoing moment. You never really leave the subject behind, the conversation you had with it influences the interactions you have with another subject even if it is in a completely different setting or subject space"
Either I'm incredibly pretentious or this makes some shred of sense. I've been reading and annotating Jerry Thompson's slim little volume "Why Photography Matters" and working through some of the concepts. I'm working up a little review on this book and this was a synthesis of one of the sections.

And Furthermore!

Like Steve in "Blue's Clues" always carry your handy dandy notebook and write those ideas down. Most wull be crap, but there maybe a nugget of gold hidden somewhere. Take the time to sit in your "Thinking Chair" and ruminate and expand on those notes. A whole new avenue of projects or ways of seeing just may present themselves!


Some Local Colour

Traditional street photography gravitates towards black and white images. I prefer black and white for street work to isolate the shapes and themes I find interesting in the image; sometimes colour just works a charm.

Times Square at night is a riot of colour. After the "clean up" it lost most of its grit, save the cranky cartoon character clad panhandlers and the occasional scalper hustling tickets. The lighting, on the other hand, rivals Las Vegas and Shinjuku in Tokyo (I should dig up the those Japanese images). I used to sweat things like colour balance and such, but really, it's such a pop-art atmosphere in these sort of situations that I just set everything to auto white balance and go.

Road Warriors
Rain always makes for some interesting colour images, especially if there are some bright colours to work with. The umbrella image in my previous post was basically a monochrome image and it worked better, in my opinion, as black and white. On the other hand this image of Times Square with the slashing line of red tables glistening in the rain shows what you can get on a rainy day.

Red Tables
New York's finest are getting a lot of flak right now but the Traffic Division always gives a wonderful source of material. Some look like dancers, some look like actors, some could be evangelical tent preachers as they herd New York's obdurate traffic around construction, parades, protests and whatever the hell else happens on New York's streets. Again, the rain really saturated this traffic cop's safety vest and his arms outstretched in benediction belie the fact that he was questioning an Escalade driver's ancestry, sexual proclivities and planetary origin.
I posted this red Eldorado in my first series of posts about New York but I went back and did some post processing to it. There is a wonderful set of Kodachrome presets for LightRoom that for the life of me I can't remember where I found them; I do recall that they were free. Anyway, here's that red Eldorado processed as Kodachrome 25.

Red Eldorado


Waiting and Watching

New York is a city of intersections: streets intersect avenues, social castes intersect, and all the while there are people, people waiting and watching. Even though New York is a city that seems in perpetual motion, if you watch and wait, you’ll catch those people waiting and watching.
This was one of my first photographs I made during my stay in New York. I heard the rat-tat-tat of high heels and turned around and saw a woman in white dashing down the stairs to catch the subway while the hipster watched the scene around him.

Uptown & The Bronx
My second day in New York alternated between a light mist and pelting rain. I was wet and grumpy but my heavens the reflections and the light made up for wet socks and fogged over glasses. Pausing at an intersection on 6th Avenue, I saw this collection of Wet Mushrooms and a bit further on one of New York’s finest stoically enduring the rain.

Wet Mushrooms
In Soho there is a cafĂ© called Fanelli’s. They say it’s one of the oldest in New York dating back to 1847. I had a good lunch there. Afterwards I stood at the intersection of Mercer and Prince and watched the watcher watching the watchers.

Watching the Watchers
Bus stops are interesting places. People wait, people watch. Like the future, the bus will come.

5th Ave/W 23rd Street