Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Monday, August 29, 2011
Friday, August 26, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Trois D’un Coup, 2011
Sometimes in your quest to make a photograph of a familiar place that is different from what you’ve done before you strike upon a new angle or perspective or notice some feature of that familiar subject that you haven’t noticed before.
That’s how it was one morning two weeks ago when I arrived in New York. I’d taken the shuttle bus in from La Guardia that drops you off on Park Avenue in front of Grand Central Terminal. I was toting a briefcase and dragging a roll-aboard suitcase and had twenty blocks to walk to get to my hotel further downtown. (It was such a pretty day that I was happy to have the walk.) But as regular readers will know, I can’t be that close to Grand Central and not pull out the camera.
What I wanted was a new and hopefully more interesting photo of the southern façade of Grand Central. Unfortunately, every angle I tried resulted in a picture I’d either taken or see a hundred times before.
Then I decided to just let go and forget what I thought I wanted to photograph. I snapped off a dozen or so completely mindless shots. Then, standing at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, instead of looking out, as I have many times through the year---here and here, for example—I instead looked up. The picture above was the result.
I really hadn’t cared to make the MetLife Building the dominant feature in this photograph. And I suspect someone could look at this photograph and wonder whether I’ve just Photoshopped all of the different buildings into it.
I didn’t. This is straight from the camera. While the resulting image is not what I set out to photograph, I am intrigued by the way I was able to use the canopy over a doorway as a framing device. I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped, however, in featuring the eagle whose silhouette you might just be able to pick out, as a foreground element. Live and learn.
I hope to be back at Grand Central briefly later this week. If the sunlight is good, I’m going to see if I can do a better job.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Live it Up, 2010
Like a lot of people, I’d like to see The Book of Mormon, the new hit Broadway show from the guys who brought us television’s South Park. I’ve listened to the music and seen a few scenes performed. It’s hilarious and thoughtful and profane. Tickets are said to be impossible to get. So it’ll probably be a while before we get there.
What may not be immediately obvious to many people who only hear the most superficial comments about The Book of Mormon—especially with respect to its coarse language and seeming ridicule of the Mormon religion—is that The Book of Mormon is actually quite respectful. It doesn’t set out to criticize Mormons or the Mormon religion. Much like South Park, The Book of Mormon lets its subjects take care of themselves. If you find it worthy of a few snarky chuckles that Mormons believe Jesus lives on a planet named Kolob or that God waited until 1978 to acknowledge blacks as legitimate human beings, then so be it. Authors Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez merely state the facts and let you come to your own decision. (Apparently, Mormons love The Book of Mormon, demonstrating, if nothing else, that along with some unusual belief they at least have a healthy sense of humor.)
In photography, it can be very easy to ridicule other people. People come in all shapes and sizes, some hilariously unusual. If you’re shooting in a studio you can change the mood entirely with a single light source. If you’re shooting outdoors, you don’t even have to go looking for funny looking people. All you have to do is stand in one place in public for a little while and they’ll parade right by you.
But for me, though, that’s being cheap. I know I’d be good grist for someone looking to take a snarky photo. My friend Walt Taylor has been drawing wonderful snarky illustrations of me for almost thirty years.
Chris by Walt, 1983
My wife and I went to the Bill Cunningham New York movie the other night. Octogenarian Cunningham rides his bicycle around the streets of Manhattan most every day, photographing interesting clothing without any apparent interest in the people wearing them. If they’re beautiful, as many of his female subjects are, then it’s obvious. If they’re not, Cunningham’s images make no statement about it. That’s a pretty classy approach, if you ask me.
But there are people out there who set out to ridicule others for their own political/social/class/snarky pleasure. Last week debate spread through the media community as to whether Newsweek Magazine had been responsible or not in its selection of a photographic cover portrait of Michelle Bachman that made her look like a crazed maniac. (One of my acquaintances commented, “Is it even possible to take a picture of Mrs. Bachman that doesn’t make her look batshit crazy?”)
And there’ll probably always be debates over whether Diane Arbus exploited her subjects or merely turned an impartial eye to them.
The bottom line is this: I try not to be too snarky in my pictures. If the subjects are worthy of snark, I’ll let them make the point.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Venice 220, 2011
There are at least two places in America that call themselves Venice and probably countless neighborhoods in other cities that call themselves “little Venice.” I think it’s safe to speculate that all of them were the creations of real estate developers anxious to turn some kind of low, marginal land into desirable residential property. Having been developed to maximize the number of building sites, though, none of these ersatz Venices have the serendipity and narrow serpentine canals of Italy's Venice. Instead, where there are canals—Florida’s Venice doesn’t even have the canals—they are of uniform width and neatly lined up parallel to one another.
Florida's full of communities built along canals carved out of muddy swamps. Most were developed to appeal to "snowbirds" and, as such have the neat and tidy look of places where old men wear white shoes, play shuffleboard and reminisce about their old winter heating bills back in Minnesota.
California's Venice is like the other American Venices in that it was created by a land speculator, in this case a man named Abbot Kinney who built a giant amusement park and pier for the sweaty masses from nearby Los Angeles and later carved out a vast network of canals. But compared to Florida's neat and tidy Venice-as-snowbird-haven, California's Venice is decidedly shabby chic. Parts of it are downright shabby, others just comfortably casual enough for it to be clear that it takes millions of dollars to live there.
Venice, California, isn't just canals, though. (Besides, many of Kinney’s original canals were eventually filled in and turned into roads.) Venetians like to brag that they’re second only to the Mission District of San Francisco on the funkiness scale. Venice has a beautiful wide beach and oceanfront promenade that's home to all kinds of flaky businesses, buskers, body builders and vendors. Looking for a doctor who’ll certify you for medical marijuana? There's one in just about every block. Looking for psychic crystals, magic beads and throat whistles? Check, check and check. How about a freak show with a lady with three heads or buskers channeling everything from Peruvian pan flutes to old Doors songs and Hendrix riffs? Yep, all of those and more.
I’ve never been to Venice Beach when the promenade wasn’t crowded with people. Last Thursday was no exception. Thousands of people strolled, biked and rollerbladed along the concrete strand. The streets, alleys and parking lots were further congested by a fleet of Warner Brothers trucks and craft vehicles on location filming an episode of "Gossip Girls." At one point a cute young girl wearing little more than a bathrobe brushed past me. Nothing about her and her scanty clothing seemed out of place in Venice. Only because hundreds of people lifted their cell phones to snap pictures of her gave me reason to ask someone who she was? (A starlet by the name of Blake Lively, it turns out.)
When the crowds got to be too much for me, I wandered a few blocks over to the much quieter residential neighborhood where the canals are. As the sun began to set, neighborhood residents sat enjoying drinks and conversation in their yards overlooking the canals. Some visited with neighbors along the narrow walkways that line the canals. Once upon a time this area was a hangout for bohemian dropouts. Today it’s said to be one of Los Angeles’ most expensive neighborhoods. It costs nothing to walk in Venice, however, which made this a wonderful place to end the day before I had to go to the airport for an overnight flight back east and home.