Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Thing About Children


For the Joy, 2013
(Click on image to see larger)

I was going to title this post, “They shoot children, don’t they?” But that seems like one of those things that would have been cute once upon a time, but isn’t now. So let’s be clear, I’m talking about photographing children.

Photographing children can be a tricky proposition. I know some photographers who when they’re photographing children on the street don’t think twice about shooting first and checking for parents’ permission later. I understand their strategy, but I’m reluctant to follow it in many cases.

It’s sort of like my comment above about the title I didn’t use for this post. Bad things happen to children, though I suspect the incidence of photographers doing it is extremely rare. In my day-to-day work as a researcher, though, I’ve come across enough parents who’d shoot first and ask questions later if they thought someone was acting fishy around their children. Some parents are just being careful. You can understand and respect that. Others are just nutcases looking for something to be hysterical about, and some of them tote guns. I don’t waste much respect on nutcases. But why risk being misunderstood by someone with a gun?

So there I was this past Saturday down at the oceanfront for the annual Steel Pier Classic surfing competition. I didn’t go there to photograph surfers. I enjoy watching surfing. There are all kinds of people with long lenses photographing all sorts of surfing maneuvers. I’m sure they do a nice job. As for me, the real appeal of such events is the opportunity to photograph the people who come to watch the surfing competitions. 

This is why I happened to be standing away from the surfing action and notice the children shown above playing at the water’s edge. (If it looks like there’s no one around, let me assure you that if I’d turned the camera around it would have revealed about 5,000 people watching me.) The kids would run up to approaching waves and laugh as the waves crashed and they retreated back across the sand to avoid getting caught in the cold water. Their joy was infectious. I had to shoot them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Picture Within the Picture

 Colin Advocates for Wind, 2013
(Click on images to see larger)

I’ve said it here before many times that sometimes the pictures you set out to take when you go out to take pictures don’t turn out to be the ones you most value from that day.
I keep saying this because, well, it’s true. Unless you’re out on a specific assignment, and sometimes even if you’re out on a specific assignment, unexpected opportunities will present themselves to you and you’d be a fool to ignore them. (Unless, of course, a client is hanging over your shoulder and you have to play nice.)
I went down to the beach the other morning to take a walk. There were several events taking place along the boardwalk and on the beach. The first was a vintage car club show. A vintage car show wouldn’t normally draw me. But since they were there and some of the cars were very colorful I wandered up and down the boardwalk taking pictures of pieces of cars.
The second thing I hadn’t realized was going on this weekend was what I could only call an “Aging White People’s Beach Music Festival.” There was a show band that did covers of everything from Otis Redding to the Beach Boys. The audience was mostly pudgy, gray haired Baby Boomers. I didn’t stop to photograph them. I know what pudgy, gray haired Baby Boomer looks like.
It wasn’t until I got up to 31st Street and looked out onto the beach and saw a group of people lined up holding hands in front of a line of big pinwheels than I remembered that the local Sierra Club chapter was sponsoring a local observance of the Hands Across the Sand. Hands is a demonstration in favor of wind power over offshore drilling for oil, something our current governor and his aspiring Republican successors aspire to do tout suite.
I walked out on the beach to get a closer view. There were 30-40 people and they were very enthusiastic about their cause. Every few minutes, if he sensed they were losing energy, one of the participants would run up and down the line and have everyone make a wave.   
To be honest, they didn’t make a very photogenic group. There were too many visual distractions and I didn’t have a long lens when me to do anything interesting with forced perspective.
When I got home and started going through the day’s shots, the Hands Across the Sand images were the last ones I reviewed. They just weren’t interesting.
Then I happened to look into one of the pictures and found that there was a single man at the end of the line whose posture and energy were interesting. I cropped him out of the shot to separate him from the rest of the line and then cropped the image even further to cut out the irrelevant parts of the image. Fortunately, shooting digital images in RAW format results in such large files that you can crop down to even a very small piece of the larger image and still have something that reproduces well.
Sometimes it’s not only not the picture you set out to take, and not the picture you ended up with that interests you. It’s the picture within the picture you didn’t intend to make that’s interesting.
Here’s the original.
Hands Across the Sand/Virginia Beach, 2013

Monday, May 13, 2013

High Art and Dancing on the Pole

 Strange Fruit @ Virginia Arts Festival 41, 2013

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I admit that from the title of this post it would be easy to misconstrue that what Mrs. Bonney and I went to see at the Virginia Arts Festival the other night was more along the coarser lines of pole dancing. But that’s not the case, though I will also admit that there was dancing and poles were involved.
What we saw was a performance of the Melbourne, Australia-based performing arts company known as Strange Fruit. (It’s anyone guess whether they’re at all aware of the connection between their name and the haunting song about racism made famous by Billie Holiday.) 

Strange Fruit @ Virginia Arts Festival 01, 2013
Any description I make of Strange Fruit’s performance—this particular one is called “Swoon,” a fusion of theater, dance and circus—will not only fail to adequately describe it, but probably cheapen it in the process. But here goes:
Two women and two men, dressed, respectively, as colorful tarts and chimney sweeps, skip out into the outdoor performance space, accompanied by a soundtrack of percussive world music. They shimmy up flexible 5-meter poles, atop which they fasten themselves into roughly thigh-level braces that leave their upper bodies and sometimes their feet completely flexible to move in any direction they wish.
Strange Fruit 71 @ Virginia Arts Festival, 2013

For the next half hour they sway back and forth and around in circles on the poles to a soundtrack that ranges from symphonic to big band, from Sinatra to Mozart, from swing to opera and from rhythmic music to spoken word and jarringly discordant sounds. Their movement tells stories of whimsy and love and loss and love found again. Their style is so varied, gymnastic and yet so classically elegant at times that one could easily believe they were choreographed by Twyla Tharp. One moment they’ll be relating intensely to each other. The next they’ll be bending down low to flirt with viewers.
(See? Didn’t I tell you I could make something elegant and artful sound cheap and, well, not all that different from pole dancing?)
Strange Fruit will be appearing in June at the Ordway Centre in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in July at the Outside the Box festival in Boston. Their performance in Norfolk happened to be free. But even if you have to pay to see them elsewhere, it’ll be worth it.
Click here to see Strange Fruit’s show reel.

Strange Fruit 47 @ Virginia Arts Festival, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Butterfly Kisses and Dandelion Wishes

I had to go down to the courthouse the other day to probate my mother’s Last Will and Testimony. The last time I did this was for my father’s will in 1995.
I can only assume that Probate Court is one of those places where cities can cut back on staff and resources and nobody complains. Why? Because in in 1995 the Probate Clerk’s office was a busy hive of eight or ten people. Back then I breezed into the office without any notice, got my business taken care and was back out in just a few minutes. It was also free.
Since 1995 they’ve changed the process enough that 1) an appointment is required, 2) I had to pay a total of $48 to probate a will that had essentially no assets and 3) I saw just two people in the department, and one of them was even borrowed temporarily from another department.
But none of that really matters. What really matters is what I observed while waiting in the Probate Clerk’s office. I would show it to you; I’m not sure you’d believe me otherwise. But as you may know, no electronic equipment, camera, cell phone or any kind of mechanical recording device is allowed inside the courthouse.
You’d expect a court clerk’s office to be a pretty dull public place. But nothing could have been further from the truth at the Probate Clerk’s office. Let me clarify that. The office no doubt started out looking institutional. But under current management it’s anything but.
To make my point, here’s a partial inventory of what I saw while waiting. (Fortunately, pencil and paper are not prohibited recording devices.)
A sign proclaiming “PEACE, LOVE AND JOY!
Framed pictures of birds.
Paper cut-outs of angels and fairies.
Cherubs. Lots of cherubs.
A paper chandelier with glass “diamonds”
Silhouettes of trees stenciled on every wall.
Birds. Ceramic, metallic, paper, paper maché, fabric, glass, stone, velvet and plastic. Hanging from the ceiling, perched on office equipment and peeking down from overhead light fixtures.
Butterflies. Also ceramic, metallic, paper, paper mache, fabric, glass, velvet and plastic. Also hanging from the ceiling, perched on office equipment and peeking down from overhead light fixtures.
Plastic bobble heads of flowers, baseball players, cherubic toddlers, extra terrestrials, dancing ducks and more birds.
Paperweights. Who knew decoupage was still big?
Plastic orchids.
A lavishly seascaped, but goldfish-less, goldfish bowl.
Paper, metallic and glass stick-on appliques in stars, starburst and bird shapes.
Pigs. Ceramic, paper, steel, stone and stuffed fabric.
Snow globes, not a one celebrating a winter scene.
A calendar from February 2010 with a photograph of sunflowers.
Another sign: “The day you were born the world had to make room for a little more fancy.
Fake hyacinths.
Another sign: “Drama Queen.”
Birds’ nests.
Music boxes.
Sequin-covered computer keyboard and mouse.
Ornate Victorian Christmas scenes.
Another sign: “God made us sisters. Prozac made us friends.”
Another sign: “Some days are a total waste of makeup.”