Monday, September 30, 2013

The Knights

The Knights 76, 2013
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This past weekend was the wrap-up of Virginia Beach’s annual Neptune Festival, an event created, depending on who you talk to, to either drum up some fall tourism business, or, as I’ve heard some say, so that “we” can take back our beach, “we” being local residents who feel snubbed by the summer tourists who pump a billion dollars or so a year into our city’s economy.
Whatever the case, the Neptune Festival can be fun. There are parties, sandcastle contests, a regatta and a parade. There’s an art show and 5K, 8K and children’s “crawl” races. There are funnel cakes and, for reasons I don’t understand, people who sell bathtub liners and house gutters. There are bands, seafood and beer.
This year’s parade featured something like a hundred floats and other attractions, including your usual fire trucks, school bands, Star Wars re-enactors group, Shriners in go karts, baton twirlers, cheerleading squads, dance schools, antique cars, horses, Special Olympians and stern looking young boys and girls from local high school ROTC troops, a great many of whom, I’m sorry to report, haven’t learned how to keep in step to the same rhythm yet.  
I took a lot of pictures. But to be honest, I didn’t really care to document the parade. Instead, I was more interested in looking for my “little moments,” patterns in light and dark and color. And wouldn’t you know that for all the color of the parade some of my favorite pictures from the day aren’t of the cheerleaders, brass bands and the like. They’re a small group of pictures of the robes and sashes of a group of Knights of Columbus. Go figure. 

The Knights 78, 2013

 The Knights 77, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

When the Only Model You Have is You


Flash 137, 2013
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Regular readers will wince at the thought that I’m going to once again mention the photography workshop I took in New York in August. Yes, it stretched my comfort zone. Yes, it made it hard for me to “see” photo opportunities that seemed limitless before. And yes, now I can’t seem to see a photograph of a person—almost any kind of existing light portrait, really—that couldn’t be improved by a little supplemental artificial light.

So I’m either ruined or off on yet another tangent. Rather than admit defeat, I’m choosing to interpret this as “skill exploration.”  Last year’s workshop sent me off photographing anyone who’d stand still long enough. This year it’s all about supplementing environmental portraits with artificial light.

The thing about doing environmental portraits—and by this I refer to any photographic portrait that’s done not in a studio, but rather in some sort of situ—is that you need someone to photograph. My New York friends can find models all over the place. Here’s anice one from Adam Buteux. I mean, it’s as if there are people just walking the streets of the city waiting to be asked to be photographed with, say, an Irish wolfhound, a Fendi bag or a lush Oscar de la Renta ball gown.

There are no super models wandering my local streets. No Fendi bags, Irish wolfhounds or de la Renta ball gowns. No, I’m left with the only model who’ll agree to sit for me, and that would be me, graying hair, wrinkles and all.

This is probably not a bad thing. There’s a lot I’ve yet to learn about lighting before I turn my camera loose on real people. Shooting with supplemental light requires a lot more thinking and planning than I’m used to doing. There are a lot more variables, which is great once you’re confident is flexing them.

Before I can do that, though, I have to learn a basic checklist for doing basic things with lights. When I get that “muscle memory” firmly implanted in my mind, I’ll be able to stretch some and play with the variables.

Using artificial light for the first time is like using Photoshop for the first time in that it’s a matter of subtlety. At first you over-do it. Then you learn how to tone things back so if you need such software to further process your images they don’t look so over-processed.

As the series of photos below shows, I’ve a lot to learn. The one above is the most recent, and I think the best so far. I may be slow, but I’m getting there.


Flash 015, 2013

Flash 113, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fez Season

 MASA 065, 2013
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It being September, that means it’s Shriner season in Virginia Beach.
I’ve written about the Shriners several times in the past and even published a book of photographs from their parades. One, and sometimes two, of their regional conventions are held in Virginia Beach each September. At the end of the week they put on a parade on Atlantic Avenue in the oceanfront resort area. I’ve been photographing their parades long enough to know just about all of their floats and long enough for a surprising number of the Shriners to recognize and remember me.
This year it was only the Mid-Atlantic Shrine Association that came to Virginia Beach. So the parade was a little shorter, which was good because I was unable to stay for the actual parade. But I was able to wander among them as they assembled in all of their glitz and flourish before the parade.
MASA 059, 2013

MASA 141, 2013

MASA 046, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Humility Along the Gowanus

Gowanus 027, 2013
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There’s nothing that’ll put you in your place faster that seeing someone else publishing photographs of something you thought only you’d been prescient enough to photograph.
During my recent stop along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn my eye was drawn more to things above ground that in the canal itself. There’s a bridge and all sorts of interesting trestle steel for an elevated subway bridge and station.
The Gowanus Canal is famous for its polluted waters. Even though great effort is being given to cleaning up the canal and even though it may look pretty decent from a distance, it’s still pretty bad off.
But being the thorough kind of guy I am when I’m determine to mine every bit of photographic potential from a place, even the mundane parking lot of a Lowe’s home improvement store in Brooklyn, I did eventually turn my eyes to the canal itself.
What I saw was fascinating, even if it wasn’t something into which you’d necessarily want to dip your toes. Looking down into the canal was like looking into an abstract mural on which Marc Chagall and Claude Monet might have collaborated. Really, the colors you see in the photograph above are the colors of the…well, I don’t know if really qualifies as water. But whatever you call the fluid in the canal, it does look like this.
Now, here’s where the humility comes in.
I didn’t take many pictures of this petroleum-infused waterscape. I shot a few frames and them moved on. I figured that once you’ve seen one shot of the Gowanus waterscape, you’ve seen them all.
So it was with more than a little irony and humility that I opened my e-mail one afternoon a few weeks later and found a link at the aCurator site to photographer Bill Miller’s take on the Gowanus.
Sure enough, he’d done like I had. I’ll bet he even stood at the edge of the Lowe’s parking lot just like I did. And I’ll bet he, too, photographed the many other things there are to photograph around the Canal before he ever turned his eyes to the water.
But when he did look down to the water, he didn’t take the same casual attitude to it that I did. He stuck around for a while and captured a number of interesting views of whatever it is that pollutes the Gowanus Canal. If you didn’t catch the link to Miller’s Gowanus series in the paragraph above, here is it again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Brooklyn Point of View

 Manhattan Graphics 362, 2013

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People think New York’s an expensive place to visit. And it can be.
But like many internationally oriented cities, if you’re traveling on a budget there are still a lot of places you can go and things you can see for free. New York has something for everyone, no matter where your tastes lie on the highbrow/lowbrow spectrum. A four-block walk in any direction will expose most visitors to more interesting sights than you see at home, and if you’re willing to venture a little further afield there’s so much live entertainment on the street and in the subways that you could easily wonder anyone would pay to get in anyplace. 
New York’s a city of magnificent architecture. It’s ethnic enclaves offer the visitor a reminder than not everyone lives like you do. It’s also one of just a few American cities where the art of window display is still treated like a serious art form by retailers.
For outdoor views, there’s Central Park, of course. One of my favorites, though, is the Staten Island Ferry, which you can ride back and forth across New York Harbor and get tremendous views of the Statue of Liberty, Governor’s Island and lower Manhattan. I suspect the people who use the ferry to go to work take it for granted after a while. But I can’t imagine a more civilized commute than one that includes at least a boat ride each way.
One of my favorite vantage points is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The Promenade’s a narrow park that hangs out like a balcony over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, diverting traffic noise and offering one of the best views of lower Manhattan. Off to your right are the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. Directly across the East River are the canyons of Wall Street. To your left is Governor’s Island. In the distance are the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Staten Island and the soaring Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (which is as high as I ever want to be without being in an airplane).  Really. You can stand in one place and see all of this and more.
Manhattan Graphics 577, 2013

The Promenade’s a most civilized place for a walk. There are gardens and fancy apartment buildings and townhouses on the east side. There’s plenty of seating if you just want to watch the passing parade on the East River.
A few weeks ago I had a chance to walk along the Promenade in the early morning. It was a wonderfully clear and crisp. I could have spent an hour taking picture just of the Promenade. But instead I used a long lens to make these pictures of some of the buildings on the Manhattan side of the river.
Brooklyn Heights Promenade 004, 2013