Archives for the month of: August, 2009

Cool again today. It has been for two and some days and nights very warm. This morning as I woke the air smelled fresh and cool again. It was time for my morning walk at six fifteen. Quiet outside.

 As I made my way down the block, a scene caught my attention. I stopped to watch for a few moments. Two large crows walked down the center of the street, side by side. A car was coming. They look at each other, and each walked aside to opposite sides of the road, and stood there. The car drove past. The crows rejoined each other in the center of the road and continued their walking pace.

 A little rustle in the bush to my left. I looked down. There was a squirrel, face peeking out from behind the plants, watching the crows. Its head turned as they walked past, following them, then it turned around and sped through its plant shrouded path to the nearby tree, chittered up the trunk, and onto the telephone wires overhead. The crows looked up as it danced across to the other side, and continued their stately walk.

 

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 Thinking of the Isle of Man this morning as I walked, this little society of creatures having played their moment in my awareness, I recalled a walk I made the second day I was there last year. I’d walked from my friends’ house where I was staying into the village of Ballaugh, bought a sandwich, and then entered the old rail right of way cutting through the countryside parallel to the path of the main road. A short section of it was a small park with grass, hedges, benches and trees. Very quiet. I sat on a bench and ate my lunch, read a book, and listened.

 There wasn’t much to hear … an occasional car, rustling of wind and leaves. Quiet. The day was overcast and gray, cool, threatening a shower. I kept walking the right of way past the park after I rose from the bench. Past the park, on this right of way between farms on either side. Tractors working the fields hidden from direct sight by the hedges. Occasional sounds of someone talking. Birds and small animals, hedgerows and stone walls bordering fields. Contrasts of the man made and the natural. My walk then took me to the road again, and back to where I was staying. It rained on me twice, lightly.

 Quiet, peace as I walked this morning.. not-thinking. Letting consciousness go to perception. After the scene I witnessed…

 Coffee, a bun, the walk home. I went back to photos from that day’s walk in Ballaugh and found these two. I liked them each alone, but they sang to me when I combined them together as a diptych.

 .. I wonder about the society of crow and squirrel.

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My birthday yesterday, double nickel. Many thoughts and reflections. Wandering through last year’s photos-I-haven’t-processed-yet again, I spied this view of the morning fog and thought it interesting in its layeredness … fog and tree trunks to thin branches and plane tree seed pods, separated by space and fog, held together in a whirl.

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The party was good. People from two-three different circles I interact with brought together to share a meal, celebrate a moment. They tell stories, visit, socialize. Pizza, beer, salad and lots of laughter: best meal going. 

I was listening to an interview with a photographer who specializes in commercial automotive and motorcycle photos. He spoke of how things are different now from fifteen years ago … spoke wistfully of when “the shot” was what mattered, where now he shoots in parts and pieces to be composited together to build the image for his clients. The tone and thought was of something lost, some essence no longer viable: the gestalt of “the shot” and all the time, the effort, in detailed setup to make it. 

This got me thinking: Is this not the big divide in photography? between those seeking to capture a moment — record it, hold and treasure it, a memory, a unique and never reproducible instant in time — vs those seeking to create a moment, create a scene that portrays something either literally or symbolically? I remember seeing at an exhibit how someone proudly proclaimed in their literature, “No Photoshop … These are actual photographs.”

Is the creation of a photograph, an image, from pieces and parts still photography, or is it illustration? Is there some essence lost in this paradigm shift, brought on by tools that make it far easier to accomplish than ever before, or is there something added to the world of expression by it? 

I tend to follow the school of “capturing a precious instant in time” and don’t do much of this compositing of pieces, parts into images myself. But I find some of that work compelling and fascinating. Pieces and parts making a whole … is the whole reflective of reality? does it have to be? 

The party wound down and people departed the restaurant. Different people, all special, all unique and multi-layered in their complexity. Together one thing, apart …  pieces, parts of a whole. More or less? No judgement possible. 

I look into this photo and see layers, levels and interactions. The simple and the complex. 

All together, and each apart. 
Went to see the movie Julie & Julia this past weekend, enjoyed it quite a lot. Aside from the occasional dip in the contemporary storyline to cutesyness and the typical Hollywood clichés for sake of box office receipts, I thought it a multi-leveled story with interesting insights to think about. 

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Browsing through some of my photos from earlier this year, I saw story lines and ideas arguing with each other, vying for my attention and effort, wanting completion. Places I’ve visited, briefly … like the Chinese camp town of Locke on the Sacramento River Delta that I passed through in March … ideas that need more depth and realization to become what I want them to be. 

This boy in Locke .. He was great. He ran back and forth on Main Street while I was there, as if those puppies on his feet were running wild and he was just riding them. His mom sat in front of one of the shops and watched him zip past again and again. I talked with her a few moments but she was shy of the camera and would not permit me photograph her. She didn’t seem to mind my taking this portrait of the boy, however, when he came and stood for a moment’s pause, studying me, then ran off pell-mell down the street once more. 

Julie & Julia talked to me about the struggles involved with the creative endeavor. It articulated things that were immediately familiar through my own experiences in doing photography: the struggles in finding a voice, setting a goal, the pitfalls of self-doubt and insecurity which battle against self-confidence. Also the great importance of support from an audience, from friends and family, and the happenstance of Luck which help us to work our way through to completing the work, and then continuing on beyond that. 

But most of all it showed the need to be consistent, relentless, to push on despite all else. And to take what comes as a result of that energy, effort and study with objectivity and a critical eye. 

I must return to Locke again. Soon.
One more visitation to MOMA and the Robert Frank The Americans exhibit. The Americans has been a powerful photo book to me for many, many years. My 1969 soft cover edition, bought used when a student in High School, is still with me … much thumbed, much pored over. Unforgettable to the mind of a late baby boomer.

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I’d been through the exhibit several times and finally arrived at the end again, where one of Robert Frank’s short movies was playing in a loop in a darkened space. “The deconstruction of The Americans” or something like that. The effect was mesmerizing, thrilling. People would come and go in this dark space, watching intently for a few moments, then getting up and sidling off. I stood to the rear and watched. 

This couple, mother and daughter I believe, came into the space and sat down, ignoring the film. They chatted for several minutes, through two showings at least. And then, finally, the film looped once more and caught their attention. 

One sat, one stood, and they watched. They didn’t move much, they’d commanded the room as their own and the film held them. At the end of the second loop they watched through, I remembered I had the Rollei 35 with me, pulled it out, set a “hit and hope” exposure, and released the shutter. I could barely see the numbers on the camera dials. As I wound the film to try another frame with a stop longer exposure time, both women stood up abruptly and strode off into the museum. 

The frame looked so thin on film I thought it was a goner, but scanned it anyway. I’m glad I did. 

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I posted a few more of this roll’s frames to flickr in the set “MOMA 2009”. I might post a few more yet, there are some I haven’t rendered yet. Enjoy them. 

The BART station was pretty empty when I arrived there on Sunday afternoon after the museum. Must have been a lull time. Just me and a couple of other people sitting quietly, waiting for our connections.

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My head was full of Robert Frank’s The Americans. I had just a couple of frames left on my roll of film. Pulled out the camera to make an exposure, wound and put it away. 

The young woman sitting next to me looked up and closed her book. She turned my way. 

“I heard you do something with that camera. Is it a film camera?”

“Yes, a Rollei 35S.”

“May I see it? It looked beautiful.”

I pulled out the old Rollei and handed it to her. 

“It was the sound of you winding the film after you took the picture that caught my attention. You don’t hear that very much any more.”

We talked for a few minutes … she loves photography but says she’d just learning the technical. Likes to capture moments. Shoots with a Panasonic LX3, but liked the simplicity and style of the Rollei 35S. Asked where she might buy one, perhaps it would help teach her the basics.  Then …

“Do you think photography is becoming devalued because so many people can take pictures with automatic cameras now?” 

My train pulled in just as I was about to respond. I didn’t have a card with me, forgot to get her email address to continue the conversation. She turned back to her book as I boarded the train, sat down, and watched the station blur into the past. I made two more exposures while the train was still underground, rewound the film as we broke into the sunlight. 

It’s amazing where a camera can take you.
I have a long standing battle with museum guards. I want to photograph interiors and people. They think I am photographing the art on the walls. It has been my pleasure to be accosted and upbraided for using my camera on most museum visits I’ve made for the past several years. 

I have to say I was disappointed with my MOMA visit this Sunday … despite using the camera extensively, I was not harassed at all. 

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Disparities. I stood and watched a man take a picture of a Georgia O’Keefe original painting directly in front of a security guard. That guard never budged. Another guard from the next room ran in, responding to the flash, to yell that “Photos are NOT ALLOWED!” Lucky sod.

I have to say that for me the Ansel Adams/Georgia O’Keefe exhibit seemed a trifle strained. Adams’ so formal looking B&W prints paled when sited next to O’Keefe’s flamboyant, sensual shapes, bright colors, hidden meanings. One can see from an intellectual plane the relationship that might have inspired the one from the other, but hung together in the galleries the magic of this pairing just didn’t gel for me at all. 

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But I really went to see Robert Frank’s work … The Americans is one of those works that long ago and far away hit my consciousness with a force that still rings and pushes me to think again, to explore the photos over and over. It was indeed the work that continues to pull me in and keep me spellbound. 

I went through the Robert Frank exhibit three times before my brain was full. 

A wall, corrugated concrete, three sections at angles to one another. Simple. Or complex?
 

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I have walked by this wall on my Saturday morning walks, every week for a few years. I’ve seen it change over and over again … from flat concrete marked with graffiti, to painted over, to this new construction again marked and painted, marked and painted. It remains stolid, simple, yet …
 
A month or two ago I pulled out one of the old compact 35mm cameras that had been languishing in a drawer for many years. Looking at it I thought, “Hmm, I’ve got a ton of old film in the drawer that’s way out of date, and bunches more in the freezer … I guess I should use it up…” and my ‘shoot a roll of film every week or so until gone’ project was born. I take out one of my old cameras, whichever piques my interest on a day, throw whichever roll of film comes to hand into it, and shoot with that setup exclusively until I finish the roll of film.
 
It proves fun. This week’s pick was one of my old favorites, a black Rollei 35S that I’ve owned for a couple of decades, filled with an ancient roll of Ilford 400 Delta at least four years out of date. I carried it with me from Friday until Sunday; the bulk of the exposures I made were at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco on Sunday. Amazing that 36 exposures can take three days to consume.
 
Working with the Rollei 35 again brought to mind the discussion on the forums last week. ‘Can the camera change the way you see, what you do with your photography?’ Yes, and no, and yes … The Rollei 35 has nothing automatic, nothing to help you focus, just a simple meter and the barest minimum of aperture, shutter, focus. No way to see what you shot, to ensure that you caught what you wanted. At the same time, it has nothing to get in the way of your thoughts.
 
Shooting with it, one lives in the future and in the present simultaneously. You give up knowing for hoping. You give up aid and accept the consequences of your settings. Is it simpler? or more complex?
 
I love this wall. I’ve photographed it many times. This is one of my favorite photos of it. Did this camera help me?
 
Yes, and no, and yes …? At least it didn’t get in the way.

I saw this morning that the winning entries from the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk, July 18, 2009 are now posted. Some excellent photos! 

http://www.scottkelby.com/blog/2009/archives/6047

That got me thinking to revisit my other photos from the walk. I was much taken with the Silent Film Museum in Niles, in which they have a wonderful collection of silent film era cameras, projectors and other bric-a-brac of the movie industry from that time. 

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Beautiful old piece of equipment that one! 

Speaking of movies, on Saturday evening we went to see the film District 9. I hadn’t heard about this film before, a friend suggested it. Turned out to be quite a stunner: excellent script, well considered and poignant. Science fiction with a social message, the best kind of Science Fiction IMO. From reading about it afterwards, done on a relatively small budget too. Excellent work from Director Neill Blomkamp with a no-stars cast … just great movie making. Bravo! 

I love movies. 

Wandering back through my Niles photos, I found this one too … 

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Not a “great” photograph, I don’t think, but I like how the dull surface of the film can captured me in reflection… A self portrait caught in my long-ago fascination with doing film.

Hmm. With all the film cameras enabled to do video as well we’re seeing lately, who knows? I might yet do some motion picture work. It would be fun.

My mind floated a lot yesterday. I has those moments of objective detachment that come every so often when subconscious thoughts are pounding away furiously at an idea but not yet speaking to the conscious brain. I’m not sure it’s done yet but things seem quieter in there today.

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My partner and I usually visit with friends on a Saturday morning walk. I usually walk a little bit of the way with the group, then split off to go my own way to the coffee shop where everyone assembles for breakfast and chit chat. Then I walk back with the group to where our cars are parked. We’ve been doing this for several years … it’s one of the staples of our weekend. 

I like the moments of the walk when I’m with friends, but I cannot do without the moments when I can just think and meditate in silence as I walk. Time floated quite a lot on yesterday’s amble … it moved faster and slower as things came into focus then drifted out again. My conversation at breakfast was subdued, the walk back was fascination as I walked with two friends and listened to them talking but could not hear the words. It was as if words tumbled around in the air, meaning-blobs that would not form a recognizable shape but just made me curious as to their shape, weight, color. My attention drifted and focused on things one at a time, or not at all. 

A conversation on the online equipment forums was disturbing me. Why do the discussions on camera equipment forums always seem to exhibit the most passionate and intense territorialism? As if buying a camera of a particular brand was some kind of membership into an exclusive tribe, and all other tribes must be put down for their lack of sense and sensibility … It is a phenomenon that I’ve noticed over and over again these past twelve years: people talking at cross purposes, offering opinion as fact and then defending those opinions with ferocious intent. Insinuation, ad hominem argument, chaos. Why?

Another set of comments, on a photograph I posted for critique on another forum, was truly fascination. Five people remarked on it … All of them critiqued the title, not the photograph! Huh? 

My interest in participating in these forums is because I use the equipment, yes, and like it, yes, and have a compulsion to share what I’ve learned about its use with others. But my greater interest is because I love to discuss Photography … the connection, the emotion, the capture of that which we see into a visual expression. To look at and appreciate what others photograph. This seems at cross purposes to the discussion on the forums so many times. 

Very curious these things. I often feel as if I’m walking two different paths, divergent but linked, and am torn between signing off and staying on. The photography I love to pursue is often so far removed from what I see as the latest vogue in pictures posted, but I’m compelled to continue posting my work in the hope of finding a discussion beyond what I see daily.

More silence, I think. More work behind the scenes in my head. That subconscious is really busy right now. A good thing. 

Our world is changing so rapidly. When I was a child, I remember seeing scenes like this so often that I never really thought about them as anything special.

 

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 Nowadays, I cannot recall the last time I saw a Sister in religious habit, never mind three together, walking in public. I was compelled to make an exposure.

 A few weeks ago, I realized that I had the John Varley Titan trilogy on my bookshelves and I hadn’t read them in many years. I could not recall any details of the story. I decided to re-read them.

 Simple, fun, science fiction stories, with a very 1960s-1970s feel. Unusual for the time in that most of the strongest characters are women. I finished the second book on my way home from Tijuana a couple of weeks ago, just picked up the third the other day.

 I opened it’s pages and a photograph fell out. A photograph … a time capsule. A group shot of myself and seven friends from 1986, people I knew (know!) when I lived and worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. I look at my face, our faces, and see the movement in time to that which I see in the mirror this morning. Think of the movement in place and time of the 23 years’ span from then to now. I am still in contact with most of the people in the picture, even if our connection is somewhat more distant, more tenuous now.

 We are all of us in motion. It is good to remember to look, to see how the motion changes. How the motion changes us.

 I wonder where the Sisters were going.