Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Old Friend

I lost an old friend this past week. I first met Bill in 1962 when I was a college student. We were both just cutting our musical teeth at the time, learning to play bluegrass. The Down State Rebels was the first band in which I played fiddle. Bill played guitar. There was an intimacy and a bond that grew between us, but were much to young to understand. We were friends as only bandmates can be. Over the years we lost touch as our lives spun in different directions, but several years ago we reconnected at a reunion in Washington Square that has become an annual gathering of those of us that were the folkies from the '60's. By the time we became reacquainted, our musicality had diverged dramatically. Didn't matter at those reunions. We just bubbled with the joy of reconnecting with old friends and sharing a memory - as only old bandmates can. About a two weeks ago I plucked up my courage to get to the hospital to visit with Bill. While I talked to him, heavily sedated as he was, he raised an eyebrow - he knew I was there, and I knew I was getting through. Unnerved hardly describes how a felt after seeing him. And yet I felt a calm peacefulness as I travelled home.

However trivial in may sound, life and time move on, entropy is forever progressing, and all we can do is continue on to slow the process in our infinitely small way. John Donne, in Meditation 17 of his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, wrote words of which Hemmingway grew so fond.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Since I got the unfortunate news, whenever I pick up the violin to practice Bill comes to mind. I took my regular photo stroll in Manhattan today which included the area of Union Square. Students abounded there - outlandish dress, radical ideas, and songs of outrage and protest. Made me proud to be part of that initial outpouring of angst along with Bill those many years ago around the fountain in Washington Square Park.

I got this shot on West 13th Street at an outdoor cafe. Beats the hell out of me why anyone would want to sit out on the street in 90ยบ heat with all the New York soot and grit in the air. She was a beauty, and the smile she gave me after I took the shot lit me up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Focus Thing

The Fuji X Pro-1 camera has had a lot of press since it came out. Some raves and some criticisms. By far the most critical comments have been about the auto-focus functioning. I've written quite a bit about this camera since I got it. I wanted to love it from the get go. And indeed I do, quirks and all. The focus thing took some getting used to, but the time was well invested. I still don't nail every shot. What photographer does? But when I do, the results are, well ...... you tell me. I shot this brunette beauty on 34th street with the Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens (1/160th second, f8, ISO 200). What more could anyone ask for? I dunno.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Live In The Moment

That title is a zen mantra. It describes just how I feel when I'm out in the street doing my thing. If I made it out my door, onto the train, and into New York, I've left everything behind for the time being just to be out in the world and let my instincts take over. For me, shooting like that is magical. When I first began working like that I made a lot of mistakes - if I got one good shot for a whole afternoon of walking I was very happy. That was in my film days which could mean two or three rolls of film - 75-100 exposures. As much as I liked to work in the darkroom, developing film was not my task of choice, I hated it. To get so many goofs was at first quite disheartening. But I learned to value the goofs as much as the good shots. I enjoyed printing the good stuff, but I really learned from the goofs. 'Oh yeah, I'm not doing that again.' When I brought those experiences forward into my digital days, shooting on the street became transforming for me. I was able to let my instincts go, trust them, and just search for faces or moments .... whatever. And my success rate increased. I wish I could say I got better logarithmically or geometrically, but I'm happy with arithmetically.

It takes work. In my film days most of my good street work was done with my Leica M6 and either a 35mm f2 or 21mm f2.8 lens. When I got back to work using my D700 I almost always used my 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens with it's lightning fast focus and everything else. I got lazy. Now that I'm back to my roots - with the X-Pro1 and one of two prime lenses - I find that the lack of immediate flexibility makes me more creative and inventive. And when I nail a shot I feel so happy. At the end of last week I took a walk with a friend of mine who was visiting New York for the first time. I like to shoot alone, and it wasn't my intention to zone in and do my street thing, but some shots were just begging to be taken. The first of these happened while I was standing on the corner watching all the girls go by (waiting for my friend to meet me). This big guy just popped up in front of me and blocked my view, so I got him back by taking his pic. The second shot happened as we were walking up Sixth Avenue. After the shot was made, the gentleman decided he didn't want his picture taken and pursued us up the avenue. He stuck his iPhone in my face and took my photo with it. I guess he showed me .......

Sunday, July 8, 2012

On 125th treet

After spending part of this afternoon visiting with an old friend, I took a short photo walk across 125th Street in Manhattan. I've wanted to do this walk for some time, but my trepidatious feelings about the neighborhood that I had carried with me from my time, forty years ago, as a student at Manhattan School of Music kept me away. This street forms the southern edge of the Manhattan neighborhood known as Harlem which is a predominantly African-American neighborhood and I was concerned that I would not be able to fade into the crowd. But it was time for me to get out of my comfort zone. As it turned out, although there was definitely a preponderance of people of color about, my fears were quickly assuaged.

The street is colorful and full of characters. Sunday afternoon is an interesting time to be there because there are quite a few churches on the street and the arterial avenues around it. Sunday finery was in abundance as well as many people who were 'dressed for the heat'.

After giving myself some learning time with the Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens on the X Pro-1, I switched it out for my favorite, the 18mm f2 lens. I've been playing with the Auto ISO to find a comfort zone with it. Auto ISO doesn't function the same was as on my D700, but finding some way to make it work for me was important because removing that restraint on my exposures definitely allows for more flexibility in the way that I shoot. Until Fuji comes out with a firmware update that allows for the setting of a minimum shutter speed while using Auto ISO, the best work around that I've found is to set the camera on Auto ISO with a max ISO of 3200 (I so wish I could set it to 6400 but that's only available if shooting JPGs) and manually control the aperture and shutter speed. The only problem with this method is that, if the ISO maxes out at 3200 and there is still not enough light, the camera will still take the photo. Likewise on the bottom, if the camera hits the minimum ISO and the settings are not fast enough the camera will take a grossly over exposed photo.

I got this shot by holding the camera in front of me at chest level. The shutter speed was at 1/500th second, and the aperture was f8. The auto ISO nailed the exposure at 3200. The camera's noise processing is exceptional, but I still had to do some noise reduction with Nik Software's Dfine.  The title of the shot is 'Know what I'm sayin', my man?'