Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Cloudy Day, Perfect Light

It's wonderful to be out walking in New York on a sunny day. People's spirits are up and there's more smiles all around. But a bright sky and dark shadows at street level make getting a well balanced exposure almost impossible, especially with the way I try to shoot surreptitiously. But with a cloudy overcast sky the light is much more evenly balanced, even if people's moods aren't, and that makes for a much easier time of it on the street.

I've been out shooting for a few days this week. They've been days in the bank, so to speak. I love being out with my camera. It's something I must do, otherwise I go through street withdrawal. But that doesn't mean that every time I'm out shooting I come away with great material to work on. It's being out on those days when I'm not in the 'groove' that the grunt work gets done. I have to look harder, be more alert, and try new techniques. 

I worked with a new focus technique with my X-Pro1 today. Put the camera on manual focus mode, and using the optical viewfinder, zoomed in with the control wheel and refined focus with the AF-L button. There's definitely a learning curve to be worked out with the technique, but the results were promising.

 After reviewing my work I realized that I came home with more than I thought I had captured. I spent the day around 14th Street and Union Square. There's a Christmas market set up in the square and the aisles are very narrow. Isolating one subject was just about impossible. But on the fringes of the square, at the farmers market, the crowd thinned out a little. I aimed to get an image of this gentleman, but somewhere in the deep recesses of my unconscious I framed this. A shot of just the one person may have worked out, but the girl looking at me from the background adds a much deeper dimension to the image on several levels.

That's why getting out to do the grunt work is so important, sometimes ya just get lucky!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Do I Shoot Street?

This is a question posed by blogger/streettog Eric Kim. There is a rather sophomoric video that accompanies his post, and while the question is legitimate and admirable, to attempt to posit an answer by using an approach designed to address corporate/industrial issues is akin to using methylene chloride to clean a Monet painting. The question is way too complex to seek to answer with such a simplistic analysis. The premise of the video might however serve as a rudimentary starting point.

Why do I shoot (at all)? For me it's the same as 'To be or not to be. That is the question.' It's who I am. I must do it. I love it, and I'm happy when I have a camera in my hand. Why do I shoot street? Because I feel compelled to do it. I love it. I'm happiest when I'm out doing it. I love to watch people, to schmooze, to connect with them. And I constantly search for stories (or sometimes make them up). If I get a good shot, process and post it, and thereby touch something in a viewer, so much the better. But the end product (the image that I print or post) is not the prime motivating thing for me. It's the self-exploration, the opportunity to recognize a challenge and solve it, that sings to me.

For your viewing pleasure, a face and hand gesture I captured about a month ago on Fifth Avenue during more clement weather:

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Process Is Everything.

When I was a young man playing the violin was my greatest passion. I couldn't imagine going through a day without having the instrument in hand - whether practicing on my own, rehearsing with an ensemble, taking a lesson, or performing. It didn't matter why, only that it happened. Indeed, I couldn't imagine my life without the violin. Playing still gives me pleasure, as does teaching. My need t probe and explore myself still drives me forward. But my instrument has changed and the medium for exploration has changed from aural to visual. Now I have my camera, but the process is the same.

A quote from Art & Fear : 'If artmaking did not tell you (the maker) so enormously much about yourself, then making art that matters to you would be impossible. To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping that artwork. The viewers' concerns are not your concerns (although it's dangerously easy to adopt their attitudes.) Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing of it, whatever. Your job is to learn to work on your work ..... The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.' 

When I played the violin it was making the music with the instrument that was important - to hone my technique, to rehearse with the ensemble and make beautiful music. The performance was to make money to pay for groceries and clothes. And so too with photography. My 'bliss', as Joseph Campbell would call it, is to have the camera out on the streets and make the connections with the people I see around me, grab that slice of time that says something special to me. When I have gallery shows it's to sell images - to pay for groceries and clothes.

This photo, which I titled Stupido! happened this past Saturday. I heard the woman's Italian vitriol half a block away. The hand gestures say it all.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stuck In My Mind

In this video, about the celebrated Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, I was impressed with his way of shooting and his approach to working in b/w. So much of what I do is intuitive that I find it difficult to answer questions my students put to me about my processes when I'm out on the street. Just as Moriyama says, I need the city, and I need the people. Stories are constantly unfolding in front of me, and with the camera I can freeze moments of time in those stories.

This past Saturday was my first day out shooting at the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The holiday is exciting for me because the crowds of people present constant opportunities.  I was shooting on Fifth Avenue when I happened to turn around, and in front of me was a woman with glowingly dyed red hair, wearing a furry yellow and black striped jacket. Without thinking I fired off several shots - I knew I'd caught the 'money shot' for the day. It was impossible for me to look at the image and see anything but the color in the shot. As so often happens, there's something in the image that sings to me and I need to draw out. But as Moriyama points out in his video, the color was making decisions about the picture, dictating something vulgar. B/W is exciting to me because of my body's instinctive response, the monochrome image has a strong feeling of abstraction and symbolism, a feeling of taking me to another place.

I was relaxing after I'd processed and created the image below, reviewing some of the photo blogs I'd seen during the past week, when I ran across James Maher's blogpost of last Friday. There was something stuck in the back of my mind when I was out walking on the Avenue, and I had no clue that it was there. And then this: