Monochrome Mondays

 

Sometimes I feel guilty about the nature of photography. In many ways it can often be thought of as capturing someone else’s art in a unique way. Take a building or a bridge. Someone else designed and built those structures, but here I am taking a photograph of it, trying to get streaks across the sky but the focal point is someone else’s art. Take bird photography as another example. A bird is just doing what it does, flitting about from here to there and trying to survive when along comes a photographer with a zoom lens trying to capture the perfect blend of movement and light. Even street photography, which I have come to really enjoy seeking. I would never dream of profiting from a photo of someone else’s hard work, but there are others who probably do. In many ways the game has changed so rapidly the last few years since virtually everyone has a camera phone, even if they don’t have a camera.

But then there are rare days (or nights) when I am able to capture something unique, and something that I feel is closer to the origins of photographic art. It happened the other night. I was feeling a bit restless around midnight or so, and grabbed my camera and just walked a block or two down the street to some industrial buildings. I figured maybe with no one around I could do a little experimenting with camera settings. I did take a few shots that I was pleased with, but as I turned around and started heading back something caught my eye. Perfectly framed against the side of a building was the shadow of the street signs. It almost looked too unreal, like what you would see from a projector. Being Halloween time, it almost was a little spooky as well. I actually paused for a moment to think about if it was worth taking, but I figured why not. I have been trying to be more experimental these days anyway. When in doubt, the delete button on the camera works wonders after all. So I took the photo. A few minutes later I was viewing it on the laptop and it reminded me in a small way of some of the experiments early photographers like Alfred Stieglitz who was a master of light and shadow. The photo does not mean anything, I don’t think it gives off any particular vibe, but I just like it. It feels faintly surreal to me and unlike a bridge, bird, or street art photo, it is something I made my own. And I like that.

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Monochrome Mondays

I’m torn and feeling conflicted. Wait a minute Rob, stop right there. After the last few posts people with think this is another spleen-venting post from you! Okay, lets try that again…

I have a dilemma these days. (Yes, much better Rob!) You see when I started this blog a few years ago now, taking monochrome shots wasn’t part of my regular repertoire. I had shot b&w film on occasion, but when I mostly went digital, I very rarely touched the menu options to switch to monochrome. Getting reactions to some of those early film shots convinced me that I really needed to mix it up on occasion, and since then I have. The only problem is, when I see a subject matter I really like, I take them in color and monochrome. And the dilemma sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, is deciding which I actually prefer. I took this photo reflection of clouds in a bright glass window on the photo walk. I put the color one up on Instagram a few days ago, and people liked it. But this morning as I thought about what to feature here today, I thought about looking at this more carefully today. Having two monitors at work helps me make these choices sometimes, to be honest with you. For it was here at my desk that I think I decided that I actually like this one just a bit more than the color. I can’t really say why, I just do. At the time I took it, the sky was blue, bright and cheerful, yet it almost looks ominous in monochrome. I’m realizing that maybe what monochrome does is allow me to imagine a scene either way, almost neutral. I’ll be sure to think about that one the next time I take shots in both formats!

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Monochrome Mondays

 

Climbing. That is what this weeks edition of Monochrome Mondays is about. That need to keep moving and going higher. For some that can mean career wise and climbing up that ladder of success. For others it might mean development of a talent such as playing an instrument or singing. For me personally right now it means getting back to what I do best, which is taking photographs regularly and writing. The other things don’t get ignored mind you, but this is where my heart is. In August I took on a challenge from my blogger friend Pratyusha to go 10 days without foods like bread, pasta, and sugars. I’ve never done any kind of diet or detox before in my life, but at the end of it, I felt better inside and out. Losing 10lbs was an added bonus, but it was the mental clarity that came out of it that was the most satisfying I think. I realized that I was going through the motions a bit too much in my life and what I needed to do was to get excitement back. So in the month of September I really worked on that.

First, as those of you who follow me on Facebook and Instagram know, my wife and I spent a few much needed days in Lake George to recharge the batteries as it were. Second, the diet has more or less continued since. I’ve had pasta one time in about 6 weeks actually! Third, with the nicer weather I have been getting out there with my camera more. This has probably been the most crucial thing I could do for myself. When I take lots of photos, I get ideas for writing, when I write it leads to more writing. Today’s photo is a result of this. Fourth, as a result of tweaking the design of this blog, I made a short little video that people have been responding to, and that makes complete sense for what I do (I added it to the bottom here). Fifth, in what is maybe the biggest step for this (mostly) introvert, I organized a Photo Walk in my neighborhood of Long Island City, Queens. I’ll be doing another one really soon, but this past Saturday I did the first one and I was really happy with how it turned out. Being a planner I spent a day weeks earlier mapping out a route that would take in the best views with the shortest routes between them. You can see some of these photos in the next few days across my social media. 

But today is Monochrome Mondays and this photo was taken last week coming home from work on Roosevelt Island in one of those fits of photographer joy…when you see things you walk by every day in a completely new light. This is actually a seating area designed in a steps format overlooking the East River. As I was walking home (and since it is now darker out earlier) I turned and saw these lights between each step level. I thought hmmm…that might be interesting. And with everything I just said, it might have been the most timely photo I have taken in quite some time!

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The Architecture Of Art

Almost a year ago I wrote a letter from the future me to the young me in which I proclaimed myself an artist. It was tough admitting those words without sounding pretentious but I realized that not so deep down it was true. What I began asking not long after was the next question-what type of artist am I? The answer was not so readily at my fingertips. I’m a photographer yes, and a few years in to this blog now, I can safely call myself a writer as well, one who is currently working on his first book. A few weeks ago I dug out the notes I took on the day almost four years ago where I wrote the two key words of this blog down-Soundtrack, and Photograph and married them together. At some point I even jotted down words in the margin like ‘unique’ and ‘never quite been done before’. The funny thing is I forgot that I had done that at this point as I approach the 200 post mark.

But I’m glad I revisited them again because really, what is my art?  I spent some time with the trusty notebook in front of me and realized that this space is truly unique in fact. I’m not aware of anyone else who uses a photograph he took, pairs it with a song written by someone else, which makes me want to write about it how both things relate to my own life somehow. Or to put it a simpler way-pairing songs with my own physical art form (photography) is my art. Could I label it something intellectual sounding like ‘visual music’ or ‘sound photography’? Or should I just stick with what I have done from the start and own that my art is a unique combination of audio with visual. Static by virtue of still photography, yet flowing and rhythmic with the aid of a variety of music from around the world.

It speaks of history ancient and recent. It speaks of emotions good and bad. It speaks of learning and lessons already learned. It speaks of anticipation and humiliation. Of success and disappointment. It says too much, and not quite enough. It lays it all out on the table, then snatches it away out of fear. After four years it has inextricably become ‘me’. I think about what to do, how to do, when to do. It satisfies me with a slap on the back, and punches me in the gut with a ‘not quite good enough kid’ feel. Yet it all is deeply and powerfully satisfying.

I have always spent a great deal of time exploring different types and forms of art, as I have written about here before. But in the past year since that post I really have been focusing on the art world more. Not always out of approval or even understanding of said piece , but in acknowledging that the exploration and ideas are what appeals to me, regardless of the end result. Foundations, be it of a color or of stone. Texture, be it of material or shapes. They all define everything from the most humble art of an ancient culture in a display case at a museum, to the latest multi-million dollar painting acquired by a collector. I have also come to realize that for some artists, both as a means of supporting themselves and for keeping the creative juices flowing, that change and evolution are valuable. As a photographer the same rule applies, but I think it is more difficult to maintain.

Painters might start with the fruit bowl and progress to figure study, and then to abstract shapes. Similarly, writers might start with poems then progress to short stories, and then to long brilliantly inspired tomes. But photographers? Though there are examples of gifted photographers who have stuck with only shooting scenes of nature (think Ansel Adams), or ones who shoot beautiful scenes of the ocean (my personal favorite being French photographer Phillip Plisson), variety is generally the key. Which is why you if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you will see lots of cloud photos. And flowers, And photos taken on the sea, river or lake because I love the water so much. And…to put it in the most simple terms, I also take a lot of photographs of what can only be termed architecture.

It is everywhere you look in big cities like New York. And I do mean everywhere. Subway platforms that have very different features from almost identical ones the next stop down the line. Bridges standing next to one another, one with a tower built of stone, one made of steel and wire. Neighborhoods comprised of row upon row of similar structures that have ever so slight variations if you look carefully.  Government and cultural institutions built to inspire such as Grand Central Terminal or The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.  But I think it is in the skyscraper, that popular icon of the New York skyline that we really think about the variety architecture that abounds. As I write this now, I can see a few of them lit against the night sky from out our balcony door.

They represent strength, power, resiliency and force. I think I have always been drawn to the sort of energy they give off. There are places where all that energy comes together as one. The other day, on a very hot Indian summer day while waiting on a sweltering subway platform, I took the photo at the top that shows some of these elements. The ‘canyon’ of glass, steel and concrete, the quiet streets below, the endless movement of cars on the bridge approach unifying the elements together. The shifting shadows of light, bathing the scene with warmth providing a natural contrast to the scene. The architecture feels palpable, the cars give it motion. Of course, buildings and bridges are designed to actually move. To compensate for the wind speed at the top of the building versus the still air at the bottom. In taking the photo, I felt a wave of power. It felt good, it felt right, it felt like me. I recently have been exploring some new ideas (together with the new theme here) both personal and artistic. As I was walking home after taking this photo, the words to a song came into my head and it all made sense.

I’ll leave it to you to listen to the song and find your own meaning perhaps, but Ani DiFranco’s song Buildings And Bridges suddenly meant so much to me, probably much more so than when I first heard it over 20 years ago. Those first couple of lines-

“Buildings and Bridges are made to bend in the wind,

To withstand the world that’s what it takes.”

I realized that for me, the song was telling me to keep challenging myself and my art. To keep experimenting and evolving. If I don’t bend, I break. If I don’t seek the new, and challenge myself, I become complacent. What worked for Ansel Adams was great, but I’m not him. I need to keep moving and finding inspiration wherever and whenever it strikes me. That is my strength and resilience. That is my architecture. That is my art.

Below in the gallery are a few other recent photos that focus on architectural views if you will. Have a look!

Buildings And Bridges-Written By Ani DiFranco

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Monochrome Mondays

 

Long Island City Gantry

I am pretty sure I have mentioned here before that a favorite subject matter of mine is industrial photography. I love old machinery-pistons, valves, wheels, belts, gears-you name it. Anything that represents what technology once was.  On the rare occasion when you see all of that actually working still somewhere it is a beautiful thing. You can follow along with the movements-how it starts with one bit of machinery, and then follows along like a conveyor belt, each bit chugging away to make a wheel spin which pulls a lever, which lifts a platform, which rotates, and on and on. It is hard to find that sort of machinery in action these days, and sadly the photo choice today is also one of them. But what a scene it once must have been. What you are seeing here is a gantry, which was used to hoist railway freight cars from off a barge onto train tracks. Apparently they were a somewhat frequent sight in the industrial era of New York City, a reminder that rail and sea freight drove commercial transportation. I can just imagine all the metal on metal sounds echoing on the river, the sights and smells of all the machinery working together. I am glad that structures like this still survive, years past their last work. This particular structure is in Long Island City, Queens, in a park appropriately named-Gantry State Park

***Which speaking of Long Island City. For any of you reading this from the NY area, or for anyone with friends in the area, this coming Saturday, September 30th, I will be leading a Photo Walk through this great neighborhood, which combines some great old buildings among the new, industrial scenes, and some of the best panoramic views of Manhattan anywhere. Leave me a message if you are interested!

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Monochrome Mondays

Serenity

Here I am, back with Monochrome Mondays again for the first time in a few weeks. I hope you will apologize for the sudden absence. Long story short, I have been incorporating some changes into my personal life in the last month or so. Nothing drastic mind you, but just refocusing my energy to some good things, and stepping away from some not so good things. In terms of here on this blog, I’d like to present my new theme. It has been two years since I changed the appearance here, so with this new found desire it seemed appropriate to change how my blog looks to all of you.

A week ago my wife and I got back from a long weekend trip to Lake George, which I mentioned  in my post last week. I will spare you a repeat of that here, other than with changes in life comes times of reflection and thought. Whenever I go to a new place I get excited, and invariably on the first morning I get up early, camera in hand. There is a palatable buzz I get when that happens, and Lake George was no different. On my Facebook and Instagram pages I posted another version of this photo, but I wanted to save this one for this post. A still and quiet early morning saw me finding this little pier on the lake.  Moments like this waken my senses and awareness, and as I was firing off a few shots, I heard the sound of geese flying and I instinctively framed my shot and waited for them to come into view. Lets just say that when moments like this happen, I do not regret missing a few extra winks of sleep. I treasure the moment. Do you have moments like that? Let me know below!

Don’t Need Much

Lake George, NY

There are places in this great big world of ours that just scream for silence. I know…that is a contradiction of course. You don’t actually scream when you want silence unless you are reprimanding someone. Conversely  when it actually is silent the last thing you want to hear is a scream. But when you really need quiet the most, when you need the world to be still, and all its nearby inhabitants calm and peaceful, that phrase really is the most fitting way to describe the situation. Almost as if you could will it on, magically stopping the world and all the noise of our modern age. Every car horn blaring, every cellphone notification chirp, every intrusion silenced. It seems harder to find such places and moments these days as a city dweller short of sailing to Tristan da Cunha or trekking across the Sahara,  but my wife and I just returned from one such place this weekend, the beautiful Lake George in the equally beautiful Adirondacks of New York.

I was almost tempted to make this my first travel post, full of details about where to go and what to see, but there are many fine bloggers doing that already like my friend Danielle at the wonderful blog The Thought Card. I will just say that in the last 10 years or so we have made occasional trips to the Adirondacks and it always just makes you take a step back and soak it all in. Other than breezing through it a few years ago for a quick lunch, I had not actually visited Lake George since I was a child. That is a mistake that will not happen again.  In the days before leaving for the weekend I was dreaming of having the sort of calm and serenity one might expect in the Adirondacks. It was ironic then that when we got there, we realized we were in the middle of a popular Hot Rod Show, and the first two nights were punctuated by revving engines, tire burnouts, and car exhaust. Instead of spoiling the moments of quiet and calm I had built up in my mind, I actually enjoyed it. Because as it happens, I realized that when it all comes down to it, you don’t need much.

I realized that even with all those noisy hot rods and horsepower, it does not take a lot to find those moments of quiet. I may have been screaming for silence in my head before I left, but once there, I realized I just needed a few moments of it. Maybe that is what modern society has come down to, but a few moments lakeside early in the morning with my camera in hand gave me the sensations I was seeking. Even in the middle of the afternoon with the lake teeming with activity and all manor of small boats moving about or the booming horn and the steam driven put-put sounds from the paddle wheeler Minne Ha Ha in the distance there were moments of that sort of calming silence. I started thinking about all the ways where the words ‘you don’t need much’ applied. Diet and food proportions was probably the first thought! Clothing and other luxuries was another. But I also thought about it in a musical sense. How sometimes you don’t need much to get a message across. A singer with a guitar and a well written song is the most obvious example. And someone who has been quietly doing that better than almost anyone for over 40 years is Kris Kristofferson.

Though he might be more famously known for writing songs that others covered such as Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, Help Me Make It Through The Night, Best Of All Possible Worlds, and for co-writing Me And Bobby McGee, there are a slew of lesser known classics like Here Comes That Rainbow Again, and Nobody Wins. I came to his own music on the late side myself. Sometime in the 1990’s, I happened to see him perform at a small club just outside of New York City. Other than those hit songs, I have to say that the rest of the evening did not enthrall me. I just did not feel the songs.  Fast forward to a few years ago when I saw Kris perform at a festival. I was now fully immersed in the culture of the music of his peers-Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others. I looked forward to a second chance to hear him and this time I am happy to say, his music immediately grabbed me. He was by himself. No band, just him, his guitar and harmonica. The songs and arrangements stripped down to only the bare necessities. It was a powerful performance and the crowd felt his presence and seemed to be hanging on to every word. I won’t say what well known headline band performed the closing set after him, but once Kris was done, most people started packing up as if to say, there is no way you can top that.

I know the song that did it for me, and gave me that lump in the throat moment was his song Here Comes That Rainbow Again. But exploring some of his other material not long after, I came across his more recent song ‘This Old Road’.  Musically it has shades of Bobby McGee and Here Comes That Rainbow Again. Lyrically the song reveals so much without actually saying it. I was drawn to it by its opening line ‘Look at that old photograph, is it really you?’ I have mentioned before here how much power a photograph can have. That has been what I have writing about for almost 4 years here of course. How a simple photograph can bring you back in time and conjure up the memories of the time it was taken. Maybe something long forgotten. Maybe something you can relive in your mind like it was yesterday.

Skilled songwriters like Kris Kristofferson play on those moments. With a few chords on a guitar and exquisitely written words they embody that other phrase- you don’t need much. I guess that is what I hope for in my photographs sometimes. I don’t utilize a lot of trickery. I don’t spend hours editing photos. I want them to speak for themselves. To say something without ‘saying it’. That is what keeps that camera gripped to my hands. Maybe years from now that is what I will think about when I see the photo at the top. You don’t need much…

This Old Road-Written By Kris Kristofferson

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