Monochrome Mondays

Just like in any big city, there is a lot of interesting architecture scattered around. Not just the big flashy skyscrapers, but churches, apartment buildings, and even transit buildings. The other night I went to Coney Island. For the first time I took notice of the old front of the Coney Island subway station. After years of decay and decline by the 1980’s plans eventually went in place to restore it. That included keeping the original facade to the building. The station itself was renovated nicely, with a good design and accomodating. What I love the most though is that wonderful facade with a string of lights over its entryway. It gives an air of being a theater almost. Well worth going to Coney Island for. I hear there is other ‘stuff’ at Coney Island too! 😄

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Monochrome Mondays

Well it is really starting to warm up where I live after a few false starts, which means it is good to get out on the water. As I think I have said before, I like being near the water year round, but lets face it-summertime is the best. Last Friday I took advantage of a new ferry ride available in the city. It was such a beautiful evening, and I went right from where I work in Brooklyn all the way out to the Rockaways. My friend and fellow blogger Trudy did a great job describing what to expect from the ferry ride (and some great photos too!) so please read her post here.

Of course I had my camera with me and caught some great shots of all the bridges and  Rockaway Beach in my short time there. For more photos from the trip be sure to follow me on Instagram or Facebook (links below or to the right). Tempted though I was to stay longer,  I wanted to take the slightly longer return trip back to Manhattan while the sun was going down. It was just one of those beautiful nights to be out on a boat with the wind and the waves, not to mention a cold beer to boot! I took this photo just before getting back on the ferry from the pier in Rockaway. Something I thought of as I was taking it was that I love that New York City is not all about the buildings, cars and congestion. There is a surprising amount of nature-parks, beaches, and plenty of opportunity to be out on the water as well. Being out at Rockaway with the sun going down and the skyscrapers of Manhattan off in the distance (and humming a certain Ramones song) is a wonderful way to spend an evening I must say.

Rockaway Beach Pier

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Classical Fireworks

Fourth Of July Fireworks

A sure sign of summer is the boom and the burst of a fireworks show. Colors streaming through the sky. Trails of smoke drifting in all directions. The oohs and ahs of the crowd with each shell shooting upwards. The anticipation of the final big bursts that signal the impending conclusion as rockets are fired in quicker succession.  A cacophony of sound and color overwhelming the senses in a massive display of power before your eyes. When it is over you almost feel a sense of literal electricity in the air amid the smell of wafting smoke.

Despite having to inevitably calm terrified pets or curse at amateurs setting them off late at night for some reason, I love watching a good fireworks show. Though the reasons for shooting them off might be vastly different around the world, fireworks are recognized as being part of a celebration of some sorts, be it Chinese New Year, July 4th or many other holidays. I have seen firework shows after graduations, concerts, sports events and weddings even. No matter where you are, when you see or hear fireworks, you know that good times are present.

One such occasion even prompted music by my favorite classical composer-George Friderich Handel. In 1749 he composed his Music For The Royal Fireworks. It was actually commissioned by King George II to celebrate the Treaty Of Aix-la-Chapelle and the end of the Austrian War Of Succession. I have always found Handel’s music to be utterly majestic. I think that is why his music resonates for so many people who aren’t normally classical music fans. Most people can correctly name (and hum a few notes) of Beethoven’s Fifth, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon or Handel’s Messiah.  As one classical musician I spoke to once said-there is a lot to remember with this music. Thousands of composers with countless works of music, each with multiple movements and arrangements. The fact that casual listeners can remember both the composers name and the work among so many options is telling. It speaks to how wonderful those compositions really are.

I think the reason Music For The Royal Fireworks, just like Handel’s other key works The Messiah and Water Music resonate so deeply is that the music  just…feels so right. It grabs you deep inside. You feel the music. I’m not sure if this was his plan, but Handel seemed to go right for the ‘hook’ at the start. No subtle string section buildup here.  Fireworks Music begins on a grand scale, with massed woodwinds and percussion. Apparently at the original performance there was a bit of a disagreement between Handel and the person providing the fireworks over Handel’s desire to have strings added to the orchestra. Not long after the original performance Handel re-scored it for a full orchestra, which is how most people are familiar with it today.

At the bottom of this post is a clip of the entire performance, but for a shorter example of why this is such a wonderful work one only has to listen to the section called La Rejouissance. The progression of notes, the interplay of instruments is so fitting for a celebration. When one describes joyful or exuberant music, pieces like this truly fit. I think King George II picked the right person for the job! Perhaps because conditions are usually best for fireworks in warmer weather, this piece also feels like a great match for spring and summer. When I hear it, I envision crowds of people on a warm evening, spread out on a blanket with food and wine waiting for darkness to come and the start of a fireworks show.

Regarding the photo above, though of course here in New York we have one of the largest fireworks shows around on the 4th Of July, it was actually taken at a smaller display in Astoria Park, Queens last year. For years I have attempted to take a good photo of fireworks, but it is not easy. Luckily last year I was in good position and was able to steady the camera to catch the streaks of light. I fired off several shots of which the one here is my favorite.  Perhaps this year if I go back to watch them in the same park, I’ll just put Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks on the headphones and imagine being in the audience at the original performance!

Now a bit of an announcement. As I mentioned in another post recently, I seem to be having a hard time lately writing my music posts. I have absolutely no intention of stopping this, rest assured. But I feel like I may take a short break from having to  feel like I ‘must write a new music post’. I’d rather it happen organically, and fill my notebook with ideas inspired by music and my own photographs. I will continue with Monochrome Mondays every week though, so I will still very much be around. And I still will be writing because (Second Announcement!) I have been working on a book! Yes, you read that right. My number one bucket list desire has always been to write one, and I have been slowly and steadily been working on it. So that is something to look forward to!

Music For The Royal Fireworks-Composed By George Friedrich Handel

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Monochrome Mondays

I’ve always been a fan of optical illusions. Those subtle little works of art that play little tricks on the viewers eyes. They can be fun games to play with people. I’m sure everyone at some point has played the ‘is it a vase, or is it a silhouette of two people game’. Or stared at photos to reveal a hidden object after a period of time. Or tried proving that objects that are further away appear smaller (just like Father Ted once exasperatingly tried to do!). Here’s a list of some of the classic ones-http://https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_optical_illusions

Artists such as MC Escher, Salvador Dali, and Marcel Duchamp utilized various types of optical illusions as well in their work. As I said in my recent post Terra Firma, sometimes in the moments before you take a photo, you get a sense of where you are going with the shot. You know what you are after, and you just hope the technique and decisions you choose are the right ones. I remember when I saw this scene for the first time I had the vaguest sense of it being an optical illusion of sorts in the way the archway fades up towards the distance. What do you think? What are your favorite illusions?

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Monochrome Mondays

There are days (or evenings) when the most routine things look unique. Scenes you see day in and day out. But then you just look at them in a new way and think, that’s kind of cool! That happened the other night getting off the subway. Maybe it was the time of day and the shadows that were set against the sun. That is one of my favorite things about monochrome photography. It really highlights shadows. I couldn’t actually decide on just one photo so  for the first time here on Monochrome Mondays I’m sharing more than one photo!

Happy Memorial Day as well. Thank you to all who have served.

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50 Years Of Fairport Convention

Me with SImon Nicol of Fairport Convention

In just a few hours from now, a band will take the stage at a concert hall in London. One more show yet again from a band in the middle of yet another tour. While that may sound terribly routine, it is in fact anything but. For tonight marks 50 years to the day that Fairport Convention performed for the first time at another London concert hall way back in 1967. At this point I have written about Fairport Convention and many of its former members here several times, so I will not repeat myself, but I wanted to do my small part in celebrating this very special occasion. It certainly is not everyday that a band has a milestone such as this, but here we are.

It bears repeating though that tonight’s concert is by a group that have never had a number one hit. In fact they have never really been commercially successful. Band members have come and gone. They started off as an American sounding rock group but became the standard bearers for British Folk Rock. They have suffered the loss of band members over the years. After essentially disbanding in 1979 they realized at a reunion show the following year that more people had actually come than had to their ‘farewell’ gig. They used this idea to start and run their own very successful festival every year in the quiet little village of Cropredy which continues to this day.

Not resting on their laurels, this year saw the release of the album 50:50@50, a combination of live and studio recordings, old and new. It includes guest performances by longtime friends of the band Robert Plant and Jacqui McShee. The band also continues to tour steadily.  Bass player Dave Pegg recently quipped that though other bands might be older, they probably have not played as many gigs as Fairport has in  their lifetime. And he’s probably right about that!

So Happy Birthday Fairport Convention! Thank you for your music. Thank you for continuing on purely for the love of music and performing. In my 30 years of being a fan you have given me incalculable hours of joy. Fairport are just the type of band one stays loyal to. The type of band that the audience sings Happy Birthday to spontaneously. The type of band who appreciates their fans, always willing to pose for a photo or sign a program. The type of band who give a lot of time and support to a multitude of social causes. A band with a great sense of humor.  They are just very special to me. Congratulations to all who have been a part of it! Here’s a song about the band written by their good friend Steve Tilston. It looks back to Fairport’s history while reminding us that good things can still come ‘over the next hill.’ Cheers! Pints will be raised tonight in your honor!

Dedicated to the memory of Martin Lamble, Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, Bruce Rowland, Roger Hill and Dave Swarbrick.

 

Over The Next Hill-Written By Steve Tilston

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Terra Firma

Terra Firma

There are moments when you reach for your camera that you can envision the exact result you are looking for. A quick and fleeting thought you may not even necessarily be able to explain in the moment, but something deeper down you know you recognize. A reminder of a time or place in your past, or something embedded deep in your psyche, to be released only when the time is right. Within seconds, the camera is switched on, lens cap removed. Ideally you have time to compose it using the standard tricks-ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed. There are other times when you know you only have a moment or two to record what you are seeing due to variables such as light and weather. It’s Now Or Never as a famous singer once sang and you hope that wisp of an idea becomes a reality once the shutter has been released.

Those of you who have been following me for awhile know that once we moved to a place where we could easily view the shifting clouds and colors of the sky that it has became a common theme to my photography. The other night it happened again, but instead of the varying colors of sunset featured here before, what I saw instead was blue. A contrast of rich, deep blue together with billowy clouds that I had not quite seen before. Instantly, one of those sudden ideas popped into my head. I knew what it reminded me of. I knew I wanted to capture it, and I fired off a few shots in the hope that one of them would express that idea successfully once I saw it on my computer screen. I made just a few minor adjustments to the camera settings. The end result is what you see here, with no manipulation to color or texture from the way I saw it.

What I was thinking is that the pattern reminded me of those topographical maps you will often find in an atlas. You know the ones- where they take away all the place names and borders and instead just show the terrain of the earth from above. Snow capped mountain ranges and dry deserts. Deep oceans and winding rivers. Just our earth as it looks from a distance…as another famous singer once sang. I recognized that the clouds set against this particular shade of blue looked similar to the way cartographers draw terrain, making the two dimensional three dimensional. As I looked at them on my computer I imagined the same things-the blue colors delineating the oceans that make our planet so unique.  The cloud patterns-swirls of white contrasted with darker specks reminded me of mountain ranges and deserts or the polar regions.

As I have gotten further into writing these posts, I seem to be finding deeper inspirations and connections than when I first started out. When I posted one of these photos from the other night on Instagram, I somehow felt the need to simply call it ‘Earth’. I knew fully well that it was nothing more than another cloud photo, or cloud porn as some people call it, but it felt more substantial to me. There are a lot of times here where I stumble on something I want to write about. A basic idea built around a song, and defined to my own logic by my photos. But they usually happen with a lot of thought and ideas that become connected.  Seldom have I taken a new photograph and felt the need to immediately write about it, but this was one of those times.

I think I wanted to call the photo ‘Earth’ because I seem to be increasingly concerned about the fragility of our planet. Concerns about global warming, violence,  hunger, fear, pollution and endangered species have been present for awhile of course. But those problems seem more urgent now and not so easily reasoned away internally by saying future generations will have to worry about it, not us. The problems seem more timely and pressing now. They also seem to be worse because we are ignoring the warnings by the real experts in favor of people more concerned with their wallets.

Years ago I used to play the computer game Civilization by Sid Meier. As anyone who has ever played it knows, there were different paths to victory, but no matter what path you chose, you had to finish by the year 2100 or thereabouts. The reason being that in the game, humanity had overstayed its welcome on a now ravaged planet Earth and those that remained would start civilization new again on the planet Alpha Centauri. The idea of having to vacate an entire planet seems like a bit of science fiction on the one hand, but on the other can we honestly say that in our real world we are not already on a path where it might become a conceivable reality?

It is precisely in moments of realization such as this that I inevitably seek solace in music, art and science. None of them provide the answers, but at least the heart is in the right place in recognizing the severity of the problems. One such artist is the British Indian musician, composer, arranger, and producer Nitin Sawhney. I came across some of his work years ago. His albums combine electronica with a multitude of other sounds from India to South Africa and beyond and explore a number of themes.

When I was taking the photos the other night though, a few bars of the instrumental Breathing Light from his album Prophesy popped into my head simultaneously. Some might call this chill out music but for me there is something more profound to it. The underlying piano notes are ethereal, while the flutes and other electronic sounds weave around the melody making it feel like a musical journey. Or maybe just a journey through the clouds and out above the atmosphere, where names, places and people become secondary to the wonders that make our planet so unique.  I realized that the photos reminded me of this way of looking at our world.  It would be nice to keep it that way I think.

Breathing Light-Written By Nitin Sawhney

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