Monochrome Mondays

Well we are almost halfway through August now and I have to tell you that this is the point where I really get tired of summer. The long days are nice of course, but by this point here in New York City, the stagnant heat starts to build. My energy becomes ever more sapped heading down to steamy subway stations or even going for a simple walk becomes a challenge of willpower. The city becomes grimy and dirty and you tend to count the minutes until you can get to air conditioning and  a shower.  When I was a kid filled with energy it probably did not affect me this way, but these days when it hits this point I feel unmotivated to do much of anything until the temperature drops and the humidity goes away. Perhaps it is inevitable then that the photos I tend to take this time of year tend to be more urban than my usual shots. Shots that ooze a little bit of that heat and grime. I actually took this last year in our neighborhood while my wife was driving us home one evening. I took pretty much the same view in color, but recently I looked at this one again and realized it gave the same sense of urban grime and heat. It may not be pretty in person, but the monochrome really captures the moment. Now, how about some cooler weather!

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Monochrome Mondays

Well depending on where you are reading this, summer time means heading off somewhere on vacation, or at worst, a long weekend away somewhere. This year my wife and I are choosing the latter, and in September will head out of town for a few days. So perhaps because of that (and also because I have not been taking so many monochrome photos recently) my mind goes back to previous vacations, such as last year when we went to one of our favorite places-Cape Cod. One of our favorite parts of being there is the area that comprises the Cape Cod National Seashore, which is a part of the National Parks system. There is a trail there that winds through the Nauset Marsh, a unique little ecosystem fed by the ocean and seemingly held together by the grasses that line the entire trail. At one point it meanders past this timeless scene (which I have used a color version of in an older post). The trees in the distance and the old shed are unmarred by any sort of technology. There are no power lines or even a garbage can anywhere in view in this photo. And that is why every trip to Cape Cod I ever take, I always make sure I stop by this trail. Honestly, if I had to pick just a handful of places where I could happily sit and watch the world go by, this would easily be one of my favorites!

Timeless

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Monochrome Mondays

One thing I like about monochrome photography is that it conveys a sense of calm to a subject matter. Even if the subject is not calm and quiet, a monochrome photograph just seems to freeze the movement and noise in place. It must be a sensory thing deep down. Sure, some color photographs are able to capture the same feeling, but I think the way we perceive the scene we see in a monochrome photo feels different somehow.

I took this shot a few years ago, on a cool late November afternoon as my wife and I were heading out of NY Harbor on a cruise to the Bahamas. We had a room with a small balcony and of course you know I had to take lots of shots as the ship pulled out and we steamed out to sea. For anyone who has left New York Harbor by water knows, you really only feel you are on a journey once you go under the Verrazano Bridge (which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island). Once past that bridge, the ocean seems to open up wide before you and the noise and congestion of city life are suddenly behind you now. I knew that day that the shots I might get of the Verrazano just before and just after passing it would be my final ones of the day. And though the big cruise ship was blasting its horn, and helicopters and airplanes were buzzing over the harbor high above and cars driving across the Verrazano, when I look at this photo I just get that feeling. A sense of time being momentarily frozen, tranquil water,  the sun setting on the horizon and a sense of peaceful calm.

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

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Monochrome Mondays

Well if last week’s inclusion of a song was a bit different for Monochrome Mondays, then this week’s installment is different as well. I’m going to start off by saying that the photo featured this week is not a great photo, nor do I intend it to be though of as such. There is nothing special about it. No great technique used to take it with camera settings. Nope, there is none of that. It is just a rather bleak  building standing by itself looking rather lonely. Honestly, until yesterday I had completely forgotten taking it. But enjoying a lazy day yesterday, my wife and I had a bit of a marathon of The Avengers. No, not the Marvel Comics Avengers, but the classic British TV show from the 1960’s. A few years back I introduced my wife to the show.

After some initial skepticism, she became as much of a fan of the show as I was, and especially the ‘Emma Peel’ years. We enjoy watching the dapper bowler hat wearing, umbrella carrying character of John Steed (played by Patrick MacNee) and his partner in saving the world from diabolical plots, Mrs. Emma Peel (as portrayed by Diana Rigg). The show is just a lot of fun, full of silly plots and fabulous fashions, especially by Emma Peel! There was one b&w season, and one color season with the Emma Peel character. It was while watching one of my favorite b&w episodes of the show yesterday-The Hour That Never Was that I thought of this photo because my photo and this particular episode have something in common actually. The plot of that particular episode has our heroes roaming the grounds of an abandoned Air Force base. Well actually, they weren’t expecting it to be fully abandoned yet, but that mystery comprises the central point of the first 3/4 of the episode.  A great deal of time is spent by Steed and Peel roaming empty buildings, hangars and runways. Military trucks and equipment lie abandoned everywhere and there is not another soul to be seen anywhere.

Last year in Cape Cod, we also found ourselves wandering the similarly eerie grounds of the former North Truro Air Force Station. Though it is now part of the National Park Service and some of the property and buildings re-imagined, it still has a bit of that eerie feel to it while walking around, much like Steed and Peel did in the episode. Maybe it was a subconscious thing on my part and reminded me of the episode, or maybe it just seemed ‘cinematic’ in some way, but the few photos I snapped were all done in monochrome. It just seemed so fitting!

The Hour That Never Was

 

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Monochrome Mondays-The Sea

For today’s Monochrome Mondays I thought about the sea. For many of us summer would not be complete without going to the beach at least once. Of course when I was younger we went to beaches a couple of times a year, doused with sunscreen and nourished with hot dogs and ice cream. Sadly my very pale skin color does not allow me to enjoy the beach or wade in the surf  these days like I used to as a 10 year old. Quite frankly its just not fun to have to be covered up so much and fighting the crowds for a plot of territory for the afternoon so I tend to leave the beach for early mornings or evenings and off times of the year now. What I sacrifice in the pleasure of cooling down on a hot day is made up for in watching the sea crashing in and out. There of course is something so compelling and soothing about watching the sea. It can be both gentle and forceful. The sound of the waves can lull you to sleep, and the power of the waves can inflict damage suddenly. This last thought was inspired by the late Sandy Denny’s song The Sea. She first performed it with the group Fotheringay in the early 1970’s. While doing some research for my book recently, I came across something she said about the song herself-

“The sea seemed to become a sort of person, like a mind, and that’s what I have tried to convey, the power of the sea.”

I took this photo last September on a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was a beautiful day. A little chilly, but the sea was essentially calm. If I had come back the next day it would have been different. The next day, maybe even more so. Thinking about Sandy Denny’s words, I think her song conveys that idea. We have calm and peaceful moods, and we can have stormy, turbulent moods, just like the sea itself. Though I seldom enjoy the pleasures of being ‘in’ the sea, I still am very much a part ‘of’ the sea. And I think that is why I enjoy taking photos of it so much.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0IMZs7u0Wo

The Sea-Written By Sandy Denny

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Monochrome Mondays

Summer is progressing here. Long lazy days where you don’t want to move around too much. Just find a shady spot somewhere and watch the world go by. Here in the big city there are lots of places, and lots of things to look at of course. Since we moved to Queens I have one favorite spot called the Anable Basin, or as some call it, the Eleventh Street Basin in Long Island City. It is an artificial inlet built in the 1860’s for industrial use. When much of that industry dried up, the area went through a period of decline before being re-purposed in the 1990’s as Gantry Plaza State Park. The park as a whole offers a lot of activities and people watching, as well as an amazing view across the river to Manhattan. But tucked away on the side of the park, runs the basin. As I have said here before, I love old buildings, and things like a ship wharf or an old brick building have a natural appeal for me. I love sitting there under the trees reading or people watching and imagining what the same view must have looked like 100 years ago. Which is just something your mind seems to do on a long lazy day in the shade.

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Monochrome Mondays

The deeper I have gotten into photography, the more I find myself interested in the texture and contours of random objects. It might be the windows on an old building, or the pattern to a wrought iron fence. It might be the vintage lights in an old restaurant, or the lettering of a street sign. Texture was something I never really appreciated as an artistic concept I suppose.  Years ago when the computer games Myst and its sequel Riven were released, I picked up a companion book about the games called From Myst To Riven : The Creations And Inspirations. Anyone who has ever played  those games knows how groundbreaking the art was, particularly in Riven. While a great deal of it was done in a more cinematic fashion, creating worlds via the computer, the book explained that some of the styles, colors, and shapes were built around a photo expedition some of the team had made to New Mexico. While there they took close up photos of building textures-stone and brick patterns from houses, as well as plants and even Native American textiles. It opened my eyes to realizing that by moving in closer visually, shapes and color patterns can be quite intricate and fascinating in their own right. Not everything has to be seen on a large scale.

Awhile back here I used a photo of the rotunda in the old customs house here in NY (which now houses the National Museum Of The American Indian). It was a bit of trickery in that it was actually shot in color, but looked like monochrome because of the subject. I wanted to do something similar again, and while looking through some old photos remembered these shots I took last year of some white birch trees. Once again I photographed these in color, but because the bark of a birch is a variety of patterns of black and white it gave the effect of being photographed in monochrome and I really liked the end result of shapes and textures.

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