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!

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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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Monochrome Mondays

They say New York City is the city that never sleeps. This is true of course, but there are times when it is pretty quiet. Which is usually when most of us are sleeping…or getting ready to. In the last year or two I have developed a bit of an interest in night time photography. I tend to just take the photos I find interesting, and don’t focus on too much setup.  A few weeks ago while coming home from a free Los Lobos concert at Battery Park, I decided to meander towards the subway to take me back to Queens. Walking down the concrete canyons near Wall Street at night is a stark contrast to being there in daytime. There is an eerie quiet actually, and though I am aware and careful of my surroundings, there is a real sense of being able to capture things that looked vastly different a few hours before.

Case in point this building. I have walked past it many times. On the one hand it isn’t particularly interesting architecturally, but there is something about the symmetry of it that has always struck me. Problem is, I always seem to see it in the daytime, so when I saw it at night I had to stop. That is when I realized that the clusters of lights (most off, a few on) gave the photo a sense of life. I also took a color photo of this which I put on social media at the time, but in hindsight, I think I like this one slightly more. The monochrome makes it feel like it could be 1949, 1963, 1977, or even 2017. That is a big appeal of monochrome to me.

It Ain’t Enough

 

FDR Four Freedoms Park

One positive thing about social media  is that it allows me to test out what photos of mine people respond to. Of course I have the usual sort of doubts about my photographs like anyone does. Some I know are good the moment I press the shutter release.  Others I decide are flawed in one way or another and rejected as I curse at myself internally and asking  what were you thinking? Others I have to come to grips with, asking whether I like the lighting, the framing, the movement of the photo. Those are the ones I am especially grateful for reactions from people on Instagram and Facebook. Yet I still often wonder, is it enough?

Case in point, the photo shown above. I took a day off last week. It was a warm August day here in New York City but I wanted to go for a long walk and take some shots. I decided to head over to nearby Roosevelt Island and eventually I wound up at the southern tip of the island, which now comprises the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. It was the last major work designed by famed architect Louis I. Kahn  It slices through the landscape culminating in a tree-lined pathway leading to a statue of FDR and a wide expansive view of the East River. While walking between the rows of trees I knew that the linear aspect might look interesting. I chose a few different angles and perspectives, made some adjustments to the camera settings and hoped it would be enough. More on the results in a moment…

For just over 20 years the best band out of Newfoundland, Canada (and one of the best out of Canada period) was the Celtic folk rock styles of Great Big Sea. Until their unfortunate demise a few years ago they combined the traditional songs of Newfoundland with their own originals, an infectious combination that won them a lot of fans worldwide. Since the breakup, their high energy main singer Alan Doyle (no relation!) has released two albums, with a third on the way  and relentlessly tours all over the place. A few days after going to Roosevelt Island I played Alan’s first solo album-Boy On Bridge, a solid collection of all out rockers and some nods to more folk sounding material. I love the album, and my favorite song on it is the rocking I’ve Seen A Little. Hearing it the other day again, certain lyrics of the song really struck me, and I saw in them a correlation to my photography. Maybe not anyone else’s, but I saw myself, camera in hand in the lyrics.

The heavy use of the word ‘ain’t’ might be a grammar teachers nightmare, but hey…this is rock and roll and anything goes! I was struck by a few lines in particular-

‘It ain’t what you got its what you’re looking for’

‘It ain’t what you’ve done it’s what you’re gonna do’

‘It ain’t where you been its where you’re going to’

And finally the line I chose for the title of this post- ‘I’ve seen a little but it ain’t enough’

Photography like any art is about exploration. Finding something extraordinary in the ordinary. Discovering both new places and new ways of taking a photo. Experimenting with angles and perspectives. Striving to do something different. Maybe it has been done by others before, but is new to you. Hearing Alan Doyle’s song the other day reminded me of this. The lines quoted above are about seeking. In the context of the video for the song that is about being a bit of a rebel, but if you really think about it, these lines describe an approach defined by heading towards the new. It really struck me that when I sometimes get in a photography rut, it is because I fall into the trap of living in the first part of every line. In times like that I live in ‘what you got, what you’ve done, where you’ve been.’ Where I need to be is in the second part to those lines- ‘what you’re looking for, what you’re gonna do, where you’re going to.’ Most importantly, I need to remember that the things I have seen, the things I have done are great…but ‘it ain’t enough’.

Back to the photo now. In one direction, the path and row of trees ends in an abrupt dead end at the north end of the plaza. Regardless, I took a few photos from this viewpoint. I experimented with where I wanted to position myself-full on in the center of the pathway (which was thankfully deserted because it was a weekday) or off to the side? Wide angle focus which would clearly show both sides of the tree overhang or a narrow focus which would highlight more of the pathway? Standing upright so the camera would be inclined slightly downward towards the horizon, or crouching down towards the ground so it inclined slightly upward? Finally I had to decide if I should wait for some unsuspecting person to walk into the frame to give it a sense of movement. Lots of choices…

So what I did first of all was turn around, utilizing the view of the path that leads towards the FDR monument. Next I determined that positioning myself dead center in the scene made the most sense visually. I used a wide angle focus to fully show the overhang of all the trees on both sides, and decided that crouching down so the scene inclined ever so slightly up looked much better. Additionally it really highlighted the little mounds of dirt under each tree, and the fallen leaves on the pathway. Lastly I tried all of the above with no one else in the scene and realized it was severely lacking some sort of motion. I waited until these two people entered the scene (and for the guy seated on the right to put his shoes back on!) and took the shot. And that is what you are looking at here, no editing whatsoever. I was happy with the results and the reaction I received for the photo. When that happens it makes me want to head out again the following day and try it again. I think Alan Doyle might agree with that approach because-

There might be nothing down that road
But you never know, you never know

I’ve Seen A Little-Written By Alan Doyle, Gordie Sampson, & Troy Verges

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Monochrome Mondays

Most everyone knows that there are five Boroughs that comprise New York City-Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. Most everyone also knows that the city as a whole has a unique and large amount of water surrounding it. There is Jamaica Bay, a surprising little ecosystem in the middle of so much congestion.  Then of course the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers which  bend and shape the rest of the land, dividing the city from New Jersey and wrapping around to make Long Island a true island. The other thing all that water has done is to have created several smaller islands scattered about. I’m willing to bet only a few of you know how many islands officially comprise Manhattan however! I’ll put the answer below. This scrap of rocks is not one of them sadly, but I think these birds sunning themselves on a sunny afternoon deserve official island recognition don’t you? It never ceases to amaze me how wildlife can look so relaxed with helicopters buzzing around and all manner of boats zipping past. They certainly made this rock their home!

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*The Borough Of Manhattan comprises- Governors Island, Liberty Island, Ellis Island (shared with NJ), Mill Rock, Randalls & Ward Island, U Thant Island, Roosevelt Island, and the island of Manhattan itself.  Photo shows rocks just off the southern tip of Roosevelt Island.

 

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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Happy Landings Amelia

 

A few nights ago I learned what really happened to Amelia Earhart. That would of course be the scoop of a lifetime, and I would no doubt be lauded far and wide and there would be book deals, movie rights, TV appearances and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately I would have to eventually reveal that what I learned came from a slightly cheesy episode of Star Trek: Voyager instead. I never really thought much of the show at the time it first aired, but courtesy of Netflix we are working our way through the series. The particular episode had a solution to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance that was far simpler than some of the other real theories that are out there, but I will leave that particular one out among the Star Trek galaxy.

But it made me think of the appeal of an unsolved mystery, especially one involving someone so famous, and with so little clues left behind as to her disappearance in the South Pacific in 1937. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting an around the world flight in their Lockheed L10 Electra plane. Though a circumnavigation had already been done previously, Earhart was going via a much longer route and over the most open ocean which presented considerable risk. By virtue of her already long list of accomplishments in aviation up to that point, there was a sense of excitement and publicity surrounding it. At the time of the disappearance of the plane, Earhart and Noonan only had approximately 7000 miles of the journey remaining. At midnight on July 2, 1937 they took off from New Guinea bound for Howland Island, a speck of land in the vast Pacific Ocean with no inhabitants, just a hastily built runway. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was standing by for communication help. What is known for certain is that bad weather and communication problems almost certainly hampered Earhart’s effort to spot Howland Island, and her last communication was at 8:43 AM. After that is all speculation.

Some of the more dubious conspiracies out there regarding Amelia Earhart posited that she survived and took a new name and lived her life out in New Jersey. Another was that she joined with the Japanese and read propaganda broadcasts as ‘Tokyo Rose.’ Pretty out there stuff. But some theories are a little bit more believable. Chief among those are that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had to ditch at sea having miscalculated their fuel levels. Similarly is that not being able to locate Howland Island, they instead diverted to Gardner Island instead where the plane met an unknown fate. There are deeply technical interpretations of faulty radio communications and signaling that may have caused a problem. There is also the plausible possibility that Fred Noonan’s drinking problem played a role or that it was quite simply pilot error on Earhart’s part.

Another of the more plausible theories is that the Lockheed plane had been outfitted with sophisticated spying equipment, as a way for the U.S. to gauge new Japanese military outposts in the South Pacific, long before satellites were able to. Earhart’s popularity and success as a groundbreaking aviator would have made an interesting cover to do this of course. In the 1960’s journalist Fred Goerner uncovered evidence that suggested that Earhart’s plane was captured, and that she and Noonan were executed by the Japanese. None of these theories have ever been proven. There has been no ‘smoking gun’ for any of them. Though there have been some mysteries that have been solved in our lifetime-Titanic’s resting place or the Mars face, there are many more like Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance that are lacking any sort of absolute evidence.

Which is a good thing in some ways, because in the case of Amelia Earhart, it resulted in some songs about her. Plainsong were a short lived group in the early 1970’s, centered around the wonderful singer Iain Matthews. Their 1972 album was actually called In Search Of Amelia Earhart and featured two songs based around her final flight. Coupled with a cover of the traditional song ‘I’ll Fly Away’ some thought it a concept album, but in actuality it was just a great sort of country-rock album that happened to feature two songs on the same subject. Matthews’ own song ‘True Story Of Amelia Earhart’ is chiefly based on Fred Goerner’s investigation and expresses a sense of disappointment about such an ending-

“Oh Amelia it’s true, you’re the lady of the air & this I’m not disputing anyhow,

But if what Mr. Goerner says is only half the truth, then Amelia…Oh Amelia”

The other song-Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight sung by Andy Roberts is slightly dreamy and hopeful. The facts are presented but there is almost a hint of nostalgia-

“She fell into the ocean far away

And there’s a beautiful, beautiful field

Far away in a land that is fair.

Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart

Farewell, first lady of the air”

The facts of Amelia Earhart’s last flight may never be known at this point. Extensive searching of the area immediately after the crash resulted in no traces found, and subsequent searches and theories have yet to reveal defining proof in all the years since. But I think that is why we like a good mystery. We will never truly know what happened. That makes the story more pleasing in an odd way somehow. Even the hair brained theories that Amelia was abducted by aliens (okay…that was the Star Trek story) or broadcast propaganda for the Japanese during World War II keep the story out there. They allow for movies to be made and songs to be written. They allow for dubious stories to be passed down through generations from people who ‘claimed to be there’. In a world full of increasingly less mysteries, where everything and every place has been discovered few mysteries still remain. Amelia’s disappearance 80 years ago ties us to a time when adventure still existed and there were still achievements to seek. Now everything is an internet search away and we feel disconnected from that sense of adventure that Amelia Earhart sought. We may never know, but is that such a bad thing? Happy Landings.

True Story Of Amelia Earhart-Written By Iain Matthews

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight-Written By David McEnery

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