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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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

 

 

 

 

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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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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