I seem to have a thing for lights recently. Something about the contrast of light and darkness utilizing monochrome is really striking. The lights are not technically ‘white’ but the appearance they give makes them look that way. Combined with the black of night and I could probably ramble on for a 1000 more words about all the ways this is significant and representative of society or even my own life. I could…but I won’t this time! I am keeping this post short today because there is a lot going on right now-work, holiday rush, and other things are cutting into my creative time right now. However that is not going to stop me from sharing this photo out to you which I took recently. I had walked past this building a few times, but never at night and the pattern these lights cast was too alluring for me to resist!
And I want to also mention to keep your eye out in the next few days for my own ‘Best Of’ Photo selections for 2017. Honestly, I have so many, that I’m going to do it in two posts, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you can catch up on some of my favorite music themed posts of 2017 right here.
I have been reading an autobiography of Paul Auster, a favorite writer of both my wife and I. Actually in clever Auster fashion he has written two ‘autobiographies’. The first-Winter Journal which I have not read is described as a second person look at his physical self. Report From The Interior is the one I am currently reading and it is a recollection of the inner workings of his development from an early age. For fans of his work it is a revealing look at some of his earliest fascinations in life, interspersed with true stories about growing up. All I can say in describing it is that it is unlike any autobiography I have ever read. One of the reasons I like it is because at the end of the written part of the book is an ‘Album’ which tells the same exact story of his life through the eyes of cartoons, vintage photographs, magazine advertisements, newspaper stories, and even motion picture stills. I found myself skipping back and forth to see the visual side of what he was writing about. Surely one reason for this device in the book is because at one stage he laments that as a result of moving a lot he lost a lot of mementos and photo documentation of his youth. Surprising because he mentions that in the postwar U.S. every family was gripped by ‘shutterbug’ fever.
It made me think about the times we are in now, when everyone is seemingly a photographer. From masters of the selfie to Instagram accounts with thousands of followers, everyone it seems is representing their life in a ‘visual’ way. The difference from what Auster described is that though cameras may have been readily available, the means of sharing them to people was not. I am old enough to remember the dreaded ‘slide shows’ your neighbor might invite you over for to see of their trip to the Grand Canyon. Other than that, photography was either commercial-family portraits, newspapers, magazines, etc or artistic. The lines did not really intersect with one another but they sure have now. This blog would not exist if they did not intersect after all. The question I wonder about is-does having so much visual representation harm the more thought driven way we used to think? Instead of describing how awesome the pizza was at a restaurant to a friend, we show them a photo we snapped of it on our phone. Instead of describing a cool exhibit we saw at a museum, going over the high points we tend to rely on the visual.
By no means am I above this, but sometimes I like to take a step back. To ‘think’ about photography rather than doing it. When I saw these figures standing on a hill on Roosevelt Island with the Manhattan skyline behind the figure to the right above, I thought it would be interesting to take a photo of people engaged in the act of photography. Photographer and subject matter together. I could describe to you in detail what was behind that figure on the right. What buildings would be in view, what color the sky was, that sort of thing. And sometimes I think that is actually more interesting.
Well depending where you live, the cooler days are already with you or on the way. Here it has been a bit of a see-saw requiring odd combinations of jackets, gloves, scarves and hats to compensate. One recent Friday night the temperature dropped rather quickly and surprisingly. Which if you take a minute to observe people usually means the hands go in the pockets, the jacket gets zippered all the way up the head gets scrunched down into the marginal warmth of the coat. You also tend to walk briskly between points. On this particular night I ventured deep into a part of our neighborhood I hadn’t ever really been to before. Certainly at night I had not.
My destination was a taproom I had been meaning to go to for some time and it was a very long walk I don’t mind telling you! After staying for an hour or so I headed out and crossed the street. It was there I noticed that on the other side just before the taproom was this sheet metal fence protecting some sort of commercial yard. Immediately I had the idea that it would make an interesting backdrop for someone walking past, but I would have to do it in monochrome. Unfortunately due to that chilly night it was awhile before I saw someone. I took a few test shots of the fence itself and then waited across the street leaning against a tree. Finally someone walked past and I took my shot. It is inherently an urban photo with the fence. As I thought about it more you also seem to sense the chill in the air when I took it.
Well at least that is what I thought as I was taking it!
This is one of those moments where I feel the photograph needs to do most of the talking. I have a lot on my mind lately. Some good, some not so good. Neither of which will keep me silent on here for having this space is a very helpful thing to have to get thoughts out. That is why I think writing or any outlet of creativity is so vital, and its a lesson I learned late. But I suppose that is what still fuels me to keep going here, even when there are gaps of time between posts, even if I’m not writing about music so much. Even if my words here are fewer, the camera in my hand is a powerful tool of expression. It can be happy, sad or introspective.
As I mentioned last week I was at the beach recently. Early on my last morning there I went out for a walk, clutching a cup of coffee and enjoying the sun on my face. When I stepped on to the beach I saw this solitary figure on the pier gazing out. It reminded me of…me. Actually if this person had not been there I would have been standing on that pier as well, looking out on the passing ships and sea birds flying about. But instinctively I took a few photos, and then I realized the reason it felt that way was that I was feeling a sense of it reflecting on my own mind these days. Before I carried this camera with me, I would have had only one half of this equation-I would be looking out without understanding WHY? Now at least when I have thoughts I can reason them out a little more clearly because I see things on both sides of the lens. And that helps.
As the autumn chill starts settling in and layers of clothing are added to outfits. As the leaves start falling from trees, there is a feeling of starkness. Not just darker in the sense of waking up or coming home to darkness after the long light of spring and summer. But combined with the chillier air things start feeling more barren and lonely. Not being a particular fan of winter, I don’t relish when this starts happening, but it is unavoidable…short of moving to Miami that is! I had another one of those accidental photo opportunities a week or so ago. Accidental in the sense that I don’t believe I ever tried it before, but I liked the end result.
I was walking home one night from the pub on a very quiet residential street. There was a slight slope to the street, and at the top of the slope tree branches were overhanging the sidewalk, just enough that even with my short 5’7″ frame I had to duck under them. But something made me pause. The street was illuminated by street lights, but the nearest one was behind me. In front of me was nothing but the dark, offset by branches with some leaves bare and others still clinging on. But it was the dark void beyond those branches that seemed so striking to me. The illumination of the branch and leaves stood out, but the dark was compelling to me. This weekend I was at the beach for a weekend of writing. I went to get some air one of the nights (it was really cold!) and along the boardwalk I saw another example of this into the void sensation. Again the boardwalk was lit, but just beyond the dune grass in the photo was that void again. Instead of being on a street in Queens, this time that void was headed straight out into the Atlantic Ocean. When I saw what it looked like combined with the other photo, I realized that the darkness and void of winter could be made to look beautiful as well. And I thought that maybe the void isn’t so bleak or dark after all.
Late Nights. Empty Streets. Quiet interrupted only by an occasional passing car, the buzz of a lamp post, or the distant bark of a dog. A week or two ago I mentioned heading out late one night recently and taking some photos of my neighborhood around midnight. Which is not something I would normally do, but I was a little bored and thought it would be a nice experiment. I have come home late at night before, but usually do so in a cab. I don’t live in a particularly dangerous neighborhood, but because it isn’t 100% residential and has dark corners and fences around buildings that are not necessarily secure, I don’t take unnecessary risks. Something that should make my wife as well as my best friend Tasha happy to hear!
But anyway, I spent a few moments taking photos, enjoying the shadows and the stillness. One building I stopped in front of I even found I had some company. At first I did not see it there, and I was more interested in taking a photo of the graffiti tagged metal shutter, which I had never really noticed before. I also noticed the name on the door to the right for the first time. So as I was taking the photos, I noticed some movement. I won’t tell you what I thought it probably was, but I was glad to see that it turned out to be a cat. It paid me little attention actually, but when it moved into position on the right hand side as you can see above, I thought I might have a photo that would look good. So added to the late nights and quiet I mention above, I’ll mention that meandering cats make for good things to make late night photo walks interesting!
Breaking up the routine. It isn’t always an easy thing to do admittedly. To break away from feeling like Worker Drone #Q7649. You have a nice weekend sleeping in, eat a decadent brunch, have a few drinks at the pub. Maybe get a good walk or a workout in. Spend some time with friends. Catch up on a book or read the newspaper. Then…Monday comes around and its up early, slog to work on a crowded train or bus, or fight colossal traffic jams before you are welcomed by the sight of 73 emails that are only marginally relevant to you, yet you have to dig through them all regardless. Then you turn around at quitting time and do the same slog in the other direction, having chowed down your lunch at your desk in order to answer those 73 emails when all you are really dreaming about is putting your feet up at home and unwinding.
All of those things have happened to me of course, but more than any point in the roughly 15 years since I started getting serious about photography, I carry a camera with me practically everywhere now. Barring that I have my phone which takes decent photos too. Because in all honesty, you just never know what you will see, never know what will capture your attention. On one such slog home from work last week after emerging from the deep subway tunnel on Roosevelt Island, I started wearily making my way home. Since my commute changed a few months back there are only one or two slight variations to the route I take. More often than not though, I start by walking past this row of pathway lighting. Chalk this one down to being dark out when I get off the subway now, for when I started walking alongside of these lights, I noticed they were making a really cool looking circular pattern on the ground. Immediately I grabbed the camera, and switched to monochrome mode for I knew that shooting them in color really would not work. The fact that a few of the lights were actually out did not matter to the overall scene. It actually seemed to accentuate the circular pattern on the ground.
It is funny that the routine can be broken up by the taking of a simple photograph, but I appreciate it for that reason. Even with subway delays and work emails and whatever comprises the ‘routine’, the moment I take my camera out and take photos energizes me. Maybe in the end the photos are not so good. That happens to me quite often of course. But the moment that I see something, the moment I think about something differently, makes it all worthwhile.