Well I’m not surprised at all that March is doing its typical dance of the lion and the lamb. Teasing with mild weather that prompts switching the winter jacket out to something lighter and less bulky. Tempting you with leaving the hat, gloves and scarf at home. Days growing ever longer allowing more sunlight into your day when…BAM! It all comes crashing back to reality. Well in truth it has not been so bad so far, but after a nor’easter the last few days, yesterday was the first day I ventured out for a walk in the afternoon once the sun did actually come out. There was even a beautiful sunset last night too. You can see a few I took of it on my Instagram account which I invite you to give me a follow.
In any event, it was nice after essentially being cooped up for a few days to get out for a bit and feel the late afternoon sun beaming down on me. I went for a few minutes to a nearby park. Despite March being such a tease, the signs of nicer weather are there. Buds are forming on trees, the grass seems slightly greener than it did 2 weeks ago, and in certain places, the occasional crocus might be coming out of its winter hibernation. For me though, one thing I seem to notice is that the sky seems different. Hard to put my finger on exactly why that is and maybe its just me…but a March sky seems to be different than a February one. Which for me means that spring is closer to being here.
I’m going to get a confession out of the way right at the start today. The photo for this week’s Monochrome Mondays is a recycle job. I really have not had much time or ability to get out and take some new photographs in the last few weeks. I have taken a few, but I am in need of a full on day of walking and discovering new photo opportunities. And winter is not the greatest time to accomplish that. So I decided to go way back to my archives for this one. It is among the first photos I ever took with my Nikon N80 Film camera. Probably in 2002 or 2003 if I had to venture a guess. The recycling part of this comes from the fact that I used it in just the fourth post I wrote here. It was one of my music related posts about the music of Chris Trapper together with various photos of trees. But it was so long ago now, and because of the handy WordPress statistics I know that particular post has not been viewed in ages. So I figure now that I have followers (I didn’t really then) and since there are no rules here, I would use the same photo once again so more of you can see it.
In truth, outside Central Park on any given day, you will see street vendors selling similar photos of the exact same subject- the Literary Walk. There are color shots and monochrome, there are ones in fall, winter and spring. With people walking through or without. It has become one of those iconic New York City photos. Regardless, I am proud of it personally because it is among the first few photos I ever took with that camera where I could see not only the improvement over the cheap point and shoot cameras I had used up to that point, but also a realization that maybe I did have a good eye for photography that had been lurking under the surface for years. Let me know what you think!
Along with mentioning how much I love transportation (trains, ships, trucks, planes) and being by the water (ocean, rivers, lakes) have I ever mentioned how much I like a good pier? And by pier I mean a working one. Sure there might be some pleasure or excursion boats berthed there, but I can see those anywhere. I want to see rust buckets of fishing trawlers like in this photo. Paint fading from the bow, lines of rope and fishing nets in various states of disrepair. A tiny wheelhouse with a questionable looking life preserver mounted to the side and a radar beacon, antenna and lights on the roof. A surly looking guy in a cap and sweater smoking a cigarette glaring at you for taking a photo of his work.
On the pier itself you are likely to find gas tanks and hoses while the air smells of diesel. Remnants of thick ropes fraying at their ends. Seagulls are constantly swooping about, resting occasionally on the pylons as they wait for their next meal. Sometimes I’ll be lucky enough to catch them offloading a trawler, and the catch will be hauled on to the refrigerated trucks, or to a nearby facility. I guess some of this is just a fascination of watching how things are done, be it construction workers on a building site, or a short order cook making an omelette. There is something fascinating in it. But I think hanging out at a pier and just breathing it all in, (and yes that includes the funky fish smells likely to pervade) is different. The fishing industry has changed of course, and not necessarily for the better. But these older trawlers that still ply their trade and go out most every day feel connected to the past. The mega-trawlers have taken much of this away, so like many things these days, when you get a chance to soak in a scene that seems out of the past, I think I instinctively gravitate towards shooting a photo of it.
One aspect of monochrome I have not touched base on too much is the effect of shadow or silhouette. When you think about it in photography you can take a photo with no adornment whatsoever. Just see something and click it. Or maybe there is a cool reflection or a beautiful sunrise or sunset to make it appear a bit more interesting. But sometimes, a simple shadow can be a really satisfying element to capture, and it happened to me in a flurry of activity the other day.
It has actually been a great, but very hectic last month. Once the Holiday season was over we had in succession-our 10th Wedding Anniversary, my mom’s 80th Birthday, and just the other day, my wife’s 40th birthday. My own 50th birthday lurks ahead in the summer. So there has been much celebrating, laughter and fun. But also slightly hectic in the planning of it all or in the going about from here to there on cold winter days. The other day was no different, and I was in a different neighborhood picking up some stuff in celebration of Jennifer’s 40th. It was late afternoon on a brutally cold day. I wasn’t really planning on taking photos, nor did I have a lot of time, but while crossing the street, I saw the shadow of a water tower set against the clean wall of another building. It was that late afternoon ‘golden hour’ time when light is especially pleasing, but the combination of cold and not having time made me decide to just take the photo in black and white. Some of you will recall I did a post last year about my love of water towers, so I always have my eye out for interesting photos of them. I loved the end result of the waning sunlight cast against one of my favorite urban subject matters.
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!