Monochrome Mondays

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.

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Monochrome Mondays

 

Sometimes I feel guilty about the nature of photography. In many ways it can often be thought of as capturing someone else’s art in a unique way. Take a building or a bridge. Someone else designed and built those structures, but here I am taking a photograph of it, trying to get streaks across the sky but the focal point is someone else’s art. Take bird photography as another example. A bird is just doing what it does, flitting about from here to there and trying to survive when along comes a photographer with a zoom lens trying to capture the perfect blend of movement and light. Even street photography, which I have come to really enjoy seeking. I would never dream of profiting from a photo of someone else’s hard work, but there are others who probably do. In many ways the game has changed so rapidly the last few years since virtually everyone has a camera phone, even if they don’t have a camera.

But then there are rare days (or nights) when I am able to capture something unique, and something that I feel is closer to the origins of photographic art. It happened the other night. I was feeling a bit restless around midnight or so, and grabbed my camera and just walked a block or two down the street to some industrial buildings. I figured maybe with no one around I could do a little experimenting with camera settings. I did take a few shots that I was pleased with, but as I turned around and started heading back something caught my eye. Perfectly framed against the side of a building was the shadow of the street signs. It almost looked too unreal, like what you would see from a projector. Being Halloween time, it almost was a little spooky as well. I actually paused for a moment to think about if it was worth taking, but I figured why not. I have been trying to be more experimental these days anyway. When in doubt, the delete button on the camera works wonders after all. So I took the photo. A few minutes later I was viewing it on the laptop and it reminded me in a small way of some of the experiments early photographers like Alfred Stieglitz who was a master of light and shadow. The photo does not mean anything, I don’t think it gives off any particular vibe, but I just like it. It feels faintly surreal to me and unlike a bridge, bird, or street art photo, it is something I made my own. And I like that.

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Monochrome Mondays

I’m torn and feeling conflicted. Wait a minute Rob, stop right there. After the last few posts people with think this is another spleen-venting post from you! Okay, lets try that again…

I have a dilemma these days. (Yes, much better Rob!) You see when I started this blog a few years ago now, taking monochrome shots wasn’t part of my regular repertoire. I had shot b&w film on occasion, but when I mostly went digital, I very rarely touched the menu options to switch to monochrome. Getting reactions to some of those early film shots convinced me that I really needed to mix it up on occasion, and since then I have. The only problem is, when I see a subject matter I really like, I take them in color and monochrome. And the dilemma sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, is deciding which I actually prefer. I took this photo reflection of clouds in a bright glass window on the photo walk. I put the color one up on Instagram a few days ago, and people liked it. But this morning as I thought about what to feature here today, I thought about looking at this more carefully today. Having two monitors at work helps me make these choices sometimes, to be honest with you. For it was here at my desk that I think I decided that I actually like this one just a bit more than the color. I can’t really say why, I just do. At the time I took it, the sky was blue, bright and cheerful, yet it almost looks ominous in monochrome. I’m realizing that maybe what monochrome does is allow me to imagine a scene either way, almost neutral. I’ll be sure to think about that one the next time I take shots in both formats!

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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!

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.

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 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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