Monochrome Mondays

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!

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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

 

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

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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