‘Live’ Elements

I honestly cannot believe I am typing this, but it has been four years now almost to the day since I nervously sat and wrote my very first blog post. Once again I am humbled by the fact that this idea of mine continues to be enjoyed by so many people literally around the world. Even when I have my quiet moments and am not able to post with the frequency I hope for, I still enjoy it so much. As I have done each of the past ‘blogoversaries’ I wanted to do something special once again. For my first one I took a walk across the Manhattan Bridge accompanied by the drums and brass sounds of Red Baraat. For the second I imagined being in the editing room of a movie working on my own soundtrack with music by guitarist Dan Ar Braz. Last year for the third, I wrote a letter to the young ‘me’ from the old ‘me’ with a song by Jack Lukeman. So here we are again.

This time, I wanted to capture the feel and energy of a live concert. Be it a tiny club stage, a festival or a huge concert arena, music truly comes alive at a live show. My account is purely fictional, but gleaned from watching and listening to some of the crucial elements in a lifetime of  attending concerts. I imagine a band that has made a name for itself with a dedicated bunch of fans who will attend any show within a certain radius of where they live. A band that some may know by name, but don’t know much about. A band with some airplay, but nothing close to a number 1 hit and a video with 2 million hits on YouTube. On the technical side, I imagine this fictional band being solvent enough to be able to comfortably go on tour with their own equipment and a road crew. Finally, I imagine that this particular show is in a ballroom-those somewhat dingy, but always enjoyable venues with a bar at the back of the room, questionable bathrooms, and a large open space in front of the stage for a standing room only crowd. The show I write about takes place on the East Coast of the United States, where bands can really capitalize on the short distances between cities and pack in a bunch of shows to good size crowds. So sit back and pretend you are there observing it all with me…

 

It is late morning when the truck pulls down a dark and dirty city alleyway. A couple of guys stumble out, clutching coffee cups and the remnants of breakfast sandwiches and donuts. One proceeds to give a couple of loud thumps on the metal shutter covering the loading bay. After a few minutes an equally tired and grumpy face looks out the side door. ‘Yeah?’ he says. ‘Setting up for tonight’ says the most alert member of the truck crew. ‘Give me a minute’ says the grumpy guy at the door. From somewhere inside the building a button is pushed which automatically lifts the metal gate, and grumpy is waiting on the other side, squinting in the late morning sun. The guys in the truck know the drill. One of them backs the truck up into position, and once in place the other unlocks the back of the truck and starts removing the maze of straps that keep the delicate contents of the truck from shifting around. Before long all manner of shapes and sizes of cases start rumbling down the ramp and into the building. Grumpy ‘helps’ by lighting a cigarette and motioning the general direction for them to place the gear in a series of monosyllabic grunts.

At first it looks like chaos inside the building, but it is actually a well oiled machine. With no instruction from anyone, the guys from the truck instinctively start spreading the cases around. To an outside observer, the shape and size of this gear would be cause for confusion, but these guys know exactly where everything has to go by the feel or weight of the case or a label slapped across the front of it. Of course it also helps that it was only a few hours before that these same guys loaded up the truck and know what is what. PA cabinets over there, Mixing Desk there. After an hour or so, a van pulls into the alley and a few other people step out. They too are clutching coffee cups, but seem a little less groggy than the guys still chugging along and unloading the truck. They say hello and commiserate about  the traffic on I-95 before this second group heads inside and takes in the scene before them. Just like the night before, they have been to this venue before, but it takes a few minutes to dig back in the memory to what makes this place different. In this business, each building presents different challenges. Hell, each person they work for presents challenges with different equipment and their own ideas about how things should work. Its not easy, but life is good living on shitty fast food, shittier motels and the shittiest of pay doing this for a living.

More specific actions start to gradually happen once the ‘boss’ gets there. When he first shows up he surveys the scene in front of him, instinctively looking for the problems he know will be an issue. All this stuff is supposed to be worked out with the promoter before the show, but its always like this. Always some unexpected headache that pops up and makes his job just a little more challenging. Today it is the in-house lighting rig. He’s not an electrician, but he knows that everybody better get their stuff together soon. He gets together with the various technicians and goes over the plan of attack. Standard setup- house lighting rig, drum and keyboard risers. Opening act is a singer-songwriter doing a solo set so they can set up everything now instead of doing a quick turnaround between acts. Soundcheck at 4 P.M. so we have a few hours to get it right. As if on cue the band’s manager calls-how’s it going there? The show is close to being a sell-out but there are some tickets left. Being a Friday night he’s not worried. Album sales have been a little sluggish but the shows are selling well and the merch table has been crowded every night. Always good signs for the rest of the tour.

On stage among the maze of cables, monitors, pedals, stands and other paraphernalia the instruments start coming out of cases. Once the drum riser is in place the drums come first. Bass drum, floor tom, snare, hi-hat, cymbals all start coming together in the familiar pattern, A case containing other bits of percussion like tambourines, dumbek, cajon and shakers sits nearby for the drummer to sort out the way he wants them. Close by on the keyboard riser the technicians work on getting the Leslie cabinet in place for the Hammond organ. On stage the guitars start delicately coming out of their respective cases and placed on stands. Lot of money in these beauties-the Rickenbacker bass, a shimmering red Gretsch hollow body electric, a Fender Telecaster. For acoustic there is a Martin 0018 (of course), a Takamine and a Yamaha. A mandolin and ukulele lurk nearby as well. Each time one is removed from the case, a technician gives it a quick wipe down before gently putting it on its stand and ensuring that the strap gets placed in just the right way. He’s been known to get death glares for not getting that part right from the musicians before.

As the day goes on, more people come and go but there is a constant stream of activity around the stage. Cables of all sorts are everywhere as is the ubiquitous  gaffers tape. Occasional electrical pops and feedback happen regularly. Since this is a ballroom show, the mixing desk which at a larger show one might see in the middle of the arena, is instead out of sight in a control room above the floor at the back. Which means that for setting up walkie talkies and headsets are in use among some of the crew. Backstage a small team that work for the promoter start laying out the spread specified in the bands rider.  Shortly before 4 PM the band shows up, escorted in from their bus. They too know the drill and they begin milling about the stage, checking everything out, lazily picking up instruments and making adjustments…to everything. After awhile, when all members of the band are on stage together, someone calls for a ‘song’ the band sometimes uses for sound checks, which isn’t really a song, but more of a jam, chosen so instruments can be checked against the natural acoustics of the room. When the band is satisfied enough, they begin drifting off. Some mill about chatting and making subtle changes and suggestions, others head down the maze of corridors behind the stage. Individually they will spend the next few hours working on the set list, doing some social media interaction, having a quick snooze and sorting out other sundry band related business.

Out front this is now the critical time. Doors will open at 7:30. The opener will go on at 8:30. That’s if she shows up on time thinks the Tour Manager. We better not have a repeat of the New Haven incident where she left too late and got stuck in traffic and delayed the entire evening by half an hour again. He knows she is travelling alone but still… He shakes himself out of that thought and starts going through his list. He expects to see everything looking ready by now. Instruments all lined up-Check. Stage cleared of unnecessary cases and cables all connected-Check. Front of house, back of house-Check. Control room communication-Check. But he cannot relax just yet. He walks out to the front of the ballroom with a member of staff and confirms where the merch table will go. He goes over names on a list who are allowed in without a ticket-a few from the local press, a few friends of the band before making his way back to the band behind the stage. They are scattered about, but he makes sure they are all satisfied in general, especially with what was promised by the promoter. Did you grab a bite? Are the beers cold enough?

As it gets closer to Doors Open, staff of the ballroom start getting ready. Bartenders and wait staff making sure everything is in place. Security ensuring things look safe. Ticket people ready with the scanners and will call lists. On stage the singer-songwriter opening the show does a very quick soundcheck of her own. The tour manager nods in appreciation, both for her getting here on time, and for the song she is doing. Deep down, he knows she is good, and that the band chose well for her to open this leg of the tour. He looks at his watch and heads up to the sound booth, conferring with the technicians to make sure they are all happy. ‘Looking good boss’ they report. ‘Nothing we can’t handle.’ Which is the answer he expects on a nightly basis. When its not their answer then he knows there will be problems. Once again he makes his way behind the stage and finds a quiet place to make a few phone calls and answer some emails about the rest of the tour where it will be Hello Boston. Hello Worcester, Syracuse, Buffalo and Cleveland.

Outside the early birds start lining up, nervously shuffling about in anticipation. Months before when the tour was announced they had gone online for tickets, printed them out, and stuck them on the refrigerator door for safe keeping until tonight. Now they were just moments away from showtime. Not before hitting the merch table and getting a new T-shirt, that is. At 7:40 the burly guy standing outside the door unhooks the velvet rope in front of the door and motions for people to head in. Hey, its rock & roll, nothing is ever on time! By now the line has grown rather large, so a steady stream of people almost immediately fill the ballroom up about half way. The others are stocking up on CD’s and T-shirts at the merchandise table or standing in line at the bar before jockeying themselves into position and praying no one tall stands in front of them.

The stage is quiet in anticipation of the opener. At 8:33 she comes out to a polite, but somewhat restrained reaction following an announcement by an unseen voice backstage somewhere. Its hard to clap when you have a bottle of beer in your hand actually, but she hopes by the end of her set she will win over some new fans. That damned singer-songwriter label she gets hit with, just because she writes songs and um…sings. Her music is actually quite loud and aggressive and before long the crowd is right there with her. She knows she only has a half hour set so keeps the talking to a minimum but makes sure to thank the headliner for the opportunity to be the opener, which she knows people appreciate hearing. They are running a tight set tonight, so instead of doing the walking to the side of the stage and waiting for applause routine, she instead announces that she will be doing two more songs before the band comes out. The first is an upbeat number of her own, the final song is a well chosen cover, well suited to her voice and guitar attack. She finishes to  loud applause and knows she will be selling some CD’s later as a result of her performance. Gigs like tonight carry her through the touring slog and money problems.

This is now the moment of truth. Backstage the band starts making final preparations-checking out their appearance in the mirror, using the bathroom, having a cigarette, drinking some water. One member likes to have a few moments of quiet calm, while another is pumping himself up like a prize fighter about to hit the ring. On stage two roadies make final checks of everything. Guitars are gently picked up and one or two faint notes are played while simultaneously looking at the sound booth for an approving nod. Microphones are tapped and clicked and popped one final time-Test, test, test.  Drums are struck with a methodical chunka-chunka approach. At the organ, the horn inside the Leslie Cabinet which gives it that unique sound is rotating as it should like some sort of musical radar detector. Ground Control To Major Tom- funky organ grooves have been detected on stage. Copies of the set list are taped to monitors. Guitar picks are threaded onto the microphone stands. Towels and water bottles are placed strategically for each band member. The roadies drift away.

The crowd senses the show is about to start.

Energy in the ballroom is electric.

Slowly the lights dim.

Applause, whistles and shouts grow.

Familiar silhouettes of figures appear on stage.

Guitars come off stands and slide on to shoulders.

A few deliberate, fumbling notes to make sure the ‘tools’ are in working order.

Lights come up ever so slightly.

Figures on stage look at each other, nodding.

‘HELLO! ARE YOU READY?’

1, 2….1234……

Now we need some appropriate music for this post. I know some people dislike live albums typically, but I really enjoy them. The best ones capture some of that excitement and energy for those that were not there. Others are interesting for the ability to bring the studio versions of songs to life despite not having the same sort of instruments or studio trickery available to use on stage. Others pinpoint a specific time or moment in an artists career. Rare is a live album that manages to do all three but my own personal favorite live album does-Live Bullet by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band.  Released in 1976,  and recorded on his home turf at Cobo Hall in Detroit a year before it marks the turning point of his career. Prior to its release, Bob was known for years throughout the Midwest for his hard driving songs but barring a few songs that touched the national charts, not much further than that. Six months after Live Bullet came out though, the Night Moves album was released, and with the title cut leading the way, Bob Seger has never looked back since.

It opens with a barnstorming version of Ike & Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits.  Later is that killer drum beat to Ramblin’Gamblin’ Man and the rocking Get Out Of Denver. The band could lay down some serious funk on songs such as Bo Diddley and Heavy Music, then switch gears to the war-weary tale of living on the road in Turn The Page, with the shimmering saxophone work of Tommy Cartmell (aka Alto Reed). The classic version of his Silver Bullet Band shines throughout. Together with Cartmell there was Drew Abbott on guitar, Robyn Robbins on keyboards, Charlie Allen Martin on drums, and Chris Campbell on bass. You can hear in the course of the album how Seger had clearly mastered the art of getting the crowd into it. “I was reading in Rolling Stone where they said Detroit audiences are the greatest rock & roll audiences in the world.” On Heavy Music- “If you’ll sing with me I won’t guarantee it, but you juuuuust might wind up on an album” in a sly manner, before it gets quiet and Seger belts “I got to go somewhere….somewhere where nooobody knows my name……1,2,3,4- I THINK I’M GOING TO KATHMANDU, launching into another well known song.

The second and third songs on the album though are what really made me love this album from the first time I heard it, well over 30 years ago now. At the time Bob and the band were touring around their current studio album-Beautiful Loser. On Live Bullet the songs Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser were joined together, but are dramatically different then their studio counterparts. I could write another 1000 words about these 9 minutes of music. Instead I will just say that the moment Travelin’ Man shoots out to the stratosphere in a transcendent churning of sound from musicians working hard and working together, led by the distinctive, gravelly voice of Bob Seger is one of my favorite moments of music of all time. And that is no lie.

It isn’t just that it realizes the criteria I mentioned above, Live Bullet goes well past that. It captures the essence of a live show without actually having been there. In my head I can see Bob leaning on that microphone stand and getting into it. I can see the rhythm section nailing it all down, I can hear that organ moving around the arrangement, the sax punctuating the beat, and the guitar leading the charge.It feeds from the crowd, and feeds the crowd, then back again. The best live recordings such as ‘Live Bullet’ capture moments like that.  Whether you were actually at the show or not. Whether you were even alive at the time a live album was released.  There is nothing more glorious and satisfying than moments where it all comes together. And though my little imaginative story may have sounded a little romantic, I know that those moments are what make it worthwhile for all involved in making music for a living.

Cheers to the roadies and technicians and crews that make live concerts sound so great! Thank you to all of you who read, like and share my posts. It means a great deal to me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again-As long as there are songs to hear and photographs to take, this project will continue.  Extra huge cheers to my friend Dan Ogus for some terrific behind the scenes info used in this piece. Be sure to check out Dan’s excellent radio show Scattering The Roots right here.

Travelin’ Man and Beautiful Loser-Written By Bob Seger

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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

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.

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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Happy Landings Amelia

 

A few nights ago I learned what really happened to Amelia Earhart. That would of course be the scoop of a lifetime, and I would no doubt be lauded far and wide and there would be book deals, movie rights, TV appearances and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately I would have to eventually reveal that what I learned came from a slightly cheesy episode of Star Trek: Voyager instead. I never really thought much of the show at the time it first aired, but courtesy of Netflix we are working our way through the series. The particular episode had a solution to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance that was far simpler than some of the other real theories that are out there, but I will leave that particular one out among the Star Trek galaxy.

But it made me think of the appeal of an unsolved mystery, especially one involving someone so famous, and with so little clues left behind as to her disappearance in the South Pacific in 1937. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting an around the world flight in their Lockheed L10 Electra plane. Though a circumnavigation had already been done previously, Earhart was going via a much longer route and over the most open ocean which presented considerable risk. By virtue of her already long list of accomplishments in aviation up to that point, there was a sense of excitement and publicity surrounding it. At the time of the disappearance of the plane, Earhart and Noonan only had approximately 7000 miles of the journey remaining. At midnight on July 2, 1937 they took off from New Guinea bound for Howland Island, a speck of land in the vast Pacific Ocean with no inhabitants, just a hastily built runway. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was standing by for communication help. What is known for certain is that bad weather and communication problems almost certainly hampered Earhart’s effort to spot Howland Island, and her last communication was at 8:43 AM. After that is all speculation.

Some of the more dubious conspiracies out there regarding Amelia Earhart posited that she survived and took a new name and lived her life out in New Jersey. Another was that she joined with the Japanese and read propaganda broadcasts as ‘Tokyo Rose.’ Pretty out there stuff. But some theories are a little bit more believable. Chief among those are that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had to ditch at sea having miscalculated their fuel levels. Similarly is that not being able to locate Howland Island, they instead diverted to Gardner Island instead where the plane met an unknown fate. There are deeply technical interpretations of faulty radio communications and signaling that may have caused a problem. There is also the plausible possibility that Fred Noonan’s drinking problem played a role or that it was quite simply pilot error on Earhart’s part.

Another of the more plausible theories is that the Lockheed plane had been outfitted with sophisticated spying equipment, as a way for the U.S. to gauge new Japanese military outposts in the South Pacific, long before satellites were able to. Earhart’s popularity and success as a groundbreaking aviator would have made an interesting cover to do this of course. In the 1960’s journalist Fred Goerner uncovered evidence that suggested that Earhart’s plane was captured, and that she and Noonan were executed by the Japanese. None of these theories have ever been proven. There has been no ‘smoking gun’ for any of them. Though there have been some mysteries that have been solved in our lifetime-Titanic’s resting place or the Mars face, there are many more like Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance that are lacking any sort of absolute evidence.

Which is a good thing in some ways, because in the case of Amelia Earhart, it resulted in some songs about her. Plainsong were a short lived group in the early 1970’s, centered around the wonderful singer Iain Matthews. Their 1972 album was actually called In Search Of Amelia Earhart and featured two songs based around her final flight. Coupled with a cover of the traditional song ‘I’ll Fly Away’ some thought it a concept album, but in actuality it was just a great sort of country-rock album that happened to feature two songs on the same subject. Matthews’ own song ‘True Story Of Amelia Earhart’ is chiefly based on Fred Goerner’s investigation and expresses a sense of disappointment about such an ending-

“Oh Amelia it’s true, you’re the lady of the air & this I’m not disputing anyhow,

But if what Mr. Goerner says is only half the truth, then Amelia…Oh Amelia”

The other song-Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight sung by Andy Roberts is slightly dreamy and hopeful. The facts are presented but there is almost a hint of nostalgia-

“She fell into the ocean far away

And there’s a beautiful, beautiful field

Far away in a land that is fair.

Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart

Farewell, first lady of the air”

The facts of Amelia Earhart’s last flight may never be known at this point. Extensive searching of the area immediately after the crash resulted in no traces found, and subsequent searches and theories have yet to reveal defining proof in all the years since. But I think that is why we like a good mystery. We will never truly know what happened. That makes the story more pleasing in an odd way somehow. Even the hair brained theories that Amelia was abducted by aliens (okay…that was the Star Trek story) or broadcast propaganda for the Japanese during World War II keep the story out there. They allow for movies to be made and songs to be written. They allow for dubious stories to be passed down through generations from people who ‘claimed to be there’. In a world full of increasingly less mysteries, where everything and every place has been discovered few mysteries still remain. Amelia’s disappearance 80 years ago ties us to a time when adventure still existed and there were still achievements to seek. Now everything is an internet search away and we feel disconnected from that sense of adventure that Amelia Earhart sought. We may never know, but is that such a bad thing? Happy Landings.

True Story Of Amelia Earhart-Written By Iain Matthews

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight-Written By David McEnery

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