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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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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Light Study

Water Tower #36

For a photographer there is nothing more important than light. Everything about photography relies on it. Too much and a photo can become overexposed. Too little and it is underexposed. Composition, structure, texture all rely on light. Tricks of the trade such as aperture and shutter speed can manipulate that light. Freezing motion in place or utilizing shadows only works well with an understanding of light. It is the one aspect of photography that I continue to learn about every time I pick my camera up. After all  light is never exactly the same on any given day or situation so it is a constant learning process.

Consider too the masters of paintings who created their own light studies by painting a series of still lifes. Usually by way of a bowl of fruit, a vase of flowers or in the case of Claude Monet, with a  haystack.  Painters have  long used these types of studies to hone their craft. When I studied art in college we learned why this sort of simple subject matter was so important.  Along with shape and form, the subtle difference between light and shadow may drastically change the overall effect depending on time of day. Experimenting with the same subject matter reveals new textures and nuance.

Lets use the example of Monet’s haystacks for instance . A simple cluster of hay stacked in a field is by no means a particularly exciting subject. But in capturing the different looks to the haystacks throughout the day Monet made it intrinsically more interesting. Playing with the light such as that comes with careful observation and analysis. Is the light more pleasing at noon, or does it give off more of a glow at sunset? Does the halo of light over the entire field look best at sunrise, or at mid-afternoon? Is a summer sunset more vibrant than one in fall?

I was thinking recently about how important light can be to our mood.  The occasional dreary rainy day at home sipping tea or a glass of wine  gazing out the window can be very enjoyable.  Too many of those sorts of days in a row start to weigh on me however and I find myself eventually craving light.  That might be the first hints of sun in the morning, with golden light rising and reflecting over the buildings of my neighborhood or the clear blues of a bright and sunny day.  Or the soothing tones of sunset-red, pink, purple and orange immersed in the clouds. Even the glow of the city at night or the light from the stars can be pleasing.

I don’t know about other people but I have favorite times of the day. Times when I feel most at ease and happy. For some that might be morning, for others it might be quitting time from work. Thinking about this further, I came to the conclusion that the real reason we have a favorite time might just be about the light one expects to see. We feel energized when we get a warming sunrise or a calming sunset. As if the very qualities of color variations that occur on a single day make us feel connected to that light. I started to wonder if that was why painters and photographers are so drawn to capturing the shifting of light. Perhaps artists feel the need to study light as a way of seeing our response to those shifts.

In deciding to do my own light study, I wanted something that I could take a photograph of on a regular basis, at several different times of day over a period of time. I chose a water tower perched above my favorite old brick building in our neighborhood. I liked the contrast between the brick of the building and the wood of the water tower.

I was not methodical about this. I did not take a photo at 6:47 every day to compare. Instead I tried to hit key times of day. Sunrise, midday, late afternoon, sunset, night time.  I tried to take it more or less from the same position each time. I experimented with the tools at my disposal-shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. I made adjustments each time. Some I deemed right away to be unacceptable. Others I put in the maybe category.  In the end I probably took about 50 photos of this water tower and only sat down to write these words when I felt satisfied with my final choice to feature. *

Thinking of how to fit music into this equation I gradually came to realize an artist works on variations of a theme in a light study and tweaks them by altering the approach and final look as desired.  So too does a musician go into a recording studio with a song, and adjusts it. You start with the song. Perhaps it was written with the idea of  being a fast paced rocker. Or maybe it was written solo on a piano. Maybe it was meant to have only one singer. Yet so many times the song, the instrumentation, the tempo, the vocals change when the approach to the song gets altered. That rocker becomes a ballad instead. That solo piano becomes an electric guitar riff. Or the song intended to have only one singer now has a 20 piece Gospel choir and a horn section.

At their peak, REM were arguably doing all of this sort of experimentation, and quite successfully too. The early albums especially were rife with this sort of tinkering around, such as the song Time After Time (Annelise) from their second full length album- Reckoning. It may be dark and a little bleak, yet it is quite captivating precisely for that darkness. The recording of Reckoning apparently happened quickly, but choices and decisions still had to be made for each song, much like the moment a painter commits brush to canvas, or a photographer makes adjustments before clicking the shutter release.

The end result may not be satisfying to everyone. An artist or musician might consider it their best work while the general public rejects it outright. Some may consider it a step back while the artist considers it a step forward. In R.E.M.’s case Time After Time is viewed both with a mixture of  regard and disdain among fans. Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, artists experiment in the hope that it will push their work further. I realized in doing this light study that this was the common thread running in art and music-the desire to continually challenge oneself and find new ways to express ideas. For musicians it comes in the studio, recording a song several times and making adjustments. For me it comes from being patient and really thinking about what I ultimately want to present. In taking a series of photos of the same exact thing I learned what works and does not work for me aesthetically.

*In the gallery below are some of the shots I liked, but did not quite satisfy me in the end. The photo at the top of this post however is my favorite of the series. I took it as the sun was rising one morning. Ironically 15 minutes later the day turned out to be cloudy and overcast, but for that brief moment, the sky had contrast and the rays of sun shone vibrantly on the water tower and the building.

Time After Time (Annelise)-Written By Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck & Michael Stipe

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Somewhere Out There

Somewhere Out There

I thought before this year was officially over I would write one more post. Actually, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to but something I can’t quite explain pushed me to do so. Way back in January in this post I wrote about the final studio album by Scottish group Runrig. Emotions were swirling around people in my life at that time, and something about the title and theme of the album-The Story seemed like a connection of sorts. I was not really planning on writing about another song from the same album, let alone twice in the same year but something about this project resonated deeply for me. The key to the album is that every song has a story to it.

That by itself is not unique of course, but it is in the way that Runrig have weaved elements on this collection in music together with vintage photographs and detailed stories for each song that does make it unique.   It starts with an account of the visits by American photographers Paul Strand and Neil Priessman to the Hebrides Islands in the 1950’s which provided the main inspiration for the project.  A soldier in ‘Rise And Fall/Elegy’. The downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight over the Ukraine in ’18th July’. Loading the van up with gear to play at a local dance in ‘The Place Where The Rivers Run’ all provided further inspiration. Continue reading “Somewhere Out There”

Photo Shuffle-The Crossroads

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Standing At The Crossroads By Dave Edmunds

Standing At The Crossroads

I’m trying to make an effort to get back to these shorter Photo Shuffle posts after a bit of a gap, as I mentioned in my last post. The song and artist that came up today is a great pick by my Ipod if I do say so myself! In this post from earlier this year I wrote about Nick Lowe. That included the long time musical partnership he and Dave Edmunds had in Rockpile. When I was younger I came across Dave Edmunds’ music before Nick Lowe’s, though not by much if I recall correctly. There was probably something in Edmunds love of 1950’s and early 60’s Rock & Roll that made me pay attention initially compared with Nick Lowe’s more contemporary sounds. There are many things to admire about Dave Edmunds. Musically he can do a great cover of a Chuck Berry song one moment, then put a little country twang on the next song, and then follow that with a hard edged guitar stomper.  In addition he is a great guitarist and though his standout performance will probably always be considered a rocking version of the classical piece ‘Sabre Dance’  I can make the case for many more. He is also a top notch producer. When The Stray Cats ‘Rocked This Town’, it was in large part because Dave Edmunds had produced the album. Not to mention being asked to produce albums by some of his own musical heroes like Dion, and The Everly Brothers. 

Just a short list of classic Edmunds songs includes I Hear You Knocking, Trouble Boys, Girls Talk, Crawling From The Wreckage, Queen Of Hearts (his version predated the hit by Juice Newton), The Race Is On, A1 On The Jukebox, If Sugar Was As Sweet As You, Slipping Away, and dozens more. He’s just one of those musicians that really understands that the simple approach is often the best approach. No screeching guitars or complicated rhythms. Just Rock & Roll pure and simple.

Though he has dabbled with writing songs over the years, he has been more adept at choosing good songs to interpret. Such is the case with Standing At The Crossroads, by the equally great British rocker Mickey Jupp. It is a song replete with typical blues subject matter-love gone bad- “I’m not the man she was looking for, but just the man she found,” anger, and confusion. But its the chorus that really takes it to classic blues territory-standing at the crossroads with Robert Johnson who of course famously sold his soul to the devil in exchange for mastery of the blues. At least that’s how the legend goes! Also there is Elmore James, who later revived Johnson’s own songs. Like a true rock and roller though, Dave Edmunds doesn’t sing the song as a blues, but rather as a jaunty little rock number. The photo I chose above represented the best photo I could find that I have taken of something akin to a crossroads. Should you go forward? Back? Left or Right?  Whenever I come to a rural crossroads like this, I often think not only of Robert Johnson’s ‘crossroads’, but also to one of my favorite all around musicians-Dave Edmunds. If you are unfamiliar with him, I urge you to go check his music out.

 

Standing At The Crossroads-Written By Mickey Jupp

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*Photo Shuffle is a new, very short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.

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Photo Shuffle-Watch The Weather

My goodness, has it really been since May when last I did a Photo Shuffle? When I realized that a few days ago, I thought I better correct that oversight as soon as possible. I almost felt like I needed a refresher myself since its been so long! So for my own benefit, and anybody who has only started following me more recently, Photo Shuffle is an idea I had last year where I set my Ipod on random, and let it choose a song I then pair with one of my photos. It is the reverse of how I write my usual posts, and is a lot of fun to do. So here we go…

I pressed play on my Ipod and this is what I heard…Watch The Weather, By The Health & Happiness Show

Alabama Rain

Like many people I enjoy sitting back and watching the weather roll by. Provided of course that I am in the comfort of my own home and not fearful that it will turn into something more serious. There is something oddly soothing about watching the snow pile up outside your window.  Or rain pouring down, punctuated by the occasional burst of thunder or lightning.  The eerie sound of the wind circling the surrounding landscape. To some the notion of watching the weather might be more akin to watching paint dry, or a pot boiling, but for me it can be better than any TV show or movie.

Weather also makes for interesting photography. Thinking about that more carefully, it is probably because weather causes something that was not there moments before to suddenly dominate, altering the scene rapidly. That is obviously something appealing to anyone who has ever picked up a camera as clouds darken the sky. We recognize that sudden change as something new we want to preserve. I certainly did when I pulled my camera out and took this photo a few years ago in Alabama when the sky was clear one moment and then pouring the next. That idea is similar to music in many ways and in an older post I explored this idea further.

Watching the weather is also a metaphor for watching the world go by, and ‘weathering’ the changes. I think this is the idea behind the song by The Health & Happiness Show. There are lots of references to the weather-snow keeps falling, never seen a summer this long, April rain keeps coming on and on… But the key line relates both to the actual weather, and to life itself-

‘Some changes come without warning, Some changes you can’t really see.’

The song was influenced in part by Sadie and Bessie Delany’s biography ‘Having Our Say; The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years’ and viewed in that context, this idea really makes sense. Especially since it was written by one of my favorite and  one of the most criminally underrated artists of the last 30 years or so, James Mastro.

The Health & Happiness Show formed sometime in the early 90’s in Hoboken, NJ by guitarist Mastro and drummer Vinny DeNunzio while sitting around a table and playing Hank Williams songs so the story goes. Both had been members of bands that had put Hoboken on the map as a music destination and received some critical acclaim-Mastro in The Bongos and DeNunzio in The Feelies. Both were feeling disillusioned with the business side of music and wanted to get back to just playing music however. Soon the core of a group formed, and they took their name appropriately enough, from a series of radio shows by Hank Williams. A strong debut album called ‘Tonic’ appeared in 1993 which garnered some attention. With an alt-country, Americana meets Celtic sort of sound and Mastro’s beautifully crafted songs this was not a surprise. Two more albums followed-Instant Living in 1995, and Sad & Sexy in 1999. The sound had changed slightly, moving away from the alt-country to more of a rock sound, but James Mastro’s songs remained a force, with wry observations and subtle humor.

This can be heard in his song ‘Watch The Weather.’ To me the mark of a good songwriter is many things- being able to tell a story you want to hear as the listener, to write about different subjects, to make observations, and most importantly, to not resort to the same cliches and observations others do. It is not easy to maintain that, but gifted writers like James Mastro, together with The Health & Happiness Show pulled it off to dedicated fans like me. How I wish I still had my T-shirt, which was a knockoff of a Bayer aspirin box! These days James continues to play with a variety of artists in the Hoboken and NYC area, as well as around the world with Ian Hunter (of Mott The Hoople fame), while also running the popular Guitar Bar in Hoboken. Easily recognizable by his wide ranging collection of hats he has always worn, if you see his name on a bill anywhere, make sure you catch him.

Now, I think I’ll throw some Health & Happiness Show on the stereo and watch the weather. Do you like to weather watch and dream?

Watch The Weather-Written By James Mastro

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

*Photo Shuffle is a new, very short slice of my regular blogs based on setting my Ipod on shuffle and matching up one of my photographs to whatever comes up.

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Put The Sun Back

 

Gantry State Park, Queens

We’ve got to put the sun back in our hearts

It has been just about a month since my last post, though in truth it feels even longer than that in my mind. The radio silence is down to several reasons, both personal and professional which left me little time for contemplation about what I wanted to write about. The list of potential ideas is still growing in my notebook which is great for the long term of course, but the way of getting them out without feeling like I am forcing them has not been. This past month my head has just been stuck in a fog that refused to let go. Every fleeting thought I considered seemed to collapse shortly after. It was not writers block, but more like a block preventing me from focusing on those ideas.

The truth is, since I revamped this blog last August, focusing on writing shorter and more concise posts (compared to the longer ones I used to do), I have been working really hard at it. For months I was averaging a post a week, and on a few occasions, sometimes more than that.  Perhaps a crash of some sorts was inevitable at that pace. Not to go into full on tortured artist mode here, but I felt overwhelmed. For the first week or two I did not panic about it. I figured with so much going on I should just accept that a break was okay. As a little more time passed I began to worry. In the past when I have been uninspired, I went to some of the many other blogs I follow. Not so much for inspiration, but just as a reminder of why I have stuck writing my own. But even that seemed to be getting away from me and I did not feel engaged with so many of the excellent writers and artists that fill up my blog feed. Everyday I asked myself, are you ready yet? Ready to look at that screen and begin writing again? But everyday I felt more overwhelmed and said, maybe tomorrow…

Continue reading “Put The Sun Back”

The Twang’s The Thang!

Since the earliest days of rock and roll the guitar has always been the driving force behind the music. It makes no matter what time frame you are referencing-the 50’s with those Chuck Berry riffs, the 60’s with the rise of the guitar ‘gods’ like Hendrix, Clapton, and Townshend, or from the 70’s onward bringing converging styles and approaches to the instrument. The guitar remains the key to rock and roll, with a long list of names for consideration as guitar heroes. A partial list of mine would include the above names of course, but also a number of players both well known and some lesser known ones too. Some are almost exclusively electric guitarists, while some are more known for their acoustic playing.  And as you may have surmised from some of my other posts, not all of them are rock guitarists either for I am the music nerd that has guitar heroes from folk, country, blues, jazz and world music. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll be talking about Rock & Roll guitarists.

For me, a guitar hero does not have to be the  fastest player, shredding away at a million miles an hour. Nor does it have to be the loudest sound out there (cue the Spinal Tap these go to 11 reference!).  For me what makes a great guitarist is someone adept equally in the creation of a signature sound recognizable within the first few notes, together with using that sound in such a way to make music that  sounds completely  different from everyone else. That could be the loud and screeching sounds of a heavy metal guitarist, or something more subtle. It is important to remember that the early days of electric guitar in the 20th century were defined by lots of experimentation. On the one hand you had great innovators and players of the instrument such as Les Paul and Chet “Mr. Guitar” Atkins. On the other you had dozens of great blues guitarists like Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, and John Lee Hooker defining the electric guitar sound. By the 1950’s the electric guitar was now the primary lead instrument for most of what became called Rock & Roll, and names like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Carl Perkins rose to the top. Another name that belongs in that list, and who definitely welded a unique signature sound together with songs that did not sound like anyone else’s is the one and only creator of twang guitar, Duane Eddy.

Continue reading “The Twang’s The Thang!”