Inspired by Collaboration

My minds eye for Dance Photography was to capture that moment of form. Following Mary Miller & Charles Hall as they created a new performance for the Nandanik Dance Festival. I witnessed talented professional artists building a performance.

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Creative collaboration is a dynamic process especially when the artists involved have known & worked together for 20 years. Mary has danced professionally since 1967. Her work in Modern Dance doesn’t mimic what others do. In Charles’ career as a musician, he has had many opportunities to work with Mary as an accompanist at classes, with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Civic Light Opera & many site-specific theater performances.

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The essential musical talent Charles brought to the development of this work was his drumming. However, his presence on stage & interaction with the drums became an integral part of the choreography. Mary was the motivator of movement. Their ideas merged & evolved as I experienced more than just a few chances to capture some photographs.

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In the rehearsal studios of Point Park University, where Charles is an accompanist, Mary guided the staging & basic flow of the piece. Charles was nurturing not only the live voices of the drums but a soundtrack he would record to add another musical layer. Watching the free flow of ideas between these professionals as they cultivated their options during run-throughs was intriguing.

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Mary likes working with people who don’t take themselves to seriously because they are more open to what they will experiment with. During her career, she has worked with poets, fiber artists, sculptors & other artistic partners. Talking with Charles about the collaboration he immediately remarked upon the importance of trusting the other people. They must be invested in working together & listening to all ideas.

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Mary’s interaction with the drums & music developed into a vehicle for Charles. As the design of the piece came together, his character observed her & the drums with trepidation. Until, with her enticement, he became comfortable with making his own music. Their combined interaction added emotion & character to the work now titled “Friendship”. The resulting music at the hands of Charles unlocked the movements Mary had been walking thru. In true Miller style the performance with a live musician was much deeper than possible with just pre-recorded music.

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With opening night a few days away the Tech Rehearsal at Carnegie Library & Music Hall, they went over the props, audio & lighting with stage manager Joan Greenwood. With as much combined experience as both Mary & Charles have they realize the importance of coordinating with “the house” to put the final details on their work.

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The difference between the rehearsal studio & the tech run-thru on stage is significant. It isn’t just because of the lights, audio & space. This is where the final decisions are agreed upon while defining positions in the actual environment. Their movements in their final rehearsal became even more precise as the performance was almost at hand.

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It is difficult to say if it was decades of experience, self-confidence or the diversity of her career that leaped out as she began polishing the final touches on “Friendship” during the Tech. It was obvious Mary was headed for a new crescendo I had not yet seen. Even though I had watched the piece develop I was anxious to see the final result.

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With the background soundtrack complete Charles was confident in what they had forged from their ideas. He had channeled his initial reluctance to be moving around on the stage into a motivation for his character.

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“Friendship” had become more than contemporary dance. It was a musical performance. It was theater. The drums weren’t just instruments & props. They played a supporting role. The collaboration of vision, experience, talent & trust was now what I was seeing.

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The night of the performance the dancer, the musician & the drum ended the work by exiting stage right as they had done in rehearsals. This time they had a little more spring in their step. The culmination of all of their work & molding of ideas had reached the inevitable conclusion with style.

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After returning to the stage for their bows they each stepped back gesturing to the now static & silent drums acknowledging the role they had played. They had not done this in rehearsals but I was ready & got the shot. Not what I had originally envisioned but I captured my moment of form for a scene that was part of a very human story.

Eye catchers

Sometimes a picture just makes you smile. Oftentimes it makes you think. I hope signs that caught my eye motivate a smile.

01 CoCo Nuts
Since misspelling is a personal flaw, I feel better knowing I’m not alone. In this case I wonder if it was part of a design to get attention. Being someplace where you see this sign instead of “Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface” is not a bad thing.

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On my trip to Cuba I frequently saw similar signs offering service to repair tires. At first I thought this was an unusual business. However as I got a better feel for the culture I realized that it was typical of the way people find a way to re-use everything. Few things are completely discarded.

03Liquors s
Hanging a sign outside of your place of business may be the oldest form of advertising. Doing street photography at night my eyes are drawn to how some lighted signs dominate a small spot on a corner. The window light in the upper right hand corner adds an unusual balance to the frame. This shot also makes me wonder if liquor comes in any other container than bottles.

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Most signs are for everyone to see. This sign is intended for just 1 individual. I love the fact it is not a hand-written message. It is a very formal presentation but it isn’t centered! Although it is a very common sentiment, by federal law postal employees are not allowed to make these decisions.

05 Barber sized
The word-free barber pole is a symbol that has conveyed a message since the Middle Ages. It also has evolved in meaning & design. The original red & white helix of colors represented a craftsman who would cut hair, pull teeth, perform surgery & do blood letting. In the US a patriotic blue stripe was added & they were put on motors creating an eye-catching optical illusion.

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Way back in time, movie production companies owned many of the theaters that showed their films in addition to having actors under exclusive contracts. They owned the product & controlled distribution to maximize profit & stifle competition. Paramount was, & still is, a force in entertainment although business models have changed dramatically. While many cities had/have Paramount Theaters, Pittsburgh never did.

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Before theaters with dozens of screens, the marquee of a theater not only identified the film playing but also listed the actors. As the multi-screen facilities have replaced the grand movie houses of the past the marquees only have the names of the films being shown. Gone are the days when the stars of the film had their names in lights.

08 Cleaners
If a sign or a photograph makes you smile that is a good thing. If you use the service & can remember where it is located it’s even better for the owner.

09 Nice Things
The message on a sign can also cause you to see something from a different perspective. In this case it made it harder for me to ignore the deteriorated environment without thinking of the individuals living there. It is a very valid question. If we try to understand the question the problem might be solved.

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Often these types of businesses are hidden or in very isolated places with an alluded name or message. Here on a major street in SFO there is no doubt. Subtle is not part of their marketing effort.

11 Diner
Immediately when I saw this sign on Bourbon St in New Orleans I knew it was a diner and I knew what the type of menu I would find. It is curious how graphic design can be so powerful.

Mixed Messagesized
Blame it on my degree in Visual Communications but I have spent more time than necessary trying to understand these symbols. I know the meaning of both & have used them appropriately. Why are they vertical on just the passenger side when a balanced horizontal placement on either side of the vehicle would be better? The juxtaposition of messages is confusing. Is this an indicator of the different views of the occupants of the car? Is the viewer supposed to read top to bottom or vice versa? Is the owner bi-polar? I understand the shinny rotating barber pole much better.

Motivated by Sand in my Shoes

When I was a teenager my grandmother told me I had sand in my shoes. As I got older I began to understand her idiom describing my enjoyment of travel & discovery.01a copy
During my career, I was fortunate to travel many places locally, nationally & internationally. I experienced different environments, saw a wide diversity of lifestyles & discovered a lot about the world. As a perk to that travel, I earned a lot of frequent flyer miles enabling my family to experience some wonderful vacations.01ab
One place that left me in awe of the natural world was Yosemite National Park. Our experiences with Park Rangers & other National Parks motivates us to add these places to any itinerary we plan. Ken Burns described them as “America’s Best Idea”. I can’t disagree. Preserving these amazing places for all to enjoy is a testament to our respect for the planet we live on. As a photographer, it was overwhelming & almost too easy. Everywhere I pointed my camera I framed a dramatic image.

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I discovered that before traveling learning some history of the place & you will add to your enjoyment. London can be overwhelming with history & with iconic visuals. Having read the 1000 plus page “condensed biography” of Sir Winston Churchill I admired the man for his leadership, writing & persistence. In this picture of his statue, you don’t see his face but his form is easily recognizable as he keeps a vigil on Parliament.

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Eastern Europe was never on my radar as a place to visit. However, my daughter was doing a Fulbright in Zagreb Croatia & we decided to visit & share her experience. It had been 20 years since Communist Yugoslavia broke up however much of the culture had not changed. In many ways, it was like stepping back in time & reminded me of photos of Pittsburgh in the 1950’s. The trolleys were a big influence in this perception as were the clothes worn by older people. I noticed a tremendous difference in the appearance of those under 30 & those over 40.

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I try not to limit my curiosity to places I’ve never been. I’ve experienced new views without going far from home. As I’ve become more involved in photography I enjoy looking at something I’ve seen many times & discover a new context. The rivers, valleys & hills of Pittsburgh provide spectacular vistas. Now, when I wander in my hometown I look more for details or perspectives I haven’t seen before like this image of Alcoa Headquarters.. Also, it’s inspiring to see work of photographers from the Pittsburgh, New Kensington & Chautauqua Camera Clubs I belong to. If you have more than just a passing interest in photography I highly recommend joining a camera club near you.

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If you travel enough you encounter problems. Hurricane Sandy did that while I was in the UK for work. Fortunately, I had my camera & took advantage of an unplanned opportunity to wander around Birmingham. It reinforced the idea that having no plans can lead to serendipitous experiences. Not only did I discover a system of canals but also I went to Symphony Hall & enjoyed the afternoon performance of works by Dvorak.06 copy
I enjoy meeting friendly & interesting people. A camera over my shoulder has provided a conversation starter many times. Since the human condition is one of my favorite subjects I usually ask if I can take casual portraits. On a “Honey Trail,” my daughter discovered in her research of Montenegro we got lost. We ended up in the backyard of this very friendly wine maker. Fortunately, Jessica spoke some of the language & we elevated our conversation above pantomime. Another thing I enjoy about meeting people is that local knowledge is valuable.008
For some reason, Sedona AZ was basically unknown to me. So when we went there on a 1500 mile tour of the Southwest I experienced the beauty with fresh eyes. At the time I only had a point & shoot camera. However, the basics of a good photograph don’t really depend on the gear. That being said, I will be going back at some time with my DSLR.09
Later in that same trip out west, we rode the narrow gage RR from Durango to Silverton CO. Built in 1882 we climbed up into the Rockies along the Animas River where around every turn we saw a more spectacular view that the previous one. I highly recommend this relaxing scenic trip. However, I suggest buying a package where you go up by train and return by bus. The same views in reverse on a 3.5 hr trip can lose its appeal.

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I like to say you’ve never really visited a place unless you’ve been in or on the water. Not only does this perspective provide a chance for a better view, it is also an excuse to be on a sailboat. One thing I noticed immediately about the skyline of Seattle is that there are almost zero signs/names/logos on buildings. Photographer’s eyes notice what is missing.

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One night while wandering in New Orleans I cranked up the ISO on the camera & was searching for some unique Street Photography. The ambient light from buildings, signs & the streetlights created pools of light where amusing stories can be captured. On this shot, I masked the digital noise with an oil paint effect, which I think adds to the narrative.

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I am torn by a short trip where all the clothes I need can fit into 1 bag vs traveling for longer periods & face the universal dilemma all travelers’ experience. A road trip is on my agenda & a few other international adventures are in the planning stages. Since my last major trip to Cuba, I think I have stepped up my photo abilities. We shall see!

Inspired by Unseen Forces

Sailboat photographs represent forces, which cannot be seen. Wind, physics & the power of the water are all part the story.

01Even when this beautiful mono-hull is tethered to a buoy I see a balance with nature. The sloping bow & stern exhibit grace. Her wooden mast, deck and trim speak to the character of her design. Dragonfly, which is moored at Chautauqua Institution, is the most elegant sailboat on the lake. Motivated by patience someday I will get pictures when she is under sail.

02The sailboat in this image is only about 1% of the photograph yet dominates the story. My elevated position eliminates the horizon line going thru the boat or the sails. Having recently sailed on that class of boat I recognize the forward mast with the bowsprit as a “Friendship Schooner” As it sails thru a field of lobster traps, it is helpful to know the design of the boat was as a ‘working lobster boat”. It is wide for stability & the mast position allows for more workspace on deck. Acadia National Park

02aAlthough outriggers & catamaran designs go back over 500 years, when the Hobie Cat was introduced in the early 60’s it dramatically created opportunities for more recreational sailors. The design allows for less weight & more speed. The colorful sails give it an eye-catching personality. The diversity of sailboat designs & rigging is a testimony to the understanding of nautical engineers who built them for a specific use. Chautauqua Lake

03Since most of my sailboat photos are from water level, multiple horizontal lines from water to land & land to sky bother me. Here, the line of the hillside meeting the water isn’t objectionable because the land then fills the frame with a contrasting background to the sails. This line also provides a point of reference to the power of the wind pushing the boat onto its starboard side. Also, the cut in the steep hillside parallels the mast. This is a poor transfer of a Kodachrome slide from the early 80’s. The image quality is poor but it is one of my favorites. Somewhere in the Virgin Islands

altIn this capture, there are 3 horizon lines interfering with the boat. The bridge, the land & the water. However, the peninsula of land disappears behind the support structure opening the left edge of the frame to the Pacific. Also, the geometric forms of the suspension cables somewhat clone the cut of the sails. The boat, which really caught my eye from about 2 miles away, is a former Americas Cup competitor USA 76. Now that I know she is there my next trip to SFO will include a day sail from Pier 39

05When I saw this boat sailing away from me headed toward Long Point in deep water, I knew the captain would be doing a tack close to shore that would bring her straight to me. Subject & location knowledge is helpful. I was patient & got another chance for a pleasing background. One interesting virtue of sailboat photography is that you can find opportunities around all 360 degrees of the subject. Chautauqua Lake.

06People always provide interesting layers. However, shots of the crew on sailboats eliminates the entire form of the sails. Here, just the corner clew of the sail gives a hint of that form & the energy. Enhancing that feeling of force is the heeling position of the boat & the crew hiked out over the side to add stability. Shooting towards the stern you see the name of the boat & the class. I’ve learned to live with the horizon lines instead of considering a drone camera. CLYC Chautauqua Lake

07 copyShooting towards the bow I now get faces of the crew practicing race tactics. I love how she has the main sheet in one hand & the other is extended. It reminds me of the position of a bull rider. The background is petty good & there is enough of the jib & main sails to represent the wind. ISO 2000 278mm 1/1250 & f16. More important than the tech-info is the person driving the boat I am in. Here Lori got me right where I need to be. Community Sailing Foundation Lakewood NY

07aThe story of this image resonates with people who sail. The wooden block & boom speak to the character of the craft. The cut of the sail with the clouds in the background whisper of the sounds of the wind pushing your boat thru the water. The contrasting angle of the lines to the boom gives hint to the physics of navigating the boat. Lake Champlain.

07bMy enthusiasm for sailing overrides my enjoyment of taking pictures of sailboats. By no means am I an expert in either. However, given the choice, I’d much rather have my hands on the wheel of a sailboat, not the camera.  Dreams do come true. I plan on adding to my portfolio of sailing in the near future. Sydney Australia.

An Anniversary

 

I don’t associate April 15th as Tax Day. In 1979 it was my last day at WPGH TV & last “Full-Time” job. The date brings memories of my career as an Independent Freelancer.

01a04/15/79 marks the beginning of a journey I look back on with much gratitude. There are hundred’s of people that motivated, influenced & mentored me along the way. However, nobody had the longevity & impact as Jerry Hughes. Since the early 80’s his examples of professionalism taught me things that you can’t learn from a book or a training video. When I bought my 1st camera his example & advice about being an Owner/Operator lead me on a path I never dreamed possible living in Pittsburgh.

01b When I bought this Varicam in I remember a feeling of satisfaction knowing I was the 1st Independent HD Owner/Operator in Western PA. My career began when expansion of video production went beyond the programing for 4 networks & their local affiliates. 25 years later purchasing a camera that hurdled low resolution, & shallow contrast of the previous technology was a wonderful, but expensive, improvement. The end of poor quality video was going bye-bye & I was helping my clients escort it out the door.

02When the project had the proper planning, tools & people I was able to utilize what HD could do. On this documentary, I had explained to the lead horseman I needed his riding party to react in the pool of light. After about a 70-yard slow gallop downstream towards me they stopped on a dime & nailed it! That was a very good day at work. We made lots of nice pictures. Mark Bussler Producer/Director Horses of Gettysburg.

02aGetting the client what they wanted & needed was always my motivation. Sometimes that meant hauling a dolly to the top of a power plant facility. The backdrop was an excellent idea. However, we needed 3 more grips to haul the gear. Today small sliders/rails would give more movement to the shot & only weigh about 25% & cost much less. End Client IBEW International via a production company from Denver.

03In the early 80’s doing instant replay at local live sporting events was about 1/3 of my time. By the end of my career, it became about half. A fortunate connection with CBS Sports in 1986 opened a door that lead to live television opportunities I had dreamed about. Thinking back about doing 30 years of NFL & 13 Super Bowls I still need to pinch myself. Live TV is a unique process with fun tools & talented people. The reward of working with some of the best in the business is when it all comes together as “One Room”. I never knew being a slomologist was a career path. NEP SS CBS mobile unit.

98811_D1339BCrop.jpgI learned early on that all shows are big…some just have a whole lot more people. Crew shots from Super Bowls are like a Where’s Waldo puzzle. I will buy you lunch if you can ID me. While the people in the picture bring back memories, knowing that the photographer was John Filo adds another significant layer. Yea that kid from Western PA who is a fellow Kent State Alumni & won a Pulitzer. 2007 CBS Super Bowl

06 There is a correlation between the size of the show & the amount of cable. From my perspective, all shows are basically the same. Remote TV is a 3 part job. #1 Set it up. #2 Do the job. #3 Tear it down. Not unlike a circus, it’s a traveling roadshow. For big shows, the amount of equipment & wires increases for parts 1 & 2. Glamor & Show Business aren’t words I use together. 05The interconnectivity of multiple TV trucks creates technical opportunities & endless variables of data, audio, video, graphics, communication & monitoring.  Fortunately, connecting this was not my job. Some know the needs of their department. Only a very few know the entire workflow. I would disconnect only after double confirmation we were clear from NY.

07 copyAfter the show is when you find out who is really part of your crew. I believe early in my career I was given opportunities because I was good at wrapping cables. It is a sign of someone willing to do all 3 parts of the job. I had an advantage because at 14 I learned “over & under” when practicing ring buoy toss on my lifeguard test. It seemed like I had wrapped enough cable to make it to the moon. In reality, it is likely closer to the distance from Pittsburgh to Salt Lake City.

09I had a number of “close encounters” but usually wasn’t enticed to engage “talent”. When I heard Charles Kuralt was visiting our venue at the Lillehammer Olympics, I couldn’t resist asking him for a picture. When I told him I was humbled that our last names were together in the CBS phone book he gave a good laugh & remarked I had top billing over him. I am indeed biased but the 2 icons of telling stories on TV during my youth were Walter & Charles. Thanks for setting examples worth watching.

10I loved my work but…the packing, unpacking, set-up, tear-down & repeat of all of this gear took a toll I no longer felt like paying. This is a typical load of gear, minus the camera for an ENG job. Retirement is good. I’m beholding to many, I miss the people but I do not miss my old toys or the travel.

10a Albertville Meribel Olympic Flame 1992I really only have 1 nagging regret from my career. I never traveled with anything more than a mediocre still camera. I strived to be as light-weight as possible in packing & never wanted to carry a SLR. Oh well, I got a few so-so captures but I have amazing memories. Albertville 1992.

Unknown Motivation

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This gas station on a busy corner recently shut down. I’m not sure what motivated me to stop & take pictures but felt I should. As I was snapping away my mind swirled in many different directions. Why should I document something which is no longer there?

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Having been an “Independent Freelancer” for 36 years I feel an affinity with self-reliant entrepreneurs. I try my best to support “owner-operated” business but I drove by by this business thousands of times without stopping as I witnessed the slow decay.  I felt sad for the final outcome of all the hours & hard work put into it. Nothing lasts forever but decades of dedication & sweat are not seen in these photographs.

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My emotions were varied as I snapped the shutter. This Texaco station has been here since just after I was born. It’s age mirrored mine. Progress & time have had an impact on this enterprise. I have also experienced the aging process of time but fortunately do not feel as worn down as this place & feel I still have something left to offer.

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One of the few positive thoughts that came into my mind were that society is entering an age where gas station are becoming relics of the past as we evolve to electric powered cars. Might this someday be as obsolete as a hitching post?

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I’m somber but recognized the many factors leading to its demise. The trend now is for corporate owned facilities with dozens or fueling pumps. The owners, who function as CEO’s of businesses with hundreds of stations, are almost completely removed from contact with their customers. There is indeed value in big operations. However, by forcing mom & pop places to close the benefits of large businesses is soured.

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These types of businesses used to be a one-stop-shop for your automotive needs. Service on cars has evolved with specialty fast oil changes becoming the place for limited maintenance. Meanwhile “service needed” indicators in cars prompt owners to seek out dealers’ service centers. The 2 bay service garage has a very hard time competing.07

They tried emulating the large facilities by selling cigarettes, lottery tickets, propane & candy. However, mega stations with numerous pumps are like mini-markets & have fast food. The Full Service this place offered was for the car not the person driving.

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The local auto repair shop was part of the community. The owner of the place we had our family car serviced at went to High School with my father. When I bought my 1st car guess where I took it for service. The local mechanic also provided experienced opinions when buying a used or new vehicle. While efficiency and productivity may be worthy goals I feel they often come at the cost of personal interaction. Change is indeed inevitable & can have benefits. But we need to notice what has been lost.

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These photos are not my best. The rambling of this blog is a result of not understanding a clear motivation to make this a subject. However, I do recognizing the value of documenting change in the world I live in via my photography & my thoughts.

Humans give narrative to an image

People are one of my favorite subjects to shoot. Across many genres they add impact to a frame in many different ways.

01When I do street photography I try to remember to look up. Often the 2nd story adds to the sense of place. The 3 windows with the fire escape by themselves is not a compelling image. But, add clothes hanging & a woman looking out the middle opening & the image now has a story-line. In this case the street below is an assumed part of the scene because of the direction of her gaze & the upward angle of the shot.

02I had taken a few shots of the sunset from the cliff overlooking the Pacific & I was considering walking down a steep the path to explore lower perspectives. As I was visually trying to find the path down to the beach to determine how challenging it would be I noticed a surfer that was calling it a day. The wave on the shore with the setting sun in the upper corner is an OK image. The silhouette of the surfer in the lower left provides a context to all of the elements.

03If you are aware of Bresson, puddles invoke inspiration from a master. When I saw the woman with the red coat I couldn’t help my self. Unlike Bresson capturing THE Moment by snapping a single shot I put the camera in burst mode and captured 7. With this shot my motivation was good but poor execution.

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The rain also offers interesting fashion/costume opportunities. What I like most is how the polka-dot pants match the raincoat. If you have never done it I highly recommend street photography in the rain. Just find an over hang for cover and keep your eyes open.

new05I really should never comment on fashion but… First of all, the umbrella is cliché but sets the environment. Second, the sweater, scarf, vest, bag & torn jeans are a strong set of elements. The kicker for me is the flowers on the umbrella are a complete juxtaposition to her clothes. I also like the fact that the most of the facial figures are hidden.

06Graduation was outside rain or shine. Others in my family watched on closed circuit & from a window. Dad was in the elements with his daughter. I am sure the alumni matching jackets, shirts & ties would have been a “cute” moment as they walked in. However once they were in their assigned seats “Bill Class of 63” became my only good shot of the day excluding images of Lauren. Scanning the venue I remember thinking “Shouldn’t all of these smart people get out of the rain?” Traditions can be kinda weird.

07 copyMy folder of people shots has a sub-folder of people on phones. I was walking around the balcony of the Carnegie Galleries and this out of place sculpture got my attention. Titled “Alone in the Crowd” by Nicole Eisenman it is surrounded by traditional roman figures. By choice I shun smart phones. I do recognize they are versatile & valuable tools. I try not to judge people using them but many people have taken themselves out of the reality of time & place to a tiny little screen. The world is a big place.

08 copyI also have a sub-folder in people called people taking pictures. Lots I could say about this shot but I’ll only comment that she is doing an excellent job with lighting, angle of the camera & background.

09 ShoppingOne of the great experiences of travel is that sometimes it transports your eyes back in time. Both times I visited the Balkins I felt like I was in the 40’s or 50’s or at least what I imagined them to be. When I saw this woman it immediately made me think of an Aunt that had worked at Kaufman’s in downtown Pittsburgh for almost 50 years. For a few people the hat can make the person as well as the person making the hat.

10 copy copyThe nature of street musicians is that they seek attention. Acknowledging this they can also be models. You should also acknowledge they are trying to make some cash!

11If you do enough street photography your bound to see some grit. In these types of situations be very aware of your parameter. I think it is important to document the human condition with photography including all of the bruises and scars.

12 copyI don’t have a People sub-folder for this shot except it is double filed in the Signs folder.

IMG_1687 copyI have begun an Ink sub-folder recently. This may evolve into a territory to explore further. One of the reasons I enjoy photographing people is that, even just a tight shot of a photographer tattoo on someones leg creates an image ripe for a story.