Exploring Artistic Creativity

I’m intrigued at the diversity of artists and their inspiring works that bring creativity to life. My insight into anything done “LIVE” gets immediate respect. Capturing The Moment in dance photography was a challenge I wanted to explore as I left the world of video and began creating still images.  Those sources of motivation collided when I connected with Maria Caruso.

She has incorporated her talent and skills into 5 dance companies. Additionally, she leads educational programs in fitness, therapy, health, movement and is the Performing Arts Chair at La Roche College. Multitasking does not come close to describing her lifestyle.  The collective activities of her organization are known as the M Train. Managing all of this, she still is committed to performing herself. Her work ethic fuels her determination to always be doing something. I see these character attributes as part of the foundation of her creativity.

I truly appreciate Maria allowing me access to her company and performances in an attempt to capture images of the athleticism, grace and beauty of dance. Her critique of my photography is honest. I love that!  

The dynamics of what she presents on stage or into rehearsal involves integrating music, costumes, lighting, emotion and movement into the art of choreography. The process she goes thru in synthesizing these disciplines varies. Surprisingly to me, “music is often added after the routine is laid out”.  She also relies on her community of people she has gathered around her to inject ideas. In her dance studio creativity is fueled by collaboration.

The work of a painter can last for centuries as can the words of a poet. The performance of dance, or any stage production, is a brief moment of energy transformed into art that cannot be completely recreated. Choreographers and dancers, like other artists, frequently develop a legacy of style.  Ms. Caruso’s vision of any legacy she is forming revolves around bringing health and wellness into artistic outlets. As an artistic activist she is expanding the opportunities for those without waif like bodies to dance.

The rural roots for Maria began in a well-rounded childhood. Tennis, swimming and crafting were all part of her life. She proudly claims that she was “amazing in woodshop”. Even though she was becoming devoted to dance, her enthusiasm wasn’t always encouraged because of not having the stereotypical dancers’ body. She was determined not to let that stop her moving forward with a resolve that would foreshadow her career. Finishing High School simultaneously with her freshman year of college, she considered a medical career but was searching for opportunities to dance.

In college, the styles of classical ballet were seasoned with her exposure to modern and jazz. Still facing the challenge of not having the body type of a ballerina, she developed a philosophy that dancers shouldn’t be limited by the aesthetics of the body. The aesthetic of the technique gave her gratification.

Here, her vision and mine converge. Classic ballerina images where lighting, costume and form are sculpted onto the human form is indeed an art form. However, I am inspired by the diverse athletic form of dancers. I try to capture the bond of athleticism, emotion and art in my lens.

At 18, during an internship at The Dance Theater of Harlem, Maria found a space and place that felt like home. That connection with the company became a seed for her emerging career. Tempted to remain in NYC, she returned to finish college then went straight back to the city to explore collective opportunities. In an era when dancers were expected to choose a style, she chose diversity. Her inspiration came from Martha Graham, Darcey Bussell, Alvin Ailey, Jawole Zollar and others where the healthy feminine body was not frowned upon as in traditional Balanchine style of that time.

Finding a way to balance artistic objectives with economic survival she connected with people throughout the NYC dance environment teaching, freelancing and connecting with other dancers. Not knowing any better, she sold her car to finance her own show while she also learned about cash advance on a credit card. Financially, her efforts on that 1st touring show were not successful. The discovery of finding out what she loved to do was, as the saying goes…priceless.

The creative fusion of training, talent, interests, inspiration, experience and determination were all coming together. Although she dropped business in college, she realized she couldn’t afford to build her dream in New York and returned to Pittsburgh where she would define and create her space. The vision was locked in her mind.

Her influence from diverse styles allowed her to develop Bodiography, a dance company focused on technique aesthetics and healthy bodies. The support and opportunity for self-sufficiency was fueled by determination. It was now do-able. As her dreams were coming together, she did numerous jobs including hosting a late-night show on the Home Shopping Network.

When I first met Maria and found out her studio was the former studio of Gene Kelly I wondered if the space had creative spirits. For some artists, elusive mystical muses and sacred spaces are not something to dismiss. Her creative ideas are randomly conceived with inspiration from the desert, to dreams…from people she chooses to surround herself with to an inner force she follows without question. The window to the inner muse of her creativity is wide open.

Choreographing for her company is a coming together process watching how her dancers adapt. Although she says she is not a good choreographer, she credits early training for her non-traditional routines. Often, for a personal performance, she doesn’t over rehearse. A plan is in place but details of the movements can be of-the-moment filled in by her spirit and soul. The physicality and technique are the driving motivation in her dance. She trusts her abilities and harnesses her self-confidence to drive creativity.

She does not easily relax. Time spent running, an average of 35 miles a week, is her alone time.  Performing a 50 minute solo show Metamorphosis, her conditioning was put to good use.  The artistic, athletic and emotional talents the performance demanded could only be done by someone as galvanized as Maria.

Surrounding herself with people she respects and loves is important personally and professionally. She quickly gives credit to those she works with that keep the train on the tracks.

The horizon is never very far off in Maria’s vision. Although massive lifestyle changes throughout society are occurring due to the Covid-19 Virus, I believe projects, performances and plans of the M Train will evolve. What happens with The Movement Factory will be an exciting project to watch develop. Her Off-Broadway show Rearview Mirror will happen. The premier of the digital magazine Arts Inclusive could become a co-op of diverse creative individuals. The potential for expanded mentor-ship could become a new garden of inspiration for anyone looking to grow their artistic talent.

Artists and creative individuals are as varied as the human race. Commitment and determination are common character traits of those that achieve their goals. Maria’s self-assurance does not have a trace of arrogance. On and off the stage, she has gratitude and a zest for people in her life. The creative community she surrounds herself with helps breed her artistic directions.

1 Picture 1000 (or so) Words

Connecting across 6 decades.

An Individual’s history goes beyond the years they have lived. Connections before our birth are woven into the timeline of our lives. The crossroads of past generations intersecting our life providing interesting synapses connecting seemingly unrelated parts of our lives. 

I recently had one of those intersections.  This MGM camera crane connects my first job in TV to a project I’m working on in retirement. This is indeed a reach to make the connections. But stay with me.

This story begins with childhood inspiration of film making. Specifically dance scenes in West Side Story. Visual storytelling is something I latched onto as a goal. I got a degree in Visual Communications from KSU. During my Sr. year I got a job at Cathedral Teleproductions, in Cuyahoga Falls. The technical, studio and editing facilities were far superior than any TV station outside of a major market. I was “the new college kid” and the people were great. My job was the library/shipping/receiving of dubs of the Rex Humbard show.

Any down time, I was in the edit suite or the huge studio. 25’ ceilings, 60 X 90 floor space, Mole lights and more grip equipment than I had any idea how to use. This was the real deal. Big time sound-stage. Years before I got there, the facility did commercial production and was the biggest sound-stage between Chicago and NY. In the back of the studio was a big crane but was never used. Curious about big blue I was told after it was delivered a copy of the script from Gone With the Wind was found in one of the compartments. The cynic in me recognized I was the new kid to tell stories to and took it with a grain of salt. But there were markings on it tying it to MGM. Maybe?

If you know anything about production you know this crane is an unbelievable custom  piece of gear. Room on the tongue for 2. I balanced it and was amazed how smoothly I could make it move. The arm approached a ton but I moved it with 2 fingers. The electric motor was burned out and had to be moved by hand. This was my first “crush” on production equipment.

After about 6 months I became involved in studio and Sunday service productions. I had found my place and what became a career, on the production crew.

Shortly before I left that job, a new show open was scheduled to be shot in a park near the studios. The crane was pulled out of mothballs to be towed to the park. The two rear wheels were used to steer. Somebody had to ride in the driver’s seat and keep the wheels straight. The kid” got a chance to drive the crane. I knew this crane had done some big jobs. I was pretty pleased with myself. Not real resume material but a nice ego boost to begin a career. Being connected to the era of production I admired was an impetus to always look for connections you can reflect on.

Now a leap of decades. Before retirement I got back into still photography. A few components of this story are already connected but life goes on after retirement. Capturing moments and telling visual stories was the objective I wanted to pursue. The primary subjects I wanted to see in the viewfinder were sailboats & humans. Humans is subdivided into creative, artistic/athletic and just folks. Dance, both artistic and athletic, was in my mind’s eye for the challenge of capturing light, form and emotion. I looked for opportunities and found them.

A connection with Dancer/Choreographer Maria Caruso has provided wonderful opportunities. But our first meeting is the connection (unknown at that time) to the big blue crane. Ms Caruso told me her studio is the old studio of Gene Kelly…a kid from da ‘burgh. I always respecte the space of artists and her studio was no exception. I was in a space that was more than it seemed. I put that outta my mind, grabbed my 2 step ladder and started taking some pics during a rehearsal.

A recap. I was inspired by strong visuals including dance as a youngster. Wanted to work on production crews as a career. First job had big time gear including a big 40’ crane built for MGM. Had a career doing what I enjoyed, but no dance. Retired with a DSLR and found opportunities to capture some dance images. 

Ok. I now have a connection to Singing in the Rain which arguably is the best musical/dance production ever made. West Side Story grabbed me, but as my appreciation for the genre evolved Gene Kelly and company set a standard that should always be part of any critique.

And now the connection back to that very first job.

Facebook has a group called Eyes of a Generation I follow.  Many TV geeks are still telling stories and sharing pics of gear on this site. I posted the pic above. That connected me with a camera operator who had worked at Cathedral on commercial production in the early 70’s. He corrected the story I was told when I was “the new kid from college.” They didn’t find a script to Gone with the Wind. They found a work order in one of the tool storage compartments for Signing in the Rain.

Here’s the final weave of connections. I was inspired by dance scenes in West Side Story. MGM’s Singing in the Rain was a natural progression of appreciation of this genre. I drove this MGM crane on my first job. The pedigree of this classic camera crane is a work order for the film a kid from my hometown,who owned a studio in Pittsburgh, starred in and co-directed. I took pictures in Gene Kelly’s studio. It was the first time I ever took a 2 step ladder onto a shoot.

If you look, you can find connections in life that will give you a sense of place in history.

Motivated with new tools

A mantra I’ve often said is “I Love Digital I Hate Digital!” It’s as true today as when the phrase first entered my mind. (Click on any image to see full screen.)

One street lamp 40,000 ISO

If I capture something with my camera like my eyes saw I’m quite happy. Noise/grain that accompanies low light is a side effect of the digital settings necessary to capturing dark environments. Although I accept noise as part of the feel of that environment it’s a distraction I’d be glad to eliminate.  

Nicole Ivan REALLY?! Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Choreography Maria Caruso

Images from a production of the Bodiography Contemporary Ballet motivated me to do a test drive of noise reducing software. I was very happy with how the blacks surrounding Nicole’s form became transparent. The software did indeed reduce grain but added what I describe as a “painterly look.” I kinda liked it! Since I also like what 40,000 ISO can do, I recognized this software would allow me to experiment more in low light situations.

A preset “look” look dramatically improved the spectrum of blue.

After exploring the noise filter for a trial period. I added the entire Topaz collection to my editing toolbox to see what else I might use. As learning by trial & error will do, I found interesting tools.

A light touch softened the harsh elements that had overpowered the main subject.

Finding the images that benefit most from my new digital tools is a learning curve. I realized some filters have the ability to take “so-so” shots & improve the basics of form, light, color or texture. The right tool for the right job is where decision-making is important in achieving an image that correlates with my vision when I snapped the shutter. In doing this, I contemplate the Ansel Adams quote “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I often wonder how he would embrace digital tools.

The result of digital manipulation added to my appreciation of the strength of the form.

This result, in my mind’s eye, crossed over into a different dimension. Not a photograph but not a painting. In some respects filters made elements more natural while making others bizarre. It seems like I found some handles on mood & emotion. I soon saw a use for these tools with some specific images in my archive.

My 1st reaction was a feeling of summer. (The sails are masked from the effect.)

In previous attempts at chasing sailboats with my camera I was less than thrilled with the results. I had a few not-to-bad images but weather had an impact, as did my learning curve on my overall satisfaction. I liked the form within many of the images but they just didn’t “pop.” Using Photoshop I removed some elements I wasn’t happy with but nothing reached a level of  “Nailed It!” These images became my guinea pigs for venturing into artificial intelligence in photo software.

My next step may be trying to remove all the sponsor text on the hull & sail.

As is often the case “Less is More.” A slight use of a “designed look” diminished the visual strength of the bridge in the background while giving energy to the boat. That is more like what I envisioned.

My”old school” roots make it easy to reject this & other effects.

As with any effect, it’s easy to get ridiculous. But I did find “looks” I thought added a layer of enrichment not just change.

The elements in this image never did balance to my liking.

From what I know about AI using that term seems to be more hype/marketing than actual operation. The “looks” I felt had the most impact on improving the images fell into one category…dead painters with names like Degas, Van Gogh, Monet & Renoir.  However, with some images no amount of important artists do more than make a mediocre image more mediocre.

Over saturation is a common technique to grab eyes. I prefer a powerful subject.

Not surprisingly adding a filter does not rescue a shot that really doesn’t have much going for it. An effect just for the sake of an effect is only a crutch supporting a problem.

In the “before” image on the left, Empire Sandy lacked wind in her sails making her look flat & lifeless. Running the image on the right thru a few “looks” gave me something a bit more interesting. In this case the software added a classical feeling to a subject with historic roots. This effect works with this image.

Re-cropping to 30% of image gave better balance to elements that caught my eye.

I’ve overcome my “journalistic” concerns about altering an image. Now, reducing/removing visual distractions or enhancing details are things I routinely do in Photoshop. I especially enjoy how a simply re-crop gives a shot more emphasis.

From a sophisticated perspective I would critique this as just yukky!

I find myself in digital conflict again. Some of these clicks in Topaz software take an image into an entirely different cosmos. These images are far from a painting & my eyes don’t see a photograph. Frequently, like the image above, results scream NO! It feels disconnected from what inspired me. Occasionally, I discover a layer of emotion or mood that’s in sync with my original motivation.

LOST POND by J

My visual perception has yet to fully integrate how all the aspects of digital editing can assist with realizing that vision. I am continuing to learn the appropriate situation of what & when to dig into my digital toolbox. To ensure I don’t go to far I went back to some of my favorite shots. LOST POND is one of my few landscape captures I really like.  Could I make it better? The results…different yes better no!

I’m sure Monet himself could do better.

I love much of Monet’s work & I thought simulating his style might take the image to a higher level. Nope! The good photo, with some enhancement in Photoshop, is much better than the “Monet look”. Learning what I don’t like is valuable to me. It gives me incentive to pursue the vision of my mind’s eye with new tools, new perspectives & new failures, at my fingertips.

Athletic Artists

Integrating movement & emotion with music is how dancers turn their athleticism into art.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Led by Light
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Zoe Keating
L to R – Principal Artists Kaylin Treese & Bethany Schimonsky

The foundation of my interest in dance goes back to the 1st time I saw West Side Story on TV circa 1966. Over the years my primary exposure to this art form was via cinema. Later, musical theater gave another venue to experience talented artists in live story telling. On stage or on camera, dance is a very powerful & memorable component of entertainment.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Intimate Liaisons
Choreography & Costumes Maria Caruso
Music by Kronos Quartet
Top to Bottom Principal Artists Kaylin Treese & Nicole Ivan

In ‘02 I saw the Alvin Ailey Company perform their signature work Revelations. The overwhelming emotional power of that performance impacted me in a way no other production has ever done. It motivated me to explore the world of dance beyond the supporting role it had in film & musicals.

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

Even though dance is best suited to the stage or the screen, as I got back into photography I realized that still images of dancers are dramatically powerful & beautiful.  I also recognized that capturing those decisive moments was extremely challenging.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
  Mother’s Prism
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Arnald Olafur & Dustin O’Halloran
Principal Ambassador Artist Amanda Fisher

To try to learn more about what I considered good dance photos I looked at thousands of images to establish ground rules for pictures I liked. Lighting, form within the frame, costume, environment, foreground, background, expressions & occasionally shadows were important. I also was determined to always be head to toe. Recent dance films or shows feel the need to cut away from the dancing. Show me see the dancers dancing!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

In reviewing so many images I soon discovered that not unlike accomplished sports figures, the dancers muscle tone/tension highlighted an athleticism that in my mind’s eye had been subtle. The lighting & costumes are the most critical factors in capturing this detail revealing the unseen elements of power & strength. The images I liked best made great use of theatrical, studio or natural light & fashion.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Led by Light
Choreography & Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Zoe Keating
L to R – Principal Artists Bethany Schimonsky & Kaylin Treese

I recognized that unlike those that compete in sports, dancers are athletes that create art with their athleticism. For me, this was a new perspective of how their talents are perceived.  Blending this with the ability to layer emotions onto their movements elevates the viewer’s connection to the drama. Capturing that moment on a still camera is an ongoing challenge I find rewarding.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Vespers
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Aix Em Klemm
From Left to Right – Company Artist Derrick Izumi and Founding Director Maria Caruso

Head to toe is usually the best way to see the complete visual story. The space around the dancers is critical to emphasizing the form. I also prefer an odd number of dancers providing asymmetrical balance. However, two dancers can provide a balance I like. Also, I can crop tighter than head to toe to create a better image. I made those rules so I can break them!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

With almost any image, red can be a dramatic addition if not overwhelming. Beyond that my “fashion” opinion is shallow. I quickly recognized that for me controlled lighting had the most impact on images that inspired me. Moving into a position for strong backlight helped to provide the silhouetted form of her legs.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Life Force
Choreography and Costume by Maria Caruso
Music by Garth Stevenson
Founding Director Maria Caruso

One of my biggest peeves is the unavoidable horizons in photos of stage performances. While stage lighting is often less than perfect from a photography perspective I recognized that environment & look is part of the visual story. Also, don’t sweat things you can’t control. In my mind’s eye the black stripe across the lower third of this image adds strength to the base of the picture. The consistency of the lighting in this performance was a big plus.

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

During my initial exploration of dance photography the leaps & jumps with the dancer suspended in midair caught my eyes. While this type of image is indeed sensational, I found that it could easily become unimaginative. I do like non-traditional locations of dancers. Photos showcasing the talent of these artists outside of the rehearsal studio & off the stage add drama.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Really?!
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
Music by Quixotic
Principal Artist Nicole Ivan

As I am learning, it is crucial to the dancers that all of the details of their lines are precise. I am extremely grateful for the critique & education that Maria Caruso Founding Director of Bodigraphy has given me. I have photographer eyes & she is helping me understand dancer’s eyes. Having respect of the dancers perspective & approval of my images is critical. Details are extremely important!

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Rehearsal of Billboards
Choreography and Costume by Maria Caruso
Principal Artist Nicole Jamison

In addition to her personal review of my images Maria Caruso has allowed me to shoot a rehearsal at her studio & a live performance. Without getting to geeky…the low light sensitivity of the camera sensors along with a new software programs are wonderful tools.  Since I got camera geeky I will get history geeky. Bodiography’s studio is Gene Kelley’s old studio!

Christina Lindhout Verb Ballet Cleveland

In my quest for doing more/better dance photography I signed up for a workshop entitled Dancing in the Dark. I looked forward to an opportunity for some control of lighting & more direct input to the dancers posing & movement. Unfortunately I was disappointed with the way the lighting was handled & less than thrilled with the locations. On the positive side Christina Lindhout of Verb Ballet was a very easy model to work with. I appreciated the way she could very subtlety change her form while understanding what myself & others photogs were trying to capture.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Rehearsal of Mother’s Prism
Choreography and Costumes by Maria Caruso
From Top to Bottom – Principal Artist Kaylin Treese and Principal Ambassador Artist Melissa Tyler

I’m extremely grateful for the support & opportunities Maria Caruso Founding Director of Bodiographics has provided. It is likely in the near future I will do a photography workshop with a recognized dance photographer. (Work I enjoy the most is predominately from Eastern Europe & naturally St. Petersburg Russia.)

My heartfelt thanks to Amanda, Bethany, Christina, Derrick, Kaylin, Maria, Melissa, Nicole & all the talented dancers at Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. I believe everyone dreams they could do what you do!

Laissez faire motivation

Follow where your eyes take you!

FYI click or tap an image to view it full screen. Prague was the enticing destination on my recent trip. But Portugal & Vienna were bookends of our travels. The coastal cities of Lisbon & Porto are where most of our time was spent with one-night in Sintra & a day trip to the Douro Valley.

I didn’t have specific destinations or expectations for this part of our trip so I just had a photographic laissez faire approach to where we went. I let my eyes wander & tried to capture interesting details, characteristics of the culture & people. The churches, palaces & monasteries in these old world Europe cities are spectacular but kind of blend together. Something that grabbed my eyes in Lisbon was the beautiful tile work almost everywhere you looked. I also saw lots of street art aka graffiti. As always shadows attract my interest.

The topography of these 2 port cities made many of the hills of Pittsburgh look like gentle slopes. Within the crowded streets of Lisbon are 3 funiculars/inclines, which gave welcome relief to my knees. In addition, many of the streets & sidewalks are made from tiles & stones. While they provided unique artistic character to the cities, (Yes! The sidewalks are stunning works of craftsmanship!) at the end of the day the unevenness took a toll on my feet.

I had hoped to do a sailing trip out of Porto for an afternoon, but it ended up that we just motored along the coast & up the Douro River. A nice afternoon on the water but very disappointed the sails never went up. That means look for other boats that do have sheets to the wind!

Sintra offered an opportunity to visit a variety of castles. These structures have always fascinated me. I was anxious to see them. The Palace of Pena was interesting but seemed like a set from Universal Studios. The Castle of the Moors, built over 1100 years ago, is in surprisingly good shape providing spectacular views from atop the hill. The newest of the castles, Quinta da Regaleira, built in the last days of the Portugal monarchy, is the one that got my mind’s eye really motivated. This was indeed my highlight of Portugal, a place I could spend an entire day with my camera.

Another memorable experience was a drive into the Douro valley, home of Port wine. Although I don’t drink wine, getting there was a good day trip. The drive was one of the most scenic routes I’ve taken in a while. Driving a stick shift on the back-country roads was much more fun than the anxiety of reintroducing myself to a clutch on city hills.

I had VERY briefly visited Vienna on a 12 hour layover a few years ago so I had a taste of what this old yet cosmopolitan city was like. On this trip we took the time to visit the summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty. We were told, after we bought tickets, that no photography was allowed on the tour. With a silent shutter & stealth aiming of the camera I didn’t let rules stop me. This is the room where after the Bay of Pigs & before the Cuban Missile Crisis President Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Khrushchev. That meeting didn’t go well for JFK.

 I understand & usually respect restriction on photography. Some people, many with with cell phone cameras, cause problems with the flow of tourist traffic. And don’t get me started about selfie sticks! However, if this restriction is part of the policies, let people know before purchasing tickets. I almost always check in advance if non-flash no tripod photography is allowed when I anticipate taking pictures.

Enough of that rant, the gardens outside the palace have wonderful opportunities to take pictures, fewer crowds & was a more picturesque environment. Central Vienna was indeed worth exploring but the gardens of the palace & the district of Hietzing, where the palace is located, offered a  slower simpler taste of Austria. This was a welcome change of pace. Naturally they had the prerequisite historic churches.

In life I try to experience new things. However, I also understand what I like & what I don’t like. I enjoyed seeing the wonderful lobby/entrance to the Vienna Opera House. The only way to see it was waiting in line to buy SRO tickets for Madam Butterfly. Even though I love the symphony, theater, dance & especially musical theater I had never experienced opera. My instincts for avoiding it were correct. With no offense to talented performers, crew & fans of this historic art form, I doubt I will ever go to another opera. We respectfully left after the 1st act. OBTW the interior hall of both Heinz Hall & The Benedum are more impressive.

Finally PRAGUE

St Vitus on the hill in New Town

A destination dream was a worthwhile experience with a few blemishes. Prague has been an Eastern European city I have wanted to visit for a while. It has history, architecture, culture & is almost as pristine as before WWII. I had a few preconceived ideas in my head of what I hoped to photograph & looked forward to walking in the path of historic times.

Metamorphosis

I had read about the Statue of Kafka with rotating layers. The concept created by David Cereny fascinated me in that it reflected one of his best know books, Metamorphosis, in a unique way. Once I got to the small square I realized all 360 degrees of background were distracting. So I did tight shots of the 42 ton statue making it more abstract. I’d like to try my eye at capturing some images at night when neighboring buildings might not visually interfere as much. If I still did video, I’d want to do drone work around this kinetic sculpture.

Time passing the tourists

The biggest disappointment was the size of the crowds. I didn’t anticipate the number of visitors we would need to navigate thru. It was a weekend with wonderful weather that drew throngs of visitors in Disney World proportions. This “small” crowd was staring at the Astronomical Clock originally built in 1410 with many repairs & updates over its 600 year history. I wonder if any anything built today could last even 300 years.

Strahovsky Library

We hired a personal guide who enriched walking thru historic Wenceslas Square & many other parts of the city. However her best suggestion was a private tour of the Strahovsky Library. The frescoes, the baroque, the books, the paintings on the ceilings & the globes made me feel very small. The accumulated knowledge, creativity & effort it took to create all of this cannot help but make one humble.

Some associate Prague with the flavor of unconventional bohemians. This is reflected it the literature, art & spiritual roots of this city. When a friend recommended going to a gallery to see exhibits by Dali, Warhol & Mucha I knew it would be memorable. Immersed in the work of Dali I remembered how I felt as a teenager when I discovered his surreal work. The exhibit on Warhol also was enlightening. It didn’t just repeat what I’ve seen & learned of Pittsburgh’s native art icon. The contrast of modern cast sculpture vs classic carved stone statues provide diversity that keeps your eyes & mind alert.

One of the things that enticed me to visit Prague was the Old Europe architecture. It can be an aesthetic overload. Thankful the destruction many cities experienced during WWII escaped this town on the Vltava river. Somehow the diverse styles of Baroque, Gothic & Roman including a few Moorish & Art Nouvea buildings do not conflict with each other. Sprinkled throughout are ornate details almost all modern buildings are void of. I did not see it all the city had to offer, which is a good reason to return. My ability to capture good architectural images is poor at best. However, experiencing these classic structures with my eyes was rewarding enough.

A common element in almost all tourist destinations is the sound of street musicians. On the streets & bridges of Prague they added a layer of atmosphere to the background defining a sense of place. Slowing down to listen to the soundtrack accompanying the sights was a true joy. As with much of the culture of Prague, the medley of styles was a pleasant encounter.

Never pass up the opportunity to put red in the frame,

The sense of history in Wenceslas Square was transformative. In my lifetime it has witnessed Soviet tanks & demonstrations leading to the Velvet Revolution. While I was there a gathering of activists were educating people about climate change. I’m not sure if this woman was associated with that message or not. But the saying of “never pass up an opportunity to capture red in the frame” compelled me to snap this image.

In St Giles church listening to an ensemble play Vivaldi, Mozart & Ravel I closed my eyes & drifted back in time. For me music can do that.  After a day wandering around this historic city it was one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Prague.

The one image I’m most thrilled about I was able to capture then manipulate in PS to what I had seen in my mind’s eye. As a photographer that is a very rewarding experience. I love the low light capabilities of my camera & continue to discover more techniques in PS that allow me to create the images I want. Overall Prague didn’t give me the photo opportunities I had hoped for. However, it stimulated my senses in a way that few other places have ever done.

Challenges and Rewards

Empire Sandy

Capturing images of sailboats has many frustrations but also provides a level of enjoyment I find worthy of pursing. Geography in relationship to the ocean does limit my opportunities for capturing these classic boats. However, Tall Ships Challenge on the Great Lakes was not going to be a missed opportunity.  A stop of the tour in Erie PA in August was on my calendar for over 6 months.

Prior to the Parade of Sail at Presque Isle, I got a chance for one of my “Mind’s Eye” images. With nothing but sky, clouds & water, Empire Sandy is alone with her elements. The red Canadian Flag is an added bonus with the horizon line being about as unobtrusive as possible.  The one element lacking is sails full of wind. I’d like to duplicate this framing with a boat this size in 15-20 knot winds. The challenge continues with the reward of planning another day on the water!

Floating Photogs

I’m not usually the type of photog that participates in group shoots. However, to dilute the cost I reached out & found others that shared my exuberance for sailboat photography & chartered a fishing boat. This allowed us to get into a position with some control over background & lighting. It was an added bonus to be able to talk photography with a crew of wonderful enthusiasts. Of the 4 that reported, we shot a total of 1815 shots. I was the most conservative with only 281 snaps.

Flagship Niagara led the parade into her home-port. She served during the war of 1812 & is a wonderful example of the dedication to preserving a working example of history. Like many her age she had some nautical facelifts & now is a centerpiece of the Port of Erie.

For those who appreciate flag protocol, the flag on her stern is the only US Flag with 15 stripes & 15 stars. This version of old glory inspired Francis Scott Key. It replaced the 13 stars/stripes version in 1794 & was replaced in 1818 with 13 stripes & 1 star for every state format.

Appledore V

Appledore V is a sailing classroom with a homeport of Bay City, MI. As one of the smaller boats the light winds had more influence on her cutting thru the water. The wind shaping the jib with the shadows along the pleats of the sail is one of the many details of sailboat photography I love. My limited knowledge of the rigging on schooners makes me wonder if the name flag is on an extension of the main mast. I like the flag but question why it is so far above the top of the main.

Physics & Geometry

Far from pristine, this CU of the 2 jibs, the staysail & the foresail in the background highlight the complex fractal forms involved in capturing the wind. No mater the size of the sailboat the forces of physics on the geometric design can be seen in the fluid tension of the sails.

Picton Castle

The Picton Castle is not just a showpiece. Prior to the Great Lakes Challenge she was in the south Pacific. This 3 masted barque sails the oceans for training & educational voyages.

Look behind you!

As our boat was entering the harbor to find a good position to capture boats entering the bay I noticed 3 of the photogs on the boat with cameras pointing towards the shore. Keeping your head on a swivel can result in unexpected surprises.

Bluenose II

One of the aspects of sailboat photography I find compelling is that no matter the position of the subject or the sun you can find an interesting shot. As Bluenose II is headed to her berth, the view of her stern with the sun on her starboard bow creates a silhouette.

Lettie G Howard

Like many classic yachts the Lettie G Howard has been around. Built in 1893 as a fishing schooner in Essex, MA her home is now at the docks at the South Street Seaport In NYC. Believed to be the last remain ship of her type she is now a floating museum & a National Historic Landmark.

St. Lawrence II

One of the youngsters in the parade, St. Lawrence II built in 1953 primarily as a training vessel for those under 18. As one of 35 registered Tall Ships in Canada she spends most of her time in the fresh water of the great lakes. 

Dreamer

After a Coast Guard boat confirmed all of the parade had passed I saw another beauty following behind. Dreamer, from the Erie Yacht Club, decided to crash the party! The independent streak in me loves the fact that uninvited she joined the festivities. Maybe it was my mind’s eye reacting to the different rigging or the name but this boat may indeed be my the reward the day. She also inspires me to continue the quest for capturing these boats under full sail!

A Seed of Motivation

I can remember specifically the image I saw in 1977 that made me look at sailboats in a completely different perspective. It was a crossing of two 12 meter sailboats during the Americas Cup. The shot captured the perfection of the wind pushing the most elegant design of sails & boat I had ever seen. I have looked at a lot of sailboats since then. I’ve see many I like. For racing, catamarans are faster & foils make them look slow. However, 12 meter sailboats dance with the water & wind with a harmony not seen in other class of boats.

With a camera in my hand, the element of water adds a tremendous amount of opportunity for an image. The texture and the color have many variables to work with. When a sailboat is put on water I look for that elusive background with nothing but water and sky.

The primary draw of my eye is to the form of this subject.  The wide shot with multiple boats shows both symmetry & distinction. I like the idea of no logos on the sails but black isn’t my favorite hue. I learned the reason is the material…carbon fiber. Old school sails are better for the eye. Speed isn’t everything.

The hard diagonal of the mast is relative to the soft curves of the sails. To my eye this juxtaposition of forms indicates power. The power is reinforced as the bow slices the waves.

Having spent brief moments on a sailboat provides a respect for the crews of these boats. The grinders to the navigator the bowman to the tailers the skipper to the pitman must work with harmony in moments of near chaos all while bouncing along the ocean. I love the no-slip material sewn onto the butt of the pants. Function not fashion!

I met the uncle of the Captain of Onawa who asked me to try and get some pics of his niece Barbara Krasinski at the helm of the oldest 12 meter in the fleet. What an honor. Built in 1928 and still competing in the Vintage Division. By sheer luck it is one of my select images was of Onawa. I did get a better image of her at the helm leaving the dock, which her uncle loved.

Although the weather was  much much better than last years trip to Newport, The haze was a disappointment. However, I found that exploring more with my B/W knowledge I found some solutions to the haze with results I’m getting more content with. Tell me if you like the image in BW above or in color below.

From the bow to the stern interesting angles can be found. It truly is a 360 degree subject with many opportunities. Relative to the sun, when you are in a powerboat positions go from heavy back light to flat and everything in between. A shot that was just OK 15 seconds ago is now spectacular with the shadows of the sails and clouds. For someone like me that loves being around boats chasing these opportunities is indeed a challenge I have always wanted to do with my camera. The workshop by Onne Van Der Wal was indeed one of the most worthwhile opportunities I experienced.

One of those boats in the picture that inspired me in 1977 was Courageous. Seeing her on the water gave me pause to reflect on the influence one particular image had on me.  My tastes and interests are still evolving but the long ago seed planted by this elegant floating sculpture has grown to  fruition.  This year Courageous took 3rd of 8 boats in the modern division. In 1977 Ted Turner skippered her to win the America’s Cup. Each of us has gotten a bit slower in the 40 plus years.

A Better Understanding

On a recent road trip I reconciled a significant disparity in my personal conflict with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. As is frequently the case, understanding the root of the problem is an important perspective to know.

Welzheimer/Johnson House Oberlin Ohio

I had told friends about my upcoming trip to Oak Park Illinois to visit Frank’s home/studio & explore some of his early work. They told me of one of his Usonian homes in Oberlin Ohio, which was on my way. That brief stop to begin my journey proved to be very worthwhile.

The Weltzheimer/Johnson House itself had the strong horizontal & vertical lines I see in much of his work. Designed with floor to ceiling windows they reflected the outside world. The result, along with the other dark earth tone materials, integrated the man-made structure with nature.  This reinforced of a trait of his that can be seen in Fallingwater and the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Unfortunately my schedule & visiting hours of the interior did not sync. I only got to walk around the spacious lot.

It is my distaste for strong lines & 90 degree angles that is a symptom of why I am confused about being inspired by his work. The remaining miles to my destination outside of Chicago gave me time to ponder more deeply about why I always try to soften angles when framing a shot with a camera. Form is a major inspiration for my photography. Sailboats & dance being two examples of subjects with few harsh angles I always want to explore.

After, arriving at my B&B I walked around the neighborhood to stretch my legs & find a place to eat. The architecture of the homes in the community was grand. While none of these homes were designed by Frank, that was in another part of town, they were spectacular with significant landscaping featuring old trees.  Many had wonderful large porches & lots of detailed accents. It wasn’t hard to see the Prairie Style in much of the accent work of many of the homes. It was obvious I was in a community where the homes reflected a different era. The Chicago Fire of 1871 motivated the move of families to the outskirts of Central Chicago. Frank & his new bride moved there where he designed & experimented with his own living space.  I found it interesting that within 1 block of his home many neighbors hired him to design their homes. The influence of one person can be dramatic.

I had a full day of immersion touring his home, the Unity Temple & doing a walking tour of many of the houses he was the architect for. The diversity caught me a bit by surprise. This is where he was developing his unique ideas, some of which became known as the Prairie Style, which is somewhat synonymous with his name. I also became much more aware of how he incorporated natural light into his plans. In Unity Temple the high windows as well as stained glass windows in the roof bathed the interior of the building with soft light. Additionally the 4 tiers for the congregation were a bold layout I had never seen in any meeting place. I really appreciate that in his home & the temple photography was allowed. Thank you to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.

It was on the lower level seating of the church as I was thinking how I could crop the image in my viewfinder that all of the pondering I had done came into clarity. My challenge with Frank’s lines was because I was always working within the Horizontal and Vertical lines of my camera. Those were boarders I couldn’t soften & I recognized they conflicted with his lines. I remembered a critique of my work which was to make the shot wider. Thank you for the simple advice Marth Rial. When I try to put a tight frame around a design or detail of Frank’s it diminishes the power of the image.

When I reexamined the original subject of my inspiration it was plain as day. The boarders of the image need to be away from his work. I can’t let my lines compete with his. With much of his work the natural world offsets the harsh lines of the structure. The space around the subject can be an important part of the visual story.

Fallingwater Ohiopyle PA

I believe his work needs to be experienced in a context where the viewer is in the actual environment.  Hmm. Sounds like the next chapter in Chasing Frank will be an overnight stay at one of his homes in Polymath Park.

In addition to my epiphany about Frank I also got to spend some time with friends in Chicago & family in Waukesha. Road-trips are good!