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!

It’s Been Awhile

I’ve been somewhat dormant publishing new posts since I’ve abandoned my twice a month deadlines. The gallery showing of Portraiture of Cuba, a non-photo focused trip visiting my daughter in Israel & the fact I’m not a fan of winter photography are my best excuses for not doing much new with my camera.

Also taking up significant time has been learning the visual differences between digital platforms, software, screens & projectors. Maintaining consistent quality in the digital world is frustrating! File that under “I hate digital”. I’ll let that go for now. 

The past months have been a time to continue crawling up the Photoshop mountain. Without a doubt I’ve abandoned earlier inhibitions about “altering the reality” of my images. In fact, some of my favorite images over the winter have been oldies that I now can do post-production work I’ve learned in the past few years. File that under “I LOVE digital”.

It’s not like I haven’t pressed the shutter recently. The unpredictable snapshots I got visiting Tel Aviv & Jordon were good exercise for my eyes & my mind. I never thought I’d get a surfing picture or see a couple on a date using a fast electric scooter. The light, the colors & the textures in the Jordon Desert were completely unexpected with a Deja vu of Star Wars.

I have a new camera with astounding low light capabilities. The advantages of higher resolution/full frame are great. I’m getting used to the electronic viewfinder associated with mirror-less but I’m still a fan of optical thru the lens. As with most things in life not all change is an improvement. The EOS-R will be getting a workout in the months ahead.

I have a few photo sojourns planned for the upcoming months including a road trip west visiting family & reconnecting with valued friends. It’s nice to be able to blend a photo topic that has baffled me for many decades with renewing personal connections.

I have an east bound trip where I’ll visit a respected friend before continuing the elusive challenge of chasing sailboats. The 12 Meter Championships is an opportunity I’m excited about. It’s part of a workshop with sailboat photographer Onne van der Wal. The logistics & variables involved with this passion of mine is something I’ve come to accept. Last May, going after the Volvo boats was disappointing because of the weather. Yet, sails continue to dominate my mind’s eye.

Later in the summer, the Tall Ships in Erie PA will provide another opportunity for capturing a chapter of my photo dreams.  In doing my planning, I’ve discovered another avenue I may someday pursue to put myself in position to capture the beauty & power of these boats. For now, I’m just hopeful that I have no need for a rain-cover for my camera in either Newport or Erie.

Closer to Pittsburgh, the opportunity for a multi-layered collaboration involving a mixed media diptych is in the works. It will be a collaborative effort where “the light” was an inspiration to both. This will be another chance to explore creative motivation. The back-story is one of the more interesting/serendipitous preludes to a project that can best be described as a ‘burgh thing. It may be a 2 part blog posting. (When was the last time you read diptych & serendipitous in the same paragraph?)

If all goes well, this fall I will finally spend a few days in what some have called The Most Beautiful City in Europe. Prague has been on my list of places I’ve wanted to visit with my camera. The lure involves history, architecture, classical music & at least geographically, the home of Bohemian lifestyle. Capturing the appeal with still images will be a challenge. A big work in progress.

A subject I enjoy almost everywhere I go requiring no planning is people. Sometimes they just add a human perspective to the frame. Other times their expressions preface an interesting story. In the case of still images of musicians I’m convinced a 2 shot tells a deeper story.

I often see what appears to be a boring sight & realize I have an unorthodox perspective. For example, parked cars seems bland at best. However, when I considered the skill needed to parallel park in tight urban areas, 5 cars caught my eye. Maybe it was a parade at rest?

If nothing else, this blog gives me a better understanding of why I pick up my camera. I enjoy putting myself in situations where I need to visually explore the environment to find a frame that inspires my mind’s eye. Frequently patience is a needed tool. However, per-visualization of subjects & the planning involved with chasing those moments is another layer of my photography motivation.

Take a Break from the Digital World

When I returned to still photography I had no plans on printing images.  However, a quote got stuck in my mind.

“The print is an idea made visible. For me it’s a tactile, sensual experience.” Tillman Crane

Last Summer I hung prints in the Mt. Lebanon Library. Seeing portraits “on the wall” was drastically different than viewing the images on a computer. A print inspired learning how matting & framing impact the viewer’s perception.

PORTRAITURE of CUBA Character & Emotions was motivation to “hang prints.” Observing the diversity of human character while standing in a room with over 2 dozen photographs is a more unifying experience than scrolling images on an electronic device.

Mt. Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 201

Sunday March 3rd 1:30-4:30  Opening

Saturday March 9th 3p-6p ish Reception w/Live Music

Friday March 15th 6:30-9:30  “Cuba, Photos & Framing a Story”

Ketchup City Creative 612 Main St. Sharpsburg, PA 15215

https://ketchupcity.com/

Mt Lebanon Library Lower Gallery July 2017


It’s physical. It’s social. It’s an old school way to share my work.

Leave the digital world behind. Come to one of the 3 events at Ketchup City. Learn about people & a culture that for over 60 years has been nothing but chaos in the eyes of most Americans. See it for yourself!