Symbolic Portraiture

Michael Fratangelo creates a compelling style with his painting.

I was honored to be welcomed into the studio of an artist to discuss his process & document his technique. People who whet their skills, persistence, talent & technique to create art define their own space. It is a place to be respected. Alone in a building on the third floor the work Michael Fratangelo does in his studio is primarily at night. Maybe Quincy Jones was on to something when he said “The muse come out at night.”

I first saw his work at Ketchup City Creative.  This powerful series was recognized & exhibited in Europe. The subject of the paintings was the War in Iraq. The series reflected photos from the NYT. I was taken back by the size of the paintings some as large as 6’ by 8’. My eyes welcomed the pallet of colors.  His style is such that the oil-on-canvas is thick & chunky giving an added element of form.  I was intrigued by how he defines his Symbolic Portraits. I was preparing my own Portraiture themed gallery show & his work was an unexpected perspective into defining a portrait. Classic portraits of people are not what he produces. The work I saw in his brochure gave me new eyes. Boldly, I asked if I could visit his studio to document his work.

My minds eye of a painter’s space is not what I found. From a photographers perspective the lighting was mixed & poorly distributed. Working at night the windows provided no source of naturally soft light. Mirror like, they only reflected glares. The primary light was florescent & he used 2 thrift-store-rejected pole lamps for the work in front of him. I quickly realized all Michael needed was illumination! The work was coming from his mind to his hands. Watching him work I began to understand his comment “Painting is stronger than me. It makes me do what it wants”. This is a place where the muse may visit.

 I’m not an art critic & lack their classic adjectives, adverbs & education to describe paintings. I can say that visually his paintings have strength. Since it is Michael’s work I accept his description of “using symbolism to create spiritually guided portraits”. Adjusting the viewer’s awareness to a different type of portrait resonated with me.

Some artists make sketches or drafts that play an important role in their work. For Michael, a critical step is interviewing & understand the person. What he learns becomes layers in the painting he creates. A common topic includes mentors & individuals that have inspired. Family snapshots showing decades of change in the person hang on the wall alongside of where he works. The favorite food in somebodies life can sneak into the symbolism coming from his brushes. The colors & forms Michael sees are a part of the spiritual aspects of the people he paints.

Allen Levine, who Michael has known for years, commissioned the project I photographed. Allen is an outgoing person with passion for sports. He hosts a local talk show calling himself the Talking Machine. The symbolism in his portrait reveals his character with forms & color from Michael.

Michael never started out to be an artist coming close to never recognizing his gift. As a student he was adrift. During our conversations he frequently discussed how John Bowman, one of his professors at Penn State, encouraged him to develop his own voice on the canvas using his intuitive sense of color. After that, he avoided academic probation & was on a path to understanding & developing his talent.

Michael has confidence he is where he needs to be with his art. His role as a Middle School teacher “inspiring his students to simply avoid being afraid to be creative” is part of his personality. He recognizes the value of ingenuity across all learning. Having found his talent he looks to help others discover theirs.  This provides motivation outside the studio. As a member of the board of Penn State’s College of Art & Architecture he gives back to the place where he found his gift.

I asked what artists inspired him. Of particular interest were sculptors Henry Moore from Britain & Michelangelo Buonarroti of Italy. I found it somewhat odd that sculptors influenced a painter working in a 2 dimensional medium until I researched their work. Both had a mystical view of their work, that the sculptors already lay in the marble they were uncovering. Michael considers himself more of a sculptor than a painter. Instead of using hammer chisel & stone, Michael has a similar belief he is uncovering his work like the sculptors but with brush, palette knife & oil paint.

 Michael daringly describes himself as a visionary artist. With early international recognition of his style, he now is earning commissions for his unique portraits. I do not doubt that his work may reach a new level. For now, he continues to produce his dynamic colorful symbolic portraits while trying to put a dent in the universe.

This new blog format I am using will allow you to click on the photographs to see them full frame. Feedback appreciated.


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!

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.

A cure for cabin fever

My dad called this time of year cabin fever.

Since I am not a fan of winter I have little motivation in outside activities when the weather is cold. However, my camera inspires me to get out of the house.

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Opportunities the weather provides inspired me to put on a few layers & head outside in an attempt to capture the environment. One thing about cold weather I do enjoy is it makes me feel alive. My senses are more attuned to the world around me because so many routine things are different. The iconic Bell Tower of Chautauqua Institution shrouded in winter fog is the result of a few degrees of temperature difference between the air & the frozen lake. The atmosphere muffled the voice of the clocks bells while the frozen lake reflected their chimes. The overcast sky reinforced a mood of solitude.

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A challenge of doing photography in the snow is choosing subjects where the weather is either a primary or supporting character in the frame. In some cases the overall lack of color enhances the scene. I have been envisioning options on how the Allegheny Observatory, with its unique shape, could be shot. Initially I thought the domed shape would be emphasized, as other subjects were almost monochrome. However the tree, still with some leaves on it, provided a complementary form & with hint of chroma.

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Living just North of the 40th meridian, snow is not uncommon but it isn’t a constant element of winter. In my minds eye this snow-covered house takes me to a place further north where snows of winter are constant till the spring thaw. It also conjures a place of warmth to escape the cold. When you can capture the environment you can influence the viewers mood.

04 I love Pittsburgh’s many quirks. This is s favorite. Having cleared the public street of snow, the effort of a persons labor is “claimed” as a parking place by simply putting a chair in the space. While some may see this as taking something that doesn’t belong to them, most respect the work of others & don’t park there. That is pure Pittsburgh.

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I gave up fishing almost 50 years ago & have never contemplated ice fishing. In search of some interesting shots & talking to the fishermen about their sport I took a stroll on a bay I normally enjoy from my boat. What struck me after I left the shore was the sense of community the huts created. I also noticed that just like the diversity of boats used for fishing in the summer their was a wide variety of tents or shelters. I really enjoyed walking around this neighborhood.

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Not surprising ice fishing is something for a father & son to enjoy together. This dad hadn’t been ice fishing since he was in Cub Scouts. With his sons in Cub Scouts he decided it would be a good way to spend time together. They were having a grand time.

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The reward of this fisherman is more than what is on the end of his line. He is with friends who have been close for much of their lives. The camaraderie is more important than the catch. The device in the lower right of the frame is a sonar device, showing the depth of the water & movement of the fish. Just like any hobby or sport, toys make the activity more engaging. When I asked why they choose this particular spot I was told they had studied contours of the lake bottom on the internet and got GPS coordinates before coming onto the ice.

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For some, the solitude of nature & escaping the routine of daily life is reason enough to drill a hole in the ice & drop a line in the cold water. On this day with bright sunshine I set my exposure at 1 stop brighter using a center weighted weighted zone. When I had first read about this technique it seemed counter-productive until I better understood the process of how the camera interprets the scene.

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About a mile away from the village of fishermen I saw a familiar yet out of place shape. With the same sail rigging as kite-boarding on water you can snow board on ice. I would love to have a young back & knees to try kite-boarding but I have no desire to try the winter version of this sport. Water is soft…ice is hard.

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My first impression when I saw this person on a bike was why? But after watching him for a while with fat boy tires on his bike I said why not? He was paired with the novice kite-snow-boarder providing support & advice. This enabled him to keep up with his friend as the wind blew him away.

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The beauty of Nature can mask the dangers. Over 1 dozen barges broke away from their moorings on the Ohio River & came to rest on the Emsworth Dam. The powerful flow of the water holds these 300 ton steel flatboats against the structure. This then provides a place for ice to build up creating problems to the locks, which are critical to the movement of river traffic. When I see things like this my mind immediately goes to the workers who are responsible for solving the problem. Largely taken for granted The Army Corps of Engineers provides an important service to all of us. BE SAFE!

Serendipitous Motivation

However, that night I stumbled on influence from a different direction that literally caught my eye & turned my neck.

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I’m taking a pause from posting about Cuba. At the end of last year I went to see the work of Xzya Cruz Bacani being displayed at the Manchester Craftsman Guild & to listen to her lecture. The subject of her images Modern Slavery resonated with the deep-down photojournalist in me. Her work & the perspective she provided were haunting.

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However, that night I stumbled on influence from a different direction that literally caught my eye & turned my neck. In earlier posts I’ve mentioned how architecture & woodworking grab my eye. Entering the Manchester Craftsman Guild  an alcove with a wooden accent built into a brick semicircle did just that. In one glance I saw customized shelves, entryway, utility, separation & focus blended into one compact area. If I ever tried to describe a union of form & function this would be a strong example. The synergy of structure, materials & openness was as harmonious as anything I have seen.

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Ms Gubser, the executive assistant at MCG, noticed my wide-open eyes. She told me about the woodworker & invited me to look at more of the craftsman’s work in the boardroom.

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After seeing more finely crafted pieces, in a wonderful serendipitous moment, she introduced me to the artist who had also come to the lecture.

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Meeting Tadao Arimoto & discussing his work was delightful. After humbly listening to my praise of his work he invited me to his workshop. This was an inspirational encounter I never saw coming. Since my wood-shop was closed for the winter I was excited to get some sawdust on my shoes.

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Tadao came to Pittsburgh in 1976. His path to the medium of wood to fashion his designs began 4 years earlier in his native Japan. He had studied at the International Design Institute in Kyoto. As a young man, he felt the career path as an industrial designer was uninspiring. Then he saw a wooden bench in a storeroom window that “made his heart pop out.” He found out it was created by Shigeru Ueki a respected abstract sculptor who worked with wood. Tadao contacted him & Shigeru befriended him.

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Collaboration can be a powerful motivator. Shigeru, had been a founder of the respected Modern Art Discussion Group with other Japanese artists. He gave inspiration to a young Tadao to learn the craft of sculpting wood & exposed him to other artistic perspectives. Today Tadao is still influenced by sculpture but also is aware of the long perspective of nature & the wood he works with. The life span of a tree is extended in the art he creates. For over 40 years, his hands have molded a 2nd life into the wood he uses. One of the joys of his work is that every week he learns something new.

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His design process for custom work begins with understanding the place it will occupy & then making multiple hand sketches of his concepts & ideas. Then CAD drawings are presented to the client giving a perspective that is easier to visualize. With approval & consensus of the final design, Tadao then creates another hand drawing he will use as a guide while crafting the piece.

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He describes some of his work as Visually Quiet. A blend of sketch artist, craftsman & sculptor, his minds eye is focused on the functional & the aesthetic environment his work will occupy. The soft conflict of his description resonates in his work. Looking at examples of his finished pieces on his website it is easy to see the blend of purpose with beauty.

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Of particular interest to me was the shop environment filled with sawdust creating an orange earth tone hue. I wanted to capture the interaction of the tools, wood, hands & the designer. These images show a glimpse of his personal culmination of inspiration & craft.

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Tadao takes his design & creates a second life-cycle of the tree the wood came from. In sculpting his forms he infuses his ideas onto the grain of the lumber with his touch, & experience. His hands respect the longevity of the medium they work with.

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Often imperfections become an accent adding character to the narrative.

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The work-space of a craftsman can tell you a lot about the artisan. A woodworking shop is a constant shifting balance of space for working & keeping tools close. Raw wood was leaning against the walls. Shelves were piled with hardwoods. Work-in-progress was sitting beside hefty machinery. I was enveloped by the ordered chaos & a diversity of tools. The dominant feature in the shop however was Tadao’s resonating smile.

Forms of Water

The diverse forms of water provide different opportunities for subjects, activities & enjoyment near lakes streams & oceans.  During the filming of CHASING THE RIVER I encountered ice, fog & flowing water demonstration the beauty of this basic force of nature.  In video the characteristics of this life-sustaining element are more powerful.  However, a still can capture the subtle singular interaction nature has with our lives.

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Ice CTR

Winter has never been my favorite season.  But the lower position of the sun, bare trees, lack of haze and juxtaposition with other seasons can make compelling subjects.  In this shot notice how the form of the liquids previous state & the sculpting of the wind in its current frozen condition.  I considered B/W but felt the subtle grad in the blues along with almost zero saturation gives more impact to the sensory emotion of temperature.  This still was grabbed from Varicam 720…slightly less than 1 mp…cropped to even lower 480X360.  1n 2004 HD video opened up quality for me I never dreamed video could reproduce.  I am still amazed that now cell phone camera have more resolution that early HD cameras.  OBTW eary 1080 is just over 2 mp.

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Bridge CTR

In this shot from CTR, the water is reflective & creates an interesting perspective on a cloudless afternoon in February.  Sometimes it is luck, other times knowing the angle of the light in conjunction with the position of the camera is the key to getting the shot.  A few degrees difference in where you stand & the angle of the light can be dramatic.  Water is transparent when still, opaque when moving & from the right position it is a mirror.  In the 12 months shooting CTR I was constantly inspired by the variety of attributes stream and tributaries created.

We often take water for granted.  For to many people in the world that is not the case.  This link features the work of Drop by Drop photogs using their craft to tell stories of help to provide 3rd world societies with safe drinking water.

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Potomac Fog

At first I was unsure as to the intrigue of this scene.  In early Fall I stood on the banks of the Potomac and took in the sensory serenity the fog & the river created.   The components of light & subjects were folded together.  I realized I was seeing reflected light off the water bouncing thru moisture, the opposite shore was creeping out of the vapor & the partially submerged rocks were cloaked in a soft mist.  A variety of strong emotions were emerging from a simple temperature difference between the air and the water.  I’m glad I had my first cup-a-joe so I was awake enough to enjoy these subtle textures of the mourning.

 

Reflected Fog

Reflected Fog

Walking to work Sunday morning the sun had just risen.  This familiar building caught my attention.  I hadn’t had my first cup-a-joe so my mind was not fully engaged & I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing.  I grabbed a few shots & forgot about it.  A few days later I was reviewing shots on my computer & did a forensic examination of the light.  The sun was rising above the city to my back left.  The fog was floating about 30 feet above the Ohio but not where I was walking.  The early light was reflecting off the Trimont windows down at me.  The building with its reflected golden light was distorted by the soft fog I was looking thru creating a halo effect.  An optical game of billiards.

My daughter took my suggestion about buying art from different places she lives/visits.  She told me she didn’t have a shot of Pittsburgh for her apartment and that it would be a good Christmas gift.  She introduced me to the work of David DiCello.  Although I believe photography post-production & HDR are over done, I found his finished images to be an exception.  His work with subtly enhance the image.  He doesn’t transform them into a fantasy world the eye will never see.  Plus he has a passion about photographing one of the most visually stunning cities I have ever seen.  OK, I’m biased because I’ve lived here my entire life.