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!

Full Fram Perfection

Perfection, I believe, is an impossible objective. However I think it is a worthy goal. When I hold a camera to my eye I can’t help but imagining capturing a full frame image that is perfect. No cropping, no post-production and no change in the light on the subject. That moment when all elements come together in a cohesive story worthy of 1,000 words. Compromise is a reality everybody striving for perfection must accept. However, subjective critique of your own work should not just look at the negative or how it could be better. You must examine all that you like about the shot and weigh that against the flaws.

All of the images in this post are untouched. They are what I consider to be my best attempts at “full frame” perfection…so far.

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Kayaking on Lake Skadar in Montenegro with my daughter was part of a grand trip. In my opinion I never truly visit a place unless you get on or in the water. During our exploring we sailed, swam & kayaked. Taking photos from a kayak presents numerous challenges & limited opportunities. I don’t need to see her face, nor do I wish the sky were a perfect blue. Her journey ahead has challenges she is more than prepared for.
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Sailing in Seattle on the 70 footer Obsession was nice enough but the twilight & the reflection were an added bonus. The cityscape of this port town is almost void of signage on the buildings. I’m glad urban ordinances prevent the owners/builders from turning this great view into another opportunity for marketing. Could it be better…yes. Mt Ranier is off to the right of frame but their was clutter from the shipyards that distracted so I cropped with the zoom to eliminate the distraction.
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Although this shot was almost deleted, something made me keep examining it. I was using my new long zoom, 100-400, for the first time & pushing my skills at full tight to try & get a tight shot of the athlete’s expression. (That was a humbling failure for the most part.) At first glance this is somewhat abstract. However, it shows aspects of the sport that clearly define what is happening. The blurred feet in the air pointing up & the strong hands holding the bent pole capture a moment unique to this sport. I will do a future post about pole-vaulting.
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I am a huge fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. Maybe not a great man but an architect that has inspired me since a field trip to Falling Water in Junior HS. We were traveling in Wisconsin in late May & I insisted on going to Taliesin which was the home of FLW & later a school for Architects. Although I was compelled by the structures, the tour & the history, I couldn’t help but also be inspired by the landscape & the farming. Somehow, the natural setting along with the man-made trellis, plowed field and orderly orchard gave me a different insight into FLW’s use of space & style of design. I can’t fully articulate what it is about his work I enjoy especially since I am not fond of hard horizontal & vertical lines associated with buildings. Taliesin West in AZ is on my bucket list for my next trip into the SW.
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I had to connect in VIE on a return trip from SJJ & (on purpose) had a 12 hour layover in Vienna. They have a quick/easy/cheap train from the airport & I hopped on to do a “down & dirty wander” around this historic center of European power. All to often I was distracted by barkers dressed in period-piece costume inviting me to concerts of Mozart, Strauss and Hayden. In my mind I kept saying…you’re here for your eyes not your ears. In one of the many parks I found this emotional statue with a wonderful floral background. The diversity of art in this city goes well beyond the music. I hope to someday go back & spend more time to enjoy the music & capture more of what Old Europe has to offer.IMG_9229 copy
Wandering thru a market in Zagreb was a wonderful opportunity for street photography. The colorful produce was a backdrop for the diversity of characters involved in the hustle of commerce. This solitary vendor appears to have sadness etched into his face but in his eyes I see a peaceful serenity. Knowing the quality of his product he has a subdued confidence a buyer will choose his apples. The cane on the edge of the frame is not to far from his folded callous hands. Although his rugged coat helps keep him warm he keeps his head uncovered defying the harshness of the world. When I first spotted him I was drawn to the character of his face and stoic expression. However, as I waited for the passing crowd to give me a window to snap a portrait, I realized the more complete story was wider and included his environment.

I found this video from PBS. It’s only 3:02 & a very choppy edit style, but I found it an interesting look at the perspective of a photographer with 6 decades of experience.

The Parade of Stars

I can easily amuse myself on a crowded street by observing people as they pass.  My fascination with strangers began in the 60’s watching a live local TV show in Pittsburgh. As the audience was exiting the host gave the patrons a chance to say something to the camera on the way out. The emcee called it the Parade of Stars. I will send a free DVD copy of my documentary Chasing The River to anyone that can name the show, the host and the call letters of the TV station that produced it.

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Since I enjoy watching people it shouldn’t come as any revelation I also have a good time photographing people on the street.  Until recently I didn’t know this was a genre with sub genres including street fashion and street portraits.  I just enjoy capturing candid images…Allen Funt…of people that grab my eye.

Unlike humans of NY portraitshttp://www.humansofnewyork.com/ which is  portraits with stories from the subjects…Studs Terkel…  I have no knowledge of the people so I make up my own stories.  This man on the streets of Zagreb was taken in 2010.  It was only the last 20 years of his life he had not lived under Tito Communism.  In the Winter of his life he witnessed significant change.  The contrast between him and younger Eastern Europeans coming of age after the collapse of “The Wall” was dramatic.  His face & the way he dressed reminded me of my Grandfather’s brothers.  I think he would have fit in at those big Christmas Eve dinners at my Grand Aunt’s house.

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I saw these eyes coming from 80 yards away!  As I was watching the diversity of people promenade on the streets of Sarajevo these two women grabbed my attention.  Even though I have no real credibility to comment on fashion, these two had very distinctive Hijabs.  Their fur & make-up set off contrasting facial expressions & authority.  I imagine the woman on the left is an older & wiser mentor to her younger naive companion.   She is about to extol insight into something they both are observing & the young-ling is eager to learn.

Speaking of fashion 2 things.  First, I did once win “Best Dressed” at the Phil Simms Bowling Tournament so I do have an iota of fashion sense.  Secondly, if you are interested in Street Fashion Photography I can recommend  Bill Cunningham New York  A quirky individual that still shoots of film.

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I have sub genres including people on phones aka “The World Around Me isn’t as Interesting as This Little Electronic Device”.  With a few exceptions I deplore the way some in society use smart phones as hypnotizing web portals & communication pacifiers.  VERY few snap images using phones with consideration for anything other than  diary-esk sharing via social media. Instead of freeing themselves from the office they take work everywhere they go.  Gaming & mindless web browsing distract  from here & now to a place that placates short attention spans.  I enjoy the world and most of the people around me more than any device.  For me, retirement equals flip phone!!!

This photo was taken in Balboa Park SAN.  As I am prone to do when taking photos of people I found a spot to stand & blend in.  I observed a few different traffic areas with good bg & lighting where I could snap portraits as people passed by. One of the 1st details to catch my eye was the “ink” on this woman. I hoped she would walk in an area where I could get a good shot of her tattoos. Ink is another sub genre of mine.  After 20 min or so I was ready to wander elsewhere & she hadn’t taken her eyes off of her phone.  I have no idea if she was texting, playing Angry Birds, searching top rated things in SD or reading Pillars of the Earth.  I do know she was ignoring an inspiring public park.

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Another sub genre of mine is echo/feedback of the world I capture. With the flood of cameras people routinely have, “People Taking Pictures” is one of my go-to subjects.  Everybody is now a street photographer.  Why not…I know I enjoy doing it.  However, I enjoy the old-school hands on feel of a DSLR with optical options.  But most importantly for me is connecting the eye into the viewfinder where final/critical decisions are made about framing or snapping.  And, I still use the editing process to separate the wheat from the chafe to better polish the visual story I want to tell.  For some reason these 2 remind me of a quote I associate w/Annie Liebovitz that every experienced photographer knows…”Sometimes the best shot is behind you!”

I can recommend a good doc about an unknown street photographer.  Her work can be a template for anyone who wants to improve their urban eye.  Finding Vivian Maier