Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Coming from a small town on the Gulf Coast, one of the things we ate a lot of growing up was oysters. Along with frying them (which ends up being done to most food in the South), the preferred way to eat an oyster is raw, opened up in the shell with a knife. As a kid, they were so commonplace, I wasn't excited by them. Once I left, I discovered the joys of (sweeter) West Coast oysters, and getting them served to me on ice, and now I have them once a week from the Farmer's Market near my place in Mountain View.
This week, I'm back in Alabama, staying with my family and with my girlfriend visiting. She'd never had raw oysters before dating me -- though now that I convinced her to take a chance on them, she loves them too. But she's only had her oysters bourgie style, not like what I grew up with. Fortune intervened tonight in a classic Southern moment:
We had taken some new pants I'd gotten over to my sister's mother-in-law's house to get them hemmed. My sister ran into to deliver the pants, when she came out gesturing to us, "Guess what? Mr. Kent is opening up raw oysters out back!". We got ushered in and were shown classic southern hospitality -- let onto the back deck, where an old Southern gentleman was sitting there, shucking one oyster after another, tossing the shells as he was done. Best oysters we'd had all week! As he shucked them, I shot this frame -- one of my favorite pictures of my trip home thus far.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
I shot this one early morning in Atlanta back in July, passing through there after a red-eye to the east coast. I think the feeling of being trapped on the inside while the good stuff is going on outside is a multi-functional metaphor for the holidays: trapped travelers, people snowed in with their families, those days after Christmas when you're dreaming of going back home, or just the people wondering why we save all the champagne for New Year's Eve. ;)
Friday, December 24, 2010
The use of pet photography may mark an artistic low water mark for the blog, but that's what you get on the holidays. My sister's dog Freckles evidently loves sitting on top of the couch and staring out of the window. I used to do this a lot as a kid: waiting for my father to come home from work, the ice cream truck to drive by, my mother to bring back interesting mail, or just randomly staring at clouds, wondering when they'd turn into thunderstorms (we lived on the Gulf Coast, so this happened a lot). Now that I'm much older, I don't do as much waiting by the window anymore, but it's nice to see the dogs are picking up the slack.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
I shot this a year ago on Haight Street, while B was off at a hair appointment.
I'm about to try an exercise where I pick what I think are my best photos of the year that I've posted, then ruthlessly boil them down to 10 or so picks.
One of the hardest things in photography (certainly for me) is to edit and cull your own work. In part, this is because it is hard to be critical of things that we love. In equal part, there is an almost inescapable association between the emotions that accompany the taking of a photo with the feeling it gives you -- every photo is a key to a door that leads to the memories and emotions tied to that time and that place.
This task is also made only harder by the ubiquity of digital, where it's easy to take hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of images over the course of a year. The dark side of "pixels are free" is that "attention is priceless". If you want your photos to be noticed by people, you need to have a visual elevator pitch ready -- a short, pithy summary of why your work is worth noting.
This is as true if you do photography for art, journalism, or even for memories -- less will be more, until we all live a lot longer (and even then, longer lives will probably follow the same curve for attention as hard drives do for being filled up).
Of course, the really hard part: I'm still not done processing for the year. ;)
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
My holiday party for work this year was at the Bentley Reserve. I shot this when we stepped outside to catch a break -- the overlaying of old and new immediately caught my eye, and I tried to get an interesting framing. The title is inspired by a recent book by China Mieville, which has a theme of juxtaposed cities.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Apologies for not posting much in the last week -- I've been super busy with the end of the year at work, finishing up travel plans for Christmas (Austin, Alabama, and New Orleans), and the tortures of holiday shopping.
Today's image is actually one I took in my home town two Christmases ago. My father and I were out for a drive around the coast, and it was completely socked-in foggy. The town's primary industry is seafood, so there are always boats around in various harbors -- but there are also numerous shipyards, where some very large boats are kept out of the water for extensive repair work. These two hulks had seen better days, but were lit in a crazy specular-but-not-quite way by flood lamps, scattered around by the fog. They're also arranged so that the ships are complimentary to each other -- where one ship almost echoes the other. The result is one of my favorite images from my first year of using a dSLR, and I've considered getting it printed.
In keeping with the general theme of decay, I realized when I was looking up the RAW file for this image in my archives, it simply wasn't there. I'm generally religious about backups: Files go onto laptop -> desktop -> backup drive on desktop -> weekly to NAS, then monthly to usb hard drive. I try to keep three instances of every image I like (though sometimes the third is just a jpeg on Flickr). Problem here: I had a very dark period in my life in late 2008 when I managed to lost three laptop drives in as many months. Two of the drive failures were in the same month, and while I was traveling -- resulting in about a week of lost-forever RAWs. It was this set of failures that prompted me to move from spinning disks over to SSD drives, and I never looked back (SSD drives can fail, of course -- I just think I was losing more drives than expected because of general traveling abuse and the combined clumsy factor of the TSA + me).
A fair amount of anguish here, because knowing what I do now about processing images, I can already see things I would do differently that I probably could not do with a jpeg. Bits can be rotting too, I guess. :\
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Last week when I was out shooting in the rain, I noticed that a giant puddle had built up at an intersection, and some fraction of people were trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to jump the puddle. I spent about thirty minutes going back and forth across this intersection, watching for "jumpers", and caught quite a few. I like the framing and frozen motion of this one -- feels ready to jump right out at you!
Friday, December 10, 2010
There was some amazing partial directional light through the window of our lounge at work today. While we were sitting around, shooting the breeze, I took some shots of my co-workers. Over time, I've tried to get head shots that work for all of them in various poses, and every so often, I get some that have a little sizzle. Sometimes it comes from a friend who I photograph all the time, others are like Eugene here who I've barely photographed at all, but something just pops out.
No direction here -- I was just sitting on the couch with my 135mm, waiting to strike when the moment was right.
I would say that being a clinical paranoid helps with computer security, but another friend of mine did a study where she showed that people suffering from paranoia actually pick worse passwords on average than normal people.
I also can't stress enough how much of a fan I am of indirect window light. I have a model in my head for how it works, which really helps predicting what I get at the end -- using flashes is easily several stops more difficult for me. Give me a window though, and I feel like I'm bound to get something good if I wait there long enough.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
A group of monks came to work this week, in order to create a mandala. The monks told me they travel from place to place, making mandalas as a kind of blessing. Each mandala is made from grains of dyed sand, dispensed from little metal tubes where sand flow was controlled by the vibration of tapping two of them together.
The central point of the mandala is that it is a meditation on the impermanence of the world -- they spend a week of onerous work making it, then after a closing ceremony, they sweep it away.
Several of my friends commented that it was odd that I would be preserving pictures of a mandala in digital form, where they said it would be permanent. I felt somewhat the opposite -- even if you believed that digital bits will end up being preserved forever in some great computer cluster in the sky, the fact is that they are fundamentally malleable. Not only can they be deleted at a moment's notice, they can be changed at any time.
Modern physics also indicates that for at least some of our theoretical models of the universe, there may only be a finite number of computations possible in our universe, and only a finite number of bits which could be stored, even in the limit, so I'm even less sanguine about the future of bits.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Monday, December 6, 2010
Snapped this yesterday on Caltrain as I was moving between cars. The woman in question kept doing this thing where she let her sunglasses slip down over her eyes, and I thought it was neat to see this framed by the intra-train window. Unfortunately, since I had only had a split second to snap this, I didn't realize I was still metered for outdoors, and underexposed her face. The result is instead something like the dreams that come about from watching a Walking Dead marathon.
I wanted to make it up to the city last week for Black Friday, but I had other commitments on that day. So, I ended up going up on Saturday, which was just about as good in terms of commerce-driven madness. It rained sporadically throughout the afternoon, and then cleared up before sunset. Wandering down Market into the sun, it was blinding. Not only was the sun in my eyes and reflecting off the glass walls of the building, light was bouncing up from the rain-slicked pavement. Looking into the viewfinder was like a glimpse into some video game where the developers had just discovered ray tracing and flares -- kind of gaudy, but also kinda magical.
I marched a block or so into the sun, and got several photos I loved, but the composition on this one was to my taste. Once I got home and looked at it, I realized that it was fairly similar (though of course, not as awesome) as one of my favorite Winogrand shots:
I was thinking a lot about Winogrand a lot this week, what with politics being so crazy and all, and this quote came to mind:
"Winogrand speaks of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 as a crucial episode in his life. During the days and nights when the issue remained in doubt he walked the streets, in despair out of fear for the life of his family and himself and his city, and from his own impotence to affect the outcome. Finally it came to him that he was nothing -- powerless, insignificant, helpess -- and that knowledge, he said, liberated him. He was nothing, so he was free to lead his own life."
-- John Sarkowski on Winogrand in Figments from the Real World.
Taking a photo like Winogrand's sidewalk shot requires a kind of liberation from what a photo 'ought' to be. It cuts to the heart of what makes street photography great to me. There is no way as an artist that you could conjure up this scene -- too much is random, too much is a violation of accepted rules about angles, tones, content, and general perfection of craft. But at the same time, this photo has a mad perfection to it that makes it undeniable. Winogrand saw this scene, and in one brief second, knew he had to take this exposure, and he got something that was just right because it wasn't just right. It took a mind and eye free of preconceptions to take, and the result is spectacular!
I guess my hope is that by seeing scenes where things are different (or maybe the same), I can figure out how to spot these moments better, where something magical is happening -- maybe without the perfect, almost Fight Club style nihilism that seemed to pervade Winogrand's attitude.
Back to my shot: As I was reviewing it for this post, I was reminded of the light in the eponymous shot for this blog: The Road from Damascus. Thumbing back through my images, I discovered that I took it exactly a year ago to the day before this image. In that case, it was my first trip shooting to the area around Powell and Market, and looking at the calendars on Flickr, it marks both the anniversary and start of my Saturday trips up to SF to do street photography.
Cautiously, I'd like to say I've improved over time. Looking at photos from last week, and comparing them from the set from a year ago, I do feel a lot better about the new ones, but it's always hard to distinguish between the excitement of something new with the colder detachment that comes with time.
Hopefully, the shooting will continue until morale improves.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I shot this portrait last December, when I was out in Austin to visit my old friend Stephen. Dale was a drifter, who'd moved out to Austin in 1989 after the Loma Prieta, and had lived there ever since. Liked this portrait for a lot of reasons -- it had 'scene', and wasn't just Dale, but at the same time is completely about his character.
There are some other technical things I like about the shot. It's difficult to get bokeh out of a 28 f/2.8, and harder still to get bokeh that really works. Generally, it's not smooth enough to be painterly, while in the same time being just out of focus enough to be distracting. Here, the background scene is kind of a canvas, and Dale pops out of it. I shot two frames, but the one with his eyes closed was far better than eyes open, giving him a kind of hangdog look that I really liked.
I'll be going back to Austin right before this Christmas, and I look forward to the chance to shoot there again.
Friday, December 3, 2010
This one is from a few months back. I was with my girlfriend in Anthropologie, and the computers running the cash registers were out. While B was haggling about paying in cash or card with the attendants, I got bored and was noodling around with my cell phone. Noticed an odd little moment of tension, and caught this.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I snapped this last Saturday as I was walking down Market, where a lot of people will be out in front and between stores taking a break -- either from working, or from the madness of shopping Thanksgiving weekend. This guy had stepped back out of the light a bit, and resulted some pretty pleasing feathering of the light. The texture of the background caught my eye too, along with expression as he smoked and watched people walking by (something I can relate to!).