Friday, June 19, 2009

Front Door, Back Door St. Louis

St. Louis stands proud on the banks of the Mississippi River. It has a very rich history. Mark Twain wrote a memorable story about the Adventures of Huck Finn on the riverboats. I don't know if any of it actually took place in St.Louis but it is easy to imagine that it could have. It seems like a friendly place. It has a home town feel. Strangers make eye contact and say hello when they see you. There are colorful flower boxes on some of the buildings. There are green parks that people congregate to. The Gateway Arch makes the boldest statement about the city's proud role as the gateway to the American west.

I also walked down the alleys behind the hotel that I stayed at and between some of the other downtown buildings and parking garages.

There was one doorway in an alley that caught my attention. The doorway was deep and there were bars even with the line of the building thereby creating a tiny jail cell looking room. Even more curious, there was a thick chain and padlock hanging ominously from the brick wall. You could almost imagine a prisoner locked to the wall in there.

I'm sure that the reason for the little cell and chain were to allow the inside door to swing open and the chain was probably to hold it open and allow air in the building without allowing vagrants to wander in from the alley. It just seemed odd that it appeared like someone went out of their way to create an ominous looking image to make a statement. Mess with them and you might find out the hard way what the little room on the alley with the chain on the wall is really for.

What's with the chains?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Two Californias

I recently visited southern California. I was working in Ventura and staying in Oxnard. Ventura has a nice beach and marina area. The marina is kind of touristy. There are several shops and restaurants and of course some very expensive boats visible behind locked gates. The tables in the restaurants look out either inland to the marina or out to the Pacific. The beach and marina area were obviously the result of careful town planning combined with beaucoup real estate development dollars to create this comfortable place for visitors to enjoy and leave some of their dollars behind.

Less than a mile inland the scene was very different. There were fruit fields being farmed by migrant farm workers. They were busy doing their thing; people hunched over in the fields picking crops and men moving various farm equipment around. I doubt that they noticed the beautiful hills with a marine cloud layer wrapping one mountain range like a cotton-candy turban.

One day on my lunch break I drove down to the beach. I stopped along the way at a farm stand and bought some strawberries and pistachio nuts. I was just there alone with my camera and my iPod, so I had some time to dwell on the situation and snap some photos. The strawberries must have been ripened on the vine. They were really, really good.

I wonder how many of those farm workers drive down to the beach on their lunch breaks? I didn’t see any.

I didn’t really pity the farm workers and I don’t think that they pitied themselves either. They all seemed to work very earnestly from what I saw. My guess is that they were probably just grateful for the work. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to eat some California fruit or walk down the produce isle in the supermarket without feeling a bit grateful myself for what I do have.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Kind of Town, New York City

You know that you’re a New Yorker when you don’t really care about the tourist stuff. I grew up in the New York City area and certainly spent a lot of time in the city. I spent my senior year in college literally next to the Brooklyn Bridge at Pace University on Park Row across from City Hall. We used to sometimes hang out at a bar called Jeremy’s which was almost under the bridge between the school and the East River. But, it never occurred to me to walk out onto the bridge to check it out or just to admire the scene of Manhattan from it.

I haven’t lived in the Northeast for over 14 years but, I had to travel there recently for a job in Brooklyn. I decided to treat part of my stay in Brooklyn like a tourist. I did check out the sights of the city and I did walk out across the Brooklyn Bridge a few times. There were some locals running and biking but, for the most part the crowd consisted of tourists from all over the world.

That area of Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan are probably some of the most photographed scenes in the world. It is easy to see why. In addition of NYC having a high concentration of the best photographers in the world, there are just a lot of stunning scenes everywhere you look. The landscapes of the skyline and architecture especially of lower Manhattan set in New York Harbor are really impressive. The bridge itself is both a piece of art and a piece of American History all at the same time. There are all kinds of people and all kinds of things happening all in a very concentrated area. I think that I took much of NYC for granted when I lived there. I suppose that I had to step away in order to see what was in front of me the whole time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cow Pies, A Bird’s Eye View

There is a photo book out called “America, A View from Above” by Jim Wark and Peter Skinner which I’ve admired. It has page after page of incredible images of mostly iconic landmarks and landscape scenes from all over the United States. The concept appealed to me because it involves two things that I am passionate about; aviation and photography. I thought that it might be interesting to take a look at photographing the Texas landscape from above and see what I can find. But, instead of just documenting familiar landmarks with stunning technical photography, I’m looking for art wherever I can find it.

I find that flying alone with my camera is the only way to seek out art from 3,000 feet above ground level. I can just go sight seeing and if I see something interesting then I can just go over and investigate and maneuver for the best shooting angle without having to explain to anyone. Having another pilot on-board might be handy if I was doing any heavy duty work then I could concentrate on the images and they could concentrate on flying the plane. But, I’m not. I think that if I had someone else with me that I might self edit what I shot because I know that where I might see an interesting composition of cows in a pasture, most people would just see another bunch of cows just like millions of others all over the country. As long as I can fly safely then I'm fine.

I flew last Sunday on a mission to explore the state for interesting images. My flight was from Hicks Airport in Fort Worth, Texas up north to Lake Ray Roberts, north east up to Lake Texoma. I landed at The Lake Texoma State Park Airport in Oklahoma to stretch and take a bio break. Then I took off again and just headed home.

It took 2 hours 45 minutes for the whole trip. On the way up I loitered around at about 85 knots most of the way. On the way back I had the Cessna 150 up near it’s max cruise speed which isn’t all that much faster at about 105 knots per hour.

I learned a few things on this expedition. First, I got lucky with the positioning of the sun. I left early and caught the early morning sun which cast a nice golden glow but, probably more importantly cast shadows revealing the depth of the objects on the ground in the photographs which otherwise would all look flat in the direct daylight.

The angle of the camera to the horizon or to the object being photographed is also important because if the camera is off axis to whatever you are photographing then the resulting image appears just off-balanced and awkward. If the image is framed along the same lines as the lines of a field, for example then it somehow just makes sense and feels right. The basic rules of composition were established by the master painters centuries ago and they still make sense today even with my cow pie field exposures.

Admittedly, most of the end results of this first real trip with a mission were less than spectacular. But, this was only a first attempt and I have a lot more ideas to investigate. The worst thing that happens is that I spend some time doing what I love to do anyway. It’s kind of like fishing. It really doesn’t matter if you catch anything but, it’s nice if you do. I’m sure that I’ll reel some in eventually.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Posy

I was recently reminded by a dear friend about a silly thing that we laughed about 21 years ago. She also explained to my daughter about a special group of friends that we were both part of who shared a special time. Those kinds of memories and friendships are timeless. They become the fabric of who we are and the memories only become more precious with time.

I was taking a photography class at that time and shot a lot of black and white film with my old Konica TC. For this class I had borrowed my aunt’s Nikon F2 with a Nikkor 50mm F1.2 lens.

I took this b&w of the gang standing under the wing of an airplane at the Westchester County Air Show circa 1988. There was nothing posed about it. We were all seeking shelter from the rain. I jumped out in the rain and snapped this exposure. I gave everyone a copy of the print which I developed and enlarged in the college darkroom. Each one was truly a “one of a kind” because I was still experimenting with darkroom techniques like dodging and burning, different exposure times, gels, etc… Each one was an experiment.

My favorite “walk around” lens now is still a Nikkor 50mm f1.4 on my Nikon D70 or D90. Only this one is autofocus with all of the through the lens wizardry that Nikon has developed over the years and the metal parts are now mostly plastic. So, it weighs a good bit less than the old metal tank. To be fair, a 50mm lens on a modern crop sensor makes it act more like a telephoto lens, say a 70mm equivalent.

My daughter has her own “posy.” A couple of years ago one of the posy friends was moving away and the rest of the group had grown very close together and wanted to give her something to remember them by. They decided to have a group portrait done.

The friend was moving to Ohio, so I chose a background that would inspire thoughts of Texas and something that they would as a group immediately identify. The fountain at the Town Square in Southlake, Texas was perfect. The fountain and Town Hall in the background are both beautiful but the architecture of the building to me was very Texan. More importantly, the Town Square was also the latest teen hangout. It’s where all of the teenage kids come to go to the movies, do some shopping and generally hang out with their friends and be teenagers.

Since this photo was taken, another of the girls has moved to Virginia. I’m fairly confident that this photo will someday be a treasure to her like the old photo of my friends is to me. She also takes quite a few shots on her own that Dad's not privy to seeing. I hope that she keeps them safe.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Scenes from the Airport

I don’t think that it is any great secret that my other obsession is aviation. The places where my two passions meet are at the airport and in airplanes.

When my wife wakes up Sundays at 6:00 am to an empty bed then there is no question where I’ve disappeared to. I’ve probably taken the Cessna 150 out of the hangar for an early morning flight.

The first light in the morning and the last light of the day are good for both flying and for photography. In photography these points in time are called the “golden hours” because that is when the sun shines with a nice even golden glow. In aviation the mornings especially are the best to fly because the winds and the temperatures are the lowest. The sun hasn’t yet had a chance to warm up the earth and cause all of the thermal activity that causes wind and makes airfoil surfaces to be less effective.

Sometimes I can get back to the house before anyone else is even awake. That leaves the rest of the day for family time and honey-do’s.

Lightcatcher Winery

My wife and I recently got invited to a wine tasting at the Lightcatcher Winery in Azle, Texas by Felicia, a friend of Tracey’s. We went on a Sunday afternoon. We had a really good time. We made some new friends, listened to some live jazz music, ate some really good pizza and sipped some wine.

They have an indoor and outdoor patio area with tables and wait service. They also have Adirondack chairs set up down on the grass below. So, you can stretch out and enjoy the music and wine under the shade of the pin oak trees.

I flipped through their photo album. It looks like this would be an ideal setting for a wedding or reception and a lot of people have already done so.

If you’re looking for a great way to spend an afternoon then I suggest checking it out.