November 30, 2006

Varanasi Sequence

Once you get off the main roads of Varanasi things quiet down a bit. It's still visually stimulating but the lack of horns allows your mind to rest. I wondered the alleyways of the old city for hours. Taking in textures and catching little glimpses into people's lives. I had no real agenda and every time I came to a crossroads I let my eyes determine right or left. I couldn't get lost. I had no place to go.

I ended up at a place that had a beautiful light bouncing around in it. It was like a back alley slot canyon. Nothing was being hit with direct sunlight. Instead it seemed to be filtering down and around other structures. I ended up feeling a bit like Cartier Bresson as I found my place in the scene and shot multiple shots hoping a masterpiece would appear. Not being as patient as he was and with a 5 o'clock rendez-vous with friends, my time was short. Here are four from that time. The plastic bag is a bit annoying in the first three until I moved it and then monkeys (hard to see low res in the window above at 4:08) dumped a bunch of crap in the path of 4:13. It was time to move on.

Take pictures.

November 29, 2006


There is a thing that happens a lot with the kids here and while at first it's cute, it gets a bit annoying if you spend the whole day shooting. They essentially want you to take their picture so they can ask you for money. They see you with a camera and jump into your shot with a smile. When near kids who I could sense were going to disrupt a scene, I'd pretend to shoot in one direction, let them run into the frame, and then spin 180 degrees to make my shot before they ran back. This image shows doorways I'd been shooting and then seconds later with a kid in the shot. I don't like any of the images but it serves as an example.

Later, I ended up above one of the burning ghats and framed up a shot with an old door and a faded Lonely Planet sign when a kid jumped in. While at first this shot was just another example of photosensitivity gone bad, it's grown on me. His handless, cross-eyed presence there in the lower part of the frame adds a nice compliment to the lonely planet text. I didn't change my original composition to accommodate his presence. Something I might have done normally. And in the end, I think it works. My attraction to the whole Lonely Planet thing in the first place was to make a subtle commentary about tourist culture. Having a human in the shot adds nicely.

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Varanasi Texture

Here's my Varanasi Texture Diptych. I think those numbers are home and business addresses but I can't be sure. To be a mailman in this town would be fascinating work. And if all it takes is some chalk on a wall to get yourself a house number there's bound to be some confusion.

Judging by the traffic, which is nuts, there is no mail service. Everyone simply walks, drives, cycles or rides their way to meet in person. It's the only thing I can think of to account for all the movement. Of course, I'm open to other ideas.

New York's Times Square looks like a sleepy backwater next to this place. What Varanasi lacks in building height, it makes up for in sensory overload. When was the last time you casually got horned by a cow into an oncoming motorized rickshaw that caught a stray strap on your backpack and dragged you backwards? When was the last time you heard more than 50 car horns going off at once and you didn't even look up to see what might be eliciting such behavior? Let's just say that photography doesn't address these questions very well.

Take pictures anyway.

November 28, 2006

Train Station Portraits

We showed up for our train to Varanasi a few hours ahead of schedule and I spent the time making pictures. The guys who clean the bathrooms of the trains were more than eager to pose. They actually asked me to photograph them as they macked all kinds of poses. One guy even got down into something straight out of a hip-hop music video. Ah, global culture!

One of those guys had a great face and was bathed in a mixture of fluorescent and tungsten light. Since he was more than willing, I made a few shots of him on the tracks. Ultimately, I don't know if I like the mixed color-temperature conditions. It seems a bit too distracting. Either that, or it's just not a very compelling photo. Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Making those train worker photos I attracted a fair bit of attention. As a small crowd gathered around me, a bowl of rice appeared from a generous fellow. While I was suspect of the offering's eatability, I couldn't decline such an offer and dug in with my dirty hands. The man later returned with cigarettes which I did decline. He ended up smoking them both. When I took this photo, though you can't see it, he was holding two lit cigarettes. I like this shot, though it's not my normal style. I was jumping up from the tracks, saw him and swung my camera up into his face. I think I took 3 shots in succession. None are really sharp but that's not critical. Maybe I'll do more like that at the next train station.

Take pictures.

November 27, 2006

Delhi Textures

I love this kind of thing. Sometimes I wish I had a view camera or one them 45 megapixel backs in places like India. I could then make huge prints and sell them as lobby art to swanky New York hotels. Next time.

This is just a quick entry to acknowledge that I've been shooting walls and alley ways with more enthusiasm than usual. Amidst the cacophonous chaos that is Delhi, I find myself taking sanctuary in these layered wonders. Taking them, I get the requisite funny looks from folks but proceed about my task without shame. I work fast. I see a wall, I walk up to it, assess the relative light intensity, adjust accordingly, bring the camera to my face, compose in a second or two, shoot a frame or two and move on. It's not exactly heavy lifting but the results can be super rewarding.

The real issues aren't compositional any more and most success depends on the wall, not me. I blew a bunch once with too long a shutter speed. Lesson learned.

The two I'm sharing here are really nice examples of the painterly style. It's a little Cy Twombly meets Robert Rauchenberg with a splash of Nine Inch Nails. The critical thing is that there be some sort of type or handwriting or drawing. It's that "hand of man" beyond just wear and tear that grounds it and gives it meaning. At least for me.

Enough babel, you'll be seeing more like these for sure. This place is rife with all the aesthetic ingredients.

Take pictures.

November 26, 2006

Details Details

We had a whirlwind tour of Delhi yesterday and among the many sights and horn sounds there were some quiet moments to explore simple textures and details. This is a door from the grounds of some 17th century Moghul tomb. Forgive me for not knowing exactly who or when, that's not my real interest here. Normally, I shoot this kind of stuff with my fixed 50mm but I'm spending most of time with just one body out of conveinence. (I've been working with the 17 to 55 f2.8). It's more flexible for spontaneous work. Once we settle in for a few days in one place, I'll start carrying around two bodies and keep that little 50 in my pocket.

This kind of black and white shot is in the same spirit as the shots I made at Gym Jones a few weeks ago. I give them a little vignetting/black border in Photoshop afterwards without trying to be too heavy-handed with that effect. Since I shoot with that process in mind, rather than using it to rescue an otherwise unsuccessful shot, I feel justified in taking some post-production liberties. It's all about pre-visualization.

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Mundane Delhi

I've learned not to have photographic regrets. I've learned the hard way. I've not taken shots or seen shots and been too lazy, shy or otherwise pre-occupied to make the photograph and later saddened that I let it pass me by. I'll tell the story of the Nicaraguan circus one day. Suffice it to say, that's my photographic bane. Well, maybe that's a bit harsch. Let's just say that today it serves as a reminder and a motivation not to be lazy.

Last night I walked home a different way than the others. In a darkened and deserted alley I noticed a little patch of hanging orange flowers against a blue wall. The mundane alarm went off but I didn't have my camera with me as I had decided I didn't need it for dinner. Back up the 3 flights of stairs and in the relative comfort of my room the image of those flowers lingered. I had to go down and see what could be made of it.

I struggled with the exposure and braced the camera against a wall during the half second exposure. I made a dozen shots from different angles but wasn't feeling it. Only as I got some distance did the scene resonate. Turning to return to the hotel I saw the image on the right. The reddish blotch was a little like an impressionist interpretation of the flowers. I had my mundane match and crouched to steady my hand and shoot.

The completed diptych is a little creepy but I dig the color, texture and relative complexity that that dark alley possessed.

Take pictures without regret.

November 25, 2006

Our Delhi Hotel

Not all hotels are alike and when you're on a budget, that little fact becomes ever more apparent. It's not news that I love a dump. There's more texture, more residue, more everything and our hotel in Delhi hit the spot. I hadn't even made it to reception (3 flights up) when I started making photos.

I was first struck by the chalk-like markings within the letters of the word hotel. I mean, the whole thing is great, just a big sign pointing to a hotel in the middle of a florescent lit stairwell is perfect but then the added hand of scraped-in white marks is a bonus. Throw in some random stains and it's bordering on art.

Not five feet later is the scene on the left. It was that time of day again when all lights are equal and, as usual, it provided. A bus stop across the street gave just the right mix of auto and pedestrian activity as well as a little added lighting. All those wonderful colors contrasted perfectly with the drab yellow of the hallway.

I'd call this a success for now. If nothing else, it'll be a nice souvenir of our Dehli dump.

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I Shot the Circus

Wondering about town yesterday we ran into a circus. Immediately I was excited. Mark Ellen Mark's portrayal of the Indian Circus so inspired me early on that seeing the tent from a distance filled my mind with her images. We approached through the gate and found out that there were two shows that evening. We learned that that the tent holds 5000 seats but they were only expecting a few hundred on a weeknight and fewer still for the eight o'clock show. Our plans were set. We were headed to our own private circus.

As expected, the show was low-tech, low-budget, lifeless and all together pretty depressing. There wasn't an exotic thing about it. We laughed, we covered our faces in shame, we were at times amazed but the final takeaway was one of having experienced a two and half hour talent show from the front row of a two-foot deep dirt hole. I couldn't have been happier. Seriously.

The photo is of a ramp over which five motorcycles and a jeep had jumped for the finale. The tent was empty of the 75 audience members and the lights hadn't been turned of yet. (That happened about thirty seconds later). It reminds me a little of Diane Arbus' Disney castle photo albeit not shot with a medium format camera. I like the texture and the eerie, run-down feel it provides. The little tilt seems to work too. I guess this will have to do as my homage to Ms. Mark and Ms. Arbus.

Take pictures at the Indian circus.

November 24, 2006

Dentist Visit

Here I am in India when a piece of one of my molars breaks off. Here I am in the dentist's chair getting extra special care. The dentist is on the left and the assistant is there on the right actively keeping my tongue out of the way and using the little saliva hose like he's playing some sort of video game.

This isn't to say I was uncomfortable with that behavior. It's was pretty cool actually. I appreciated the extra effort as opposed to the normal approach of letting is just hang over my lip. A third person was holding the cable of the drill where the electrical tape wasn't holding it together so well. I could just see all this out of the corner of my eye despite it being ten inches from my face. Such is the distorted and selective vision uniquely offered in a dentist's chair. I kept wanting to make a POV shot but knew that would be impossible.

I went through the whole procedure with the camera between my legs and towards the end raised it up, peeked to make sure my settings were good and proceeded to shoot. The dentist didn't seem to mind as she giggled at my unorthodox patient ways. The first few shots were too far away for a good exposure. The brightness of her worklight made for a tricky shot so I brought the camera closer to force the auto-exposure to privilege the light in and around my mouth. That's that.

All told, it's the best thirty three bucks I've spent in a while.

Take pictures and floss.


This is a little detail of the available flavors from an ice cream shop in Mumbai. If I knew where it was, I'd tell the world. The stuff is homemade and perfect. You choose a flavor, which is hard considering there are well over 31, and then they sandwich it between two sugar wafers. It's a made-to-order ice cream sandwich and it's delicious. I guess one measure of the quality is they don't need to put much emphasis on their signage. What does a few missing and uneven letters have to do with good ice cream anyway?

Take pictures.

November 23, 2006

Shotgun Stare

So we're in a cab. I've got shotgun. Which puts me on the left side here. We pull up next to another cab. Not unusual. I notice the guys hands. He's not looking at me. I raise my camera up to shoot his hands and he turns around. He stares right into the lens. I keep shooting. He doesn't change his expression one bit. I shoot about 3 shots, changing the focus to his face instead of his hands. I lower the camera and smile at him. He smiles back. Off we go. A nice little moment.

I decided black and white was the way to share this image. The colors were fine but the simplicity of the image was made more powerful with the subtraction of color. One of my old photography teachers told me once that color has to be part of the story or it doesn't belong. In this case, it added nothing so I took it out. For geeks out there, I usually use Photoshop's Channel Mixer to do the conversion.

Take pictures.

November 22, 2006

Mundane Mumbai

On the way to our in-country travel agent we enter a building and proceed down to an office off the underground parking lot. The stairway has this little pathetic plant at the midway point and a mess of wires running along the ceiling. All of which is lit by a single florescent bulb.

My mundane alert went off and I shot a half dozen shots that I thought would work together. This is what I got. The plant (peeking in on the lower left) doesn't feature prominently as the wires ended up being a more interesting element to work with. Is this India? I guess so. That's where I made it. Is it any good? Well, it's boring. That's good. I'll keep trying.

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First Impressions

So I landed in India yesterday. My planes didn't have seat accessible power so I wasn't so productive. Instead I slept. Which is a good thing when you have to adjust to an 11 hour time difference. I arrived feeling rested and ready to go.

One of the nice things to do when you arrive somewhere for the first time is to just look out the window of your cab or bus or whatever and let the place wash over you. In Mumbai that's pretty fun to do. The place is a vibrant, noisy place with a pace is less hectic than I expected. There is a calmness that pervades amidst the car horns which I appreciated later as a pedestrian. As night approached and my favorite time of day arrived, the time when the ambient light equals that of all the artificial light, I found myself on a busy shopping street. The camera was ready.

I had been struck by the interior lighting of the many awaiting taxi cabs. Some even had black lights and wacky complimentary upholstery. This guy was hanging out the window of his cab at first but as my friends and I paused near him, he spun around to look at us. I rested my camera against a telephone pole and snapped away. Him staying still and the bus going by behind him are a little gifts from the photo gods. He's sharp and the bus blocked a big Nike sneaker symbol (which you can just barely make out on the right side) and some other commercial distractions. As soon as I took the shot and chimped it, I knew I had my shot.

Take pictures.

November 14, 2006

Rorschach Salt Lake

I've been bad about keeping track of my compact flash cards. I am shooting around cards that I still need to transfer to my hard drives and leaving them around my apartment or in my camera case. This is not a good habit to get into. Do I as I say, not as I do.

I transfered this image over today. It was made as I was driving out to Antelope Island on a windless beautiful afternoon. I was on the Davis County Causeway when I pulled over, walked to the shoreline and made some shots of Fremont Island. This was one of them. Running it through my little actions the image got pretty surreal very fast. I actually toned it down a bit from my normal levels.

There are all kinds of other developments in my photographic life but I'm too busy this week preparing for India and doing little jobs to get into it. I promise I'll blog from afar and fill y'all in.

Until then, take pictures.

November 09, 2006


Planes are good. I've said it before, I'll say it again. I get more done on a single 4 hour flight than I do in days of terrestrial effort. I made an iPhoto slideshow video, designed a poster, and played with a few full-frame mundane images (right) from Salt Lake City. I even got some reading done during the no-electronics time.

This first image of the painted wall is the place from which half the November 6th diptych comes.

I should say I feel like I've come out of my photographic funk. I don't know exactly what it was but I just felt good making those detailed images in the gym the past few days. It was something I had in my head and I was able to make shots that met or exceeded my expectations. That's a good feeling.

The timing is good too. I've got a few jobs lined up in the next ten days and then I'm off to India. Work is always good to offset some costs and India is supposed to be a photographer's dream.

My muse was also helped by the view from my hotel room. It was so spectacularly mundane. Every time I opened my curtain I had the pleasure of looking out at a wall, smoke stacks and mountains. It doesn't show up in the photos but there were also all kinds of cool sounds coming from the other side of that wall. Whistles, voices over loudspeakers, all kinds of strange stuff. I need more of that in my life. The view out my New York apartment window is certainly dull but it's not photogenic.

That's what's up in no particular order.

Take pictures.

November 08, 2006

Keeping up with the Joneses

It isn't every day that you see a fitness-focused website give such attention to photography. Gym Jones is a shining exception to the rule in more ways than one, not the least of which is it's consistent use of the square format and balanced ambient light and flash exposures. Check out the daily workouts and scroll down. Almost every day there are photos of their endeavors.

Today I had the pleasure of shooting for them. Since that kind of exposure and aesthetic is right up my alley, I set my camera up appropriately and did my thing. It was only later, in my hotel room, while converting the images to black and white, that I deviated from my normal methods. I've gotten so used to my Night stuff being in color that it was odd to see the color drain from my photos. The familiar mixed color temperature exposures seemed flat at first. Even though I had originally conceived my Night stuff as a gritty black and white exploration, it's been years since since I'd played in that space. It was good to disrupt my habits. I need to do that more often.

You can see my efforts here. The ones with me in them (sporting my halloween doo) are taken by Marti using my settings. I later cropped and did all the conversions. It was super cool of them to give me props too.

Take pictures, stay fit.

November 06, 2006

Drive By Shooting

I've done more driving this week than I would normally and because of that I've been taken by many fleeting highway vistas glimpsed at 65 miles an hour. Two days ago I ended up having to pull off a highway to climb up a 50 foot pile of sand to see if doing so would make the shot I envisioned from the road. Alas, it didn't and I ended up with my shoes filled with sand and some odd looks from a guy in a cement truck.

The image on the left was made through my windshield just after I'd taken the shot on the left. The clouds seemed to be the same in the painting as they were in real life that day. Lucky me. That said, I spent more of my day making photographic failures than anything worthy. This dipych is only mildly successful in my opinion but I'm sharing it nonetheless.

Take pictures, drive safely.

November 05, 2006

Details Details

I got chalk all over one of my D200s taking this and a few other close-ups inside Gym Jones today. Post-workout I worked my 50mm f1.4 around the space. It's a florescent lit brick and unfinished sheet-rock room with a raw aesthetic that's right up my alley. It's a place where people struggle and sweat. The residue of that hard work is evident in every corner.

At first I was concerned about the florescent light. I knew I was going to convert the images to black and white so it wasn't the color temperature that concerned me, rather is was the general flatness of the light. Luckily, once I started snaping, I could see that was an unfounded concern. It ended up being just right for both the detail shots and some "disciple" portraits. I love shooting wide open or close to it. Selective focus is a tricky but beautiful thing when it works.

This evening in my hotel room I messed the with a dozen or so images to give them a look that complimented my vision. I used Photoshop's channel mixer to convert to black and white and burned the borders to give them a slightly vignetted feel. Overall, I think it's a success and I look forward to making a few more tomorrow. It's a nice departure from the straight-up, well-lit stuff I've been doing lately.

Take pictures, switch it up.

November 03, 2006

Salt Lake City

I have been in LA and now I'm in Salt Lake City but not doing much in the way of making pictures. Movies are only $5.25 (as compared to $12 in New York) so I've been catching up on pop culture. Tomorrow I hope to make some close up stuff in Gym Jones. We'll see.

So rather than go dark again, I'm sharing yet another Burning Man portrait. If you saw the last ones, you may think that I only shot faces. In fact, because I was on a plane doing the editing I didn't want to shock any of my neighbors with nudity. A good chunk of the folks are wearing less than would be appropriate for coach class so I just picked close-ups. This guy looks like a WWII pilot to me.

On a more humorous note. I got a few rowdy phone calls last night from some friends who were in New York City for the photo expo. They ended up in one of the bars where I've made some of my better Night photos. From the sound of it, they were having a fine ol' time. I wish I could have been there to document it. It was odd to think they were there because of my photos. Art inspiring life. I like that.

Take pictures.