December 30, 2006

My Take

Shooting the James Brown thing was supposed to be an exclusive deal but in the end, due to disorganization and general enthusiasm on the part of photojournalists and fans alike, there was no real angle I could take that others weren't able to access as well. I was just another photographer making my way through the scene trying to make a unique shot. Seeing the newspapers the next day was fun because I had many of the same shots. There are lots of good photographers out there, the real trick is getting the best position and that's no small feat when hundreds of others are shooting the same exact thing.

This particular shot is probably my favorite because it's not traditionally journalistic. It's more a mood piece and to me it shows a certain amount of confusion and fatigue that everyone was feeling right about then. It's taken just as James Brown's coffin is being set down onto some wheels inside the Apollo Theater. The man in the middle is Charles Sewell.

I thought about converting the photo to black and white but the strange, almost monochromatic thing that happened won out for now.

Take Pictures.

December 29, 2006

Today in Harlem

Today was a fairly unusual day for me. A friend asked if I wanted to shoot the late James Brown's last trip to the Apollo Theater and he'd give me an all-access pass to do so. Duh, of course! I imediately had visions of shooting some creepy shot of a lone coffin on the stage.

It's late so I am just going to post one shot right now and another one tomorrow or the next day. Let's just say, I didn't get what I imagined. I'll explain further after I get some rest.

Take pictures.

December 19, 2006

Sterile America

One of the nice things about coming home from travel abroad is that you see your home anew. The overwhelming thing I noticed upon coming back from India is just how clean and protected we are.

I've been to California, Florida and Puerto Rico in the two weeks since coming back and I've noticed my hotel room walls were dotted with sprinklers systems, smoke alarms for the deaf and carbon monoxide detectors. Caution or instructional signs were as numerous as windows in just about every building I entered. The textures and residue of life was wiped clean from everything.

In the span of two nights I saw four different men riding four different zamboni-type floor cleaners around. Aside from the silly look of those things, It struck me as remarkable overkill.

In George Bush International Airport (I just love saying that) I made this little diptych that feebly attempts to convey my smooth and sterile environment. The sign to the right of that door reads, "Please Do Not Block Doorway." As if that might somehow happen. In the upper left of the dual water fountain photo is an orange electrical outlet. Eight feet up. Go figure.

This is all pretty subtle stuff but it shines brightly upon my return.

Take pictures.

December 16, 2006

Caged Kids?

Here's another kinda creepy one from Varanasi. I was walking around the back streets when I ended up in a friendly place where a young woman wanted me to photograph her little sister or daughter. I couldn't tell which. As I attempted to do that I heard these two kids trying to get my atttention. They were in their house behind the bars of their windows.

I liked the simple balanced composition of the window and approached them with that in mind. At first they were all smiles but I held my position, camera to my eye, until their smiles faded and they simply looked on with curiosity. Snap. Done.

It seems creepy now because they look unhappy and stuck in some sort of cage. Such are the distortions of photography. What are we to do?

Take pictures.

December 12, 2006

Move Over Apple

Time has pretty much run out for me doing any holiday shopping. Instead, I'm preparing a little something (it's a secret) that has me looking for alternatives to Aperture and/or iPhoto books.

Lulu.com looks amazing. It has some remarkable pricing and what seems like total design flexibly. The prices are simply irresistible and down the line I see all kinds of fun opportunities to make books with them. Time, again, not being on my side brings me to Blurb.com. They use the exact same printer and a very similar interface as Apple but they come in at about one half to one third the cost. The real selling point for me was that their hardcover books allow you to add a customized dust jacket. Something Apple doesn't even offer.

I learned about both of these while doing Google searches for self-publishing and ended up reading this. Check it out. He pretty much breaks it all down.

Take pictures, self-publish.

December 10, 2006

Sentimental Favorite

I've found myself in California visiting family and looking over my India images. This hand shot didn't make it into my daily postings for whatever reason but it has been a favorite of late. It was this hand in Varanasi that led to a series of interactions and decent photographs so it's more of a favorite for sentimental reasons.

I saw this guy and was so intrigued I stuck around a while and tried to communicate with him and his vegetable market friends as to what had made his hands so green. No one spoke English so it turned into a lot of sign language and guessing. In the end, smiles replaced understanding and it remains a mystery just what had colored his flesh such a deep color. His feet were equally tinted.

I ended up staying the better part of an hour, had some chai tea, watched dead bodies pass by, made some strong portraits and simply soaked in the local scene. It was a highlight of my trip.

I'll be reviewing shots made in India over the next week or so. Posting may slow down a bit. I have to be in Florida next week and then Puerto Rico. Neither place has the photographic allure of India but I'll do my best to shoot something I can share. Just don't hold your breath.

Take pictures.

December 09, 2006

The Virgin King

We missed our connection in London so Virgin put us up in a hotel for the night. I loved it. First, my trip was now a day longer. And second, the room was lovely. It wasn't mundane in any way, which would have been just fine. Instead, it bordered on over-the-top luxurious. My bed had at least six pillows, maybe eight. After a few weeks in India on a budget, the place seemed fit for a king. It turns out there've been some developments in the world of hotel bedding to which I've been oblivious.

This is a shot I made after waking up the next morning and being struck by the nice soft light hitting the bed. I tried making boring shots but the little human touch added by my feet worked best.

I received those fabulous yellow socks on the flight as part of Virgin's plastic pack of flight favors. I also got a little yellow toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs and eye mask. The developed world is awash in excess.

I know this isn't exactly high art. That's okay. It's a memory and photography is good for that.

Take pictures.

December 08, 2006

Iranian Sunset

We left Mumbai around 2PM which had us flying over Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan during daylight hours. I was excited by the prospect of just looking down at those places. All three countries have intrigued me for years but I've been unable to visit for numerous reasons. Nevertheless, I took my first shot of an Iranian sunset from 33,000 feet.

Cliché? Yup.

It's good to start with clichés. Get them out of the way early so you can then address more challenging photographic endeavors without the temptation of waterfalls, pets and sunsets later on. No offense to landscape photographers, it's just not my thing.

Take pictures.

December 07, 2006

Pretty Flowers

I saw these flowers being prepared by an old woman who didn't seem to happy to have me nearby with a camera. I don't know exactly what she was saying but it was obvious from her body language.

I snapped this one shot and she proceeded to cover them up with disdain. I got it and it's a pretty one. Nothing radical, just a nice simple shot with the selective focus I like and some lovely colors.

That's it from India.

Take pictures.

December 06, 2006

Kohl Kid

This little one has seen better days. While surrounded by little "poppers" I saw her looking up at me and couldn't resist making a quick portrait. It has been haunting me since. While this certainly isn't the postcard image of India, it is more a common sight than you may imagine. The black kohl under her eyes is a Hindi tradition, not a black eye. The blood under her nose and her apparent hair loss is something else. I don't know what to say about this image. I share it nonetheless.

Take pictures, not postcards.

December 05, 2006

The Femme Vibe

Every once in a while you'll see a face that you'd love to photograph but don't think it will happen due to circumstances of tradition, respect and just plain old bad timing. The other morning in Agra, my friend and I were walking around the town saying hello to folks and soaking up the vibe. We encountered all kinds of friendly folks during our two hour stroll and towards the end of it, we paused by an older woman who wanted a photo with my friend. I was more than happy to make that happen.

My friend, being a woman, changed the vibe considerably. I normally walk around alone and am met with much the same enthusiam but when it comes to older women, especially in more conservative climbs, my photographic options dwindle. No so this day. It turns out that that older woman was the matriarch of a larger family, all of whom were watching us. One of those family members was a striking young mother holding her child. At first I thought there'd be no chance to make her portrait but having established things with her mother-in-law and after a little playful session with the neighborhood kids, she was more than willing to pose.

The femme-vibe, as Ghukfvin dubbed it, played it's part and allowed me to get a shot I may have never had the chance to make.

Take pictures with women.

December 04, 2006

"Poppers"

I've come up for a name for the kids who jump into my shots, "Poppers." While as I said before this is usually a nuisance, this boy ended up making a nice portrait even though my intent was to shoot the door. A haunted door at that, at last according to the kids.

I've learned to wait a few seconds or longer until the smiles and laughter die down and the faces return to a more natural or curious state. If you just hold there, maybe making changes in focus and exposure without moving the camera from your eye, the transition happens fast. Most kids expect to jump in and out of a shot so when you sit there holding the camera to your face they seem to get a bit flummoxed.

Yesterday, in Jaipur, a particularly rowdy and vulgar bunch of poppers went so far as to push the shutter on my camera while I had it slung around my back. This shot, which is technically a self-portrait of the kid on the right, has a nice feel to it.

Question: Is a photograph yours even if you didn't actually push the shutter?

Take pictures if you can.

December 03, 2006

The Taj Mahal

I think my mom said it best when I emailed her some snapshots taken in front of the Taj Mahal. She wrote, "I can't believe I have a child who actually saw the Taj Mahal in person. As a kid it was the most exotic, beautiful place and easily a million miles from the avenues of San Francisco! Lucky, lucky you."

It's one of those places that sits in your consciousness and when I stood before it my eyes started to tear up with the realization of just how lucky I was to be there. It is a remarkable structure not just for it's architectural grandeur but because of that psychic energy that people all over the world bring to it. It is the quintessential icon of the exotic for a westerner like me and to make a photograph of it is both a cliche, a challenge and an honor.

After zipping around the place and making the requisite snapshots I found myself looking for more interesting angles and approaches. As a last little bit of fun, I set my shutter to about an eighth of a second and snapped a few blurry shots. My friend, chimping over my shoulder, asked me what I was doing and I said, "you can only get these here". He laughed, realizing, that was true. Any photo of the Taj Mahal is a good one.

The next morning, I awoke early to see the sunrise on the Taj from our hotel room. The morning mist and pollution was so thick that it took a moment to adjust my eyes to even see the thing. I used my long lens and a high ISO to snap a few regardless. Later, in Photoshop, I started playing with the contrast and alike. Very quickly, the image took on a vintage feel. As a final touch I turned it sepia to complete the effect. I like it.

Take pictures, be humbled.

December 02, 2006

Varanasi Street

Every once in a while I just lift my camera up and make a shot of the streets. This was in Varanasi. I used a slightly long exposure in an attempt to evoke the chaotic feel of the place. It's one thing to shoot textures and portraits but when you pull back a bit, it's nice to have a little context for it all. Fun stuff.

Take pictures.

Textured Man

In the back alleys of Veranasi I approached a wall for it's texture but soon realized that the man sitting right next to it was equally worn. He had a slight smile and an easy air about him so I decided to linger around to see if I could make some more shots of him. After spending a few minutes trying to communicate with him and his friends (who were cooking some sort of vegetable doughnut things), I got the feeling that no one would be asking for money if I made some portraits. I wasn't trying to be cheap, that's generally just not my style (and a whole other discussion).

I gestured to see if I could make a photo of him, kidding that the wall and his crows feet were similar in their texture. He laughed with partial understanding and I got to make my shot. Simple enough.

Take pictures.

December 01, 2006

Cropped Shots

I try not to crop but for this shot I did. It was made quickly as I got into a taxi. My bags were still around my arms so composition was impossible. Her face was too good and once cropped, the shot conveys the beggar experience with more force.

So while I am no fan of cropping, sometimes it's worth it.

For the record, I gave this woman money though I think it was far too little.

This shot was made hanging out the door of my train. The little girl would glance and me every once and an while and as I would shoot, she'd turn away. It wasn't so much a game as something to do. Our train was moving very slowly and she was more bored than curious or playful. I later looked at the shot and thought it would be better if I cropped it in a bit and brought a little more attention to her. While it's not the most compelling shot, it's another shot I tried to salvage "in post."

Take pictures, crop sparingly.

Quickies

The banks of the Ganges in Varanasi have been photographed before. I must have seen colorful shots of folks bathing and performing rituals on the steps that lead down from the city a hundred times. I was curious what photographic opportunities would present themselves to me while I visited. I was feeling a certain amount of pressure to start making portraits as I hadn't really made that a priority over the past week. Not outside pressure, just within myself.

I opted not to take the Streetstudio this trip. A shock to some, I'm sure, but this is a survey trip. I didn't know what to expect. I am traveling with friends. And I wanted to keep it super light. As it i I only brought one pair of pants. With hindsight, I made the right decision. Logistically, it would have been a real hassle.

While sitting on the steps of the main ghat (the name for the access points to the river) one sees the melding of tourist culture and tradition. Sadhus mix with children asking for money or food, dozens ask if you need a boat or want to buy silk while Hindus go about their rituals. It's quite beautiful as night approaches which is when I made this shot of a man who pretends to be a sadhu but is really acting the part for money. He and I locked eyes from a distance and he continued staring as I raised my camera to my face. It was the first portrait that felt worthy and inspired me to make more in the days ahead.

I was holding two cameras on each shoulder looking like a real gear-head. One had the 70-210 (which is what the Sadhu shot is made with), the other had my 17-55 and that is what this shot of a the beggar girl is made with. She approached and I immediately raised the camera and snapped this shot. I don't think I was even looking through the viewfinder.

Take Pictures double fisted.