The War College A day on the Potomac, crewing for a friend who was delivering a boat to Colton's Point boatyard for some serious maintenance. My first pictures after a fallow period... This is the War College at Fort McNair, at the confluence of the Potomac Channel and the Anacostia River. Years ago a dear friend, Sarah Stone asked me "What do they study at the War College? And don't say "war"! She knows me too well... It's a public policy school geared towards military officers on the cusp of flag rank, and graduates a class of Masters of Arts every year. It's the War College, because it belonged to the War Department back before the War (Army) and Navy Departments were mreged into the Defense Department in the aftermath of the outlawing of war, back in the day. I always felt that classes should sing Down by the Riverside at their graduation ceremony...
Fort Washinton Riverine defense for the city of Washington, built after the city was captured and burned by what we would now call a combined services operation during the War of 1812. And never since used, though I suppose it possible that the guns and ramparts might have been needed during the Civil War. The pictures in this little post are in chronological order, and this view is a bit over ten miles south of the city as you go downstream on the Potomac. It's a two frame stitched panorama.
Mount Vernon Almost directly across the river from the fort. I've always liked George Washington's farmhouse, because, while it's a farmhouse on a big scale as befitted a successful agro-businessman, it is still a farmhouse, quite a different flavor from the palladian palace at Montecello.
55 Every big navigational buoy on the river has a pair of fish eagles, or ospreys, nesting on it. These two look pretty frazzled, but I'd expect that of a couple of young parents trying to keep the young ones in fish and no doubt wondering if they're in a good school district.
Fishing There is a big power plant at Possum Point in Virginia, with big power lines crossing the river. There's an osprey nest on the base of the closest pylon, but it doesn't look finished or occupied. But the bird in the middle of the picture on their way to Maryland has their fish...
The Lower Potomac The Potomac is tidal all the way to Washington, ninety miles from the mouth of the river between Point Lookout and Smith Point. An ocean going ship can go the whole distance, which is why there's a city where it is. As you approach the bay, the river widens and deepens, and the scale gets bigger and bigger, and you begin to get a sense of the Potomac as the old highway to the world for Tide Water Virginia and Southern Maryland. The is a stitched panorama made up of three individual photographs. The uneven horizon isn't bad stitching, but the distant shores of the river and its inlets. Looking dead upriver across the wake of our boat.
Manhattan From the Brooklyn Promenade
Washington DC, 22 March 2019 I went to New York last week to see Donna Gottschalk's Photographic Show Brave Beautiful Outlaws and to do a little shopping. The show was wonderful on a number of levels. Partly because some of the portraits are really strong, partly because I remembered some of the pictures from the time in spite of Gottschalk's disclaimer that they weren't widely distrubuted, and partly because I was on the edge of that community at the time and had dear friends in it. I was actually on the edge of at least three of the communities depicted, lesbians, political activists, and back yard aircooled Volkswagen mechanics!
I also went to check out wide angle lenses to replace my current 20mm lens, which is a little soft in the corners. There aren't that many candidates! Canon has a number of zooms as well as the prime lens I have now, but the reviews indicate I wouldn't get an improvement with them, so I was pushed to expensive third party lenses with Canon mounts. I rented the 25mm Zeiss Distagon from the Adorama rental base in Brooklyn and shot with it in both color and black and white in the evening and then the next morning as I walked around Cobble Hill and across the Brooklyn Bridge (a first for me!) on my way to the Adorama retail store in Manhattan to return it. I'm very pleased with it, and I have one winging to me second hand from Japan. I was planning on posting a little gallery of the day's shots here, but there's still some work to do.
The photo above is the second iteration of a two frame inrared panorama that I made with it. My first successful attempt to manipulate local contrast in Photoshop, local in the sense of contrast within part of the range between darkest and lightest rather than the entire range as a unit. It needs another round of work to take out the visible break in contrast between the sitting man and the sitting woman. I'm not sure where that came from, but I think it's an artifact of the boundry between the first and second frame that make up the stitch. Regardless, I'll have to darken that stripe so the eye doesn't hang on it. The visual center of the photo should be a bit to the right where the perspective bends. And, meanwhile, bring up the rest of the pictures from a very good photographic morning.
The Flamingo Hotel, Las Vegas
Washington DC, 20 March 2019 I mentioned Las Vegas in my last post, so I wanted to show that I did in fact spend the weekend in Marie Osmand's hair. As far as I can tell, Julee's and my hotel room was really right there behind her big '70s do. Beloved cousins Joy and Lex were getting married so we stayed at The Flamingo with the rest of the wedding party. It's an old, and surprisingly spare hotel, in spite of being completely rebuilt to replace the original Flamingo, which opened in 1946 and launched the Las Vegas strip. I don't know how many construction workers (or any?) died in the project, but one gangster, Bugsy Siegal, famously did, reputedly because the casino hotel didn't bring in the money big enough and fast enough for his crime world partners.
Las Vegas Room 1 So, here's the afternoon view from the big hair. The moiré pattern on the window is an artifact of the appliqué that makes up the banner on the front of the hotel.
The Flamingo's Flamingos It couldn't be the Flamingo Hotel without flamingos, could it? This shot is a three frame vertical panorama to get the flamingos, the palms, and The Flamingo all in one picture.
Ice, Washington Channel
Las Vegas, 9 March 2019 A recent image, just to give the blog post a bit of interest. I took this picture at the beginning of February during next to last cold spell, the last one long enough to bring real snow and ice, although it wasn't as real as all that, and melted quickly. Today, I'm looking at a definite warming trend in the ten day forcast for Washington D.C. Not that it couldn't get cold again, but we are well into March, and the Park Service is predicting the peak of the cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin at the beginning of April, right on time, and just before I head back to Nepal to trek to Gyoko Lakes.
And, I'm gathering myself up to make the next big leap in the design of this website, learning what the industry calls responsive web design, which is a big deal if you're trying to reach an audience that might be using a computer, or a big tablet, a smaller tablet, or a cell phone to read your website. What's perfect for one can be really off for others. One thing, of course, is to simplify the design so that everything's in line for the small device users. So, little to no wrapping text, nor images justified (floated, in the specialist jargon) left or right. There is a simple addition that greatly improves the relationship between image size and text size on the page depending on the device, and I've added that to many of my gallery pages and will add it to every page of this site once I'm back in my high bandwith home. But, I think I can also tweak the size of the images on the page, but will have to learn some more coding for that. More anon! (Later...)
Washington DC, 20 February 2019 My last post took my just short of two and a half hours to put together. Even simple things take time, and of course there is a lot of hidden complication. First, the photos weren't ready for prime time. A couple needed no real work, but still had to be reduced in size for the web, others needed tweaking, others needed a fair bit of tweaking, and one needed to be assembled as a vertical panorama from three feeder photos (Feeder fotos? Pheeder photos?). All interleaved, of course, with the process of deciding which pictures to use. Then, composing, framing text, and laying the photos out on this page. Not a complex process, especially as the design of the page has been simplified so that it can be made to present reasonably well on a cell phone. But, there's spacing to get right, which involves (for me) adding and subtracting line breaks by hand and checking to see how the latest version looks, and making sure that I have all the paragraph markers properly paired. Missing one can do odd things to one's chosen typefaces. Then there's proofing, which I do multiple times, first in the web editor, then in the local web environment on my own computer, and finally, after it's posted. And I still miss things... What I discovered I'd missed when I looked at this blog page today was uploading the photo that illustrated my 9 February thoughts. Fixed now, but that confirms me as the world's worst proofreader!
Today it's seriously snowing in DC and everything is closed, and Julee is working from home, busy taking meetings on Skype. (But where does she take them to?) I'm on the second day of being a serious artist, in the sense that I promised myself that I would set aside a block of time ever morning to do my photo work, and do that first, before I took care of other business. Because, even retired, I have fairly urgent other business to take care of. DC and Federal Taxes, for example! It's entirely too easy to get wrapped up in that sort of thing, and important, but later, later. I'm inspired by the writer W. Somerset Maugham who wrote and edited without fail between 9am and noon. Not full time work, but if you do it every day it adds up... This morning I worked on a panorama of my own DC Waterfront captured just after our last snowstorm which is turning out to be a real problem picture due to the exposure differences between frames, greatly compounded be the stark backlighting of the photo. More on that later!
Boston Puddle Portfolio #1
Washington DC, 19 February 2019 I'm just back from a week in Massachusetts, mostly dealing with the issues of a dear two hundred year old house on Cape Ann. But I slipped down to Boston one afternoon to catch the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit "Ansel Adams in Our Time". It was still afternoon when I got out, but late afternoon, and a dense, overcast, dark, Winter afternoon at that. There was dirty snow piled here and there, and it was cold enough to be raw, but not cold enough to freeze the puddles in the uneven sidewake, wherein the bare trees were reflected. There's no way I can resist this kind of reality once removed, so I shot a series of photos between the museum and my next destination on Boylston Street. Since I got a number of pictures I'm happy with, I've decided this will be my Puddle Portfolio.
Boston Puddle Portfolio #2
Boston Puddle Portfolio #3
Boston Puddle Portfolio #4
Boston Puddle Portfolio #5
Boston Puddle Portfolio #6
Boston Puddle Portfolio #7
The exhibit itself was very intesting, and contained some of my (and everyone's) favorite photographs. The Museum's Lane Collection of photographs is very wide and the exhibit had multiple prints of some of Adams' iconic photos made at different times and in different sizes. Adams, of course, wrote the book on photographic printing, which remains relevant today in the digital age. It was the bible in the analogue/chemical age of photography, even for those of us who didn't use sheet film and the zone system. It was fascinating seeing how much a better printer he became between 1925 and 1935, and to note that he continued to get better, although (necessarily!) in smaller increments throughout his photographic life. Of course, I also have to believe the chemistry and photo paper improved over the fifty plus years he was active.
Washington DC, 9 February 2019 Things are beginning to settle down and we're beginning to settle in, in spite of the fact that we're still in transient quarters and likely to be in them until mid-March. But when we do get our own place we won't be moving very far, so we can start our routines and they won't need to be created again when we make our final move. It's as exotic in it's way as Nepal, though not as colorful as Patan, and it doesn't seem as exotic to us, because it's home, what the the Nepalis call the mother-home, the place you're from and rooted in. And, of course, because we're here indefinitly. I haven't been any place indefinitely since I joined the Foreign Service at thrity three, and it's an odd feeling! We're living on a boat in the Potomac River, in the midst of a redevelopment and extremely gentrified waterfront neighborhood. Gentrified... Hell, this once charmingly seedy well worn down at the heels corner of Washington DC has been aristocrified. If we weren't grandfathered in to this spot by my very long term attachment to the Capital Yacht Club I don't think we could afford to live here.
Winter Wharf, Washington DC
Washington DC, 31 January 2019
It’s been nearly two months since my last update to blog or website. The month of December Julee and I were — rather sooner than expected — pulling up stakes in Patan and Nepal, packing up and shipping the contents of our little apartment, and flying out just after the New Year. Since then we’ve been busy pounding the stakes back in here in North America – in Gloucester and in Washington DC, where Julee is a new Senior Director at one of the big International NGOs.
It’s been pretty busy and full of event, and I was frankly surprised when I checked my blog and saw it had been only seven weeks since my last short entry. Though I have to admit updates were pretty thin in the month of November too.
This week I’m posting a new galley of infrared pictures I took in New Orleans four years ago. Infrared photography is a total kludge, a kludge being a computer nerd's term for a improvisational process patched together any which way. The cameras are not made for these wavelengths, nor the lenses, and while it can be made to work — sometimes with spectacular results — it is a lot of work, and a lot of knowledge about technique is required. I've been picking that up bit by bit over the last five years and I feel I still have a long way to go. At the time I took the pictures in New Orleans I had figured out the importance of in-camera white balance and how to adjust it to get reasonably neutrally colored .jpg images from infrared images, but it was a year short of the time that I read the wonderfully and highly technical book Image Clarity. (Not cheap... Typical of relatively obscure technical books with important messages.) That gave me new tools, without which the New Orleans pictures hung in the “Not quite there yet” category in my files. I'm really happy to get them posted.
I'm going to trying to start running this web site to a schedule, and post a new gallery twice every three weeks, Monday to Wednesday week for one gallery, and Wednesday to Monday week for the next. I certainly have enough material to keep that up for a while, though it's all jumbled in my head. I should be able to manage that schedule except when I'm doing extreme travel, for example my homecoming trek in high Nepal in April. We'll call this post the start, and I'll get on a gallery of infrared tree photos for the Monday after next.
Shep Kip Mei, Hong Kong
Kathmandu Valley, 3 December 2018 A new month, and, since I'm starting a new entry I'm going to be archiving my last month's posts and moving on. I've just spent a bit over a week in Hong Kong, first for a dear friend's wedding, and then to rennect with other dear friends, and then to dig into the gallery scene, which I'll admit is as much a mystery as ever. I don't know if galleristas struggle as much as artists, but I suspect the running is closer than most believe.
And, progress has pulled me along. The photo above is one of the first of my images from my new camera. I've said for years that if Canon brought out a full frame non-SLR, with a body shallow enough to take a variety of vintage rangefinder lenses, I would buy it. So what could I do? Well, it wasn't a completely automatic decision, although I have been saving since the product announcement of the new EOS-R. Canon, Inc. has a comprehensive showroom in the iSquare building, across Nathan Road from my temporary digs in Chungking Mansion, so I trotted across the street with my big cameras and their lenses to check it out. It only took a few seconds... It really is a big step forward for the serious photographer. The R isn't tiny, but it's noticeably smaller and lighter than the 5D, and it solves my current problems with precise focus, and does so without any fuss whatsoever. And, there was a small savings to buying it in Hong Kong on the assumption of a small risk in having a primary camera with a China only warranty... I slept on it, and slept on it again, and then trotted back across the street with my credit card. No regrets!
Kathmandu Valley, 14 November 2018 Working on my page of infrared photos taken in Haiti last December, and realizing that it will be towards the end of the week before I have the text written and pounded into shape. Last night I had the fond hope that it could be posted to this web site today, but the writing takes time. My boss is Haiti years ago was a bit irritable at how long it took me to compose. He was, in the best tradition of Foreign Service political officers, very fast himself. But his edges were rougher, and I couldn't bring myself to throw together a narrative where the seams showed. I really wanted and want to tell a story that flows... Besides, I'm terrible in detail and spelling, so there's a lot of proofing involved. And I still miss stuff! One of the things that works for me in the online world is that I can notice an error in something I posted a week or a month ago, and fix it.
(In all honesty, even allowing for the difference in styles, my boss was still faster than me. I shrug expressively!) (I actually had the page up the next day, though it took a real chunk of time and effort.)
Shoe Store, Mangal Bazar, Patan, Nepal (12 November 2018) This is one of a number of pictures I took just about a week ago on the walk to and from dinner at the fancy mall. The fancy mall is just within the grass covered stupa that marks one of the cardinal compass points of Old Patan, so if you walk one way from it you're in the world of worldly and cosmopolitan wealth, and if you walk the other direction you're in the medievel city, affected by, but not overwhelmed by, the influx of tourists of authenticity and slightly grundgier resident foreign people like yours truly. This is a shoe store on the street I call Mangal Bazar (which might be the name of the street, or might be the name of the neighborhood to one side of street) that leads to Patan's Palace Square. It gets cold in the winter in the Kathmandu Valley (Nepalis are already putting on their puffy jackets, although it's still a bit in the future that I'll be wearing my battered old ski jacket on the street) but not freezing, so these kind of open shops are the the thing.
Pharmacy, Mangal Bazar, Patan, Nepal This is a pharmacy, just down the street from the shoe store above. I love Nepali pharmacies! Most everything is available, over the counter, and really cheap, literally so cheap that I don't bother claiming against my U.S. medical insurance. Some of the drugs are made in Nepal, some in India. The stores ofter don't have doors or windows, but they can be closed by rolling down the metal shatters. Simple for the pharmacy, since the stock is safe behind the counter, but the shoe store will have to be set up at opening, and the outside displays brought inside at closing.
Pimbahal Fresh Potato Chips Corner, Patan, Nepal This is one of Julee's favorite spots, but I have to admit that Unique Fashion is the store that's actually on the corner. But Unique Fashion doesn't sell wonderful fresh small batch handmade salty potato chips. Once again I'm totally charmed by this medieval city that is such a well deserved draw for tourists, but is also a modern, dense, neighborhood, serving the resident community, some of whom count hundreds of years of residence.
I will also admit that this is a composite photograph, assembled with my panorama software from a couple of frames taken within short seconds of each other. This was to improve the composition... I've recently discovered that Reuters photographers are forbidden almost all post production manipulation of their pictures, even such things as exposure corrections, as Reuters wants to avoid any accusations of journalistic malfeasance. It's a reasonable take in the digital age, but I'm interested, given that W. Eugene Smith -- possibly the greatest photo-journalist of them all -- was renowned as a brilliant hands on printer. He didn't change any compositional elements, but he darkened and lightened areas of his prints, going beyond burning and dodging to the use of ferricyanide bleach on the paper print to highlight areas.
There's a lot of philosophy here. Fortunately I'm not a journalist... And, I acknowledge my manipulations of my photos. I'm also aware that full objectivity is almost impossible, although, like a limit in calculus, a journalist should strive to approach it as closely as possible. Errol Morris digs into this quite deeply in his book Believing is Seeing, which is a very interesting read, but also rather disturbing for this artist. At what point does a closer and closer examination of a piece of art deprive it of meaning? Journalistic or otherwise? I'll leave it there.
Kathmandu Valley, 11 November 2018 It's Armistace Day. A hundred years to the day since the end of the fighting on the Western Front. I don't hold with the mid-20th Century renaming of the holiday as Veterans or Remembrance Day, although I'm absolutely onboard with honoring the service of soldiers of subsequent wars. It's a normal Sunday in Nepal, no official holiday, but Nepal fought with the allies in both World Wars, both as country, with Royal Nepal Army units joining the fray, and through the large numbers of Nepali volunteers who joined the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army. The round number snuck up on me. It's been quite a century...
Fishtail Valley, Nepal, 9 November 2018 It's been a quiet month in terms of current photography as I struggle with the technical challenges of old pictures. The color version of my Marché Croix des Bossales panorama went together very quickly in the early stages, and then foundered in weird color artifacts around the masks I used to fix the stitching errors around the power lines. Discouraging. And a lot harder to fix in Photoshop than the original breaks in the powerlines. But I'll get back to it in a day or two, after I'm back in Kathmandu and have the big monitor to help with clearly seeing detail and the big picture, all at once.
Koi, Patan Meanwhile... (7 November 2018) Julee and I have a visitor, the delightful Laurie Blackstock from Canada. This is the week of Tihar, the second of the big autumn holidays of Nepal. The last three days of the week are national holidays, hence our jet (turbo prop?) setting escape to Pokhara, and this valley to the west of Pokhara at the foot of the Annapurna Massif. But, Julee went to the office on Monday and Tuesday, so I was Laurie's guide. And what better place to do tourism than the medieval center of the city of Patan? Carried my big infrared camera, of course! The picture above shows the koi in the fountain in the courtyard of the Timila Hotel where we started our day. The picture below shows one of the wonderful Newari towers rising from the palace of the Newari kings, where we ended our day.
From Sundari Chowk, Patan Palace
Kathmandu Valley, 24 October 2018 (P.S.) The Marché Croix des Bossales panorama is done! I ended up using the warp function in transform mode to cover the two corners, and here it is. It's a huge photo with enormous detail. It will print large very well. I'm very happy tonight.
Kathmandu Valley, 24 October 2018 I've spent a good part of this day in determined processing of this panorama in Photoshop. I've learned a lot, and can now reliably skew a chosen part of an image, making it possible for me to splice together the power lines and other cables that didn't quite meet in midair, as below. And, I can now reliably select, copy, and paste little bits of the image to patch the artifacts that the skewing creates. Man, it's twiddly work though! It's very small, repetitive actions that require fine motor control, a high level of attention, and then constant checking to afirm that you did it correctly in the sense of really achieving the invisible patch needed. I am reminded of a talk on Tanka painting I went to a couple of weeks ago. These are Buddhist religious paintings that often contain dizzyng pattern and incredibly fine detail. The masters, who have been through a decade or more of instruction and practice, paint with gold and precious minerals with brushes they make themselves that at their finest consist of single cat hairs.
I don't claim that level of spiritual mindfulness, nor that kind of steadyness, and I have the enormous advantage of being able to chose "Undo" from the Edit menu when it hasn't gone right. But like the men and women with their single strand brushes, I was manipulating realy tiny blocks of pixels, down to two, in making my patches. That stage is done. Now: The blue lines top and bottom are the guide lines I've dropped in to show me where the image has to be cropped to, top and bottom. I need to do a prospective action on the bottom right corner, to straighten out the building and to pull the image down into the corner so I don't have to severely crop the bottom of the photo, which has some nice action in it. Need a bit of that in the upper left corner too, but it's a smaller area, and should be easier. And, I can crop the sky more aggressively if needed. It won't hurt the image as much as cropping the bottom. But, I don't know how to do a prospective action on just part of the image. My lesson for tomorrow..
Detail From the Marché Croix des Bossales Panorama
Kathmandu Valley, 23 October 2018 Yesterday afternoon (after posting the Greater Angkor page on my web site) I did some list making. There are three big panoramas I need to finish. It may be that I've gotten enough better at Photoshop to pull them off. The first of my list is the big panorama of the Marché des Bossales I took in December in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A big panorama like that containing a lot of action and stitched from eight individual photos isn't going to go together without a certain amount of encouragement. There were a lot of ghosts, that is to partial or doubled people who had moved between frames. I thought I'd gotten rid of them all, but a couple of weeks ago I went over the whole panarama very carefully, and found three that I had completely missed before, and so reopened the stitching software and spent a grumpy hour carefully masking duplicate people out, restitching, and then really carefully examining the result to be sure I had 'em all. Now the remaining issues revolve first around the power lines, and then the corners. You can see the issue with the power lines in the detail to the left. I'm not at all sure how this comes about but it seems to be a fundamental issue with horizontal lines in every stitching software package I've tried. It has to be fixed by hand Photoshop. The morning's work cut out for me!
Kathmandu Valley, 22 October 2018 Well, the photographic page on the Bayon is posted in my galleries. Take a look... I may still have more to say on all the related issues, but in good time, in good time...
Kathmandu Valley, 21 October 2018 I'm having some real issues with putting together a page on the recent trip to the Bayon in Angkor Thom, one of the iconic temples in the area of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I've a lot to say about Angkor Thom, first visually, then as a hook for thoughts on modern tourism, then a bit about the historical record, and then about the conciousness of history (as apposed to the History of Conciousness which was an actual degree program at my alma mater, and not so silly as it sounds) and then about lost cities, of which the Angkor complex is a prime example, and finally a little something on pre-modern economy of provisioning a large urban area. That's a lot to try to put into a web page on a site that is, after all, supposed to be about photography! I think I'll leave most of it out, perhaps circling back around to it on this blog.
Tonle Sap, Cambodia, 16 October 2018 I've been a liveaboard during three different periods in Washington DC, but this seems to me to be the way to do it... Of course, in a waterlogged neighborhood like Southeast Asia, living on the water is easier and more normal than it is in North America. I get the sense that a lot of our neighbors in Washington DC feel that we're getting away with something, rather than giving some life and stability to the Waterfront.
Here, well, these are just folks, whose people have been living on, and making a living from, the water for a long time. Thousands of years? I'd find it easy to believe. There are two pieces of dry land in this floating village, the cremation platform, which we passed on the way in, and the Buddhist monestey, whence the heading picture was taken. The rest of it floats. Homes, stores, the school, the communal hall where tourists like us are welcomed... It's small town Cambodia, complete with front porches, and young people (check my last post!) driving too fast. The heading picture is a five shot panorama, and the closing shot a three shot panorama of one of the three channels from the other end.
Long Tailed Boats, Cambodia, 16 October 2018
(Adapted from my Facebook Post!) I'm a boater, and I DO have a thing for Southeast Asia long tailed boats, and I'm in Cambodia where such things are normal. Starting with the arty shot, in infrared. Below there's one with a couple going about their business and another with a couple of kids on their way to waking the whole floating village on the edge of the Tonle Sap. Those kids... They can't be more than... ten? I guess you get into fast boating early in this environment! When I first ran across long tailed boats in Vietnam they had a definite hand made and improvisational quality to them. Not any more. Most of these, at least the small ones, are fiberglass, and the swivels, the engines, and the long propeller shaft all looked intentional, slick, and manufactured. I want one!
Tipsy in Siem Riep, Cambodia, 14 October 2018 Just tipsy... I've only been seriously drunk twice in my life, once in college, and once in Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 Earthquake when I was nursing a strangely coincidental broken leg. But the pineapple old fashioneds at the Aviary Hotel are delicious and go down easily.
Siem Riep is the gateway to Angkor Wat, one of the architectual treasures of the world, but I don't think I'm going to take photography very seriously there. Great photographers have been there before me, including the wonderful John McDermott who built up an amazing body of work shooting Angkor Wat in infrared. His big prints are appropriately pricey, but I bought his book the last time I came to this neighborhood during the end of year holidays in December 2011.
I've been sitting up in bed going over the pictures I took on that visit. Wah! I've learned a lot since then. I already had the first big infrared camera, and surely had it with me, but didn't shoot a single frame with it. It predated my figuring out how to set the white balance to get readable .JPGs by some months and my figuring out how to expand the dynamic range of the fundamentally short ranged infrared photo in Photoshop by some years. I'm not sure I took any pictures in Siem Riep or Angkor Wat that trip that are better than good vacation snapshots. I'll carry my cameras this time (always do!) but without strong expectations that I'll be shooting anything memorable, at least not in the temple complex itself. We are going boating on the Tonle Sap on Tuesday... That's the big seasonal lake just to the south that moderates the flow of the Mekong River. It's soon after the rains of monsoon season, so the lake covers it's greatest extent, and we'll see what presents itself that might be visually interesting.
Kathmandu Valley, 11 October 2018 Julee is away for a couple of days on a business trip inside Nepal, and I've spent the day building a new page for my web site using Infrared Panoramas taken in North America. It started yesterday... I had been thinking of some pictures I'd taken a couple of summers ago on a family trip to Maine, and yesterday I spent some time revisting and rebuilding them. Happy with the work and they're the first entries in a new page called "American Infrared 'Scapes" I trolled through other folders of older American work, and ended up rebuilding pictures I'd given up on at the time. Then, my skills and tools weren't quite up to finishing them to my satisfaction. I've learned a lot in the last three years, which is great, but I can easily look on the flip side and shudder at how much I still need to learn about digital photography.
Off Cape Ann
For example, three years ago I could not get this picture to stitch up properly. No matter what I did the land showed obvious breaks. This morning (11 October 2018) the picture just came together. I'm using a different application for this work, but I also suspect that the code crunchers writing and maintaining these stitching programs have made improvements over the last three years. I'm very pleased with the product. But there is still some work I want to do, in improving the smoothness of the sky. The variation in color in the water is clearly due to the reflection of the clouds, and is fine. It's harder to tell what is going on above, and whether it's an artifact of the various component frames or of the stitching process. More later... I wouldn't normally post a picture that I didn't considered really finished, but I really wanted to get this one up, and it's part of the page.
So, this Thursday morning when no one was coming to the apartment and I had no need to go anywhere, I spent the day moving between my second favorite workspace, the desk with the absurdly large and sharp NEC monitor, and my top favorite workspace, the bed. Bit by bit I assembled photos into the page, finding and recreating old images, updating other pages that have to link to the new one and testing them, along with the links on the new page that have to work for the page to be right. My pages aren't complex, but I code by hand, and html code is very sensitive to small errors. (One of reasons I code by hand is that it's so much easier to find errors in code one has written oneself.) I felt it was all going pretty well and that I was closing in posting my new page.
But... Looking over the whole website I found I wasn't happy with the overlap between the last posted gallery of infrared pictures from Arizona. So, I pulled the cream of that page into the new one, and I'm going to retire the Arizona page. I'll delete the link, so you won't be able to say it's broken! Composing something like this site is interesting, since I'm trying to keep it clear, interesting, and cohesive at all of levels, from the individual sentence to the whole site. And, it's always going to be a work in progress, so it will change and morph as we go forward.
Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu Valley, 7 October 2018 As promised below I went back this morning. It was Sunday, which is the first day of the work week in Nepal, so the equivalent of Monday, but it was very quiet, though there were the expected students on the way to school scattered throughout the foreground. It wasn't until later in the morning that the coin dropped for me. We're coming up on the autumn holiday season in Nepal, with Dasain, the first big multi-day holiday starting a week from Tuesday. A lot of people are already wrapping up their emotional year and are on the move, either towards their villages of origin in the hills or vacations hung on the long string of leave days. For the westerners, it's beginning to feel a bit like the week between Christmas and New Year's. That's fine. I like quiet as long as I can buy groceries, and we'll be on the move the week of Dasain too.
This picture takes in a full 180 degress and a bit, assembled from seven frames created with the 20mm Canon on my full frame color camera. I could have done it with six, but I had to add a seventh from another series to patch the lower right hand corner. It stitched up quickly and cleanly. I suspect it's still a work in progress. I put some real thought into the exposure, both while capturing the images and during the initial post processing, but I'm wondering if I can do more to hold the sky and the temples where they are (this is actually an accurate rendition of what it looked like) while opening up (lightening) the forground shadows a little to make that part of the picture a little easier to read.
If you walk down to the end of this picture to the right, then turn right, two to three hundred meter's walk would bring you to our front door. The square is obviously a big part of my life, because it's special in a big way, and because it's a part of the life of the neighborhood. Like almost everybody you see, I walk through on a daily basis simply because it's on the way. And, during business hours, I have to explain myself in Nepali to the guardians of the site to avoid paying the fee levied on tourists. Occasionally I have to show my bona fides in the form of my Nepali driver's license.
I was newly arrived in Kathmandu and still quite fresh at the U.S. Embassy in September of 2015 when embassy management was briefed by the producers and fixers for the film Dr. Strange in advance of descent of cast and crew on Kathmandu. It was fairly shortly after the 2015 Earthquake and during the fuel crisis caused by the closing of the border with India. The producers really wanted to film outdoor scenes in Kathmandu, in part, I'm sure, because it is so picturesque and cinematic, but they stuck to it in the face of the real difficulties of the period because they felt that a big project like that with real money to spend at a time when tourism was truly thin would be a welcome boost. And of course it was. I've no idea how the got the fuel they needed for vehicles and gensets, but to quote Kipling, "ask no questions and you'll be told no lies." They talked at length about filming in Patan Durbar Square, because they felt that it was the most cinematic of the three big centers of that kind in the valley, and said that they'd mask the earthquake damage with CGI -- and use CGI to move the High Himalaya closer to the city. I took them completely at their word, to the point that it wasn't until I'd seen the film the third time that I really wrapped my mind around the fact that, after all, the square got only about three seconds of screen time, in one fairly closely cropped long shot, with no mountains!
Still, I think they did a really nice montage of Benedict Cumberbatch searching Kathmandu for mystical and hidden Kamar-Taj, including shots at Bouddhanath and Swayambunath temples, and great typical crowded streets and squares filled with great typical Nepali crowds. It was an event, with people swapping stories of Cumberbatch sightings and their days of boredom as extras. I never saw the stars and never tried to because I think that even those who make their lives and living through fame deserve some space and respect. But, I did meet technical crew members by chance at the Hyatt where production was based.
And, the one thing in the film that challenged my suspension of disbelief? I'm okay with multi-dimensional magic! But a violent gang mugging on the streets of Thamel? One can get into trouble a lot of other ways in Nepal (never trek alone!) but that could never happen in today's Kathmandu...
Patan Durbar Square, Kathmandu Valley, 4 October 2018 A couple of days ago I was headed home after my early morning Nepali lesson, and I said to myself "The light's good, I wish I had come prepared" and myself answered rather sharply "Laurence, you always carry a camera. Don't you have the big color camera in your briefcase?" "Well, (sheepishly) yes..." So I detoured through Patan Durbar (Palace)Square on my way home and took the images for a couple of panoramas. I would have like a wider angle lens, but the best camera is the one with you (and I actually doubt there is a better general purpose camera than the Canon EOS 5Ds r) and the best lens would have to be the one attached to the camera that's with you, in this case a 40mm manual focus Cosina Voightlander. This image is the result. I'm standing on the public platform next to one of the middle palace doors, panning around from almost 180 degrees left to a full 180 degrees right. It's too early for the tourists, so all in sight are neighborhood people going through the square on their daily business.
I do think I'm going to go back, and retake the component pictures with my wide 20mm Canon lens to get a bit more in while paying more attention to the edges and forground of the picture. I may have to go back more than once to get the right light.
Kathmandu Valley, 29 September 2018 Home, after over two months on the road. And, it's been nearly two months since my last blog post. Patan Continues to Build... Julee and I got off the plane from Istanbul at 6:30 in the morning last Saturday, took the cab home to our apartment behind Patan Durbar Square, showered, slipped out for breakfast at the neighboring Swotha Cafe (highly recommended!) and, nearing home again, heard the unmistakable sound of a concrete vibrator. The building project in front of our apartment building has gotten to the fourth floor (fifth floor for you Yankees) and by sheer coincidence, that morning was the pour. As you can see in the picture it's remarkably close by. We're cosy with our neighbors here in Old Patan! The pour has just started, beginning at the corner away from the stairs. The three people in the background with baskets on their shoulders are carrying the wet concrete to the workface from the mixing area on a floor below. Hard work! This picture was taken on the fly, composited from an adjacent pair of photos because I didn't feel I had the time to change lenses to something wider angled. I also didn't reset the ISO from my previous night shots, so this picture has a lot of noise, giving it a gritty, grainy, journalistic look that I rather like.
2018 08-03 Gloucester, Massachusetts Three years ago I took a picture of the Boudha Stupa I'm very pleased with. But, it was moment in time. Specifically it was the moment when the Tibetan Buddhists of Boudhanath where tearing down the harmika for rebuilding. For you westerners, that's the cuppola or spire-like structure on the dome. This one had been damaged in the big earthquake earlier in the year. I rather liked the image of the scaffolding against the clouded sky, but that was only one opinion! When I had a big print of the picture up during my Kathmandu Art Gallery show earlier this year a Tibetan gentleman admired it but told me rather sharply and pointedly that he would buy the print with the fully restored dome and harmika. I just looked at him. “You know that picture is highly weather dependent?” The clouds made it! And the clouds are only that shape and color in the right season. Perhaps only that very evening. That moment might never come again, or if something like it came, I could be somewhere else. I had actually been back several times and shot panoramas in color and infrared without coming home with anything I was happy with. But, it shaped into a challenge for me to go back, with an eye on the sky when I could expect monsoon or post-monsoon skies. The result, above, from mid-July this year. Taken from the other side of Boudha as the earlier picture, and with a wide 20mm lens, six frames stitched together, then heavily cropped from the bottom to preserve the sense of scale. It took a number of runs over the course of the last weeks to get a final picture I was happy with, and I actually bought a third panorama stitching program for it! So, courtesy of Autopana Giga, a fine program assembled by nerdly French programmers, whose thought processes seem even more convoluted and... different than those of the average nerdly programmer!
So it's not just my neighborhood of Patan that is a-building, but all of Kathmandu, which is comprised of three big metropolitan units, Patan - also known as Lalitpur - to the south, Kathmandu proper to the north, and Bhaktapur to the east. The first two are one, every way but administratively, while the third is a little distant and separate. Boudhanath is in the northeast of Kathmandu proper. I'll go back, later this year when I return to Nepal, in the hopes that the monsoon clouds stick around a bit, and next year, when the skys get interesting again with the rains.
2018 07-02 Kathmandu Valley It seems a little self-indulgent to lead this month off without a picture. And it's definitely self-indulgent to talk about my home decorating plans... Well, life is hard, and a little self indulgence sometimes takes the edge off of it. Aside from one of my old San Francisco street photos I haven't hung anything in our Patan apartment since we moved. That one was from my 35mm Kodak Tri-X film days and was already framed. It ended up on the landing outside our door. So, when I made my last order with Hong Kong's Danny Chau I included a medium sized print to be framed. The framers called me yesterday to let me know it was ready. All day Patan has had rain, and I'm sure that if I went out it would rain on me (I take these things personally) so I've stayed indoors and found and separated the two big prints I want to hang. When I was in my twenties and printing the Tri-X negatives on Agfa Brovira glossy photo paper I generally didn't print bigger than 11 X 14 inches. The paper was very expensive for a young waiter in less than fancy restaurants, but, also, making good bigger prints was really hard because of the inprecision of even good enlargers. You could spend an hour or so tweaking an enlarger into corner to corner alignment before you opened the box of paper. And then the next time you'd have to do it all over again, because someone knocked up against the enlarger table or (insidiously) the ambient temperature changed. Two things now make a difference for big prints. One, I have a bit more money, but number two is the big one. The inkjet printers used in the digital photographic world are so precise, and by nature so precise... You can really count on the outcomes. Different world! But, the issues around big prints don't completely go away. Here's a set I took out of their box and unrolled to remove the prints I'm going to hang:
So there's a picture after all! As you can see these prints are enormous. The big one on the bottom, "Dendi Expounds" is nine feet or three meters long. And while I'm more flush than I used to be, each print still represents a big investment, proportional to size, so I store and treat them very carefully indeed. They're always separated with good tissue paper, rolled up and unrolled with great care, and while I don't do the most right thing and wear specialist white gloves, I do wash my hands more or less every couple of minutes when I'm doing this. I should have them up tomorrow, at which point I'll have more to say.
2018 06-29 Kathmandu Valley, Patan Builds! (Copied from my Facebook post.) This is a follow-up to my post a couple of days ago and my blog post at www.lkj.online. As you can see, the door frame that was laid out in the street being measured for the squaring batten is now in place, and the masons are bricking it in along with its earlier placed twin. I have all kinds of engineering questions about how they're doing this, and no engineer to ask. I may have to try and make friends with someone in NSET, Nepal's earthquake prep agency. I think it will be a good looking traditionally styled building, in spite of being modern reinforced concrete at it's core. Good thing, given its location at the same intersection as a small, but very active community temple, complete with traditional band that plays on festival nights.
2018 06-27 Kathmandu Valley: The Building of Patan
Trouble, trouble, toil and rubble
Patan build and Patan crumble
To paraphrase Shakespeare, though it's not so much that Patan crumbles, though it did some of that on the day of the earthquake three years ago. But, for every building that fell, there are dozens, perhaps scores, perhaps hundreds, of active building sites in traditional Patan. The neighborhood is full of old buildings that are picturesque, but small, cramped, and patently fragile, being built before the modern Nepali era of rebar and concrete. Some are very visibly earthquake damaged and are being demolished, and some less so and are being demolished, always to be replaced by a new and more modern building unless the old building was truly special and really deserves preservation. The temples on Durbar (Palace) Square fall into that category. Whether crumbled all at once, or compromised by earthquake damage, they will be restored to their original appearance and original function. For the most part they are every bit as much working houses of worship as Chartres or the Sagrada Familia, although like them also monuments of sublime architecture for people of all points of view. In the picture of Patan Durbar Square above you'll see some of it.
I'd usually work left to right, but this time starting at the right, the Krishna Temple. Throughout most of the last year this stone building has been covered in metal scaffolding. And, all through that, it has remained and fully active and very busy temple. Krishna devotees sing and play music, and most weekend evenings found a large group on the well lit second floor making holy noise. Really quite wonderful! The scaffolding came off some day in the last weeks when I wasn't looking. The girl immediately in front of the temple is a tourist having her guide take her picture. That was a long, drawn out affair! I've never been inside the fence. I'm not deep enough into Nepali culture to be sure of how to comport myself in a temple, so tend to hold back if I don't have a guide or an invitation. To the left the Jagannarayan Temple, still under reconstruction, but recently out of its scaffolding, and further to the left, the Vishnu Temple with its step-y tower. (I've often wondered if the step-y style of Art Deco was stolen from South Asian temple architecture.) Then, the brass image of King Yogendra Malla on his column, the first thing put right after it fell during the earthquake. You can't, obviously, get close to it, but it is, by itself, one of the great works of art. Further down, the Harishanker, still in scaffolding, then the Telaju Bell (more on this another time perhaps) and, at the very end, the other Krishna Temple, also known as the Chyasim Deval. It's an amazing octagonal stone building. The scaffolding came off a long time ago, leaving a couple of welded stainless steel bands holding the building together between the first and second level should it get shaken up again.
You can see them in this infrared picture from last year if you look closely. It is less of a temple and more of a monument, not to mention a sitting out area (as they say in Hong Kong) for the neighborhood.
On the secular side, this scene two half blocks from my front door. I’ve no idea what was here before, since this building project has been part of this street since this street has been part of my life. Floor by floor it has risen! Unlike the project in my own goli (alley) where the brick walls have been built with the completion of each floor this building’s whole structure has gone up first and the finish items are just being started. In this case, the framing lumber for the street level doors. The ones for this side of the building have been placed, ready for the brick masonry to be laid around them, and the crew is assembling the frames for the doors on the other face, around the corner. Just like the old worksites I remember from California there seems to be one guy doing the work and four supervisors. Five if you count me... But, on reflection, three of us are really just random lookers on, although in the California building trades anybody looking on was considered a useless “supervisor”!
2018 06-17 Kathmandu Following on to my Facebook post of a couple of days ago, here's another shot of my neighborhood, an extreme panorama that I captured almost exactly a month ago, and stitched together yesterday. It's a view to the west from the roof of the apartment building I live in. Like most modern Nepali buildings, the roof is part of the living space. The deep chowk or courtyard in the foreground is the Ombahal, the center of a little community, with a temple on the right side as seen in the picture. Following on to comment the other day about construction, there are actually two construction sites on the chowk. In the far right corner there's a narrow building that has been gutted and refurbished. In the far left corner there's a new building going up on the site of a recent demolition. When the rightside building was a worksite the corner of the chowk was filled with building materials, and cement was being mixed in front. Happily that's all been nicely cleaned up, especially as the other easy entrance to the chowk and our home is at that corner. It would have been a bit grim if both ways to our front door had been compromised at the same time. I have huge sympathy for my neighbors whose front doors are right in front of the construction site in the goli/alley in front of our building. Yesterday a crew filled in the trench down our goli and laid out brick on top of it in the typical herring bone pattern of pavement in this neighborhood. Everything is still a bit muddy (it rained monsoon rain yesterday), and a bit sandy, but it's definitely progress!
This panorama was shot with a very wide 20mm lens, and consists of eight overlapping images, sitched together using PTGui. When I processed the raw images I bumped up the color saturation and vibrance a bit to properly reflect the warm afternoon light and the clarity of the view. The full sized image has a lot of detail and would print very big.
2018 06-16 Kathmandu: I feel I should write a longish piece about the Building of Patan. There is SO MUCH demolition and construction going in this neighborhood behind Durbar (Palace) Square. I captured this a couple of days ago. It's our goli (alley) looking out from the little Ombahal Chowk. (A chowk in this case is a communal courtyard.) Our doorway is right beyond the framing doors, which are never closed, since a whole little community lives behind them. We've been coming in through the other goli into and through the chowk because the more direct route is marginally passable on good days, what with being dug up for new sewer lines and so far only partially filled in. And the building under construction I posted on a few days ago is right where the group of neighbors and construction foreman have congregated. I'm not walking past that on the day of the next big pour!
This picture is also interesting since it's my first go at making High Dynamic Range, or HDR, images in photoshop, which is why you can see the sunlit people and the shadowy graffiti all in one go.
2018 06-13 Kathmandu Monday I was home alone (Julee has a day job, after all) and about nine thirty I heard a very loud, insistant buzzing. I know that sound. It's a concrete vibrator, a rather heavy duty specialized tool for getting the air pockets out of wet concrete. A look out from the front balcony gave me this view:
It's a major pour, the entire first floor of the building that's going up in the goli (alley) leading to our apartment building. The side side goli was filled with a sheet of wet concrete about six inches thick. I'm very curious as to how that happened. Since the construction crew has been staging sand, gravel, and presumably sacks of cement in the goli for the last couple of weeks I have to suppose they mixed it right there, on the ground. I would have liked to have seen that, since it must have been a wild dance right before the beginning of the pour.
Every gram of wet concrete was carried up the ladder by a crew of five of what British-acculturated would call hod carriers, but they used typical Nepali conical baskets with forehead lines instead of hods, and carrying lot more weight than a hod carrier could. In the picture you can see a pair of men with an assisted shovel (one guy has the shovel in his hands, and the other has a T handled rope tied to the neck of the shovel, and adds his muscle to the shovel, which must make a real difference, given how much a shovelfull of concrete wieghs and how many shovelfulls they have to move and how quickly. You can't see the basket on the ground on its side because the guy with the white cap is in front of it. When it's full a couple of others will help get the basket to the carrying position, and the carrier will climb the ladder with it and dump in on the face of the work. You can see one carrier with a full basket going, and three with empty baskets headed back for their next load. There are half a dozen at the workface. Some are shovelling the wet concrete into shape and one has a big wooden float trowel and makes the final surface flat and smooth. The vibrator is the long hose-y thing in the middle of the top of the picture.
It all has to happen very quickly, because the concrete has to be wet enough to flow and be worked, and it has to set all in one piece or its strength will be fundamentally compromised. In fact, the job was completely finished about two hours after I took this picture. A call out to Sunny Skys who taught me a lot about concrete when I worked on his crew in my not-quite-muscular-enough twenties!
2018 06-06 Kathmandu "I'm all, This is hard!" to quote Jennifer Elise Cox playing Nurse Trainee Pittman on the old Will and Grace. In my case I've just returned to my big infrared panorama of the Marché des Bossales in Haiti. It's not that far off of being ready for prime time, with all the ghosts exorcised. In the stitched panorama world a "ghost" is a person (or object) who is not completely rendered because they moved between frames, leading to halved, or doubled, people.
Exorcism involves careful masking of one or more frames. Masking can help mis-stitches too, but there is an insiduous issue involving horizontal lines, often towards the top of the frame. The lines don't line up, leading to a gap... Power lines are a big issue! There are people online who say it's because the wind blows the power lines around. I'm not so sure, since it happens on other kinds of lines, say, ceiling tiles on indoors shots. But the perscription is to fix the mis-matches by hand with Photoshop, so it's a learning opportunity... Over the last couple of days I've brought the big Wacom tablet out and am figuring out how to actually use it. It's a precision tool, in the sense that a good paintbrush for oils is a precision tool. In the hands of a practiced expert amazing things are possible. Shall I admit I'm not a practiced expert yet? It's still much easier for me to get the results needed using the tablet than by using the trackpad or a mouse. In parallel, I'm having to learn the Photoshop techniques of marking and skewing, then patching the holes I make when I do that. After the first, botched attempt, I realize that I need to embrace layers, so that when I skew the wires on the top layer, the process will reveal the untouched base layer rather that leaving a transparent tear in the picture.
2018 06-04 Kathmandu Did a fair bit on the website over the weekend. The gallery pages aren't completely consistent, but they're close. You'd have to look pretty closely, so maybe good enough to go forward without redoing past work. I have a new small gallery on Bhutan up, and am running through the photos of the Nordic Outing. Also completed the recovery of the photos mentioned on the 1st, which have come through unscathed. A friend is having his own troubles with careless deletion, and is not having as much luck in his recovery. Mac vs. Windows? He doesn't have access to the program I'm using because of his operating system.
2018 06-02 Kathmandu Composing my third web page gallery, and looking back at the first two to match their style. Subtle though they may be, there are inconsistencies between them... This will have to be fixed, and I may have to make up a style sheet so I have an explicit reference in the future. This is a professional product after all, or at least one with pretensions! I was tempted to start doing fancier things with page design, floating pictures to one side or the other, wrapping text and so on, but at some point I'm going to be reconfiguring the site so it so that there will be a version that will look good on smart phone screens. With an eye to the future, I'm keeping the design very simple.
2018 06-01 Kathmandu Fuzzy Friday! Got back from the Nordic Outing yesterday about 10am, courtesy of the redeye from Doha. Bathed, unpacked, napped, three loads of laundry, and otherwise recovered from the trip. Locked my computer (Figuratively!) to the desk to back it up and to recover pictures from one of the pre-trip camera memory cards where I got the sequence of copying and deletion wrong. That had been one of those moments, like the moment many years ago when I poured the fixer into the film processing tank before the developer, one of those mistakes one only makes once. It's going to be a little easier making this mistake twice, but I hope I'm fully sensitized to it now! But, recovery in the digital age is possible and seems to have gone well. Breakfast at Patan's new Of Silk and Salt café, rush back to fold the laundry that dried overnight, vacate apartment in favor of service (it's a serviced apartment and Friday is when the cleaner shows up) and then out again to catch up on the errands. I have a fairly substantial check for sales from the Kathamdu Art Gallery show in March (yay!) but have no Nepali bank at which to cash it. Time to open an account? Maybe... And I have to visit the cleaners, the cellphone store, pay my bill at the American Club, check on a small furniture job at Metalwood, and otherwise catch up on normal life, such as it is in the Kathmandu Valley. Particularly, reconnecting with this website and catching up with recent photographic stuff...
I had thought that when I started this month and archived May I would split the blog into a photo section and a personal section, but now I'm here and I'm going to be holding off and leaving it linear. At the moment I've no idea how big my audience might be... So, for the moment I'm going to leave the blog linear and meander off into whatever corner takes my fancy, whenever I have the time and energy to write it up.
(I'm reminded of the great Max Headroom! YouTube has a version of the pilot. The relevant scene starts at 41:50. The Max Headroom construct is activated and asks “You wanna check these ratings? I seem to have an audience of two.” The kicker is when Max says “It's Big Time Television: The station where two is company and three's an audience!” It was a wonderful show, horrifyingly prescient, and worth watching some cosy night.)
(Archived 2018 06-01) INTRODUCTION: This site's been up for over a month now. I've been crossposting here and on Facebook and figuring out how to get my photographs to display more or less where I want them on the page. So, it is richer and more complex, as promised in my original introduction. Getting closer to being ready for prime time, though. I need more good galleries and a great splash page. Works in progress!
2018 05-16, Kathmandu I'm perfectly well aware that this blog should be about photography, but, at the moment, most of my energy and thought is going into the construction of this web site and the tools needed to do that. Big steps recently, as I've signed up for Google Analytics, and learned a lot about global formatting commands. Who knew that a short line of code in the page header would allow (force?) a web browser to use the entire unicode set, giving me access to the full range of typographic codes? So, now I can put things in “quotes”, not just "quotes". Don't see the difference? Go back and look closely... "Quotes" are fine, but they don't look as finished and professional as “quotes”! And, now I can compose in my Open Office word processor without having to go through the text in my html editor and replace every character that falls outside the ASCII character set with one that falls within. Thanks to Mark Myers who wrote a little Kindle book called A Smarter Way to Learn HTML & CSS, which solidly covers a lot of ground that I've unsteadily taught myself, and a lot of new stuff like the item above. It has the clarity and completeness of John Muir's old Idiot Book for Volkswagen owners doing their own maintenance and repairs. Most documentation assumes you already know most of it, or that you have a teacher or mentor to provide clarification. It makes it hard for the isolated to learn.
Should I now go back and replace all the ASCII characters? It would show a mindful attention to detail which is a part of the presentation of a serious artist, so I will on every corner of the website except the blog pages. Let them be a testament to the process!
2018 05-13, Kathmandu One of the wonderful things about building this web site is I can use modern, trendy, terms like "I'm creating content"! ("I'm being productive on my computer. Really!") I've spent the last three or four days building a new gallery page (Haiti Streets) showcasing one aspect of my photographic work when I lived in Haiti from 2007 to 2011. It is (at least in intent) classic street photography in the tradition of people like Garry Winogrand, although my sensibility is very different from his. I don't see anything odd or undignified about the people living their often very difficult lives in the cities of Haiti, and I hope that comes through in my pictures of them.
It's Sunday afternoon and we're getting what feels like the first real rain of monsoon, long, steady, and reasonably heavy. We've just had to shut the windows on the south side of the apartment to keep the rain from blowing in.
2018 05-06, Kathmandu I get sidetracked easily, but sometimes those little meandering trails in the brush can be interesting. I'm developing my web site, and making progress, but still very short of where I want to be. Yesterday I got the overlay text to scroll over a photograph on one of my prototype index pages, which is a big victory. Now... I have to figure out how to get the first line of the text to float at the bottom left edge of window, allowing most of the photo to be visible in all it's glory until the visitor scrolls the text up revealing my intro and the links to the rest of the page. Simple eh? But what if the bottom window edge overlaps the bottom edge of the photograph? I don't even have one technique for text placement down, and I'm going to have to figure out overlapping rules...
I'm reminded of John Horton Conway's Game of Life. It was the first of the cellular automata, and it's well worth a look even today. Check it out on Wikipedia! I first ran across it in Martin Gardner's Scientific American Column when it first came out in 1970. (Yes, I was a total child nerd. If only I'd been technically competent!) I was interested again in the early eighties when there were a number of computerized versions running on MS-DOS machines. I was writing simple programs in Visual Basic, and thought it might be a good exercise to create my own version. It was shockingly hard going. I mean, the rules of the game are so simple, only four short sentences...
I'd overlooked the complexity that underlies human language. I had the sense to give up when I read a piece that pointed out that if those four rules were re-worked as rigorous, unique, mathematically sound, instructions, you ended with something like ninety-two lines of meta-code, which you then had to program. Web design is rather like that. "I want the text there!" "But when the window resizes there is no longer there, is it?" What if the viewer resizes a window really short and wide? Or really tall and narrow? The language masks a lot of unspoken detail, which I believe is one of the functions of human language. Otherwise it would take forever to say anything!
2018 05-02, Kathmandu Back in Nepal after six days in Hong Kong and dealing with pretty much all the aspects of what makes Nepal difficult. Rumor has it that a major public utility transformer was destroyed by fire yesterday afternoon. It's surely true, as the power was out when we got in at 11pm, and stayed out overnight, running out the charge in the massive batteries in the apartment building's backup inverter power system.
It's great gig, though, and the charm is woven into the difficulties. When we got to our chowk (which is Nepali for intersection, square, and interior courtyard) last night the cab dumped us and our pile of bags out. Julee stayed with the pile and I ferried bags into foyer of our little apartment building, down the alley and then down the even narrower side alley to our front door. When I got back to her after the first run the temple dogs were all lying around her and the bags, completely chill in the dark as if she were their beloved and long lost alpha. This morning on the way to breakfast we had a band of rhesus monkeys slipping across the alley ahead of us. And it was cool, unlike the muggy damp heat already afflicting Hong Kong.
As of my return home at 4:45, everything is up again. Power, internet (wheh!) and even water. When the landlord thought they might be running overnight with no power they brought in a gas generator just for the water pump, so there's something to shower in!
2018 04-25 Kathmandu As I'm writing, it's the 2nd anniversary of what the U.S. Government called "The Ghorka Earthquake", mostly, I think, to give the event a unique label that could be used to instantly identify the event in the context of immediate emergency operations and, later, recovery programs. Invasion stripes in the context of humanitarian assistance to Nepal? The quake was centered in the countryside (yes, near Ghorka) and that's where most damage occurred, but the damage in the Kathmandu Valley was quite visible too, especially when the building that took damage or came down was an iconic centuries old temple or palace. Rebuilding is on, and I'm very heartened by the progress in my own neighborhood, Patan Durbar Square. It looks so much better than it did last year, but there is still a year, or perhaps many years, of work to go. I'm hoping I get to see at least most of the buildings there standing straight and whole and clear of scaffolding before I leave Nepal. Yesterday photographic icon Kiran Chitrakar took me to Bhaktapur. He's documenting the three big city centers of the valley on the anniversary of the quake. It would be hard to do all three on the same day, so he went to the furthest the day before. Bhaktapur Durbar Square took the least damage, and so looks more complete than the ones in Patan or Kathmandu, but they still had buildings damaged or gone down, and they too are rebuilding.
Two blocks from the north end of Patan Durbar Square, rebuilding goes on in our own neighborhood. When we moved here there was a building to the left of the narrow alley leading to our front door that was being propped up by a set of diagonal timbers, like the museum in Bhaktapur pictured above. It was severely and obviously earthquake damaged, vacant, and it was a little nerve racking walking past it on the way in or out. It was torn down around the turn of the year, and for a while the neighbors and us enjoyed the vacant lot. Now, building materials are being staged, and deep foundations being dug for a new building. On the other side of the apartment an old, fragile, building, built of pure brick and timber before reinforced concrete became a thing in Nepal, is being torn down. Demolition and building is going on all through the neighborhood. At least some of the new buildings are purpose-built guesthouses. This has been a boom year for tourism in Nepal... I worry about gentrification, in spite of the deadly irony of being the gentry in this context!
Meanwhile, over the last eighteen months the whole of greater Kathmandu has been dug up for the massive Malamchi water project. All of this has thrown massive amounts of dust up, and the quality of the air has gone to hell, even from the previously low level. Julee and I are exploring the installation of air conditioning in our little apartment so we'll be able to keep the windows closed, and filter out the dust inside with our govt. surplus air filters. Hm... This is affecting my photography.
So there's a certain richness and complexity to the moment. We're past mourning for the victims of the quake, rebuilding in some combination of planned and haphazard, building in some combination of planned and haphazard, and the politics of the moment are beyond interesting. I wish everyone involved the very best.
Clear air isn't just good for the lungs! I was disappointed with recent infra-red photos I've taken, and spent some serious time last night checking through pictures taken at different times with my first and current infra-red cameras. Yesterday's pictures in Bhaktapur with Kiran Chitrakar were fine, but a little fuzzy. I was worried about focus. That's an issue with infra-red, as the lenses aren't corrected for those wavelengths of light. It took the best part of a century for the optical scientists to figure out how to substantially correct a lens for the visible spectrum of blue, yellow, and red, so it's a bit much to ask for simultaneous correction in another whole range of wavelengths. So, the infra-red modified autofocus camera has to be tweaked for accurate focus. This is critical, since you can't focus by the eye that doesn't see infra-red, and lenses no longer have the extra mark for infra-red they did in the film days. I'm a bit sensitive to this subject, since the lab that did the conversion on my second infra-red camera got it wrong and really had trouble believing that I fully understood the issue and had correctly diagnosed the problem. Oh those sweet fuzzy artistic types! What would they know about technology? Warranty repairs are a great thing. So, same camera, same lens: The pictures taken of Patan Gate, taken on a sunny day right after a rain (and of a middle distance object) are as sharp as I could want, and the pictures taken in Bhaktapur yesterday on a hazy day with light overcast are a bit soft when you look closely. Not too bad... Just enough that I don't think I could market them as the very big prints I composed them to be.
It's not a new issue. When I was eighteen, in the first flush of my photographic life and living in San Luis Obispo, California, there was a little town about thirty miles down the coast called Oceano, backed by a whole landscape of sea dunes. Very photogenic! I wasn't the first to notice. After my second trip I went "Wait! These are the same "Dunes, Oceano" that Edward Weston shot in the early thirties?!?!?" So why were his pictures so much better than mine? I was willing to concede that I was a teenager with my mother's Rolleiflex and that when he worked in Oceano he was already in the running for the greatest photographer in history. But, there was also the issue of pure quality. His pictures were sharp, mine were a bit muddy. Looking closely, comparing honestly, he had better air than I did. Better weather, and that was probably not luck. He shot the dunes over a period of months, and probably watched the weather and waited for crystal clear days. They might have been a bit more common in those days, but we still get them, and if we get out and shoot on them we'll get better photographs. Here in Kathmandu I'm waiting for the monsoon and just after, but shooting anyway, because the scenes present. But not every one is going to end up as a candidate for the portfolio.
2018 04-23 Kathmandu Big religious festival ongoing in my Patan Durbar Square neighborhood. I wrote about this a few days ago on my Facebook page (@lkjatlarge). Saturday, the giant stylized cart containing the image of the god, Rato Machindra Nath, came to Patan Durbar Square, accompanied and followed by the smaller, but still massive, cart called the Minnath, representing another god. By the way, the carts are actually referred to as chariots, because you can't ask a god to ride in a cart, now can you? Besides, there is religious significance to the term "chariot".
Julee and I went to the square with friends, including a knowledgeable local historian, and hung out in the square waiting for the movement of the two chariots. We ducked in to the museum complex to kill time, having the great good luck to meet up with the army honor guard, dressed and armed as they would have been in the first half of the 19th century. The percussion cap muskets aren't just for show, as they were fired in salute as the Rato Machindra Nath rumbled off while pulled by hundreds of strong men. Julee got some great video of the pulling of the Minnath, which is done by pre-adolescent boys.
It's wildly exotic for me and I think even for the Newari people in the neighborhood it's a pretty special time, even if they have been doing this for a thousand years. The rain god is important, as I can attest since the apartment went on rationing today because of the difficulty in getting water to fill the cistern. This should resolve pretty quickly when the monsoon arrives and fills up rivers, lakes, and aquifers, but that's still some weeks off. Let us hope (and pray if you come from an appropriate religious tradition) that the rains arrive on schedule.
2018 04-17 Kathmandu It's been over a week since I've made an entry. During that time I've closed the show at Kathmandu Art Gallery, possibly sold another big color print of Patan Durbar Square, and have made some progress on this site. My task this morning is to figure out how to make some pictures on a web page one size, and others another size. Straightforward, right? Or maybe not so much! In the course of searching the net for answers I ran across a web page which will be very useful later (maybe much later) when I'm optimizing for different devices, on a site called "Interneting is Hard". Indeed... My next and parallel task is to get my web site home page properly set up, looking good enough to really draw people in. And then there's work on the big Marche des Bossales picture from last December's trip to Haiti. And then there's cleaning, shopping, and cooking... and socializing, which is a good thing!
2018 04-09 Kathmandu I woke up with a headache, thinking that I really hadn't drunk that much at my solitary sundowner last night, then realized that I hadn't had my second afternoon/evening cup of coffee yesterday. So, another slow morning, albeit one with baby-steps productivity. I figured out how to link a HTML web page with a CSS style sheet. This is actually a big thing, since modern web site appearance and function (as opposed to modern web site content) is properly controlled by external style sheet files. I kinda want to talk about this, but I have to consider my audience! As before: Tech friends: "So?" Non-tech friends: "What?"
2018 04-02 Kathmandu Interesting that I'm retired, and I'm still doing bureaucratic triage. Y'know, making decisions about what has to be done NOW, what can wait because it's less critical, and what can wait because it's not particularly time sensitive? (Of course the third category will sneak into the first, given time...) I spent Easter and April Fool's Day working on Beloved Spousal Unit Julee's Massachusetts income taxes. Unlike the Feds, the Commonwealth has no exclusion for overseas income, and no filing extension for overseas filers, so it needed to be done in time. So, no work on the web site, no work on photography, and it was only in the evening that I had time to email my beloved printer Danny Chau for printing prices on a possible sale. It turns out that he's travelling, so I had to send the client an interim reply and will calculate a tentative price for them in the meantime.
INTRODUCTION: I don't think my web site is having a soft opening. I think you'd have to describe this opening as positively squishy.
That has to be expected for a beginner like me. On the one hand, tech stuff comes slowly to me, and there are FAR too many variables! On the other, working with a professional web designer has been hard, because it can be difficult to communicate one's vision to another, particularly when they aren't themselves artists. So, I've circled back, and even a bit further, since I couldn't get Wordpress or Blue Griffon to work for me, so I'm now learning the fundamentals of HTML coding and I'm building my website line by line, by hand. It would be silly for someone else, but I've always done better if I was down in the weeds and really understood what that particular dandelion was doing there.
But it's up, in a very simple, prototypical, way, using code that is probably not that far beyond what Sir Tim Berners-Lee was writing when he invented the web back in 1990. But it will get richer, more graphical, and, hopefully, more interesting, over time.
2018 03-31 Kathmandu It's Saturday morning and we're on our way to the farmer's market at Le Sherpa, Julee to do the week's shopping, me to open the Kathmandu Art Gallery. It's been a fairly choppy ride up to Kathmandu from Patan. Little traffic jams in our own neighborhood, but they're little streets, so a little traffic jam can keep you locked in place for a while. Just north of the Bagmati River we had to wait for a couple of thousand tee shirted walkathoners to pass in front of us.
9:30 and I'm in the gallery, keeping an eagle eye out for anyone who might show some interest in my work. It doesn't take much, a moment's hesitation at my placard, or perhaps even a flicker of the eye, and I'm at the door dragging, no, gently inviting, people into the gallery. And it seems to work! I've just got a strong nibble for a couple of custom prints, and when I get the prices to the potential buyer on Monday I may have a sale.
I wasn't always a high pressure salesman! When I was young I turned down a number of jobs because they involved salesmanship and I was pretty sure I'd suffer a lot of distress for little payback, and an employer I was courting very hard pushed me (firmly, but gently and honestly) away because they judged with some accuracy that I didn't have the aggression needed. Why is it different now? Maybe a bit that I'm selling my own work, and I really want to get it out in the world. More, I suspect, that at sixty odd years I really don't feel a lot of tender shyness. I was going to I say I don't care, but that's not really it. I do care, but I'm less concerned about making a bad impression by being socially aggressive, and I'm confident that I do it with enough menschly good humor that people can't be too offended. And, if they are, most encounters are just that. Encounters. The stakes are low on the down side and high on the up side. It's worth taking risks.
2018 03-30 Kathmandu Tomorrow is the last day of the month, so I get paid! Always a happy moment, and happier this month since I'll get a catch-up payment. Even for a Recovering Bureaucrat this stuff can be hard, and I missed the filing of an important document the first weeks of January, so the first couple of pension payments for the year were a little short... All sorted now.
I'm not at all sure what to blog about. These days tend to have a lot of technical setup in them, as I'm building this website and trying to get my email@example.com email working. It blew up overnight, and I may have to stay up tonight and call Denver to get that sorted. (I'm loving the English construction "sorted" today.) Meanwhile I've expanded the website and reloaded the whole construct on to the domain server. And it all works! I don't really know if I should write about that publicly. I can see the non-technical saying "What is he talking about???" and the technical saying "What a clueless newby dweeb!" But hell, it's my blog, and I can write about what I like, right? I'm engrossed in several things. The issues of creating and setting up a website and web identity to support my photography, the issues of technical photography, particularly right now night photography with digital equipment, the issues of promoting my work, and the issues of the esthetics of photography, though I'm very reluctant to approach that too vigorously. As an article in Scientific American put it years ago, science can explain good wines, but not great ones. Then, there are the issues of living in Nepal as a non-official expat.
That's fun and easy, actually. Well, easy to write about anyway, But, while this isn't as easy as living in Massachusetts, or within the official bubble, it's hard for me to say it's hard. Right now, the hardest part of living in Kathmandu is the air quality. But, there's been a little rain over the last couple of days, so the air is a little cleaner, and the streets a little less dusty than usual. Monsoon's due in a couple of months, and that will help a lot, both for traditional smog and the dust. I'm out and about, orbiting Patan Durbar Square while the serviced apartment is being cleaned. It's fresh and cool out, cycling between threatening a bit of rain (and I did have some drops fall on me later) and short periods of medium sunshine. Pleasant. I had lunch at a place on the west side of Patan Durbar Square called The Third World. They've had busier days, perhaps? They had some old photos up of a couple of western sportsmen, on the field, and at the restaurant. On the edge of that group was my friend the Nepali photographer Kiran Chitrakar, who was for many years the chief of photography at Nepal Television, and close to the court. Excellent momos (Nepali dumplings), though, and during a very slow lunch I updated the web site page by page and uploaded it via their wifi. Then, across the square to Himalayan Java for my latte and walnut brownie. Then a walk to Patan Dhoka and a cab to downtown Kathmandu to pick up my photographer business cards. They might end up being the first actual pictures posted on this site... All in all a good day's run.
(At bedtime.) The phone calls to Denver went well. Email to and from firstname.lastname@example.org now works seamlessly.
2018 03-27 Kathmandu A rather busy morning. My show at Katmandu Art Gallery at the Le Sherpa complex has another three weeks or so to run. It went up VERY quickly last week, so there wasn't any time to give the show a name or do an artist's statement -- or even put up a sign. So, yesterday Beloved Spousal Unit (BSU) Julee used some existing text and a picture she took of me in Paris last year and built a statement for me. I edited it a bit this morning and took it to local photo mavens, Foto Hollywood, and had them print up a placard we can put by the door of the gallery. With luck it will be ready for the Wednesday afternoon farmer's market, but it will definitely be up for the big market on Saturday. And, I've been retired for six months, so civilian business cards are in order, aren't they? So, a visit to a more traditional kind of print shop, and they'll be ready on Friday. To the gallery next, and this evening to the Hyatt where firetruck herder Michael Kobold is showing a select audience his very rough cut of a film for the Nepal Tourism Board.