Replica Santa Maria
Washington DC, 11 November 2019 One of the wonderful things about living at the new Wharf development on the DC Waterfront is that wonderful things just show up... This is a Spanish replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship the Santa Maria. Here it is in context:
Replica Santa Maria in Washington
I think calling it a replica is actually pretty strong, since we really don't know that much about the original except for it's general size! Even the type of sailing ship is uncertain... So, the various "replicas" built since the 400th anniversary of the European discovery of America all look different. This one is very round... Very much like a medieval roundship in a medieval manuscipt. I like it for that. I think it's probably better built and certainly better finished - not to mention in better condition - than the original, which was a random freighter found in Palos, Spain and requisitioned/leased for the voyage of discovery.
Both photos taken with my iPhone. The bottom one is a three frame panorama, stitched together on the FrankenMac with PTGui panorama software.
Leaf on Sidewalk
Washington DC, 9 November 2019 Which one is better? There's no absolute, of course, and I think this picture is pretty strong either way. On the ones below I think the black and white versions are in fact better, especially after I boosted the highlights (a little) and the darks (much more!) in Photoshop. Interestingly, the picture above took no adjustment at all when rendered to black and white.
Sidewalk Leaf Shadows
All taken with my iPhone while out running errands in the neighborhood yesterday. I'm still very much in the playing around mode so I processed these entirely from the jpegs while standing behind the counter as I manned the Martha Spak Gallery at the Wharf in Washington DC. I wonder if I should channel my inner
Ralph Gibson and darken the dark areas even more? It would certainly be dramatic, and I may well do it after I've let the thought sit for a bit. There is an interesting issue with doing most of my work on the Ancient FrankenMac. The contrast on screen drops noticeably if not viewed at exactly ninety degrees. Now that I've internalized that I'm careful to do those kinds of tweaks while looking straight, straight at the screen.
Washington DC, 4 November 2019 Running late on posts again. I think, technically, this would be last Friday's post, but I we'll let that deadline slip into oblivion, along with many others in my life. It's not laziness, though laziness and procrastination are intertwined into my soul, albeit in a complex and indescribable pattern. It's not even being distracted by the boat work, though there's a fair bit of that, along with the progress that belies any accusation of sloth on my part. I think it has something to do with where my work is, and the fact that the next steps aren't particularly linear. One, I'm trying to get the work out into the world, with everything that implies in terms of exposure and sales. This website is part of that effort, of course, but I've also over the last year put some effort into insinuating myself into the DC art scene and connecting with exhibition space. That's not quick work, and requires some zen, both in terms of mindfulness and patience, not to mention lack of attachment!
On the work itself, I'm still in the midst of trying to figure out how to smooth out the skies in infrared. I did another series on Maine Avenue last Friday, and came home with completely unusable images not because the skies were uneven, but because of the extreme split in exposure and contrast between the sky and the shadows along the street. This will have to be revisited another sunny day. Meanwhile, my thoughts have been running to black and white, my first love in serious photography. I don't have to shoot in infrared to get black and white images... Even in digital photography, which is pretty fundamentally a color process. I have two friends, Kevin Brubiski and Perry Bennett who do a lot of black and white, even though they're using the same color digital equipment we all use.
So, today, insteading of messing with infrared images of Maine Avenue (or infrared images of anything else) I've been messing with black and white conversion of some fall images I took with my phone Friday afternoon, after the cold front blew away the blue sky of the early morning and brought rain to the District of Columbia. One example above, another on Facebook with my redirecting posts, and the third here:
These are leaves and bit of other detritis floating in the water next to the dock where we live. I used my cataloguing program, ACDSee, to do the conversions, and Photoshop for tweaks in lighting and composition. So, this is one moment of non-linearity for me. I'll be following along this path, for at least a bit, and seeing where it might take me. It is the season for change... It's suddenly chill in DC, time to start prepping the boat for winter and switch wardrobes!
Washington DC, 28 October 2019 O!MG. (This is the correct punctuation, based on the True History of the phrase.) This is worse than I had thought. First, I'm a day late with my post. (I'm trying to put something up every Monday and Friday). Second, I'd started with the most recent iteration of the infrared Maine Avenue shot, which is a mess, and unpostable unless people are really interested in long disquistions of technical problems. I downloaded a bunch of photos from my phone yestereday afternoon, including the three images that make up the panorama above, which I think is quite striking, and rather evocotive of the actual boat club I live in.
But it's brought up so much! First, how interesting is it, really? I never asked that question when I was living in a medieval Newari neighborhood around the corner from Patan Durbar square. But, it's arguable that this neighborhood is every bit as exotic in its own contemporary Washington DC way... Then I struggled with the panoramic software, PTGui, because there was a mis-stitch on the water, a first for me, then I struggled with Photoshop, patching a corner where the stitched photo didn't quite cover the rectangle. Regualar ripples are one thing, but after all this time I feel I shouldn't be struggling to do things I've done before in Photoshop. I'm still very much on the steep slope of that learning curve. And then, it's a derivative photo. I know, because I posted something very much like it only a few weeks ago! (I'm not going to link to it, you can scroll down to it...) I've even recycled my bit about O!MG.
Originality is a problem, and possibly a myth. A lot of people were thinking about electric light, and specifically light bulbs, in the day, and graphically controlled computers, in that day, which puts Edison and Steve Jobs in some perspective. But, they both took what they knew, massaged the ideas that were floating around and made something great and theirs from them. I don't think I can possibly be ambitious to do more. I'm going to declare this blog a safe space for repetition, experiment, and improvement, and go on. When I started this entry I was feeling a bit sorrier for myself, and thinking that the reader wouldn't want to hear me winge about my problems with the work, but then remembered that Catcher in the Rye has hundreds of millions of fans, so whining can't be completely toxic!
Washington DC, 25 October 2019 Not quite eight in the morning, and the sun is not quite up on the Washington Waterfront. When I first looked east the sky had scattered high cirrus clouds, but I think they've solidified into a high overcast now, so it won't be the morning to walk to the 14th Street bridge with the infrared camera and reshoot the morning light down Maine Avenue. The weather forecast indicates a gathering storm until Sunday, then clear again on Monday, so that will be my next target date for that shoot.
I've been working on my "behind the scenes" web page on the Siddhartha Gallery show last year. It's going to be a chatty thing... I should have it up by the end of the coming week. Then, of course, I have a whole list of pages to build. My non-photographic life is quite busy too... Onward!
Brooklyn, 21 October 2019 Today I am announcing the posting of a new gallery on this web site! After a long gestation, the gallery covering the imagery of my show at the Siddhartha Gallery last year in Kathmandu has been added to my "Shows" section at the bottom of my Galleries page. Please check it out! Over the next week or so I'm going to add a companion page on the pitch, setup, run, and teardown of the show for anyone who might be interested in the "behind the scenes" version. I'll also add links to such things as the show's artist statement.
Oak Hill Cemetary
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 18 October 2019 I honestly thought I'd be posting about the continued progress on my Siddhartha Art Gallery show page, but something more recent came up. One of the items in my Amazing Day gallery is a photo of the Prospect Street Cemetery. Julee had run across a post by the Cape Ann Museum of an Edward Hopper sketch of a Gloucester Cemetary and wondered if it was the same one.
Cemetary in Gloucester, by Edward Hopper
A comment on the museum post said it was actually the Oak Hill Cemetary on Poplar Street. And so it is! Monday dawn blue and beautiful, and in the afternoon I walked over to Poplar Street with my cameras, and the infrared two frame panorama is on of the products. Definitely the same spot. The houses match. The trees, including the one at the cemetary wall have grown up a bit in the last ninety years... The wall's not quite the same, nor the grave stones, but either might have changed over time. And, of course, Hopper didn't necessarily sketch exactly as he saw it.
Cliffs at Chhuksang
Gloucester, Massachussets, 14 October 2019 Most of today is going to be given over to sanding the floor of the study in the house in Gloucester. Silly me for having two fixer uppers. But then, two, or possibly even one, property in perfect shape would have been beyond my means... But, last night I finally, finally, started work on a web page to represent my show at the Siddartha Gallery in Kathmandu in February last year. I did a page for the follow-on show at Kathmandu Art Gallery early on, because it was a much smaller show with only five big prints and it was fairly easy to bang out a simple page to show them off. This was a bit different, a big show with eighteen large prints in the top gallery in Nepal, a couple of national press reviews, a TV show, opening remarks by the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires, all of which deserve links or comment. And I would like to do a little sub-page on the history and setup... So far I have all the exhibit photos tipped into the page, in the right order, along with captions, and text for the five that were also in the Kathmandu Art Gallery page which will have to be edited, but not much. By Friday I may be able to announce the page going live if I can keeped focussed.
Since I'm copying some material from another page I have a chance to see how my coding style has changed. Anything that works, but consistent style, even if the end result would be identical, is good coding practice, as it makes the code easier to read and maintain. I do wish I could take lessons or glom onto a mentor! I'm sure I'm missing some tricks.
Dogtown Trees, Gloucester, Massachusetts
Gloucester, Massachussets, 11 October 2019 Interesting week, as usual split between boat work and photo work. One of my friends told me that there was nothing wrong with a retired person having two hobbies, but it's not as simple as that. I enjoy the boat work, but a big part of what pushes me there is that it's my abode in Washington, and it needs work. I'm homesteading! And the photography? I like to think that's more than a hobby, an avocation at least.
On the picture: Two or three weeks ago I was wondering around the back alleys of my hard drives and ran across a dramatic tree picture I'd took in Colorado the summer of 2014. I wondered how I missed it, and thought I'd go back and properly process it, and add it to my page of tree pictures.
But, when I went back to it, I found I had fully processed it. And, looking at it, it didn't seem as good as I'd first thought. I kept looking at it, and thinking it was good, but not that good... I finally showed it to Julee, and asked her what she thought. She looked at it steadily for some time, and her silence told me what I needed to know, not that good. Pictures might grow on you, but I find the best leap at you, throw their arms around you, or perhaps slip into your arms and hold you tight. Either way you don't forget the embrace. If the picture had been first rate Julee would have said something very positive immediately. So, good, but I won't be adding it to any of my galleries.
I followed up by going through the pictures from that period of travel. It's obvious that I've been through that trip before, and I remember feeling the holy fire as I took pictures, but sometimes the results don't reflect the certainty of the moment. I think Dogtown Trees above, from the end of that period works, though maybe not as punchy as my favorites. It's a two frame stitched panorama, again, not because it's extremely wide, but because I didn't have the 20mm lens with me.
Work in Progress
Washington DC, 7 October 2019 Today came in overcast and unphotogenic (at least in my styles of photography) but pushing up to ten the cloud cover broke up, and I thought the sun might still be on the face of the Wharf buildings opposite the water. So, I grabbed my big cameras and hurried to the ramp to the 14th Street Bridge hoping for a good shot down Maine Avenue. The light was on the buildings, but only just, and the view was a bit dark, even in infrared. In visible light the pictures would be worse. Still, here's the work in progress. I'll go back much earlier in the morning the next time the light is good and the sky clear, with or without scattered clouds to give interest. These picures are meant as the "after" to the picures I took four years back, when the building footprint was a very large hole in the ground.
I actually spent most of the day working up and polishing an exhibit proposal for a wonderful local venue, Culture House DC. I have no idea where this might go, but I'm hopeful! I think the work stands up, and I am local, not just to DC, but to Southwest DC. More on this as it unrolls...
Washington DC, 4 October 2019 It's fall, and the light is changing although it's still very warm considering we're into October. With a nice clear day it seemed time to head back to the 14th Street Bridge and take some new pictures of my 'hood. As Marty Feldman said in Young Frankenstein, "Houumme!" (The relevant line is at 3:30 into the video.) This neighborhood is getting even more trendy as it's now a stop over for megayachts on their annual migration from the moneyed Northeast to the balmy shores of Florida and thence to the tax havens of the Caribbean. You can see a couple of them clearly in this two frame infrared stitched panorama, and there are a couple more, smaller, but still mega, yachts hiding in the middle ground among the other boats, not to mention the fifth that headed downriver this morning before I was out with my cameras.
I'll have to repeat the pilgramage to the bridge early tomorrow morning (or more likely Sunday morning or whenever I get the next weather window, given that I'm on the road early to the boat show in Annopolis) and shoot down Maine Avenue. By the time I took these shots the other side of the buildings were in shadow, and not photogenic. And then to stitch up the big panoramas and work on the illumination problem.
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. Found on the Web.
Washington DC, 30 September 2019 In the day we got less usuable photos because the cameras didn't think for themselves. The photographer themself had to get the settings right. On the plus side, there were really only three controls... Aperture, which controlled how much light streamed through the lens, shutter speed, which controlled how long the light streamed through the lens, and focus, which controlled what was sharp in the photo. There was more to it than that, of course. Composition above all, which is still true, but those three were what you needed to control for your pictures to come out. Now that I'm fully digital, I have cameras that have menus after menus, menus within menus, and in some cases, menus within the menus that are within the menus. It all controls the three fundamental controls plus light sensitivity, which can be changed on the fly in the digital world, and so much more. Do you want your camera focussing on the center of the scene, or on the edge? You can adjust for that, as one example.
The thing I'm dealing with is that it's absurdly easy to adjust for such a thing without being aware that one is doing so. Expecially true with my iPhone (which is a serious camera, especially if shot with third party software) and with my latest, greatest big camera, the Canon R, which can be controlled with a touch sensitive screen. I don't actually suspect my cameras of evil whimsicality... It's harder to be sure with the phone, which seems more proactive. I'll click for the main screen, squeeze the "OFF" button on the side, and five minutes later my phone will be loudly playing Try to Remember from The Fantasticks from my pocket, with no imput from me whatsoever. Worse for me is that the iPhone camera software I'm using will reset itself in random ways, including labeling all the menus in Korean. The camera does similar silly things. For a while it was firing in burst mode, which wasn't, it turns out, a menu item from the main screen, but from a separate menu system on the top of the camera. A far cry from my Aulde 1980 Canon F1, which had a shutter speed dial on the body of the camera and aperture and focus rings on the lens, all linked in the view finder.
It's not just me. Menus are a problem all around. No one's going to die because my focus is off, but in other fields this sort of thing can be really dangerous. The U.S. Navy is reconfiguring the controls of its ships because the officers and helmsmen want more intuitive controls and the lack of them has led directly to serious accidents. And I know of at least three air disasters where controls buried in the menu tree have been part of the mix. But I'm not going back, much as I loved the F1. Every one of my big digital cameras has been a step up and a step forward in terms of control and quality. I am going to have to figure out how to lock down my preferances after they're set so I really know what to expect when I put the camera to my eye and press the buttom.
In Transit, MARC train to/from Baltimore from DC, 26 September 2019 Not a new picture, but one of my favorites from Nepal, captured in Nuwakot on the way to Langtang Village on the year's anniversary of the 2015 Earthquake. Nuwakot was a little Newari Kingdom further up the Himalaya from the Kathmandu, captured by the Gorkha king Narayan Prithvi Shah before he took Kathmandu Valley itself and established what became Nepal. The hands belong to a Nepali Police Officer who accompanied us on the trek up the Langtang Valley and took special care of me, a weak, but determined, trekker. You can see the photo on the wall behind me in last Friday's post.
Another week that has been mostly about the boat... Good progress there, but details interesting only to boaters and plumbers!
Washington DC, 23 September 2019 The last week has been very much about the boat in the Washington Channel Julee and I live on. I've put a timer on the main battery charger, (this involved rewiring a 220 volt double hot circuit) and chased down a lot of the wiring issues. We purchased a new not-painfully-squishy mattress for the master cabin, which arrived today. We also went shopping at a chi-chi blind store for shades for the salon, but the price there was more or less what I'd pay for a new Canon EOS R set up for infrared, which I also can't afford right now, so the mattress will be the last expensive boat item for a while. Now on to the things that require labor rather than money, like wiring and sewage... It's time.
On the photo side, I got good clear sky photos with the infrared 5D Mk3, so I can start working on building a Photoshop mask to even out exposure across the frame. Problem there is that I have no idea how to convert my understanding of the theoretical necessity to a tool that will actually do the work. Should be possible. Photoshop is an incredibly broad and powerful tool. Onward!
LKJ in His Office, 2017 (by JEA)
Washington DC, 20 September 2019 Being a recovering diplomat and consular officer, I no longer have big office to hang my big photos in. This is a picture that Julee recovered from a Facebook post about three years ago in Kathmandu when I was running the U.S. Consular Section there. Now I'm free of the office and living on a boat and have no place of my own to hang very large pictures. But I was able to put up a little pop-up show at my club last month. My friend, fellow live-aboard and Wharf Wrat extraordinaire, Alan Etter seized the moment and shot a little documentary/interview of me while the show was up, and has just posted it on YouTube. Check it out! It runs about five minutes, edited down, because when was I ever shy about talking about my photos? I wish I'd spent a little more time in hair and makeup, but Alan didn't just seize the moment, he seized me right off the dock where I'd been doing sweaty boat things. I kinda wish I'd spent a moment on my hair in the Kathmandu picture too, but few of us are really happy with pictures of ourselves...
Unititled Test Shot, DC Waterfront
Washington DC, 16 September 2019 Another in-progress technical post. I worry about obsessing about equipment, but cameras, lenses, and sensors are the tools we use to make images, and if there are issues with them they carry over into the images. Deep blue sky on the Washington Waterfront yesterday, so time to do another series of test shots. The panorama above nicely illustrates the problem that bedevils me right now. It's a simple two frame panorama and it went together very quickly. But... The shy is uneven, and the actual sky was not. There is a visible darkening in the middle where the two frames that make up the final image overlap.
And here's the issue. This is a shot of the most evenly illuminated clear blue sky with my standard very sharp Canon 40mm lens. Note the image is darker in the corners, but especially the top right corner. Vignetting (darker corners) is a classic lens issue but assymetric vignetting? Of course it's not extreme. I might never have noticed, or perhaps would have shrugged, except that it messes up my panoramas. It's not the sensor. The bottom image was taken during the same period with the same lens on my color camera. So what's up. More exploration, for sure, and perhaps, if I can get through, a conversation with technical expert at Canon. I may have to build an adjustment layer for photoshop, but won't be able to use yesterday's images because the infrared sky shots have subtle but definite flare and will have to be shot over with better lens shading. Infrared is more prone to flare, simply because the engineers didn't design the lens barrels with those wavelengths in mind. This is all my own fault for going all in for a form of photography (infrared panorama) that is a double kludge.
Elevator, Miami Beach by Robert Frank. From the web.
Washington DC, 13 September 2019 Robert Frank died last Monday. More than a bit of shock! It's hard to justify my sorrow as I never met him and he lived 94 consequential years and he had an impact on his fields that would deeply satisfy any artist. I don't know him as a film maker (my images don't move) but before he shot motion pictures he was on of the shapers of 20th Century photography with the publication of a single book, The Americans, in 1958.
In one sense, it's simple stuff. He shot with a Leica III, which was a fine and expensive camera, but was also very much the camera stripped to its essentials, a black box with a photosensitive surface at one end and a lens at the other. And small, which was critical to at least some of his work. The small took him to the very edges (and perhaps a bit beyond!) of acceptable technical quality given the state of chemistry at the time.
But, these pictures are not small at all, and they're beautiful, complex and multilayered. The Americans presents the pictures with no verbal framing aside from titles and a short forward by Jack Kerouac. It was received at the time as a bitter critique of Swiss immigrant Frank's adopted country. I didn't take it that broadly, but I do think it's a critique of the then heavily marketed image of America as a society made up exclusively of happy, satisfied, middle class and upwardly mobile, people in perfect suburban marriages. All without words!
And the pictures are beautiful. The small grainy prints made from small grainy negatives are full of light and shadow, which are the tools of, and an ineffable part of the meaning of, photography. And the people in them, no matter how marginal or unhappy, are complete persons worthy of our respect and empathy. One feels the glimpse of their souls and that their souls are worth seeing.
It's hard to express how much his photos meant to me, and harder to say how much and how they affected my work, since the other influences in big, sharp, less documentary, photography mattered too, not to mention the progress made in the chemistry between 1955 and 1975. My film was better than his! But the influence was very deep, and this week of his death I think of him and honor him.
Door in Shadow
Washington DC, 9 September 2019 In the last few months I've done a number of simple photographs that I've been really pleased with. This is an example from the inside of the house in New England. Simple, of course, is a relative term! Simple in concept, perhaps? This was part of an experiment on advice given to me years ago by my printer, Danny Chau, early in our acquaintance, when I noted the limited dynamic range of digital photography. Like the Late Lamented Kodachrome reversal film, only more so. I knew, because I'd just done some Zone System testing on the Canon EOS 5D MKIII. He quietly told me no, there was huge dynamic range possible. One shoots RAW files and bring the shadows back in post processing. And so it is. The camera original for this picture is exposed for the bright areas, and the dark areas were black. Amazing what a little bit of work in Photoshop will do! And the quality has held.
It also had to be tweaked back into architectual perspective. As it came out of the camera the rectangles were all twisted trapezoids. Fortunately also fixable in Photoshop, though I find it a twitchy process that (for me) doesn't give the best results the first time around, requiring repetition until it looks right. So simple image, but nonetheless the result of a lot of complicated work!
Red Sunset, DC Waterfront
Washington DC, 6 September 2019 Home from Home, at The Wharf in Washington. We got off the train from Boston about seven pm and were greeted by this scene as we were walking to the boat. I took three frames with my phone, and combined them in PTGui last night, and lightened the boats and clubhouse a little to make the final product a bit more readable on the computer screen. Shadows are tricky. They were tricky in the chemical photography days, when they were the key to good exposure and tricky in a different way now when they have to display on many different computer screens. Have you had your monitor calibrated? I'm having a certain amount of trouble with mine in spite of much effort because the built in screen of my FrankenMac displays a little blue-er and a little darker than the gorgeous big NEC monitor I use for critical work. No solution yet...
SchoonerFest, Gloucester 2019
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 2 September 2019 For the second year in a row we're in town for the annual Schooner Festival and this year I brought the camera bag with the big gun telephoto lens in it. The event is a commemoration of a couple of interlinked bits of local history. First, that well into the Twentieth Century, the cod fishery was built on big schooners that sailed out to the banks with a hold full of salt, a deck full of dories, and a crew that hand lined for cod from the little boats during the day and salted them in the evening, coming home with their catch when they ran out of salt. Second, a series of races in the 1930s between big cod schooners from Gloucester and those from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, which has a similar fishing history.
Pinkie Schooner on Parade, Gloucester
It's an American Labor Day event at the beginning of September every year, a long weekend when the weather is likely to be good. The boats gather in Gloucester on Friday, show themselves at the docks and prep on Saturday, and on Sunday there's a race, and leading up to the race outside the breakwater there's a parade in the outer harbor.And everybody comes out to watch. Both on land and on the water. As you can see here, and in the leading panorama, every serious sailor in the neighborhood seems to be out on the water to honor and ogle the bigger schooners as they go out to race. And a goodly population of motor boaters, oarsmen and women, kayakers, and the occasional lobster boat and commercial fishing boat.
Big and Small Sailboats, Gloucester
At the Turn, Scooner Parade, Gloucester
There are a number of classic books about and set in Gloucester. Two that are very relevant to this post are Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, a novel set in the schooner based cod fishery at the turn of the last century, and A Race for Real Sailors by Keith McLaren, about the races in the thirties, which resulted in the Lunenburg schooner Bluenose ending up on Canadian money!
The photos are infrared, and the first one is a three frame panorama that was then cropped down for better composition. All taken with the massive Canon 100-400mm zoom lens.