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, 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.
Wake, Blynman Cut
Washington DC, 30 August 2019 We're coming up to the American Labor Day weekend, which is the American end of Summer. Not officially... The official date is 23 September, the autumnal equinox, when the day and night are each twelve hours long. But here school traditionally starts the first day after the Labor Day weekend and we've all lived by that schedule early in our lives. And, if we're educators or have children we still live by it, so it colors everything. And, this year anyway, it's noticeably cooler this week, so it feels like a transition to me too, especially as a boater. I took the infrared photo about last weekend, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It's a two frame panorama, my usual crutch when I don't have a wide lens on the camera (or on my person) when it seems the scene should be a little bit wider. It was a busy weekend of leisure for many, what with school still being out, really nice weather, and the large regional Riverfest music festival.
Riverfest, Gloucester, 2019
Julee and I walked! From necessity (no car) but also happy to not be dealing with parking. I gather that pretty much every parking option in town was overflowing. The crowd was estimated at eleven thousand. Not quite Woodstock numbers, but pretty good for a regional event celebrating a listener supported alternate music radio station, WXRV, The River. This image is stitched from nine separate photos, and it went together pretty quickly. The infrared version is much more problematic.
Big technical issues brought up: The skies in these stitched panoramas are uneven, and the effect is worst on the infrared side. I'm trying to figure this out. All lenses have vignetting issues, hopefully well corrected for the color light of normal photography, but maybe not so much for infrared which is outside of the parameters given to the physicists and engineer who design these things. I have to deal with far more flare in IR than in visible light, for example. Perhaps in the stitching process? Blotches do seem to follow the edges of the individual frames. Combination of both? Working on this and looking for mitigation as early in the pricess as possible.
Washington DC, 26 August 2019 No picture today. I am, knock wood, into the regular swing of blogging, having posted Monday and Friday for two weeks running, and starting thinking of my next post the moment I got the last one up on Friday morning. In the course of updating this Blog page, I made some adds and fixes on the blog Archive page, and updated the formatting of the Infrared Trees page in my gallery to reflect the new friendlier-to-both-phones-and-laptops ethos of this site. After that I thought it time to take down the "Under Construction" disclaimer on the index page. The site isn't finished, of course, not for years, if ever. But I feel that it's getting closer to being ready for prime time and that I'm ready to completely own it. Over the next bit I'll be bringing the whole site into the orbit of the new style sheets, which will be easy for the later pages which I deliberately kept simple, and harder on earlier ones where I was experimenting with fancier layouts. But, honestly, I'm tearing through a page pretty quickly now that I have a good sense of what formatting options I've set up for myself.
I'm going through my development space on my own computer and cataloguing the complete and posted pages, the half finished ones, the barely started ones, and the abandoned or superseded ones, and see about bringing some more order to the enterprise. Then, I'll be seeing what it will take to encrypt it, adding the S to the HTTP. Perhaps not such a big thing now, but I'm enventually want to handle sales through the site, and for that it must be as secure as possible. Meanwhile working on the photos themselves as in my last post, and working at getting the work out into the physical world. Many, many happy hours of work over the next months and years...
Manhattan and the Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Massachusetts, 23 August 2019 I like it, but it has has big stitching error in it. It's one of my digital panoramas, created from four photos taken from more or less the same position and combined seamlessly in the computer. Except there are seams and sometimes they show! I won't say where, but examination will find it. Not at the points in the photo the eye naturally goes, but it's there. This day in March is very frustrating. Great sky, great light, sharp Zeiss and Canon lenses... But the pictures are not coming together easily. Not the first time I've complained about this! Some pictures may eventually make it out of the blog page to prime time, manipulated in PTGui, my current stitching program of choice, or re-stitched in Autopano Giga, which I've used but don't understand very well. And then there's always hand patching in Photoshop... Some, I may have to accept as imperfectable, and either leave behind or wait for another good day when I'm in New York and have the time to return to the scene for another go. Meanwhile, a small victory in my assault on html coding. In the process of putting together this post I learned how to link to a particular place on a web page. Not as hard as some of the things I've had to learn but I'm still proud of my progress.
Massachusetts, 18 August 2019 By now I've been through the folders of photgraphs of the recent trip to Finland via Iceland, processed the infrared photos and the panoramas, and picked out my favorites, including the two I've posted previously. This is a group of infrared photos from the last leg of our trip to central Finland, a lake district surprisingly reminiscent of New Hampshire, but with bigger scenery and more lakes. Started off, above, with the trip from downtown Helsinki to Tampere by train, thence a drive to the big birthday party at the Hotelli Kunikaandartano, and afterwards to the post-party at the family cottage in Kyrösjärvi before our return home.
Kyrösjärvi Stroll #1
Julee and I took an afternoon walk, and when we got a little short of this point when I turned us around so I could get my camera. Lovely high summer day among the birch trees.
As we walked we were a little nervous because we weren't at all sure of the ownership of the gravel country road we were walking on. Public? Private? Were we getting a little too close to the private space of someone's beloved summer cottage? Of course it's hard to imagine a Finnish homeowner being anything but sweet about an inadveratent trespass, but my slightly odd brain started take the thought to it's logical conclusion. Maybe the Finns are so fierce about private property that "Private Property, No Tresspassing, Deadly Force Authorized" is actually a single sylable word in Finnish. And then we came to this fork in the road marked by garden gnomes, Disney dwarves and signs to family cottages, there it was, in front: "Lutz"
Needless to say, we walked on. Apologies to my Finnish friends, but how could this punster resist? The following photos from the rest of the walk:
Kyrösjärvi Stroll #2
Kyrösjärvi Stroll #3
Massachusetts, 16 August 2019 (From my Facebook Post.) Gallerists and publishers are often interested in the local angle, and a conversation with a gallerist last week led me back to the many photos I took five years ago as the Southwest DC Waterfront was being demolished to make way for what has become the Wharf. I made many trips to the 14th Street bridges and the walkway of East Potomac Park across the Washington Channel from the action to take photos. I was trying for the W. Eugene Smith combo, a document of the time and place that is also a good photograph. Looking back from this point in time the results are mixed. More work required, although I think there is some good stuff in the multitude of exposures... I'm quite happy with this one, which is really more the portrait of a large sailboat belonging to fellow members of the Capital Yacht Club and less a record of the neighborhood moment. But, the old club is in the background, seconds ticking down until we moved out and down the Channel ahead of the demolition. Wide angle, infrared.
Pop-Up Show, Capital Yacht Club
Massachusetts, 16 August 2019 So, last weekend I had a very informal little pop-up show at my club in Washington DC. Partly I wanted to show my friends some of my recent work, partly I wanted to see it up myself, and partly I was hoping to increase my viewership. The last turned out to be hard, as it is, after all, a private club, not to mention a non-profit of the most intensely non-profitable sort. Management was nervous, so I didn't broadcast this show ahead of time, even to the Wharf community, and made no mention of sales or prices even to the people I invited individually. It may have helped make a connection or two.
A pop-up is a sudden, short term, inexpensively mounted, art show, often in places that are not usually used as gallery space. No new prints in this show! All five were already printed. All told I spent about ninety U.S. dollars on lumber and fasteners for this show, finished off a couple of cans of paint I had in stock and used construction line and whipping twine from my boat's cordage box to hang it all up. No reception, so no wine and nibbles bill... As you can see, I used black painted wooden battens and binder clips to frame and hang the works themselves. The binder clips then hung by paperclips to a series of battens bolted together to form a long rail and that in turn is hung from line strung through the false ceiling. Except for the first picture I had to hang the works away from the wall because there isn't actually a wall but a line of built in cabinets that the club staff needed to be able to get into. A bit fragile, but perfectly adequate for a four and a half day event.
Connecticut, 14 August 2019 Two things come up as I start this. First, I'm really reluctant to broadcast where I'm going. Years in fairly high profile U.S. Government service overseas. I was never so high profile as to be at particular risk, but it was drilled into us that we were also targets of opportunity, especially when targets of greater value were well protected (Once upon a time the U.S. Defense Attaché in Athens escaped a group of Greek extremists because he was a serious photographer. Really! He carried a camera everywhere and his movements were completely erratic to the observer because he was always going out of his way looking for an interesting composition and the best light, even on his walk to work. The assasins killed his very predictable deputy instead.) So, even in retirement, my mind resists telling the world where I'm going, or where I've just arrived on social media or such platforms as this blog. I write on the train from Washington to Boston, and thence to Gloucester, but I'll probably post after I lock the door behind me when I get there.
It's a great ride. Not particularly short at eight hours, but Amtrak is a lot more comfortable than a plane, the stations are easy access downtown, and one only has to stand in line once. I could wish for better food! The picture above shows my meal on the recent run from Helsinki to Tampere in central Finland. It's as good as it looks, and while one had to order at the counter, the attendant served to one's seat, at least if one were sitting in the double decked dining car. I love Amtrak, but the slick, clean, on time to the minute, with really good food and drink, Finnish VR railway system leaves me feeling a little envious. One real plus for me on this side of the pond is that this train follows very close to the water at various points, including the run though Connecticut and Rhode Island, so I get to ogle many little port districts full of interesting ships and boats.
The other thing I notice is that I'm not completely consistent about the way I tag places. Generally local place name only in the U.S., local name and country overseas. I do come at it from a U.S. prospective, but I think it's mostly a desire to be clear and transparent. I'd expect my Finnish friends to know that "Boston" is the city in the U.S., not the town in England, but I think it's kind to my other friends to say Kyrösjärvi, Finland. "Helsinki" wouldn't require the extra precision for most of my friends and I wouldn't add the country in that case. So, denying any nativist intent, I'll carry on.
Black Sand Beach, Iceland
Kyrösjärvi, Finland, 2 August 2019 Julee and I have been on the road since last Friday, the trip being hung on a logical-family event in Finland, the 60th birthday party for a pair of very dear friends. The Mid-Atlantic part of the trip grew out of Icelandair's very clever marketing of a "free" stopover in Reykjavic on the way to Helsinki. We spent four days in Iceland and a considerable sum on tourism, in spite of doing it on the cheap by camping. We travelled from campground to campground in a miniature camper van, which turns out to be A Very Big Thing in Iceland. One of these days I will have to write a little essay about the tides of tourism washing over the world and my experiences in them. Meanwhile, Iceland... What an amazing and photogenic place!
Moss Heath, Iceland
The top image was taken from the top of a sudden rising hill right on the southern coast, capped with a classic lighthouse. The second comes from later in the day, and a bit to the west in the middle of the Eldhraun Lava Field, an Icelandic national park devoted to the recent lava flow and its amazing softening cover of moss. I didn't know what to call this landscape, so my file names use my own term "moss meadow". It turns out that the proper term is "moss heath". I like "meadow" better, for the softness of the surface, but Julee disagrees because of the underlying jaggedness of the landscape. I'll concede and go with "heath". Moss Heath is a three frame stitched panorama, but otherwise these photos are not manipulated at all. These are the colors of the landscape, high afternoon in the first, and overcast evening in the second. Driving through this landscape that evening, and then the following morning on the way to Keflavik Airport I thought I could make a large project of it if I lived in Iceland, searching for the most interesting vistas of the moss heaths, and watching the weather for the most interesting light. Care is required. One mustn't walk on the moss because it's actually very delicate, and one can leave long term if not permanent tracks on the landscape. We took a secondary dirt road off the main track and drove a hundred meters into the lava field, parked and walked further to view the heath, but didn't step off of the road at all.