Monday, April 8, 2013

Off The Beaten Path

That above is the first thing I saw (aside from the cab ride which was just a blur) after the cab driver stopped the car and told me my office for the next six months was "straight back there..."

This happened 75 minutes after the airline representative told me my luggage was lost.  And approximately 22 minutes before the individual who was supposed to arrange my lodging asked me where I was residing.

Did I mention that I was in Berlin, Germany completely on my own for my very first trip across the pond?  Oh, and as I left the office that first day, with no luggage and needing to find a place to stay for at least that night, it rained on me.  Actually it poured.  Honest.

Thankfully my luggage was dropped off late the next day, though wearing damp clothing up till then was no treat.  But I had found a place to stay for five nights even if the instructions from the owner were a bit troublesome...don't open the door for anyone and don't ever open the windows.  Add in to the mix that it was a fourth floor walk up with no working lights in the stairwell and it was enough for me to question just what the heck I was doing in a foreign city in the first place.

But after a long first week of extreme adjustments, and one very gracious office manager, I finally found the beginnings of my stride and started to experience the beauty of Berlin.  Probably for most people it's not a city that would be described as picturesque, quaint, elegant or beautiful.  It is still a city rebuilding and re-identifying itself.  Yet, there is a sincerity in the rawness and truth in that roughness.

I felt it was a place eager to move on from its tainted past but unwilling to forget it.  Remnants of the war exist practically in every crevice of the city.  And what I found most intriguing was how the city dealt with the old and new, forcing the newly built structures to interact with and engage the remnants without mimicking or copying.  Blocks of the city can be read as articulated artifacts of time, and thus history, telling a story without words, or perhaps put more correctly for which words would not be sufficient.

Recently I looked through my photos from that time and I imagine that most of the 'touristy' shots I had taken look relatively the same.  But it's the images like this that I have to wonder about; what are these places like today, do they even exist, are they surrounded by new development, would I even recognize them if I were to walk by them tomorrow?

I like to seek out these off-the-beaten-path moments.  It's really no different than finding a true local pub or restaurant (you know, the type of place that doesn't advertise their food with photographs on the sidewalk).  For me, its those small items and the easily overlooked details that form the whole and capture the essence of place.  At least that's how I define it...  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Leave the Ego at the door, please

My new-to-me light meter

I find the photography community absolutely amazing.  There is an incredible wealth of information provided by well known photographers, experts in their respective fields, distributed free of charge or for a very small investment.  This information exists in blog form, social community sites, and/or online classes/presentations.

I've been blown away by the willingness to help those less experienced, the eagerness to offer critiques and the overall ego-less community as a whole.

As an architect, I'm not used to that.  I think we tend to treat our intellectual property as gold, protecting it at all costs from prying eyes.  We mock those who are less skilled and less published.  We turn away from those asking for guidance and instead look for the next stepping stone that will increase our standing on the ladder of greatness.

And to what purpose?  Are we really afraid that our own credibility will be diminished if we lend a helping hand?  What could possibly happen if we share some of our own thought process, some of our own insight into how we see and do what we do.  Is what we do really so sacred we need to keep it mothballed from the rest of our profession?

I don't think so and a big 'thank you' needs to go out to everyone who has decided to engage so actively with the rest of us, whether we're hobbyists, amateurs, semi-pros, etc.  The photo above is the Minolta Light Meter IV I recently acquired from EBay after being inspired by +Don Giannatti 's free Udemy class on using and understanding light meters.

Thanks Don, and to everyone else, for leaving the ego behind...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Fond (and not so fond) memories of being photographed as a kid

Me with my first camera, 1987, with my mom on the right
and her sister on the left (the one that recently sent me this photo).
I remember as a kid I always disliked having my picture taken.  It wasn’t that I tried to avoid being in front of the lens, but it always seemed to feel uncomfortable and unnatural.  I suppose a lot of it has to do with the common misconception in my family that the best photos had to be taken outside in direct sunlight during the hottest time of the day.  Oh, and we always, ALWAYS, had to be facing directly into the sun.  And if your family is anything like mine, especially during family gatherings, one person pulling out a camera turned into an epidemic.  Every time.  

As an added bonus these were the days of film and one photo simply wouldn’t do.  No, different exposures and different orientations had to be performed.  By each person with a camera.  Every time.  And every photo came out looking the same – blown out highlights, cheesy smiles, and squinty eyes.  I never felt those images captured a moment, but tried to insist on the fabrication of something that wasn’t quite real and it had a lasting effect on me.  

When I was older, my family could never seem to comprehend my aversion to taking staged or posed family photographs, especially when we vacationed together.  If I were to include people in my photographs at all (remember I’m an architect by training, so I generally found buildings more engaging) I would go for the candid shots as these felt real to me.  This of course annoyed my mother greatly as I think she believes the only good photograph is one with the person looking directly at the camera prepared with a big smile (no offense Mom!).  Eventually I focused solely on interesting buildings and unusual details.  

But recently I’ve been very interested in ‘people photography’ whether it be portraits, fashion, or images of my own wife and daughter.  I think there are some amazing photographers out there that are able to capture the intangible, even within a studio setting.  This new preoccupation of mine stems from my desire and intent to document my daughter's upcoming life.  I’m attempting to capture who she is on her own schedule.  I’ve learned that I can’t force something out of her, but under the right conditions and attitudes I can lay the groundwork for those special moments to occur.  Well sometimes; she’s only 18 months after all.  

I think there might be an important lesson there.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with photographic skills and everything to do with a person’s ability to connect with others and their willingness to let things happen as they may.  And of course 'anticipation'.  I’m certainly not the first to point this out; follow any good photographer and you’ll probably hear the same thing, but said in a more profound way I’m sure.

To this day I wonder the status of all those photos taken from my childhood.  Every now and then I’ll get an old photo of myself in the mail from my aunt and uncle (yes, my uncle was one of those always whipping out his camera).  Initially I’m taken back to that point in time but then my thoughts drift and I wonder why I’m always staring straight into the sun with an expression on my face that borders pain.  But I suppose that’s the purpose of snapshots, for most people, anyway.  They’re brief reminders of the past, of the places we’ve been, and the people that surrounded us.  They capture our family members in various stages of their lives and they carry a certain intrinsic value for the people tied to that photograph.  So in that sense, I’m no longer entirely afraid of snapshots and I happily snap away during vacations and family visits.  Sometimes it's enough to just be 'dad'.  I just make an effort to avoid the harsh sun…

Callah with her Great Grandfather, 2012

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Current Read: Google+ for Photographers

As I continue back into the world that is photography I've decided not to just blow dust off the camera, but to actually improve my skills.  And while these skills obviously encompass the usual such as technique, lighting and post-processing, it also entails putting my work out there to be seen.

Part of this is amassing a collection of photographs worthy to be put into an online portfolio on a soon to be developed website.  The other part is spreading work through the various social media channels and engaging with other like-minded individuals.

I must admit, I have very little experience with social media; in fact, other than a very basic profile on LinkedIn, I don't have much of a web presence at all.  Certainly no Facebook or Twitter accounts.  But I decided that Google+ may be a perfect opportunity to enter into the unkown, at least for me.

I'm the type of person that likes to get his hands on as much information as possible regarding any subject that I may find even remotely interesting.  So I picked up a copy of Google+ for Photographers by +Colby Brown figuring it would be a great starting point.  I'm only about half way through but so far it hasn't disappointed.

It is not a book intended to be a 'follow me' type of recipe for social media success, but it does provide the necessary insight into the mechanics of the service (and it does it well) so that the reader can make educated decisions on how to format the specific settings to best suit their needs.  Even more so, Colby discusses building a presence dedicated to quantity over quality, and talks of the importance of social branding and consistency among posts.

The book is broken down into chapters that take you from setting up an account and getting started, to understanding circles, publishing photographs and other media and most importantly how to interact with others already using the service.

I appreciate the fact that I'm not just being told to do this or that, but rather given the necessary information to understand why I may or may not want to do this or that.  The emphasis is on defining our focus for establishing an online presence so that the most can be obtained from the service. It's a straightforward practical approach with an aim to keep us photographers from wandering aimlessly through the abyss that is the web.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Zoo Day!

Okay, enough theory about photography.  Sometimes it's just fun to get out with the camera and family.  

Not that long ago my wife, Ann, and I took our daughter, Callah, to the zoo.  We had never been to the zoo during the winter before so it was kind of like an adventure.  To our surprise not many people were there on that particular day and it turned out to be a lot of fun!

Not only did Callah enjoy free reign of the empty buildings but the animals were quite active as well.  And without crowds of people around, it was a lot easier to get positioned for a few photos of the zoo's inhabitants.  

The zoo can be a great place to work on composition and subject placement within the frame.  Unlike the wild, at the zoo you don't have to pan very far to include unwanted fences, gates or other elements that may detract from the overall photo.  

But most of all, it was just nice spending time with my wife and daughter.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Architecture is not about Building, Photography is not about Pictures

Yes, buildings and pictures may be the end result, but we must ask ourselves to what purpose are we doing what we do?  For me, this is about the place of beginning, the place from which to start.

When I was in school I wrote that "at its very essence, architecture is not just about building; rather architecture is an intimacy developed through a multi-sensory experience of place. It provides a structured narrative and projects meaning; it engages and envelopes the body and provides a collective significance."

And I think the same holds true for photography.  I believe that it is important for photographers to understand their work beyond the inherent ocularcentric nature of the finished media.  An image should project a motive and evoke feeling and emotion; perhaps most importantly it must possess the ability to transport us to a particular setting, a destination.  

I consider the narrative of my yet to be taken photo as my starting point, taking its form as I conceptualize it in my head.  It isn't so much about what I want it to look like, but how I want it to be felt.  I think that's important. 

The image above is a remnant of the Berlin Wall taken in 2000 when I was working in the city.  I wanted to capture a slice of a larger story, one that provoked the thought of a single person caught in a moment of time standing on the wrong side of the wall.  They run their hand over the roughly textured concrete contemplating what life must be like on the other side.

It may not be the best photo, or even the most refined story, but with each new click of the shutter growth occurs.  Ultimately, I hope this helps separate my work from others; at least It's a start...  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To Begin Anew

So let me begin by saying that I am not a professional photographer, yet anyway.  But I'm not really sure I would ever consider myself a professional at anything; what exactly does 'professional' mean and what does it entail?  I think I could ask 50 different people and get at least 30 different answers.  

I am, however, a licensed and practicing architect (I may take exception to being labeled a professional though) that has enjoyed the discipline of design ever since I was in second grade. You're probably wondering then what this has to do with photography?

Well it's not like I just picked up a camera yesterday and decided to call myself a photographer.  As long as I can remember I've been enamored with photographs that exude a sense of place and being.  I got my first film slr camera when I started college and thanks to my classmates with more experience than I, I was shown the sanctity of the dark room.  I learned many things just by simply doing, making more mistakes along the way than successes.  But I never minded that process, never looked for short cuts and never really cared what others might think of my work.  It was my own and I owned it.  

Unfortunately, after graduating college and starting the arduous task of architectural licensing I slipped farther and farther away from that unfettered approach.  Everything became about accruing intern hours doing this and that and then accumulating enough correct answers on one exam to continue on to the next.  In fact, my film camera never saw much use after college.  And it was all in the quest to become a professional.  

In fact, sometime during the past ten years the film body developed a crack and I never got around to replacing the camera until right before my daughter was born, about 18 months ago.  It was my intention to use it to document her life, but watching her develop day after day with an unending supply of energy and a limitless desire to touch, lick and conquer everything around her I realized that she was showing me what I had been forgetting to do for so many years.  

So this is me, picking up that camera once again.  I'm not certain where this will take me, but I'm sure looking forward to the journey...