Street Photography: Rain, Rain, Go Away…

It’s definitely feeling like autumn, for which I have mixed feelings. I like the colorful foliage and the toasty smell of the dead leaves and crumbled acorns. I also like the crisp temperatures that put me in the mood for tea or hot cider. But I don’t like the struggle and the depressing feeling of waking up in the dark, especially since I’m definitely not a morning person. Nor do I enjoy commuting during those raw gloomy rainy days and then returning, once again, in the dark. Sometimes it even triggers that same dejected feeling I use to get when I was starting a new fall semester at public school, which was not a good experience for me.

Those are some of the thoughts that cross my mind with this photo. Everything about it was fast. The person with the umbrella was walking quickly so as to dodge collisions with other pedestrians. I could not even get a good look to determine whether it was a man or a woman. I took the shot quickly as well as I did not want to lose him or her in the crowd. I’m pretty sure that my camera was still moving in its arc toward my eye while I was simultaneously pressing the shutter. Plus I was walking fast during the shot to keep up with my target.

All of this contributed to an unintentional blur that I happen to like. All I did was to desaturate the color to tone down the intensity of the umbrella and to emphasize the somber feeling that a drab day imparts on my psyche.

Another byproduct of the motion blur is that it wipes away some of the detail to create flattened shapes, especially in the torso. At once, the image presents reality and an abstraction. And that is part of what I like about being in the moment and photographing without too much deliberation and trusting the creative instincts that have been developed over time.

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Street Photography: “Fuhgeddaboudit”

It’s been a busy week. I had a corporate photo shoot, workshops at National Parks in two states, and the launch of a Facebook group for workshop attendees. I continued to photograph on the streets almost every day, but writing the blog had to take a backseat to these other commitments.

It was fun to go back and finally see the photographs from the prior week. This one, among others, jumped out at me. It was a wet gloomy afternoon. It was a dropless rain that was so misty and fine, you don’t even realize how soaking it can be. Umbrella-less, I walked closely along the exterior of Macy’s department store on 34th Street in a futile attempt to stay dry. That brought me within inches of some of the decorative touches that grace the building.

Ahead of me I saw that the facade featured ornamental sconces. They were graceful, detailed, and – in the grey flat sky – radiated a warm inviting glow. The instinct was to photograph what I understood the object to be conceptually – identified as a sconce. But what if I had never seen a sconce or any kind of lamp before. What would I understand the object to be? And how might I go about observing it?

So in classic New York parlance, I decided to “fuhgeddaboudit.” Of course, I can’t really erase from my memory what a light fixture looks like. But I can always use my imagination. So why not look at the “object” from directly underneath? What shapes will that viewpoint reveal? How will the details and the warm glow appear?

It was an interesting thought experiment to provoke seeing an everyday object in a fresh way and to inspire an image I might not have otherwise created.

And, yes. As of 2016, “fuhgeddaboudit” is officially a word in the Oxford dictionary.

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Street Photography: Expression

What a picture of these polarized times. If you’ve read my last three posts, you will know that I have been photographing architectural features in the Fifth Avenue area.

On my way to those sites, I passed by Trump Tower. Across the street were these two lone protesters. Ironically, their physical positions were opposite to their political ones. The Trump supporter is on the left and on the right there is a member of the Resistance.

Despite their contrary views and the mere 12 feet or so that separated them, there was no overt personal animosity nor was there a police presence to deter any fighting. As tumultuous as today’s politics have become, it was refreshing to see these two extremes peacefully exercising their freedom of speech and expression side by side.

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Street Photography: Icons of New York

After photographing the Presbyterian Church and the gate detail of the Harry Winston jewelry store – both on Fifth Avenue and described in the last two posts – I walked down and took a side street. There were brownstones that seemed to be of mixed use – business and residential.

One brownstone, at 13 West 54 Street, had a restaurant with prominent signage. Looking closer I saw this carved stone face on the wall. It’s in very good shape and shows quite a bit of workmanship when you consider the level of detail in the facial expression and the top of the head as it morphs into foliage.

If it were in a museum, on a pedestal and encased in glass with a spotlight on it, I think it would take on an artistic gravitas. I can imagine visitors crowding around the sculpture and giving it a higher level of appreciation.

But as long as it remains on the side of a building exposed to the elements, the gargoyle remains a small detail that may, at most, get an occasional glance as it competes for attention with the posted menu.

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Street Photography: Icons of New York

In my last post, I featured a photograph of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Across the street, a half block away, I came across an elaborately ornate entrance. The black gate appeared to be of iron and it was decorated with – if I counted correctly – 96 of these yellow-gold rosettes. As usual, I had a train to catch and could not linger very long to even find out where this impressive gateway was leading to.

It turns out that it was a store – the flagship location of Harry Winston. Winton (1896-1978) was an American jeweler who founded his store in 1932. Although his name is not familiar to me, it is likely that I have read it or heard it at some point. It was Winston who owned and then donated the famed Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. If you ever heard Marilyn Monroe sing Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend in the 1963 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, listen to it again. You will hear the name Harry Winston mentioned in the lyrics.

It seems that the rosettes on the gate to his store have become prominent in their own right. The store sells bracelets and pendants as well as diamond rings and earrings in your choice of platinum, yellow gold, or rose gold – all featuring the rosette as its motif.

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Street Photography: Icons of New York

The red sandstone of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church caught my attention. I positioned myself to photograph the tower so that its shape mirrored the angles of the blue glass skyscraper in the background. The old and the modern, the warm red bricks and the cool blue glass, the spiritual and the commercial all provide a nice juxtaposition. Of course, the skyscraper dwarfs the church.  But back in 1875, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian was the tallest building in Manhattan.

I did some checking and the church has some historical connections with two commissions I had with the National Park Service. One of the first officers of the church was Richard Varick who had served as Mayor of the city. Varick had also served as an aide to George Washington, whose military headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, I had photographed.

Another political heavyweight was Theodore Roosevelt, who attended his son’s wedding at the church in 1910 together with 500 of his former Rough Riders. Roosevelt’s home and summer White House – Sagamore Hill – on Long Island was another historic structure I photographed for the National Park Service.

There is a lot of hidden history within the architectural icons of New York such as this church.

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Street Photography: Times Square

This is one of those photographs where, for me, it’s both about the subject and the forms they create. It was a good jazz band and the two musicians here anchored the songs as a cohesive rhythm section.

I also like the interplay of various elements. The musicians and their instruments form a dark shape in contrast to the light shape above them. The bass fingerboard cuts across at an angle in contrast to the horizontal and vertical lines in the rear, and the vertical line of the cymbal stand. Other angles include the bassist’s arm and the brim of his hat. All of these hard edges are offset by the family of ovals on the bottom right: the ride cymbal, the two drum heads, and the curve of the bass bridge.

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Street Photography: Times Square

In addition to my fascination with hair, as described in yesterday’s post, I am also drawn to interesting clothes. This was a very colorful bunch. It was an overcast day, which made the colors pack an extra punch.

These are the sort of photographs that I like to think of as “future history.” Twenty or thirty years from now, these clothes may look even more striking than they do now. I imagine it will prompt the kind of reaction that photographs of the 1980s or 1970s do. They are both familiar yet somewhat alien. Even the look of older photographs – their color, contrast, and other characteristics of the medium – look different.

Who knows what we – or our photographs – will look like in the coming decades? Our hair, clothes, and technology will change. And our experience of today’s photographs will change too.

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Street Photography: Broadway

Hair. What a great thing it is. There is so much one can do with it. They come in many colors – natural and dyed – shapes, sizes, heights, lengths, textures, densities, styles, and more. I’ve noticed that I have many street photographs of people with interesting hair. I suppose I have cultivated a fascination with hair because I have been a rock musician for so many years.

This guy’s hair is superb. It actually inspires my imagination. I see a floppy crown, an anime character, an explosion, and a gathering of octopuses (octopi? octopodes?), starfish, or sea anemones (yes, lots of underwater creatures).

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Street Photography: Arm Wrestling

Well this was a new one for me. I saw these two shirtless guys huddling around this bank of trash containers. Then I noticed the third fellow and how they’re all bringing their hands together.

Finally I hear one of them barking out to the crowds walking past that they are about to commence with an arm wrestling match. An open call is made to take on any challengers.

I’m sure it’s not the first time, but I never saw public arm wrestling. I’ve seen many savvy players summoning pedestrians to a game of chess. I’ve seen cards, dominoes, and the old shell game – handball, basketball, even stickball back in the day. There have been races with legs, bicycles, and homemade go carts. I’ve seen rappers battling with rhymes. All of these are among the many street competitions that have been part of New York City street life over the decades.

But I have not seen arm wrestling. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to linger to see who would emerge victorious. Are there any games I did not mention that you recall seeing in the streets?

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