Archive for the ‘Images’ Category

The Barista

November 14, 2010

The Barista

This image is an example of the importance of seizing the opportunity, not being bashful, and connecting with your subject.  On a day with our daughter in Denver, we stopped for coffee in a quaint neighborhood south of the Denver Art Museum.  My wife’s caffeine levels were dangerously low, and a small coffeeshop caught our eyes.  A cozy place, it was filled with retired couples reading papers, yuppies in jeans absorbed in laptops, and students doing homework.

The most interesting feature, however, was the barista – a young Latina woman with silky black hair and a fascinating array of tattoos whose patterns linked her with her Aztec ancestors.  After she served us with rich, flavorful coffee – obviously from a local specialty roastery – I complimented her on her tattoos and asked if I could photograph her.  She kindly assented, and I slid in beside her as she prepared the next brew, catching her against the backdrop of the espresso machine and the wine rack.

This image was taken at f/2.8 and 35mm equivalent focal length on my Canon digital camera, which was all that I had with me at the moment.  With the low light and close quarters, this shot would have been difficult with a vintage Bessa or Ensign, with a 50mm equivalent lens, a maximum aperture of f/3.8 (remember the limiting effect of the shutter mechanism around the lens), and the inability to change film speeds.  The image still suffers slightly in sharpness due to the slow shutter speed I was forced to use under these challenging conditions, but it is a good example of what one can capture if one is always ready.


The Photographer As Predator

October 14, 2010


The Question


Let’s face it – every artist is a predator.   Writers use their childhoods, their mothers, their life experiences (Tennessee Williams and the sordid South, Hemingway and the Spanish Civil War).  Painters use atrocities (Picasso and Guernica) and their mistresses.  We all take from our surroundings and companions to feed our art.  Often, the result is beautiful and restorative.  Sometimes the relationship is symbiotic; consider Alfred Steiglitz’ erotic images of Georgia O’Keefe that built her career.  And often it’s downright parasitic – let’s not even talk about the National Enquirer and the paparazzi.

When I’m out on the street with my camera, I often see people in terms of images – and I’m hunting.  No jungle cat with an empty belly could be more alert for its prey.  The temptation is always to shoot someone – anyone – who would make a dramatic image.  This is the essential moral dilemma of the photographer: how far are we willing to go to make a statement?

Much has been written about this dilemma.  I think that this question was best summed up by Ruth Fremson, a photographer for the New York Times, who has see much suffering through her lens:

“I don’t set out to exploit another person’s suffering in order to make art,” she said. “I set out to tell a story, to explain a situation, to enhance viewers’ understanding of the world around us.

“The way a photojournalist can drive home the severity of a situation, for readers to fully understand them, is to make the most compelling image possible from an event — an image that will make someone stop for a moment, take it in and give the situation some thought.

“A photojournalist who has mastered the visual tools of composition, the use of light and color and the ability to capture the ‘decisive moment,’ will be able to produce a photo so compelling that it can be described as beautiful — or perhaps even as art — even if the subject matter is one of pain and suffering.

“Interestingly, museums around the world are filled with art that depicts human suffering, often based on real events in history…”

I struggle with this question every day that I am on the street with my camera, and constantly try to balance my art with my sense of my subjects’ dignity.  Yet even in this process, often the most rewarding part of the experience is the connection with the people in my pictures.  I met this gentleman sitting in a doorway on Seattle’s Broadway, itself a rich palette of street cafes, college students, and many who spend their days on the streets.  Many of the individuals one meets on benches and doorways are obviously in pain, and if I photograph them, it is from a distance and in a manner that preserves their anonymity.  But many, if one stops to visit, are delightful and original.  This gentleman gave me a quick smile as I stopped to talk, happily agreed to have his picture taken, and even offered me a choice of messages on his sign!  I was late for a meeting, and unfortunately, could not stop to visit with him.

This image was taken with the Ensign 16-20 on Kodak VC-160, and appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Canadian Camera magazine.


Estrin, James.  LENS- Photography, Video and Visual Journalism: Forum – Suffering and Art.

Johannes, A-M.  News Media’s Depiction of Human Suffering.

Reinhardt, M. et al.  “Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain.”  University of Chicago Press, 2007.

DAM and Clouds

September 22, 2010

Denver Art Museum and Clouds

Buildings and Sky

To use a subject, I must be able to truly see it.  Sometimes, I experience the presence of a striking subject, yet try as I may, I simply cannot make it into an image where color and line, form and balance come together into something that works.  At times like this, I always think,  “A real photographer could make this work”  and go away frustrated.

Yet I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to come back.  At times, I have to wait for my mind to climb out of its rut and see in a new way.  Other times, the light changes, a cloud moves, or a cat wanders across the square, and suddenly everything falls together.  Most often, it’s a bit of each, as in these images of the Denver Art Museum complex.

I have visited the Denver Art Museum several times, and been drawn by the dramatic upthrust of the museum and its attendant metal sculptures, as well as the striking architecture of the other buildings in the complex.  I have struggled to capture the drama of this site, yet my images always failed.

Yesterday, while on a family visit to the King Tut exhibit, I walked out the front door to face a downpour with thunder and lightning, accompanied by soft light and gray, wispy clouds contrasting with the sharp lines of the museum and the upthrust of the metal sculptures.  I began snapping digital images with my point-and shoot, the only camera I had, and suddenly, everything began to fall into place.  I began seeing the buildings only as abstract shapes, and juxtaposed the spear of the museum’s North wing with the gray streamers of cloud.  I then moved to the neigbouring buildings with their stylized, toylike structure contrasting with the hooks of the lampposts.  I abandoned the horizon, and positioned squares and triangles in the corners of the frame.

Uploading the images, I increased contrast in the image of the museum’s north wing to accentuated the ribbons of cloud.  With the buildings, I cropped,  jacked up the contrast, then tweaked Curves in Photoshop  to boost the darkest zones, giving an unreal, posterized appearance to the buildings.

Afternoon, New Bonaventure

August 29, 2010

Afternoon, New Bonaventure

New Bonaventure is a tiny and wonderfully picturesque village on the south side of the Bonavista Peninsula on Newfoundland’s eastern coast.  Located just one mile from the site where the PBS series Random Passage was shot, it is often bypassed by tourists navigating the tortuous track from the highway to the set, Frommer’s in hand.

Yet the beauty of the village hides the struggle that rural Newfoundlanders face in the wake of the collapse of the fishing industry.  Although fishermen warned the government for years that stocks were diminishing, they were ignored.  Enormous deep trawlers scoured the bottom around the Grand Banks, destroying habitat, and no action was taken. Finally, the Canadian government imposed a moratorium on commercial cod fishing, and an industry and a way of life died.

Although fish stocks are slowly coming back, it will be years before cod fishing is a viable way of life, and inhabitants of rural communities like New Bonaventure have had to turn to other

Rugged Beauty Boat Tours, New Bonaventure

sources of income to survive.  Newfies are a resourceful lot, however; lobster fishing has blossomed, and the one working boat in the New Bonaventure harbor belonged to Rugged Beauty Boat Tours.  Clearly, Newfoundland enterprise did not die with the cod industry!


Kurlansky, Mark.  “Cod:  A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.”  Penguin Books, New York. 1997.

The Nap – An Exercise in Creative Cropping

July 3, 2010

The Nap

There are times when I’m creative because I’m creative, and there are times when I’m creative because I’m scrambling to fix an error or rescue an image.  This photograph is one of the latter cases, and I ended up being ripped away from my comfortable dependence on the Rule of Thirds.

The 1950 Ensign Selfix 16-20 is my primary street photography camera.  It is a superb little camera, hardly larger than a point-and-shoot, yet with the excellent Ross Xpres lens and a full range of shutter speeds.

I recently spent two wonderful afternoons wandering the streets of Seattle, and shot two rolls of film of street people and an itinerant street preacher with the Ensign.  Receiving my film scans two weeks later, I was dismayed to find misaligned images with space above the heads and feet cut off!  After many years of photography, I should be able to avoid cutting off feet!

A careful examination of the Ensign’s pop-up Albada viewfinder revealed it to be more sophisticated than I had realized.  Peering through the rear window, one sees the image, together with a superimposed pale inner frame which I had ignored, taking it to be a reflection of the eyepiece.  However, on examining the finder more carefully, it is clear that a white mask painted on the inner surface of the eyepiece is designed to reflect on the front finder

The Ensign Albada Viewfinder Mask

lens, forming the true frame for the image.  Research on Albada viewfinders indicates that this is how they work –  information that I should have known from the start (see References). These are the challenges in working with older cameras that make it rewarding – and frustrating!

Now that I had discovered how to use the finder, I was faced with the problem of two rolls of dramatic but misaligned images.  Some were past saving, but I began cropping in an effort to use the remaining images.  The sleeping street person was a problem; his

The Nap, Original Image

foot hit the edge of the frame, and he definitely could not be aligned according to the Rule of Thirds.  I decided to see if I could use the misalignment for dramatic effect.  I cropped from the top, removing the bus and as much of the upper extraneous detail as possible, while leaving in place as much of the empty space in the square as possible.  I then cropped from the left, removing the base of the trash bin, and leaving the unkempt sleeping figure surrounded by the empty space, the bases of trees and a solitary lamp post.  In this arrangement, the surrounding empty square emphasizes the isolation of the sleeping figure, and may be more effective than a traditionally-balanced image.


Oleson, R.A. “Looking Forward:  The Development of the Eye Level Viewfinder.”

Petrakla, P. “Petrakla Classic Camera Site: Albada Viewfinders.”  “How to Get the Best Results From an Albada Viewfinder.”

Trapper’s Cabin, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

June 5, 2010

The Trapper's Cabin, Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Everyone who knows the North Country has heard of Alaska’s Iditarod, the famous dogsled race from Anchorage to Nome.  Few know that Canada’s annual winter race, the Yukon Quest, is longer and probably more difficult than the Iditarod.  In 2007, I visited Frank Turner, holder of the record for the Yukon Quest,  at Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory.

A wonderful afternoon was spent walking a team of dogs, learning

Training for the Yukon Quest

about the life of a professional musher, and marveling over the hardships of running a dog team through the Yukon winter.  In a corner of the ranch, this old, perfectly-preserved  trapper’s cabin caught my eye.  I was testing an Ensign 16-20 with the Ensar  75 mm lens destined for a Christmas present, and could not resist this shot on XP-2.


“The Yukon Quest.”  My

Muktuk Adventures.

Midnight on the Sammamish River

June 3, 2010

Much of the time, it seems that one takes endless pictures without achieving anything that is more than mediocre.  Then one image, often taken without much previsualization or planning, is perfect.  This is one such image.  One night in 1992, I was bicycling at

midnight on the Burke-Gilman Trail along the Sammammish River north of Redmond, Washington.  Mist hung in the still air over the river, and the lights of nearby businesses across the river cast a lacework of light though the thin misty curtains.  I had loaded my 1965 Pentax Spotmatic  with Agfa Optima film, and brought along my 50mm Super-Takumar lens- a vintage lens of superb optical quality.

Fascinated with the play of light, mist and shadow over the river,  I had nothing but a miniature tripod which I strapped to the handlebars of my bicycle, and I guessed at a two minute exposure.  When I went to bracket exposures, I discovered that this was the last frame on the roll.

In this final print, the lights of Redmond create a beautiful dawnlike effect in the east.  The air was still, and the crisp images of the individual grasses attest to both the quality of the Takumar lens and the perfect stillness of the night.  In this case, all the elements came together to create a lovely image.


Rochkind, Marc.  “Marc’s Classic Cameras:  Asahi Pentax Spotmatic- 1964.”

Wikipedia Article:  “Pentax Spotmatic.”

Gerbera Daisies

May 2, 2010

Gerbera Daisies

This image, which is digital, shows once again the value of accompanying vintage film photography with digital capability.  On a visit to a local nursery, I was occupied by shopping, but had time to snap this image with my Canon A610 point-and-shoot camera, which has some manual control in addition to the usual automatic modes.  The small CCD chip allows greater depth of field than is possible with film.  I would not have had time to compose the image with my vintage cameras, and would not have been able to achieve this depth of field in a hand-held shot.

The Cow and the Combine

April 24, 2010

The Cow and the Combine

This a “busy” picture which I initially thought was too cluttered.  Yet  I kept coming back to it, fascinated by the complexity of the farm equipment, the contrast between the gray sheets of the harvester sides and the rough textures of the earth, the bark and the coat of the cow (actually a steer).  I also liked the richness and varied tones of the browns and rusty reds.  The steer watching me stolidly provides a counterpoint to the lines and planes of the machinery.  Taken near Duncan, B.C. at f/11 with the Ross Xpres lens on my Ensign 16-20 on Kodak VC-160.

The Farm on the Hill, Washtucna

April 11, 2010

The Farm on the Hill, Washtucna

Somewhere in the rolling Washington Palouse country east of Washtucna, I saw this farm peering over the crest of a hill.  Attracted by the interplay of the lines of the stubble with the panorama of this immense field, I let my eye be drawn to the distant farm.  Positioning it as the focal point of this image to give scale to the vastness of this wheat field, I exposed XP-2 with my 1928 No. 1 Kodak at f/22.  Note that the sense of space is achieved with only a “normal” lens- no wide angle was available in the era when this camera was made!