Wednesday, February 1, 2012

People On The Street

Three More From The 305 Van Brunt Show

When I first started this photo project, the original intent was to try and take "portraits" of other cyclists. I had only a rudimentary understanding of the most basic technical aspects of photography in terms of shutter speed and exposure and whatnot (now it's more of a basic understanding) and left much of it to trial and error. Luckily, digital cameras are pretty intelligent arbiters of their surrounding and a lot of them will give you hints as to what to do. Especially if you read the instruction manual. Despite the tender assurances of technology, I quickly found that taking a crisp image of an object coming toward you at @12 mph while moving toward that object at approximately the same speed wasn't easy. Complex geometric algorithms, somatic in their formation take place in the head. You try to account for your breathing and pedal stroke -- the physical wobble that occurs, especially if you are going up hill and try to time it just right. Attempt to take pictures of oncoming cyclists is almost always a failure.

Morning Commute
Morning Commute

No. What I found is that it's much easier to take a photograph when still — when at a stoplight for instance. Also: pedestrians make extremely interesting subjects as well. New York.

I've an eager and reluctant eye and hit the shutter release button around 50 times during each 45 minute leg of my 200 + block commute. When I get home, I flip through the images on the camera before downloading and delete the most out of focus. Once I download them onto my computer and start to look at them blown up, then I know whether there's something there or not.

Here, I'm digging the Paul's Boutique-ishness of the image, but it's the two protagonists — Mr. Silhouette and Mr. Sol — that shake this image out of the tree for me. We're all just trying to get on with our morning commutes. Mr. Silhouette is off to whatever the day holds for him and the sun moves along its accustomed track. I see Mr. Silhouette on a regular basis. We're short-period comets to one another, weaving in and out of each others orbit.

I've only seen these two gentlemen, however, the one time. They make up the second diptych of the show.
Grand and Allen What James Dean Might Look Like TodayThese similarly aged and dressed gentlemen epitomize one of my favorite kinds of photo captures. There is eye contact with the subject (or at least the illusion of eye contact since they're looking at my handlebar, not my eyes). The awareness of something about to pass and experiential impatience with waiting for the light to change. These men have waited a long time for the light to change over the course of their lives.

Friday, January 27, 2012

On The Purple That Never Ceases

Richards Street at Sunset
Richards Street At Sunset
From the 305 Van Brunt Street Show

It's common knowledge that Red Hook has the prettiest sunsets in all of New York City.

Not-so-common knowledge? The E.J. Trum (reverse "R") billboard is really a cosmic antenna.

That is all.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Further Along

From the 305 Van Brunt Show
Vanishing points imply ruler drawn straight lines, and the imposition of abstract architectural overlay on the scene. I love how picture battles against that imposition. The arterial canopies of the trees  and the calligraphic tire tracks, meander in counter valence to the formal edges of the buildings, the decorative park gate, the curb, and the ghost border where the snow ends and the road begins. All points are vanishing points—but more so in the snow.

and miles to go...
This picture was taken last February. I remember the ride pretty well. Snow had been on the ground pretty much the entire year up until that point. Riding around in it was no big deal. This ride was pure honkytonk piano run (think "Hot Potato" by The Kinks — also Don't Honk, $350 Penalty).

I gave this photo kind of a misleading title by taking a line from Robert Frost's most anthologized poem, "Stopping By The Woods On a Snowy Evening." But where that poem is a paean to stubborn solitude, there's hardly any solitude in this picture. Yes, it's the only photo in the show that does not have another human being in it, but I am the eye. I am the human in it. And with that eye, am happy to see the presence of others etched in the snow in front of me and to be able to recognize something entirely other and wild in those tracks. It's comforting to know that humanity doesn't naturally tend towards the straight lines of artifice  — that we wobble a bit along our way. Yeah. I think this photo has more in common with Douglas Rothschilds poem "Further Along" than Frost's — especially in the final lines.

What next Manhattan?
i will not be here again
for a long time — there
are only twelve more shopping
days till X-Mass & i

don't even know for whom
i'm buying these things.
It's the flashing lights &
the seeminglessness of
purpose that attracts me.

Christmas Trees — Fire
Engines —Police Cars or
Emergency Vehicles —it's
all the same: Someone
needs help. Someone else

is coming. What more
could any of us ask
beyond this static re-
assurance? i grumble,
walk South, watch the

River rise, & think of
"the beuté of hem nat
susteyene," as the tide
chews away at the reed-
covered Pier. So much

of what we resemble
reassembles us.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Still LIfe at Stuyvesant Square

August 20, 2010

From the 305 Gallery Show

A quotidian stoplight snapshot. Still Life, but there isn’t really anything still in this picture except for me. This one ends up being rare because multiple points of movement are rendered as crisp stills. A un-staged wind up staginess to it. The freshly paved macadam surface is simply a coal colored orange peel. The sunlight hunting in the west animates leaves, glass, faces. Stoplights gone domino for blocks and blocks. Pedestrians, cyclists, cabs – everything moving in a slightly robotic way. Even the color in the sky,  mechanical. Opening the face of the grandfather clock to view the innards. Even the trees, husbanded as they are within the 2-block long confines of Stuyvesant Square. Of course it looks robotic, it's above 14th Street, isn't it?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Manhattan Bridge Diptych

Two More From 305 Van Brunt The Show
The two images below were captured during the summer of 2010. They were taken on opposite ends of the Manhattan Bridge bike path. The one on the left is on the Brooklyn side and the one on the right is on the Manhattan side.

They're bookends. Physically, there's barely a mile between these two points on a map. Between the two subjects, however, the distance between their states of mind could not be farther apart. Both are deeply into their own heads. On the left we have troubled contemplation, On the right, perfect meditation. I think of these two men as allegorical sentries and love the way these two pictures talk to one another about journey and place, about crossings and humanity. The guy meditating on the left is still, yet his mind is actively pursuing a higher state. Over in Brooklyn, the body language says agitation, but in this guy's head, there's dead calm and perhaps despair. Then there's the backdrop. In Brooklyn, the Jehovah's Witness headquarters Watchtower Building, looms over the sad gentleman. In Manhattan, meditation guy is watched over by a benign piece of smiley face graffiti.

I never saw the Brooklyn sentry again, but I encountered Meditation Guy (as I ended up calling him) all that summer. I actually took a whole series of Meditation Guy. Check it out. Watch the progression of Meditation Guy and the world around him. In a way, this set is the closest I've come to the Tom Phillips piece I mentioned in the last post. Everything changes — billboards, graffiti, the weather. Although he's the most constant thing in the set, even Meditation Guy changes it up occasionally.

When summer ended, so did Meditation Guy's morning ritual. I haven't seen him since that summer. I hope both gentlemen are out there doing well.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

There Is Always Something Coming Toward You

This post is about one of the photos I have installed at 305 Van Brunt Street — see previous post. I plan on writing about each of the 11 pieces in the show this month.

About 5 years ago, I started carrying a digital point-and-shoot with me on my rides in an attempt to capture the brief, but vivid sights and sounds of my 20-mile bicycle commute in New York City. I was inspired by Tom Phillips "humdrum epic" 20 SITES n Years, but instead of taking one photo of one place over the course of years, I was going to photo the entirety of the commute every day. Of course, originally I was going to try and emulate his project a little more closely by taking a photo-a-day off the Manhattan Bridge. Turns out I'm not patient enough to stop in the middle of a ride to set up a shot. The ride is the thing, see, and the rhythm of the ride is important to the pleasure of the ride. You don't need to stop and smell the flowers when you are in an unending field of flowers — flowers made out of steel and concrete and flesh and rubber and light and all of them always coming toward you. I stopped a few times and snapped some nice pictures of the East River and lower Manhattan from the same perspective, but it didn't really do anything for me. Sorry Tom. The urge to take pictures was pretty strong though. How was I going to do it? Digital cameras are small enough to carry in pockets and I could just pull it out and snap the picture with one hand while keeping the bike in control with the other. Right? No. I needed something more-or-less hands free. Something that would offer safety and speed.

I decided I would try and film my commute with a camcorder. I borrowed one from my very trusting friend, Mimi, and with about a half a roll of ductape, managed to strap the camera to my helmet. There were multiple issues: shakey shakey video, a weight distribution problem that kept pulling my helmet into my eyes, and I looked fairly ridiculous. I returned the camcorder and engineered a different solution. By engineer, I mean I used bungee cords to strap my point-and-shoot to the handlebar of my bike as best I could. It worked, but I quickly determined it wasn't practical to rig the system every day. Finally, I settled on a mount and clamp system I found online at Campmor. It's called the ultraclamp.

You Go Girl: taken with Canon Powershot A560 on October 4, 2008
And then I took this picture — took it literally on the third or fourth trip with the new clamp. It's not perfect, a little washed out and just ever so out of focus, but when I saw it on my computer screen, I just stopped and stared. Up until that point, most of the photos has been pretty blah or completely out of focus. This one, however, it caught my attention. This one started the whole thing. Portraiture, storytelling, action, composition and poetry — all there and all born from happenstance. Like I said, there's always coming toward you — starlight, an 18-wheeler, your children, soundwaves, a whiff of orange, your next failure, the next war, word, or worry, a full beer from your bartender, your birthday, a poem, a friend. In this case, three BMXers, a fairly famous graffiti tag, and some of the lovelist bridge architecture anywhere, was headed my way. I'm just lucky I caught it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Circles Within Circles: A Red Hook Photography Show

Eleven of my bicycle commute photos will be on display at 305 Van Brunt Street in Red Hook through January. I'm going to be writing about the pictures and the show throughout the course of the month. Come on by and check it out.

The Background
For much of the past three years, I have been documenting my daily bicycle commute in digital photos taken from the handlebar of my bicycle. The commute is approximately 19.5 miles round trip and I ride pretty much year round. I tend to capture an average of 120 images per day. Since October of 2008, I've taken over 33,000 pictures of this 20 mile route. An obsession, this.

The photos were taken with two different point and click digital cameras —  a Canon Powershot A560 and more recently, a Panasonic Lumix dmc-ts1. I got the waterproof and shockproof Panasonic after an incident one day on the Manhattan Bridge left the Canon shattered. The Panasonic has been going strong since March of 2010.

Me with the bike and camera. I mount the camera to the handlebar with the Pedco Ultraclamp
Every day, I upload that day's commute to Flickr and both enjoy and cringe. See, I'm taking photos while biking. Since I'm biking, I'm moving, and since I'm moving I can't take time to really focus or arrange the shot. Thus,  about 99% are pure garbage — out of focus,  uninteresting, or repetitive.  Most of the time I'm disappointed with the results, but there are instances of happenstance where everything comes together. Out of those 33,000 pictures I've taken, I've labeled over 450 as "favorites." You can see them all here. I tend to share these favorites across several social media platforms and harass friends and family with them. The photographs have taken on a life of their own. I've written a short chapbook of poems inspired by them and I've often thought about printing large versions of some fo my very favorites. That's where my friends Jen and Jim come in.

Jim is a neighbor of mine who also happens to commute on a regular basis by bicycle. His wife, Jen, runs a storefront gallery in the building they own. The've hosted about 8 shows this past year - one a month. One day this past November, over a pint at our local bar, Jim and I are talking about biking and the pictures I've been taking and Jim suggests that I do a January show in the storefront. I quickly agreed and here we are.

Here's a poem by Wallace Stevens called "The Pleasures of Merely Circulating"

The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

Is there any secret in skulls,
The cattle skulls in the woods?
Do the drummers in black hoods
Rumble anything out of their drums?

Mrs. Anderson's Swedish baby
Might well have been German or Spanish,
Yet that things go round and again go round
Has a rather classical sound.

When it came closer to the time I would put up my pretty pictures, I started to panic a little. I know nothing about photography. I understand the ekphrastic pleasure of a picture that tells me a story, but with regards to the technical aspect, I'm a less than a lump on a log. I turned to Jen, a visual artist in her own right, with a selection of photographs for her to choose from or give me advice about. Instead, she gave me some pretty good perspective on the entire project — good photos as well as bad photos. She said to me "I think its interesting because rather than choosing a particular group of people to photograph, your project is sort of all the people, but within the parameter of your route.  It also captures the idea of how we all weave in and out of each others lives, all on our own routes." Her insight has helped me crystalize and idea about this (okay I'll go ahead and call it a project) project and led me to be less concerned about the the photography aspect of it all.
I want to talk about epicycles.
From Ardhi_M's photobucket stream
The Astronomer, Ptolmey, proposed a geocentric model of the solar system way back in the 2nd century. His system accounted for the retrograde motion of observable planets in the night sky by putting the planets on invisible tracks in the sky with each planet circling planet earth. Each planet travelled on two tracks. The large track is the deferent and the smaller one (orbiting the deferent) is the epicycle. His model allowed ancient astronemers a modicum of accuracy with their heavenly predictions.

The deferent is a constant, fixed circle — or, in other words, my commute. The epicycle moves around the deferent on it's own axis while orbiting that axis. The people and objects I encounter on my commute are part of the epicycle. Wheels within wheels within wheels, or the pleasures of merely circulating and encountering and passing through.

It all does have a rather classical sound, I'll grant, but at the same time, the movement of the bicycle and the element of chance lends a bit of edge to the whole thing as well. I'm still working the whole epicycle thing out (what, for instance, replaces the Earth in my analogy) and it may be that there isn't anything to work out, that the conceit is merely a conceit.

The Show

In the end, I chose 11 images to display in Jen and Jim's storefront. Four of them have been printed 16 X 20 and seven are 11 X 14. Come on down and check them out and send me feedback. Over the course of the next month, I'll devote an entry to each piece.