Friday, December 30, 2016

Hi Life

I've never been in Hi Life on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 83rd Street even though it's only a block from my home.  Its lighting certainly makes it look inviting though.  Once again I used the Nik Duplex filter from Color Efex Pro4 to add warmth.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Jacob's Pickles

As long as I'm posting photos of local eateries after dark, I might as well add this one of Jacob's Pickles, right now the hottest brunch spot on the Upper West Side.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cafe Lalo

Cafe Lalo on 83rd Street is a popular coffee shop on the Upper West Side where I sometimes have brunch with friends.  The lighting makes it look especially inviting after dark.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Broadway Hot Dog Cart

After dark and with the right lighting, even a simple hot dog cart on Broadway can look as magical as a circus.  I used the Duplex filter from Nik Color Efex Pro4 to add warmth to the photo.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Central Park Wildlife

For some reason, I never have much luck when photographing the ducks swimming in the Central Park lake.  This one came out better than most.  I especially liked the coloring of the bird's feathers.  Shot on Lumix GH4.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!!

I took this photo yesterday at Bryant Park,  It certainly seemed appropriate for the season.  I hope everyone reading this has a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year.  May all your wishes come true.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Shopping at Columbus Circle

Shot yesterday at the outdoor market at Columbus Circle.  I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like there so shortly after the Berlin market bombing, but everyone seemed to be relaxed and enjoying the Christmas season.  There was a police presence, but it was low profile and none of the officers on duty appeared armed with assault weapons.  Across the street, there was a much larger contingent of police providing security for Trump Hotel.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Railroad Bridge at Riverside Park

This derelict structure is in the Hudson River alongside the new extension to Riverside Park. A plaque nearby tells how it was once used in the transfer of trains from New Jersey to New York City. I doubt the original builders had any thought that so utilitarian a structure would one day become a scenic attraction.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Model Zo

I had a lot of fun photographing a beautiful Hispanic model named Zo last month.  Like most of the models I work with, I met her through the site Model Mayhem.  I'll be posting more photos of her in coming days on my Patreon blog.  The blog can be accessed via the link shown below.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mirror Reflections

Simply by photographing into a mirror outdoors, such as these on display at the local flea market, it's possible to get a new perspective on a familiar cityscape. A good photograph is one that allows the viewer to see its subject in a new manner.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Reflections in Water

The scene shown above - a building on New York's Upper East Side - is familiar to every New Yorker who's ever walked along Fifth Avenue. But when photographed as a reflection in Central Park's sailboat pond, it takes on a totally new look. It's like a glimpse of some alien city never before visited. The buildings shown in the photo below were photographed in Lincoln Center's pool behind David Geffen Hall. They look familiar but somehow subtly distorted.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Interview with Model Chloe on Patreon

I recently did a photo shoot with a model named Chloe whom I met through Model Mayhem.  She was a fun, exuberant woman who was also down to earth and thoroughly professional..While we were shooting, however, Chloe mentioned the diagnosis of MS she had received and talked openly about her condition.  I was extremely impressed by the courage and determination she displayed and asked if I might interview her so readers could share her story.  This is not something I've ever done before, but I felt it was warranted in this case.  I can't attach the audio file to this post, but it is available as an attachment on a Patreon post that's free to the general public.  The interview is short, only a little over a minute in length, but well worth hearing.  If you'd like to listen to it, the link is below.  I'll also be posting more photos of Chloe on Patreon in coming days.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter's Eve Festival

On Monday evening, I took my Nikon Df to the Winter's Eve Festival at Lincoln Square.  This is an annual event that features food samples and live music as well as other forms of entertainment.  I was hoping to get some low light photographs of the crowd, but the small area was too packed for me to be able to move freely about.  There were dancers in wonderfully grotesque costumes who moved about on stilts, but I was only able to get a few blurred shots of them.  I had slightly better luck with the band onstage, but again the lighting was problematical.

There are more photos available for free public viewing on my Patreon blog at the link below:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Big Price Drop on Panasonic Lumix GH4

The Panasonic Lumix GH5 is scheduled to be released sometime in early 2017, and one was already on display at the Photo Expo here in NYC last month.  As a result, there's been a significant price drop in the Lumix GH4.   It's now available at a number of outlets for approximately $1,200 (body only), down $300 from its list price of $1,500.  B&H has gone one better and is offering a $150 gift card with purchase.  Since a B&H gift card is as good as cash to a photographer, this effectively lowers the camera's price to only $1,050.

No price has been set yet for the GH5, but best estimates are that it will be around $1,600, only slightly more expensive than the GH4's regular price.  The GH5 should be a ground breaking camera for video enthusiasts as it will offer a revolutionary 6K video.  It will also offer incremental improvements for still photography - one stop better performance in low light and 24mpx rather than the current 16mpx.  These are wonderful enhancements, but since I don't regularly shoot video and invariably use my Nikon Df for low light photography, they weren't that important to me.  On the other hand, paying effectively $1,050 for the GH4 instead of $1,600 for the GH5 represents a savings of roughly 35%, and that's a big number.

I decided to go with the GH4 primarily because it's not what I regard as a professional camera, like my Nikons.  The Panasonic is really my "carry around" camera that I use for street shooting and travel photography.  As such, the GH4 is plenty good enough for my purposes.  Another factor that influenced my decision is that the Panasonic line, no matter what its reps may say, is really designed as a consumer camera.  It's simply not built to be as durable as a top of the line Nikon.  I purchased the GH2 in 2011 and used it for five years before I began to experience problems with it.  The camera "grip" that holds the lens is losing tension and the electronics sometimes act up, e.g., I keep being asked to set to set ISO or white balance.  I'm not complaining - I feel I got good use out of the GH2 - but obviously I don't want to pour too much money into a camera with a limited lifetime, especially one that's intended for casual use.

In the end, after a great deal of consideration, I purchased the GH4 to replace my ailing GH2 and have been shooting with it for over a week now.  I've been very happy with the results - the photos are quite similar to those I obtained with the GH2, which were excellent.  The only problem I've had with the GH4 is that the user manual is too basic and leaves out essential information, e.g. it's now necessary to check the camera's screen and make a choice when downloading photos via the USB connection.  This was minor, though, and the problem was soon solved via live chat when I contacted Panasonic support.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Alamo Cube Returns to Astor Place

After a two year absence, the Alamo Cube was returned to its original location in Astor Place last week.  The cube was created as a temporary art installation in 1967 by Tony Rosenthal but proved so popular that it was never dismantled.  Of course, the East Village neighborhood was a much funkier place when the cube first arrived, and everyone had a laugh pushing it around on its axis to make it spin.  Imprisoned now behind metal railings where no one can touch it, it seems a sad prisoner in upscale Noho, a reminder of happier times.

Monday, October 24, 2016

End of Summer

The temperatures here in NYC were much warmer than usual last week.  On Tuesday, there was a record high as the temperature reached 83F (28C) in Central Park.  Then, almost overnight, the thermometer sank to 45F (7C) as a cold front moved in.  Autumn is finally here now.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

2016 NYC Photo Expo

I went yesterday afternoon to the Javits Center to take a look at this year's edition of the Photo Expo.  Since I just purchased a Nikon Df in January, I didn't bother checking out any DSLR's (I've always found dealing with Nikon reps to be an ordeal anyway) but instead concentrated on mirrorless cameras.  I'll be needing one in the near future and wanted to see what was available.

Panasonic Lumix

I've used a GH2 since 2011 and have been very pleased with it.  Although I don't consider it a professional camera, it's versatile and I like to carry it with me while moving about the city.  (I used it, in fact, to take the photos shown on this post.)  I've occasionally had a slight problem during the past few months when the camera has indicated the lens is not properly attached.  The Panasonic rep, who was very helpful and knowledgeable, told me that the most likely cause is that the lens coupling mechanism is losing its "tension" and will eventually need to be replaced at a cost of roughly $200.  That's not a big number, but I may opt simply to replace the camera itself with a newer model.  

One low end choice would be the DMC-G85 which will be released toward the end of the month (B&H is already taking pre-orders).  What makes this model especially attractive is that the introductory deal includes a 12-60 mm lens for only $100 more than the cost of the body alone.  Since this is a $500 lens, the cost of the camera itself is then only about $500 (total price for package = $997.99).

On the other hand, the new DMC-GH5 will also soon be available and one was already on display at the show, albeit locked in a glass case.  If I ever decided to shoot video, this is definitely the camera I'd go for.  Among other improvements, the video will now be 6K.  There are other enhancements as well, including better performance for still photography at high ISO's.

Fujifilm X-Pro 2

The X-Pro has been available for several years and I've always heard it highly spoken of.  The recently released X-Pro 2 has also gotten excellent reviews.  Its main attraction for me is its rangefinder design.  All the main controls are on the outside - one can even set aperture by rotating the ring on the lens barrel - and familiar to anyone who's worked with a film rangefinder (I still regularly use my Mamiya 6).  It certainly seems a great camera and at $1,699.00 is reasonably priced.

Sony Alpha A7 II

While its specs are outstanding in every respect, what makes the Alpha A7 II truly attractive to me is its ability to work in extreme low light situations.  I do quite a bit of nighttime street photography with the Nikon Df, but the Sony's performance in this area is far better.  At $1,698 ($1,998 with a 28-70 lens), it's in the same price range as the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and, presumably, the Lumix DMC-GH5.

To sum it up, I like the Lumix DMC-GH5 for its video capabilities, the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 for its rangefinder design, and the Sony Alpha A7 II for its low light capability.

Printing Papers

Aside from cameras, the only other items of immediate interest to me at the show were printing papers for use on my Epson R3000.

I use high end printing papers for my fine arts photography, and those that I've found best are Moab and Hahnemühle.  I checked both out at the show.  Moab offers a number of surfaces - I saw some wonderful black & white examples printed on Exhibition Luster - but since I prefer textured papers, I usually go with Hahnemühle.  It's interesting that the company is now marketing a Platinum Rag that can be used in alternative printing processes.  I've worked with the Ziatype formula (a palladium printing-out process) and in the past have always used Arches Platine paper purchased from art supply stores.  I'd be very interested to see what results I got with Hahnemühle's new paper.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Elizabeth Street Garden

While wandering through Soho on Monday afternoon, I came across a park I hadn't even known existed.  The Elizabeth Street Garden is a community space filled with unusual sculpture and offers visitors a rare open area downtown where they can enjoy the sunshine.  It goes without saying that there's pressure from real estate interests to remove the garden and build over the site.  There's more information on this on the Garden's website.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Shooting Street Photography in Color

I've been taking advantage of the Nikon Df's extended ISO range to explore shooting street photography at night here in NYC.  For the most part, I've gotten best results when converting these shots to black & white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, but there are a number that I feel work best when left in color.  It's largely a matter of taste, but when a photograph contains bright colors in illuminated scenes, I think it's best to take advantage of them.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Last Flowers of Summer

I went to Central Park during the last week of September to photograph the flowers before summer ended.  Just when I had finished, the weather turned chill.  Now I'll have to wait for spring to come again.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Photo Book Review: Stieglitz and His Artists

The following review was also posted on my blog The Aesthetic Adventure on September 12, 2013.

Stieglitz and His Artists: Matisse to O'Keefe is an excellent example of what an exhibit catalog should be.   Published as an accompaniment to the Met Museum exhibit held from October 2011 to January 2012, the catalog edited by Lisa Mintz Messinger painstakingly details the works included in the Alfred Stieglitz Collection that was bequeathed to the Met Museum by Georgia O'Keefe over a period of years following the photographer's death in 1946.

Stieglitz is remembered today primarily as perhaps the greatest photographer ever to have lived.  His photographs, as seen in the "key set" at the National Gallery of Art, display a mastery of the medium that has never been equaled.  But there is another side to his character that is arguably of even greater importance.  In his quest to have photography fully recognized as an art form, Stieglitz managed a succession of galleries, beginning with 291, that displayed not only photography but also the most important modern art of the period.  Long before the 1913 Armory Show, Stieglitz had already introduced to America some of most influential European and American artists.  These included the first showing of Rodin's late pencil and watercolor figure drawings (1908), the first exhibition of Matisse's work ever held in the United States (1908), the first U.S. one-person exhibition of Cézanne (1911) and first U.S. one-person exhibition of Picasso (1911).   Though the primary mover behind these exhibits was Steichen, who was located in Europe at the time, Stieglitz deserves every credit for recognizing the importance of these artists and purchasing their work for his own collection. 

The catalog is exhaustive in detailing not only the careers of the artists who were collected by Stieglitz but also their dealings with the mercurial photographer.  In so doing, it gives insight into Stieglitz' temperment if only by showing which works he wished to acquire for himself.  The catalog and exhibit also offer a rare opportunity to see the work of a number of artists, once considered important, who have now fallen into relative obscurity.  Of course, it also presents seminal works by America's most important artists.  These include O'Keefe's Black IrisArthur Dove's Shore Road and Charles Demuth's Figure 5 in Gold.  Most welcome are the technical notes detailing the materials used by the artists as well as their work methods.

Also refreshing in a catalog of this type is the candor with which Messinger describes Stieglitz' rocky relationship with the Met Museum itself.   He once wrote of it as follows:
"I know that I need bigger, truer, things than are housed there, in an atmosphere which repels me.  An atmosphere breathing of a cemetery dedicated to the dead rich."

Monday, September 26, 2016

NYC Park to be Demolished

This view of Manhattan's Theodore Roosevelt Park is at the back of the Museum of Natural History and is familiar to anyone who has ever visited there.  As a result of a Community Board meeting held last Tuesday, everything shown in the above photo will be demolished to make room for an expansion of the museum buildings.  The new structure will extend almost to Columbus Avenue.  In addition, some space on the park's northern perimeter facing 81st Street will also be taken away (see photo below).

New York City is becoming more densely packed than ever and will soon have more than 9 million living within it.  High rise residential towers are being constructed everywhere in Manhattan.  As a result, it's imperative that we keep whatever open spaces still exist.  The museum expansion is clearly a step in the wrong direction.  Those concerned should contact the Parks Commissioner and the Landmarks Preservation Committee before it's too late.  At the very least, they should sign the petition sponsored by

Details of the Community Board meeting and vote can be found on the dnainfo news site.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Photo Exhibit: Diane Arbus at Met Breuer

The following review was also posted on my blog The Aesthetic Adventure.

Although Diane Arbus is generally considered one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century, her work has not that often been exhibited since her death at age 48 in 1971.  I was all the more interested then in seeing the current show, Diane Arbus: In the Beginning, at the Met Museum's new space at the Breuer, formerly the site of the Whitney Museum.

The exhibit limits itself to the period from 1956 to 1962 when Arbus first broke away from the fashion photography she had been producing with her husband Allan Arbus.  During these years, Arbus worked exclusively in 35mm format before moving on to a medium format camera (according to Patricia Bosworth's biography, a Pentax).

Although it was obvious from looking at the 100+ photos on view that Arbus was still refining her style at this point, it was clear that she already understood the direction she wished to pursue.  Her predilection for the unusual and grotesque is readily apparent.  It was during this period that she produced some of her best known photos, most famously the grimacing young boy holding a toy hand grenade in Central Park.  Many of the photos were of female impersonators and even more were shots taken of classic films, such as Dracula, being shown on television or movie screens.  The interiors of movie theaters and empty stores also provided her with subject matter.

In a separate gallery, nine of the ten prints from Arbus's one and only portfolio were placed on view along with the title page she'd written out by hand.  These prints included her most iconic photos, such as that of two twin girls standing side by side.  Also among them was the freakish shot of a giant standing in a stooped over position beside his normal sized parents in their Bronx living room.  Why the tenth print was placed in an outer gallery rather than here with the other nine was not explained.

In another room were hung works by those photographers who had exerted an early influence on Arbus.  The usual suspects were all present - Robert FrankGary WinograndLee Friedlander and, of course, Lisette Model under whom Arbus briefly studied. (Curiously, there were no works shown by Berenice Abbott who had also instructed Arbus at an earlier point in her career.)  There was also a street portrait by the German photographer August Sander whom one would usually not associate with Arbus's more spontaneous style; on the other hand, his ability to create a sense of normalcy in the portrayal of his subjects was germane to what Arbus was attempting in her own oeuvre.

One shortcoming of the exhibit was the lack of technical information.  No data was provided regarding the cameras Arbus used or the film she shot on.  It might have been Kodak Tri-X, first introduced in 35mm format in 1954, but that's just an educated guess.  Since the majority of the photos were taken in low light, it would have been interesting to know if the film had been "pushed" (i.e., shot at a higher speed than the film's stated ISO).  Unfortunately, the handsomely designed catalog was also lacking this information, at least as far as I could tell while browsing through it.  When I asked if a curator was available, I was told none was on site to answer my questions.

One aspect of Arbus's work that is not often mentioned is her skill in the darkroom.  All the works on view were extremely well printed, but no information was provided as to whether or not these were actually vintage prints.  (It's worth noting that those photographs reproduced in a 2003 publication, Revelations, had not been printed by Arbus herself.)  At the exhibit, a few empty boxes of 11 x 14" Dupont enlarging paper were shown in a glass case to one side.  I found this significant because I had always regarded Agfa Portriga Rapid as the photographer's paper of choice.  It also would have been very helpful in understanding the decisions Arbus had made in the darkroom if the photographer's contact sheets had here been made available for study.

As for the venue itself, the Met has apparently made no major renovations to the Whitney's old space other than a quick paint job. The galleries on the second floor where the exhibit was held were fairly spacious - a good thing considering how crowded they were - and included a table and stools as well as a few more comfortable armchairs.

The exhibit continues through November 27, 2016.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Photo Book Review: Sin in Soft Focus

I had read several years ago Mark A. Vieira's book Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits and, as a photographer, had found it extremely useful.  Vieira, who is himself a portrait photographer, had actually known Hurrell and was thoroughly familiar with the techniques he had used to create his dazzling black & white portraits of the famous film stars.  Some of these, such as the use of fresnel lighting, were fairly obvious while others, such as the choice of orthochromatic film to lighten skin tones, were not readily apparent.  The book was essential reading for anyone who wanted to create old style glamour photos.

I found Vieira's Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood to be equally absorbing if not quite as informative on a technical level.  The work deals with the roughly five year period from 1930 to 1935 when that era's moral majority laid siege to Hollywood and sought to censor the wild and wicked films issuing from its studios.  As such, the narrative offers a parallel to our own day when rapid technological advances threaten to undermine traditional beliefs.  In opposition to one another are the leaders of a relatively new industry against those who see change as a menace to the status quo.  In a certain sense, the real concern of moral authorities was with the medium itself rather than with its content.

The "highly objectionable" content of 1930's films seems to us now, of course, perfectly tame.  Watching these old films on cable, one wonders what the fuss was about.  Depictions of such subjects as cohabitation, adultery, drug use and homosexuality became acceptable decades ago and are now routinely shown in film and print.  The creation of such an organization as the Legion of Decency in 1933 seems quaint and old fashioned.  But the question of censorship remains as relevant now as it did then.  Who is qualified to determine what material is fit to be seen by the general public?

The book is divided into five chapters each of which deals with a given calendar year and details within that twelve month period the struggles between each of the major studios and the censors who had been put in place to keep watch over them.  The original code, established in 1930 after the introduction of the first talking film, was a more or less voluntary affair and consisted of the implementation of guidance rules.  (Individual states, however, possessed their own censorship boards that were empowered to make cuts to any films they deemed objectionable.)  This obviously provides material for some amusing anecdotes as studio heads attempted by hook or crook to get their films past the keepers of the Code.  But for the studios, the situation was deadly serious.  They had enormous sums of money, at least by Depression standards, riding on each film and needed as large an audience for them as could be found.  To that end, it was imperative that the studios include some controversial material simply to lure movie-goers into the theater.  Having films bowdlerized cut into box office receipts at a time when the poor economy had already reduced audience size.

While most of the actors and directors mentioned in the book are familiar to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of film history, the real players are such studio executives as Irving ThalbergJack Warner and Darryl Zanuck and the Code enforcers such as Will Hays and Joseph Breen.  There are many behind-the-scenes glimpses of a now vanished era when the studios were run by a few strong willed individuals rather than corporate conglomerates .

The real stars of Sin in Soft Focus, though, are the stars themselves.  They look out at us from one film still after another, each photograph a tour de force of technical skill.  Almost every major actor of the period is portrayed here though obviously most attention is paid to those - such as Norma Shearer and Mae West - whose performances were most controversial.  The photographs themselves are lovingly reproduced and form the real heart of the book.  Vieira's genuine love for these masterworks is evident throughout, and he makes it a point to identify the photographer wherever possible and to point out to the reader the qualities of the photograph itself.  Aside from portraits of the actors, there are stills showing scenes from the various films.  Many of these - such as those from Madame Satan or The Black Cat - are electrifying even after the passage of so many years.

While Vieira's book is most useful to photographers, it should be read by anyone with an interest not only in motion picture history but also the history of American censorship.  In both instances it is an invaluable reference.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Midsummer Night Swing

I had so much fun photographing at Midsummer Night Swing the past couple of weeks that I put together a pdf of the photos I took.

I ended up walking down to Lincoln Center on seven evenings and taking as many photos as I could of the dancers in motion.  On the first evening, I shot with a Nikon Df with a 50mm f1.4 lens and on subsequent evenings used a Lumix GH2 with a 14-140mm (equivalent to 28-280mm).

New York City has become so gentrified in the past two decades that it's become difficult to practice old school street photography.  All the old ethnic neighborhoods are gone, and Manhattan has become little more than a shopping mall for the wealthy.  This festival was one of the few opportunities I've had to take candid photos of people having fun outdoors.