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
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Monday, December 26, 2016
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Friday, December 23, 2016
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
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.
Monday, December 12, 2016
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
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.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
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.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Monday, October 24, 2016
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.
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
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
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
Saturday, October 1, 2016
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 Iris, Arthur 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
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 change.org
Details of the Community Board meeting and vote can be found on the dnainfo news site.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
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 Frank, Gary Winogrand, Lee 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
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 Thalberg, Jack 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.
Friday, July 1, 2016
The lavish volume Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures is best pored through on a rainy afternoon when one has the time to review the photographs at an unhurried pace and to enter into the timeless worlds they create and be seduced by their beauty.
When one looks at a Turbeville photo one feels he or she is rummaging through a long unopened trunk at an abandoned warehouse when suddenly he comes upon discarded photographs from another era. The photos are rarely sharp and often appear distressed. They seem snapshots from a forgotten world. The scenes they depict are instantly intriguing and draw the viewer in as he attempts to determine what is happening in each even though he is conscious that what he sees is only a fragment and that he will never know the whole story.
The photos are mostly black & white; and even the color photographs' hues are muted as though faded by time. The settings invariably appear Old World - Paris drawing rooms, Venetian palazzos and Saint Petersburg palaces - ornate and upper class. One is reminded of Proust's descriptions of the Fauborg Saint-Germain. Even the photos shot in New York City have a European flavor to them. They are the perfect setting for the depictions of the haute couture contained within them.
As Franca Sozzani says of Turbeville in the book's Foreword:
"Every single photo could be a frame of a movie. She is a storyteller, and even though the photo is a scene frozen in time, Deborah allows your imagination to fly into the past - in what could have happened before or may happen in the future, in what could happen after that specific moment. She is a poet of photography."
Turbeville herself writes fascinating descriptions of the settings of her photos, locations such as Soviet occupied Krakow and the Ostankino Estate in Moscow. Her greatest asset is her unbridled romanticism.
Friday, June 24, 2016
In one of the more intriguing exhibits of the summer season, rarely seen works by Lillian Bassman, one of the twentieth century's most original fashion photographers, are now on view at the Edwynn Houk Gallery on Fifth Avenue.
Like her more famous contemporaries Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Bassman was a student of Alexey Brodovitch whom she first met at Manhattan's Textile High School from which she graduated in 1933. Few individuals have exerted as much influence on American fashion photography as Brodovitch who was employed as art director at Harper's Bazaar from 1934 to 1958. In this position he was able to share his own sense of style with the many talented photographers who worked with him. He was in this sense not so much a boss as a collaborator. It was under his direction that Bassman was able to formulate the unique look of her photography.
First and foremost, all the 35 prints on view at this exhibit exude an aura of glamour. Bassman worked with the top models of her day - including Sunny Harnett, Suzy Parker, Dovima and Lisa Fonssagrives - and posed them in tableaux that fairly reeked of wealth and sophistication. It was always made clear that the couture pieces these models wore were designed only for the privileged few, and Bassman did everything she could to emphasize this exclusivity but almost always without using any props other than the clothes themselves. Instead, the compositions are tight and the figures within them sometimes cropped by the photos' borders.
What is most interesting to a photographer is Bassman's unique style of black & white printing. Although the photographer was quite adept at using standard printing techniques in the darkroom - as can be seen from Margie Cato, New York (c. 1950) and Southwest Passage - Sunset Pink (1951) - she more often than not broke every rule of making the "normal" print. Her work exaggerates contrast to the point where detail is frequently lost, and she then pushes the effect even further through the use of selective bleaching. Often all that is left is line and form. But the effect of these manipulations, which in lesser hands would have rendered the images merely bizarre, is the creation of modernist artwork of the highest standards.
Later in her career Bassman began to use digital imaging to reimagine her earlier negatives. This is not so surprising as it might at first seem. The radical manipulations she performed in the darkroom actually prefigure the extensive retouching capabilities of programs such as Photoshop. In this sense Bassman can be seen as a pioneer who was years ahead of her time. Perhaps the most interesting photograph at the exhibit is Kronung des Chic, Jada from a 1998 issue of German Vogue that is described in the catalog as a "unique reinterpretation."
One feature of the current show that is always appreciated by photographers is the inclusion of contact sheets. There are three here, each consisting of twelve images shot with a medium format camera on 120 film. It's much easier to understand the photographer's vision when viewing these sheets and the choices she faced in making a final selection.
The exhibit continues through July 8, 2016.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
DxO and Profifoto have made the Elite version of DxO OpticsPro 9 available at no cost until August 31, 2016. Simply click on the link below, enter your email address and click on "Absenden." (You can uncheck the box that reads "Ja, bitte halten Sie mich über DxO Produkte auf dem Laufenden" if you do not wish to receive news and offers from DxO.) You will then receive an email with a download link and a serial number to be used in activating the software once installed. Remember that activation must take place prior to August 31, 2016.
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
I had not been familiar with Mary Ellen Mark's photography before attending yesterday the current exhibit of her portrait work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on West 57th Street. This was an oversight on my part. The late photographer - she passed away last year at age 75 - was extremely talented at capturing the personalities of her sitters and along the way created a number of imaginative and innovative works.
Many of the portraits on display depict troubled youths, sometimes barely older than children. One of the best of these is a 1983 study of a young girl from Seattle entitled Tiny blowing a bubble. The manner in which the subject confronts the camera head on is characteristic of Mark's style. There's no artifice here and no attempt to strike a pose. Instead Tiny has an air of worldliness that belies her young age. The same can be seen even more forcefully in a shot from 1990, Amanda and Her Cousin Amy Valdese, that shows a young girl standing in a wading pool and smoking a cigarette while staring coolly into the lens. Photos such as these and the 1994 Chrissy Damm and Adam Johnson belie the myth of childhood innocence. The subjects possess an adult sensibility that is almost jaded in its appraisal of the adult world surrounding them.
One section of the exhibit is given over to large format Polaroids measuring 30 x 22. The use of the view camera in portraiture carries with it an inherent formalism. It's not possible to take a quick shot with this equipment. The photographer must instead study the composition of the ground glass in reverse and inverted form before inserting the plate holder and snapping the shutter. The examples here fall into two categories. The first three were shot at high school proms in 2008 and each show two subjects standing side by side. Somehow, though the students stand in close proximity to one another, they are at the same time isolated, each in his or her own world. The second set of three photos again show two subjects, but this time the subjects are identical twins photographed at a "twins festival" held, appropriately enough, in Twinsburg, Ohio in 2001. Again there is a psychological distance between the two subjects, in this case made even more striking by the close resemblance between them.
From here the viewer moves on to a selection of celebrity portraits, most of them taken on location rather than having been shot in a studio. According to Mark's Wikipedia biography, she worked as a "unit photographer" and shot production stills on more than one hundred feature films. None of those are included in this exhibit, however, only the one-on-one portraits she took of the films' stars. The problem here is that the subjects, practiced in posing before cameras, are too self conscious to reveal much of themselves. Photos of such stars as Jeff Bridges, Marlon Brando, Woody Allen, Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, while exceptionally well executed, show nothing of these actors' inner selves but only the public personae with which they face the public. The exception is the photo of Patrick Swayze in drag and makeup standing on his lawn with his dog at his feet. More successful are the celebrity portraits of Henry Miller and Clayton Moore. In the first, taken in 1975, the elderly author wears a lecherous grin while seated in a wheelchair with the model Twinka kneeling behind him. It is in the portrait of Clayton Moore that one sees most clearly the influence Diane Arbus had on Marks. The former "Lone Ranger," now a very old man indeed, sits on a couch in his living room in full costume including mask. Beside him is a statuette that shows the Ranger atop his rearing horse in the character's most iconic pose while above him hangs a framed Victorian portrait (his mother?). It is the very normalcy of the surroundings that make this photo so unsettling.
There are a couple of color portraits of Indian and Nepalese prostitutes on view, but the inclusion of these shots only serve to make clear that it was black & white film photography that was Mark's true metier. She was one of the last century's true masters of the medium.
The exhibit continues through June 18, 2016.
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
The current exhibit at the Met Museum, Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play, is not particularly large - it takes up only one gallery - but is still worth a visit for anyone with an interest in documentary photography. The works shown here are all drawn from the museum's permanent collection and, as the museum's website notes, constitute a "rogues gallery" of underworld figures, some notorious and others anonymous.
The most interesting photos here are the crime scene photos; even after so many years they still possess a macabre fascination for the viewer. The most famous examples of this genre were of course taken by Weegee. On view is his Human Head Cakebox Murder in which the spectators are photographed from such an angle that they themselves appear headless. But there are others of equal impact, such as a photo of a man who died from a drug overdose stretched out in a Bronx hallway so narrow the photograph by Leonard Freed had to be taken from the staircase above, thus unwittingly providing a unique point of view. Another photo, taken of the corpse of a knife wielding man shot dead by police in the Bronx, has connotations that would not have occurred to its original viewers.- seen now, one cannot help wondering if the knife were placed in the dead man's hand by the police after he had been killed. Then there are the sensationalist photos of Ruth Snyder dying horribly in the electric chair at Sing Sing and a photo of a "girl resembling" Patti Hearst robbing a bank in California. One of the best shows a robber firing his gun directly into the lens of a surveillance camera in a failed attempt to disable it.
As one would expect, there are a number of photos related to political assassinations, the crimes that have always been most thoroughly covered by the media. There are photos of the gun that killed Robert Kennedy, the famous photo of Jack Ruby gunning down Lee Harvey Oswald, and the scene of the hanging of Lincoln's assassins.
The exhibit also contains work by well known photographers who were inspired by crime and its perpetrators. These are of mixed quality. Work by Walker Evans, William Klein, Larry Clark, and even Andy Warhol seem out of place here. The exception is Avedon's penetrating portrait of In Cold Blood killer Dick Hickok, taken at the request of friend Truman Capote, that is absolutely chilling. Like the anonymous portrait of 12-year old Freddie Scheiderer who shot to death his two sisters, the photo is frightening precisely because its subject is so ordinary - he could have been any one of us.
The least interesting photos - though given the most prominence, both at the exhibit itself and on the museum's website - are mugshots, including the posed portraits taken by Alphonse Bertillon. These lack drama, and the subjects themselves are too conscious of the camera to expose their true personalities to it.
The exhibit continues through July 31, 2016.