Friday, March 16, 2018

Street Portraiture - US Veteran

I photographed this veteran as he sat on a bench on Columbus Avenue in back of the Museum of Natural History.  He was a friendly guy and had no problem letting me take his photo, even putting the cigar back in his mouth for better effect.

I'll be posting more street portraits in coming weeks, almost all of them shot on a Lumix GH4 with a 14-140 lens (equivalent to 28-280 on a full frame camera).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Nine

Quinn stood speechless in the center of Shaley’s studio as he tried to take in the huge assortment of packages piled halfway to the ceiling in one corner of the loft.  The shipping labels pasted to their sides showed them to have been delivered from a half dozen photography retailers.  “What’s with all this stuff?” he finally asked.
“FedEx delivered the bunch this morning.” Shaley replied in an offhand tone.  “I haven’t had a chance to unpack any of them yet.  I’ll probably wait until I have an assistant here to give me a hand.”
“Is all this new equipment?  I know you must be doing a huge volume of business, but it still seems an awful lot for one studio.  Do you really need it all?”
Shaley nodded his head emphatically.  “It’s pretty unbelievable, isn’t it? But this is the way it’s been ever since photography went digital.  The only way to stay competitive, in New York at least, is to own the most up to date technology money can buy.  It certainly wasn’t like this in the days of film cameras.  When I started in business, decades ago, all I had was an SLR and a basic lighting setup.  Now everything’s changed.”
“I guess you’d know better than me.  I rarely work in a studio environment.  When I shoot on assignment I try to travel as light as I can.  I bring along a couple of DSLR’s and a few lenses.  Aside from a notebook to do basic photo editing, that’s it.”  Quinn took another look at the mountain of boxes.  “And I think I’m going to keep it that way too.  If this is what’s required to run a studio, I’d have to take out a bank loan.”
Shaley’s wore the self-satisfied smile of a successful businessman.  “I’m just lucky to have good cash flow.  I don’t know how I’d manage otherwise.”  He pulled a couple of bottles of Heineken from a mini-fridge beside his desk and offered one to his guest.  “So what brings you here today?  I wasn’t expecting to see you again so soon.”
“Sorry if I’m being a bother,” Quinn apologized.  “I should be more considerate than to keep barging in on you during working hours.”
Shaley gestured to take in the room around him.  “You were in luck today.  I didn’t have any shoots scheduled.  I’m just waiting to get some proofs back from the retoucher so I can go over them with the client.”  He gave Quinn a broad wink.  “But you know you’re always welcome here.  After all, you’re a photographer yourself.”
“It’s generous of you to put it that way, but the last thing you need when you’re shooting is to have a bystander getting in your way.”  Quinn drank down some of his beer.  “I went to visit Lachner the other day.  He’s changed a lot since the last time I saw him.  He looks a lot older than I’d remembered.”
“What did you expect?  You know how many years it’s been since he and I hung out with Behan? You were just a kid then.  Of course he looks older.  So do I for that matter.”
“It’s not only the age.  He’s become almost a caricature of the multimillionaire New Yorker locked away in his mansion surrounded by priceless possessions.  It’s hard to believe he was once pals with you and my father.” 
“Lachner was always more conservative than either Behan or I.  He was the one who always had his nose in a book.  Never experimented with drugs, didn’t even drink.”
“Maybe he should have.  He looks like a walking mummy the way he is now.”
“Life isn’t fair,” Shaley reminded Quinn.  “Some people, no matter how much money they have to spend on medical treatments, just don’t age as well as others.  I was very lucky with my own health – though lately my doctor’s been telling me I’ve got to take better care of my heart – and so was your father.  Unfortunately, it can’t be like that for everyone.”
“And what’s with that punk he has working for him?” Quinn asked.  “I had a hard time keeping my temper when I was talking to him.  He’s one nasty customer.  If he ever pushed me too hard, I’d have to teach him a lesson.  And a hard one at that.”
“That was Chester.  He’s a parolee that Lachner hired because he had nowhere else to go.  The kid is the son of one of Lachner’s former partners at the accounting firm.  He wasn’t so bad when he was younger, but then in college he got in with the wrong crowd and started fooling with painkillers.  Next thing you know he was robbing pharmacies to feed his habit.  It broke the old man’s heart when Chester got caught and sent away.”
“Taking him in and giving him a job was a nice gesture all right, but I’d be careful if I were Lachner.  Otherwise he’ll wake up one morning to find his throat slit.  I don’t trust good old Chester any further than I can throw him.”
Shaley cleared his throat.  “Actually, Lachner called me after you’d left his place to say you’d been there.  He was upset.  Did you two have an argument?”
“Was that what he called it?  I wouldn’t have put it that way myself.  Maybe I wasn’t as polite a guest as I should have been.  I probably pushed him too hard over Behan.”
“I wouldn’t worry that much about it.  The man’s been under a lot of pressure lately.  The IRS has been giving him hell these past few months, auditing his returns and conducting one trumped up investigation after another.”
“That’s news to me.  He didn’t say a word about it when I was there.  Then again, I guess it’s nothing he’d want to talk about with someone he hadn’t seen in such a long time.”  Quinn kept his expression neutral.  “What’s the problem supposed to be?”
Shaley made a vague gesture.  “Damned if I know.  I never really went over it with Lachner in detail.  Didn’t want to seem to be prying into his affairs.  Personally, I think the real problem is that he’s been so successful.  America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, but as soon as someone does well for himself the government is all over him looking for a chance to take it away.”
“Well, with all the wealth Lachner’s accumulated, he’s not going to have much of a problem putting together a team of top lawyers.”  Quinn finished the last of his beer and placed the empty bottle on a nearby countertop.  “I was much more interested in what he knew about Behan.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t that much.”
“No,” said Shaley.  “As far as I know, Lachner didn’t have any more contact with Behan than I did.  Your father kept to himself.  I’m sure now that he’s dead Lachner feels as bad as I do that we didn’t try harder to reach out to him.”
“It wasn’t your fault he got killed.  There’s no reason for you to beat yourself up over it.  I’d just been hoping Behan might have said something in passing to you or Lachner that would have given a hint who the killer might be.”
“So you still haven’t given up on that idea, have you?” Shaley asked.
“I can’t very well do that when people keep trying to kill me too.”
Shaley’s eyes opened wide.  “Are you trying to tell me someone is still gunning for you?  You must be shitting me.  What the hell happened this time?”
“It went down in broad daylight while I was walking with a friend in Chelsea.  There’s no way it could’ve been an accident.  An SUV jumped the curb and came right up on the sidewalk to get at me.  It almost crushed me and my friend against the side of a brick wall.  We were lucky to get away with our lives.”
“Did you at least see who was behind the wheel?”
“No.  Nothing doing there.  The windows were all tinted.  What use would it be anyway?  I’m sure the killer stole the car and ditched it as soon as he’d seen he missed me.”
“Well, you’ve got to let the police know about it.  Even if it was a stolen car, they still might be able to turn something up.”
“My friend Violeta got a partial plate number.  I gave her the detective’s phone number so she could tell him what she’d seen.  Let him worry about it.”
“And what are you going to do?” asked Shaley.
“The same as I have been doing.  I’m going to keep looking for the murderer.  This just gives me another reason to keep after him.”
“Quinn, I don’t want to stick my nose in, but this might be a good time to think about going back to San Francisco.”  Shaley put his hand on the younger man’s arm.  “Face it.  This is a job for the police.  They’re the ones who’ve got the resources to find this criminal.  You don’t.  It’s as simple as that.  No matter how much you want justice for Behan, getting yourself killed isn’t going to help.  I’m sure your father would have wanted you to stay safe and not end up the way he did.  He loved you.”
“Thanks, Shaley.  I appreciate your concern.  But you’ve got to remember I’m a single guy and have no family left now that Behan’s dead.  In my own way I’m as much of a lone wolf as he was.  There’s no one to shed tears over my grave, and it’s not going to make much difference to anyone if I turn up dead too.”
“That’s not true,” Shaley exclaimed.  “I care what happens to you, Quinn.  I can’t stand by and let you die for some mistaken notion of family honor.  It’s bad enough Behan is dead without my having to bury his son alongside him.”
Quinn regarded the older man quietly.  “You’re a cool guy, Shaley, but you’re going in the wrong direction.  What I really need is for you to think of something that will help me find this guy.  I’m not leaving New York until I’ve gotten him.”
Shaley took a long gulp of beer.  “I thought things over after the last time you were here, but I couldn’t come up with a single thing that would help.”
“Last time I talked to you I was just shooting in the dark,” said Quinn.  “I’ve found things out since then.  The information I need now is more specific.”
Shaley eyed Quinn quizzically.  “What sort of information are you looking for?”
Quinn got to question he’d come to ask.  “What do you know about the film industry?  I know it’s a long shot, but have you ever heard of a Japanese director named Yukio Ito?  He was famous for the softcore flicks he made in Tokyo.  According to what I’ve been able to find out, he’s set himself up here in New York.”
“That guy?”  Shaley almost doubled over with laughter.  “Sure.  Every shooter in the city knows who he is.  He’s been running ads in Photo District News for months trying to hire photographers to shoot publicity stills for his so-called movies, but he’s been having a hard time finding anyone.  He’s one weird dude, totally sex crazed despite his age.  Nobody legit wants anything to do with him no matter how much he’s willing to pay.”
“Yes, that’s him all right.  He really gets around, doesn’t he?”
Shaley looked perplexed.  “What does a Japanese filmmaker have to do with anything?  You don’t really think he has any connection to Behan’s murder, do you?  He definitely doesn’t sound like a gunman to me, at least not from what I’ve heard.”
“Behan had a collection of Ito’s films on DVD.  He must have had a copy of every movie the guy ever made.  And no one else’s but Ito’s.   I know there’s got to be some link there.  Why else would Behan have had shit like that in his closet?”
Shaley gave Quinn a pitying look.  “You don’t realize yet what it’s like to get old.  That’s the problem.  You’re still too young.  When you get to be Behan’s and my age, you’ll realize dirty movies are all we have left.  There aren’t going to be any more fun times with models no matter how good we are as photographers.  Young women want young guys, and the best us old farts can do is to jerk ourselves off watching them fuck on camera.  It’s not very pleasant to admit, but that’s the way it is.”
“So you don’t think Ito had anything to do with Behan’s death then?”
“That’s not quite what I was getting at.  I was only trying to suggest that there might be a perfectly innocent reason that Behan had all those DVD’s in his apartment.”  Shaley’s eyes narrowed.  “Then again…”
Quinn cut the older man short.  “Quit playing around and tell me what you’re getting at.  I’m not psychic.”
“From time to time I’ve heard things from other photographers.  I’m not talking about top notch shooters here.  Like I said, no one legit wants anything to do with Ito.  They wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole.  No, I mean the lowlife who make ends meet by taking whatever gig comes along.  Including porn.  If a job pays well and isn’t out and out illegal, they want a piece of it.  All they care about is the money.”
“Yeah, I know the type.  I try to stay as far away from those losers as I can get.”
“I wish I could do the same, but some of them are willing to pay good money for used equipment.  That’s the only reason I have anything to do with them.  Anyway, what I heard was that after having seen those ads in PDN, a few of them met with Ito to check him out.  He was offering a lot of money for stills, and they thought they might have found themselves a solid payday.  Once they learned the full story, though, they washed their hands of the deal and walked away.  They didn’t want to get involved.”
“Why not?  What was going down that was so awful that it would discourage people like that?  Some of those clowns act like they’d slit their grandmother’s throat for a nickel.”
“It seems that back in Japan Ito had been deeply involved with the yakuza.  They had given him protection and provided him with money and ‘actresses’ for his films in exchange for a big slice of the box office.  Now that he’s in New York, it’s pretty obvious he still has some heavy duty financial backing, only this time from Americans.  He has legitimate work visas for himself and whomever he wants here with him.  He also has access to state of the art film recording studios in Brooklyn whenever he chooses to use them.”
“So, what’s the big deal there?  It’s no surprise Ito’s got his choice of backers.  In this city, there are always venture capitalists looking to invest in lucrative deals.   Most of them aren’t that particular what’s done with their cash as long as it turns them a hefty profit and doesn’t put them in jail.  They’re no better than the bottom feeders we were talking about a minute ago, just richer is all.”
“That’s what’s got everyone uptight.”  Shaley grew animated.  “No one’s been able trace the money trail yet, but rumor has it that the funds are coming from a consortium of unscrupulous Wall Street businessmen, heavy hitters with millions to put on the table.”
Quinn thought it over.  “And as a payoff these businessmen get the share of profits that used to go to the yakuza.  Is that what’s going on?”
“From what I’ve heard, it may be that they’ve actually formed a partnership with the yakuza.  The Japanese mob has grown pretty sophisticated over the past few decades and has gotten deeply involved in international finance.  As the authorities in Japan have cracked down on their traditional gambling, prostitution and protection rackets, the gangs have invested in legitimate enterprises and infiltrated some of their country’s biggest corporations.”
“You’d think even the sharks we’ve got here would think twice about getting involved with the yakuza.  Those guys are hardcore.  They don’t stop at anything.  If Ito’s in with them, it’s bad news for anyone working with him.”
“There have been all sorts of stories going around about the yakuza for as long as I can remember.”  Shaley’s expression turned grave.  “You’ve probably heard some of them yourself – how those thugs bring pretty blonde ‘models’ to Japan and then once they have them there take away the girls’ passports and turn them into high price hookers who’ve got no way to escape the trap they’ve fallen into.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Quinn.  “But most of those stories are urban legends.  And even in those, the women are always East Europeans.  The yakuza aren’t about to kidnap American citizens.  I doubt they’re looking to create that much trouble for themselves.  It wouldn’t be worth it to them.”
Shaley finished his beer and tossed the bottle in the trash.  “Hey, I’m just passing along what the word on the street is.  I’m not saying there’s necessarily any truth to it.  You asked me about Ito, and I’m telling you what I’ve heard.  That’s all.”
“No, you’re right.  I’ll have to check this out on my own.”  Quinn glanced at his watch.  “I’m going to get going now.  Thanks for the information though.  It gives me somewhere to start at least.”

Shaley gave him a winning smile.  “Any time, my friend, any time.”

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on Photo File Sharing Sites

Recently, I came across a couple of stories regarding 500px that I thought interesting.

In the first, an article by photographer Michael Russell that's almost three years old, the author gives a number of reasons why he no longer uses 500px.  Not surprisingly, one of the primary reasons is the low percentage (30%) of sales photographers receive when the site licenses their images.  Every photographer is at heart an artist who wants to feel proud of his or her work, but it's difficult to feel that way when receiving compensation so low he or she might as well have been giving their work away.  

Another reason, which again goes back to a photographer's demand for respect as an artist, is the lack of professionalism in sites that lower a photographer's self-esteem by turning such sites into little more than a popularity contests where members vote on other photographers' work in return for favorable comments on their own images.  Such a practice is childish.  In his post Russell links to an excellent article by Sarah Marino that treats the problem in greater depth.

One additional reason, which I admit had never occurred to me, for staying off 500px is that it rewards of unethical wildlife photography.  The example Russell uses is that of a photographer who would take a baby bird from its nest simply to get a shot of its mother feeding it.  To me it's horrible that one would so take such liberties with wildlife simply to get a good shot.  Rather than patiently waiting for the shot to present itself naturally, these unethical photographers have no problem cheating and give no thought to the consequences for the mistreated animal.  Such photographs should not be allowed on any site.

I also recently came across another blog post by photographer Mike Martin regarding 500px that would have been humorous if it hadn't been so sad.  As 500px itself stated:
"In a rush to make our users happy over the holidays, Payouts were processed as US cents, and not US dollars (USD)."
In other words, a photographer who thought he or she had sold an image for $2,700 found out it had actually been sold for $27.  Such mistakes, whatever their cause, are inexcusable especially since 500px apparently offered no additional compensation to those affected to make up for its clumsy mistake.

But things can be just as bad even when no mistake is made.  A blog post by Taiwanese photographer Ajax Lee details his disappointment with 500px following the sale of three of his images.  Despite having set prices for the three images that totaled $1,196.00, Lee was paid only $77.90.  As usual in such cases, the problem lay in the fine print as the Contributor Agreement he had signed gave 500px total control in setting prices for his work.  Understandably upset at the discrepancy between list price and actual selling price, Lee complained to the company and received a reply that read in part:
"Being flexible with our pricing gives us leeway to entice more clients to do business with us, clients that will pay full price the next time they make a purchase, and the time after that! As a business, this is why we need full discretion over pricing and ask that our contributors trust us to manage their sales effectively."
My own experience with photo sharing sites has also been negative.  Several years ago, I joined Flickr and uploaded a number of photographs, some of which contained partial nudity.  At no time during the upload process was I directed to mark those photos as being for mature audiences.  Within an hour I recieved a nasty message from Flickr that accused me of being a "loose cannon" for not having so marked them and then threatened to cancel my membership.  Of course, I immediately canceled my membership myself.  I wanted nothing to do with a site that insulted and threatened new members who had done nothing intentionally wrong.

Others may have different thoughts and needs, but for myself I intend to stay away from file sharing sites.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Digital Fine Arts Photos

I did a fine arts photo shoot on Sunday with a model named Julianne.  Although I've always preferred doing this sort of shoot on black & white film, preferably infrared, I found I could get interesting effects, in this case at least, shooting only digital.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Eight

While waiting for the light to change on the corner of 21st and Tenth, Quinn and Violeta took a good look at the elevated park that loomed over them, the High Line, built atop the rail lines had once carried freight along the western edge of Manhattan.
“Years ago, this was nothing but rusted tracks overgrown with weeds,” Quinn recalled.  “It was a great place to hang out with friends or make love to a pretty woman.  We’d climb up on hot summer nights and smoke weed while we watched the moon set over Hoboken.  The breeze blowing across the Hudson kept us cool.”
“And now it’s nothing but another scenic spot for tourists to take selfies,” Violeta lamented.  “What a shame everything in this city has to be scrubbed so completely clean that it’s ruined for everyone.”
“Do you want to go up and take in the view?” asked Quinn.
Violeta shook her head.  “No.  I was up there when I first came to the city; some of the models I was staying with were giving me the grand tour.  Even then, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to take photos of New Jersey.  There’s nothing there.”
Quinn couldn’t control his laughter.  “You’ve got that right.”
“Let’s go see that photo exhibit you were interested in.  Is the gallery near here?”
“A few blocks away.”
They walked up Tenth Avenue in silence and then turned left.  The squat brick buildings on each side of them had only a few years ago been warehouses and mini-storage facilities; now they were an upscale mix of condos, galleries and design studios.  As they walked together, the pair passed trendily dressed hipsters rushing back to work after a hurried lunch.  One or two shot Quinn a curious glance, wondering no doubt how so ragged a figure came to be walking beside so stunningly beautiful a woman.  Quinn paid them no mind.
The gallery turned out not to be the sleek modern space Quinn had expected but a ground level storefront that might once have housed a bodega or laundromat in the days before the neighborhood had gone high rent.  Inside, the walls had been stripped to the original brickwork; exposed cables and wiring hung precariously from the ceiling.  Two long fluorescent tubes ran parallel to one another overhead and provided sufficient illumination to view the artwork beneath.  At one end of the room was an ancient rolltop desk that might have possessed some value as an antique if its wooden surface hadn’t been so badly scarred. 
A young woman wearing a floral print top and wirerimmed glasses sat at the desk.  She had let her straight brunette hair grow so long it hung over the back of the chair behind her.  There was a well thumbed romance novel, its torn cover featuring a barechested male model, lying open on the desktop beside her.  A computer monitor cast colored patterns over her face as she typed on the keyboard.
An elderly man leaning heavily on a metal cane stood beside the receptionist.  He spoke with a heavy German accent as he barked out instructions.  From time to time, he banged the tip of the cane on the floor to emphasize his words.  “You must call the printer,” he said, “and find out what has happened to the invitations for our next opening, the same ones he was supposed to have had ready last Monday.  They should have been put in the mail by now.  People can’t attend a reception they don’t know is taking place.”
“Yes, Mr. Krankow,” said the brunette dutifully.
Quinn and Violeta turned discreetly away to look at the black & white photographs hung on the gallery’s walls.  They were the work of a pictorialist who had been active in California in the first half of the twentieth century and who had once been quite famous.  He had established his own school in Laguna and had even had a few Hollywood stars as students.  Later, though, he had fallen into obscurity as tastes had changed and as the straight photography of the f64 School had come into vogue.
Quinn hadn’t worked in a darkroom in years but, even so, as he examined the prints more closely he was able to appreciate the skill that had gone into making them.  There were some excellent examples of the bromoil technique among them.
“These are fabulous,” said Quinn to Violeta.  “The photographer had to have had so much imagination and technical skill to pull these off as well as he did.  Ansel Adams might have called his work lurid, but that was the whole point.”
“Are you a fan of Mortensen?”
Quinn turned at the voice behind him and saw the wizened octogenarian had left the receptionist and come to join them.  He still gripped his cane as he spoke.
“Yes, definitely” said Quinn.  His voice was filled with enthusiasm.  “The poor guy never got anything like the recognition he deserved.  His Monsters and Madonnas is still the best book of fetish photography ever done, and what’s amazing is that Mortensen completed it back in the 1930’s before the term had even been invented.”
“You know a bit then.  More than most anyway.”  Krankow chuckled.  “Come over here.  I want to show you something.”
Quinn and Violeta followed the old man as he made his way to a far wall where a group of photographs hung by themselves.
“If you enjoyed Monsters and Madonnas, you’ll appreciate these.”
Hanging together on the wall were several of the prints that had been used to illustrate the book.  Among them was one titled L’Amour that showed a drooling gorilla hunched over the prone figure of an unconscious woman, her clothing already torn to shreds by the beast.  Beside it was Preparation for the Sabbot in which an old hag lustily rubbed oil on the nude body of a laughing young woman who was all set to fly off on her broom.  And finally there was The Heretic; it depicted a woman, her face a mask of terror, stripped naked and bound to a wooden frame as she awaited the return of the Inquisition’s torturers.
“These are incredible,” said Quinn.  “This is the first chance I’ve had to see the original prints.”
“Look over here,” said Krankow and pointed with his cane.
Set off from the other works was Mortensen’s masterpiece, his illustration of Poe’s story, The Pit and the Pendulum.  A horrified man lay tied securely to the stone floor where he could only watch helplessly as the razor sharp pendulum above him swung downwards and ever closer.
“Wow,” exclaimed Violeta in astonishment.  “That’s too much.”

After they had left the Krankow Gallery, Quinn invited Violeta to have lunch with him.  “Not that there’s much I can afford in this neighborhood,” he said, and then added, “or anywhere else in Manhattan for that matter.”
“Don’t worry about it.  We can pick up sandwiches on our way back to the apartment and eat them there.  That’s fine with me.”
“You’re a good sport, Violeta.  I appreciate it.  And so does my wallet.”
At that moment Quinn heard the roar of an engine behind him.  Without thinking, he pushed Violeta off the sidewalk and against the side of the building they were passing.  As he pressed her against the brickwork, he flattened himself beside her.
Looking over his shoulder, Quinn saw a huge black SUV mount the curb and rush past the spot on the sidewalk where he had been standing with Violeta only seconds before.    The driver didn’t brake or even slow down as the side of the car brushed within an inch of where the two friends stood upright against the brick wall.  Quinn tried to get a glimpse of the vehicle’s interior, but its windows had been too darkly tinted.
The car continued to race along the sidewalk without slackening its speed until it reached the corner where it bounced over the curb and landed with a jolt on Tenth Avenue.  With a squeal of rubber, the car made a sharp left turn and headed north.  In the next second it was lost to sight though the sound of the throbbing engine could still be heard.
“Oh, man,” screamed Violeta.  Her eyes flashed with fury.  “That was way too close.  That asshole could have killed us the way he was driving.”
“I think that was the general idea,” replied Quinn.  He looked down at his hand and was surprised to see it was still perfectly steady.
“What do you mean by that?”  Violeta turned toward Quinn.  She was almost hysterical.  “Do you know that guy?  I thought he was just some crazy person.”
Quinn shook his head.  “I have no idea who it was.  I couldn’t see inside.”
“Then what are you talking about?  What makes you think he was after us?”
Quinn continued staring at the spot where the car had disappeared.  “Somebody tried to kill me my first night in town.  I guess he isn’t ready to give up yet.”
Violeta looked toward Quinn in confusion.  “I don’t get it.  What’s going on?  I thought you told me you didn’t know anyone in New York.  How could you have made such a bad enemy already?  And what could you have done to him that was so terrible he’d want to kill you for it?”
“I don’t have any proof,” Quinn said, “but it has to have something to do with Behan’s murder.  Whoever killed him doesn’t want me looking into it.  He wants to make certain I’m not going to keep searching for him.”
“Damn, honey, you’ve got to go to the police then.  If this guy is desperate enough to go after you in broad daylight, you’re not safe until he’s been locked up in jail.  You can’t keep walking around the streets making a target of yourself.”
“What will the cops do?  They’ll tell me it was most likely an accident, that the guy’s brakes failed and he lost control of the car.”
“Well, I’m going to call the police even if you won’t.  I almost got killed back there too, you know.  This is no joke.”
“I know it’s not.”  Quinn glanced at Violeta’s frightened face.  “The son of a bitch is so anxious to take me down that he doesn’t care who dies with me.”
“That’s exactly why I’m going to the police.  They should be able to find the driver easily.  Somebody must have noticed that car the way it was speeding.  No one can drive that fast in Manhattan without scaring the shit out of people.”
“The car will probably turn out to have been stolen.  And whoever took it will have been too much of a pro to have left any fingerprints on the steering wheel.”
“I got the first three letters of the license plate.  They were JZY.”

“I’ll give you Sloane’s number,” said Quinn.  He put his hand on Violeta’s shoulder to help calm her down.  “You can tell him what happened.  Behan’s dead, and for all I know I may be soon too.  But you’ve got to stay safe.  There’s no reason you should be involved in any of this.”

Monday, March 5, 2018

500px Sold to VCG

According to an announcement on its website, the popular file sharing service 500px that currently has over thirteen million photographers registered as users, was acquired late last month by Visual China Group (VCG).  This is not really so surprising a development as VCG had already become in 2015 the single largest investor in 500px.

Along with the notice of acquisition, the same announcement went on to describe new features to be offered to users:
"New products and services rolling out this year include:
  • Better statistics to improve and understand the reach and impact of your photos;
  • Top charts and badges that will help expand your exposure and reward your achievements;
  • Private messaging to support meaningful communication between members;
  • Sub-communities that allow photographers to connect around shared interests, styles, and locations."
Whether 500px will remain otherwise unchanged as a result of the acquisition is difficult to predict.
Even before this change of ownership, I had had reservations regarding 500px and other photo sharing entities that I will discuss in a future post.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Model Chloe

I photographed last year a great fine arts model named Chloe.  Not only did she have fabulous tattoos but she was also a warm fun person who was extremely enjoyable to work with.  Unfortunately, before we could schedule another shoot Chloe began to experience severe health problems that made it impossible for her to continue modeling.  I often wonder what became of her.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Dark Veil: Chapter Seven

The East 60’s off Fifth Avenue comprised one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan.  Pristinely kept townhouses watched over by private security firms housed the city’s social and financial elite.  The tree lined streets were among the cleanest and quietest in the city.  Garbage never piled up at the curb as it did in less fortunate areas, and there wasn’t a trace of litter or dog droppings to be seen.  Since most of the homes were one-family residences, there weren’t as many people crowding the sidewalks.
Quinn didn’t waste time sightseeing.  He went straight to the address he’d been given by Shaley, mounted the restored townhouse stoop and rang the front doorbell.  As he waited, he watched the cars and vans passing by and tried to determine which, if any, belonged to undercover agents who might be keeping the house under surveillance.
After more than a minute had passed, the door was finally opened by a slightly built young man.  He was dressed in finely tailored clothes, but the designer silk pullover he had on wasn’t sufficient to distract Quinn’s attention from the shifty eyes and crooked smile.  If he’d been wearing a ball and chain, it couldn’t have been any more obvious he was an ex-con.
Quinn spoke first.  “I’m here to see Mr. Lachner.”  He was careful to keep his tone polite.  “I called earlier and he said to drop by at one.”
The young man sneered openly.  “Yeah, but it ain’t one o’clock yet.”
Quinn glanced at his watch.  It showed three minutes to one.  “I’m sorry if I’m early.  I wanted to make sure I was on time.”
The other pulled the door back reluctantly and motioned for Quinn to enter.  “I guess you might as well come in.”
“Thanks.  I appreciate the courtesy.”
The young man looked up.  He spent a few seconds trying to decide if he were being made fun of, then nodded indifferently.  “I’ll tell Mr. Lachner you’re here.”  He turned his back and walked away.  Quinn was left standing by the door.
Another five minutes passed before Quinn heard footsteps approaching.  An elderly man in a charcoal Brooks Brothers suit appeared and offered his hand in greeting.  “Quinn, Quinn,” he said, “how are you?  You’re all grown up now.  The last time I saw you, you were still a child living with your parents in the Bronx.  How many years has that been?”
“Too many,” responded Quinn taking the hand offered him in a firm grasp.  “It’s my fault.  I should have kept in better touch.”
“Let’s sit down and make ourselves comfortable,” Lachner suggested.  He appeared to have trouble standing on his own.  His legs were trembling.
“Would you like to lean on my arm?” Quinn asked.
“No, I need the exercise.  I use a walker whenever I go outdoors, but I try to manage on my own here.”
Quinn followed Lachner into a living room so immaculate it appeared never to have been used but was instead waiting to be photographed for a Sunday Times supplement.  The setting was clearly the work of a high end designer, one who accepted as clients only those to whom cost was no object.  Much of the furniture consisted of high end antiques that were usually available only at auction.
“Is that an original Degas?”  Quinn asked.  He nodded to a picture of ballet dancers that hung on one wall.
“Yes, it’s a monotype, a form the artist experimented with late in his career.  He reworked it with pastel once he had finished making the print.  It’s one of a kind.”
“I’m impressed,” said Quinn as he bent forward for a closer look.  “I never thought I’d see something like this outside a museum.”
Lachner sighed.  “I did quite well during my professional career and had plans for all the things I’d enjoy once I’d retired.  Now that the time has come, though, I find my health too precarious to exert myself.   Collecting is one of the few passions left open to me.”
“I’m sorry if you haven’t been well.”
“There’s nothing that can be done about it, so there’s not very much use in my complaining.”  Lachner turned toward his visitor.  “It’s really poor Behan who deserves our sympathy.  Such a terrible thing to have happened to him.  I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.  I’m sure he’d be grateful to hear you say that.  His friendship with you and Shaley was one of the most important things in his life.  In fact, I had a great time recently reminiscing with Shaley about the old days when you three were so inseparable.”
“We never had any idea then how it would all end.”  Lachner’s voice choked as he said the words.  “Do the police have any idea yet who killed your father?”
“No, at least not from what they told me.  I’m trying to find out as much as I can on my own.  That’s one reason I came by today.  I was hoping you might recall something from your conversations with my father that would point me in the right direction.”
“I wish I could.  Honestly I do.  But I rarely saw Behan these past few years.”
“Don’t worry.  I understand what you’re saying.  Shaley told me pretty much the same thing.”  Quinn took another look about the extravagantly decorated room.  “You’re both in much different places than the one where Behan found himself in his last years.”
“Your father was a dreamer.  That was always Behan’s problem, if you don’t mind my saying so.  He never took life as seriously as he should have.  While Shaley and I were busily pursuing our careers, Behan only talked about creating art.  He was totally impractical.  We both tried to give him well meaning advice from time to time, but he never listened to a word either of us said.  Instead, he always insisted on going his own way.”  Lachner glanced at Quinn.  “I hope you don’t mind my talking about your father this way, especially now that he’s no longer with us.  I don’t intend any disrespect toward the dead.”
Quinn took a seat on a carved walnut settee.  “No, no offense taken.  You’re absolutely right in what you say.  My father never gave as much thought to preparing for the future as he should have.  He was content to live from day to day.  Then, when he got old, he had nothing put aside to keep him going.  He was close to destitute at the end.”
“Not the best way to finish one’s life,” Lachner remarked.  There was a touch of reproof in his voice as he said it, that and the proud consciousness that he, at least, had acted quite differently.
“Yes, Behan should have listened more closely to his friends.  When I saw Shaley’s photo studio, it was obvious that he’d done extremely well for himself.  You even more so.”
“I was very fortunate to have been so successful in business,” Lachner agreed.  “But it wasn’t just luck.  It took a great deal of effort to achieve what I did.  I rose from a junior accounting position to become head of a large firm.  I had to work night and day to get there.”
“It must have been difficult to have put all that behind you when you retired no matter how stressful it may have been at the time.  I’m sure you miss the excitement.”  Quinn gave the other an encouraging smile.  “Do you still at least follow the market?  I can’t believe you’re not tempted to make an investment here and there when you see a good deal come along.  And who’d recognize a worthwhile opportunity better than you?  It would certainly be a shame to let all those years of experience go to waste.”
Lachner was clearly flattered by the compliment.  “It’s true, of course, that I’d have loved to have remained involved in business and to have kept going.  When I told my partners I was leaving, they begged me to stay on in an advisory capacity.  But it wasn’t meant to be.”  Lachner put his fingers to his chest.  “I’ve had two major heart attacks in the past five years.  The doctors warn me that the next one will be fatal.   I manage these days as best I can.”  He pointed to the artworks that lined the walls.  “I try to find useful ways to pass the time so that I don’t grow too morbid thinking of what awaits me.”
“If that’s the case, then it’s a shame my father never bothered to visit, especially after you and he had been so close while growing up.  I can’t believe he was so forgetful of an old friend.  There was probably a lot he could have done to have made things easier for you.”
“Oh, Behan did stop by every now and then as a matter of fact.  He was a good man all right.  Never completely lost touch.”  Lachner ran his hand absent mindedly through the last few wisps of grey hair that remained on his scalp.  “There wasn’t anything at all I needed, however, so I could only thank him for having been so considerate.”
“Really?  Nothing?”  Quinn looked deliberately at the old man’s hand where it hung limply by his side.  It was covered with a tracery of blue veins and shook slightly even as he watched.  “From what you’ve been telling me, it seems you could have used a little assistance.  It can’t be good to be all alone in your condition.”
“No, you misunderstand.”  Lachner looked past Quinn, who was seated opposite him, into the room beyond.  “I have all the help I need right here.”
Quinn turned his head and saw the young man who had opened the front door for him standing silently in the shadows.  “You move awfully quietly, don’t you?” observed Quinn.  “I had no idea you were there behind me all this time.”
The other didn’t respond but instead moved forward until he stood beside Lachner’s chair.  He laid a waxen white hand protectively on the older man’s shoulder.  As he did so, he fixed his pale grey eyes on Quinn while all the while allowing the same twisted smile to play about his lips.
“Chester takes care of everything quite thoroughly,” said Lachner.  He reached over and patted his assistant’s hand.  “He’s amazingly efficient.  With him here, I have all my needs attended to without even having to ask.”
“You’re lucky to have found him.”  Quinn nodded pleasantly in the young man’s direction.  “It must be wonderful to have someone nearby who’s so efficient.  Are you a licensed nurse, Chester?  Where did you get your training?  In which prison ward?”
The smile froze on Lachner’s face froze as Chester stiffened beside him.  “I hope you’ll excuse me.  It’s been wonderful seeing you again and talking about your father.  But I’m afraid that now I really need to get some rest.  I mustn’t overdo things, you know.”
“No, of course not.”  Quinn reached for the jacket he had placed on the Louis XIV chair beside him.  “It’s been great seeing you too.  We’ll have to do this more often.”
“If only my health permitted.”  Lachner made a great effort to rise on his own.  Chester quickly bent down to help him from his chair.
“Don’t bother showing me out,” said Quinn.  “I can find my own way.”
“Chester will escort you to the door.”  Without taking the time to extend his hand, Lachner turned his back on Quinn and slowly left the room.  His steps were hesitant and he seemed even less sure on his feet than he had earlier.
As Quinn stood up, Chester moved to take a place directly beside him.  He shadowed Quinn closely as he walked back the way he had come.  There was a scowl on Chester’s face and it was apparent there was something he badly wanted to say.
When they reached the front door, Chester stepped forward to block Quinn’s way.  He moved to take hold of Quinn’s arm.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Quinn warned.
Chester slowly pulled his hand back.  He was still trying to play the part of the loyal assistant.  “You saw Mr. Lachner’s not in very good health.  I think it might be better if you didn’t come around bothering him again.”
“I can see you’re genuinely concerned for him.”  Quinn smiled.  He prodded the other’s chest with his finger.  “After all, you don’t want to lose your meal ticket, do you?  I don’t blame you.  It’s got to be a hell of a lot softer here than in prison.  Where did you do your time anyway?”
Chester started forward.  He put his hand to his pocket.
Quinn continued to smile.  “Whatever you’ve got there, I’d think twice before pulling it.  You don’t want to do anything to ruin the sweet setup you’ve got here.”
Chester’s hand returned to his side as he took a single step back.  He never took his eyes from Quinn’s face.  “I’ll be seeing you around,” he said.  “Sometime soon, I hope.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” answered Quinn.  “I really mean that.”

Monday, February 26, 2018

Low Key Lighting

I rather liked this portrait I printed of model Stella The manner in which the face recedes into the shadows creates a sense of mystery as the model's features are partially obscured. I was attempting to suggest the model's beauty rather than clearly delineate it.

But is this a "low key portrait" or an example of "low key lighting"? There is a difference between the two that is sometimes confusing. The Wikipedia entry on "low key lighting" is so short that it can be quoted in its entirety:
"Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three point lighting uses a key light, a fill light, and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector. 
"Low key light accentuates the contours of an object by throwing areas into shade while a fill light or reflector may illuminate the shadow areas to control contrast. The relative strength of key-to-fill, known as the lighting ratio, can be measured using a light meter. Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g. 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1. 
"The term 'low key' is used in cinematography to refer to any scene with a high lighting ratio, especially if there is a predominance of shadowy areas. It tends to heighten the sense of alienation felt by the viewer, hence is commonly used in film noir and horror genres."
Fair enough, but Wikipedia then draws a distinction in its definition of "low key":
"Low key as a term used in describing paintings or photographs is related to but not the same as low-key lighting in cinema or photography. 
"A painting or image is low key if its dominant values are dark."
The source of the confusion may lie in the fact that the term "low key" antedates the invention of photography and cinema and the use of artificial lighting. There is an article in Photography - Stack Exchange that thoroughly explores the history of the terminology and makes for interesting reading.