Category Archives: DC Cityscapes

Neighborhood Walkabout – Alphonse Osteria & Market

I drive by this place every morning on my way to work. I watched them working on getting the place ready to open and kept telling myself I really ought to stop in and try it out. Well, this weekend, I did. It was my treat to myself for having sold four prints. The restaurant is right on U Street, and the space is not large – they have perhaps ten tables and bar seating for another ten or so patrons. The ambiance is classic Italian eatery, down to the red checkered tablecloths and the mid-century pop and light jazz (think Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Tony Bennett) playing at just the right volume. And most importantly, the food is FANTASTIC. I had Bronzino with roasted beets, pears and almonds, and a Valhrona chocolate cannoli that was just to die for. I will be adding this to my roster of regular haunts.

Here is a streetscape including the marquee for the restaurant.

U Street, Twilight
U Street, Twilight

Alphonse has their own wood-fired pizza oven. One of their pizzas is next on my list of things to try. I had the Rollei with me as usual, and everyone on the staff was particularly appreciative of it. I was trying to take a shot of the pizza chefs working at the oven, but one of them caught me out of the corner of his eye, turned, and they both mugged for the camera.

Two Pizza Chefs
Two Pizza Chefs

This is the view of the restaurant from my table in the back by the pizza oven. As you can see, it’s a long, narrow space, but with charming atmosphere. The front of the restaurant has a small shop where you can buy desserts and Italian specialty grocery items like salamis.

Alphonse Restaurant
Alphonse Restaurant

With the sun down, the ambient light outside is pretty much equal to the illumination inside, which means that with the Delta 3200 film loaded in my camera that I was shooting, I could hand-hold pretty much equally well inside and out. You can see this in the shot of the market door – there is no brightness difference (and no manipulation of the image to equalize the brightness level between inside and out).

Alphonse Market, Door
Alphonse Market, Door

Neighborhood Walkaround – The Coffee Bar

As many of you know, I like walking around my neighborhood with the Rollei on my neck, photographing what I find. I went out this past weekend to put some Ilford Delta 3200 through the camera, to test how it performs as a low-light film. I wanted to shoot some interiors and some street scenes in low light, hand-held. Ilford Delta 3200 is really the last man standing in this game, as Kodak has discontinued their Tmax 3200 in any size, and even when available, it was only available in 35mm.

I was out to meet a customer who was interested in my photography – I made a print sale! (that will be a different blog post). In celebration, I was out exploring the neighborhood and took a different route home and came by this (relatively) new coffee shop, simply named, “The Coffee Bar”. It’s very cute inside, and they serve a really tasty chai. They did a fantastic job renovating the place and gave it a very inviting atmosphere. I love the sayings on the chalkboard menu – “decaf coffee is like a hairless cat – it exists, but that doesn’t make it right”.

The Coffee Bar, Menu
The Coffee Bar, Menu

One of the things that happens when you test out a new film is that you discover character quirks that help you decide how and when to include it in your palette of options. Delta 3200 is a high-speed yet (at least in 120) relatively fine-grained film. Since my Rollei has a top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, the film’s speed severely curtails my ability to use it in daylight situations. In low light, though, that vice becomes a virtue and I can hand-hold photos that I would ordinarily need a tripod for. That was, as Donald Rumsfeld would have put it, a “known known”. A characteristic I did not know until I actually developed the film was that apparently Delta 3200 does not have an anti-halation coating. Anti-halation coatings prevent ‘blooming’ in highlights that give a “glow” to light sources within a scene. When you don’t want that, having it can be bad. However, in a scene like this, it really works and gives a warm atmosphere to the scene. This is a shot that I think when I make a silver-gelatin enlargement of it, I’ll sepia-tone the print to give it that extra warmth, and give it a real ‘coffee’ atmosphere.

The Coffee Bar, Interior, Evening
The Coffee Bar, Interior, Evening

The doors to The Coffee Bar were catching the last blush of sunset in the sky, and the reflection of the street lamp just starting to glow in the twilight. I love this kind of light at this time of day, where the sky is dimming to be just as bright as the landscape below. This is one shot where I wish I had the second Rollei with me and some color film loaded, as I would have liked to capture the deep blue sky, the patina’d green lamppost, and the orange glow of the street lamp globe reflected in the window, the gold leaf of the street number and ‘The Coffee Bar’ on the glass twinkling in the sun’s last rays. Another time – I know where it is, and I can always go back in for a good chai to warm me up on a chilly fall evening.

The Coffee Bar Doors, Evening
The Coffee Bar Doors, Evening

Neighborhood Walkabout – loose ends

Industrial Bank Clock, 5pm
Industrial Bank Clock, 5pm

This didn’t really ‘fit’ with any of the other neighborhood photo groups I posted earlier, so it’s getting its own post. The Industrial Bank branch at 11th and U Streets NW is the original location for Industrial Bank, which was founded to cater to the African-American community in the early 20th century when many mainstream banks wouldn’t lend money to black people. They have kept the vintage neon sign with the clock outside, probably a 1930s addition from the look of it. They never light the neon, though. The clock does work, but nobody seems to be bothered enough to get the time right. When I took this shot it was around 1pm, but the clock says a bit shy of 5pm. But hey, it’s 5pm somewhere!

Neighborhood Walkabout – Graffiti

Another sign of change and transformation is the ebb and flow of graffiti. My latest find was this:

Any Make or Model (Black is Beautiful)
Any Make or Model (Black is Beautiful)

I loved the serendipitous juxtaposition of the advertisement wording for the cellphone repair shop and the graffiti – “Any Make, Any Model… Black is Beautiful”. There’s truth in accidents. Or maybe it wasn’t an accident.

A generic graffiti tag on a bricked-up window of a house. This is casual art, that has its own accidental grace and beauty despite not having any great aspiration beyond marking territory or gang initiation.

Window, Graffiti, 15thStreet
Window, Graffiti, 15thStreet

Then there’s graffiti that is transformed from simple defacement by virtue of adopting the form and structure of the object upon which it is inscribed, like this manhole cover.

Graffiti-inscribed Manhole Cover
Graffiti-inscribed Manhole Cover

Some street art I found in Toronto. There’s a point where graffiti transcends defacement of property and really does become art in itself.

Graffiti
Graffiti

More graffiti as street art. There is part of this wall that I intentionally cropped out as it makes a statement that I don’t know I’d want to make or pass on (decapitated nude female torso).

Graffiti, Chain Link Fence, Twilight
Graffiti, Chain Link Fence, Twilight

Back to simplicity, this bit speaks to collective identity questions – the figure transforms the Washington DC city flag of three stars over two bars into a humanoid with a hand for a head. Politics, ethnicity, religion, all rolled into a piece of temporary public art (the wall upon which this figure was painted has been gentrified into several very expensive restaurants).

Graffiti, DC Flag Design, 14th Street
Graffiti, DC Flag Design, 14th Street

The camera of record is a Rolleiflex 2.8E, and the films used are FP4+ for b/w and Kodak Ektar 100 and Portra 160 for color.

Neighborhood Walkabout – Surviving Gentrification

The signs of gentrification, both good and bad, abound in my area. Funky old shops in decrepit buildings are being forced out and razed to be replaced by condos and market-rate rentals at prices I don’t know how anyone can afford and being serviced by shops and restaurants worthy of being spoofed by AbFab. At the same time, the drugs, the street crime, and the random trash are all disappearing too.

SaintEx, 14th Street, from above
SaintEx, 14th Street, from above

I’m not sure Mitoni’s salon is still in business, or if it is, for how much longer. But I’ve not been sure if it is in business for the last decade, frankly. Regardless, it will shortly be going away to be replaced by an 8-10 story condo/retail complex.

Mitonis Salon, 14th Street
Mitonis Salon, 14th Street

You can very clearly see the layers of old and new, gentrified and recycled here. A former post office (that was once notorious for a rat infestation that destroyed tens of thousands of pieces of undelivered mail) is now a trendy taqueria. An old antiques store is now the Policy restaurant and bar with the roof deck you can see. In the upper left background is the old cold storage facility which oddly enough still rents out storage lockers. Behind the street-level buildings in the foreground is The Louis, a high-rise condo complex with swanky restaurants, coffee shops, and a Trader Joes (which is actually a welcome addition to the neighborhood). This shot was taken from the roof of Room and Board, an upscale furniture shop in what was a long-boarded-up former car dealership building.

T Street, From Room&Board's Roof
T Street, From Room&Board’s Roof

The dining room at Doi Moi, a new Thai/Vietnamese restaurant.

Tables, Doi Moi
Tables, Doi Moi

Transformer Gallery is one of the pre- to mid-gentrification vestiges. They’re a small space, and perhaps their saving grace is the fact that the space is too small for most developers’ interests. I don’t know how they survive as, from my perspective, a lot of the art they show is hard to sell.
When I took the photo, it was still August, so I thought the leaves made an interesting ironic statement about the nature of the changing neighborhood.

Transformer Gallery, Premature Fall
Transformer Gallery, Premature Fall

The Fabulous Vegas Lounge is another vestige of the old neighborhood. They must own their building to have outlasted the condo buildings that went up around them. It’s been a Jazz club since the 1970s at least.

Las Vegas Lounge
The Fabulous Vegas Lounge

As usual, all photos taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Ilford FP4+.

Neighborhood Wanderings – People

I went out on one of my neighborhood walkabouts and found these scenes. I’m still not good with getting people’s faces in street photos because when I try for a portrait, it inevitably becomes non-candid because I take too long trying to compose and focus, they see me, and at best the moment is lost. So I do photos of people from behind. Maybe I’ll work on making it into a thing.

Shopping Couple, U Street
Shopping Couple, U Street
Man With Bags, 14th & U Street
Man With Bags, 14th & U Street

Scenes with activity in them, though, work better. I guess because I’m standing off at an angle to the action and people can pass through without being aware, so they get included from a variety of angles.

Dolcezza Gelateria
Dolcezza Gelateria
Crown Pawn
Crown Pawn

And sometimes they get included because they’re completely unaware of the camera’s presence, like the worker inside Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Ben's Panda
Ben’s Panda

All shots taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E on Ilford FP4+. The Ilford FP4+ is part of a large stash of it that I bought more than a few years ago when there was a scare that Ilford would go out of business. I bought a box of 100 rolls (B&H was running a special on the bulk lot). Well, Ilford stayed in business (thank heavens!), and my use of medium format waned for a while (I sold off my Hasselblad outfit to finance a large format camera), so the bulk lot sat in my basement, going past its expiry date. Now that I’ve found and fallen in love with the Rollei, I’m finally making a dent in that box. It’s a great compliment to the quality of Ilford that I can still use this film this many years past the expiration and I have yet to need to tweak the chemistry to compensate for the film’s aging.

Portraits of Ordinary Objects

I was out doing some more street shooting in my neighborhood and found a couple more “ordinary objects” that cried out for portraits. I’ve included some of my past ones here to provide some context for the project idea.

Triple Meter, 14th Street
Triple Meter, 14th Street
Electrical Box, 13th & U Streets
Electrical Box, 13th & U Streets
Mailbox
Mailbox
Yellow Postbox, Paris
Yellow Postbox, Paris
Hydrant, Chalon
Hydrant, Chalon
Everyday Objects - Payphone
Everyday Objects – Payphone
Siamese Spigot
Siamese Spigot
Traffic Cone
Traffic Cone
Twin Parking Meters
Twin Parking Meters
Mueller Hydrant, K Street, DC
Mueller Hydrant, K Street, DC

These were shot on a mix of films – the black and white are either Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP4+, and the color shots were taken with Kodak Ektar 100, all using my Rolleiflex 2.8E.