Category Archives: Travel

Mexico City, in Black and White

This was a return trip, just a quick three-day weekend over the Veterans’ Day holiday, so I only shot four rolls of black-and-white and six rolls of color (to be processed today). Here are some highlights.

I took a trip to the UNAM (Autonomous National University of Mexico) campus, which is famous for its 1960s architecture (it’s the site of the 1968 Olympics, and the Olympic stadium which seats some 80,000 (if I recall correctly) is across Insurgentes Boulevard from the campus). My partner is in law school at UNAM, so we met up after class and wandered around a bit. These images are from the Architecture school buildings, another program that UNAM is famous for.

UNAMArchitectureStairs

AngelUNAMArchitecture

You may be wondering- what’s with the rectangular images? He almost always shows us square photos! Well, I traded in some gear I wasn’t using and got a Mamiya RZ67 and a trio of lenses for it. The RZ67 is effectively a Hasselblad on steroids – unlike my Rolleiflex, which is a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex), the RZ is an SLR (Single Lens Reflex). The advantage is that with an SLR, interchangeable lenses make a lot more sense, since you only have to have one of them per focal length. The RZ also shoots 6x7cm negatives on 120 film (NOT 120mm!!! Pet Peeve alert – 120 is the film size, not 120mm. 120 was a Kodak internal designation for the format that became universal, kind of like Kleenex). The RZ solves the problem of having to rotate the entire camera when switching from horizontal to vertical by instituting rotating backs. This of course makes the camera bigger and heavier. It’s an additional challenge when traveling, but I think the images speak for themselves.

Back in the city center, I was wandering around on the street where my hotel is located, Calle Londres. Down the block are a pair of markets – the Mercado del Angel, which specializes in antiques, and the Mercado de Artesanias which specializes in modern handicrafts of all varieties from wood carvings to ceramics to sterling silver jewelry. The Mercado de Artesanias had a Day of the Dead altar still up in their entryway.

DiaDeLosMuertosAltar

DiaDeLosMuertosAltar2

You can’t tell it in black and white, but those pumpkins on the ground were fluorescent purple and pink. I like them better in b/w, don’t you?
BronzeDoorsLondres

Also on Calle Londres, these bronze doors can be found. I’m still not sure what they belong to, but they’re quite impressive.

 

GaleanaMonument

Another aspect of the trip was to take in some of the exhibits of FotoMexico, a nation-wide, three month long photography festival that covers some 600 exhibits around the nation. The headquarters for the program is the Centro de la Imagén, located inside the Biblioteca México (I’ll have more to say about FotoMexico in another post). The Biblioteca México is located in an 18th century tobacco factory-cum-military facility that was used as a prison during the waning days of Spanish colonial rule. This monument is in the park in front of the Biblioteca, commemorating Jose Maria Morelos, a Mexican general who led a valiant 40 day resistance against colonial authorities at Cuautla, after which he was taken prisoner, held in the jail in the Ciutadela (now the Biblioteca) and then executed for treason.
ParkSweepMexicoCity

The cart and broom of one of the caretakers of the park.
MorelosMonument2

Another view of the Morelos monument. It was erected in 1912, as part of the centenary commemorations of Mexican independence from Spain, and coincidentally the Mexican Revolution of 1911 which overthrew the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.
GlorietaInsurgentes

Last but not least, the advertising billboard structure in the Glorieta Insurgentes. The Glorieta is a major traffic circle on Avenida Insurgentes Norte, and is a transportation hub – the subway and express buses have stops in and around the Glorieta. I photographed the billboard structure because it has a look to it reminiscent of a Bernd and Hilla Becher photograph of industrial structures.

Roman Panoramas – Miniature Platinum Prints

After printing a few of these panoramas from Rome, I was so taken by the intimacy of the miniature format of the 2 1/4″ x 4 1/4″ contact print, I went and made a whole series of them. I’m at fourteen of them now, but that number will fluctuate a little as I finish printing and edit down from there. I’m going to go out shooting this weekend and make some more images in the format and perhaps build a full show’s worth.

Columns, Marble Floor, Trajan's Market
Columns, Marble Floor, Trajan’s Market

I took the portfolio to the Sunday morning critique we have at Glen Echo, and instead of presenting them as raw prints, I matted them with 8-ply mats with oversize margins (11×14 inch mat boards, so roughly 4-6 inch margins around the 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inch window). I also cut the windows such that all the mats could be viewed in landscape orientation regardless of whether the image was in portrait or landscape orientation.

Trajan's Column, Via Fori Imperiali
Trajan’s Column, Via Fori Imperiali

Presentation is very important when considering your work. It should be the first thought on your mind when planning a show – of course you need to edit the body of work, but how it will look on the wall is just as critical to successful reception as the work itself. Good presentation will focus the viewer’s attention on the work and block out the distractions of everything else going on around it.

Temple of Antoninus and Faustina
Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Also, if you’re at all concerned with selling your work, makes a huge difference in the sales price – poorly presented, someone would pay a poster price for an original Ansel Adams, if they bought it at all. Properly presented, your work will fetch premium prices even though nobody has really heard of you outside your own city.

Column Fragment, Imperial Forum
Column Fragment, Imperial Forum

This webpage is a prime example of the issue of presentation – showing these images here in this size on this medium is a complete and utter failure to represent the scale, quality and impact of the images. You’re looking at them on your monitor, in a size well beyond their actual physical size in reality. And because they’re scans of the prints, the paper texture is exaggerated as are any minor flaws due to the handmade nature of the prints.

More Tiny Contact Prints

Here is the continuation of the tiny prints series. All of these are still from Rome, again the Lomo Belair X6-12 as the camera of choice. I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend about these and while sharing them online is great, seeing scans of them at what ends up being a much larger size than the actual print, they lose some of their impact.

This is a statue of the Archangel Michael, in the Castel Sant’Angelo. His body is stone but the wings are bronze.

Archangel Michael, Castel Sant'Angelo
Archangel Michael, Castel Sant’Angelo

The umbrella pine image is one of those that when I scanned the negative and worked with the image in Photoshop, all the “flaws” of the negative become quite apparent, and you start thinking it’s not a successful image. But contact printed, it cleans up nicely and really sings.

Roman Umbrella Pine
Roman Umbrella Pine

St. Peter’s Basilica Facade. This is one of the images that made me respect the Belair and its results more than I did initially. It’s still not going to ever match a serious panorama camera like a Horseman 6×12 with a highly corrected glass lens, but it does a great job for what it is, and certainly it scores extremely well in the value-for-money proposition – I got mine used for $200, whereas a used Horseman would set you back closer to $2000.

St. Peter's Facade
St. Peter’s Facade

The plaza in front of St. Peter’s was set up for a Papal Mass when I was there. The sea of folding chairs made for an interesting composition, leading your eye back to the obelisk and beyond.

St. Peter's Plaza
St. Peter’s Plaza

These are the famous three remaining columns of the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. This one really strikes me because of the simple, graphic nature of the subject. It’s another one of those images that everyone photographs when they’re at the Forum, and everyone knows it, even if you haven’t ever been to the Forum. Printing in platinum/palladium takes it somewhere new and different and it doesn’t feel like just another tourist image.

Three Columns, Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum
Three Columns, Temple of Vesta, Roman Forum

All these images are platinum/palladium prints, in this case all are a 50/50 blend of platinum and palladium, on the new wonderful Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper. I’m going to have to try a pure platinum print with it next and see how it behaves.

Mexico City part 2 – people at work

More from Mexico City – people at work.

Throughout the Centro Historico, there are organ grinders playing their portable instruments, hat in hand for tips. A five peso coin is sufficient a tip if you enjoy their music. I gave this man a 10 peso coin for photographing him.

Organ Grinder, Calle Madero
Organ Grinder, Calle Madero

At the Templo Mayor museum, this guy was washing the windows, dangling from the roof basically on a couple of ropes.

Window Washer, Templo Mayor Museum
Window Washer, Templo Mayor Museum

Mexico City is a very musical city, if you give it a chance. It has a definite rhythm, and part of that is the sounds. The organ grinders are out, cranking away, and on seemingly every street corner, there’s someone intoning the litany of what they have for sale. This lady was outside the taquería next door to my hotel every day, pretty much all day, reciting the kinds of tacos they had and extolling their best quality. I never heard her voice waiver or decrease in volume.

Taco Lady
Taco Lady

All around the Zocalo, and at various spots through the Centro Historico, there are these shoe-shine booths. While the canopies shade the patrons pretty well, the shoe-shine men (and women) are out there in the sun and the heat all day.

Shoe Shine Booths, Zocalo
Shoe Shine Booths, Zocalo

Another part of the daily rhythm of Mexico City – people hauling stuff on carts.This guy is pulling a load of plastic baskets, but this is a pretty small load compared to some I saw.

Hauling Baskets
Hauling Baskets

Outside the Catedral Metropolitana, skilled day laborers set up soliciting work. Here are two plumbers specializing in gas, an electrician, and a plasterer/house painter.

Day Laborers, Cathedral Metropolitana
Day Laborers, Cathedral Metropolitana

My first full day in Mexico City, I got up early and walked around through the Centro Historico and got to see the city as it was waking up. Here was a street food stall set up on a pedestrian passageway cooking breakfast for the businessmen and shopkeepers in the neighborhood.

Cooking Street Food
Cooking Street Food

Across from the cook was the lime juicer making fresh limeade.

Juicing Limes
Juicing Limes

This is my tour guide who led us up through the bell towers at the Catedral Metropolitana. The cathedral is the largest Catholic cathedral in the Americas.

Cathedral Bell Tower Tourguide
Cathedral Bell Tower Tourguide

These dancers in traditional Aztec/Mexica costumes could be found most days performing on the plaza beside the Catedral Metropolitana. Here they were sheltering from a light rain in front of the Hotel Ritz (which is, unlike its namesake in Paris, a budget hotel) after a performance.

Aztec Dancers, Hotel Ritz
Aztec Dancers, Hotel Ritz

In the park area across from the entrance to the Anthropology Museum these traditional dancers were performing. At the top of the pole is a musician playing a traditional flute. The dancers are suspended by ropes at the ankles, and spin around to extend the ropes and lower themselves from the top.

Dancers, Chapultepec
Dancers, Chapultepec

Beginning of a new series – tiny contact prints

When I was in Rome last year… (no jokes please!) I shot a bunch of panoramic images with my new-to-me Lomo Belair X6-12. My just completed session of the Intro to Platinum/Palladium Printing class I teach inspired me to dig them out and see how they would fare in the medium. I’m really loving these tiny prints – 2 1/4 by 4 1/4 inches! They make you get up close and intimate with the print. I’m matting them in 11×14 inch 8-ply mats for extra measure.

ColosseumPanoPtPd

ColosseumVertPanoPtPd

TiberPanoramaPtPd

Sometimes you have to walk away from a process or a practice for a while, which happened to me with platinum/palladium. I was on a kick of doing other stuff, shooting my travels with the Rolleiflex. Then it was the Fuji rabbit hole with digital and the X-T1. Then this class came along and I needed something to jumpstart my printing. These images were just the ticket. Photographers in general have an obsession with how big they can make their prints, and even the general public too. But there’s something to be said for tiny prints. I still remember the Andre Kertesz show at the National Gallery where they had a lot of his early work on display – in his youth, he could only make contact prints off of small negatives from roll film cameras because he was poor and didn’t have space for a dedicated darkroom. Getting up close and personal with his images, like “Underwater Swimmer”, which is all of 1 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches, really makes you think about the image itself instead of being awed by its size. Not that I have several million dollars to spare, but I’d much rather spend that kind of money on a print of “Underwater Swimmer” than on Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”. Fortunately, the Kertesz would be a lot cheaper to buy than the Gursky anyway.

On a separate note, I’d like to give a shout-out to Carol Boss at Hahnemuhle papers. All three images above were printed on the new Hahnemuhle Platinum Rag paper. She has very generously become a sponsoring partner of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium class at Glen Echo Photoworks, and is supplying us with our paper. It is a wonderful new paper- very easy to coat and print on. It may well displace my old standard Bergger COT 320.

Mexico City – part 1 – People out and about

For the Memorial Day holiday weekend, I took a short vacation down to Mexico City. I wanted to do an art-themed vacation, taking in museums and popular art and crafts, to get some inspiration for my own work. And of course, to take images of my own. For this trip I decided to take my new Fuji X-T1 and a couple lenses because it was much more compact and less conspicuous than the Rolleiflex. It proved a baptism by fire for me with the camera, as I was shooting with it 10 hours a day every day for five days. This generally is a good thing, and I’ll write up my impressions in a separate post.

One of the first things I noticed about Mexico City is that it is a very young city – you can tell the population skews much more toward 20 than toward 60. There are young people everywhere, wandering the streets of the Centro Historico, visiting the museums, riding the subway. I spotted these two young lovers on the plaza in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. You saw many young couples like these two holding hands and being publicly expressive. This was a bit of a surprise to me as my last impression of Mexico City was 30+ years ago when it was a much more conservative, much more Catholic place, and this kind of public display between unmarried youth would have been frowned upon.

Young Love, Calle Madero
Young Love, Calle Madero

Further signs of change in Mexico City – young gay couples holding hands in public. These two were touring the Casa Studio Diego Rivera with me, and I caught them in an unguarded moment on the roof of the studio. I should have taken their portraits too, but I did photograph them together with their cellphone as they were trying to do selfies with not much success. They were very cute and sweet.

Gay Couple, Casa Diego Rivera
Gay Couple, Casa Diego Rivera

I also saw several other young gay couples out on the street holding hands in the Centro Historico, which surprised me a little as I was not expecting it there.

On another early Sunday morning, I took a walk through the Alameda park, which was just up the block from my hotel. This boy and his dad were out to go roller skating in the park. I loved his punked-out helmet with the spiky mohawk.

Rollerblade Chico
Rollerblade Chico

In a passageway between Calle Madero and Calle Tacuba, just behind the Banco de Mexico, there’s this big bronze bird bench (try saying that five times fast!). I spotted this lady taking a rest, smoking and playing on her phone. As is typical everywhere now, people of all ages are glued to their phones.

Lady, Bird Bench
Lady, Bird Bench

A handsome young man on his phone, outside Chapultepec Park. Hot travel tip for anyone planning to visit Mexico City – the entire city seems to roll up the sidewalks and shut down on Mondays, at least as far as attractions go – there’s maybe one museum open. They even lock up the gates to Chapultepec park and only allow bicyclists who are transiting through to enter!

Boy On Phone, Chapultepec
Boy On Phone, Chapultepec

I went out for an early morning walk my first full day in Mexico City, to see what the rhythms of life are like. This man presented a dramatic composition in the morning sunlight as he leaned up against the wall.

Man On Phone
Man On Phone

Fort Washington

On the same day I went to Fort Foote, I kept on driving south into Maryland until I got to Fort Washington, proper. Fort Washington the fort is located in Fort Washington, the town, and to arrive there you drive through some rambling suburban tracts. Like Fort Foote, Fort Washington sits on the banks of the Potomac River atop a peninsula formed by Piscataway Creek’s entrance into the Potomac River. It, however, was not intended to be a temporary site but rather has been occupied and fortified since before the War of 1812. Its use as an active military base ended after World War II, but most of the structures you see were built between 1800 and 1918.

These first two images are of the gate in the early 19th century fortifications. This was the entrance that connects the hilltop fortifications to the water battery at river level.

Earthworks
Earthworks
Water Gate
Water Gate

The water battery structures date to the first decades of the 20th century. You can see they are much lower, made of steel and concrete. The front side is protected by an earthen berm. The bunkers would have held the troops manning the now-dismounted cannon and communications equipment to control the batteries from within the fort.

There is something both ominous and at the same time hopeful about these structures, viewed from the land side. The bunker doorway looks like an entrance to the underworld.

Water Battery Entrance
Water Battery Entrance

The stairs, however, now stripped of their weaponry, point to an upward journey, facing the unknown. They’re the prow of a ship, a pathway to adventure, or perhaps a Mayan temple at whose top great mysteries will be revealed.

Water Battery Stairs
Water Battery Stairs

The clouds above tease the possibility of rain, but it will be a gentle rain, not a thundering downpour. They’re the gateway to the horizon.

Water Battery Stairs
Water Battery Stairs