You know the old adage, “the best camera is the one you have with you”? It’s true. I got lucky and found these two shots as I was walking around the other day waiting to meet a friend for lunch.
They’re snaps with my iPhone. It was the camera I had with me at the time. And proof that it’s the photographer, not the camera, or the software, that makes the image.
I’ll be back in the neighborhood today after work with my Rolleiflex, and I’ll take them again. Different photos, different camera, different aspect ratio, so they’ll feel very different. I’ll try to remember to post them when they’re done.
A while ago a friend of mine asked me to shoot a roll of Tri-X through my Contax G2 so he could see how it performed in low-light situations, as he was thinking about getting one himself. I took a walk around my neighborhood one evening in the spring, put a roll through the camera, and these are some of the results.
One thing I notice about the shots I’ve been taking with the G2 is that my composition has been freer, less formal and less insistent on everything being nice, tidy, plumb and square. I’ve been shooting more off-angle shots and I don’t know if that’s because I’m shooting hand-held, eye-level, or because I’m trying out more ‘grab shots’ where the camera isn’t even really being brought to my eye, I’m just aiming and trusting the auto-focus. I know in the past I would have found a lot of these off-angle ‘grab shots’ objectionable and they’d have gone straight to the reject pile. But I’m reconsidering them now and I’m starting to like them. Well, maybe more appreciate them for what they are, and not reject them out of hand.
Cars at night are interesting. Depending on how you shoot them, they can be sharp, they can be blurred, or they can even disappear, leaving behind only the light trails of their head and tail lamps as proof they were once there.
The BMW was stopped fully at the traffic light when I started the exposure, but the SUV next to it was in the act of stopping, and the car turning onto 14th Street was in continuous motion.
Cars and people have to co-exist on city streets. Here a pedestrian follows a speeding car through the intersection, hoping to make the other side before the change of the light.
People in low light are a similar problem – they don’t ever really sit still. Combine that with needing to use large apertures with shallow depth of field in low light, and the requisite slow shutter speeds, and you have a recipe for blur. This was something else I used to always find objectionable; blurry people. Now, I think of it more as a sign of our humanity and our alive-ness.
This isn’t to say we always need to be in continuous motion – quiet contemplation in a sea of motion is often called for and a needed respite.
Architecture at twilight is in some ways easier to shoot because the subjects aren’t moving. But that still has challenges because the contrast range of dim exteriors and bright interiors, combined with hotspots from outside spot lights, can be just as difficult to balance.
The fun thing about these lighting situations, though, is that it sets up the viewer to make a psychological interrogation of the building- you are literally being pulled into the interior of the space to examine, investigate and interpret something illuminated from within that in daylight is muted if not hidden.
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.
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.
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.
The dining room at Doi Moi, a new Thai/Vietnamese restaurant.
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.
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.
As usual, all photos taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Ilford FP4+.
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.
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.
And sometimes they get included because they’re completely unaware of the camera’s presence, like the worker inside Ben’s Chili Bowl.
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.
A couple quick snapshots from a street ramble after work.
I happened upon this scene on my walk home from work the other day. I’ve developed a thing for photographing bikes and other means of transport, thanks to seeing the bikeshare stations all over and watching people riding them. I like the multiple layers happening in the scene with the contents of the gallery merging with the scene behind. The bike is still the main emphasis, but you have the cars, the pedestrian, the interior volume of the gallery with art on the walls, and then the fractional self-portrait of me on the right side (mostly just camera bag in the reflection, but I’m still in the picture).
These two were just practice shots, really, trying to get better at people photography on the street. They’re part of the mood of 14th Street, though- emblematic of the energy of the place.
After a LOONG weekend of playing with my printer to get it to cooperate (running out of four different inks @ $60/cartridge, figuring out how to solve problems with head strikes on my prints, running out of paper at $115/box thanks to the aforementioned ink shortages and head strikes), I now have my show completely printed. Eight prints are already framed and ready to go, the remaining 12 are going to be framed tomorrow, and the show hung on Tuesday after work. I’ve done shows before, and of course it’s always hard work, but this is the biggest show I’ve done in terms of volume. Even my biggest past Artomatic was probably 12 prints. I’m very psyched about the show. Here’s a recap for those who can’t make it to the opening (REMINDER: August 2, 7-10 PM, Mad Momos Restaurant, 3605 14th Street NW, Washington DC). This exhibit pays tribute to the parts of Washington I pass through on a regular if not daily basis. I want to show what this town looks like to a resident, as well as showing it in an unfamiliar way even to those folks who do see these things all the time. As I mentioned in my blurb about the reception, I love the way color distorts and transforms at night because we no longer have a single, unidirectional light source of uniform color and quality. I’ve started these photos with late evening/sunset/twilight and progress into deep night to capture the feeling of that time of day. I hope these photos express that sense of drawn out time and transformed space, be it through blurred motion or the interplay of lights.
If any of you have ever produced a photography exhibit, or any other art exhibit for that matter, you’ll have an understanding of just how complicated an effort this is. I’m lucky in that I am able to do my promotional work online for the most part (this blog, email blasts, internet forums, etc), and I already have promotional postcards printed from the last time I exhibited some of this work. It would not surprise me if I did a truly serious accounting of what it cost to put this show up on the wall and the bill came in somewhere north of $2500. I know the framing bill alone is in the region of $1100-$1200. Postcards? about $200 for good quality printing from Modern Postcard. Paper and ink? $300. And that’s just the obvious, not counting the two years it took to shoot the images, the film and processing, the editing process, the dinner bribe for my friend who helped with the editing, and all the hardware and software (21.5″ iMac, Epson V750 scanner, Epson 3880 printer, Photoshop CS5, SilverFast AI 8, Gretag-Macbeth EyeOne calibration software and hockey-puck). To say nothing of 20 years of accumulated experience required to produce images like these.
Here are the outside shots of Mad Momos Restaurant and Beer Deck.
This is the entrance, as viewed from under the awning. When they bought the building, the structure was partially renovated with the intent to turn it into a restaurant. They followed through and finished it out, leaving the awning frame up but not getting a canvas/vinyl cover. Instead, they are training a vining plant in barrels, which will take a couple years to fill in (visible in the second photo of the awning). I just liked the structure of the awning and thought it would be an interesting frame to contrast its geometric structure against the decoration of the building behind it.
I don’t recall if the paper cutout figure over the door ever had a head or not, but in any case, it’s a little girl holding an iPhone like a handgun.
Here is the facade of the building. In case you’re wondering, the paper figures plastered to the wall are Osama Bin Laden giving Honey Boo-Boo a piggy back ride, whilst she’s holding a molotov cocktail. Yeah, the guys have a quirky sense of humor.
Another view of the awning structure, dappled with sunlight filtered through the tree above.
Chrome chairs on the patio at Mad Momos:
The chairs were still stacked from having been stored the night before. I loved the repetition of the shapes of the chairs.
In contrast to the modern awning frame and handrail around the front patio, this 1910s/20s wrought iron hand rail frames the steps on the house next door to their building.
All these photos were taken on a Tuesday – the slowest day of the week, thus the absence of customers. I’m going back there tomorrow after work with some color film to take some night shots – the place gets packed!
Here are two portraits I took of my friend Wanchuk, who is co-owner with Sam Huang (photo posted previously) of Mad Momos Restaurant & Beer Deck. I’ve known Wanchuk for nearly a decade. He’s from Sikkim, which is now a province of India in the Himalayas between Nepal and Bhutan, but used to be an independent kingdom with close ties to Bhutan.
We met through a common love of photography – at the time he was still in post-college bum-around-the-world mode, and wanted advice on how to take better pictures in the places he was going. Now he’s running a restaurant and giving me a show of my photos. The exhibit will open on August 2nd and run through the end of October. Details about the opening reception will be posted separately.
I took those photos of him after we finished a meeting about the exhibit, then went for a 15 minute walkabout in the neighborhood around the restaurant to see what I could find. There’s an old bar/club across the street called “The Pinch” – I so want to photograph the front door because it has cool architectural detailing and some nifty graffiti, but from the looks of the folks hanging out by the front door, I may have to come back and shoot that early in the morning when they’re closed -their patrons may not take too kindly to being photographed.
Here’s their logo on the wall facing the side street – it has a very 70’s look to it, but the paint seems very recent.
Pivoting to the left of the Pinch logo, I saw this lovely vanishing-point perspective of the building walls, dappled in evening sunlight. As I was composing the shot, this man hauling a gigantic cardboard box over his shoulder walked into the frame. Taking advantage of the serendipitous perspective-giving presence of the man, I waited until he was about 2/3 of the way in the frame before shooting.
This is an exploration of twilight into dusk in and around the 14th Street and U Street corridors in Northwest Washington DC. All these shots were taken in the same evening, and are within walking distance of one another (although in the name of time efficiency I drove from one area to the other so I wouldn’t lose the last light in the sky).
Nellies is a gay sports bar (betcha never thought you’d hear THAT particular combination!) at the corner of 9th and U Street and Florida Avenue (U Street turns into Florida Avenue at 9th). I’ve driven by hundreds of times and always thought about photographing their lights, specifically the “OPEN” arrow on the corner. The night I started this project, I decided to shoot the building from two different angles, one to capture the general ambiance of the intersection, the other to specifically address the OPEN sign.
Around the corner from Nellies is this abandoned warehouse which has some really wild and cool and somewhat disturbing graffiti on it. I shot some of this graffiti through the chain link fence around the side lot. The disturbing piece I intentionally cropped out of the shot, as it is the nude lower half of a female body that appears to have been severed from its torso.
Over on 14th Street, we have had an explosion of new restaurants in the last five years, with a huge spate in the last year alone. Rice Restuarant is arguably the best Thai restaurant in DC, and certainly the most innovative. A good friend of mine opened it gosh, maybe ten years ago, virtually pioneering the restaurant boom in the neighborhood. Now next door to Rice is Ghibellina, an Italian joint that opened this year, and next door to that is Pearl Dive, an oyster bar, which opened perhaps 2 years ago. Le Diplomate is a French bistro across the street in what was originally a car dealership in the 1920s, then became a laundromat. Le Diplomate also opened earlier this year.
At the intersection of 14th and Q Streets, I pointed my camera south on 14th to try and capture the energy of the neighborhood, through the traffic, the lights, the construction boom represented by the crane, and the people on the sidewalks.
Here is a second version of the shot, a longer exposure, that captures the car sitting at the traffic light, then traffic taking off when the light changed. The funky stuff in the sky is a combination of reflections of the tail-lights and head-lights of the cars reflecting off the clouds and lens flare caused by the lights directly shining into the lens.
I’m not sure if I like this one well enough to keep it or if some other night I go back and try to re-shoot it. Feedback welcomed. All shots, as is becoming normal to say now, were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Kodak Ektar 100 film. This was in part an experiment to see how well Ektar would fare against Portra 160 as a low-light film. I’ve loved Portra as a low-light film for its ability to handle mixed lighting conditions. I’d say this put to rest any thoughts of Ektar 100 being inferior- it does look different, to be sure, but I’d say it did a pretty darned good job. I think I might even prefer it in some cases.