Tag Archives: philosophy of photography

London – Street Signage – Look Right

Look Right

I happened to look down, and then saw this admonition to “Look Right ->”. I found it mildly amusing that traffic flow was considered so confusing that it was necessary to tell people which direction to look before crossing the street. And I love the crunchy texture of the pavement and sidewalk. This is at the corner of Finsbury Square where it abuts City Road in central London.

This is another image from the Lomo LC-A 120. The only real reason I ever mention the cameras I use nowadays is to prove a point about there being little to no correlation between the “quality” of camera you use and the quality of the images you make. I have very little control over the LC-A beyond what I point it at, when I choose to trip the shutter, the film I load in it, and the rough guesstimate of the distance between me and the subject. Everything else is really out of my control. But the decisions that are most important are the ones I do have control over – what to point it at and when to trip the shutter.

Knowing my camera and how it records images is also helpful to getting what I want out of the image, of course. But this image above would have not been any more successful if I shot it with a Hasselblad Superwide, a Rolleiflex TLR, or my Fuji XT-1, each of which offer far more control and precision than the LC-A.

Meet And Shoot – Columbia Heights

Today was my session of the “Meet & Shoot” class I co-teach with several other instructors at Photoworks. The class is a five or six session workshop on street photography where each instructor takes a group of students out for a guided photography excursion to a location of their choosing. Students can sign up for all sessions, or pick and choose which ones they want as their schedule and/or instructor preference dictates.

This time, I had three new students and three repeat students from the last time I taught this class. Due to some last-minute scheduling snafus, three of the students were unable to make it, so it was a very intimate walkabout, and I was able to teach as much as I was playing shepherd.

We met at the Columbia Heights Metro station, and once the crew was collected, we took a walk up to the little plaza in front of the Tivoli Theater where a saturday farmers market was in full swing. My three students, seen below (L to R: Matthew, Suzan and Bobbi) wandered around and took full advantage of my guidance for the session to use color as a foundational theme. The farmers market was a perfect opportunity, with all the fruit and vegetables on display.

Columbia Heights is an ethnically diverse neighborhood, with a strong Latin-American presence. This is very obvious in the colors and styles of signage on shops and restaurants, and makes for a great subject for a color-based exercise.

Here Bobbi, Suzan and Matthew are examining some signage on a Dominican restaurant on Park Road.

We continued along Park Road over to Mount Pleasant, another neighborhood in Washington DC that also has a significant Latino presence. I took the opportunity to discuss including graffiti and public sculpture in your work as a “street” photographer. If you’re going to include other peoples’ art in your photography, make sure that you have a solid reason for doing so- it’s fair game as documentary, or if your capture and interpretation is transformative (abstract/close-up, for example), but if you’re planning to exhibit and market photos of other peoples’ art, even if it is displayed in public, you’re at best in an ethical gray area, and potentially in a copyright violation scenario.

Street photography is very much about found images – you’re not setting out to intentionally create compositions, but rather responding and reacting to things you encounter, like this poster that fell into the street and got run over until the rough pavement surface pierced through turning the whole thing into an abstract composition.

We had a great morning of shooting, and wrapped up for a chat at a cafe on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan (another neighborhood bordering on Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights). I’m very pleased with my students, and I’m looking forward to seeing their images from today at our recap class in three weeks.

Image Published on fslashd!

For those unaware of it, fslashd (f/D) is a website devoted to pinhole photography. I’ve had one of my images published on their site as part of their Inspiration of the Week page –


Foggy Bottom Metro, Waiting
Foggy Bottom Metro, Waiting

Kier, the editor of the site, also included a few remarks by me about my photography and why I appreciate and enjoy alternative/lensless image-making tools.

Scott Davis is an experienced photographer in historic printing processes, and has recently started to work in pinhole for additional inspiration. He’s developed an appreciation for the simplicity of pinhole and how it lets him focus on the image, not the equipment. As he states: “Working with cameras that don’t have lenses or shutters per se, or at least that have primitive ones, means that serendipity becomes important in my work…What interests me is the capture of whole seconds, minutes and even hours of time in a frame, contrasting the things that move in the scene with things that remain static.”

For anyone interested, he’s also running a call for entries for pinhole work – http://fslashd.com/call-for-entry/. This is your chance to get published not just on a webpage but in an actual physical book.

Pier 24 museum in San Francisco – a photographic education

Over the weekend I went to see the Pier 24 exhibit space in San Francisco. It has only been open for a year or so (the current exhibit is their third ever, I believe). It represents a novel approach to the museum experience in general and photography exhibits in particular. The facility itself is located in one of the old waterfront warehouses along the Embarcadero (thus the name), directly beneath the Oakland Bay Bridge. The interior is divided up into roughly 20 rooms. Admission is FREE, but by appointment only. They allow twenty people at a time for a two hour block, so your distractions during  your visit are minimized. Another way they minimize distractions is by having NO wall text – the floor plan flyer you get upon entering has the only labels for the exhibits, consisting of the photographers names who are hung in a given room. Absolutely maddening if you’re not familiar with everyone in a given room, but at the same time, quite liberating because it frees you from having to accept the curator’s “authoritative” context. The current exhibition, up through December 16, is entitled simply “HERE”. The theme is work that in some way connects to San Francisco – either taken in or near the Bay area or by photographers who called it home. Work exhibited spans the range from 19th century mammoth plate collodion images printed on albumen paper by Eadward Muybridge and Carleton Watkins to 20th century Modernist masters like Edward Weston and Ruth Bernhard to color mural prints by Richard Misrach and Larry Sultan, and even a five-minute video clip of the car chase scene in Bullitt with Steve McQueen.

Much of the work on display was not to my taste – I don’t like what has been derisively labeled “hedge fund wallpaper” by some New York gallerists referring to recent deadpan posed-snapshot color mural prints. However, there was enough early imagery to satisfy my inner antiquarian, and now that I’ve seen enough of that kind of work, I’m starting to appreciate it for what it is. I still wouldn’t accept money to hang in my house, but one example finally struck home as to what was going on in the photograph. There was a room with a series of VERY large color prints by Anthony Hernandez of vacant interiors. On the literal surface, they’re incredibly ugly, showing abandoned and/or ruined interior spaces with industrial carpets, missing drop ceilings, and junky furniture. One thing that did catch my eye though was the use of color itself. If you stepped back and looked through a defocused eye, the images became all about abstract color fields, geometric forms, and intersecting planes.  The graphic abstract geometry creates a contrast with and tension against the literal detail of the photographic image, making your brain switch back and forth between the two characteristics of the image – the texture of the purple carpet, the gray popcorn ceiling and the white-washed faux-wood paneling in the hallway against the receding, intersecting planes of colors converging on a vanishing point in the far rear of the image. I think it’s this kind of tension in a photograph that has too often repelled me from post-modernist photography – it’s too easy to be fixated on and distracted by the details and not see the whole picture. I still don’t like the “posed deadpan snapshot”, whether it’s printed 4″x6″ or 40″ x 60″. But at least I can start to “get” another genre.

For more information about Pier 24, visit their website: http://www.pier24.org