Tag Archives: Street Portraiture

Skateboarding at the Kennedy Center

Now THERE’S a phrase you wouldn’t normally expect to read, with the possible exception of the “Local Crime” section of the Washington Post. But it’s true. The Kennedy Center, like so many other cultural institutions, is having a hard time attracting young audiences. In a bid to outreach, they set up a skate park on the front terrace and invited local skateboarders to come and perform, and tossed in a stage for live bands.

Flying Boarder, Kennedy Center
Flying Boarder, Kennedy Center

This was one instance (of many) where having my Rolleiflex was a huge advantage. It gave me an entree to talk to the skaters and ask for portraits. Everyone loved the camera and if I asked, they posed willingly. On the few action shots I took, it also helped by having no mirror blackout at the moment of exposure, so I could see exactly when I was pressing the shutter button, like in this shot above.

Skate Trio, Kennedy Center
Skate Trio, Kennedy Center

I initially approached the asian skater about taking his picture. He pulled in his friends and all of them posed together. I was surprised at how willing they were to pose, as I mostly shoot candid street photos and people don’t always appreciate that. I don’t know what it was about that day but everyone was just so natural in their posing, it all worked out so well and I didn’t have to direct anyone.

Flying Skater, Kennedy Center
Flying Skater, Kennedy Center

This was a fun shot to take, as I was anticipating this kind of motion blur, but couldn’t know what exactly to expect because the eye doesn’t see motion blur at 1/30th of a second. But I knew I got the skateboarder in the right place.

Skateboard Punk Girl, Kennedy Center
Skateboard Punk Girl, Kennedy Center

This girl was working the lights at the event. She saw my camera and asked about it, so we chatted for a couple of minutes about the event, the folks skating, and the weather (it was scorching hot that day, and inside the light tent had to be even hotter). I asked for her picture and she immediately said yes, and even suggested the backdrop instead of inside the lighting tent.

Skate Buddies, Kennedy Center
Skate Buddies, Kennedy Center

The kid in the white shirt saw my Rollei, and asked some questions about it, and was very excited by it. Again, I asked for a photo before he started his next run, and he pulled his buddy over, they wrapped their arms around each other, and posed. All on their own, no direction from me. I was very chuffed to see how the shot turned out, as I was shooting on the run as it were – one of the docents for the event had earlier shooed me off from the spot where I was standing to take the picture because it was in the path of potentially out-of-control skateboards.

The Boy Who Dreams of a Bridge, and other photos

I was out on a photo-walk after work the other evening and wandered through Georgetown with the Rolleiflexes. I walked down under the Whitehurst and through the riverfront park. If you pass beyond the end of the park, you go under Key Bridge and come to the boat houses. Across the street from the boathouses where you can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-ups to take out on the river, there are stairs that take you up to the level of the C&O Canal. There’s the remains of the Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge that crossed the Potomac just past the Potomac Boat Club building. The Aqueduct Bridge was originally built in the 1860s to carry canal boats from the C&O Canal to the Alexandria Canal. Later it was improved by adding a road bridge and a deck for electric trolley cars. It was demolished in the 1930s to make way for Key Bridge (which was so named to honor Francis Scott Key, the author of the US National Anthem, whose house was demolished to make room for the bridge). The Alexandria Aqueduct Bridge piers are a popular spot for young people to hang out, especially in the summer time.

The Boy Who Dreams of a Bridge
The Boy Who Dreams of a Bridge

I went out to the end of the pier with the thought of getting a shot of the west-facing side of Key Bridge while it was still illuminated by the setting sun. A bunch of teenagers were hanging out there. Another woman photographer who was there coincidentally at the same time and I were both out on the end of the pier, shooting the bridge and the riverscape. One of the teens asked what we were doing. The woman ignored him, but I told him I was taking pictures of the bridge, and whatever else struck my fancy. He returned his attention to his friends and the scene in front of them. Looking down, I saw this scene through the viewfinder of my camera and quickly composed the shot. While I’m not normally a big gear geek (at least in my writings- I hope!), this is one case where I will geek out on my hardware and talk a bit about the choices I made.

I had been wanting for a long time to capture scenes like this – something suggestive, a little mysterious, a little ethereal, where the viewer can insert themselves into the scene. I haven’t always been successful, at least not to the degree I was looking for, and hadn’t really hit upon the right combination of toys and technique to make it happen. Well, I’ve obviously found it. The camera is my Tele-Rolleiflex, coupled with the Rolleinar 0.35 close-up attachment. For whatever reason when they made the original Tele-Rolleiflex, Rollei limited the minimum focus distance to roughly 8 feet (2.5 meters). By itself, this makes the Tele-Rollei rather limited in usefulness especially as a portrait camera. To compensate for this, Rollei made available the 0.35 and 0.70 Rolleinar close-up attachments. Since one of my ambitions for the Tele was doing portraits, I felt it was incumbent upon me to acquire at least the 0.35, which I have, and used on this shoot. The net effect of the Tele plus the Rolleinar is seen here, and in the next image. They give an extremely soft, dreamy look to the out-of-focus background areas.

Being able to create that extremely shallow depth-of-field combined with the extremely soft out-of-focus area throws the “3-D” effect into high relief, and lends itself when used appropriately to creating fantastical scenes like the one above where the bridge in the background, while very distinct, is sufficiently soft and far-away-looking that it could be real or it could be a dream – which it is remains for the viewer to decide. Thus the title of the image.

Blond Boy, Georgetown
Blond Boy, Georgetown

At the same place and same time, I turned around to look up the river and saw a trio of very blond, very Germanic-looking young folks (Georgetown University students? Youth tourists?) sitting on the edge of the stone walkway. This boy turned sideways to look at the girl beside him and was momentarily caught with soft, subtle backlighting. If you look carefully you can make out some more kids lounging on the opposite side of the old canal bed. It’s a very romantic, mysterious, suggestive composition – what is he looking at out of the frame? Where is he? Why is he there?

Street Portraits

Just some random captures of people out and about. I want to get better at street candids, so I’m practicing. These are a few good examples, at least I think they’re good, for me.

I saw this man crossing the street early in the morning, loaded down with his bags. I don’t think this shot would have worked in black-and-white – the hodgepodge of tweed jacket, American flag logo bag, Adidas bag, and the plastic shopping bag wouldn’t pop if they were tonally similar.

Man Crossing with Bags
Man Crossing with Bags

I’ve posted the boy on the bus sleeping before. This one DOES work better in black-and-white because the brightness of his hat and shirt contrast with his skin color and give him a very peaceful, almost angelic look.

Boy Sleeping On Bus
Boy Sleeping On Bus

This man is watching the overhead sign announcing the upcoming station. I caught him in an unguarded moment, doing what everyone does on the train. Hard to tell if he’s a tourist or a local.

Waiting For His Stop
Waiting For His Stop