WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

A Summer Stop By The Windy City

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One of the best things to do in the city is to take a walk down the Chicago River riverwalk downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]

One of the best things to do in the city is to take a walk down the Chicago River riverwalk downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]

The Theater District downtown allows for walking access to numerous Broadway productions.

The Theater District downtown allows for walking access to numerous Broadway productions.

Taking a break from their street performance, a couple remains in character even when relaxing.

Taking a break from their street performance, a couple remains in character even when relaxing.

The centerpiece structure at Dylan's Candy Bar will make sure you don't leave the store empty-handed.

The centerpiece structure at Dylan’s Candy Bar will make sure you don’t leave the store empty-handed.

Friends party down the Chicago River while fueling the trip with a couple bottles of champagne.

Friends party down the Chicago River while fueling the trip with a couple bottles of champagne.

While the Chicago River appears to be a big party venue, there are plenty of quiet spots still available along the riverwalk.

While the Chicago River appears to be a big party venue, there are plenty of quiet spots still available along the riverwalk.

While the city has plenty of formal dining establishments, informal hangouts remain the best places for enjoying the vibrant nightlife.

While the city has plenty of formal dining establishments, informal hangouts remain the best places for enjoying the vibrant nightlife.

The incredible cheese counter at the Eataly store is only one of the many wonders to be discovered at this Italian import.

The incredible cheese counter at the Eataly store is only one of the many wonders to be discovered at this Italian import.

The city of Chicago never ceases to surprise you. It seems that every time I visit (which, granted, is not too often), the place has significantly changed in one way or another. Unfortunately, these days, when we hear about Chicago in the news, the headlines have more to do with the escalating crime rate than with all the wonderful things that are happening in the city. That’s a pity, because without a doubt, this city has one of the most vibrant urban environments I’ve seen anywhere. Like in New York City, people are about at all hours of the day and night. Incredible restaurants dot just about every block downtown, and if you take the time to walk down the beautiful riverwalk promenade, you’ll be able to do some wine tasting while watching the never-ending boat procession sailing down the Chicago River. The negative headlines are the farthest thing from anyone’s mind in the beautiful downtown area, as the city simply takes your mind away from those concerns.

There’s also a lot more to the city than the famous Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, even if that mile alone is worth a special trip to Chicago. After all, right smack in the middle of that mile you’ll find the out-of-this-world Dylan’s Candy Bar store, which is sure to induce a Pavlovian response from even the strongest mortal. But venture a few blocks west of this famous mile, and you’ll come face-to-face with such places as the incredible Italian import that is the Eataly food emporium. You could spend an entire week inside the place indulging in a joyous adventure of pure, unadulterated gluttony.

But with only a day-and-a-half to spare during this trip, I chose to spent most of my available photography time in a couple of areas: walking under the overhead Metro lines that shoot down N. Wabash Street and visiting the adjacent Theater District in the N. State Street area. These areas south of the Chicago River are perfect for street photography, and while not as busy as the famous mile north of the river, they provide ample elbow room for photographers to do their thing. Venture a few blocks east and you’ll bump right into the plush Grant Park, which also affords a whole slew of photographic opportunities. It is neighborhoods like these that make Chicago such a well-kept photographic secret. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that if urban photography is your thing, then during the summer months Chicago has to be up there on your list of great cities to visit for great urban photography. The beautiful architecture alone merits its ranking on that list. Come winter, though, the Windy City will live up to its Arctic reputation, and perhaps you’ll be better off taking your precious self to a place where no one has ever suffered from frostbite. Fair-weather photography advice? Maybe, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

A Photographer Travels To A County Fair

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There is something rustic about a county fair that reminds us of simpler times. [Click photos for larger versions]

There is something rustic about a county fair that reminds us of simpler times. [Click photos for larger versions]

Young people do most of the day-to-day work at many Virginia farms, and definitely at county fairs.

Young people do most of the day-to-day work at many Virginia farms, and definitely at county fairs.

A young man gives his cow a bath before parading it before the judges.

A young man gives his cow a bath before parading it before the judges.

Raising these beautiful animals to be part of our food supply is not something everyone can emotionally handle.

Raising these beautiful animals to be part of our food supply is not something everyone can emotionally handle.

Visiting a county fair has to be one the best known ways of reverting back to an earlier stage in your life.

Visiting a county fair has to be one the best known ways of reverting back to an earlier stage in your life.

You thought you didn't want one until you saw them, but first you must prove your skills at throwing something.

You thought you didn’t want one until you saw them, but first you must prove your skills at throwing something.

Some things never change, and that’s OK with me. Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much love every convenience this modern world has to offer, specially if it makes everyday life a little easier to bear. But even when modernity rules the day in the cities, I can’t help but find it refreshing to know that some things out there in the “real world” don’t ever change much. In America we may not have the incredible ancient ruins you will find all over Europe, but one thing we have over all those Europeans is a good, old-fashioned county fair. Not sure whether it is just nostalgia or something a bit deeper than that, but for this humble photographer, a country-flavored county fair just does the trick every time. Cattle, chickens, pigs, sheep, you name it and I want to see it all. Thick, fluffy corndogs, cotton candy, and pulled-pork sandwiches? Can I get an Aaamen?

However, no matter how much some of us love these county fairs, the sad reality is that for most city folks, their existence doesn’t even register on their life radars. I mentioned the ongoing Loudon County Fair to some folks recently and their reaction was tantamount to me offering them to join me for Typhus injections. They’ve all been to them, but that was back then, way back then. After all, are they not primarily for children? Well, yes and no, even if for most grownups it does bring out the inner child in them. And who would like to ride on an old, clunky ferris wheel when you can go ride air conditioned gondolas on a mega-structure like the London Eye? Well, call me sentimental, but yours truly does.

Above all, I really like the people I meet at a county fair. Hard-working, approachable folks who are an incredible source of information about anything having to do with raising farm animals and bringing them to market. And they put their children to work, big time. No cell phones or video games for these kids when work needs to be done, and there’s never a shortage of work at a farm. After several hours of conversation, education, and stuffing my face with things my doctor would cringe at, I found the whole thing to be quite a welcomed break from the city-sleeker habitat I call home these days. Better? Not necessarily, but it really felt good to get some “mud on my boots” for a change.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

July 31st, 2015 at 12:25 pm

A Slow Journey To Nowhere

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Old Tractor

Some of the most picturesque farmland in the country can be found along Virginia’s Route 50. [Click photos for larger versions]

Horse farms and polo grounds dot the Virginia countryside along Route 50.

Horse farms and polo grounds dot the Virginia countryside along Route 50.

Red Barn

Beautiful, old barns have been restored all along the picturesque town of Middleburg.

Bird House

An old birdhouse adds to the charm of one of the rustic yards in the town of Middleburg.

Bails of Hay

Bails of hay dot the fields along Route 50.

Covered Driveway

Long, covered driveways are extremely popular with the folks who live along Route 50.

I think our parents were up to something when they hauled the entire family into their vintage cars for the purpose of doing a little road tripping. And as rare as it sounds today, the habit of going out for a family ride in those old cars was one of the things some of us remember fondly from our youth. No agenda, no plans, and no particular destination in mind. Cruising around to check out what was happening in town had its own rewards. It was pure automobile zen. Right turns, left turns, slow down here and speed up over there, an unchoreographed dance where everyone’s performance became the stuff of family legends.

This sort of nostalgia is what led me recently to get in my car and hit the road, so to speak. All I knew was that I would drive down Virginia’s Route 50 for as long as I felt like it and that at some point I would perform a Forrest Gump-like turnaround and come back home. So along I went, music playing on the radio, windows down, and no destination. With my camera sitting next to me, I did tell myself that I would stop at whatever site caught my attention, even if it took all day to complete my journey. I knew this would be a problem because Route 50 is one of the most scenic country roads you’ll encounter anywhere in the US. But here was a unique opportunity to try out some of that “slow travel” concept that the Europeans have mastered so well over the years. Would it really be possible to do away with all notions of time while driving into the sunset of our minds? Well, the short answer seems to be no, but if it’s impossible to do away with that old torturer time, it is definitely possible to ignore it for a while.

Route 50 may just be the perfect place for this. And while I’ve written about this area before, the sheer beauty of this American landmark makes it the place you keep coming back to, over and over again. Hard to think of a better place in the area for a road trip, although admittedly, Route 211 past the town of Warrenton comes close. BBQ’s and horse farms are big in the area, as well as quaint, little towns where you can find everything from Amish patio furniture to Alpaca socks. But it’s the landscape that will make you forget all notions of time for a while. The green meadows just seem to go on forever until they reach the distant Blue Ridge Mountains, while happy horses graze on grass so green that it looks as if it has been painted recently. It is easy to loose yourself in this scenery and the delicate touch of a morning breeze. Who knows, perhaps it is possible to make time stand still after all, even if for that brief moment when nothing else mattered but what was in front our my eyes.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

July 15th, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Taking The Time To See

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Looking At Sculpture

“The value of experience is not in seeing much, but in seeing wisely.” William Osler

Do you take the time to see? I mean, to really see. You alone can answer this question, but I have to guess that most of us in these time-starved days simply don’t have the opportunity, or willingness, to slow down enough to “smell the roses,” so to speak. After all, time, with all its virtues and detriments, plays games on us all. There’s simply too little of it available for creativity and inspiration after factoring in all the “must do’s” in life. Work, family, personal grooming, chores, wait time, you name it and we’ve all been there. In fact, and as much as it pains me to say it, I’ll go as far as to say that such demands on our time are simply unavoidable. They are an integral part of the weave of life, at once detracting from and enriching our short journeys on planet earth. But if these time demands are inevitable, how is it possible to find time for creativity and inspiration in this journey. Was Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD) correct when he said in that it is not that we have so little of it, but rather than we waste so much of it?

Perhaps the answer lies not in the effort to create more free time than what we have (although this is always a good thing), but rather on increasing the “quality” of the time we have. And yes, I’m talking about he old “turn lemons into lemonade” argument (which admittedly Seneca described much better), but with a twist. This twist has to do with the difficult process of accepting that in this finite world, there are simply a lot of things we must choose to do without. Want to concentrate on truly discovering every intricacy of a work of art? Then you will have to consciously accept that you will not be able to get to other parts of the museum. Need a healthy amount of solitude to create your masterpiece? Then you will have to dispense with the company of others for long periods of time. Want to really get to know Croatia and the Croatian people, but only have two weeks of vacation? Then you must accept that Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland are journeys for another day.

This sort of acceptance is primarily a mental one. And while there are spacial constraints there too, they only seem to play a minor role when compared with our willingness to “accept less in our pursuit of more.” Looked at it this way, the road to personal fulfillment could very well be paved by our individual abilities to do without. It is the feeling that comes from waiting for the sun to go past the horizon during an incredible sunset. Stillness and divestiture of worldly concerns and impositions, while short-lived, are the building blocks of indescribable joy. Call it “being in the moment,” or whatever, but they are moments when nothing else matters but what is in front of our eyes, immediately present in our reality. Fireworks on a moonless night. Forever in a minute. But what a minute it is.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

July 6th, 2015 at 11:00 am

If It’s Sunday, It Must Be The Market

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Cutting Fruit

Local markets present a great opportunity to taste products before buying them. [Click photos for larger versions]

Chives

When was the last time you had a chance to talk to the actual producer at a supermarket?

Pancakes

It may not be fancy, but these loaded pancakes will guarantee that you won’t leave hungry.

Bread Shopping

The great variety of artisanal bread at the Dupont Circle market are reason alone to be there every Sunday.

Every year after the 4th of July celebrations in Washington, DC, a sort of lethargy descends on the locals. Not that this is a character trait, mind you, but rather that after all the fireworks and concerts (not to mention the terrorist threats) people are kind of spent. This year, not even the weather was adding any cheers to the weekend, as storms forced the evacuation of the National Mall hours before the concert and fireworks were about to start. Talk about damper.

But if there’s something you can always count on during summer weekends, it is the myriad of seasonal farmer markets that come-hell-or-high-water, will be there to sell their products. The region is blessed when it comes to farmers and produce. Vendors from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia descend on DC every weekend bringing such variety of products that they often leave these city slickers dumfounded. And then there’s the Chesapeake Bay, with a seafood bounty that could even impress the folks from the Deadliest Catch in Alaska.

But when it comes to rarity, there’s one product that always challenges the best of them: artisanal bread. Who would’ve known that we have so many great artisanal bakeries (and even patisseries) in the tristate region. When I lived in the suburbs I could’ve sworn they had been rendered illegal. Bread came from the supermarket, mass produced and with enough preservatives to guarantee that future archeologists could still eat it 1,000 years from now. Luckily, there’s still hope, an local farmer markets are giving these emerging bakeries some well-deserved exposure. My waistline awaits their renaissance.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

July 5th, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Peru In The Heart Of Washington

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Rope Weavers

Peruvian rope weavers expertly build super-strong ropes from simple strands of natural fibers. [Click on photo for larger versions]

Cloth Weaver

Weaving colorful cloth requires both incredible talent and coordination.

Dancer Mask

Traditional dancers hide their faces from the audience after making their offerings to the Virgin Mary.

Hat Maker

It takes a minimum of eight hours of continuous weaving to make a single straw hat.

Peruvian Masks

Masks are everywhere at the festival and each one of them had a different meaning for those who made them.

Peruvian Weaver

There is always some curiosity when a camera is pointed at you, but a smile always makes up for the surprise.

One of the great things about living in the Washington, DC area is that you get to experience world cultures without having to leave the city. Of course, this is mainly because of the great Smithsonian Institution, which sits royally in the heart of the city and acts as beacon of culture that is second to none in the world. On this particular weekend it is Peru that has their attention, with a celebration of Peruvian culture and traditions at the Folklife Festival smack in the middle of the Washington Mall. In fact, after visiting several of these festivals in the past, it is my impression that this one is one of the best festivals I have ever seen at the Mall, and I’m not just saying that because of the copious amounts of Peruvian food I came in contact with. Really, they even have Alpacas there, which you can go check out after trying your dance skills at the sound of some rhythmic Andean tunes.

But what was most impressive for me was the sight of weavers and boat-makers who could turn simple threads and straw into incredible works of art. In a city where the first thing that comes to mind when talking about “ancient skills” is having to type on a manual typewriter, actually seeing people who can build something with their hands is a quite a big deal. And after several hours observing them at work, I never saw a single one of them using a cell phone. Amazing that people can survive without them. Gracias amigos.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 26th, 2015 at 6:54 pm

Life At 24mm

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Long Hall

The wider you go with a lens, the more perspective you will add to a photo. [Click photos for larger versions]

Work Outside

In what passes in DC as a patio, a man finds a little quiet in which to do some alfresco work.

Lunch Break

With a name like the Upper Senate Park, this quiet local gem is hardly ever visited by tourists.

Market Restaurant

The 24mm focal length is ideal for capturing a lot of real estate when photographing indoors.

Wide-angle photography is not everyone’s cup of tea. Ask any photographer out there what his or her favorite focal length is, and more-likely-than-not the answer will be other than a wide-angle lens. I count myself in this group, because throughout the years I’ve developed a real affinity for 50mm lenses. You could say that 50mm is my general visual comfort level, even if this sounds a lot less glamorous than the more technical explanations you’ll see on the Internet. But it is what it is, and no matter how many times I hit the streets with my camera, a 50mm is always inside my bag.

Having said that, it is also true that in the last year or so, I have also developed quite an affinity for the 21-28mm focal length. Perhaps because reality makes more sense when it appears in context or something, but ever since I acquired the incredible Leica 21mm f/3.4 Super-Elmar lens, my eyes have been opened wide, so to speak. These wide, optical marvels usually don’t come cheap (they can set you back as much as the cost of an European vacation), so my move into this area can best be described as hesitant at best. At least until recently, when I decided to give cheap a chance.

That’s where my incursion into the 24mm range comes in. It all started with a conversation that took place during my recent trip to Chelsea in NYC. During this trip I had the pleasure of meeting Olof Willoughby, one of the co-founders of the popular Leica Meet group. It just so happens that Olaf is quite fun of the Leica 24mm range (think European vacation here too), and the day I met him, that was all he was carrying. So, I started wondering that if such a distinguished photographer as Olaf loved that 24mm focal length, that perhaps I was missing something. Not that I haven’t dabbled into 24mm before. I have, and I was once the proud owner of the magnificent Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED lens. But weight and bulk considerations got the best of me, and after kind of abandoning this lens back at home for too long, I decided to part ways with it. Have I lived to regret this decision? Of course I have, but since that lens now retails for about $2,100 (which admittedly is way less than its Leica equivalent) I haven’t been too keen to replace it.

But here is where the “hiding in plain sight” story comes in. I’m referring to the Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D lens, a small gem originally designed in the 1990’s. Retailing for $391 and weighing a mere 270 grams (9.5 oz), it is no wonder why the lens has remained quite popular with travel photographers. Affordable, lightweight, and tack-sharp, this lens produces incredible results while ensuring you stay away from your chiropractor’s office. Nano crystal coating?  No.  Any aspherical elements?  Nope.  Class leading element/group combo?  Of course not.  Modern design?  You must be joking.  Great photos while saving you thousands of dollars you could put towards that European vacation?  You bet.  Modern glass, while unquestionably great, is not providing thousands of dollars worth of optical performance gain to justify their ever-growing cost.  That is specially the case when you factor in the capabilities of modern processing software.  Blasphemy?  Not really, but perhaps a kitchen analogy will help explain it.  It is often said that buying a modern knife will not necessarily result in making anyone a better cook.  The secret to better meals is just to learn how to cook better rather than to keep spending tons of money on the latest kitchen gadgets.  Too simple?  Perhaps, but something that entire generations of Italian grandmothers figured out a long time ago.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 25th, 2015 at 12:32 pm

A Visit To Alexandria’s Seaport Center

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An apprentice boat maker performs detailed measurements on a wood joint. [Click photos for larger versions]

An apprentice boat maker performs detailed measurements on a wood joint. [Click photos for larger versions]

Looking more like museum pieces, well-worned clamps wait their turn to help stitch the boat together.

Looking more like museum pieces, well-worned clamps wait their turn to help stitch the boat together.

An unfinished boat sits inside the boathouse surrounded by the hand tools typical of the craft.

An unfinished boat sits inside the Seaport Center surrounded by the hand tools that make working with wood possible.

The colorful, nautical atmosphere at the boathouse brought back memories of my time at sea.

The colorful, nautical atmosphere at the Center brought back memories of my time at sea.

Finished boats moored outside the boathouse as example of the great craftsmanship going on inside.

Finished boats moored outside the Seaport Center as examples of the great craftsmanship taking place inside.

Talk about happenstance. This past week I had a chance to photograph inside a building that I’ve been eyeing with my camera for a long time, but one that is not generally open to the public like other places in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m referring to the Seaport Center, a floating structure that is the area’s only boat-building facility along this part of the Potomac River. Endless times I’ve walked along this building, at times seeing people inside hunching over small tools while chiseling away at curved pieces of wood. But the doors have always been closed, obviously to prevent the inevitable procession of visitors from interrupting the detailed work going on inside. But to my surprise, his past week those same doors were open, and a gracious member of the staff who saw me with my camera even asked me if I would like to come inside and take a tour of the place.

Finally, after so many misses, a chance to step inside this photogenic gem, and with all the time in the world to spare. One problem, though. Not imagining this would ever happen, I had only taken a 50mm lens with me for what was to be a short walkabout, leaving my best-suited-for-the-job wide-angled lenses safely inside a bag at home. This being a relatively small facility, those wide-angle lenses would have been perfect for the occasion, but at the time all that I could think of was the old saying that “now is all I’ve got,” so in I went into the boat house with a grin on my face.

This particular day just happened to be an “open house” day for the Seaport Foundation project. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of this particular initiative prior to my visit, but after hearing what these folks were doing to help the young people in the area, I had my faith in humanity restored quite a bit. Under a “Building boats, building lives” slogan, the Boatbuilding Apprentice Program run by the Seaport Foundation is not only a one-of-a-kind craftsmanship program, but one that directly impacts the lives of young people by introducing a much-needed environment of belonging and purpose into their lives. These folks are doing tremendous work, one life at a time. As a photographer, I walked through those doors thinking that my day was about to be made amazing by the opportunity to photograph something I’ve been wanting to capture for a long time. Unbeknownst to me, what was about to make my day truly amazing was meeting such a wonderful group of people engaged in one of the noblest causes you could ever imagine. They possess something that I could never capture with a camera, but which served as a reminder that in small places like these all over our country, people are working diligently (and more-often-than-not, anonymously) to make a better world for others. It is humbling and inspiring at the same time, and they deserve all the credit in the world for what they do.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 21st, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Hanging Out With The Leica Meet At The Big Apple

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Everywhere you look in Chelsea there are great restaurants and trendy bars catering to all tastes. [Click photos for larger versions]

Everywhere you look in Chelsea there are great restaurants and trendy bars catering to all tastes. [Click photos for larger versions]

The crew conducting a street photoshoot were not too happy with other photographers showing up.

The crew conducting a street photoshoot for a popular magazine were not too happy with other photographers showing up.

In Chelsea, what could easily be confused with graffiti is a trendy hangout for the cool locals.

In Chelsea, what could easily be confused with graffiti is a trendy hangout for the cool locals.

Remember the pre-tech revolution days when some things were simply too hard to ignore?

Remember the pre-tech revolution days when some things were simply too hard to ignore?

On the hottest day of the year to date, one man finds shade and solace under a small umbrella.

On the hottest day of the year to date, one man finds shade and solace under a small umbrella.

Leica photographers are a passionate lot, but the folks who form part of The Leica Meet group are perhaps the most passionate of them all. Not only are the vast majority seriously devoted to travel and street photography, but these Leica devotees manifest a level of loyalty to their camera gear that may require an experience clinical psychologist to explain. From this passion (and the hard work of its founders) came The Leica Meet, which for most of us Leica photographers was like when you suffer from a rare affliction and suddenly come in contact with a group of wonderful folks “enjoying” the same affliction. So here it is finally, a Leica collective of folks who love spending time with their rangefinder cameras and can’t wait to get out on the streets to search for that elusive great shot. This sort of community was long overdue, and we could not be more grateful to the great photographers who who made it possible.

Leica photographers are somewhat of a different lot, though, and if there’s something they are not known for, it is for their speed. No hurry here, for this group is indeed a deliberate one. Patience, observation, and timing are the stuff they are best known for. Need to wait 20 minutes for someone to walk in front of a sign? No problem. Leica photographers can hang. And contrary to the famous “see and be seen” quote, these photographer would rather no one notices them when they are out and about, camera (excuse me, I meant Leica) always at the ready. What’s great about The Leica Meet is that it not only brings these photographers together for a day (see events here), but that these gatherings are also virtual walks down Leica’s memory lane. Photographers show up with film and digital cameras, new and old, vintage lenses, stuff that is no longer in production, and hard-to-find gear that inevitably leads to a Pavlovian reaction from some of the participants.

Last year the NY Meet took place around Soho, but this year it was Chelsea and the Meat Packing District that did the honors. I had never been to this part of the city, but now I know that I’ve been missing something great when traveling to NY. The food hangouts alone make these areas must-visit destination, but for street photographers the place is simply heaven. People are so used to cameras that unless you come up to a celebrity (or a photoshoot like I did and was told to get lost), no one seems to really care about your picture taking. This being NY, though, if they do care at least you can rest assured that the feedback will be immediate and unambiguous. What a great city.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 14th, 2015 at 1:12 pm

“Within Me, I Am A Thousand Others”

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It is mostly in those alone moments that we let our imaginations run loose. [Click photos for larger versions]

It is mostly in those alone moments that we let our imaginations run loose. [Click photos for larger versions]

Body language is oftentimes a window into a person's secret world inside.

Body language is oftentimes a window into a person’s secret world inside.

Some parts of people's lives only appear during quiet moments of solitude.

Some parts of people’s lives only appear during quiet moments of solitude.

Being alone with ourselves appears to be as important as spending our time with others.

Being alone with ourselves appears to be as important as spending our time with others.

It was the very talented Indian writer Faraaz Kazi who authored the words that introduce today’s blog. Recently, I just happened to come across a reference to this author, and upon digging a little on the Internet, I stumbled upon his full quote, which goes like this: “I inhale loneliness like it is the sweet smell of virgin earth conquered by fiery rain drops. Within me, I’m a thousand others.” Suffice it to say that I suddenly smitten when I read that last sentence. Six words, but within them one of the best depictions of the power of our imaginations that I’ve ever encountered. Moreover, I realized that these words were very applicable to some of my recent photos.  For some reason or another, I found myself taking photos of people who in the middle of a buzzing city, appeared to be alone, or alone with their thoughts for that matter.  Immediately after reading Kazi’s quote I started thinking of these photos and how his words seemed to apply to the scenes I had captured with my camera.  Detachment, solitude, disengagement, and perhaps a thousand other realities becoming active in people’s imaginations.  In those brief moments when I pressed the shutter, endless flights of imagination could have been taking place, hidden from the world and unencumbered by its limitations.  At some level, the photos were merely an attempt to depict the kind of “me” time that only solitude can deliver, and where anyone can become anything they dare to imagine, even if that means a thousand other versions of themselves. Maybe this was not what was happening inside the minds of my photographic subjects at the time, but the romantic in me cannot hold back from wishing it was so.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 9th, 2015 at 4:14 pm

Bourbon Heaven In Fredericksburg

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A bourbon barrel at the A. Smith Bourbon Distillery performs double duty. [Click photo for larger version]

A bourbon barrel at the A. Smith Bourbon Distillery performs double duty. [Click photos for larger versions]

Large, commercial distillers busily convert corn-based products into glorious bourbon.

Large, commercial distillers busily convert corn-based products into glorious bourbon.

Over 700 full barrels sleep their days away while slowly imparting unique personalities to the bourbon inside.

Over 700 full barrels sleep their days away while slowly imparting unique personalities to the bourbon inside.

Anyone for a taste? The varied products are available for tasting after you finish touring the facility.

Anyone for a taste? The varied products are available for tasting after you finish touring the facility.

A small production line for their hand-crafted products  can be found within the main visitor's building.

A small production line for their hand-crafted products can be found within the main visitor’s building.

I must confess that even when having lived here for a long time, the good, old state of Virginia just keeps on surprising me.  It seems that everywhere you turn, you’ll find someone making some great product that you’ve never heard of before.  This week for me it was bourbon.  Now, I do know that in some parts of Virginia little details like Prohibition have never dampened the local’s taste for liquids other than water, but bourbon is something that we all tend to (and by default, I’m afraid) associate with the folks in Kentucky.  This probably has more to do with ignorance than with taste, though.  Well, no more.  From what I experienced at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg recently, Virginia is definitely a bourbon state, and in a big way.  We’re talking about the hand-crafted, small batch stuff here, not the gallons coming out of a mega-distillery partially owned by some European investment group.  And while I was familiar with the famous saying, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon,” this was the first time that I had a chance to walk in to a facility where I could smell the perfume bourbon scent in all its glory.  One hour touring the distillery and there was no doubt in my mind that if you are a bourbon aficionado, this place has to be on your radar screen, and pronto.

 

How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil’s Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon, and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.   (W.C. Fields)

 

Tucked away right off Rt. 17 South right past the town of Fredericksburg, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery has to be one of the best kept non-secrets in Northern Virginia. The distillery not only produces an impressive variety of bourbons locally (have I mentioned the great aroma yet?), but they also provide some extremely informative tours of the place before you get down to the “business” of sampling their products. Unfortunately, and to my chagrin, I happened to find myself there without a designated driver and had to pass on the tasting portion of the tour (which required serious depletion of my residual self-control supply). But, there’s always next time, and in the words of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

June 3rd, 2015 at 4:04 pm

A Little Street Photography Therapy

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The corner of 7th St NW and E St NW is a perfect location for people watching. [Click photo for larger version]

The corner of 7th St NW and E St NW is a perfect location for people watching. [Click photo for larger version]

Everyone seems to have a sunny disposition before a long weekend.

Everyone seems to have a sunny disposition before a long weekend.

You know it is a perfect day when the tables make their way outside.

You know it is a perfect day when the tables make their way outside.

Even during perfect spring days, not everyone can afford to lay out in the sun.

Even during perfect spring days, not everyone can afford to lay out in the sun.

You know those days when no matter how hard you try, it is virtually impossible to come up with any great idea for a photographic project? Well, today was one of those days. Nothing there. So as I have done so many times in the past when I am in desperate need of some photographic therapy, I grabbed my camera and out I went. I figured that a little street photography would do me some good by clearing up the Friday photographic fog. No plans, just random walking for as long as my feet could stand it. I’m glad I went out, thought, because everyone seemed to be in a good mood in this otherwise grumpy city. No doubt the Friday “I’m out of here” thing was beginning to sink in or something, but more likely it was the effect of a perfect spring day before a long holiday weekend. Whatever it was, it was definitely contagious. Over six miles of walking with my camera, a very enjoyable culinary visit to several of the local food trucks, and a quick stop for some liquid therapy at the bar in Jaleo, and everything was well with the universe once more. A great day after all.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 22nd, 2015 at 7:30 pm

The Yards: An Old Neighborhood Reinvents Itself

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The most prominent architecture at The Yards is its modern footbridge. [Click photos for larger versions]

The most prominent architecture at The Yards is its modern footbridge. [Click photos for larger versions]

The Yards are characterized by lots of open, quiet spaces where friends can hang out.

The Yards are characterized by lots of open, quiet spaces where friends can hang out.

While still somewhat urban, the views from The Yards are some of the best in the city.

While still somewhat urban, the views from The Yards are some of the best in the city.

Lost of places to sit and enjoy a quiet lunch while the rest of the world is going crazy.

Lost of places to sit and enjoy a quiet lunch while the rest of the world is going crazy.

Young, eager entrepreneurs have discovered the area's potential early on.

Young, eager entrepreneurs have discovered the area’s potential early on.

Creative urban planning has totally redefined the character of an old neighborhood.

Creative urban planning has totally redefined the character of an old neighborhood.

With the Federal Transportation Department in the background, The Yards are a great example of livable urban spaces.

With the Federal Transportation Department in the background, The Yards are a great example of livable urban spaces.

They often say that if you want to really get to know a city, that you must first familiarize yourself with its neighborhoods. I kind of agree with that and have made it a point to visit distinct neighborhoods whenever I travel. But sometimes you don’t have to travel very far to see how new neighborhoods transform the cities in which they sprout. As old continues to give way to new, places like The Yards in Washington, DC continue to redefine the city’s urban living landscape.  Sure, not everyone is happy to see an old way of life disappear, but shinny, new things also have their attraction.  And in a city that has experienced significant population outflows in the past, authorities are quite eager to attract those taxpayers back to the new neighborhoods.  The bait: open spaces, shinny new apartment buildings, trendy restaurants, and above all, quick access to the Metro. Oh, and should I mention that a Major League baseball park and a New York Trapeze School are within walking distance too? Well, that surely must help.

This recently-developed, waterside area of Washington, DC is sandwiched between the Navy Yard and the Washington Nationals baseball park. Major construction projects are still going on out there, so the place still has that “work in progress” feeling about it.  And if the area has not been totally discovered by locals yet, this probably has more to do with its somewhat off-the-beaten-path location than with anything else. Sure, you can get there via metro, but if you drive, prepare to pay at the few parking facilities there (and even on Sundays when most of DC does not charge for parking). Enough reason to stay away? I don’t think so. The Yards are one of the few places in the city where the lack of crowds, traffic, and noise allow for the perfect evening stroll, or for enough quiet to concentrate on that great book you’ve been meaning to spend some time with. Trendy restaurants, coffee shops, and an all-natural ice cream shop round up the good news about the place. Who knows, this may end up becoming one of the best kept secrets in the city after all.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 21st, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Searching For Urban Serenity

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Even in the middle of busy cities, there are places that will help you find serenity. [Click photos for larger versions]

Even in the middle of busy cities, there are places that will help you find serenity. [Click photos for larger versions]

Movement without movement.

Movement without movement.

Memories of another season.

Memories of another season.

Walking in the shade, and in the spotlight.

Walking in the shade, and in the spotlight.

A place where endless stories are written.

A place where endless stories are written.

I have long been fascinated by the notion of capturing urban serenity in my photos. Not that I’ve always been successful in doing so, but rather that I enjoy looking for these types of scenes as if with the devotion of an astronomer looking for a new star. I know these scenes are out there, but my eyes don’t always see them. This is not for lack of trying,mind you, but rather that in the visually oversaturated environments of our modern cities, it is not easy to avoid visual distractions. Sort of like trying to write the next, great American novel in a room full of people who insist on constantly talking to you. Not easy, to say the least.

The challenge of capturing an image depicting urban serenity is compounded by the fact that most of these scenes can only be found in a portion of our natural field of view. That is, they hide in parts of what we see, not in all we see. Sometimes they may not amount to more than 10-20 percent of what’s in front of us, off to a corner and easily overshadowed by the more visually-demanding center of the scene. From the photographer (or the creative), these hidden gems demand a certain level of visual cropping–the ability to segment a scene into smaller micro-scenes that could stand visually on their own. It is the proverbial needle in the haystack challenge, and it’s never an easy one.

There is also a certain calm in those scenes. Like the quiet person in a busy room, they can’t help but attract your attention in spite of their best effort to be ignored. They attract us because they engage us, they make us think, or at the very least, imagine. And even if for a brief, but precious moment, what better place to live than in our imaginations.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 18th, 2015 at 2:36 pm

The Lakeside Town Of Como

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Lake Como is surrounded by some of the most picturesque towns in Europe. [Click photos for larger versions]

Lake Como is surrounded by some of the most picturesque towns in Europe. [Click photos for larger versions]

Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets in town is the best way to find the region's hidden treasures.

Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets in town is the best way to find the region’s hidden treasures.

A typical, small bar down one of the many side streets in the old part of town.

A typical, small bar down one of the many side streets in the old part of town.

The small Piazza Duomo is lined with restaurants facing the imposing Cattedrale di Como.

The small Piazza Duomo is lined with restaurants facing the imposing Cattedrale di Como.

Street musicians bring a little romance to the old town.

Street musicians bring a little romance to the old town.

The Piazza Alessandro Volta  is typical of the small towns dotting the northern Italian lakes.

The Piazza Alessandro Volta is typical of the small towns dotting the northern Italian lakes.

During the spring season, and before tourists descend on Como in great numbers, you can have many streets to yourself.

During the spring season, and before tourists descend on Como in great numbers, you can have many streets to yourself.

The beauty of Lake Como attracts lovers from all over the world to its shores.

The beauty of Lake Como attracts lovers from all over the world to its shores.

Set of stairs leading to and from the town's main train station.

Set of stairs leading to and from the town’s main train station.

If I ever were going to attempt to write romantic novels for a living (don’t worry, I’m not), there is no doubt in my mind that I would do so from a place like Como in Italy. This sleepy, little town by the shores of the lake that takes its name, Lake Como, is everything you can imagine of the romanticism of a bygone era, and then some. What is it with these northern lake regions in Italy and southern Switzerland? To say they are beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe them, because they are so much more than that. In fact, I had once heard a Swiss actress in America say that she returned to her small village in the area every year in order to recharge her spirit. And now that I have had some time to wander in the area from Locarno in Lago Maggiore to Como, I now fully understand what this actress was talking about. Life at a slower pace, natural beauty beyond description, and some of the most wonderful food in the world combine to form the perfect antidote to all that ails us in our busy, chaotic lives. I may not know how many places in the world possess such wonderful potion, but Como definitely has its share of it.

Como the town is not a big place, but three main areas seem to dominate the region. For starters, there’s Lake Como with its postcard-perfect landscape. This southernmost part of the lake is quite a busy place, with ferries taking passengers to other famous towns around the lake and lovers slowly strolling down Lungolago Mafalda di Savoia as if oblivious to the world. The lake and its indescribable scenery are nothing short of visual candy, and sitting by that shore on a perfect spring day will be all the proof you’ll ever need that it is possible to be happy in this life.

The other two main areas in town are the city-center square, Piazza Alessandro Volta, and the imposing Cattedrale di Como at Piazza Duomo. Both extremely impressive and surrounded by small shops and quaint restaurants where you could easily pass the hours away with total disregard to time. In between these two, an old-world paradise for the senses makes sure that you never move at a fast pace while you are in town (which the many cafes in the area would’ve guaranteed anyway). Stopping every few steps to gawk at some window display while stopping yourself from spending your retirement money becomes virtually impossible in Como. This is what Italy does to you, and we love her for it.

On the train back to Milan I couldn’t stop thinking of how beautiful this country is.  Sitting in that train longingly looking out the window to the passing countryside before me, I couldn’t help but think that I had just been to one of the most wonderful places on this planet. And as the train got farther and farther away from Como, the famous words of composer Giuseppe Verdi kept replaying in my head: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” My sentiments exactly.