WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

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.

 

A Short (And Wonderful) Visit To Milan, Italy

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Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]

Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]

The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.

The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.

Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.

Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.

Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II there are some of the best cafés in the city.

Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II you can find some of the best cafés in the city.

Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.

Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.

The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.

The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.

The busy cafés along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.

The busy coffee bars along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.

If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.

If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.

One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.

One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.

One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.

One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.

Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.

Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.

The richest city in Italy is one that is often ignored by tourists. Not that they never go there, but rather that it just doesn’t get the same amount of attention as Venice to the east or Rome to the south. That’s a pity, because after spending some time in Milan, I am convinced that this northern powerhouse has to be one of the nicest cities I’ve visited in a long time. While Venice and Rome are representatives of the country’s past, Milan is definitely the poster child for Italy’s future. Sophisticated, classy, and energetic, this northern-most post of all things Italian oozes with class and energy. Not sure what it is, but there’s definitely a different vive about it that is hard to find in other parts of Italy. Not necessarily better, but different, and in a good way.

Landing in Milan I was well aware of the city’s fashion and publishing fame. In fact, the publisher who brought the world Boris Pasternak’s smuggled script of Doctor Zhivago hailed from Milan. And when it comes to fashion, you name it and it is in Milan. But what I was not aware of was how nice the Italians from this city were. Friendly, conversational, and kind of patient with the hordes of people who swarm the city during international events like the World Expo, they are approachable and always willing to help.  And then there’s food. It’s almost impossible to do it justice with words alone, but suffice it to say that if you spend any time in Milan and don’t put on some serious poundage, then there’s something definitely wrong with you. From the famous Aperitivo hours (a sort of Happy Hour where you buy a single drink and can gorge from a buffet for three hours) to the out-of-this-world Risotto a la Milanese, the city’s bounty is a perfect compliment to the fabulous wines from the adjacent regions (Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Amarone). And coffee. As far as I am concerned, standing along coffee bar counters for a quick caffè, macchiato, or marocchino in the afternoon is reason alone to visit Italy, and in Milan you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with perfectly coiffed locals getting their afternoon fix.

The visual rewards of the city are just as compelling as its lifestyle. The downtown is dominated by two of the most famous structures in the world: the gothic-styled Dumo Cathedral with its 3,600 statutes and the über-elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Both breathtaking to say the least. Drift behind the Galleria and you will find yourself face-to-face with Teatro alla Scala, the most famous opera theater in the world. Walk a bit further and you can get happily lost in Brera, a neighborhood of twisted streets, university-district ambiance, and a multitude of incredible, small restaurants that could easily be featured in postcards. The green Metro line will rapidly take you to the Navigli, where elegant canals designed by Michelangelo are lined with restaurants and stylish bars that provide some of the best nightlife in the city.

There’s a lot more to Milan that I could ever describe in these short paragraphs. Suffice it to say that this photo-friendly city (no doubt the result of the armies of models and designers that hang around the place) was a real joy to visit. And when the time came to catch my return flight, I simply wasn’t ready at all to leave this wonderful place. Like Zurich to the north, Milan is one of those understated cities where you immediately (and effortlessly) feel at home, even if most tourist brochures never tell you this. Then again, this may be one of the best kept secrets in the world, so I better stop talking. Just don’t tell anyone.

Expo Milano 2015

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The American Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015. [Click on photos to enlarge]

The American Pavilion at the Expo Milano 2015. [Click on photos to enlarge]

The imposing main hallway of Expo Milano, lined with  over 140 country pavilions, goes on for several miles.

The imposing main hallway of Expo Milano, lined with over 140 country pavilions, goes on for several miles.

Many of the national pavilions elegantly displayed products that have made their country famous.

Many of the national pavilions elegantly displayed products that have made their country famous.

Emerging countries like Vietnam went all out in designing their pavilions and showcasing their contributions to feeding the world.

Emerging countries like Vietnam went all out in designing their pavilions and showcasing their contributions to the world’s food supply.

World-famous Parma hams were beautifully displayed near the Italian section of the Expo.

World-famous Parma hams were beautifully displayed near the Italian section of the Expo.

The imposing Chinese pavilion made an impressive architectural statement at the Expo.

The imposing Chinese pavilion made an impressive architectural statement at the Expo.

With all the great food at the Expo, it was virtually impossible to avoid putting on the pounds.

With all the great food at the Expo, it is virtually impossible to avoid putting on a few pounds.

One of the many national groups along the fairgrounds displayed its mastery of Alpine horns in front of the Swiss pavilion.

One of the many national groups along the fairgrounds displayed its mastery of Alpine horns in front of the Swiss pavilion.

French chefs take a break and walk down the Expo grounds talking to folks along the way.

French chefs take a break and walk down the Expo grounds talking to folks along the way.

The many Expo canals between pavilions provided a quiet place for visitors to enjoy a meal or a glass of wine.

The many, small canals between pavilions provide a quiet place for visitors to enjoy a meal or a glass of wine while resting their feet.

Love food? Ever dream of finding yourself at a place where most of the food of the world can be found a mere short walk away? Then you should definitely make plans to visit the 2015 Milan World Expo taking place from 1 May to 31 October this year. For the first time ever, the World Expo is entirely dedicated to food, from its production and management, to its distribution and consumption. It is a spectacle like no other, and the fact that it is being held in the beautiful city of Milan, Italy just adds gravy to the mix, so to speak. More than 140 countries from around the world have gathered in Milan to educate and showcase their contribution to feeding the world’s population, and a lucky 20 million people are expected to visit the Expo grounds and consume endless amounts of food from every region of the world. In between education and consumption, everyone will will have the chance to meet neat people from all over the world while enjoying one of the most unique Expos in the history of these events.

Like any other major event of this kind (or city, for that matter), it is impossible to see everything there is to see unless you have lots of time to spare. This is particularly the case if you want to visit some of the largest national pavilions, where the lines waiting to enter can be quite long. However, some of these long queues will be well worth the wait (like the one at the incredible Japanese pavilion). Amazing technological shows, information booths, and elaborate information displays are everywhere. But perhaps of equal interest to us mundane consumers of good stuff, at the end of the presentations you will usually find a small restaurant serving some wonderful food from the country being represented at the event. Definitely not the place for dieters, or those over-concerned about an expanding waistline. Then again, who ever visited Italy avoid eating too much? But don’t despair, the Expo’s 1.1 million square meters will give you plenty of time (and room) to walk off those extra calories. Yes, the place is big, real big.

And while the endless, world food venues are reason alone to visit the Expo, a more sober and important reason to visit is highlighted by the event’s theme: “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” Great costs have been incurred by over 140 nations to showcase the endless networks of producers, laborers, managers, and distributors that are necessary to feed our world’s ever-growing population. With its underlying theme that food is life and good food leads to a good life, the message being sent by the Expo is a crucial one for us to understand the complexities associated with feeding the world. Globalized resource networks work around-the-clock to guarantee the availability of these food products, but behind it all there will always be a person. Someone to walk the fields to plant and harvest the goods; someone to sort, preserve, and distribute the goods; and someone to transport the goods to markets near and faraway. Along the way, these individuals also live their everyday lives, go to work, get paid, try to achieve their dreams, and plan for a better tomorrow. They are the heroes being celebrated at the Expo this year. Their efforts and sacrifices sustain our lives, while allowing us to engage in a myriad of non-food-producing activities thousands of miles away from the source of our food.  This is indeed an incredible world we live in.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

May 5th, 2015 at 2:01 pm

Cherry Blossoms Mark The Arrival Of Spring

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The pre-dawn hours along the Tidal Basin showcase the Cherry Blossom trees at their best. [Click photo for larger version]

The pre-dawn hours along the Tidal Basin showcase the Cherry Blossom trees at their best. [Click photos for larger version]

The annual ritual brings people to the Tidal Basin in droves and allows for great photo opportunities.

The annual ritual brings people to the Tidal Basin in droves and allows for great photo opportunities.

When the blooming of the cherry trees, a city not known for public displays of affection, momentarily displays a decidedly Parisian flare.

With the blooming of the cherry trees, a city not known for public displays of affection, suddenly shows a decidedly Parisian flare.

It is a yearly ritual, but it never ceases to amaze. The annual spring blooming of the Cherry Blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC is one of those unique gifts of nature that no matter how many times you have experienced it in the past, the sheer beauty of this blooming spectacle is something not to be missed. Sure, the photos by now have all started to look the same, and the crowds will always descend on the place as pilgrims on a pilgrimage, but it really doesn’t matter. Has anyone ever tired of looking at a pretty face? Or has anyone ever wished for less happiness in their lives? Impossible. In the early morning hours of a perfect spring day, the blossoming cherry trees along the undulating shores of the Tidal Basin are the stuff of fantasies. The pink and white colors of the blooming flowers appear to fight for everyone’s attention, while the cool, misty fog along the water’s surface gradually gives way to the lazy, yellow light of a morning sun. It is a spectacle like no other, and year after year, it will bring us back to see and feel the coming of a new spring. A reminder of how beautiful life can be, and how great it is to be alive.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

April 12th, 2015 at 1:29 pm

The Grounds Of Mount Vernon

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An old water pump sits between the stables and the main house.

An old water pump sits between the stables and the main house. [Click to enlarge photos]

The arched walkway connecting the main house to the kitchen building.

The arched walkway connecting the main house to the kitchen building.

The quiet Potomac River riverbank near the estate's wharf.

The quiet Potomac River riverbank near the estate’s wharf.

The Washhouse and Coach House are visible from the well-tended garden.

The Washhouse and Coach House are visible from the well-tended garden.

Dirt road leading to the stables along the east side of the gardens.

Dirt road leading to the stables along the east side of the gardens.

The stables are a reminder of the era when most transportation was provided by working animals.

The stables are a reminder of the era when most transportation was provided by working animals.

It is said that Mount Vernon is one of the country’s most beautiful estates, but after a short walk around the grounds of this incredible property, I can’t help but think that this observation is a gross understatement. That is, of course, provided you can allow your eyes and imagination to see beyond the massive amounts of tourists (not to mention high schoolers loudly taunting the animals on the property) that descend on the place like locus the moment the weather warms up a bit. You just have to blank that out and let yourself be transported to the period when our First President and his family roamed the grounds of this quiet haven along the mighty Potomac River.  If you do that, then you’ll get a better picture of what life must have been like in such a beautiful place.

I had been to Mount Vernon briefly before, but during my first visit I didn’t have the opportunity to walk around the extensive grounds of the estate. The Mansion itself was impossible to visit at this time, as the line for those waiting to enter was about a quarter mile long. No worries, though, because the grounds themselves deserve a visit in their own right. In the quiet solitude of those expansive grounds, I could understand why this place held such fascination for the great General.  In fact, after having reluctantly agreed to serve a second term as President (and adamantly refusing to serve a third), he couldn’t wait to get back to his property. I can see why.  Places like this, and the lifestyle they surely afforded the First President, must have been the direct opposite of what President Washington had to endure in the city. Fast forward a couple of hundred years, and with the exception of some well-deserved maintenance and the imposing Museum/Education Center, the place looks pretty much the same as it did when the Washington family lived there. George Washington, the master surveyor, certainly knew how to pick a place. Then again, no one could ever doubt the great man’s many talents.

 

Seeing Differently By Adjusting Your Visual Gyroscope

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Sometimes all it takes to see things differently is to climb a set of stairs and look down.

Sometimes all it takes to see things differently is to climb a set of stairs and then proceed to look down.

Using a different lens could lead to new and creative ways of seeing in the urban environment.

Using a different lens could lead to new and creative ways of seeing in the urban environment.

Common urban scenes familiar to most folks can prove to be quite interesting if observed from a different perspective.

Common urban scenes familiar to most folks can prove to be quite interesting if observed from a different perspective.

Curved lines will always add a different architectural perspective to the landscape.

Curved lines will always add a different architectural perspective to the landscape.

A lone and otherwise insignificant street lamp acquires a new personality as a result of empty space.

A lone and otherwise insignificant street lamp acquires a new personality as a result of empty space.

There is something to be said for purposefully changing the way we see. Not that there’s anything wrong with the “panning field of view” approach that characterizes the way we see most things on a daily basis.  Rather, the point is that within all those daily panoramas there are endless opportunities to adjust our visual gyroscopes in order to add a little spark to our visual enjoyment of life.  This take on our visual world is nothing new. After all, most people already do this, albeit somewhat unconsciously.  It happens whenever they adjust their positions to “get a better view,” or when they take the elevator to an observation deck in order to see the world around them from a different vantage point. Something deep inside us all gives rise to the desire for visual adjustment, and whether it is the result of simple curiosity or much deeper emotions, it nevertheless represents a transition from a less-fulfilling state to a more fulfilling one. It is positive energy at its best, and we all know that we could use a lot more of that.

Seeing differently, however, does not come without some effort. Just like it is imperative to climb a set of stairs before enjoying a view, there are some stairs to climb when adjusting the way we see in that crazy world around us.  But what really matters in the end is that the rewards of such climbs are incredibly satisfying.  They just take a “change in latitude,” like the common saying says.  The few photographs on this week’s post are the result of some of those changes in latitude–simple attempts to see the familiar differently.  As if out of nowhere, the old became new, and the familiar revealed itself in a brand new light.  I immediately came to the realization that these scenes were there all the time for someone to see them, provided that someone took the time to look.

 

Sailing Down The James River

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A small pontoon boat arrives to take photographers to Jefferson's Reach at the James River.

A small pontoon boat arrives to take photographers to the Jefferson’s Reach portion of the James River.

Conservation efforts at the James River have made possible for hundreds of Bald Eagles and Ospreys to call the place home.

Conservation efforts at the James River have made possible for hundreds of Bald Eagles and Ospreys to call the place home.

While the James River is full of aquatic and bird life, the modern world is close enough to be part of the landscape.

While the James River is full of aquatic and bird life, the modern world is close enough to be part of the landscape.

Captain Mike Ostrander expertly guides and educates visitors on all aspects of the James River and the wildlife inhabiting the place.

Captain Mike Ostrander expertly guides and educates visitors on all aspects of the James River and the wildlife inhabiting the place.

The early morning hours along the James River are perhaps the best time to experience nature at its best.

The early morning hours along the James River are perhaps the best time to experience nature at its best.

Out of nowhere, magic. That is perhaps the best description of my recent trip to a place I barely knew existed less than a week ago. But all that changed thanks to a phone call from my photographer friend Mark, who during the course of our recent conversation, casually asked whether I would be interested in joining a group of local photographers during a Bald Eagle photography outing. Now, I am not a nature photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but the thought of observing Bald Eagles at their James River winter habitat while cruising down the river on an old pontoon boat before the sun even came out, was simply too much for me to resist. So, away I went at 4:00 AM to meet the group of photographers at the Deep Bottom Park boat ramp, which appropriately enough lies at the end of the Deep Bottom Road to the south-east of Richmond, Virginia.

Little did I know that by the end of this otherwise normal morning I was to experience one of the most magical spectacles nature has to offer anywhere in the world. It is far too easy for those of us who live in an urban environment where concrete and shopping malls rule the day, to forget that day after day, moment after moment, and in spite of mankind’s ingratitude towards it, nature continues to remind us of the simple beauty of our planet and the irreplaceable feeling of being alive. The pale, orange light of a morning sun, the gentle flow of a mighty river, and the first, hesitant sounds of nature’s first hours on a new day. And all under the watchful eye of ospreys and eagles sitting majestically above the tree tops waiting their turn to glide as in a choreographed dance in search of prey near the surface of the mighty river down below. Life begins and ends in rivers like the James. In between these two realities, a great spectacle always takes place. Battles are won and lost, the sun rises and the sun sets, there is silence and there is sound, and above all, there is life. I may never become a nature photographer, but this short trip down the James River surely made me understand why these photographers would not have it any other way.  It is indeed food for the soul.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

March 25th, 2015 at 4:49 pm

A Visually Chaotic Order

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Friends enjoy the magnificent view out of the second floor at the National Portrait Gallery.

Friends enjoy the magnificent view out of the second floor at the National Portrait Gallery.

Service attendant at one of the many help desks inside the Washington, DC Convention Center.

Service attendant at one of the many help desks inside the Washington, DC Convention Center.

Man dines alone at the Ceviche bar at the trendy Oyamel restaurant downtown Washington, DC.

Man dines alone at the Ceviche bar at the trendy Oyamel restaurant downtown Washington, DC.

A bride appears to be running late for her photoshoot inside the National Portrait Gallery.

A bride appears to be running late for her photoshoot inside the National Portrait Gallery.

I will be the first to admit that today’s post has somewhat of a random quality to it. In fact, that’s precisely my goal. You see, I have come to believe that most of the beauty of life has to do precisely with this randomness concept–the multitude of seemingly disconnected activities that characterize our everyday living. For lack of a better term, I like to refer to this phenomena as the chaotic order of society. Everyone pursuing his or her own activities totally different from that of others, but in some strange way, in an orderly, life-synchronous way. Yes, it all kind of falls together quite nicely, even if at first impression these activities appear to be ricocheting all over the place. Contemplation, stress, joy, and pain all seem to come together as if by necessity and disorderly design.  For some, this sense of uncontrolled living is the root of all problems in society; for others, it is nothing but randomness beauty, a symphony orchestra tuning their instruments before the greatest performance of their lives.

Is this what fascinates so many street photographers out there? Perhaps, and while I wouldn’t dare pretend to be speaking for this community, there’s got to be something in this chaotic order of our human ecosystem that proves to be irresistible to so many of these photographers. That something is there, and it always is, in an endless succession of juxtaposing micro-events that is both chaotic and orchestrated. To be able to witness them is pure joy, a confirmation that whatever occupies us in our daily lives is intrinsically intertwined into a larger, colorful quilt that is more obvious when observed from a distance. Remember the last time you sat down to relax and to engage in a little “people watching?” I’m sure that the world around you acquired a somewhat different dimension, an unexplainable revelation that highlighted everything you’ve been missing when looking at life through a panoramic lens. Contrary to the old expression about the devil being in the details, for those who aim to feel the pulse of that chaotic order out there, heaven is what lies in the details. A bride’s hurried steps on her way to a museum photoshoot, a lonely man sitting at a restaurant, friends looking out of a window, and a lone public servant waiting for someone to ask her a question. Details. Different worlds. One fabric. Beauty.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

March 8th, 2015 at 1:26 pm

To Hover Is To See: Images From Two City Blocks

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This gentleman was looking away, but waiting for him to turn around produced the desired photograph. [Click photo to enlarge]

This gentleman was looking away, but waiting for him to turn around produced the desired photograph. [Click photo to enlarge]

Couples in love will always be great subjects to photograph. [Click photo to enlarge]

Couples in love will always be great subjects to photograph. [Click image to enlarge]

Rare as it may be, there's always plenty of public romance in our cities. [Click to enlarge]

Rare as it may be, there’s always plenty of public romance in our cities. [Click image to enlarge]

Candid moments are simply the best, provided you learn to anticipate the scene. [Click for larger image]

Candid moments are simply the best, provided you learn to anticipate the scene. [Click image to enlarge]

Sometimes the secret is to see the image amongst all the environmental noise surrounding it. [Click image to enlarge]

Sometimes the secret is to see the image amongst all the environmental noise surrounding it. [Click image to enlarge]

 

Recently, I bumped into a local photographer friend of mine who happened to be hanging around an icy puddle of slush on a Washington, DC downtown corner.  Noticing that he was kind of hovering around the area with his Leica rangefinder at the ready, it was obvious that he was waiting for something to happen, so I asked him how it was going.  Without taking his eyes away from that puddle of slush for more than a second, he told me that he was waiting for the “decisive moment” when someone would hop over the puddle so he could capture it a la Cartier-Bresson.  To say he was working the scene would be an understatement.  Dodging people and nature while constantly shifting his position, he appeared to be moving with the grace of a Mohamed Ali within the confined amount of space allowed by a busy sidewalk.  I don’t know if he ever got his picture, but if he didn’t, it was certainly not for lack of trying.

Working a scene is what appears to be at the root of any great photograph.  When we look at some of the unbelievable photographs made by National Geographic photographers, what makes these photographs so special to a large extent is the unique perspective from which they were captured.  Composition, angle of view, and masterly handling of light are not things that happen by chance.  At that level, lots of considerations go into a photographer’s choices before that shutter is finally pressed, and luck, while always welcomed, has nothing to do with it in the vast majority of cases.  It is visual decision-making at its best: when to hang tight, when to move, when to aim, when to shift left or right, when to squat, or climb a building–they are all the product of intense observation and quick reaction, even if the end result is to stand still and wait.  While not perfect in any way, every single photo on this blog today was made possible by the simple act of waiting. Waiting for the cigar-smoking gentleman to look at me, waiting for the couples to show some tenderness, waiting for the grandfather to strike a teaching pose at the museum, and waiting for the waiter to approach the window.  Waiting, and anticipating.  Some may call this luck, and no doubt there’s some truth to the fact that the subjects could have acted otherwise, but the old saying, “The more I practice, the luckier I get,” may also have something to do with it.  Learning to see, combined with the patience that so often rewards anticipation, will pay great visual dividends after the shutter is pressed.  So after hanging around two downtown blocks for an entire afternoon on a very cold day, here’s the photographic lesson that was reinforced in my mind: that it is OK to run when you have to, but when you don’t, then don’t. Great things may happen when you allow your eyes the time to do what they do best: to see.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

February 23rd, 2015 at 6:18 pm

A Reading Room Like No Other

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Girl quietly reading by a lone lamp at the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.

Girl quietly reading by a lone lamp at the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.

Long, winding reading tables dot the main floor of the Reading Room and contribute to its scholastic atmosphere.

Long, winding reading tables dot the main floor of the Reading Room and contribute to its scholastic atmosphere.

One of the beautifully private research alcoves right off the Main Reading Room at the Thomas Jefferson Building.

One of the beautifully private research alcoves right off the Main Reading Room at the Thomas Jefferson Building.

The majestic dome stands way up high in solemn guard above the famous research room and the researchers quietly toiling below.

The majestic dome stands way up high in solemn guard above the famous research room and the researchers quietly toiling below.

The entrance hall to the Thomas Jefferson Building is commonly described as Beaux Arts architecture at its finest.

The entrance hall to the Thomas Jefferson Building is commonly described as Beaux Arts architecture at its finest.

A child, and perhaps a future researcher, has already mastered the ability to ignore the noise around him in the pursuit of knowledge.

A child, and perhaps a future researcher, has already mastered the ability to ignore the noise around him in the pursuit of knowledge.

It is a rare moment when the largest library institution in the world, the Library of Congress, opens the doors to its Main Reading Room at the Thomas Jefferson Building to the general public.  In fact, it only happens a couple of times a year, but most people (including myself) generally miss it because the news surrounding these rare events tends to be about as low-keyed as you can get.  After all, these library folks are not the kind of folks you will generally encounter down in Rio de Janeiro letting loose during Mardi Gras.  So when I received an early-morning text from a great photographer friend yesterday asking if I was interested in heading up to Capitol Hill with our cameras, the offer was impossible to resist.  Low light, no tripods allowed, and surely lots of folks ready to photo-bomb your shots. No problem, and away we went.

To say that the the Main Reading Room is an impressive place would be a gross understatement.  Entering this imposing Beaux Arts room with its incredibly ornamented dome rising about 160 feet from the ground is quite an event in-an-of-itself.  It is reminiscent to the experience of entering a Renaissance church in Florence and suddenly been overtaken by a magnificent view you could not have foreseen prior to entering the building.  But as beautiful as the scene was, photographing the place was to prove a bit of a challenge.  There were people, and photographers of all kinds, all over the place. No one (including yours truly) wanted to miss out on this rare opportunity, and at times it was as if photographers and visitors were engaging in a hastily choreographed, chaotic dance without a dance director.  In this environment, timing, patience, and a steady hand to compensate for the lack of a tripod (generally forbidden, but possible to get permission if you plan way ahead and are willing to grow old in the process) were key to getting a decent photograph.

And then there was the low light, which for a Leica rangefinder shooter trying to focus manually in a darkish room does not lead to a match made in heaven.  So out came the external Leica EVF adapter, and just like that, I could suddenly focus in the dark.  I suddenly felt better about having had to sell an organ to pay for the darn contraption.  Now I just have to work on developing the smooth breathing rhythm of a zen monk in deep meditation before I press that shutter release.  No doubt this is easier said than done.

 

Of Hunters And Romantics

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While photographic micro-scenes are everywhere, it sometimes takes a lot of work, and patience, to find them.

While photographic micro-scenes are everywhere, it sometimes takes a lot of work, and patience, to find them.

A totally-relaxed woman reads the newspaper front pages at the Newseum in downtown Washington, DC.

A totally-relaxed woman reads the newspaper front pages at the Newseum in downtown Washington, DC.

An obviously tired woman catches a catnap at the National Gallery of Art's courtyard.

An obviously tired woman catches a catnap at the National Gallery of Art’s courtyard.

Just about every street photographer you talk to these days is in pursuit of that elusive, candid moment when people are just being themselves, oblivious to anyone around them.  The less romantic interpretation of this search has been equated by some to a “hunt,” which I guess alludes to a photographer’s self-perception as a chaser of some sort, always at the ready with a camera and with the index finger on the trigger (or shutter release in this case).  Conversely, there is also a somewhat more romantic version of this street photography process.  This particular version (which we will call romantic for lack of a better term) alludes to the search for endless, small moments of human expression which take place every day in every city around the world.  At its core it refers to the desire to look for these fleeting moments in order to capture them in a photograph for all humanity to experience.  These different artistic approaches have lately left me wondering whether they are nothing but mere “distinctions without a difference,” or whether the street photographers who fall in either one of these categories are indeed different creatures practicing different forms of photography.

Arguably, a hunt conjures notions of finality, of a limited lifespan with a discernible beginning and an end.  At some level it implies that the relationship between the photographer and the subject is that of a pursuer and prey, with the final moment of capture crowning a day’s achievement by the mere act of having completed the capture.  What’s more, it would appear as if any talk of a hunt places the photographer at a different playing field as that of the subject of the hunt, as if referring to different realities that by definition have produced two very different, and distinct characters.  One is a chaser, the other the object of a chase.

In contrast, the romantic photographer doesn’t see the world this way.  For him or her it’s all about evoking human emotion in perpetuity, a desire to share what unfolded before his or her eyes for only a brief moment in the endless continuum of time.  These special moments are as random as they are unique, with only a split second decision standing as a stoic arbiter between moments that will be forgotten by history and moments that will be frozen for eternity.  That incredible visual zenith in an unfolding scene is what they live for.  For them, that “moment” like no other–the never-again visual second standing between immortality and oblivion.  It’s dramatic briefness renders it almost impossible to record on a regular basis, but the seemingly impossible odds will never stop the romantic street photographer.  On the contrary, they are the source of his or her passion–a passion which most will define by a handful of incredible “moments” captured over the course of a year out of the tens of thousands of photographs taken and thousands of miles walked during that year. Crazy? Perhaps, but not for that incurable romantic with a camera.

So next time you go out with your camera in search of those special, human moments that will visually reward you for the rest of your life, consider whether you will approach them as a hunter or as a romantic.  Will you just watch a scene unfold before you from a distant, vantage point, or will you make yourself part of that scene in order to feel the pulse and rhythm of the human drama taking place right before your very eyes.  Whatever you do, it bears remembering that you, the photographer, is what matters.  The camera is merely the equivalent of a painter’s brush, an instrument by which to translate your creativity onto a canvas that others can see.  In the end, it all boils down to the tireless pursuit of that short-lived moment in a scene when your eyes, your camera, and the strumming beatings of your heart line up in perfect harmony.  It is as rare as seeing a comet, but just as rewarding.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

February 10th, 2015 at 10:56 am

What Occupies Us

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There appears to be some truth to the fact that what occupies us most of the time defines who we are as a person.

Some would argue that what occupies you most of the time may define who you are as a person.

Admittedly, some activities may be more helpful than others in determining what makes a particular person click.

Admittedly, some activities may be more helpful than others in determining what makes a particular person click.

It is entirely possible that what occupies a person most of the time may not be a true reflection of who that person believes he or she is.

It is entirely possible that what occupies a person most of the time may not be a true reflection of who that person believes he or she is.

 

Recently, I came across a quote by Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, that got me thinking about the things we say and the things we do.  What made this quote even more puzzling for me was that it came in stark contrast with something I read in one of my favorite books of all times, “Cassanova In Bolzano,” by the famous Hungarian author Sándor Márai.  The contrast between Carl Jung (a realist) and Cassanova (an idealist) could not be more stark.

Let’s start with Carl Jung. The quote I’m referring to goes as follows:

 

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.

 

Jung could not be more blunt.  A waiter, then, is just a waiter and not a writer.  An office worker is an office worker, and there’s no use describing him or her as a painter.  If you have a great voice, but don’t sing professionally, then you are definitely not a singer, according to Jung.  No room for dreamers here, or for trying to convince anyone that you are really an artist trapped in the daily toil required to put food on the table.  Plain and simple, no amount of talk, of dreaming, or wishful thinking will change what is obvious for everyone to see.  A harsh reality indeed, but Jung obviously called them like he saw them.

And then, there was Sándor Márai, telling us through his character Cassanova that what you do does not necessarily defines who you are.  That you, in your hearts of hearts, could be a painter even if you’ve never painted anything.  That what defines a writer is not the product of his or her labor, but rather the poetry that forms inside his or her heart.  What we think we are is what we are, not what the trappings of life and circumstance have forced upon us.

In his book, Cassanova is somewhat annoyed by his assistant (Balbi) questioning why he called himself a writer if he had never written anything, or gotten paid for it for that matter.  For Cassanova, his life was, in a sense, his writing.  It was just that he had yet to put it down to pen and paper:

 

… I am that rare creature, a writer with a life to write about! You asked me how much I have written? … Not much, I admit… I have been envoy, priest, soldier, fiddler, and doctor of civil and canonical law… But that’s not the point, it’s not the writing, it’s what I have done that matters. It is me, my life, that is the important thing. The point … is that being is much more difficult than doing… When I have lived, I shall want to write.

 

It would have been an event to remember to hear Carl Jung and Sándor Márai discussing this contrasting philosophies.  I can’t help but think that at times I’ve found myself fervently ascribing to one of these camps or the other.  That is why photographs like the ones above make me think so much about the nature of people, or at least, the nature of the people depicted on the photos.  Who are these people?  Are they what I see, or is there something more to them (perhaps their true nature) that is hidden from my eyes?

Unbeknownst to me, about a month ago I was standing precisely on the line of demarcation between these contrasting approaches.  Upon visiting one of the major art galleries in Washington, DC (will not mention names here in the name of privacy) and walking down one of the empty, yet beautiful corridors, I came face-to-face with one of the security employees who hangs around the hallways making sure no harm comes to the artwork at the gallery.  What my eyes saw was a security guard doing his job, and one that at first impression, did not look like a very exciting one.  After a short conversation I discovered that he and his family had come to this country in search of the safety that they could not find back home in their African country.  More than that, he confided that he had run for President back home and lost, but that it remained his dream to go back and try again when the conditions were right.  He also gave me a short lesson in African economics and development, and all without me ever asking.  Obviously, there was a longing in his heart and a vision of the role he felt he was meant to play in his life.  I was just surprised at the trick my eyes had played on me.  Now looking back at this experience, I can only wonder whether Jung and Márai, had they been in my position, would have seen the same man in front of them.  The eyes, after all, can be quite deceiving.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 31st, 2015 at 4:53 pm