WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

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

A Little Street Verticality

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When composing photographs, orienting your camera vertically will product a totally different mood.

When composing photographs, orienting your camera vertically will product a totally different mood.

Shooting vertically will eliminate most of the environmental setting in a photograph.

Shooting vertically will eliminate most of the environmental setting in a photograph.

Shooting vertically adds a little compositional challenge by severely limiting the cropping options.

Shooting vertically adds a little compositional challenge by severely limiting the cropping options.

The vertical effect is dramatically enhance by the presence of similarly oriented structures.

The vertical effect is dramatically enhance by the presence of similarly oriented structures.

Going tight with your shot, as opposed to wide, give a natural telephoto effect to a photograph.

Going tight with your shot, as opposed to wide, give a natural telephoto effect to a photograph.

Yesterday, I decided to have a little fun with my Leica. After all, with the cold, flu-inducing weather refusing to leave us alone for the season, it occurred to me that what I needed was a little lighthearted photo day. My goal: to do a little tribute to the famous Leica photographer Ralph Gibson. This name may not mean much to those who are not Leica fanatics photographers, but to those who are, Mr. Gibson is somewhat of a Dalai Lama figure in the Leica community. When he talks, people listen. And his talking is mostly done through the lens of a Leica camera.

But why Ralph Gibson? The answer is that contrary to just about everyone I have come in contact with in the photographic community, Mr. Gibson is known (among many other things) for mastering the “vertical” photographic style. The world may be busy taking photos with a horizontal orientation (which admittedly allows for lots of forgiving cropping), but Mr. Gibson is a master of the vertical world, and has been for as long, long time. Easy? Not really. After a day of shooting only vertically to see what this would feel like, all I can say is that not only is this approach ergonomically hard, but it is also compositionally challenging. At the end of the day I felt I had gone through an entire paradigm change in my approach to photography. My photographic world had stopped revolving around avoiding people from walking into my scene and was now obsessed with a somewhat unfamilial vertical line along a much narrower visual alley.

The funny thing is that this approach to photography is also kind of liberating. Verticality, I realized, tends to exclude the superfluous, or at least most of it. It also reduces dramatically those distracting elements that force photographers to use the cropping tool to the point of overheating. But mastering this vertical approach to composition is definitely hard work.  Shooting with a Leica rangefinder while trying to keep both eyes open as you manually focus is a challenge in and of itself, not to mention that your eyes tend to see a lot more horizontally than vertically when on a natural state (blame it on the eyebrows or something). That Mr. Gibson’s trained photographic eyes appear to live easily on that up-and-down, rangefinder plane is nothing short of remarkeable. That this verticality takes place up close in shapes and figures that most people don’t even notice, is even more astounding. After a day of attempting to grasp this whole vertical approach to composition by shooting exclusively “that way,” I certainly had a taste of the challenges and rewards associated with this visual approach. Hooked? Not sure, but I surely intend to tilt my camera from its traditional comfort zone a lot more in the future.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 24th, 2015 at 6:28 pm

A Walk Along A River Bank

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View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.

View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.

Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.

Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.

It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets.

It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets on a regular basis.

The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.

The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.

Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.

Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.

Anyone suffering from the winter blues? No doubt by now the cold, rain, ice, and snow are wearing out most mortals out there, to include your’s truly. Not that my camera has been sitting idle since the holidays, but rather that frankly, I’m having a bit of a challenge in finding those unique city scenes that make those long hours worth every shivering, tedious moment out there. During these cold January days locals appear to be perfecting the practice of hybernation. Tens of thousands of people are out-and-about in cities like San Francisco, Barcelona, and New York, but in the commuter heaven that is Washington, DC it is empty sidewalks and parks that rule the days.

Hoping to capture a little of that wintry solitude, I decided to take a walk by the shores of the Potomac River with my camera. As expected, the wind-swept shores were devoid of people, and with the exception of your occasional jogger vent on getting rid of some winter spread, I mostly enjoyed the company of geese, lots of geese. This panoramic section of the Potomac by Ohio Dr. SW sits relatively close to the famous Tidal Basin area, but somehow gets very little attention from visitors to DC. This may have to do with the fact that there are no monuments in the area, or many benches to sit at. But what this section of the National Mall lacks in amenities, it more than makes up with the beauty of the lanscape, specially during the winter season. Both Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery are clearly visible from the river shores. Small boats and rowing teams from local universities slowly fight their way upstream on their way to Georgetown, while departing flights from National Airport with smoky, white trails splashed against the dark, blue skies of a winter day. It is all quite impressive, even if in a quiet, unasumming way. And for a city that prides itself on how fast it moves, it is quite refreshing that there are still areas that reward those who slow down to enjoy the sound of waves crashing on a river shore.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 22nd, 2015 at 10:12 am

Detours Sometimes Make All The Difference

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The lower ground floor at the Hirschhorn Museum is about as loud as you can get using colors and script to make an impact.

The lower ground floor at the Hirshhorn Museum is one of the most impressive areas you can find anywhere in the District.

The second floor sitting area offers an incredible panoramic view of the Washington Mall and the DC skyline.

The quiet, second floor sitting area at the Hirshhorn offers an incredible panoramic view of the Washington Mall and the DC skyline.

In contrast to other museums in the area, the Hirshhorn's eclectic art collection is showcased in uncluttered, open spaces dominated by white backgrounds.

The Hirshhorn’s eclectic art collection is showcased in uncluttered, open spaces dominated by white backgrounds.

The round, open courtyard design of the Hirshhorn Museum makes it the only structure of its kind in the DC area.

The round, open courtyard design of the Hirshhorn Museum makes it the only structure of its kind in the DC area.

Talk about hiding in plain sight. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I have walked by and photographed the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum downtown Washington. In fact, the museum area and the sunken sculpture garden just across the street are some of my favorite places to capture unique people photos during the warm summer months. Yesterday, however, with temperatures dipping into the low 30’s and winds gusting to 30 mph, was not one of those days. Very few daring souls were out in the open, and those who ventured the elements were scurrying from one building to another as if training for the Olympics race-walking competition.  I know this because camera in hand, I was one of them.  Originally headed to a different museum, I was compelled by the frigid temperatures to find refuge in the nearest public (and heated) building to the metro station.  That oasis of warmth was the Hirshhorn Museum, and much to my surprise, I found myself discovering a gem of contemporary modern art that had been sitting under my nose for longer than I care to admit.

You can’t miss this museum when visiting the National Mall in DC. With its multi-layered, circular design (I wonder if Steve Jobs was inspired by the design for his new Apple headquarters) and open ground floor, the museum structure sticks out like nothing else at the National Mall. Sort of the same could be said of the inside, where some of the sculptures and structures lining its circular halls will leave you scratching your head for meaning (as much as it pains me to say it, I have to admit that I am somewhat artistically primitive). But amongst its massively eclectic collections, incredible displays of human creativity and talent are also evident everywhere you look. In particular, the outstanding “Days of Endless Time” exhibit (open until April 12, 2015) was simply mindblowing.

The official description of the exhibit says it best:

 

In a world conditioned by the frantic, 24/7 flow of information and the ephemerality of digital media, many artists are countering thie dynamic with workd that emphasize slower, more meditative forms of perception… Selected as alternatives to the pace of contemporary life, these works provide a poetic refuge–a reflective realm where one drifts as if through days of endless time.

 

My favorite work in the series was a short film appropriately called “Travel.”  To say that this slow-moving, ode to movement and perception was simply out of this world would be a gross understatement. The venue could not have been more perfect either. An oversized, dark room devoid of structures, where the rythmic, heart-grabbing musical score gradually induced a deep, meditative state on the audience. This was great stuff in a small package. More than that, it was another reminder that sometimes, great things happen when we dare to veer off those intended paths well-worn out by familiarity and routine.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 6th, 2015 at 10:55 am

Waking Up To A New Year

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A young couple enjoys a quiet, early morning moment along the Potomac river in Old Town Alexandria.

A young couple enjoys a quiet, early morning moment along the Potomac river in Old Town Alexandria.

A young girl feeds the seagulls while rhythmically imitating their soaring flight.

A young girl feeds the seagulls while rhythmically imitating their soaring flight.

In the early morning hours, cranes can be spotted walking along the Alexandria shore.

In the early morning hours, cranes can be spotted walking along the Alexandria shore.

An empty boat sits dockside at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria.

An empty boat sits dockside at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria.

You know those days when nothing much seems to be going on? Well, yesterday was one of those days. The whole city seemed to have entered the New Year’s hangover stage and everywhere you went there seemed to be an eerily quiet atmosphere with only a few, slow-moving folks trickling about. This is actually pretty normal during these first days of the year, as people psychologically gear themselves for the inevitable return to the daily grind. After all, all those postponed projects and tasks from last year didn’t quite disappear with the champagne on New Year’s eve.

However, the absence of crowds is also a great opportunity for some unique photography. Empty space can be accentuated, serenity can dominate a scene, and the proverbial “photo bomb” can be eliminated from the frame. Hoping to capture a little of that that empty, serene space, I headed down to the Alexandria waterside to take a long walk along its quiet, rocky shore. Bereft of crowds and the never-ending sound of human activity, the place was like a scene right out of some small European village along the French Mediterranean shore. The mighty Potomac river was so calm that it appeared to be sleeping after a night of celebration. Couples moved at glacier speeds before coming to a halt in order to linger and take in the beauty of an empty landscape. Young girls danced with seaguls as if in a choreographed performance on a vast, outdoor stage. In the quiet humm of a morning breeze, nature and the human spirit appeared to still be dancing the night away. A new year, hesitantly taking its first steps while shining its soft, morning light on us to remind us of the beauty that life can be. What a day. What a life.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 3rd, 2015 at 11:33 am

As 2014 Comes To A Close …

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Thanks to all of you for visiting the blog during 2014 and a very Happy New Year to all.

Thanks to all of you for visiting the blog during 2014 and a very Happy New Year to all.

In just a few hours the year 2014 will come to an end, and as it is often the case during these times, we tend to pause ever so slightly in an attempt to take inventory of our lives, both personally and professionally. It is all quite unscientific, but no matter how much we try to avoid it, there’s something about these dwindling last hours of a year gone by that induces this retrospective stupor in most of us. We smile when thinking of all the things that brought happiness to our lives and perhaps shed a tear or two for the losses we had to endure. Life, after all, is an unpredictable mixture of highs and lows, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, and above all, love.

But no matter the challenges we all had to experience during 2014, the unmistakable reality of life is that it goes on, and so must we. Go on to dream, go on to travel, on to discover, on to love, and on to hope. And as they have done since time immemorial, I hope the light once shed by Soren Kierkegaard (19th Century existencialist philosopher) and Lucious Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Elder, 55 BC) will continue to guide us all along way. See you out there.

 

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experiencedSoren Kierkegaard

Life, if well lived, is long enoughLucius Annaeus Seneca

 

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 31st, 2014 at 5:24 pm

My Space, My Time

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While for some people, alone time equates to loneliness, for others it is a moment of glorious solitude.

While for some people, alone time equates to unwanted loneliness, for others it is a moment of glorious solitude.

For too many, stepping away from it all does not necessarily mean disconnecting from the world at large.

For too many, stepping away from it all does not necessarily mean disconnecting from the world at large.

In our busy lives, where physical disconnection is not always possible, it is still possible to disappear into a world of thoughts.

In our busy lives, where physical disconnection is not always possible, it is still possible to disappear into a world of thoughts.

While cities are full of all sorts of external stimuli, they are also places with abundant empty streets.

While cities are full of all sorts of external stimuli, they are also places with abundant empty streets.

While not always the case, body language may have something to do with how approachable we all are at one point or another.

While not always the case, body language may have something to do with how approachable we all are at one point or another.

As I walk around all sorts of cities during my endless photo walkabouts, I can’t help but notice the sheer number of people I see alone. No, I’m not referring to the millions who go about their days moving from point A to point B as they go about their normal workdays, but rather I’m referring to those who are “really” alone, as if “I’m here all by myself” type of alone. So, unable to stop my mind from wondering what may be going through these solo souls’ minds during their personal walkabouts, I have begun to dwell on all sort of things relating to loneliness, companionship, and solitude. No, I’m not loosing my mind or plan to give up photography for psychiatry, but rather that when I’m alone out there (camera in hand), I always wonder whether my fellow lone riders are enjoying the “life less interrupted” as much as I am.

Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” … Paul Tillich

From the little I can gather, it seems that people need as much time alone as they need the company of others. Call it a recharge, a moment to gather our thoughts, or whatever. And even when the line between loneliness and solitude is a blury one at best, somehow we all kind of know when we have crossed it. Ideally, that transition from one side of that undefined line to the other is a voluntary, and timely, one. That seems to be the implication of Tillich’s quote above. Choice, then, appears to be at the core of human ability to temporarily disengage, to fly alone, and to find meaning in the things around us. It is in that seemingly empty, yet rich space where we can get back to the basics of our humanity. And what emerges from that brief moment of solitude is a better person, a more fulfilled person, who’s time alone will make the company of others that much more enjoyable.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 17th, 2014 at 10:15 am