I have started working out. Well, not working out as an olympic hopeful would work out, but rather something more like going for a walk with the intent of detecting any degree of perspiration. I even get to look the part, with my Pearl Izumi jacket, my New Balance walking shoes, my long-distance runner’s cap, and a great Timex triathlon sports watch. I’m definitely all decked-out, if you know what I mean. But while all of this is fine, what really makes my workouts so valuable is that I get to carry a camera with me to capture the unexpected photo. Of course, stoping to photograph every interesting scene I come up to does break my exercise rhythm (what rhythm?), but it is crucial that I try to avoid the post-exercise depression that could ensue if I miss the infamous photo every photographer misses when they don’t have a camera with them. My choice of camera for these cardio outings: the legendary Ricoh GR (read about this little wonder here). The problem is that even after a couple of times out on my way to becoming a mean, lean, fighting machine, I have kind of forgotten about the exercise part. Photography is just that enticing for me. Light, bracketing, composition, and all things photographic seem to conspire against muscle tone development. Definitely a tough going, but I guess no one ever said that this exercise thing would be easy.
Royally holding court in a back room at the elegant Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, Virginia is one of the most incredible pieces of art in the entire DC Metro Region. Can’t blame you if you have driven past the historical Maury School building without realizing what treasures lie inside. After all, the imposing galleries and monuments down the road in Washington, DC are a much bigger magnet for area visitors short on vacation time. But if there’s anything that demands a separate road trip on its own merits, the golden Tiffany glass windows at the Arlington Arts Center must be it. Not that a photographer can claim any degree of poetic justice in describing such a magnificent piece of art, but as a hopeless romantic with a camera I found it impossible to enter this sun-bathed room without being transported to the elegant world of New York high society during the late 19th Century. There, covered by the glowing yellow light of an afternoon sun, I couldn’t help but feel a little underdressed. Shouldn’t I be wearing a tuxedo while waiting to waltz the night away with my beautiful companion? Have the cocktails been served yet? Will the horse-drawn carriages be on time outside to slowly carry us back home after the most marvelous of nights? I swear that all these thoughts crossed my mind before I had to swap memory cards on my camera, so maybe there’s really something to all those time-travel rumors we keep hearing about.
Incredibly, though, these Tiffany masterpieces, which are now part of the Arlington Public Art Collection, were almost lost to the wrecking ball fourteen years ago. After many years of neglect and disrepair, in 2000 the U.S. Navy took over the building, and before tearing it down, allowed Arlington County to salvage anything of historical value at the site. As described at the Arlington Arts Center Blog, the windows were finally discovered after having “been boarded over and long forgotten” in the long-neglected mausoleum. I can just imagine the faces of those tearing down the wooden planks hiding such incredible treasure. So much for a day’s work. So if you are in the area any time soon, pay the great folks at the Arlington Arts Center a visit. Who knows, you too may be transported to a world long since gone, but not yet forgotten. And in case you’re wondering, your carriage will be waiting for you outside.
Amsterdam is a city of contrasts. On the one side there is the city of great art and imposing architecture, while on the other there is a somewhat more earthy side, to put it mildly. What’s even more interesting about the city, though, is the fact that so much of what makes Amsterdam what it is seems to lie inside its somewhat uniform buildings. Sure, there are the marvelous canals crisscrossed by beautifully undulating bridges packed with bicycles of all kinds, but enter some of those building lining the canals and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find inside.
Such is the case with two of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions: the Van Gogh Museum at Stadhouderskade 55 and the old Heineken factory at Stadhouderskade 78. From the outside, the buildings housing these two local landmarks are a bit industrial in character, but what lies inside is quite remarkable and more than worth the time you have to spend in line before getting inside (which on a rainy, cold day made the Van Gogh Museum line to get inside a bit of a challenge for the hundreds of people inching their way to the ticket booth). But once inside, you are treated to some of the most creative art you’ll ever see anywhere. The four-story museum was divided according to the different stages in Van Gogh’s short creative life (about ten years total), from the days when he was perfecting his style in Paris to his mental asylum days in Arles and Saint-Rémy. A definitely troubled life, but an incredible creative one.
About a quarter mile from the Museum Quarter park, a somewhat different experience can be found at the old Heineken factory (which moved its production to a new location in 1988). What is now termed the Heineken Experience will set you back about 18 Euros, but it will be some of the best money spent in Amsterdam. The old equipment is still there, to include the still-in-use stables with the black Heineken horses. They even “turn you into beer” in a small theater where the audience is put through the beer-production process as if it were the liquid itself with a vibrating stage that is at various points subjected to heat lamps simulating the fermentation process. And to top it all off, there is the tasting room followed by an incredibly slick bar where you get the two beers that were included with the admission price (which also include a free canal ride aboard the Heineken boat and a souvenir at their downtown store). Not too shabby, and quite educational to boot. This city is definitely growing on me.
One of the great things about street photography is that you are always surprised by the scenes your camera captures without you having to stage a thing. Some of these can be the proverbial “photo bombs,” but in many cases it is the unexpected that happens. When this happens, there’s very little time for composition, planning, or for a rerun. A second or two is all you’ve got, and to be perfectly frank, most of the time these opportunities are missed for a variety of reasons. Chance, to a large extent, is a lot more important than skill for these impromptu photo ops, even if we can never ignore the old dictum that “luck always favors the prepared.” In the end what really matters is whether we manage to capture one of the millions of little scenes that take place around us all the time. Just one shot, that’s it. For most photographers, that’s what is called a mighty fine day.
Ever heard of the Shaw neighborhood in Washington, DC? Can’t blame you if you haven’t. Most locals haven’t either. And judging from my recent visit to Shaw, it doesn’t look like it’s one of the tourism hubs in Washington, DC either. But if you think this somewhat low-keyed anonymity means that you should ignore this part of town, you will be sadly mistaken. This wonderful neighborhood is home to Howard University and the incredibly popular Art All Night DC event, which takes place at the imposing building that was once home to the Wonder Bread Factory on S Street NW. And if the “Big Easy” label were not already taken, it would fit Shaw like a glove. Laid back, friendly, and not totally gentrified, Shaw is one of those places that once you visit, you’ll be asking yourself why you had never been there before. Not that the neighborhood can match its richer and more famous U Street neighbor a few blocks away, but rather that if it were noise and rowdy crowds I was intent in getting away from, then Shaw is the place I would head on out to. This is specially the case starting next month when the Right Proper Brewing Company opens its doors at T Street NW.
This is a post that I was not planning on writing, but someone asked me to post a few photographs from my trip to that great relic of the communist era in Hungary, the infamous Memento Park, so here it goes. For starters, getting to Memento Park is quite an adventure. You’ll hear that it is in Budapest, but it will take you a few bus transfers before you actually get to its remote location next to a dusty concrete factory of sorts. Your first reaction after being unceremoniously dumped at the small bus stop is confusion as to where exactly you have landed in Hungary. That’s because the bus stop is a few hundred yards from the park, and the somewhat industrial feeling of the place (even though there are houses around) is kind of disorienting. Only after spotting what seems like the top of a brick wall over some concrete-dusted trees behind you and across the street, do you realize that you’ve found the place.
The Hungarian people could not have done a better job in hiding all these relics, and the world could not have done a better job at ignoring them. While a mere 45 minutes away Budapest is a beehive of activity and excitement, the dusty Memento Park sits alone, desolate, and forgotten. Sure, a few curious souls do manage to trek there out of curiosity, but this communist resting place doesn’t appear to rank very high on most visitors’ to-do lists (on the day four of us visited, there was only one couple there taking pictures). When you think about it, though, Memento Park with its sun-drenched, sterile landscape and grotesque statues, is perhaps the right memorial for a failed ideology that enslaved millions of people a short generation ago. It is a graveyard of sorts–the last resting place of the symbols of coercion and subjugation by a political system long relegated to the ashes of history. That the people of Hungary endured and survived such historical catastrophe with such a positive attitude towards the future, is nothing short of remarkable. What surprises me is that Memento Park exists at all. Maybe the Hungarian people need a point of reference by which to measure how far they have come since those dreaded communist days. Whatever the case, this park is part of a Hungary that no longer exists. Today’s Hungary is enjoying itself by the Danube with its eyes firmly gazing at an Europe that not too long ago seemed like a far-away mirage. It is remarkable how times change.
Don’t you love people? No question that art evokes many emotions from people, and not all of them revolve around deep introspection. Yes, there’s that, but I have to admit that there’s something refreshing in seeing a different type of reaction from visitors to an art exhibit. Like many other visitors to the National Gallery of Art East Building this weekend, I was totally fascinated by this simple sculpture of four young women dancing. I must have gone around it ten times with my camera trying to find the right angle for my shot, but considering that I was shooting with with 50mm lens, finding the right place proved to be harder than I though. My primary interest was to capture people’s reactions to the sculpture, but this also proved to be quite challenging because most people simply stood there next to the art piece looking as if in some sort of a trance. After a while, I gave up and walked away, only to return later to give luck another opportunity to show its kindness to a struggling photographer.
Fast-forward a few poker faces and a few minutes later, and there was the photo I was waiting for all along. Two young women not yet affected by the sclerotic effect of time, suddenly became one with the joyous scene before us. With disarming innocence and cheer, they broke into dance as if to join the celebration that was taking place before they arrived at the scene. The whole thing didn’t last more than 30 seconds, but I was glad I stuck around waiting for something to happen. In some way, what the camera captured had to do with much more than the recording of a simple photograph. The scene revealed the endless wonder of youth, the disarming effect of a moment of happiness, and the sheer beauty of unencumbered spontaneity. Who knows, maybe that’s what the sculpture was all about.
Let me start this post by saying that I love black & white photography. Not that I have mastered this medium by any stretch of the imagination, but rather that I have come to realize that there are some scenes out there that come to life when shot on black & white. In some strange way, the removal of color artifacts (or should I say, the substitution of these artifacts by different shades of grey) from the photograph kind of diminishes the judgmental interpretation of the photograph. No longer can someone point out that the red shirt was not that red in the real world, or that blues look over-saturated. When black & white photographs are involved, the observer tends to go through some sort of a mental shift as if being handed a different list of criteria by which to interpret the photograph. Without ever having heard of Ansel Adam’s Zone System, these observers begin to interpret the photographs in terms of those grey variations that lie somewhere in between absolute white and absolute black. What’s more, when black & white photography is involved, the whole notion of photographic composition seems to experience somewhat of a liberation to be analyzed without the distracting effect of color getting in the way.
But to what extent is the resulting photo the product of the photographer’s ability to “see” the scene in black & white prior to capturing it with his or her camera? Is there such a thing as “seeing” in black & white when it comes to photography, or is it all the product of post-capture manipulation with today’s advanced software applications? Frankly, I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I do venture to say that for most folks out there (and this includes your humble blogger here), playing with the software during post is where the action is. We try this or that like a New York fashionista until voilà, we know it when we see it. Having said that, I have no doubt that some talented photographers out there do have this ability uncanny ability to see in black & white. At the very least, in they are able to see in grey variations, à la Ansel Adams. For some, this gift will come natural; for others, no doubt the result of many years of photographic observation and practice. Whatever the case, I am just glad that black & white photography is alive and well and that companies like Leica pay it tribute with the introduction of such wonderful products as the Leica M Monochrome. We can only hope that other companies follow in their footsteps.
You know what I like about visiting art galleries? Basically, that just about everyone there insists on slowing down. Of course, this could be nerve-wracking in-of-itself for those Type-A personalities out there, but slow down they do. In some sense, it is like seeing humans in a way that we are not accustomed to. Holding hands, lingering, deep in thought, and oblivious to time. It makes for great photography, if I may add. So why is it that we don’t engage more in these types of pulse-lowering activities? Is it the old “I don’t have time to save time” kind of thing? Perhaps. Maybe it is that abstract activities like contemplation never appear in any of those list of the things we should all be doing to live longer. I certainly have not seen it added to all that advice about living longer by eating a Mediterranean diet. But a more plausible explanation lies in the fact that we as a society simply never think much about it. Isn’t all that contemplative stuff something we do in vacations after all, if we had the time? I guess. But staring at the photograph above, I can’t help but wonder about the wisdom of how we allocate and value our time these days. I may be wrong, but it appears to me that this couple has figured it out.
I don’t know about you, but I love street vendors. If you ever take the time to talk to them, you’ll find that they are extremely interesting people. They live life every day, but not like most of the area bureaucrats sitting in well-attended office cubicles, but rather life out there in the open where the sun shines. But what I particularly like is the simplicity of so many lives I keep finding out there on the street. You see, like so many of you, I too live somewhat of a hectic life. Watch the clock, log in, smile when you don’t feel like smiling, thirty minute lunches, watch the clock again, etc., etc. Not that this is necessarily a bad way of spending your day (you actually get a paycheck at the end of the month), but rather that it kind of leads to a feeling of split personality of some sort. You are one person at work and one person off work. Street vendors don’t seem to have that problem. They are who they are, and their lives off work don’t differ much from their lives out there where they do their business. And that, my friend, is a refreshing reality these days.