Photographs with lots of dark, contrasty areas are not generally my thing, but sometimes I can’t help but be intrigued by the mystery they convey. Not that I’m out to capture such photos as a matter of routine. In fact, more often than not they just happen without any degree of planning. Such was the case with this photograph, which I captured upon entering an indoor business plaza and seeing the gentleman walking down a dark, arched hallway. The photograph just emerged in front of me, and before I knew it, I brought my Leica to my eyes, focused, and hit the shutter release. Did I forget anything in the process? Yeap. To my surprise, I had failed to worry about two of the key components of a proper manual exposure: aperture and shutter speed. Being quick kind of took over from being perfect, but the results truly conveyed the mood of the scene that had unfolded right before my eyes. Perhaps there is some merit after all in the absence of perfection. I need to remember this more often.
While most people around the country imagine the glamour of working at a big city like Washington, for many of the local bureaucrats the magic seems to have faded a little. Not that the so-called power lunch is a thing of the past, but rather that the road to the inner circle appears to require some time on a bench like the one depicted on the photo above. But in a city where who you know is more important than what you know, the distance from that bench to a table with a white table cloth and expensive silverware could indeed be a short one. Better keep those eyes open and that suit pressed just in case.
Afraid to talk to strangers? Convinced that most people out there are not very nice? Well, think again, because my experience is exactly the opposite. Whenever I’m out an about with my camera, I do get my share of rejections when I ask to take someone’s photograph, but in most situations (and provided you ask nicely) people are extremely nice about it. Show some sincerity and tell them why you would like to take their picture. Never lie about it, and if necessary, offer to send them a copy of their photo. Over the years I’ve come to realize that the pre-selfie generation doesn’t appear in too many photographs. That you find them interesting and want to photograph them is quite flattering. Think about it. When was the last time someone stopped you on the street to say that you looked great and they wanted to take your photo? OK, never in my case, so that’s why I’m convinced that it would be quite flattering if someone did. I won’t hold my breath, though.
We have to sometimes wonder whether it is best to be noticed when we are out and about, or whether it is better if no one ever pays us any attention. After all, some of us do spend a little bit of time color coordinating, placing the hair just so, and making sure that there is not much out of place before we venture into the open world where self-anointed fashion critics lurk around coffee shops and sidewalk restaurants to mercilessly critique our threads and the way we wear them. OK, I’ll admit that this is a bit overstated, but hey, that’s the way it feels sometimes. Of course, I must admit that I’m using “yours truly” as a point of reference, which is all I’m an authority at, and that most of you out there are quite the head-turners (in a good way, that is). But be that as it may, the point is that while some people do deck-up so that at least someone notices them, other folks couldn’t care less about the unwanted attention. That’s a pity, because being noticed reminds us that we are alive and that we are part of the great human story of our times. So go out, strut your stuff, notice and be noticed. Take it all in, because these will be the memories of your life.
Don’t sound the trumpets yet about the disappearance of print newspapers, because as they say, their demise has been highly exaggerated. Lately, and admittedly to my great surprise, I have noticed more and more people reading newspapers out in the open than usual. Not sure what’s going on, but whether this is nostalgia or rejection of the latest technology fads, the truth is that the few remaining diehard paper readers out there have become a lot more noticeable than the iPad reading crowd. After all, you don’t have to charge a newspaper at any time during the day, and you can buy years of newspapers before you break even with the cost of an iPad. Whatever the reason, it does look like newspapers (and the trash they generate) will be around for a while. How long will that be is anyone’s guess, but time does not appear to be on their side.
Rain or shine, you see them outside many downtown Metro stops, reading maps with tourists and pointing in every direction possible. They are the men and women in red and blue, Metro employees who’s friendly attitude and willingness to assist visitors with whatever they need puts them in direct contrast with local bureaucrats who buzz right past you without even noticing whether you’re still breathing. Because of their uniforms, some people may think they are security officers, but take the time to talk to them and you’ll find some of the nicest people you will encounter anywhere inside the Beltway. Washingtonians who actually look forward to talking to you, who would’ve known.
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.
I was headed to a museum today to photograph old, Oriental relics for a change. But as it happens in far too many occasions on my way to a photographic interest, something catches my eye that turns out to be a little bit more interesting (from a photographic perspective) than what I had originally intended to photograph. It is the proverbial “seeing of a photograph before you actually get to take it.” So here I was today, standing in the middle of the street while cars maneuvered around me, waiting for this gentleman to fill a little more of my 50mm lens frame. A quick three-frame burst later I was done and the subject of my photographic inspiration simply continued on his merry way. Maybe this city is not as hostile to photographers as I once thought, or maybe it was because I was using a Leica instead of a bulky, in-your-face DSLR. Who knows. I guess only this “international man of mystery” would know.
Think of last month for a second. How often did you share anything you’ve learned or own with anyone? I have no doubt that answers to this question will run the gamut, as we all engage in some form of sharing at one time or another, even without realizing that sharing is what we’re doing. Not that I’m advocating for anyone to give away the fruit of their labor, as this is surely the best way of guaranteeing that you’ll be out of business in a hurry. This is specially the case in photography, where most folks continue to bear incredible pressure to just give away what they have worked so diligently to create (not to mention the expense they incur to create those photos). However, in every trade there are many things that can be shared without having to worry about lost revenue or market infringement. In fact, some goodwill could go a long way in putting money in your pocket down the road. Don’t believe me? Then check out people like Scott Kelby, Vincent Laforet, Chase Jarvis, and Steve Huff, to name a few. All extremely generous professionals who like to share their knowledge and are rewarded by a loyal group of followers.
I know, how can you ever find the perfect quiet moment when photographers sitting next to you can’t resist the temptation of pointing their cameras at you? I get it, but to put it mildly, I couldn’t resist. And if you’ve ever heard of the almost-silent shutter of a Leica M (Type 240), this photograph is living proof of Leica’s well-deserved reputation. With only two empty sits between us, the subject of this photo never heard the shutter. In fact, I was so surprised at the lack of reaction that I ended up taking about 8 shots of the scene. Quiet, inconspicuous, and excellent in low light, the Leica M is definitely the best Leica camera ever. And just in case you’re wondering, the impecably-dressed gentleman turned out to be a distinguished President of a university. The grungy guy was behind the camera.
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.
Made any big decisions lately? If you have, then you know how agonizing the process can be, as all sorts of modern variables seem to clash with each other bringing unwanted friction into the process. Money, friends, family, work, mortgages, and a whole slew of things that can become either positive or negative energy bearing down on you. It’s pretty heavy stuff and quite difficult to sort out in a tidy, smooth package. Remember those movies where two small versions of yourself sat at opposite shoulders giving you conflicting advice? Well, life and decisions do appear to resemble those movies. One side urges you to “go for it,” while the other reminds you that “you must be crazy.” In fact, I always thought that it would be a good exercise to divide the “audience” in your life (friends, coworkers, family, and other opinionated folk you may think about) into two sections in a room. Like in a wedding ceremony, the “audience” could be divided down the middle, with one side of the chamber occupied with the “go for it” crowd and the other with the “you must be crazy” one. How would that picture look? Even? Skewed to one side or the other? Hard to generalize because everyone plays their lives in front of a different “audience.” But one thing is for sure: at the end of the journey, when the audiences have long disappeared, it is not their voices that you will hear in your head. No, only one voice will remain with you ’till the very end, and that is your own voice. That’s right, that voice we often suppress when overwhelmed by the audience’s roar. So don’t forget to listen to yourself, and if you do, that may make it a lot easier to decide which side of the “audience” will you allow to influence your life.
Sometimes, taking photographs is like watching a movie. You know very well that the scene before you is totally fake, but that doesn’t detract from the impact that it may have on you. This photograph was one such case. A Korean War POW impersonator during last week’s Rolling Thunder event in Washington, DC could not have been any more real to the viewer’s eyes. I tell you, this was disturbing stuff, and it was meant to be. Walking up to this scene was somewhat surreal. People immediately went silent as if they had seen an apparition the moment they saw the man in the cage. Photographers were so uncomfortable with the scene that many of them refused to take pictures, and those who did were mainly using telephotos to stay way away from this gentleman. In fact, when I approached him within a few feet to take this photo, I found myself alone in front of him. Such was the power evoked by this emotional visual imagery. A not-too-subtle reminder of the price too many people pay during times of war. Disturbing? Of course. Necessary? Absolutely, if we are never to forget.
Today was one of those days when I just felt like lugging my Leica for a long walk in Alexandria, but in no particular direction in mind. For starters, it was one of the nicest days we’ve had in a long time; a sunny day with temperatures that stayed in the low 50’s for a change. I also got an early start, as there’s something about the empty streets in Alexandria during the early morning hours that seriously appeals to me. First stop along the way: Misha’s coffeehouse and roaster. This is a busy place, with people vying for table space as if it were a DC bar on a busy Friday night. But it was precisely this busy atmosphere that got me thinking about this whole concept of photographic micro-scenes. Everywhere you looked, people seemed to be in their own micro worlds. Some read, some talked, and some listened. Photographic micro-scenes were everywhere, with people inadvertently posing by constantly altering their body language. It was all like watching a play with ever-changing scenes and characters. Everyday art in everyday lives.