The Mighty Ricoh GR Is The Perfect Walkabout Camera

Only a few feet away with the Ricoh GR and the subject could not even hear the camera shutter capturing the scene.
Only a few feet away with the Ricoh GR and the subject could not even hear the camera shutter capturing the scene.
While not the newest or fastest version in the market, the 28mm equivalent lens still delivers when it counts.
While not the newest or fastest version in the market, the 28mm equivalent lens still delivers when it counts.
The Ricoh GR is most famous for its black & white renditions, but it still delivers great color photographs under natural light conditions.
The Ricoh GR is most famous for its black & white renditions, but it still delivers great color photographs under natural light conditions.
No camera is totally invisible, but when it comes to stealth shooting, the GR comes about as close as you will ever get.
No camera is totally invisible, but when it comes to stealth shooting, the GR comes about as close as you will ever get.
Even indoors, when the light is far from perfect, the Ricoh GR comes through to render the scene about as good as any other DSLR.
Even indoors, when the light is far from perfect, the Ricoh GR comes through to render the scene about as good as any other DSLR.

I’ve written about the Ricoh GR before, but the little wonder just never ceases to amaze me.  This “backup camera” is simply one of those technological feats that when paired with its natural street photography habitat, could easily challenge any DSLR out there.  Not that it will necessarily give you any more dynamic range or sharpness, but rather that when you consider what the little rocket brings to the table, its shortcomings are easy to forget.  You see, when you are out and about trying to record everyday life and scenes on the street, the GR is almost unparalleled in its ability to silently move in, snap that photograph, and capture that scene.  Quick, silent, and covering enough photographic real estate to make sure nothing is left out of that picture.  With its snap mode and ability to quickly compensate for available light, this little camera and its large APS-C sensor will be about as close to ideal as you’ll ever get in the street photography arena.  Perfect?  Nope.  But when I leave my Leica M240 at home for the day to hang out with the Ricoh GR, that’s telling you something.  Will it replace the incredible Leica out on the street?  Absolutely not, but it will surely be in my pocket when every time I venture out to capture bigger photographic game.

NoMa: An Emerging Neighborhood

Like so many other DC neighborhoods, the existence of a busy metro stop is key to NoMa's urban resurgence and gentrification.
Like so many other DC neighborhoods, the existence of a busy metro stop is key to NoMa’s urban resurgence and gentrification.
NoMa's construction facelift is bringing a whole slew of trendy new condos to the area.
NoMa’s construction facelift is bringing a whole slew of trendy new condos to the area.
Walking east under the NoMa underpass is like walking into another world where urban renewal has yet to reach the community.
Walking east under the NoMa underpass is like walking into another world where urban renewal has yet to reach the community.
NoMa's well built and clearly marked bicycle paths are the best in the District of Columbia.
NoMa’s well built and clearly marked bicycle paths are the best in the District of Columbia.
Mint, an excellent Indian-Pakistani restaurant next to the sleek Marriott Courtyard hotel, is one of the reasons to visit NoMa.
Mint, an excellent Indian-Pakistani restaurant next to the sleek Marriott Courtyard hotel, is one of the reasons to visit NoMa.
NoMa's proximity to the popular Union Market scene makes it an incredible location for those looking to getting in early into a great neighborhood.
NoMa’s proximity to the popular Union Market scene make it an incredible find for hipsters in search of the next great neighborhood.

Ever heard of NoMa?  Don’t blame you, as most people wonder whether the acronym stands for some sort of medical condition.  But if there’s a neighborhood that is on its way up (and I mean way up), it is NoMa, or what is otherwise known to non-hipsters as North of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC.  The neighborhood is still work in progress, but with its spacious metro stop (NoMa-Gallaudet Station) and proximity to Union Market (the hottest market in town), the area will no doubt have a great future as a place to live and work.  Three significant employers are smack in the middle of the neighborhood: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), National Public Radio (NPR), and the DC facilities of SiriusXM Radio.  Add to this a public wi-fi network, clean streets, and a whole slew of small, affordable restaurants, and you can’t help but be impressed with this up-and-coming neighborhood.  It won’t remain undiscovered for long.

There Are Still Some Artisans Left

In a world consumed by mass production, it is always reassuring to encounter an artisan at work.
In a world consumed by mass production, it is always reassuring to encounter an artisan at work.

I never thought that the lonely, cutting sound of a small chisel would cause such a great impression on me.  After all, this is something we don’t hear or see every day.  A cold chisel being driven by gentle, patient hands into a granite wall with the methodical rhythm of someone who’s intent has more to do with achieving perfection than with worrying about time.  As I watched this artist work the stone I couldn’t help but think that this is the same level of patience and precision that goes into the making of top-end Leica cameras (which just happens to be what I used to take this photo).  For some people this is boring stuff, and no doubt watching an artisan’s slow, methodical work interspersed with numerous periods of silent observation is not everyone’s cup of tea.  For others, it is like watching a chess match by Grand Masters, where the long, tense silence is suddenly disrupted by a stroke of genius involving the subtle move of a chess piece to an adjacent square on the board.  Beauty lives in the very simplicity of the act.

The Bureaucrat’s Lunch

While the power lunch is alive and well, not all Washington bureaucrats get to enjoy it on a regular basis.
While the power lunch is alive and well, not all Washington bureaucrats get to enjoy it on a regular basis.

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.

As I Was Saying

With the advent of mobile communications people are talking more than ever, even if it is from a distance.
With the advent of mobile communications people are talking more than ever, even if it is from a distance.

In today’s seemingly impersonal world, you would be forgiven in thinking that people just don’t care much about others, but I’m growingly convinced that this is just not the case.  In fact, the more I come in contact with people, the more I see everyone texting, talking on the phone, and exchanging all sorts of information in digital form.  Connection, rather than disconnection, appears to be the norm.  That is, provided you have a strong enough signal.

I See More Than You Think

Experience and age are indeed big factors in determining what we see when looking at the world around us.
Experience and age are indeed big factors in determining what we see when looking at the world around us.

It appears to be a scientific truth that as we age our vision diminishes with the years.  Technically speaking, this simple fact could lead us to conclude that diminished visual capacity means that we will all see less the more our hair turns to gray.  I get this, but I’m here to tell you that the opposite is indeed the case.  That is, if we are to accept that there is a distinction between mere looking and seeing, then aging could actually be a good thing for all of us.   In fact, the familiar “being there, done that” claim that we are all so fond of using, actually holds the key to our ability to see more with age.  Unconsciously, we all apply years’ worth of visual experiences to every scene we look at with our alert, yet tired eyes.  The computer inside our heads forms a myriad of relationships to other similar scenes in our lives, as well as the outcome of those scenes.  This is why an aboriginal who has lived all of his or her life deep in the Amazon jungles will always see a lot more than a city visitor when staring at a thick jungle.  It is the visual advantage of experience and time spent outside.  So as you age you need to keep on looking, and look some more, put on those glasses that vanity sometimes relegates to a hidden place, and celebrate the passing of time.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how much more you will be able to see now that youth is not affecting your vision.

Hanging Out In SoHo

If there is a place where everyone seems to be totally cool, it must be the Soho neighborhood in New York.
If there is a place where everyone seems to be totally cool, it must be the SoHo neighborhood in New York.
In a very unique way, Soho has the feeling of small town living in the middle of a major metropolis.
In a very unique way, SoHo has the feeling of small town living in the middle of a major metropolis.
Want to be a fashionista?  Then Soho, with its eclectic fashion houses and chic atmosphere is the place for you.
Want to be a fashionista? Then SoHo, with its eclectic boutiques and chic atmosphere is definitely the place for you.
The adjacent Washington Square Park is a famous hangout for NYU students and all sorts of TV and movie filmmakers.
The adjacent Washington Square Park is a famous hangout for couples, NYU students, and all sorts of filmmakers.
The early hours of the morning, before the crowds show up, are a great time to catch elegant people on their way to work.
The early hours of the morning, before the crowds show up, are a great time to catch elegant people on their way to work.
Elegant, yet quaint, restaurants like the Hundred Acres are what give SoHo much of its hip character.
Elegant, yet quaint, restaurants like the Hundred Acres are what give SoHo much of its much-deserved hip character.
Yes, we can all dream about finding the perfect loft in SoHo, but be forewarned that it won't come cheap.
Yes, we can all dream about finding the perfect loft in SoHo, but be forewarned that it won’t come cheap.

Ever feel that you got to a place a few decades too late?  Well, I do, and that place is indeed the SoHo neighborhood in New York City.  Not that I could hang out with the local fashionistas that strut the local streets looking “mahvelous,” but rather that upon setting foot on the place I had that all-too-common feeling of having arrived late to a party.  I’ve been hearing about SoHo for far too long now, but for some reason or another (OK, like most tourists) I have primarily limited myself to mid-Manhattan and other “have been” attractions like Little Italy and Chinatown during previous visits.  This was a serious mistake that I do not intend to repeat, though.  In fact, several years ago I made the decision to leave most tourist places to time-starved tourist and just head out to the neighborhoods where no tourist buses are to be found.  But this I applied mostly to cities abroad like Paris, Rome, and Berlin.  One day in SoHo has made me realize that I need to do the same at home.

But I just didn’t just wake up one day and decided to go to SoHo.  I was there to spend the day with the great folks of The Leica Meet group, who were being graciously hosted by the Leica store at 460 West Broadway.  The people at the Leica store simply hit it out of the park with their great support for this event.  Not only did they allowed the group to use their store facilities for the day, but they also coordinated a wonderful group lunch at the Hundred Acres Restaurant & Bar, followed by a visit with various great Leica photographers like Ralph Gibson and Adam Marelli.  This sense of community is something that other camera manufacturers can only dream of, and SoHo was just the perfect setting for the event.  It’s definitely great to discover a few more good reasons to visit the city that never sleeps more often – like taking a creativity vitamin, which I dare say, we all could use from time to time.  I know I do.

The Charming Secret Garden Cafe

Simple elegance is the best way of describing The Secret Garden Cafe in the community of Accoquan.
Simple elegance is the best way of describing The Secret Garden Cafe in the community of Accoquan.
Bright and spacious, the Cafe is where you are going to find many of the locals socializing at lunchtime.
Bright and spacious, the Cafe is where you are going to find many of the locals socializing at lunchtime.
The simple lunch fare at The Secret Fountain Cafe includes some creative takes on traditional sandwiches.
The simple lunch fare at The Secret Fountain Cafe includes some creative takes on traditional sandwiches.
When the weather is good, the garden, multi-layered patio dining area is the place to hang out.
When the weather is good, the garden, multi-layered patio dining area is the place to hang out.

Once in a while you come across a restaurant where all the elements seem to click.  I’m not referring to some drain-the-bank-account type of place, mind you, but rather to a restaurant that seems to seamlessly combine those little things like good service, elegance, and basic good food with a little flair.  One such place is the Secret Garden Cafe in Accoquan, Virginia.  Not that I knew about this place before today, or that I would have found it without my good friend Mark suggesting I check the place out (the entrance is down a short alleyway and the restaurant is at the back of a local business).  What I discovered at the end of that short alleyway was one of the most quaint and charming places I’ve seen in a long time.  The white-linen tablecloths and the soft, pastel colors inside set the tone for the type of clientele that is always looking for that little extra in a place.  And when you consider that you can have a two-course lunch with enough freshly squeezed lemonade to kill a horse for less than $20, the place becomes even more attractive, specially for someone used to DC restaurant prices.  Next time I’m in Accoquan, I know exactly where I’m going for lunch.

Tiffany Windows Survived The Wrecking Ball

The Arlington Arts Center is home to beautiful Tiffany windows that miraculously survived the wrecking ball in 2000.
The Arlington Arts Center is home to beautiful Tiffany windows that miraculously survived the wrecking ball in 2000.
Originally ornamenting the Abbey Mausoleum near Arlington Cementery, the windows survived the neglect that ensued with the Abbey Mausoleum Corporation financial problems.
Originally ornamenting the Abbey Mausoleum near Arlington Cementery, the windows had been boarded over and survived many years of neglect.
Light splashing through the Tiffany glass windows completely submerges the entire gallery in a golden glow.
The afternoon light splashing through the Tiffany glass windows completely transforms the entire gallery into a golden masterpiece.
The Arlington Arts Center plays a leading role in Arlington's artistic and cultural life.
The Arlington Arts Center plays a leading role in Arlington’s artistic and cultural life by promoting the work of regional artists.

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.

OK, I’ve Had Enough Of Winter

The long, cold winter in the Washington, DC area has taken its toll on the local food truck industry.
The long, cold winter in the Washington, DC area has taken its toll on the local food truck industry.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that we’ve had enough of this winter.  Not that the DC Metro area can compare with the likes of Norway or Hokkaido, but rather that we are just not used to this long, wintry seasons any more.  Sure, they show up every three or four years, but this lack of consistency is not enough for anyone to justify those big winter purchases, if you know what I mean.  Proof of this is the fact that a single inch of snow is enough to close all area schools and the Federal government (do they still get paid if they stay home?).  Small businesses are affected as well when area customers gravitate to shopping malls and large retailers in order to stay warm while overcoming cabin fever syndrome.  So, if by any chance Pope Francis happens to be reading this blog (I know, a long shot, but I’m going to take it anyway), I would like to ask him to do a little lobbying above his pay grade to see if this endless winter can finally be put to rest.  And just in case, a million thank-you’s in advance.

A Quiet Place

In this crazy, fast-paced world we live in, you have to enjoy those quiet spots wherever you can find them.
In this crazy, fast-paced world we live in, you have to enjoy those quiet spots wherever you can find them.

I was fascinated by this scene when I bumped into it at the Javits Center in New York City.  An oasis of quiet in a city that is not known for being quiet.  The woman simply owned the spot, and from what I could tell, no one dared to occupy any of the empty chairs next to her.  A perfect display of momentary solitude and territoriality.  An unintended, silent commentary that no one dared to disrupt.  I wonder if she knew she was saying so much with her silence.

Something Happened Before I Clicked

Lady acts quite surprised after turning the photo book page at the 2013 PDN Photo Expo at the Javits Center in New York City.
Lady acts quite surprised after turning the photo book page at the 2013 PDN Photo Expo at the Javits Center in New York City.

Some photographs just speak for themselves.  This is one of those.  After seeing a group of people perusing photo books for sale at at the 2013 PDN Expo in NYC, I decided to take a photo with my Ricoh GR just to make up for what otherwise was a slow photography day.  What I was not expecting was for the woman in the photo to suddenly turn the book page and be shocked by whatever it was she had just seen.  I could’t quite make out what exactly she was looking at, but it had obviously caused quite an impression on her.  Sometimes, that’s just how it happens.  Just when you are about to press that shutter, someone within the frame of view will do something that will produce a much more interesting photograph.  That’s what happened on this day, and it obviously transformed what was just an ordinary scene into one not so ordinary.  That worked for me.

Festivals Rock The Capital

The eclectic H Street Festival keeps getting better and louder every year.  Leica M 240, Summmicron-M 50mm f/2.
The eclectic H Street Festival keeps getting better and louder every year. Leica M 240, Summmicron-M 50mm f/2.
While some festivals are as sedate as a trip to the doctor, the H Street Festival rocks DC as no other festival in the area.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
While some festivals are as sedate as a trip to the doctor, the H Street Festival rocks DC as no other festival in the area. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
At H Street, artists are also talented and charismatic street performers.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
At H Street, artists are also talented and charismatic street performers. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
A group of Burning Man veterans made their presence known at the H Street Festival.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
A group of Burning Man veterans made their presence known at the H Street Festival. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
The Hispanic Fiesta took over Pennsylvania Avenue during the weekend.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH.
The Hispanic Fiesta took over Pennsylvania Avenue during the weekend. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH.
Music, dancing, and costumes brought some much-needed life to Constitution Avenue.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH.
Music, dancing, and costumes brought some much-needed life to Constitution Avenue. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH.
Latin folkloric dancers wait their turn to join the parade down Constitution Avenue.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH.
Latin folkloric dancers wait their turn to join the parade down Constitution Avenue. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH.

This weekend was just no  ordinary weekend, and while I am no believer on the effect of cosmic forces on human beings (well, not totally), something was definitely happening out there.  For starters, two major calendar events took place this weekend: the official end of summer and the official start of the fall season, as evidenced by the autumnal equinox.  This celestial, one-day 12/12 hour split between night and day must have put local residents into a partying mood because Washington, DC was definitely rocking this weekend.  On Saturday, it was time for what is arguably the best street party in DC to turn on the party volume along H Street NE.  This H Street Festival has become an institution in DC and it keeps getting better every year.  With a mix of ethnic and trendy new bars and eateries lining its sidewalks, H Street NE continues to be one of the best kept secrets in the city.  You won’t see any tourists there, but if cool establishments with style and a modern vive is what you are after, then you better high-tail-it to H Street NE.  This street could just be the antidote you’re looking for to spice up your life a bit.

On Sunday, as the autumnal equinox was in full force, it was time for the Latino Festival DC to bring latin music and celebrations to the streets of DC.  Thousands of people jammed Constitution Avenue to watch costumed dancers proudly showcase traditional dances from Central and South America while at Pennsylvania Avenue an incredible assortment of latin food and salsa music extended the party all the way to 14th Street.  Fresh coconuts, fresh corn, carnitas, tostones, papusas, yucca, rice and beans, you name it, it was all there.  And while my expanding waistline could probably not handle too many weekends like this, I’m already looking forward to next year’s autumnal equinox.  I tell you, those cosmic forces do seem to be working after all.

The Photographer As Diplomat

Neighborhood streets in big cities are great backdrops for photo glamour shots.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH.
Neighborhood streets in big cities are great backdrops for photo glamour shots. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH.

Afraid of walking up to a stranger and asking if you can take their picture?  Can’t blame you if you are, as it could be a nerve-wracking experience for the non-extroverts amongst us.  What people with cameras don’t realize is that the worst that could happen is for you to get a dismissive “no” in the process.  Rarely will people show any fangs as part of their answer.  My experience has been that while half the people will say no and keep on walking, the other half will gladly say “yes,” if you ask nicely.  In fact, for many folks out there minding their own business, your asking is kind of an ego-booster of some sort.  People take time to make themselves up as best as possible before going out, and it is not to be visually ignored by the rest of us.  As a photographer, you can’t help but notice these fashionistas when you go out.  They are different in some visual way: better looking, more colorful, strange, exotic, or simply unique.  Whatever the reason, they catch the photographer’s eye, and the often-repeated advice that being nice and showing a sincere interest in them (or what they are doing) will always go a long way in you getting them to agree to have their picture taken.  So best to avoid photographic ambushes that give so many photographers a bad reputation and instead give your subjects a little time from your busy photo day.  You’ll be amazed at how nice people can be in return, as I discovered with the young woman in the photo.