The Candid Portrait: You Just Have To Ask

Provided you ask nicely, most people will gladly agree when you ask them to take their picture.
Provided you ask nicely, most people will gladly agree when you ask them to take their picture.

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.

Ready For Kamikaze Pedicab?

With spotty bicycling lanes that force rickshaw to share lanes with city buses, relaxing could be a dangerous business in DC.
With spotty bicycling lanes that force rickshaw to share lanes with city buses, relaxing could be dangerous business in DC.

Ah, nostalgic pedicabs (i.e., rickshaws) gracing the city streets while helping to clean the environment.  Pedal power, no CO2, humans helping other humans.  Hmmm.  This is generally the picture that emerges when we think of the great import that are pedicabs.  Reality, though, could be a bit more earthy, shall we say.  In many city downtowns with fast-moving vehicular traffic, rickshaws are more-often-than-not forced into sharing the same busy streets where a non-choreographed dance of polluting city buses, taxis, and POV’s are constantly trying to outdo each other to the next light.  Needless to say, there’s a lot of weaving, sharp turns, and sudden stops involved in this urban kabuki dance.  Strangely enough, I had problems finding collision statistics for the DC area (or for any other city for that matter).  Who knows, maybe these pedicabs are safer than we think.  Just in case, though, I think that I’m going to stick to walking for now.  After all, I do need the exercise.

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.

Imagining A Photo Before You Take It

For those who consider life as a journey, each step along the way will always be in between things.
If life is indeed a journey, each step along the way will always fall between where we have been and where we are headed.

What can I say, sometimes the unexpected turn leads you down the path of the unexpected photograph.  Such was the case with this particular photo, which required me to stand in the middle a busy downtown street in order to get the best composition possible for the shot.  Of course, this would not have been necessary if I were using other than a Leica rangefinder, but in the world of rangefinders zooming with your feet is all you’ve got if you want to get closer to your subject.  Not that this whole movement was done in a hurry, mind you, as when I first took my position in the middle of the street there was no one between the tires.  However, I was convinced that sometime before I got run over by a speeding DC bureaucrat, someone will walk right into the scene and make the shot I was imagining in my head possible.  Perhaps there’s something to George Lucas’ famous quote: “You can’t do it unless you can imagine it.”  I’m certainly not going to argue with that.

Escaping The Modern Workplace Ecosystem

In crowded cities people go to great lengths to find a little personal space away from the work environment.
In crowded cities people go to great lengths to find a little personal space away from the work environment.
No space is small or desolate enough when you are trying to get away from everyone for a moment.
No space is small or desolate enough when you are trying to get away from everyone for a moment.
Lady relaxes at the National Building Museum during her lunchtime break.
Lady relaxes at the National Building Museum during her lunchtime break.

These days workers appear to be clamoring for a little space away from their overcrowded, communal offices.  What’s more, it appears that in order to find a little peace and quiet, any space will do, even if it means planting themselves behind a column, or on a chair that is totally out of place with its surroundings.  It doesn’t seem to matter, as long as the result is that level of temporary solitude that today’s office environment seems to deny them on a daily basis.  As most of you know by now, modern office design, with its overemphasis on team work, is typically designed to promote constant human interaction and contact.  While noble, this traditional approach has led to an interruption-driven ecosystem where most forms of solitude and introspection have become virtually impossible, if not outright frowned upon.  Luckily, people are not totally surrendering to the always-on office syndrome, as my most recent lunchtime stroll with my camera revealed.  So, I am pleased to report that escapism, even if mostly limited to lunchtime hours, is alive and well in today’s office jungle environment.

Who Was That Man?

Sometimes someone catches your eye by the way they walk, by the way they dress, or by the way they contrast with the scene around them.
Sometimes someone catches your eye by the way they walk, by the way they dress, or by the way they fit into a scene.

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.

You’re On, So You Better Have Something To Say

A French news crew was conducting a solitary news report during one of the coldest days in December in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
A French news crew conducts a solitary news report during one of the coldest days in December at the Washington, DC Mall.

A few days back I came across this scene at the National Mall by the Capitol Building and it got me thinking about that moment when the light comes on and it’s your time to say something, or do something for that matter.  What was significant for me was that this solitary crew was out there doing their job in the open and on a bitterly-cold day when most sane mortals wouldn’t be caught dead in such open spaces (so much for the glamour of journalism).  Even when no one was looking, the weather was crappy, and nothing of any consequence appeared to be happening around them, there they were getting the job done.  No posse, no trumpet section, no crowds, no adoring fans.  I guess none of that matters when you are passionate about what you do.

The Unexpected Photograph

Sometimes the photograph simply walks into your path when you least expect it.
Sometimes the photograph simply walks into your path when you least expect it.

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.

Italy On The Potomac

Together with pasta and Ferraris, Italy's Vespa scooters rank as the most recognizable symbols of Italy around the world.
Together with pasta and Ferraris, Italy’s Vespa scooters rank among the most recognizable symbols of Italy around the world.

Ah, La Dolce Vita.  To be captured on film by Federico Fellini while traversing the narrow streets of an Italian city on a Vespa scooter with a loved one’s arms wrapped around your waist on your way to a  weekend rendezvous at a cliffside hotel in Positano, Italy.  Well, that’s certainly, if not ideally, one way of riding a Vespa.  Another way, and perhaps a little closer to reality, is around the busy streets of our nation’s capital, with taxis zooming past you while you attempt to control your scooter as it putters along potholes, construction sites, and drivers bent on getting you and your annoying Italian cricket off the street.  Don’t know which way you would prefer, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m definitely putting all my hopes on Federico, so I better start practicing my Italian.

Rain, More Rain, And Photography

Rainy
There is nothing more disturbing to photographers than days of non-stop rain.  Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Rainy days present some great opportunities for photographers in the areas of texture and color rendition.  Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Rainy days present great opportunities for photographers in the areas of texture and color rendition. Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Fall has to be one of the best times of the year to be a photographer.  Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Fall has to be one of the best times of the year to be a photographer. Leica M240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

From what I gather, not too many photographers associate rainy, gloomy days with great photographic opportunities.  Frankly, I fully understand this feeling and have found myself in those shoes many times over the years.  And yet, rain and everything that comes with it, do present some of the best opportunities to change your creative pace a bit, so to speak.  Rain makes you a different kind of photographer, as everything from color patterns, wet leaves on the ground, and drops of water suddenly become the focus of your attention.  Don’t know what to call the photographic (or psychological) transformation people go through when it rains, but it is there and it makes you see the world around you from a completely different vantage point.  Personally, I find that people as subjects are suddenly not as interesting as droplets of water on a rail, or as the shinny reflection that comes off wet sidewalks and city streets.  Maybe it has something to do with the allure of so many romantic movie scenes that take place during rainy days, or the way nature’s colors are accentuated by the rain, or how cloudy days relax us in a way that would be impossible during the sunny days of summer.  Whatever the case, as a photographer I have developed a new appreciation for those days when nature takes us in dramatic and unplanned directions.  They afford us the opportunity to get off that well-traveled road for a while, and we all could use a little bit of that.  So next time it rains, give walking in the rain a try and you’ll see what you’ve been missing.

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.

Decisions, Decisions

Sometimes, you just need a little space before you make that big decision.  Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.
Sometimes, you just need a little space before you make that big decision. Leica M 240, Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

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.