Ever come back from a photo outing and notice that there seems to be a pattern with your photographs? I did. After going over my photos after a trip to the Rosslyn area in Northern Virginia, I came to the realization that for whatever reason, I seemed to be fascinated with circular objects in the area. I grant you that this was a strange realization for me, but then again, I guess round objects and architecture do seem to break the linear mold that characterizes most modern, urban development in America. To tell you the truth, I never gave a lot of thought to the notion that our visual world is dominated by rectangles and straight lines. Well, not in Rosslyn, where folks do seem to have quite an artistic flare and love of round things. The neighborhood was already a favorite of mine because of the amazing reflections you see on the side of its tall, glass buildings. There’s simply nothing like it in the DC Metro area. And as far as I know, no one puts it on top of their list of priorities to go and spend a day wandering around Rosslyn, but I’m glad I did. The place never ceases to surprise me.
To be perfectly candid, I never go out with the intention of photographing chairs, or any other type of furniture for that matter. In fact, when I recently encountered this scene, I had already snapped hundreds of photos of people and architectural landmarks. What’s more, I have walked down this little, hidden street on too many occasions to count, and never had I seen this small table with a red chair before. What made it more interesting was that it was never my intention to photograph the young lady in the photo. In fact, when I started kneeling down to compose the photo, this person was not even in the frame. I never saw her, but suddenly she went past me from behind and there she was in my camera frame like an apparition. You know that feeling when someone you never saw suddenly appears from behind you? Well, that was my immediate feeling when I saw the lady. And the red shoes? Call that a photographic bonus, because I’m not sure this scene would have worked as well without those shoes, so I’ll take luck any day.
What is it about days gone by that so much fascinate today’s imagination? With the digital revolution being experienced by our generation, it would seem that everyone has been caught up on the modern technological era, looking forward to a connected world trying to move as close as possible to the speed of light. And yet, if you take a stroll down the Virginia countryside (or any state countryside for that matter), you will immediately notice that nostalgia for simpler times is alive and well in the American psychic. There are endless reenactments of colonial era lifestyles, county fairs where old machinery clonks its way throughout the day, and local entertainment that has nothing to do with today’s hip-hop generation. In some sense it is a look back in search of grounding, a retrospective yearning for meaning in a modern world that seems to lack meaning at times. And if we cannot tell where we came from, I guess we will never know how far we’ve traveled along that road we call life. So let’s hear it for nostalgia, for that marker along the road by which we measure the progress in our lives and which will always be our guiding light in an uncertain and unpredictable future.
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.
It is virtually impossible to get tired of the Virginia countryside, specially if you are a photographer. Even in winter, when local weather services constantly struggle to get their predictions right, a slow journey along the rolling landscape near Middleburg will reward you in ways that are hard to describe. Manicured horse farms with dark wooden fences, historical dwellings side by side with million dollar mansions, gorgeous horses lazily wandering along undulating meadows, and tree-covered country roads gently disappearing into the horizon. It is an incredible landscape constantly displaying the rich heritage of the state. During the snowy, winter months the city-slicker crowds with their late-model BMW’s are gone and the place finally slows down to its more characteristic, rhythmic crawl. It is the slowness, surrounded by incredible beauty, that nourishes your photographic soul.
Ah, don’t you wish that this type of building, with its beautiful gardens and undulating brick trails were part of your everyday life? Come to think of it, how do you like your everyday scenery? Are you moved by the landscape you normally come in contact with? Does the architecture in your town or city fills you with wonderment and dreams of faraway places? I frankly don’t know what has happened to architectural design these days, but if you make your world in suburbia these days, chances are that you have not been surprised by any architectural wonder lately. That doesn’t mean that creative architecture is dead at all, as evidenced by Apple’s projected new building in Cupertino, CA. Rather, it means that your average suburbia landscape could use a little TLC when it comes to beautiful buildings and pedestrian-friendly landscape. Less strip malls and a few more landscaped parks would be a start, not to mention getting away from designing boxes and referring to them as architecture. Of course, in some parts of the country this would be tantamount to defying gravity, but who knows, it may be as catchy as the trend started by the Levitt family back in 1946. Remember Levittown? It could happen.
Slow day today in the streets of our nation’s capital. Maybe it has something to do with the weather, but I got the impression that if you took the tourists away, the center of the city would be pretty much empty. I guess this is the nature of a commuter city. So, I decided to take out a lens that I haven’t used much lately: the Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G to see how it behaved on the street. This lens is usually reserved for ultra-micro work (we’re talking insects here), but every now and then you’ll hear from someone who’s using it as a classic portrait lens. That’s sort of what I was after today, and after a few hours of shooting with this lens, I discovered something about it that made me wonder why I don’t use this lens more. Simply put, the 105mm focal distance is awesome on the street, at least for me. I happen to be one of those street photographers who think that in most circumstances, the days of swinging a lens in front of someone’s face are long gone. Not that close range shooting with a nifty 35mm is no longer possible, but rather that the opportunities to do so are a lot less common these days. The 105mm distance just felt comfortable and unobtrusive. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as I have already discovered my love of the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G and the Leica 75mm f/2 ranges. Sure, that’s almost blasphemy in the hardcore street photographer community, but the idea is to use whatever works, and 105mm did the trick for me today.