Thursday, February 28, 2008

Texas Turbines

May 2007

Along I 40 in the Texas panhandle, one of those places where US 66 is an unendingly dull frontage road, we found these rising on the horizon. From the interstate they stretched to the south as far as we could see, and for a quarter mile or so to the west along the road. There isn't much here except flat land and sky, and there hasn't been a proper tree in sight for hours.

I like this scene for the colors, and the way the pylons recede in the distance, toward a unseen vanishing point, somewhere just over the rise.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Monochromatic Color

The snow had quit by Saturday, but the overcast, and the cold, persisted. While not a great day for pictures, the light was what I needed to reshoot the Spyglass picture. But while on the boardwalk at Jones Beach, I realized I could use the abundance of whiteness to my advantage.

What drew my eye and sparked the idea was the bright orange paint inside of the ubiquitous cowl vents that hold the boardwalk's trash bins. Seeing the way the orange stood out against the gray of the sky and white of the landscape made me start looking for other bright, single colors laid out on the blankness of the snow.

But I couldn't find much beyond the vents, so after shooting a few of them and another spyglass, I set out for Sunken Meadow Park. I knew I would at least find another spyglass there (does anyone know what those things are called?) and got lucky with two more color examples. Above, the snow covers the turquoise wire mesh picnic tables outside the snack bar at parking lot three.

Nearer to the parking lot is this fire hydrant, jutting starkly out of the snow.

But it was getting late, the light was murkier, and the outside air was getting cold. Much like the cup of coffee I left in the car, I was to discover.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Cabin Fever

(Since the snow here in New York is keeping me from enjoying the snow up in Vermont, I figured there was no better way to deal with the cabin fever than to turn the pages back almost 22 years to a summer weekend in Manhattan...)

November 1985

It was the Fourth of July, 1986. The Statue of Liberty had been unveiled from its years-long restoration under the largest free-standing scaffold ever built (above). The weather was beautiful the entire weekend. I watched the statue's re-dedication by President Reagan in an NYU dorm room and laughed as the law students I was with booed and hissed the introduction of Attorney General Ed Meese on the television. Then we went to the roof to watch the fireworks, which were set off from barges strung from the East River around the Battery to the the Hudson. We had a great view:

(click for larger image)

This was the first time I'd shot fireworks, and wish I had known more about the technical aspects back then. Although I did most everything right (tripod, bulb setting with a cable release, black card, bracketed exposures), I set the f-stop of my 50mm lens at 1.7, wide open, which let too much light in for the 3 to 5 second length of the exposures. The result is that while the color is nice, the detail is mushy. By the following year I knew better, when I shot these long exposures of The Zipper. Like the Zipper, the fireworks were made on Kodachrome 64.

The next day I headed north, to a part of Manhattan I'd only been through by car, up to the George Washington Bridge. I had long wanted to add the GWB to my list of the bridges I've walked across. I've crossed the East River on the Queensboro, the Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Bridge; my only other Hudson crossing was much further north, on the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie.

But more than a bridge crossing brought me here. Long before the George Washington arrived as a river crossing and, not incidentally, as a navigation aid, a small, pre-fabricated lighthouse warned river shipping and boaters of the hazards in that area. After the bridge went up, it was scheduled to be scrapped. But public affection and the related outcry, as well as a popular children's book, convinced officials to scrap their plans instead, and preserve the structure. Painted bright red, it, and its storybook, were known as:

The Little Red Lighthouse

and the great, gray...blimp?

Well, no. But there was a third attraction that day as well. The New York Daily News sponsored a blimp race down the Hudson River. Of course, this was silly enough for me to jump at in about a second, but no one else felt like schlepping up to the GWB, the starting line, which left me taking the A train to 175th Street by myself that fifth of July.

(click for larger image)

This was the scene looking south from the middle of the bridge a few minutes after the start. There were four blimps racing; I remember being a bit disappointed with how small they seemed, but the Hudson is a big river. I forget who won. I can't even remember where the finish line was.

These were all shot on Kodak Panatomic-X, a fine-grained 32 ISO film. Prints from this film have incredible contrast and detail, and the scans I'm showing here in no way do justice to its quality. These were scanned on the flatbed in my homemade glass negative holder. The first two aren't bad, but this one above needed lots of Newton's Rings removed. I wanted to join them as a pano, but none of my software could mesh them, and it would need extensive blending if it had worked. But I rather like the way the two full frames look as a single piece, something of a diptych.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunrise Snowshoeing

Not to be confused with or misread as snowshoeing at sunrise, we strapped on our Atlas and Tubbs's and set out for a trek through the woods and along the trails at Sunrise mountain in Killington.

We did pretty good, the seven of us, along with four others and our guide, Greg. We followed the trails out of Fallsbrook around Vista mountain to Madden Basin, where a small base camp, with cheese and crackers, chowder and a nice fire was set up in a clearing.

Above, the group sets out after the break. That's Smith Peak in the background

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spyglass in the Mist

May 1990

Still scanning select negatives this week, and realizing that even though these days I profess to not missing film in the least, I find there are particular characteristics that the digital process cannot duplicate.

It's wonderful that when I need to, I can increase the speed of the sensor with the twist of a dial. To do that in the 1980's meant using Kodak Recording film for a speed of 1000, or underexposing a 400 speed film and pushing the development. Either would bestow your image with varying amounts of irregular pebbling, especially if it were Recording film being pushed.

Digital gives you 'noise' at higher ISO's; and each new generation of imaging sensor tries to suppress it more. While a great technological achievement, it tears the heart out of most atmospheric photography.

This shot from Jones Beach was made on Ilford HP5, a 400 speed black and white film. The contact sheet doesn't indicate any push-processing, but I tended to find Ilford films to be a bit grainier than Tri-X. Scanning on a flatbed with an improvised glass negative carrier probably doesn't help, either.

(Latin for 'The Following Week')

February 23, 2008

For comparison's sake, I took a ride to the beach this afternoon, seeing as the weather was just as murky today as it was on that spring afternoon, just not as foggy. The perspective is a bit off, and that smaller building in the center seems to have drifted into the frame over the years, but considering I re-shot this from memory (meaning I didn't carry a print of the original scene with me), I think I did pretty good.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Early afternoon, done with the grocery shopping, and Sherry on a conference call. The perfect time to head upstairs for a quick nap. Close the blinds, turn on the radio and stretch out.

A gentle tump tump on the stairs, the door creaks as it opens slightly. A "Thripppp!" in wildly modulating tones comes from Clark's throat as he jumps onto the bed. He sniffs around, then settles into the nest formed by my right foot tucked into the back of my left knee.

Next I hear the squeaks of the wicker basket in the closet as Betsy rouses herself. But there's another leap up to the bed and now Molly is nuzzling my left armpit. She finally settles along my hip as Betsy appears on my right. She flanks Molly on my other hip.

Sherry did good with this picture. I may look Asian, but all the cats are looking at the camera, the framing and exposure are good, and it's sharp all the way through. It's also got a good beat, and you can dance to it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

11th Avenue

April 1990

Whenever a new convention or trade show was loading into or out of the Javits Center there would be a blocks-long queue of moving vans in front of the building along 11th Avenue, with an almost equal number on West Street. Few of them had their drivers inside, I assume they were inside the convention center, negotiating the amounts of the bribes necessary for a smooth unloading.

But as we can see, not all truckers travel alone, nor do all of them rely solely on an electronic alarm system for their vehicles. Here a companion/deterrent sits alertly in the driver's seat on a late-spring afternoon. When I was in a hurry I would take this route to Penn Station from the shop on 44th Street, I felt I could make better time with fewer people to dodge. Ironically, five months earlier I was mugged almost directly across the street from this spot, on a rainy November night. I could have used a vigilant dog back then.

Shot on Kodak Recording film, underexposed, then push-processed (1600 ISO) to get the chunky grain native to this emulsion.