Thursday, July 24, 2008

Vangoghlaroids Revisited

Long Beach - July 3, 1998

For the last week or so I've been cleaning my office. At least, that's what I've been calling it. What I'm actually doing is delving into the piles of crap on tables and countertops and putting bits and pieces of them in different places. Anything incredibly outdated or unrecognizable gets thrown away. In a way I'm getting things done: I've had color prints of various sizes lying on flat surfaces all around the room, now they're all in one place. They're in a horrible pile, I've yet to sort through them, but at least they're on a single flat surface.

Fire Island - August 25, 1997

Naturally, at least half the crap you turn up while doing a task like this sidetracks you for a moment, or an hour, depending if it's just crap, really crap, or something you need to consider more thoroughly before deciding that it just really is crap. So when I found myself looking at two portfolios of Vangoghlaroids, I knew there wasn't going to be much more that I'd be getting done that evening.

These were the unsold remains of a collection that I carried around during my traveling art show days. I'd leave these, along with another couple portfolios of black and white pieces open on a table for browsing. Of course, the top scene wasn't a single image ten years ago, it was originally matted as a triptych. The three pictures (with the center one trimmed to fit the mount) are still together, I was able to keep them taped for the scan. I cut and moved the images together in Photoshop. I still need to even out some of the tones a little better, when I do I'll be printing it to about twenty inches wide.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hope Cemetery

With Sherry in Ottawa for two days earlier this week, I decided to take advantage of both her absence and a nearly full moon to hie myself off to Vermont for a few days. For some time now, I've been thinking about doing time exposures, i.e., long exposures of thirty seconds to five minutes of nighttime landscapes. Being on Long Island this isn't the easiest thing to arrange, given the amount of light pollution we have, but in the mountains I wouldn't have any of those worries.

Except for the weather, that is. I arrived to find the mountain under a cloud, with rain continuing throughout the night. Monday dawned overcast, and according to the weather reports, was due to stay that way all day and all night. So much for eerie nighttime moonscapes. After breakfast I loaded my backpack into the car, and drove north to the city of Barre, just outside the state capital of Montpelier.

Hope Cemetery on Maple Avenue is the permanent home to some of the finest examples of granite carving and design you will find just about anywhere. The monument on the right stands a mile or so from the cemetery at the intersection of Main Street and Maple Avenue. The base reads: "In honor of all Italian-Americans whose achievements have enriched the social, cultural and civic vitality of this city, state and region. Erected by their descendants and friends 1985".

Getting to the cemetery itself, several acres spread over rolling hills, and you're struck by not only the quality of the stones, but the many types you'll encounter.

For starters, you've got balls:

And you'll find cubes:

Not one but two pyramids:

And a maple leaf:

Of course, simple shapes aren't enough for some people. So it's interesting to note that while people are encouraged to be careful about where they leave their vehicles, the residents have no such restrictions, and there's at least one grave with a car parked right on top:

People have many different ideas about their 'final resting place'. Some are quite the traditionalists, right down to separate beds:

Others take a less formal approach:

(Although, just as in life, the remote is nowhere to be seen.)

Some of the other stones with a light-hearted approach to death include the biplane, soaring above cloud nine:

And not far from the plane you'll find this crouching, contented cat:

Today's visit to Hope Cemetery has been sponsored by the letter "A":

All pictures taken Monday, July 21, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

De-Mapping New York

January, 2000

Above is part of the rotunda of the New York State Pavilion at the 1964-65 World's Fair at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens, New York. Originally there was a marvelous stained glass canopy suspended in the cables overhead, but for fear that it would eventually fall on people, it was torn out not long after the fair closed. Apparently destruction was considered a form of preventive maintenance in the mid-1960's.

Worse destruction was done, however, to what lay beneath the canopy. For, as the New York State pavilion was underwritten by the Texaco Oil Company (creeping corporate commercialism even in the innocent early '60's; everything at the fair had corporate sponsorship) the main feature was a huge road map of the state, a parquet mosaic featuring larger cities and towns, major connecting roadways, interstates and county roads, and the approximate location of every Texaco gas station in the state.

March, 1990

But after the fair closed, and the roof was removed, and the maintenance ended, the elements took over. Using the place as a roller skating rink for a few years didn't do much good, either, but they at least had the good sense to build a plywood floor for that ill-advised venture. By the time I slipped through the gates (actually, I think the fence was wide open) in March of 1990, the place was a wreck. The Parks Department had been using it to store heavy equipment, sand, and other crap for decades. Water was pooling across the Adirondacks and piles of dead leaves were flotsam off Montauk. Upstate suburbs were lost to giant craters and concrete patchwork.

March, 1990

Today the gates are locked tight, and and a new chain-link fence encircles the perimeter, making it impossible to even peek into the rotunda, but what little is discernible is far from encouraging. While some renovation is being done to the theaters in the pavilion, the three towers, the rotunda, and whatever remains of the mosaic on the floor are left to rot. Just another one of 'man's achievements on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe.'

Friday, July 18, 2008

Analyzing More Old Stuff

July, 1989

I worked on the west side of Manhattan from October of 1987 until September of 1991. In those four years I passed the Javits Convention center regularly, and attended a few shows there as well. I usually went by early in the morning or late in the afternoon, on my way between the shop on West 44 and Penn Station. 11th Avenue is a wide street, ten lanes, with the expansive glass sprawl of the Javits running from 34th to 38th on the west side and the run-down warehouses, taxi garages and livery stables lining the east.

This picture is interesting because of the way we see the inside as well as the outside of the glass skin of the I. M. Pei convention center, plus the reflections of two distant buildings. The darker reflection at the bottom, of a building just across the street, also serves to give us a glimpse of the interior frame. Lastly, the warping of the glass gives an elongated, abstract appearance which makes the distant tower of the Empire State Building look like the spire of a Gothic cathedral.

November, 1989

At the risk of looking like a tourist, I spend a lot of time in Manhattan looking up, because when you do that in the right places, in the right part of town, at just the right angles, you can project yourself back in time forty, fifty, sixty years and more.

Madison Square is a good place to do that, there are enough old buildings in that area: the toy center, the Flatiron, the street clock on 5th Avenue. The park at Madison Square still looks pretty much like it did in the forties and fifties, I have some family pictures from back then, and the same black iron pipe railings mark off the pathways. And of course there's the Metropolitan Life building, with The Light That Never Fails. In 1989 it was still the headquarters of the MetLife company, before they bought the Pan Am building, and looking up at it from 24th Street like this instantly transports me back to the 1930's.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

1986 - 1987 - 1988

There may be a few too many cat pictures showing up here, at last count I think we were close to having cats account for eighteen percent of all the pictures on this blog. So,
back to black and white today, way back, to the 1980's for a little change of pace.

August 1986

I was standing on the east side of 3rd Avenue near the corner of 44 Street when I made this shot. The view of the Chrysler building from this angle was short-lived; after the corner lot was cleared a high-rise began climbing the sky. This was made with slow-speed (32 ISO) Panatomic-X film, scanned on the Canon flatbed. I did extensive retouching on this image, most notably in adding the blur and resharpening. I really like the distinctive look it gives to pictures like this. I don't have a lot of pictures of the Chrysler Building, and this is one of my favorites.

March 1987

Varick Street on a rainy spring night, street furniture courtesy of Consolidated Edison. The water vapor in the air (erroneously referred to as steam) is a joint venture of ConEd and whatever the prevailing weather front is coming off the river three blocks to the west. Inspiration for this picture comes from the Naked City and 1950's film noir in general.

This was shot on Kodak's then-new T-Max film, a fine grained 400 speed B/W. T-Max was the future of black and white back then, it came in 100, 400, 800 and 1600 speed flavors, and the servants of the Yellow God decreed that its grain was so fine that they would no long make Pan-X, and might even discontinue their B/W flagship, Tri-X.

Of course, they kept Tri-X after all, but they did kill Pan. They also did away with Recording Film, the high-speed (1000 ISO) surveillance film with the wonderful grain. I never liked T-Max that much, and eventually gravitated away from silver-based black and white films not long after this.

August, 1988

Twenty years ago Soho was a dump. I'm not sure what street this is, my notes at the time were far from detailed. This was probably on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The wall with its ragged posters and graffiti and assortment of doors was just what I wanted, I only wish I used a slower shutter speed so the figure in the center blurred more.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The World at My Feet

June 20, 2008

It was forty-four years ago this spring that the New York World's Fair opened in Flushing Meadow Park. Forty-four summers that we've had the Unisphere looming over the Grand Central Parkway. Forty-four summers since I went there with my family and found to my dismay that the giant globe was far larger than my imagination, and I'd never be able to climb it like the monkey bars at the playground. I don't know why I thought I could; there was the pool and the fountains after all, and it was a sprawling, crowded exposition, and I was all of four years old.

Today, of course, I'm a grown-up, and I can do whatever I want to. And since the fountains are hardly ever on anymore I can walk right up to the base and...well, lie in the cradle of the steel support. Even if it were possible to climb the damn thing without equipment and a modicum of experience, my body, as well as my sensibilities, are older than four.

So instead, let's just lie back and watch this film about the building of this grand Queens landmark.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Stranger Among Us

Passing through the living room I caught sight of some movement outside the sliders. It was late afternoon, and I had a camera with a 70-200mm lens on it, hoping for some good shots of Molly, which is why I was there in the first place.

Molly had spotted the movement, too, and when I looked closer I saw the kitten who's been haunting the backyard for a few weeks now.

A pretty little thing, gray and white striped, quite young, probably from an early spring litter. Not too sure what to make of me as I slid the door open and called out. Started to turn away, then looked back, started to come to me, then thought better of it. By this time I had closed the door and come down the steps. The little stranger resumed the back-and-forth as I made my way to the pine tree. Since I was apparently sitting down, my little intruder decided to do the same.

So we sat there for a bit, me trying to entice the visitor with a twirling stick among the pine needles, but she was a little too wary to come any closer. She did acquiesce to a few pictures, and was blissfully unaware the whole time just how much she was annoying Molly:

And I should point out that this pose of Molly's seems to be a cross between Garfield and something from the pen of B. Kliban.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Art of Sleep

Cats tend to be regarded as lazy, given how much they sleep, and I can't argue with that, although I must point out that there are some cats who truly raise the bar when they lower their eyelids.

Legs is one of those cats, who, as a former stray-turned-housecat, probably spent untold nights with one eye open, never really resting. Think about it, how many relaxed-looking stray cats have you ever seen? (Besides Brian Setzer.) It's got to be a very stressful position, and one he set about to reverse by almost immediately becoming a connoisseur of the coma.

This is a cat who sleeps so deeply that he almost melds his body into the surface of whatever he's lying on. While not overly fat, he's a heavy, solid, thick-bodied cat who practically leaves indentations in the ceramic tile as he walks by. When he comes down the bare wood of the staircase it sounds like an eleven-year-old boy is in the house. And this cat doesn't fall asleep: His body simply stops.

I have no idea what the story is with the position he's affecting above. I was just passing by on my way out of the bedroom. He looks like a gun, or a ewer, or a double amputee, and I figured there was no way he'd hold that position while I went to the basement for a camera. But, Legs must've had a rough night, since he hadn't moved a muscle when I got back.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fourth of July, Long Island Sound

Execution Rocks lighthouse with New Rochelle in the background

The fourth of July in New York this year was overcast, hot and muggy as we drove to the Bronx early Friday afternoon, invited to spend the weekend on the Sound by our old friend Joe.

Now, other than an outboard-powered dory, an electric-motored raft, some paddleboats, one cruise ship, a sailboat, the Circle Line and, of course, the Staten Island Ferry, I don't spend a lot of time on the water. I think when we took a canoe out in Jamaica back in 2001, was the last I was aboard anything that floated.

Joe, on the other hand, is a graduate of SUNY Maritime, sailed the world with the Merchant Marine for years, and has owned
at least as many boats as I've had Volvos. For the past couple of decades he's been a mechanical engineer, keeping the physical plants of some of New York's largest hospitals running smoothly.

The Snapdragon is a 58-foot Hatteras long-range cruiser that Joe got last year in Florida. It's a 1981 model, twin diesel engines, with three staterooms, three and a half baths, and its own launch. Very cool, very comfortable. A great time. We left City Island around 2:15, heading northeast through the Long Island Sound to Mamaroneck. Joe demonstrated some marvelous navigation threading his way around the smaller boats in the harbor. We docked there for the overnight (pictured above), met some other fine folks on shore for dinner, then we all retired back to the boat for fine scotch and fireworks.

All shots were hand-held, I was bracing myself by sitting with my back to the radar mast on the top deck. Canon 5D, 24-105 f4L @ f22, exposures from 2 to 14 seconds, various focal lengths, sometimes in the same exposure. ISO 50 & 320. (Not bad, for hand-held on a boat!)