Gesture – and more beach scenes

Leo Carrillo Beach, 2015: light, gesture, and color

At the next Thousand Oaks Photo Group meeting, I will be speaking on the use of gesture in photography to provide background and inspiration for their September Digital Composition Challenge.

Gesture by Jay Maisel

“the expression that is at the very heart of everything we shoot”

“not just the determined look on a face; it’s not just the grace of a dancer or athlete…It exists in a leaf, a tree, and a forest. It reveals the complicated veins of the leaf, the delta-like branches of the tree, and when seen from the air, the beautiful texture of the forest. Gesture gives you a visual story of the essence of what you are looking at.”

Jay Maisel

Light, Gesture, Color – by Jay Maisel

Jay Maisel on the Importance of “Gesture” in Photography from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Gesture is used to tell story and convey emotion. It can be the explicit and demonstrative motion of a high-jumper, or the subtle quality of a weathered rock. Our role as a photographer is to find just the right light, composition, and moment to capture gesture  and to tell a deeper narrative.

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In this simple beach scene image, the landscape sets the stage for three little vignettes. Looking at the overall scene, one can observe the gesture of the landscape: the sky with its pleasant light clouds, the choppy, but fairly calm, waters of the Pacific, and the glare of the late afternoon sun. Examining the vignettes, presented mostly in silhouette making the gesture even more apparent, we see two children exploring the water, a lone swimmer, and a woman interacting with a child. In our minds we create a story. Are the children supporting each other, or is the boy taunting her, telling her she is a scaredy-cat for being afraid of such a small little wave? Is the lone swimmer escaping her company on the shore, or is she waiting for a companion to join her? Is the woman directing her child to something on the beach, or is she scolding her? We don’t know the true story from this picture alone, but the image provides the gestures, the clues, in order that we can stop and linger and imagine a story of our own.

In my continuing beach project, last week I explored, through the use of gesture, the interactions of the great Pacific with the beach goers at Leo Carrillo Beach.

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A Street Photography Manifesto Cover JPGLife Happens in COLOR –
A Street Photography Manifesto is available from my Blurb bookstore.

Buy it here

I believe in the use of photography to tell candid stories that document the human condition in order to bring people together with understanding and acceptance.

These are the principles that guide my photography:

  • Create compelling stories: Say something, ask questions.
  • Life happens in COLOR: Color carries emotional content.
  • Create visual poems: Composition matters.
  • Composition is additive: Use a lot of adjectives.
  • Connect the dots: Capture the scene as the subject.
  • Create short stories: Tell a story through time.
  • Travel: Spread a worldview of understanding and acceptance.
  • Take chances: An image is more than the sum of its pixels.
  • Follow the National Press Photographer Association’s Code of Ethics.

In this book I explain my manifesto, provide examples, and include a chapter on street photography technique.

 

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Life / Work / Photography Balance

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Leo Carrillo Beach

I am in a continuous struggle to balance my career, family, and photography.

In the blissful time of my youth, the time before-career, my beloved Canon AE-1 went with me everywhere. I photographed everything. I photographed myself, my life, my friends. I carried my camera not due to some photographer’s principle to “carry a camera everywhere”, and certainly not because it was easy or always in my pocket like our smart-phone cameras today, but for the sheer fun of taking pictures. My photography was naive, but my images were authentic to my world as a young observer, seeing things for the first time, and delighting in capturing and exposing my world view to others.

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Leo Carrillo Beach

As I began to grow my (non-photographic) career, my attitudes and behaviors changed. With the external rewards for “adult thinking” and “emotional intelligence” over-shadowing the inner-reward of “childish play”, I became more serious. The role of photography changed in my life from playfully capturing everything around me, to documenting special occasions and sometimes going out “to-do” photography.

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Santa Monica Beach

Many years later, my career having reached an apex of sorts, I began a serious study of documentary-style photography. In additional to gaining a deeper understanding of what made a “good” photo, I wanted to learn more about the daily life of photographers. I wanted a window into their daily practice and their relationship with the camera and taking images. What I learned is that they never stop photographing. Not because it is their job, but because they can’t stop. They never stop “playing” with the visual representation of the world around them.

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Santa Monica Strand – Hot Dog on a Stick

For those of us with careers outside of photography – meaty, intellectual, challenging, satisfying careers – it is easy to loose focus on photography as play. It is easy to loose an attachment to photography in-between special trips or time allocated “to-do” photography.

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Santa Monica Pier Arcade

After I finished Jay Masel’s NY workshop, a few very specific messages were burned into my memory. Jay starts the week with the hard-hitting message: “You might become a better photographer if you did more photography”. But by the end of the week, he softens, just a little, and on Thursday afternoon he says to us: “You only have a couple hours between now and when we meet back. Go out and prove to yourself that you can get good images even in just a short period of time.”

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Leo Carrillo Beach

This summer I am working to return myself to the concept of “photography as play”. For you psychologists out there, the fact that I essentially just wrote that I am “working” to “play” is not lost on me. I am conflicted. As a compromise, I am “working” at a project to “playfully” explore something around me that I can chip away at in small increments.

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Santa Monica Pier

I wanted to find a subject that was unique to southern California that I could share with my husband. My choice was to take-on the beaches of Los Angeles and Ventura county. For days when I have more time, I might venture south to the always-entertaining Venice Beach or the egalitarian Santa Monica beach and pier. Because they have easy access, these beaches reveal a big crowded melting-pot of locals and tourists. Further north, and closer to my house, are the Malibu and Ventura County beaches such as El Matador, Leo Carrillo, and Point Mugu. Here, you find a more upscale local crowd. They are smaller, less crowded, and require a bit of local knowledge to navigate.

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Santa Monica Beach

This past month, I’ve managed several visits to these beaches, mostly accompanied by my husband and sometimes also his caregiver. It is challenging to work while in the company of others. Most non-photographers have little patience for the “slow-walk, stop, oh look over there” behavior of a street photographer, but that is the challenge.

Happy summer to all.


A Street Photography Manifesto Cover JPGLife Happens in COLOR –
A Street Photography Manifesto is available from my Blurb bookstore.

Buy it here

I believe in the use of photography to tell candid stories that document the human condition in order to bring people together with understanding and acceptance.

These are the principles that guide my photography:

  • Create compelling stories: Say something, ask questions.
  • Life happens in COLOR: Color carries emotional content.
  • Create visual poems: Composition matters.
  • Composition is additive: Use a lot of adjectives.
  • Connect the dots: Capture the scene as the subject.
  • Create short stories: Tell a story through time.
  • Travel: Spread a worldview of understanding and acceptance.
  • Take chances: An image is more than the sum of its pixels.
  • Follow the National Press Photographer Association’s Code of Ethics.

In this book I explain my manifesto, provide examples, and include a chapter on street photography technique.

The consequences of image making

More than just saying “I was here”, photographs can preserve the memory of those lost, keep close those far away, document a collective, initiate improbably relationships, or simply allow a traveler to remember and share their experiences with others. This small selection of images (some of which I  featured on my instagram and facebook feeds this past week), explores the consequences of image making.

This coming week, I will feature some images of summer.

Japan - Basho's Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi
A tour group, posed on a thick carpet of ginkgo leaves from a 100-year old tree, documents their pilgrimage to an 1,000 year old mountain-temple.  (Japan – Basho’s Path November 2016 with Sam Abell and George Nobechi)
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Two families from disparate countries, in an act of kindness, help each other create a memory of their once-in-a-life-time visit to Venice. After just this short interaction, they decide to take a joint family portrait. (Under the Realito Bridge, Venice Italy)
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An independent traveler, with nothing but her iPhone, documents the historic stories in the grand murals at the Doge’s palace. (Venice Italy)
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Creating a memory of their wedding day and sharing it with the whole community, they pause for a moment, something has caught their attention. (Temple Bar district in Dublin, Ireland

Returning to the scene of the crime – Hot Dog on a Stick

 

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As a street and social documentary photographer, I often wonder how the images will look through eyes of future generations, and what will change quickly and what will not. Creating a series of photography over a long period of time of the same place can help document those changes. It also challenges me to look for different views and different situations.

I am now a little over 10 years into my journey as a serious student of photography. Many of my early images are of landscapes and flowers, but there are a few stand outs from some of my more frequented spots such as Santa Monica beach and the original Hot Dog on a Stick location near the pier and muscle beach – which also serves the best lemonade ever!

My husband has somewhat of an obsession with their lemonade. When we head down to the pier, I know that a large lemonade is the price for a couple hours of his patience as I shoot. Over the years it hasn’t changed much. Each summer a new set of high-school and college students man the fryer and make large vats of fresh lemonade, and it still frequented by a wide variety of patrons – both locals and visitors.

This weekend I spent time looking through all my photographs of this iconic location. It is a very small little universe occupying no more than a few hundred square feet. I don’t think I’ve yet done it justice. In looking back at my images there is not enough variety of situations, lighting, and scenes. I now have some new goals to start to examine not just the workers but also its patrons. Can I find my subject in people eating their hotdogs and enjoying their lemonade. How to I visually link them them to the Santa Monica beach vibe and the stand itself? And what does the back look like?

 

This week I am dedicating my Instagram (Nancy_Lehrer)  and Facebook (nancy.lehrer or Nancy Lehrer Photography) posts to photographs from the original Hot Dog on a Stick on Santa Monica Beach.


A Street Photography Manifesto Cover JPGLife Happens in COLOR –
A Street Photography Manifesto is available from my Blurb bookstore.

Buy it here

I believe in the use of photography to tell candid stories that document the human condition in order to bring people together with understanding and acceptance.

These are the principles that guide my photography:

  • Create compelling stories: Say something, ask questions.
  • Life happens in COLOR: Color carries emotional content.
  • Create visual poems: Composition matters.
  • Composition is additive: Use a lot of adjectives.
  • Connect the dots: Capture the scene as the subject.
  • Create short stories: Tell a story through time.
  • Travel: Spread a worldview of understanding and acceptance.
  • Take chances: An image is more than the sum of its pixels.
  • Follow the National Press Photographer Association’s Code of Ethics.

In this book I explain my manifesto, provide examples, and include a chapter on street photography technique.

Street Stills

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This past Memorial Day, my husband and I traveled to upstate New York to attend my neice’s wedding. We took the opportunity to explore the areas historic estates built in hte mid-19th century along the Hudson River Valley. The Olana Estate was the home of  Fredrick Church, of the Hudson River Valley school of painting. Church worked with the architect Calvert Vaux to realize his house built as a 250-acre 3-dimensional art landscape. Today many of the views of the Hudson are over-grown with second-growth trees and the commerce has shifted from river barges to highway traffic along the Rip Van Winkle bridge.

If a street photographer denies all sense of anxiety when taking pictures of strangers, they are not being totally honest with you. And for some, it is exactly this rush of excitement that draws them to the genre. Though confrontation while doing street photography is less common than non-street photographers imagine, it still exists. Sometimes a full day of personal interactions are, in-fact, exhausting. When I am feeling this way, I look for other ways to capture the soul of the culture around me.

This week I am dedicating my Instagram (Nancy_Lehrer)  and Facebook (nancy.lehrer or Nancy Lehrer Photography) posts to photographs that don’t include direct human interaction. These are not undemanding images of quiet streets, windows, or doors. Each image tells a story, explores the culture, and poses additional questions.


A Street Photography Manifesto Cover JPGLife Happens in COLOR –
A Street Photography Manifesto is available from my Blurb bookstore.

Buy it here

I believe in the use of photography to tell candid stories that document the human condition in order to bring people together with understanding and acceptance.

These are the principles that guide my photography:

  • Create compelling stories: Say something, ask questions.
  • Life happens in COLOR: Color carries emotional content.
  • Create visual poems: Composition matters.
  • Composition is additive: Use a lot of adjectives.
  • Connect the dots: Capture the scene as the subject.
  • Create short stories: Tell a story through time.
  • Travel: Spread a worldview of understanding and acceptance.
  • Take chances: An image is more than the sum of its pixels.
  • Follow the National Press Photographer Association’s Code of Ethics.

In this book I explain my manifesto, provide examples, and include a chapter on street photography technique.


Woman’s Work

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I sat down this morning to start writing about one thing, got distracted, and ended-up looking through my images from Mongolia.

This is late September in Mongolia. The days were a mix of sun, wind, and clouds. The nights were cold. Just wait an hour and the weather would change. Some days our group ate lunch in our shirt-sleeves in the middle of an open field. Other days we huddled around our hot bowls of soup in a borrowed shelter. One morning I awoke to flurries and a dusting of snow. I bundled up and walked over to our Kazakh host-family house to watch the morning yak milking. This was woman’s work.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to organize some portfolios across my work. It feels unsatisfying to organize a portfolio along one obvious idea such as a single place or subject. Instead, I am looking to find a set of images that I can organize around how they talk about story or culture. This image is about Mongolia and features one primary actor in her surroundings. It is also about women and their role in rural cultures.

 

A Street Photography Manifesto Cover JPGLife Happens in COLOR –
A Street Photography Manifesto is available from my Blurb bookstore.

Buy it here

I believe in the use of photography to tell candid stories that document the human condition in order to bring people together with understanding and acceptance.

These are the principles that guide my photography:

  • Create compelling stories: Say something, ask questions.
  • Life happens in COLOR: Color carries emotional content.
  • Create visual poems: Composition matters.
  • Composition is additive: Use a lot of adjectives.
  • Connect the dots: Capture the scene as the subject.
  • Create short stories: Tell a story through time.
  • Travel: Spread a worldview of understanding and acceptance.
  • Take chances: An image is more than the sum of its pixels.
  • Follow the National Press Photographer Association’s Code of Ethics.

In this book I explain my manifesto, provide examples, and include a chapter on street photography technique.

Writing a Photography Manifesto

Immigrant Hand Shake at the Mercato di Ballarò, Palermo Italy

The Mercato di Ballarò is a large street market in the Albergheria district of Palermo. The Albergheria is one of the four districts of old-Palermo and dates back to the 8th century Phoenician conquest. The market is loud and busy throughout the day offering every type of produce, fish, meat, cheese, olives, dry-goods, spices, and street-food. The immigrant crisis of the last 10 years has had a particularly large impact on Palermo owing to its liberal immigrant policies led by the current center-left (Democratic) mayor – Leoluca Orlando. Due to urban flight, it is estimated that 29,000 Palermitani (Palermo natives) have left the town over the past 10 years. They have largely been replaced by 30,000 immigrant citizens who have fled poverty-stricken and war-torn parts of Africa and the Middle East. Many have settled into the older low-rent area of the Albergheria. Even with only a faint knowledge of this current sociopolitical situation in Palermo, this scene caught my eye as a symbolic hand-shake between the old Sicilian traditions and the new immigrant culture.

In the Spring of 2017, my thoughts about what and why I photograph haunted me like the looping ding-ding-ding melody of an ice-cream truck melody circling the neighborhood. Flipping through my social-media streams left me feeling frustrated and bored. There were so many images that felt like I had seen them before, providing no new information. I wondered if my photographs were just as banal and flavorless. I wondered if I was adding yet one more soulless voice to the cacophony of technically perfect, but emotionally empty, images around me.

It was a call to action. I needed to take time to reflect on the importance of photography for me. Did I photograph to create visual pleasure or to change the world? Where along this spectrum did my passion lie?

In pursuit of this understanding, I gave myself an assignment to write down my beliefs in photography. I tried to analyze why I photograph and why I look at photographs. I thought about images that make me pause and think, and I thought about scenes that thrill me to observe. I questioned if I was attracted to content presented in an interesting way, or interesting content.

It was a messy process. My beliefs were slow to emerge. At first I wrote whole sentences; too many of them and with overlapping ideas. To pare them down, I took a minimalist approach, evaluating and ranking the value of each idea: “Is it truthful? Is it authentic? Is it essential?” My ideas evolved, advancing one day, regressing the next, but finally settling into a short list of unique concepts which I ordered based on their importance to me.

Tentatively, I put the list to the test. I chose some of my favorite images to see how many of my core concepts were present. I applied the same test to images for which I received some form of external validation. I found both confirming and disconfirming evidence that my newly-expressed principles were truly honest with myself. I discovered that some of my ideals were compatible with what others found interesting and worthy, and others were not. I could not decide if my aspiration was achievable, or if I had set the bar too high. I would need to determine if I could I use this list to guide the creation of new work in addition to the evaluation of existing work. I continued to refine my list and strengthen my affirmations to it.

The next step was to explore how to express these ideas to the world now that I was prepared to profess them as my core defining principles. Could I explain them to others and would they care? I took a two-step process. The first step was to identify a couple of representative examples for each principle. Writing in the first person, I set to describe each image: where I was, why I was there, what I saw, what I tried to capture, what I decided to include or exclude, and generally how the image represented the core principle. The second step was to write a general overview of the principle explaining what it meant, why it was important, and how to determine if it had been achieved. I was able to describe some concepts easily, others came with some difficulties, and still others left me feeling communicatively inept.

The final result was my photography manifesto – my mission statement, proclamation, pronouncement – about how, what, and why I photograph. It was tested and explained in a 98-page book and even included a chapter street photography technique. Even though some of the principles were mature and others embryonic, I was ready to share it with the world. But I still wondered if I was capable to live up to its ideals.

Shortly after I completed my manifesto, I embarked on a two-week journey to Italy, spending time in Palermo and Venice. This was my first full-blown test to determine if I could live up to my own expectations. I walked the streets of Palermo for hours exploring churches, street markets, and historic landmarks. I met locals and talked with other tourists. I experienced surprise, joy, awe, loneliness, and discomfort. In Venice I wandered the twisty alleyways, often times getting lost and never quite finding my desired destination. Tired and disoriented, I rode the vaporetto (waterbus) along the Grand Canal back to my hotel to get my bearings. Through all these mini-adventures, I photographed. Hesitantly at first, asking myself too many times: “Is this image worthy? Does it meet my new standards?” But when I settled down, I found more confidence and conviction than ever. I discovered anew my joy, creativity, and satisfaction in my photography. I returned home with a handsome set of images that I am proudly adding to my portfolio.

A Street Photography Manifesto by Nancy Lehrer

I believe in the use of photography to tell candid stories that document the human condition in order to bring people together with understanding and acceptance.

These are the principles that guide my photography:

  • Create compelling stories: Say something, ask questions.
  • Life happens in COLOR: Color carries emotional content.
  • Create visual poems: Composition matters.
  • Composition is additive: Use a lot of adjectives.
  • Connect the dots: Capture the scene as the subject.
  • Create short stories: Tell a story through time.
  • Travel: Spread a worldview of understanding and acceptance.
  • Take chances: An image is more than the sum of its pixels.
  • Follow the National Press Photographer Association’s Code of Ethics.

Life Happens in COLOR –
A Street Photography Manifesto is available from my Blurb bookstore.

In this book I explain my manifesto, provide examples, and include a chapter on street photography technique.

Gondola Repair, Venice Italy

It was my last day in Venice, a beautiful sunny Friday. The day’s agenda was to make one final exploratory excursion to four of Venice’s six districts visiting one cicchetti bar every two hours between noon and dinner. (Cicchetti are small plates of food severed at bars often consisting of tasty pates, fish, or cured meats and garnish on a small slice of bread.) Even though gondola travel seems to be exclusively for tourists, it is obviously an important part of the Venetian tradition. I had yet to take a meaningful image. I had passed this gondola repair facility twice already during my week visit, but in neither case was I able to find my image. After finishing my cicchetti about a block away, I decided to go back for one more try. I returned to find this scene – a picture within a picture.