Hey, I’m the Featured Member for August 2015 – Los Angeles Center of Photography

Santa Monica, California

This month I am the featured member in the Member Gallery at the Los Angeles Center of Photography website. My gallery displays a 20-image portfolio of my street work from the past three years. As I choose this set of images, I was looking for those of which I was most proud of with a consistent feel. I was not looking for images from a single place or time, so it is all the more interesting to examine some of the characteristics of this set.

Of the 20 images, 10 are from Los Angeles taken on various trips to Downtown, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills. 5 of these are from a 3-day stretch of intensive shooting downtown that I did earlier this year for a book project with John Free.

Flowers and DogDowntown LA with John Free

2 images are from workshop intensives, with Jay Maisel and Sam Abell. During these workshops, you are challenged each day you to make 5 images for the next day’s workshop critique. These two images mark, for me, a breakthrough in thinking.

New York, NYNew York City with Jay Maisel

Whidbey Island, WAWhidbey Island with Sam Abell

The remaining 8 images are from the various travel trips I have started to do in the last few years. The images are from Havana Cuba, Oaxaca Mexico, Lisbon Portugal, and Dublin Ireland, but none of are particularly “travel” images.

Of the 20 images, all but 1, was taken with a micro-four-thirds mirror less camera as I ditched my dSLR sometime in late 2012.

One of the earliest images in the collection, from 2012, was taken in Beverly Hills. I was out for a couple hour photo walk with a good friend and my husband. It was a nothing special day with a nothing special agenda, but my mind had been freshly implanted with the teachings and matras from Jay Maisel’s: “you are responsible for every millimeter of the frame”, “show me the rip in the fabric”, “light-color-gesture”. This image was my only keeper of the day, but what a keeper it was. It will be a permanent member of my top 20 street photographs.

Beverly Hills, CABeverly Hills with Jerry Weber

The most recent images, one is featured at the top of this page, are from Santa Monica Beach and represents all that I am working to achieve now in my photography: walking into the scene to create deeply layered images capturing the full figure and the context behind while carefully managing the juxtapositions between the image elements.

Enjoy my portfolio gallery at the Los Angeles Center of Photography website. And I can’t help but plug and upcoming guest lecture workshop “Sharpening your Photographic Vision” with Sam Abell. The lecture is Dec 3, 2015with the workshop Dec 4–6, 2015.

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Curbside Truck Repair

Downtown LA

The thing about downtown LA is the diversity of old and new, opulent and poor. I ran into this guy fixing a new, to him, 1967 Dodge truck parked at the curb on 5th street near Los Angeles street. I was just walking along and I heard loud banging noises which were the result of him working on fixing the door so that it would open all the way. He was so proud of his new truck. I wonder where he will park it.

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Ralph and The Hotel Baltimore

Downtown LA

As part of the Downtown LA book project, John and Scott Free assigned each of us an isolation challenge. We were given a specific location (address or street corner) and challenged to spend an entire hour photographing just from that location. This challenge forced us to slow down and to wait for the stories to come to us.

I was assigned “501 S. Los Angeles Street”, just two blocks north of skid row at the corner of 5th Street and Los Angeles. When I arrived I found the Hotel Baltimore.

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There is not much history for the Hotel Baltimore on the internet, but I did find out that this is the “new” Hotel Baltimore built in 1910 by Thomas Ashton Fry and designed by architect Arthur Rolland Kelly. Across 5th Street is the King Edward Hotel which is apparently famous for the King Eddy Saloon. There is a brief history on their website which reads:

Not many people remember a time before the King.
We’ve been open since 1933 and we were around before that too. Bootlegging empires were born below this place.
Today we keep it upstairs, “where nobody gives a shit about your name.” Cheap drinks, some food, and a dart room.

In the early 1900’s, 5th Street was lined with hotels leading from the Southern Pacific Railroad Central Station at 5th and Central to the downtown core of Main, Spring, Broadway, and Hill Streets. Even though Central Station was demolished in 1956, many of the 5th Street hotels still stand.

Now the Hotel Baltimore is but a shell of its former glory. No longer a hotel for traveling business men, it serves as low-rent apartments. The security guard indicated that there are two kinds of people at the Baltimore, the old timers and the new folks who rarely stay past their 6 month lease.

The Baltimore presents itself visually as a large open, and empty, foyer with nondescript windows and a couple of doors with signs reading “Do Not Knock”. At first I watched for people to come and go and looked for opportunities as people walked the street. Some ignored me others thought they were having a little fun.

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A woman came down to mop the floor. She waived but then went about her business.

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As I started to think about finding layers, I worked on shooting through two sides of the windows, to appear as if I was shooting from the inside out.

Downtown LA

I looked for reflections to create depth and interest, to overlay the stories inside with the environment outside.

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On Sunday afternoon, the door with the label “Do Not Knock”, was propped open with a tall and friendly security guard. We chatted some.

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Residents started to come and go.
Downtown LA

Then Ralph came out for a smoke. He had recently fallen on bad times and was “back at the Baltimore”.

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He wondered if I would take a picture of him that he could send to his sister. I hope his sister likes it.

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Looking for Relationships

No Conversations

Last week I feel in love with photographing downtown LA. I’ve been downtown many times, but never felt quite at home there and it was always hit or miss to find the shots. I’m trying to identify what was different, so that I can capture it in a bottle and repeat. Here are three things that were different:

  1. I used my 50mm lens instead of the 35mm (I’m talking effective focal length after accounting for the crop factor). While in Cuba, Oaxaca, and Portugal, the 35mm hardly ever strayed from the camera. But these are towns with narrow streets and intimate cultures. I think the 50mm may be better for places like downtown LA with its big wide streets and protective sense of privacy.
  2. I spent the better part of 3-days just photographing. I was in a groove where all I had to think about was photography. I hadn’t spent the better part of the day solving business problems. Slowly my mind wandered into that creative mode that I just don’t (can’t) show that much of at work.
  3. I worked alone. For much of the time I was on my own rather than shooting with other people. Although the safety of shooting can be prudent, shooting alone allowed me to wander more, linger more, and just plain not worry about if I was in someone else’s shot.

As I hone my street photograph, I am thinking more and more about the relationships and layers. In this image, for example, I see this photogenic, active woman in a stripped shirt doing something fairly indicative of LA (these bacon wrapped hot-dog carts are everywhere). I immediately start to figure out what other elements I’m going to include in the scene. I’m looking to create some relationship between the elements of the image. Originally it was just the vendor woman and the woman on her phone on the right. Then the scene got messy, but I had the camera to my eye and was able to identify the moment when these four faces all aligned to a good composition. Nothing occluding, just the faces in proximity for a conversation, but not.

Three days in Downtown LA

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I’ve always had a difficult time photographing in Downtown LA. I don’t know whether I felt intimidated or just couldn’t find my footing with its big wide streets. This past weekend I spent much of three days photographing downtown with my, now common, two cameras / two prime lenses style. For the wider streets of LA, instead of primarily using the 35 mm, I found my stride with the 50mm. (Of course these are taken with my Olympus OM-Ds, so the focal lengths are 17mm and 25mm respectively)

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Three things I can’t resist

Recently I have noticed that there are three things that attract me to make a picture more than anything else. Here are examples from yesterday’s walk around downtown LA.

1) A mirror – when I saw this I actually commented to the people with me “I’m a sucker for a mirror, what can I do with this?”.

Don't shoot the messenger

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

2) An opportunity to divide the image into halves or thirds. This also a good example of how to use street art for your art.

Person, Panda, Indians

Person, Panda, Indians

 3) Shooting through a fence or window or something with holes and then lining up something inside.

Dance

dance

Hidden

Hidden

This month was dizzying. Due to family emergencies (now mostly resolved), I was called home from my workshop with Sam Abell before it even begun. I did, however manage a couple of nice images up in Whidbey the night I landed while explored the local neighborhood. While this same emergency kept me more than busy for most of the month, somewhere during this time I managed two outings to downtown LA and to explore using my new, to me, medium format Hasselblad film camera. (Medium format uses film that is 6 centimeters high, or 2 1/4 inches, but vary in their aspect ratio including 6×6, 6×4.5, 6×7, 6×9, and 6×17 panoramic.)

I’m shooting film, not because I want to shoot film, but because I want to explore the perspective of medium format. I call it looking at a larger chunk of the world. I’ll try to explain. Instead of thinking about effective focal length with a multiplying of the actual focal length by a crop-factor, think instead about the actual focal length. 80mm is 80mm. 80mm is the distance over which your lens brings the light rays into focus. An 80mm lens has a certain look with respect to perspective and compression – no matter what sensor you put it against. The size of your sensor doesn’t change the perspective, the size of your sensor (err film plane) only changes the size of your window into the scene. Or as I put it in less technical terms, the size of your chuck of the world.

As I shoot film, and look for others shooting film, I notice the same syndrome as with digital. There is a lot of junk out there. At first this surprised me. Shooting digital is certainly easier (for me) than shooting film. If you are just going to take snapshots, why do it in film? But this doesn’t stop with just film shooters. Every photo gimmick – iPhone, Instagram, pinhole, lens baby, motion blur, toy cameras, tilt shift, and film – have people who are doing serious work and other people who are riding the cache of the gimmick to somehow prove that they are working harder or having more fun or just better because they use the gimmick.

So I am setting off on my quest to shoot medium format, I am using film, and I promise – I promise – to shoot film on my cool vintage Hasselblad 500 C/M medium format camera to make some seriously elegant work. That’s my plan.

Hasselblad 500 C/M, 80mm, Ilford Delta 100.