I’ve been building my portfolio over the past 6-7 years, but have struggled with how to present the work. I do not tackle big projects or causes for various reasons. I could just pull together the “best of” portfolio, but I want a little more than that. So instead, I have create a portfolio of Couplets. A couplet is a pair of lines of metre in poetry usually comprised two lines that rhyme. The word “couplet” comes from the French word meaning “two pieces of iron riveted or hinged together.”
Here I present visual couplets, comprised of two images that are visually hinged together by what I consider to be the core concepts in photography: theme, composition, color, gesture.
Couplet #1 Hotdog
Downtown Los Angeles is filled with paradoxes and juxtapositions. Bridal shops and the homeless mix on Broadway.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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)
Sometimes you come home with only one image, but that is all it takes.
It was cold and breezy outside, so Jerry Weber and I decided to shoot Christmas Day the Los Angeles Union Station instead of downtown Broadway. Up on the train platform, there were trains on two adjacent platforms, effectively creating a tunnel except for a small slit near the roof and between the train cars. I took a bunch of shots while the passengers were loading, but the payoff was near then end with the last few stragglers.
The sun, though low, was quite intense and in looking at my early shots, I had the wits about me to push down the EV 2-stops. While I was shooting, I was just concentrating on getting the face in the shaft of light, keeping my framing straight, and fixing the relationship between the light in the upper right and the corner of the frame. I didn’t recognize the reflection or little red lights on the side of the train until I looked at the back of my camera.
Lately as I’ve scrolled through my “friends” posts on Flickr, Facebook, and Google+ I’ve done just that – scrolled through. Very few have made me stop and look. Most have left a different impression. An impression of the processing over the content. As Jay Maisel would say: “I don’t want to see the fine hand of the photographer”.
As I take my first steps exploring my photography through film, and I see the results of a well exposed B&W, I am reminded of the Stieglitz and the early masters. Their photographs had a quality that, although they used many developing and darkroom techniques to coax the best prints from their exposures, never exposed to the fine hand of the photographer over the fine mind of the photographer.
In this image, which I entitled “The Tower”, the representation of the clouds and sky that has been brought out simply by allowing my roll of Ilford Delta 100 to express the magic baked into the science of its emulsion. The final result is not something, I fear, that I would have ever pre-visualized. I am afraid that I have been too steeped in the 21st century digital mania to have done a digital color to B&W conversion with this subtlety.