Something Elegant

Wedding Cake

It’s been about 1 month since I purchased my Hasselblad 500 C/M and I finally have something to show for my efforts. When they say “3rd time’s the charm” maybe it is true. This was my third roll. The first two were in color, as was the fourth and I haven’t really even cracked into looking at them yet.

I think it is worth talking about how different it is processing a film scan versus digital RAW file. Film is different. Film is smooth. Film has years of expertise baked into how it is going to react to light. When I process a digital RAW file it is too easy to go beyond reality. I only need one weak lapse in judgement to push a slider too far – and there are so many sliders. I have no background in how light works from a physical perspective or the special properties of light sensitive silver gelatin. Only me, my two eyeballs, my screen, and that gray matter between my ears that too easily seeks stimulation over subtlety.

When I worked with my film scans, the tones were set. The tonal relationships were set. Sure, I could push the pixles around a little – a bit more contrast, a dodge here, a burn there – but the scanned file didn’t posses that Gumby-like elasticity of a RAW file that allows us to morph our image (almost) to infinity and beyond. Instead, the film engineers are our guides with a century of so of expertise painstakingly refined to respond just right to the light. Dashed are those thrill-seeking voices in my head.

Then there is the view of the camera. Medium format is different. My one and only lens is an 80mm focal length. When we shoot with our nifty dSLRs, we are used to thinking about the compression and field of view of an 80mm lens – whether on a full-frame or cropped. Only in Medium Format 80mm gives you the field of view of 50mm (in 35mm land) and 25mm (in micro four-thirds land), but the compression is different. The perspective is different. It is more accurate to think about a 35mm frame to be a cropped version of a Medium Format frame (and remember, Medium Format is just a cropped version of 4×5, etc…) And yes, today we have good rectilinear corrected lenses but the compression is different. The feel is different. The expansiveness is different. And it is this expansiveness that peaked my interest in Medium Format to begin with. The fact that I’m shooting film was pure economics (who can afford those digital backs?) – until now that I see the results.

Here I present my first of 4 images of Disney Hall in Los Angeles. A beautiful elegant building with trademark Frank Gehry styling. Each image will be posted separately, because each image deserves its own page.

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

The Daily Lottery Ticket

The Lottery

In this corner of Downtown LA, just at the Broadway entrance to Grand Central Market, people buy their lottery tickets. You can stand here all day and watch the people stream out out, intent on their tickets and scratchers. They rarely look up. They rarely notice. And if they do, they rarely care. This is the perfect position for a street photographer.

Player

Vendor

First Glance

Judging a Book By Its Cover – Street Photography, more than just a surprised face

Judging A Book By Its Cover
Judging A Book By Its Cover by I Nancy, on Flickr

I have recently made a bunch of new street photographer acquaintances and, therefore, have been looking at a new set of images and styles and reading about their different approaches and ideas on various forums and blogs. As I look through their  work, I am impressed by their vision and images. I notice those images that take me to a new place versus those that just pull me along on the street with them. I am reminded of something that I feel strongly about for my own street photography. That the best street photography, across all of its various styles and approaches, is more than just a surprised (bored, angry, funny, ugly, old, beautiful) face. In my street photography I want a full story, a deep story. I look for a story complete with body language and environment to create depth. I want my images to be more than just an odd person or visual pun.

In this image, my traveler is doing a most obvious thing –  sitting in a waiting room opening a book. The obvious can be described with nouns and verbs – book, open, man, waiting room. But look harder and you see a more colorful story that need adjectives and adverbs to descrbe. You see that his belongings are in neither a backpack, suitcase nor duffelbag, but in a brown paper shopping bag. The bag is worn and used, not crisp and new. He is not yet reading his book, but preparing to read his book; evaluating the cover, his hand guiding him across the words. He is older and has come in from outside with jacket and hat; a hat that has seen some wear and makes a clear statement of utility over style, function over form. And although he is alone, he is not completely alone. A man behind him, barely seen, talks on a cell phone, visualized in this image from the point of view of my traveler – just audible, but not much.

Upstairs, Downstairs

Upstairs, Downstairs
Upstairs, Downstairs by I Nancy, on Flickr

When I saw this situation, I was reminded of one Alfred Steiglitz’s famous photograph The Steerage. Steiglitz, in his photograph,  perfectly juxtaposes Jewish men in full morning prayer on the lower, steerage, deck of a ship against the more casual crowds in bowlers and straw hats above.

In this scene, I was able to use the lights and hand railings in the bottom part of the image to draw the viewer all the way through and into the scene. With the woman rushing up the ramp set back as well. The upstairs scene needed to take care of itself, as I was concentrated on the woman below and her positioning against to get her lit within the tunnel. I like the man on the left, his face full visible between the bars, and I think he brings a sense of order and meaning to the top image.

The image is divided by  the dramatically stylized art-deco STATION sign that is so characteristic of Los Angeles Union Station. Travelers familiar with Union Station will recognize this sign immediately.

Angry in Pink – A Portrait

Angry in Pink
Barricaded by suitcases and posture – Angry in Pink by I Nancy, on Flickr

Yesterday I went out to see what treasures awaited for me and my camera at Los Angeles Union Station – a mighty art-deco icon and still in use as the primary train station in Los Angeles. In comparison to the grandiose caverns of the stations I’ve visited to in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, Union Station is small but full of both character and characters. This day I found my best subjects in the main waiting room, upstairs at the train tracks, and at a local eatery – Philippe’s.

The main waiting room is large and rectangular with a main walkway down the middle and large frosted glass windows on both sides, architecturally a mixture of Spanish Mission and Art-Deco Modern. The seats are square wood and leather, ample and comfortable, so different from modern airport waiting rooms. There are always plenty of travelers that seem to have hours to wait, which I’ve not quite figured this out as this is the western most terminus for the United States. They must be using Union Station as a hub to go east after arriving from somewhere from the north or south.

From a technical perspective, the lighting in the station is dim, but interesting. The two sides of glass provide good directional lighting from either side and for normal use there is hardly need for additional lighting (though I’ve never been there at night). For my day of photography cranked my ISO to 1600 at f/4 or larger and work from there. I was looking specifically for portraits so mostly donned my 70-200 f/4 on a full-frame Canon 5dMkII. Stealth photography, you might quip. But I’m sure I would not have been able to capture these expressions with a shorter lens, and expressions was my objective.

I looking for interesting faces with interesting clothing, to tell a story, today I present “Angry in Pink”.

Pigeons on 12th and Maple – On Composition

Pigeons on 12th and Maple
Pigeons on 12th and Maple by I Nancy, on Flickr

Last weekend I took a workshop from Sam Abell. It was entitled “Sharpening your Photographic Vision”, or something like that, but it was really all about composition. This man is a master of composition. He talks of macro composition and micro composition. Background and layers. He also talks about approaches to get these kinds of images to happen.

Here we had just arrived on our morning location at 12th and Maple in downtown LA. Of course we all saw the 200 or so pigeons on the wires above us. Sam’s words – compose and wait – find the background and then wait for the subject to come to you, miracles happen.

From time-to-time, the pigeons were coming into the street, so I found the orange background got down and waited for the birds to do something interesting. The street merchant threw rice in the gutter, the pigeons came down to eat, the van entered the intersection, the pigeons exploded, and a man rode through dressed in black wearing a hat.

In this image I achieved a deeply layered composition. We have the pigeons in front with all of their movement and flurry. A background of orange with the street patterns adding more visual interest. A “V” in the front of the image and the diagonals complete the macro-composition. In the micro-composition is the 12th St street sign – free from obstruction, its blue color standing out against the rest of the background,  the van which looks like it is bursting through the intersection, and the man riding through.

Miracles happen.