A Day at the Station – Union Station

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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.

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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”.

Sociophotography – More than just faces on the street

Arrivals
Arrivals by I Nancy, on Flickr

Although I’ve done my share of landscape and flower photography this past year, capturing images on the street is what makes me happiest. Through the graces of my employer, I’ve had this past week off and have spent most of this time doing, thinking about, reading about, and looking at photography – mostly street photography. It started with a video training with Jay Maisel (from Kelby Training) and have studied works of Elliot Erwitt (his iPad app – highly recommended) and William Eggleston as well as several others. I really resonate with Stephen Shore’s work.

What resonates with me the most is when these photographers do more than just capture visual puns (though Erwitt was pretty good at that) or surprised faces on the street, but rather when they capture something about our culture, something about our society in a meaningful way such as how we live, the things we are doing, and the untold stories. I’d like to create a new word – Sociophotography – or something like that.

In Arrivals, I’ve tried to capture not just the energy of the people arriving at their destination, but also the sociology of travel in this early 21st century. Look at what the travelers are are wearing – brightly colored shirts, tennis shoes, shorts. Everything is so casual and in contrast to what an image might look like it had been taken in 1939 when the station was built. Look at how they carry their items in the ever ubiquitous white plastic bag. How different this might be in another 50 years.

Sure, I too, get enticed by the portrait opportunities of the Chinese man standing looking lost in the atrium, the man color coordinated in red and gray down to every detail leaning up against a green wall,  the man walking determined and shrouded by his hooded sweatshirt, and the nonchalant princess standing under halo lighting. But I’ll also strive for more.

Lost #1 Color Cordinated Shrouded Nonchalant

Which Track? Which Train? – Adding Depth

Which Track? Which Train?
Which Track? Which Train? by I Nancy, on Flickr

In David DuChemin‘s latest e-Book, A Deeper Frame, he discusses using depth to keep the reader (not viewer, his term) engaged in your imagery. As I read the book, I inevitably started to view my images to see where I had created depth and where I had not. I evaluated the images, with and without, on my own subjective scale to determine how I was using depth and it impact on the final result. This image uses layers and scale to bring the reader into its deep frame. David refers to these mechanisms as perspective and “cubing the image”.

The image is a reflection into a busy part of the Los Angeles Union Station lobby. The large lettering is part of the big glass sign showing destinations and track numbers. The image found its way to B&W because the lighting on the sign was a bright neon-green and, probably as intended, overwhelmed everything else. The layers in the reflection include a high-contrast sign with directions and the perspective of people – larger nearer the sign and smaller as they recede into the hallway. There is a powerful sense of geometry created by the intersecting overhead lighting crossing with dark sign, but the payoff is the human elements within. Not only a something we can relate to directly, but each group telling their own story.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of David’s book, I highly recommend it. It comes as an electronic PDF e-Book and is available from Craft and Vision. At $5 is won’t take a much of a bite out of your wallet and won’t even clutter your bookcase.

Cake Walk – Performance and Practice

Cake Walk
Cake Walk by I Nancy, on Flickr

Bay Area photographer G. Dan Mitchell recently wrote a blog post entitled “Music and Photography: Technique and Interpretation”. In it he explores the similarities of being a musician and being a photographer and notes how many people he knows who have accomplishments in both. Ansel Adams was an accomplished pianist and I, myself, an accomplished oboist. (There, I did it! I put Ansel Adams and myself in the same sentence.)

His writings struck a chord with me as I am often attempting to explain to others how I feel when I do photography. There is almost nothing that I do in my life that is not influenced, somehow, by my intense study of, dedicated practice, disciplined weekly music lessons, and performance of music. I started my study at the age of 9 with a single focus through the age of 23 after which I continued to perform and teach for another 20 years. The analogies between the two areas explode; whether it is learning, practice, performing, teaching, or presenting. But the most interesting part for me are the analogies between photography and music in the area of performance and practice.

In both music and photography there are two distinct, and opposite, activities – the time you spend alone working things out, repeatedly if necessary; and time you spend on the stage where nothing is forgiven, an instant cannot be replayed, the moment is gone. The interesting part, is that in music and in photography these time periods are reversed.

In music you practice and rehearse, playing things over and over in preparation, and then, only on the stage, is each moment unique with no return. In photography, however, you play your performance first, with the camera, and then concentrate in the dark/light room to work the image and turn it into your masterpiece. Even in landscape photography, where the mountains and trees don’t move, the perfect light, the glow in the clouds, may last only a few fleeting minutes.

I find these two areas of photography fascinating. I always feeling the same adrenaline and awareness while shooting that I used to feel while performing. The need to be think quickly, react quickly, and be hyper-aware. When truly focused, the time around you stops. I used to tell my music students that the way to play more quickly was simply to make time go more slowly. This sounds all metaphysical, but in truth it is about intense focus.

After the shoot is the introspective act of finishing the creation. Another lesson I tried to teach my students was the difference between playing and practicing. Playing may keep you in shape, but practice is where you get better. Sure, playing can work on the endurance aspect of music (you did know that playing a musical instrument is a physical sport), but practice is introspective, calming, nearly meditative, and about reinforcing the feedback between what you do and what you hear. I get this same feeling while post-processing my stuff. This is the time when deep exploration occurs. I do not mean technical exploration of this or that slider. I mean exploring what you want from the image and then determining how to make that happen. Reinforcing the feedback between what you saw and what you captured. What is the point of focus? How do I accentuate these points? Working and reworking your nuggets of gold to a refined jewelry.

I really enjoy street photography for two reasons. There is no denying that street photography allows me to explore how our society works and capture its little snippets. I like to point out to others what they may miss in their hustle and bustle. But secondly, because of the adrenaline of the performance. The act of going out there, alone or in an ensemble, and concentrating with a focus that is hyper-aware and can almost stop time.