Happy Seventeen!

Today is the 17th anniversary of the start of my personal blog here using the sjl.us domain. It all began on November 25, 2001.

In my first post, I wrote about Amazon having free U.S. shipping on orders over $99 (that’s changed since then!). In a second post that day, I wrote about an article in the San Francisco Chronicle talking about why writers enjoy living in the San Francisco Bay Area (I wonder whether that’s changed – given the current cost of living, etc. in this area!).

I had played around earlier creating a personal web page (using an early Microsoft web page editor named Front Page) but when I started this edition on November 25, 2001 I was using Radio Userland. Sometime later I migrated it all over to WordPress.

Exploring San Francisco’s Embarcadero with my iPhone 7 Plus 

I often meet up with my friend Doug Kaye for a couple of hours of street photography in San Francisco. We often meet  at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and head out from there along San Francisco’s Embarcadero towards Pier 24 (which is directly under where the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge heads out over the Bay).

Pier 24 — a beautiful space dedicated to photographic exhibitions — (one reviewer calls it “the quietly spectacular waterfront cathedral for photography“) has a new exhibition that recently opened titled “The Grain of the Present.” Pier 24 requires advance reservations which we had made a couple of weeks prior.

This particular exhibition “examines the work of 10 photographers at the core of the Pilara Foundation collection — Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Lee Friedlander, Nicholas Nixon, Stephen Shore, Henry Wessel, and Garry Winogrand — whose works share a commitment to looking at everyday life as it is.” It also features additional photography by Eamonn Doyle, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ed Panar, Alec Soth, Awoiska van der Molen, and Vanessa Winshi.

It’s quite a collection of beautiful work,  and the opportunity to see it displayed in the beautiful space of Pier 24 makes for a great experience. If you enjoy great photography, do try to see this new exhibition at Pier 24, just remember that it requires you make a reservation a few weeks in advance. Pier 24’s reservation system helps pace visitor entry further enhancing the experience.

Along the way, both back and forth from the Ferry Building to Pier 24, we walked slowly — cameras in hand — and had fun capturing some moments of street photography. I had my favorite street photography camera long (a Fujifilm X100F) but I never pulled it out of the bag.  I was only shooting using the camera in my iPhone 7 Plus. Sometimes I enjoy going very minimalist, and using just my iPhone puts me in that frame of mind!

Below are some example images shot on the iPhone 7 Plus, post-processed using the Photos app on the iPhone, and tweaked using Google’s Snapseed application — also on the iPhone. This was a totally iPhone photography day! Follow more of my street photography on Instagram.

Four Corners

Bay Glow


Just Resting

Easy Rider

Little Man

With Peter Turnley in New York City


Last week I participated in one of Peter Turnley’s Streets of New York Workshops. I’ve been to a number of photography workshops over the last few years – but this one with Peter was quite special.

Peter’s workshop was all about celebrating life – and using the camera to capture life as it evolves right in front of you. As one who has shot a lot of street photography, I appreciated his distinction between street candids – shot anonymously from a distance – and street portraits that are shot while directly engaging with the subject.

I spent the first two days of the workshop frustrated – as I wasn’t confident enough to engage with anyone. On the third day – our trip out to Coney Island – it all clicked for me and I had a great time interacting with people who were just enjoying themselves – as I was – at the beach.

Watching Peter work, he brings a wonderful balance to his approach – one that both is disarming in how he approaches someone on the street and then very serious as he does his work – shooting perhaps 20-30 images once he’s secured their agreement.

Peter brings his life experiences as a photography into the workshop – adding real depth and meaning to the experience. This was a beautiful workshop experience for me – one that I highly recommend. You can view my images from the workshop here on Flickr.

Memories of Sognefjord

Up the Fjord - Sognefjord - 2002

I was looking back through my Lightroom photo archive tonight and came across the original of this image – shot in June 2002 with my first digital camera – a Kodak DC290. I think I probably still have it around here somewhere!

The DC290 had a 2.1 megapixel sensor – and was one of the weirdest looking “cameras” ever made. But I was able to get some beautiful shots of Norway with it on a special vacation to our “hometown” – Loftesnes – just across from Sogndal.

When I came across this image tonight, I loved the composition. It had been sitting in my archive for fourteen years – with me ignoring it. The composition seemed ideal for a monochrome treatment – so that’s what you see here. A bit of platinum toning was applied and a border added.

Brings back memories of being on the boat heading to Sogndal years ago!

Gelatos at Manly Beach

Manly - Gelatos - Australia (HDR)

It’s always fun for me to see what images of mine here on Flickr end up being popular day by day. This is a great example. It’s an image of a gelato stand on Manly Beach in Australia – shot during one of my visits in March 2011.

On this trip, I was shooting in RAW using a tiny Canon PowerShot S95 – and I processed this image when I got home as a single image HDR shot. The HDR (High Dynamic Range) treatment added the interesting contrast and depth to the swirls in the gelato.

I have no idea why this particular image from two years ago suddenly became popular yesterday – but it did. And it brought back my memories of taking the shot – including, something that’s special for a photographer, the smells of the place!

Ah, Manly! Looking forward to coming back!

Train Your Gaze – Musing about Portrait Photography

Our Gal

So far in my pursuit of photography, I’ve spent much more time shooting images of landscapes, architecture, buildings, etc. than I have taken portraits. Oh sure, I’ve taken lots of family photos along the way – snapshots – but not much serious portrait work. Well, then there’s Lily – portrait above!

As I wrote in my summary of my learning about photography in 2011:

I began, for the first time, to try to learn more about portraiture. I’m still a relative novice at it – there’s a lot of difference between shooting a landscape and a person – but I’m beginning to appreciate and try to apply those differences. Portraiture is definitely an area I want to continue to focus on in 2012!

One of my learnings came from a portraiture class taught by Neal Menschel at Stanford’s Continuing Studies program. Neal’s a great photographer and his approach to critique and instruction helped me make some early progress. As so often happens, we learned a lot from each other in that class – as we were each progressing week to week. Definitely a valuable experience!

Of course, there’s really nothing better to build skills than to practice – but that’s been more difficult for me. Part of it is my social skills – not being much of a “chatter” (!) – along with my other pursuits. I’m sure it’ll come – as I get more comfortable with it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working my way through Roswell Angier‘s “Train Your Gaze: A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography” (aff link) – a seriously wonderful book about photographing human subjects “in many different ways and from a number of different perspectives.”

Each of the twelve chapters in the book includes three elements: a discussion of one aspect of portrait photography, example photographs illustrating that aspect and a shooting assignment to pursue. I’m reading through the book now – and plan to go through it a second time to work through the assignments.

Here’s an example assignment – from the first chapter “About Looking”. You put the camera on a tripod, and find a willing subject able to spend an hour. The goal is to use the full hour and take a “36 exposure roll of film” of that person over the full hour – not in the first five minutes. Angier’s using this technique to highlight Richard Avedon’s approach to stillness. Turns out that Angier’s got my concerns about banter with the subject in mind:

First and foremost, the photographer must be quiet, thereby relinquishing the responsibility to keep the subject amused with reassuring banter. This is markedly different from the chatty masquerade that characterizes commercial portrait studios… The process may be uncomfortable or it may not be. It may seem like a quiet struggle or it may feel like a seduction. The end result will be witness to the process. Whatever quality the result may have, it will not feel like a picture that has been caught on the fly.”

Earlier this week, at the Google+ Photographer’s Conference, Peter Hurley – master of the head shot – spoke. Hurley’s technique is effectively the opposite of this – he talks A LOT to his subjects – continuously from the way he described it. And he gets some great head shots.

So, what to learn from these two approaches? Hurley’s certainly more of production “machine” – being paid by his subjects for his work. Avedon, for much of his work, didn’t want any personal connection with his subjects. Different strokes – both producing strong images.

Like most things in life, this feels very situational – for me to apply, it depends on the situation. If I was shooting senior portraits, a Hurley-like chatty approach makes sense. If I was shooting, for example, strangers – the dispassionate, disconnected Avedon approach would likely capture them at their most realistic. Bottom line for me: spend more time doing portrait work and try to find my technique.

By the way, here’s a great review of the book on the Luminous Light blog. It includes notes on each chapter and links to related content.

Dorothea Lange at the Oakland Museum of California

On my way home from the East Bay this afternoon, I stopped by the Oakland Museum of California – a wonderful museum that brings back lots of memories from the early days following its opening in 1969. The museum has almost completed a major renovation – with the new Art and History galleries now open. While visiting today, I explored the Art and History galleries along with viewing the final day showing of Richard Misrach’s photographs of the devasting aftermath of the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley fire.

Later this spring, the museum will be opening a new exhibition: The 1968 Exhibit – which I’m looking forward to seeing! I was at UC Berkeley in 1968 – and have many memories of that tumultuous year!

Migrant Mother Dorothea Lange 1936 320pxWhat drew me to make today’s stop at OMCA was following up on some of my Walker Evans explorations which reminded me to explore another great American photographer, Berkeley’s Dorothea Lange. As a contemporary of Walker Evans during the 30’s and 40’s, Lange “created an indelible record of everyday life in difficult times.” Lange gifted her personal archive to OMCA – some 25,000 negatives and 6,000 prints. Perhaps her most iconic image is Migrant Mother – shot in 1936 – shown at right.

Similar in approach to Evans, she documented the people of America in their daily routine. I found this comment about Lange’s approach in the book “Watkins to Weston: 101 Years of California Photography 1849-1950“:

If Lange had a guiding motto, it seemed to be a quote from Francis Bacon that appeared in her 1934 Christmas card and that hung over her darkroom doors: “The contemplation of things as they are, without substitution or imposture, without error or confusions, is in itself a nobler thing that a whole harvest of invention.”

Keep it simple – and direct.

In the Art Gallery, OMCA displays a very wide range of art from its collection – including several of Lange’s more famous prints in a separate alcove. I really enjoyed my tour of this large gallery and seeing a few of Lange’s prints. Also displayed were several Ansel Adams prints – including one from his early days when his images were purposely soft and painterly. Great stuff!

Sneaking Up on Christmas

It’s an early grey – but warm – morning outside here on Christmas Eve.

We’re already getting ready for a big family get together tonight at our place. Lots of goodies, family chat, gifts, food and drink. I’ll be heading out to the store shortly for some last minute supplies, trying to avoid the crush.

I’m really looking forward to things slowing down just a bit over the next few days – before that inevitable bustle of everything cranking back up to full speed again begins in the New Year!

Best Christmas wishes!

Saturday Night Radio

San Francisco - June 4, 2005On this beautiful early June Saturday evening in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been listening tonight to several audio streams.

First up was the latest Gillmor Gang (MP3). After listening to 3/4 of this show, I concluded that I’m just too old for any of what they’re discussing to actually matter. Jon Udell and the rest of the gang seem quite interested in what Macromedia and Adobe are about to announce in terms of extending Flash as a platform. I’m happy for them — but I frankly could care less. (Actually, it sounded like Steve and Doc felt the same way!)

After exhausting that topic, the Gang examines what Microsoft’s Office 12 XML strategies are all about — and, once again, I feel that I’m just too old to understand and appreciate their points of view on this subject. I left Microsoft behind a while back and haven’t looked back! Maybe some S&P 500 corporate CIO’s are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for those Microsoft Office 12 XML formats?

Too bad podcasts are so one-way — so “broadcast”. Frankly, this particular podcast demands somebody calling in and asking the participants “who cares!”

Maybe that’s the next step in podcasts – duh – making them “two way” via Skype (or iChat) call-ins?

After trying to understand the technobabble of the Gillmor Geeks, the best “radio” of the evening turned out to be Halley Suitt‘s Memory Lane interview with Meg Hourihan over on Doug Kaye‘s IT Conversations. Turns out Meg’s Mom had a lot to do with Meg’s interest in computers. Like Meg, I also spent a lot of online time in the 80’s on CompuServe and it was a lot of fun to hear her talk about her experiences learning about both computers and online services.

Oh, by the way, the ads are gone. After experimenting with Google’s AdSense ads on my personal blog for a while (to see what I could learn about their targeting effectiveness), I opted to drop them all tonight.