Monday, June 23, 2014

Exhibition 4

The One Night Stand at Café Babel

Canvases by Adi (4), Christel (2) and me (from the right)
The Transatlantic Art ConneXion, which meets at least once a month in the DAZ in Stuttgart, organized and put on an art happening for the third time as part of the American Days on May 22, 2014. We decided on one central theme for the evening and one format. We have used the square format in previous shows and will offer our artwork to the Museum Ritter near Stuttgart, which specializes in all things in a square format.

Sabine did a wonderful job of capturing the evening's theme "Connections" in her work
Mixed media is one of Uka's strengths, mixing photography and drawing on the canvases.

Nic found inspiration in the solar system.

Juan went all out and made delicious finger-food for the 30 participants and visitors.

In addition to showing three canvases, Adi also put her handmade jewelry on display.

To complement the 40 x 40 cm canvases we put up all around the café, the Writers in Stuttgart, read from their work.


In two years the American Days will roll around again and we'll be looking for another interesting venue to do our happening. Please tell me if you know of a good place!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Exhibition 3

 Diverse Perspectives

Joel Micah Miller, Jim Martin, Edwige Damron, Uka Meissner-deRuiz, Martin Greeson and Jim Palik
The big show at the Café Künstlerbund was a success due to the terrific people who organized it and participated in it.
Jim Palik and Uka Meissner-deRuiz were the veterans among us, each of them having over 50 years' experience as a photographer! We hung the show on May 18, 2014, and will take the pictures down a week from today on June 29.

Jim helped Uka transport her huge pictures

Bernd Mückenhaupt, also a photographer and member of the Künstlerbund, helped us hang our pictures and by the time I arrived at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning had pasted up the newest poster advertising our show.

Bernd puts up the billboard announcing our show

Edwige Damron is the youngest in this group, but she has experience in both the U.S. and in Germany as a professional photographer. Her specialty is newborn photography but she appears to be just as comfortable capturing the beauty of six million year-old rock formations in Arizona.

Edwige sticks an information tag onto one of her pictures
Eight in the morning is early, especially on a Sunday. But we all gathered there with our four pictures each and watched the experts hang them high and straight. 
Joel helps align Jim's pictures with his own
On the one wall we decided to hang the photographs which showed cities or towns. My four from NYC are at the front of this picture and Uka's triptych from Alabama are hanging near the bar.

On the opposite wall were Edwige's landscapes from Arizona and Joel's from California.

Martin Greeson, a photographer for the US Army, showed his four images up at the stage, including one ingeniously hung picture of ducks and their reflection in the water. Viewers could actually rotate the image 180° to see what it looked like upside-down.

Jim Palik and Martin Greeson talk after the hanging.
My good friend Christof Schmidt played an American program on the trombone, accompanied by Frank Zuckschwerdt, who is an accomplished trumpeter and pianist.

We were graced with the presence of over 100 visitors the evening of the opening and there were probably thousands more who came in to appreciate the show in one of Stuttgart's best locations for showing art.

 If you haven't had a chance to see the show yet, hurry up! BTW, the art is for sale.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

American Days 2014, Exhibitions 1 & 2

Last month I was able to reap the rewards from months (and years) of work. I was privileged to be asked to show in four exhibitions at one time.
The first was in the prison in Heimsheim (no cameras allowed, thus no pictures here), where I showed five of my black/white prints from my recent street photography production. This one was chosen to hang in the front hall where visitors go in and out. I had actually chosen the theme "In and out" for my images, and came up with a group that worked well together.

The next show went up at the DAZ as part of the American Days celebration. There I hung four pictures I had been aching to show because I liked them so much. They are not like anything I had ever done or seen before, so I was curious to see people's reactions.

I received many favorable comments on the photographs, most people wanting to know how exactly I had made them.

Last weekend I cooked something similar and took many more photos under better lighting conditions. Here is one of those.

The opening of the show was a big deal. A colonel from the US military base came and gave an interesting speech about German art. Two young girls from a local music school played Chopin's "Variations on a Theme from Cinderella" and kept our attention throughout their playing.

There was plenty to eat and drink, but it was hot and crowded. Most people were there to appreciate the art and the camaraderie of the evening, but there were also some people off the streets who were there primarily for the free food. And I guess that's fair. We had enough to go around. For those of you who have never been to an opening and are not sure how to avoid a faux pas, here is a list.

Since the opening was early in the evening, my entire family was able to come. I appreciate the support my family offers me in my artistic endeavors. I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them in the arts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I found Vivian Maier

I'm a supporter of crowd-funding activities. A couple of years ago when I was thinking about doing a Kickstarter project and while I was funding a few more (still waiting for a DVD and a CD), I saw Jon Maloof's project about Vivian Maier. I was fascinated.
Last week I was fortunate enough to see a sneak-preview of "Finding Vivian Maier" and am still intrigued by the woman and her work. The movie shows many of her brilliant photographs interwoven among interviews with people who knew her during her life and with narration by John Maloof, who discovered her oeuvre after she had died. Having kept abreast of the developments around the film and having been given the book for Christmas, I thought I knew practically everything there was to know about this secretive street photographer: how her negatives had been bought at auction, were scanned and shared by Maloof on Flickr and on his blog and were considered brilliant enough by his audience on those sites that he got some media attention, ended up on TV and showed 80 posthumous prints at the Chicago Cultural Center. I also knew there was a film in the making and was looking forward to its release. Then a friend called up and invited me to the preview!

During the first 30 minutes of the film, the former nanny's charges remembered Maier(s) for the camera. Abrupt cuts in the interviews left the audience hungry for more details. In an attempt to hook the viewers into the biography by the apparent revelation of secrets, the director or editor cut the interview material just as one thought something was about to be revealed. Soon I bored of this game - as it just seemed to be going in circles and was not gaining momentum - and so I realized I was just going to have to take whatever came - at best, some more unpublished photographs, at worst, more unfortunate editing.
Maloof admits his concern at publishing a dead woman's work, yet says he is trying to share with the world the treasures he has found and which he feels need to be exposed. Maier is hardly King Tut, but one sometimes feels pulled between wanting to bury her secrets with her on the one hand and wanting to plunder her tomb (a storage rental space) to find more treasures on the other. For me, aside from the photographs, the most revealing moments came when I heard tapes played of her speaking voice, usually of her interviewing people in the yard or in the supermarket. These snippets, too, were cut too short, seemingly to leave enough material for "Vivian Maier: Found - Part II, the Continuing Saga". Perhaps the director thought that the visually-minded viewers of his film would want to see faces of interviewees (who one felt were rarely allowed to tell the whole story) rather than Super 8 films Maier made and cassettes she recorded.
The New Yorker published an enlightened article recently about the fact that the movie made her sound as if Maier were defective in some way because she didn't grab the fame and fortune that may have come her way, had she been well connected in the art world. In fact, what the article failed to mention is that she did try to have her photographs shown in the rural French town of Saint-Julien-en-Champsaur where her mother was from. Logistics seem to have made a cooperation with the owner of the camera store across the Atlantic impossible. And yet she continued to make photographs. The film makes no effort - whereas the article does - to portray her as an artist in her own right who lived with families so as to have a family and a home when it was convenient to her and so that she could continue to pursue her art while keeping her day job.
As a matter of fact, she pursued her art while she was on the job. She would take the children to the gothic sides of town where she could find fodder for her film. Like so many artists, she took a pragmatic approach to life. Knowing she would not be able to support herself with her art, she found a way to kill several birds with one stone. She would work for families taking care of their children. That way she would have family life - when she wanted it - without the emotional attachments which might distract her from her work. She would have a home without having to pay the upkeep or worry about its depreciation. Printing and marketing her work effectively while still walking the streets and shooting - which she loved - would have been too much for her.
Sadly, it seems that Maloof wanted to ride the wave of interest in Maier (his or the public's?) while it was still thundering through the media and he made this film before even developing and viewing all of Maier's work. I can only believe that he is hoping there will be some more revelations and enough material for a second film. One can only hope that he makes enough money from this movie and from the luscious books to be able to hire a professional documentary film maker for the second chapter.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


Café Künstlerbund at Schloßplatz in the background
The time has come. The days lie immediately ahead of me. The Exhibition Days!
On Thursday I'll hang pictures for a group show that opens on Friday, May 16, 2014. A wide variety of artists from the German & American Artist Group will show their recent work at the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum at Charlottenplatz in Stuttgart as part of the American Days 2014.
On Sunday I'll hang pictures for an group show that opens on Thursday, May 21, in Café Künstlerbund at Schloßplatz. Six American photographers in Stuttgart will be showing their work.
And in between I'll be attending a meeting of my art group, at which we'll discuss the final plans for our happening on May 22, where we'll show some of our paintings!

Juan in his Café Babel
The last show is for one evening only at Café Babel near Olgaeck (Urbanstr. 26) in Stuttgart if you want to stop by. Members of my former writing group from the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Zentrum (James Byrnes Institut) will be reading from their latest work. We artists from the Transatlantic Art Connexions group will be showing our new 40 x 40 cm canvases. The theme of the readings and in the paintings is "Connections."

Come join us for the shows!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Light for landscapes

Sometimes - even as a street and event photographer - you drive by a landscape on your way from Point A to Point B and you just have to pull over and see what's there for your sensor to feed on. That happened to me earlier this year as I was driving back from a friend's house. The morning sun hadn't broken through the fog yet and a field freshly planted lay embedded in thick morning soup.

 After wandering around the fields for a good amount of time, I started concentrating on the details of the agricultural tools lying around.

Then I thought I'd go for the standard up-the-antenna shot while I was there. With a white sky the struts stand out even better than normal.

One last series before leaving incorporated a foreground and a simple background. I also remembered reading somewhere to try vertical shots for landscapes, too. The final images reminded me somewhat of the photographs of Mark Seawell, whose work I admire so much. If you want to see some powerful landscapes, check out his collection.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Volksfest 2014

The annual spring fair at the Wasen in Bad Cannstatt is the largest of its kind in Germany.
For young children, it is an opportunity to go on carousels and other rides while eating cotton candy, sugar-coated almonds, french fries and chocolate-covered strawberries. OK, to be honest, that's also a big reason that the adults go there, too. For me and several dozen others, it's a great photo op!

Another reason adults go there is the beer. The Economist measures world-wide currencies based on the "Big Mac Index" in that it takes the price of a Big Mac in various countries and evaluates the currency based on the price of McDonald's iconic burger. Well, here in Germany it seems that they take the current price of a liter of beer and adjust the currency (raising and lowering salaries accordingly) so that a million liters can be bought (and mostly drunk) during this three-week festival! Currently, a liter of Festbier costs €9.10. That's obviously not too much for some Lederhosen and Dirndl types.

You think that's scary? Look at this! A little boy was walking through the fairgrounds with a "Scary Movie" mask on and was going up to everyone in his path and shouting "Boo!"

Think that's scary? These three Dirndl-clad lads nearly bowled me over as I was maneuvering my way through the crowded streets.

Still not scared? OK, then there are the rides. I'm sure they aren't as scary if you are clobbered, but if you are waiting below for your friends to get off the ride, watch out because all sorts of projectiles fall and flow from these whirling contraptions.

For photographers, I don't think there's a best time to go there, unless you are waiting for certain types of pictures. The evening is attractive because the lights are flashing, but on the other hand some people are getting out of hand by then and the next thing you know, lights are flashing on a police car or ambulance coming to haul away somebody.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Each of us has a great amount of creative potential inside.

What is the trick to letting it out? For me, hard work is the answer. There is always an aspect of craft to every form of art. Pianists need to exercise their fingers regularly; painters, their hands and arms; dancers, their entire bodies. Writers must write, painters must paint, and photographers need to make photographs. Listening to music, watching videos of dancers, reading other people's books all day is going to give you information but will add little to your craft. You see, the moment your fingers hit the keys or the shutter, you have committed yourself to creating art. And that's where the journey begins - day after day.

I came to Germany nearly 24 years ago because I thought I wanted to study musicology, earn a doctorate and return to the US to teach at a college where I could introduce my students to good music. It took three semesters before I realized that, even more than the music itself, it was really the musicians themselves who fascinated me: the biographies of the composers and performers and, as I became better connected in the music world, the actual lives of the performers, composers, critics and even instrument makers. I didn't have a very good background in music theory, either, which really slowed me down and eventually made me switch back to studying languages.

Over the past 28 years I've been a teacher in some capacity. I have never liked George Bernard Shaw's saying, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," because it sometimes hits home too closely. However, during my teaching, I always did the same assignments the students did. I wrote the short stories, took the pictures, acted the scenes - whatever it was - because I like doing, too. 
Teachers are indeed important, but we are all students of the world, so let's keep on doing!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Sony A7

Minolta f4-4.5/28-135, 1/60 sec., f5.0, ISO 1600

Here is my hands-on A7 report. I have had it for eighteen weeks and kept 13,000 shots, so I should have enough experience to talk about it a bit. Besides, I've been proofreading Gary Friedman's new book on the A7/r cameras and have gained some insights from that great book, too. So here goes:

What I've always said about Sony DSLRs goes for this mirrorless camera, too. It feels good in my hands and is very easy to control even with my eyes closed. And how often are we in situations in which either there is no light or you have no time to look at your camera's buttons? Everything is there where you need it. Two wheels - front and back - plus a handy exposure compensation wheel on the outside right corner for those moments when the zebra comes into the frame. By "zebra" I mean the new highlight clipping tool that lets you know if you are overexposing certain areas. There isn't anything for black clipping, but you can always look at your histogram to see what's going on in the shadows.

Now, I bought the kit lens to go with this camera because I figured it would be good to have at least one that was made for a full-frame E-mount camera. I also purchased the LA-EA4 adapter for Alpha lenses. The Sony website was running a deal where you'd get the adapter for €100 cheaper plus an extra year on the guarantee free. I went into my favorite camera store in Stuttgart and told them about the deal and they matched it. Good salespeople. The native FE lenses that have been released up to now are light and of good quality.

I also use the camera with my old full-format lenses, ranging from the Zeiss f2.8/24-70 to the Tamron f2.8/70-200. I've tested it with all my lenses and it works with all of them - Tokina f2.8/28-80, Samyang's f1.4/85, the Sony 75-300 SSM and all the old Minolta lenses, including the f2.8/28mm, f1.4/50mm, f3.5-4.5/28-105, f4-4.5/28-135, f4.5-5.6/100-300. But it also works very well with the APS-C lenses, such as the Samyang 8mm fisheye and the Tokina f2.8/11-16. Yes, there is a crop factor to be added to those wide angles, but you still get a good quality image with this camera.

 Samyang 8mm, 1/250sec., f8, ISO 250

I received the hot shoe adapter in February so I was then finally able to use flash and remote flash with the camera. Sonys are configured so that a camera's pop-up flash can trigger a remote flash. Since the A7 doesn't have a pop-up flash, I have to use the adapter with my PixL Soldier radio triggers. Sony has changed its hot shoe so that it will fit other makers' flashes, triggers, etc. now but it doesn't fit my older Sony flashes, such as the HVL43AM and HVL58AM. At first, I pulled out my 25 year-old Nikon SB-22 and it worked. Having a middle contact, it shot in manual mode just fine. (A Canon flash wouldn't have worked, I've been told, because it doesn't have the middle contact.) At least I had a bit of extra light for the dark months of the year until the adapter arrived. I'm happy to report that using the flash on top of the A7 does not result in the same slight lag as one got used to with the A77. The A7 also works just fine with the triggers.

FE28-70, 1/60sec., f7.1, ISO 100, with SB-22 on camera
When the sun has set, I have no qualms shooting at 6400 ISO with the A7. My Auto ISO setting reads 100-6400 and the best thing about the setting on this camera is that it is really automatic - even in manual shooting mode. That means you set your shutter speed at 1/250 sec. and your aperture at f5.6 and walk around town and the ISO takes care of the rest for you. ISO 3200 or 6400 doesn't give you the prettiest pictures, but they are certainly usable.

FE28-70, 1/200 sec., f5.6, ISO 3200
I have found that the kit lens focuses slowly. However, if you change your shooting style to DMF and then get ready to focus manually (using the handy focus-peaking feature), then you'll do fine. All the other lenses focus fast enough on the camera.

Recently, I picked up the Zeiss FE 1.8/55 lens, the one that got top ratings on the DXO Mark test site. Now I feel as if I'll be able to shoot without any adapters out in the sun and in low-light situations as well. With an open aperture you see chromatic aberrations in high-contrast areas, as you would with any lens, but in normal lighting situations, the performance is excellent.

Zeiss FE 55mm, 1/320 sec., f3.5, ISO 1600
A couple of months ago, I read about the apparent problem of light leak in some A7 cameras. Having tested my model, I have to say I see no problem.

All in all, it's been wonderful shedding some weight and moving up a class to the full-frame world. The A77 has faster auto-focus and the new, small A6000 even faster, so if that's what you need, you might want to wait. The focus-tracking is pretty good, but I'm sure other cameras are better for action sports.

Zeiss FE55mm, 1/400 sec., f4.0, ISO 400
I've installed the double-exposure app, which has been fun to use because it makes me twice as aware as usual when I make a picture because I know it will be combined with another image. Actually, if you are shooting in RAW, both images are saved as RAW and JPEG files and the combined JPEG is also saved.

Double-exposure app from Sony
I have not done much work with JPEGs on the A7. The only reason I switch from the RAW format is to shoot an in-camera HDR or when using the double-exposure app. So I leave you for now with this straight-out-of-the-camera HDR and wish you happy shooting with the Sony A7.

FE28-70, 1/320 sec., f9.0, ISO 200