Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cotton candy

Take an eight year-old and put her within 100 yards of cotton candy. This is what happens.
Child sees sign for cotton candy.
Child begs money from parents, then passes it along the economic food chain.
Mouth begins to water as stick begins to fill.
Body begins to assume the position for receiving the treat.
Child's mind sends signal to universe: "Mission accomplished!"
Child enjoys first bite of cotton candy. It tastes like what she had in mind.
The second bite tastes like cotton candy and not like cotton candy should.
Child eyes potential recipients for remainder of "treat".
Child eats one last bite to show brother how good it tastes.
Child flies 15 rounds in a helicopter. Father is amazed by the fortitude of daughter's stomach.
Daughter gets ride home from Aunt Tanja after complaints of a stomach ache.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autumn in the park
If you take enough pictures, some of them will turn out well. I guess it really doesn't hurt to have a beautiful day with trees bleeding fall colors on every branch to serve as your background. The fact that the kids had forgotten that I was there - or at least had other things on their minds - adds the sense of spontaneity to this shot that makes it special. 
This year the autumn stretched into the beginning of November, as it did last year, before the rains beat the leaves from the trees. After taking so many fall pictures last year, I found myself this year not at all interested in photographing the fall foliage as a motif an sich. But there have been many opportunities to capture these colors in the uniquely warm light this past month. My subjects were often my children.

But of course, they like turning the camera on me sometimes, too.

Sometimes I try to put my subject in a context.

Other times the action - or some other element - of the picture is all the context it needs to make it an eye-catcher.

This last one reminds me of the type of picture seen in magazines in the 1970s. Maybe it is that nostalgic aspect that I like about it. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

An Autumn Photo Walk

Carlo and Benni

On October 30, 2010, Jim Palik and I organized a photo walk in connection with the exhibition "The Turning". Even though it was his birthday and he was feeling under the weather, he gave a wonderfully informative talk on "The Art of Seeing and Visual Design", taking the dozen members of his audience through the basics of working with a camera and using it as a tool to create photographic art.
Then I spoke for a bit about photo walking in general, pointing out the important differences between walking alone - as I do most days - or taking part in a group walk. In the latter one often feels more inspired and less inhibited to take pictures of people out on the street. One question that came up during our discussion - and that one often reads about in various photo forums - is what about taking pictures of people in public? Some people get very nervous about doing it on account of legal reasons; others shy away because they themselves don't like being photographed. Of course, if you pick out one person to photograph and then sell that picture without the person's permission, there can be legal consequences. (I always wonder about the Vietnamese children in travel photographers' pictures. What kind of release do they sign?) But if someone is out at public in a parade (like the Christopher Street Day Parade) or a demonstration (S 21) and you take a picture of them, I doubt they can claim that their public sphere has been invaded if you post a picture of them on flickr or on your blog. So we set as one of our goals for the two-hour walk to ask one stranger if we could take their picture.
But first we walked through the weekly flea market at Karlsplatz. There our goal was to capture an image that exemplifies the feeling of being at this flea market. We saw some lovely handmade children's clothes, the normal collections of silverware and records, mounds of broken kids' toys and the fascinating assortment of shiny electronics that look like they might work - but probably don't. So my shot has a row of toasters in the front and a foreign woman in a head scarf in the background.

When we got over to the Schloßpark, where a huge demonstration had just passed through, we were watching some bare-chested young men jumping on a slack line. They didn't seem to mind in the least that photographers were taking pictures of them. There under the pedestrian bridge one has to think of where the troll lives in "Three Billy Goats Gruff" because it is dark and dank and the grass that was once there has been trampled to mud. In a word, it is gray. And as beautiful as the weather was that day (see later pictures), the light there didn't help the situation. Then my eye was caught by a colorful sweater and a nice smile. I took a couple of snapshots of her to try to show how well she stuck out in those gray surroundings. Then I thought of our goal, gathered up the courage and, for the first time, asked a stranger if I could take her picture. "Sure, what is it for?" That was a question I had warned everyone to have an answer for.
"For my blog. We're doing a photo walk in connection with my exhibition in the DAZ," I told her. "And I like the way you really brighten up this part of the park."

With the natural sunlight coming from her left, we got an awesome catch light in her eyes. She has my card. Perhaps she'll see this picture and contact me. Then I'll certainly ask if she would like to do a longer shooting with me. Right after I took a few pictures, her phone rang and I went on.
In the park, we were greeted by many photo ops thanks to the S 21 struggle. Being the day before Halloween, someone thought to bring the horror of that holiday into the discussion (K 21 means Kopfbahnhof 21, which purports to be a viable alternative to the extremely expensive underground station that has been planned now).
I love K 21

 It has been claimed that children have been exploited (German: instrumentalisiert) by their parents in demonstrating against the project. This girl's parents seem to have taken the accusation, or at least the word, literally. 

A girl marches to the beat of her own drum

When we arrived in the Schloßpark, the demonstration had already marched out, but my camera caught the tail end of what looks like a small protest, but there were 20,000 citizens marching.

Lost but not alone
 On the way back to the starting point, we saw some remnants of the march, including this lost green balloon.

Oben geblieben

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

bay of sycamore leaves
would make a fine resting place
but Spot needs walking
Two hundred eighty-three trees in the park are going to be felled to make room for a subterranean train station. Fortunately, this beautiful avenue of century-old sycamore trees will remain standing. In the fall a veritable carpet of stunning orange foliage lines the north edge of the park.

Photographers can delight at every time of day, though the trees block the late afternoon sunlight across much of the park, allowing only streaks of the last rays into the belly of Stuttgart's green lung.
Karl - or Wilhelm?
heedless horseman, ride!
in your head the clouds stand still –
your steel steed’s hoofs fly
 Just in front of the DAZ is the Karlsplatz, where Saturday flea markets entice bargain hunters to the square of chestnut trees surrounding this memorial to Kaiser Wilhelm I. The square was named after Duke Karl Eugen in 1793, but the horse and rider have only been there since 1898, ten years after Wilhelm's death.

Statue, Esq.

autumn sunlight falls
as once a discus soared
then returned to earth
The changing seasons can be readily observed by watching static objects. What effect does the different light have on them? How do the colors around them change their appearance? How well do they fit into their surroundings? 
The one-armed discus thrower probably never thought he would be overseeing the feeding of the ducks by the reflecting pool in front of the opera house, but it doesn't seem to bother him much. At least I've never heard him complain.

this angel’s not stone
but a miracle waiting
to happen to you
One day last fall, I got off the streetcar at the Bergfriedhof on my way home from work and walked around there for the first time since I moved to Stuttgart in 2002. I had my new Panasonic Lumix DZ38 with me and was snapping around me left and right when the cemetery gardener slowly approached me and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. What ensued was perhaps the nicest spontaneous conversation I've had with a stranger since I've been in Germany. He told me about how he was the third generation in his family to look after that cemetery. I opened up and asked him questions about the graveyard, burials in Germany and renting a grave (in Germany you usually rent a grave for 20-30 years, then it is re-used after the coffin has decomposed). I believe he pointed out this little angel to me. 

This grave girl reminds me of the little mermaid in Copenhagen except that this statue is clothed. I love the colors that emerge from the different textures of bronze as the light falls on the metallic finish.
wet-maned lions’ roar
resounds across the plaza –
frozen statues stare
Finally, we move away from the cemetery and head back into the center of Stuttgart, where the regal lions guard the fountains at the Schlossplatz. Every camera-toting tourist who has ever been to the Swabian capital has taken a picture here, but what I liked about this shot is the dominant contrasting colors of blue and yellow and the - albeit static - interplay between the gaping kings of the jungle and the towering statues atop the grand palace.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Magic Potion
autumn’s dark juices
ooze at dusk – turning sour
summer's sweet nectar

This strand of blossoms blocked my way up the hill behind my house early one evening last fall. The spot meter obliterated the background, leaving only the white flowers. The two blossoms at the bottom, dangling by the faintest spider's thread, make it look as if they were falling into nothingness. The narrow depth of field adds to the magic of the image.
The abundance of natural wonders close to us is a photographer's dream. The ever changing seasons and weather conditions allow for new motifs every day. Wherever you are, great photos are just waiting to be taken!