Saturday, February 26, 2011

Achieving goals

Achieving goals

Dan Moore and Leonard Nimoy
When I was in high school, I shared a room during my senior year with Dan, who was a film freak and a Trekkie. I admired him - then as now - for his devotion to and enthusiasm for his passions. When John Williams, the composer of the "Star Wars" theme played in nearby South Bend with the Boston Pops, Dan took a bus up there and somehow finagled his way into the green room where he got to shake Mr. Williams' hand and take some pictures of one of his idols. When he got back to our room that evening, he discovered that his camera didn't have any film in it. He cried and I felt sad for him until two months ago.

Dan behind the camera in 1990

In his Christmas card he reported that he made a film with John Williams and got to take the picture again - after 30 years! The year before that, he was involved in the making of the "Star Trek" movie and sent me the picture of him and Spock along with the attached note. What a present! Dan is a video operator in L.A. and has worked with Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Tim Burton, Leonard Nimoy, Steven Spielberg and many others. Following his passion has helped him achieve his teenage goals - and aren't they often the ones we're secretly most passionate about?

At our tenth high school reunion with fellow roommate Mark Johnson

I've written about having achieved one of these secret teenage goals: becoming a Genesis roadie. Well, connected to that dream was the idea to take photographs at a Genesis concert and have the band use my pictures in their program.
Well, last March I took pictures at two shows put on by Martin Levac and band. He is a Phil Collins look-alike/sound-alike/act-alike and I like what he does! A wonderful musician and a warm, generous man, he and his manager allowed me to take pictures at his shows in Stuttgart and Mannheim. I sent him the best pictures, as agreed, and today in the mail I received a signed copy of the program for his upcoming tour. 
I was blown away to see that he had used five of my pictures in the program and, of course, given me credit. 
Page 7 of the program

Page 11 of the program
Page 12 of the program

To round out an awesome day, I went to a concert performed by the SWR Vocal Ensemble, which sang an a cappella versions of several songs by Gustav Mahler, including "Urlicht", "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen", the Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony (with a text by Eichendorff which Richard Strauss used in his Four Last Songs!) and "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen", which Maureen Forrester told me was her favorite song by Mahler.
Oh, and to make it a perfect day, we picked out a secondary school for our son. He'll be doing lots of art the next eight years!
So I will end with one more picture from Martin in Mannheim (which he will revisit on March 7, 2011) and wish you all a good night!

Friday, February 25, 2011



At the end of March German citizens in Baden-Württemberg will go to the polls to elect a governor (Ministerpräsident). The man currently serving a term in office was not elected but was installed after the previous one was sent to Brussels to be the EU commissioner for energy. 

This poster reads: We are the people - Stop S21
The German train company's plans to put the Stuttgart station underground has got the residents of this state's capital up in arms. The Swabians are known for their "Kehrwoche", which was explained to me by a Canadian friend thus: "You sweep the stairs from top to bottom and then throw away the matchbox full of dust in the trashcan. Outside you sweep until enough neighbors have seen you to provide an alibi in case someone should accuse you of having passed on the sign without doing your duty." You see, the person who is in charge of cleaning the snow in front of the house and sweeping the stairwell passes on a "Kehrwoche" sign once the work has been done. 

Demonstrators hope to sweep out the old government
Many people in northern Germany aren't even aware of this custom, but that did not stop the protesters recently from waving their brooms and mops in protest. There were just over 13,000 people at the demonstration, which started lat Saturday at the Schloßplatz in the center of town and then paraded through the streets past the train station.

The protest moves into the streets
A marketing firm volunteered to create a logo and then came up with this bright green color which can be seen on scarves, umbrellas, protest buttons and posters. It is a gentle reminder of which political party has promised to stop the project, should they be elected in March.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blinded by the light

Blinded by the light
(or: Enlightened by the Blind)
When I was 15 and everything around me was full of sexual innuendo, Manfred Mann's song "Blinded by the light" continued - to my perked-up ears - "wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night." I didn't know what a douche was but it must have been something private and feminine because the Massengale TV commercials sounded 100% conspiratorial against my teenage curiosity, not wanting to let out any secrets that would put me anywhere close to an even level with a 15-year-old girl.
But that is all beside the point here. This post is dedicated to all you blind photographers out there. Here's a success story about one of them.

For the rest of us, this artist's "painting with light" that he can't even see (yet can somehow hear) could be interpreted as his throwing down the gauntlet at the rest of us sighted camera-toters. Should we make more effective use of our eyes? Or should we perhaps also go blindly where we have not yet gone? 
You could take that challenge literally and try closing your eyes while taking photographs. Or you could perhaps open up your other senses to what is around you. Feel something before you photograph it in order to become more aware of how the light should fall on it so that its look better portrays how it felt to you. You could open your whole self to the temperature, the humidity, the slant of light, the ambient sounds and, in some cases, even the tastes of your photographic subjects. I posit that being aware of the essence of what we photograph is the first - and very necessary - step toward becoming able to portray it in an effective manner.
There. I said it. Now I have to go out and try to prove that I've understood it. But first let's see if there are any shots I've already taken in which I remember having done this.

This beat-up little butterfly was trying to escape the hot, humid house it was trapped in. It flew up the safety glass, scanning the surface in search of the freedom it innately sought. It's wings suffered with each attempt at escape. Here it is about to land again and catch its breath for another go at it.
The butterfly exhibition was in a hot-house that was set to 99% humidity and about 95° F, which was not all too different from the weather conditions outside the house that August day in Richmond. I think I felt like this butterfly, wanting to escape the oppression, especially when the misters began to spray a fine cloud of rain over my equipment as I quickly fluttered by them on my way to the exit. 
When I process an image harshly like the one above, I am trying to represent what it is that I interpreted into the scene before me. Looking out of the fourth-story window of Stuttgart's town hall, I watched the people come and go in this urban landscape, unaware that they were being observed. But weren't they somehow aware of observation, as if they were following others and themselves? If you look closely, you can see their cloned Doppelgänger.

Here the winter is in full swing yet the hope - or memory? - of a warmer season is present in the picture. The stern steps gently give way to the drifted snow, becoming one with the frozen water on the lake.

This picture tells a story that is often observed in places of transition (in this case the Stuttgart train station). Someone waiting, ticket in hand, for the mode of transportation that will eventually take them to another place. This passenger does not quite look like she is relishing the thought of traveling, especially if she is going to be expected to be as perky as the woman on the billboard. 

And, finally, a sunset silhouette of God's house, showing lots of space in heaven above. The spacial emphasis here is clearly not on "house," yet the eye is attracted to all that is happening in the busy bottom third of the picture. I believe, however, that there is a part of us that can - perhaps subconsciously - appreciate the peaceful, swirling space above it because we need this idea of freedom to live in peace.       

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Creative Life

Four windows

The creative life can leave you temporarily if you let it go. Some days you may not feel like drawing, singing or taking your camera with you. "No," you think, "today I'm not feeling creative." But you ARE creative all the time. It is just a question of the following equation: attitude + manifestation = creativity. No one else is necessarily involved in the equation, especially not critics. "What would others think if I wrote about this or photographed that?" Nonsense! Don't listen to these policemen in your head. Just go ahead and follow your positive inner voice, allowing it to get out and create. Find a (physical and mental) space for being creative and then use the tools at your disposal for manifesting the idea.

The picture above was taken right before I walked into a photo store to turn in an expensive lens for a repair. "One last picture with the Zeiss lens?" I thought as I backed up on the sidewalk opposite this new building. The picture was recently chosen by a photo editor friend of mine as one of her favorites in my collection! You never know what other people will like - but it doesn't really matter as long as you enjoy it!

Building and cement pump
So show the work that thrills you (not necessarily what you think will thrill others) and let the fans start lining up to get your autograph!


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Found light

There is a movement in art - I've probably written about it before - of which my mother is a big fan. It is called "found art." She frequently asks us to send her gum wrappers, tickets and scraps of paper that we find in German gutters. She makes collages out of them.
As a photographer who learned to work with ambient light, I still look for potential catch lights and nice lighting when I am walking around. Often I'll be sitting across from someone in the streetcar and the sun will shine in a way that makes me want to ask permission to snap away. "But what would people think?" I ask myself. When I'm on the town with my daughter, it's different. When I asked Fiona to stand next to these bar stools in the theater café, she obliged. What resulted was, I think, the most beautiful picture I've ever taken of her. 

Back to "But what would people think?" Well, what would they think? I've come to the conclusion - in part thanks to my elder sister's recent declaration of "I am an artist" - that it is my job to take pictures wherever I am. That's the way I express myself. 
Some people express themselves loudly in public places.
Some do it in Internet forums.
Others do it in print. 
Still others let their needs be known in more physical ways.
In the picture above, I was taking part in a photowalk (one of my favorite past-times) with a fotocommunity group from Kirchheim. We saw this attractive woman and her dog and asked if we could photograph her. She said yes. What did she think? I don't know. Unfortunately, she was gone before I could give her my card.
In the above photograph, I pointed my 300mm telephoto lens in her direction and, although she was taking pictures of passers-by on the Schloßplatz like me, she was signaling that she didn't want me to take too many pictures of her. Perhaps she wanted to see my business card first.
Speaking of cards, I've handed out my cards to people whom I have wanted to photograph and asked them to check out this blog and contact me if they were interested in having their picture taken. As yet I've had little luck, but I feel the tide turning.