Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reflections, II

Reflections, Part II

Germany is well known for its automobiles and, at least where I come from, for its solidly built houses. This combination can be captured in a single photograph and, depending on the quality of the light, can give the viewer a surprise as his eyes wander back and forth from the surface of the window glass or polished exterior into the car's interior. Try it yourself:
Obviously, not every car parked in front of a house in Germany was produced here. And not every house was made by German labor. I'll bet you already knew that!

And not every car with a Mercedes star on it is a Mercedes! Can you guess what make the car above is? Hint: it was co-manufactured by SWATCH.

The right angle and lighting produce a visual ambiguity that create a new figure in the viewer's mind. I particularly like the contrast between the round steering wheel and the rigid steel bars on the gate.

As many different makes and models of cars there are in Germany, there are even more styles of homes. Regional styles of architecture vary due to a number of factors, including availability of building materials, amount of destruction during the war, wealth of the population and personal taste. The picture above shows what I consider a typical Stuttgart apartment building with its flower pot on the trash bin encasing.

This compact car looks futuristic, in contrast to the building it was parked in front of.

How many visual layers do you see in this picture?
I see the interior of the car, the Mercedes parked to its right, the reflection in the right-hand side mirror, the reflection in the driver's window and the reflections in the cars parked to its left. 

The rear end of a flat-back car is also a rewarding surface for reflecting on your surroundings.
Most of these pictures were taken with a wide-angle lens (Tamron 17-50mm), which gave me the ability to capture a lot of glass from relatively close-up. As you can see in this last picture, there is usually only about 5 ft. of sidewalk between the cars and the building. 
So grab your camera and see what surprises await you on the streets near you!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reflections, Part I

Reflections, Part I
One of my first favorite piano pieces was Claude Debussy's "Reflets dans l'eau" or "Reflections on the water". If you don't know it yet, listen to this recording by the inimitable Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. In this impressionistic piece of music you can close your eyes and imagine different intensities of light bouncing off the rippling water.
Every day we are confronted with reflecting surfaces of buildings, cars, sunglasses, etc. We usually take them at face value, but it is fun to allow our brains to connect the surface with the reflection, which is all the camera knows how to do.

The tension with which these panes of glass were framed results in a playful collection of individual views of the surrounding trees and houses.

Birds of warning fly through the landscape of stone and glass. The sunlight in the photo's upper third adds a pleasing variety of saturation to the bricks in the picture.

Here is another example of the beautiful weaving patterns that bent panes can produce. I also like the third visual plane in this picture: the staircase inside the building which offers its own set of lines.

These birds seem to be at home flying through the urban clouds. The sweep of the reflection and change in saturation toward the bottom of the panes contrasts with the right angles provided by the frame.
Once again, it is worthwhile to see the reflection for what it is, or even better, notice how it interacts with the reflecting surface.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Architecture photography

Architecture photography

An old friend of mine from high school, David Lamb, does architectural photographer. I'm sure he could teach me a lot about the rules of that genre. I've noticed that buildings have been catching my eye more and more lately: the patterns, the light, the reflections in the windows, the size and shapes relative to the surroundings, etc.
Well, this post about this one picture is to form a segue between my street photography and a few posts about architecture photography as I now understand it. Here is a picture right out of the camera.

Why did I take it? Because I could; the two women were not looking my way but added an interesting contrast of curves to this cubist backdrop. Click!
I immediately picked up on the potential of the converging lines: sunlight dropping down in the top right corner and dark railing rising up at the bottom right. And I liked how the brownish-grays seemed to match. Now what was I going to do with my two unsuspecting models?
I decided to simplify things and make it only one. Single girl in the city. I blurred the background, gave her some clarity and saturation, and tried to maintain the converging lines.
"But she's walking out of the picture," you say.
Right. Don't want to break that rule (because there's no good reason to)!
So I positioned her vertically at the back-end of the picture, saving the converging lines. Looks better, don't you think? Then as a last version, I tried a square crop to see what that would look like.
In this one she is still walking out of the picture, so let's zoom in a bit and get her back where she belongs.
No more converging lines, but I think the rising railing works well to hold her up in the picture. What do you think? How important is a crop?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Window shopping

Window shopping

You could buy a big window in this shopping cart!

Germans like to really let it all hang out sometimes - but according to a pre-arranged schedule, of course! In this case, Stuttgart decided to let people shop in the downtown area until midnight...once. You Americans may be saying "So what?", but in a country where opening times for stores are more complicated to read than operating instructions for a GM Hummer ("Get in. Guzzle. Get out."), this was a pretty big deal.
I don't know who was responsible for the weather on April 2, but it was perfect so there were thousands of shoppers, strollers and partiers downtown on Saturday evening. Fifty regular sized shopping carts secured with bike locks and filled with dirt and spring flowers were set out on the Königstrasse the week before the BIG EVENT.
I didn't really know what to expect and had no particular plans, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the Stuttgart Ballet performing in the window of the Breuniger Department Store.

They had choreographed a piece for twelve dancers especially for this day, performing the ten-minute dance four times. I caught the last performance at 8 p.m.

We don't normally get to see the dancers so close-up, which is perhaps a good thing if you like to imagine that the dancers float effortlessly across the stage. I'm here to tell you that these dancers are a mixture of muscle and muscle. Oh, and did I mention: muscle?

In order to entertain the audience, which they knew would consist mostly of casual passers-by, they added a light touch to the piece, dancing in five inches of popcorn and at one point sucking up some kernels and spitting them back out. As much fun as the audience was supposed to have, it looks like the ballet world is opposed to looking like it is having fun. Not a smile, not a smirk, not even a glimmer of humor could be seen in the eyes - not even from up close.

These pictures were perfect candidates for black-and-white processing because the colors were not interesting and the contrasting light and dark skin tones are what grabs the eye.
In Monday's newspaper the performance was reported on and there was a picture of me holding up my camera above the bobbling heads in front of me. I've drawn an arrow to make it easier for you to see me.

See the popcorn? Now go make yourself some, grab a coke and watch a short movie of the dance project.
After the performance, I walked through Breuniger briefly for the first time in my nine years in Stuttgart. This high-end department store certainly caters to people probably much different from me. I felt uncomfortable being in there after two minutes. (I'm just saying that €120 for a nylon jacket in the "College Look" for seven-year-old boys is at this point beyond my comprehension. And €50 for shorts for six-year-old girls? Sorry, I don't get it.)