Saturday, November 9, 2013

To be a photographer

What I love about being a photographer

No one has ever asked me if I like being a photographer, so I assume they must think it’s natural to enjoy the kind of work I do. And do you know what? I do.

Before I became a serious photographer…

- I had always taken a lot of pictures, but I must admit now that I didn't really know what I was doing. I knew nothing about the attributes of light, didn't care about composition, was blind to issues such as focus, depth of field and color.

- taking photographs of strangers on the street was as far from my mind as spending my afternoons standing in front of camera store windows looking at the offerings.

Working the streets
- I would sometimes look at the cloud formations in the sky and comment on their beauty, but I would not consider their texture and how the light was changing every second, casting new light on everything around me.

The Neckar River
- walking through the streets was boring for the most part. If I was lucky, an interesting new advertisement might make me chuckle. The homeless people depressed me and the rough citizens scared me. Now they fascinate me and every step of the way I compose shots in my head and stop when a scene overpowers me.

"Zu spät"
- I could work only at my school or in my office. Now I can work anywhere and everywhere. My world is my office and my mind is my drawing board.

Our tree farm
- time would slip through my fingers and precious moments would melt away. Now I am able to capture these moments and arrest time.

Our baby at two months
- my sense of aesthetics consisted of the poles “pretty” and “interesting.” Monet was pretty and Bacon was interesting. Now I’ve come to appreciate more fully the whole spectrum between these poles and, more importantly, Monet and Bacon have switched positions! I find beauty - or at least artistic value - in nearly everything. What a gift!

On the streets of Stuttgart
- I thought that creating art was a tiring process of working at your chosen medium until you reached some magic point where you could finally call yourself an artist. Little did I know how much fun the process is! And the best part is that all art forms feed my artistic hunger and make me fuller.

- I thought that creating a piece of art took lots of time and, being who I was, I would never have the patience or endurance to finish a piece. Now I know that I can think in short episodes (“A day at the airport”) or in longer series (“A decade of carnival in Cologne”).

Taking a break in the fields
- discovering new things usually took great effort. Now I am open to all sorts of experiences, but not just having them; now I want to savor them and capture them with my aesthetic eye. Whether it be watching a parade or plane-spotting at the airport, there are always things to be learned and new angles from which to see them.

Landing and taking off
- I often didn’t know how to act in groups. What was my role? Now when I am at an event, I am the photographer and as such can act within that role a bit more securely than if I didn’t have a role to slip into.

- I had stared at many a beautiful woman, admiring the aesthetics that I was raised to praise. Now I find admiration for so many things that even an abandoned tire or a smoldering fire pit fascinates me. And the beautiful women? They are still there and I can appreciate them even more with my well-trained eyes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Worldwide Photo Walk V

Banners celebrating Stuttgart on Reunification Day were still hanging two days later
October 5, Fynn and I went on our fifth "Worldwide Photo Walk," an organized gathering of nearly 30,000 photographers around the globe who take pictures in one of over 1,200 cities on one day. In past years, I had led two of the walks in Stuttgart and have enjoyed participating in the others along with Fynn as a "walker."

The weather was awful. Whereas it has threatened to rain the past years, or rained and then stopped in time for the walk, this year it rained all morning, so Fynn and I decided to wait it out and go after lunch since the leaders had decided to do a six-hour marathon this time. Unfortunately, we missed seeing some friends we had hoped to meet there, but we got to see their pictures online. Registered walkers could post their best photograph on the official website. Scott Kelby will then choose his favorite and give thousands of dollars of prizes to the winner. One can always hope, right?

My favorites are Andy's photo of the old violinist and Jennifer's double-exposure of her son and the autumn leaves.

If I had been a bit more bold, I would have entered this picture as my best. It reminded me of Andreas Gursky's photo of the Rhine River, the most expensive photograph ever sold (though mine is much more interesting!).

This photograph can also be purchased for $3.1 million
Fynn has developed a good eye over the years. This year his pictures ended up better than mine. I was walking around with an 8mm fish-eye lens most of the time to try to get some interesting angles - and I did - but nothing beats an all-round zoom lens for street photography!
Fynn took this one outside the Staatsgalerie with a Sony A700 and a Minolta 28-105 lens.

My best shot was of Fynn standing in the Königstrasse.

Of course, he also took some of me, too.

And as one can see: like father, like Sony.

At the end of the tour a wedding photographer was up at the Eugensplatz to take pictures of the couple. They weren't expecting to see 25 other photographers there. We gave them a nice backdrop to one shot where it looked as if the couple were posing for the paparazzi. Were they not?

What we saw:

What the photographer and the couple saw:

What onlookers saw:

Meanwhile, on our way home, we walked past a slightly older couple showing how they keep their wedding vows alive:

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Driving through Manhattan

After I picked up our rental in downtown Manhattan, I had to drive back up to E. 101st Street to our great bed-and-breakfast to pick up the family before driving down to Richmond. Having my trusty Sony RX100 with me, I put it up on the steering wheel as if I were driving through Russia's traffic-crazy roads.
Except that I wasn't really expecting to have to defend myself in court with video evidence of another driver's offensive maneuvers. I just wanted to take some shots of New York life before we left the metropolis.
Below is a fairly typical scene - or at least I think it is: a doorman holding a cab door for a hotel guest without really communicating with him.

The next shot shows a beautiful fire-escape next to a building with new balconies and different fire-escapes. Surprisingly, the architecture didn't really fascinate me quite as much as I had expected.

As I climbed up 1st Avenue, the wealth seemed to be left by the wayside and signs like this one popped into my eye.

Then the most outrageous thing happened! I hadn't expected to have the entire avenue taken from me by a bus, but this one waited until I stopped for a red light (what was I thinking, right?) and then pulled through the intersection from my right side all the way over to the far left lane!

Think that's bad? His buddy in the next bus came up on my left and left me no room to escape. I was just waiting for Matt Damon to crash through the two buses in an old Renault 4 with the Soviet police force in pursuit!

As might be expected, nothing of the sort happened. I got up to Spanish Harlem and down to Richmond within a mere 8 hours!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Manhattan II

As well as capturing the sights in Manhattan, I also had my eyes out for shots with artistic merit. Many of them I found interesting for their architecture, usually the combination of lines and reflections or the juxtaposition between new and old.

One World Trade Center

The building with the sailboat-shaped windows

Old pilings

The U.N. Building

The Freedom Tower

And then there was the moment I looked down and saw a blonde shock of hair looking out over the sparkly water, her fingernail polish nearly matching the color of the river water.

Old modes of transport contrasted starkly with the ever-changing cityscape.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


This is the Manhattan skyline that we had all wanted to see. Quite a sight!

After an emergency landing in Canada and a false start getting into the public transport (Tip: buses take only MetroCards and coins), we finally made it downtown. The Metro is a nice and easy way to get around town, once you figure it out.

When we emerged from the Metro, we were accosted by cartoon figures wanting posing tips. Nothing against trying to make a buck, but the charm of the ability to secretly take a good picture with my little Sony RX100 outweighed the charm of pulling out my wallet in Times Square in order to give these goofballs $1.

I can highly recommend the Circle Line Tours, boat rides around the southern tip of Manhattan, leaving from the W. 42nd Street pier. The tour guide, Mr. Mason, was very interesting to listen to and what better way to show your whole family the sights of Manhattan - for only $142! We had ordered two-day New York Passes for the family, but after loosing a day in the woods of Newfoundland, we decided to cancel them (don't forget to buy the cancellation insurance).

And as you can see, the 90% chance of rain for Wednesday turned out to be a bluff! We had sunshine and, as a bonus for photographers, some interesting cloud cover during the tour.
It seems that "Lady Liberty" was the highlight of the boat trip for many. We chose not to go to Liberty Island but were satisfied with the view from the water.

There were all sorts of interesting boats chugging and sailing around on the Hudson River that beautiful day.

Ellis Island is also on the tour, of course. This is where our forefathers from Europe and Asia got the funny spelling for their names. I always wondered what a conversation between two immigration officers must have sounded like:
"This next boat is from Poland, what do you want to do to these names, James?"
"Let's spell them all with -ske 'cause we did the last ones with -ski and the ones before that with -sky. Then they'll be able to tell each other apart."

For me, however, the spires of the churches of industry were what kept my eyes busy. The Freedom Tower is nearing completion and is as tall as it will be when it opens. You can watch a time-lapse video of the building of the tower here.

 The Chrysler Buliding has the most beautiful spire of all the skyscrapers.

And the Empire State Buliding has the most recognizable spire. Can you find it in the picture below?

One World Trade Center (as the Freedom Tower is officially known) is 1,776 feet tall and sticks out from the surrounding buildings not only on account of its height but also because of its architecture, which had a very controversial genesis.

We walked around downtown and were duly impressed by the view.

Monday, September 2, 2013

New York! (almost)

NOT the New York skyline
After years of flying Delta (Stuttgart-Atlanta-Richmond), we decided to cut our air time by flying directly to New York and then, after spending a few days there seeing the sights, driving down to Richmond to see the family.

Nice thought, but thanks to an overheated second engine, we had to make an emergency landing in Newfoundland and Labrador - Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Never heard of it? Neither had we. But when the pilot suddenly announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, we'll be landing in ten minutes," you will never forget it.
Calmly ask your children to put on their shoes and coats. Try to ignore the other passengers, who are still watching "Friends", "The Office" and "Olympus Has Fallen" and keep breathing. In. Out.

Goose Bay is a Canadian Forces Base with a large German presence, judging from all the flags hanging on the dozens of barracks near the airport. The Canadian Border Services are prepared to handle general aviation craft with no more than 15 passengers, but they were quite patient with the 270 of us.

Hey, that's not the Brooklyn Bridge!
My former colleague, Greg Fuller, wrote that the airplanes he was on used to stop there to refuel on their way from Chicago to Shannon, Ireland, back in the 1960s. And it is also where inbound flights stopped on 9/11/2001 once US airspace was closed. The nice young woman at the greeting center said there was usually at least one emergency landing there each week.

The fire crew greeted us as we landed.
The ground staff was prepared for us. We went through customs as iPhones were passed around and relatives were informed of the delay.

Looking for Mondrian in Labrador, Canada
Old black and white school buses transported us to a large dining hall where we were allowed to eat and drink as much as we liked.

Every so often a rumor would spread from the doorway area that the buses were ready to take us to the airport. The children were very patient and the other passengers were docile after they got the wireless code and could get back onto facebook.

Can you find Julia and Fynn?
During the course of the afternoon, families played the games they had brought along in their carry-on luggage, small groups talked or watched CBC TV and parents tried to keep their young children from having a melt-down.

Six hours later another plane arrived from Newark and took us to our final destination.

We were allowed to sit wherever we wanted. I sat on the wrong side and could only get this shot of my first Canadian sunset.

Normally, Continental/United would have to offer each passenger $600 each for such a delay; however, their "appreciation" page gives us a choice of $200 vouchers or 20% off tickets purchased directly from So if you are planning to travel within the US this year, contact me and we'll talk about vouchers!