Photography, Places



While Gothic arches, reaching upward, symbolize aspiration to heaven, here we see them reach towards a substituted objective, one that is more immediate: luxury condos, burgeoning above what was once Holy Trinity Church on Shawmut Avenue in Boston’s South End. A wish has been answered, but it is not the wish of those who prayed here. This photo, captured at night, shows the construction site aglow.

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Storefront Apparitions


Three images from two walks in Union City, New Jersey, March 10-11, 2017.

Mannequins in storefront windows are a perennial fascination of street photographers, including the present blogger. Mannequins by themselves are eerily intriguing, and combined with street life reflected in window glass, they seem like alien observers of the human world. Though these immobile but well-dressed window-dwellers are an obliging subject, it is not every dayfor me at leastthat an attempt to photograph them succeeds in capturing the full extent of their ghostliness.

To be precise, only the first two images show mannequins; the third shows a praying statuette for sale in a religious supply store.

On the technical front, these images have had some color adjustments but no other editing. The effects are achieved in lens, by shooting with shallow depth of field and focusing on the distant reflected material while blurring the forms on either side of the windowpane.


Brewer Fountain

Massachusetts State House at night, seen from a vantage point inside the Brewer Fountain, a Boston landmark, which — I was surprised to learn — is one of sixteen copies of a piece by Michel Joseph Napoléon Liénard situated around the world. Liverpool has one and so does Tacna, Peru; there’s one Geneva and also one in Launceston, Australia. I had to climb into the fountain last night to take this shot — luckily the water wasn’t running. I believe the Greek sea-nymph depicted here, one of the fountain’s four main figures, is Galatea.


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Fire Escape

It may be a secondary and unintended “function” of fire escapes, but they sure cast beautiful shadows.  This kind of geometric intrigue is abundant in an urban setting and while I never get bored with it, I sometimes feel there’s a problem of too-muchness: as one sets out to take this sort of urban-geometric shot, one gathers a host of beguiling images with no way to choose between them.  A few years ago I decided to shoot in squares because it made me work harder and it made successful shots rarer but more easy to recognize.  A square is a tight space.  Nothing can really “stretch out” in a square and you can’t use long diagonals to convey a sense of flowing, easy motion.  A square frame can expose the asymmetry of an image and make it look lopsided, while the same square frame can make a highly symmetrical image look stylized, pretty but not dynamic.  In a rectangular composition you can leave some corners unaddressed, establishing a hierarchy of active versus inactive areas, but this is harder to pull off in a square, where all four corners exert a balanced magnetism: if the eye is drawn to one corner of a square and finds nothing interesting in that place, there’s a greater risk of disengagement.  For an image to seem truly dynamic in a square it needs to struggle against the square’s symmetry in some way while still being full and balanced enough to do justice to all the available space.  It is fun to step away from these challenges sometimes and not shoot in a square.






One way to evoke the size of something enormous is to show only part of it.  Enclose the entire object in a frame and it will look small, but let it bleed over the edges and it will look huge.  The most dramatic use of this technique I’ve seen is an engraving of the Tower of Babel by the artist Barry Moser.  At first, Moser’s depiction of Babel looks like a mistake, as if the artist had missed the subject and only shown some imposing rock that partially obscures its base, but as you contemplate the small section of tower that can be seen rising up beyond the rock, just beginning its ascent at the image’s upper left corner, you realize Moser has shown us all we need to see.

Though the effect in this image of the George Washington Bridge is not nearly as stark, I had Moser’s engraving in mind when I shot it.  The photo is something of an outlier for me since I don’t usually find the kind of connection I seek when I shoot from such a distance, but I was pleased with what happened here.



Photographic Constraints

No matter how earnestly one strives to be “objective” in taking a photograph, and no matter how resolutely one avoids editing the image after capture, it’s problematic to claim that any photograph depicts the “reality” of the scene or even that it shows what a person standing at the scene might have observed with their naked eye. Every photograph is an interpretation. Photographs exist in two dimensions and have borders – even frames – while reality comprises no less than three dimensions and it does not have edges the eye can see. A photograph represents the choices of the photographer – what lens to use, what aperture and shutter speed to shoot with, what distance to stand from the subject, where to focus, what to exclude, what moment to take the shot, which shot out of dozens or hundreds to preserve, how to print and frame the image, and where to display it – a photograph represents these choices as much as it represents the “truth.” But does the impossibility of an objective photograph mean that photographers should not strive to be somehow objective, somehow faithful to what they saw? Does the unattainability of an ideal mean that an artist should not still pursue the ideal? If we acknowledge that photographs are synthetic, that they are creative products as much as they are factual documents, should we then engage in the synthetic aspects of photography without any restrictions, allowing ourselves to edit and transform images in any way that might satisfy our artistic vision? Or are there times when we should resolve that while we could edit an image to make it more beautiful, more striking, more dramatic, we won’t?

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Steam is one aspect of the urban landscape that always catches my eye.  I’ve been trying to photograph it for three or four years now.  Some days seem magical as far as particular subjects are concerned, and last Saturday — Jan 10, 2015 — was a magical day for steam.  I came across an alleyway in downtown Boston where I had noticed steam venting before, but on this particular day the steam’s release seemed wilder and more dramatic than ever.  The alleyway was dark but there was a shaft of sunlight illuminating the puffs and plumes in an improbably specific way.  And although I had fallen out of my street photography habit in previous weeks, I happened to have my camera with me on Saturday.  It was cold enough that at the end of the shoot I barely had enough sensation in my fingers to be able to put the cap back on the lens, and actually I had forgotten what that felt like.

The images here show physical prints of the steam photographs from Saturday.  What you see in these images represents a departure from the process I’ve followed since I first got serious about photography.  I usually avoid doing any significant post-processing of my images beyond the minimum necessary to create a physical print.  That’s because I prefer to keep photography as something that happens in the moment: I want to maintain a connection to my images as things I saw and captured when I was there on the scene, not as things I created or altered after the fact at my editing desk.  But in reviewing these steam images, I had a strong hunch that they’d be more powerful in black and white than in their original color versions.  In some sense, white in a color image can never reach the same dramatic intensity as it can in a black and white image.  You might think that converting a color image to black and white is a straightforward or deterministic process but it’s not; there’s probably as much room for interpretation and variation when you go from color to black and white as there is when you colorize a monochrome image.  So this is one case where I let myself experiment with tweaking brightness, contrast, and the like in software to “create” effective black and white versions of the color images.  Letting the final versions of these images be so heavily influenced by post-processing decisions is not how I’ve typically worked — as mentioned, I prefer restricting the most the important choices to the moment of capture — but I’ve decided to offer these steam images in their black and white re-interpretations because, in looking at them, I’m so strongly reminded of what it felt like to stand there on Saturday gazing at the scene.  I wasn’t thinking about color then; I was occupied with the steam’s many grays and its brilliant sun-drenched whites.

Steam 1

Steam 2

Steam 3