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Photography

 

There was a “dead” period where I didn’t even carry my camera. For awhile, I was taking tons of pictures of my growing child, but very few images of anything I wanted to display, to put my name on. I didn’t need my Nikkormat for that, and it was too heavy to schlep around, so I gave it to the local high school photo class.

 

Around 2006-07, I bought my daughter a compact digital camera, and for a few years, it was what I used to record our Kodak moments.

 

At the end of 2009, I had a reason to get out and take some photos that for a specific purpose. For a couple of years previous, my company had been commissioning a photographer to shoot local points of interest for a desk calendar that we then sent to our clients.

I know, that is all the world needs is another cheesy real estate agent calendar with a Hallmark Card landscape on it.

Fortunately, our marketing director had very good taste, and carefully chose both her photographers and the image used on the calendar.

 

But I didn’t think the 2010 calendar images lived up to the previous years, so I asked if I could use my own pics instead. Along with permission, I got a two week deadline to provide 13 images. There were only two small problems, I had nothing to offer, and I am not a prolific shooter-I normally don’t make 13 satisfactory images in a year.

 

But I did it.

I wanted to stay in the spirit of the “House” calendar, and I wanted it to be personal, so I decided to shoot East Bay landmarks that I cared about, or that I had found visually interesting. I carried that little camera everywhere, and because I had a goal, I shot more images that I had shot in years.

I narrowed it down to 13, and published this calendar. Doing so reignited my interest in photography, and I have been slowly crawling out of the mud ever since.

2010 calendar

NOW

 

 

 

I had already been at a photographic

crossroad for awhile, then the Pandemic hit.

That was the big Kabosh for someone who likes to walk City streets with a camera. I still walk my neighborhood and try to exercise my eye/shutter coordination with my phone, but it ain’t the same.

I have a good sense of where my photographic sensibilities come from, but often don’t see a place for them in the current landscape. Last year, I had two critiques at SF Camerawork, and while I was pleased with the response, I was definitely of the minority- artists formally known as “Street”.

I also have a current show, which I offered to share with a colleague. His work is all trees and sunsets, baked in Instagram filters, and he is selling well. Mine, not so much. Maybe nobody likes it, I like to think it is outside of the popular norm-it’s not pretty.

In the Art community, a great deal of current work seems to center on the “Project”, a collection of images that revolve around a theme or concept. An offshoot of this (or maybe the result of it) is the self published photobooks, an effective method of wrapping up a project.

To my way of shooting, themed projects can be effective in two ways. Intentional shooting helps provide focus when “the hunt is on”. I was just discussing motivation and inertia with another photographer, and we agreed that going out with a purpose helps considerably. When I was enrolled in photography classes, the assignments kept me on my toes, and I actually finished both the 123 Project and built my little web site because of those assignments.

But I am seldom that organized, and seldom have a goal in mind. Instead, my usual method is to just start walking around and see what comes up. I read a Daido Moriyama quote- “When I go out into the city I have no plan. I walk down one street, and when I am drawn to turn the corner into another, I do. Really I am like a dog. I decide where to go by the smell of things, and when I am tired, I stop.”  Maybe it is ironic or maybe it was intentional that Stray Dog is probably his most iconic photograph, but that is what we all are doing-We are just out there looking for scraps to feed our appetites.

Sometimes, before Shelter in Place, I would take the train to San Francisco, come up out of the station, press both crossing signal WALK buttons at the same time, and then go in the direction of the first to light up.

I read another quote, attributed to Larry Sultan that said “The more you try to control the world, the less magic you get.

When I walk City streets, I like to shoot architectural elements and signs. Unless I use them as filler on my <Instagram page>, most of these images will never be seen by anyone, but the act of hunting sharpens the eye, and both shooting and light editing (even for web/Instagram use) exercises the right muscles.

I like to think that sometimes I even get an image that is photographically interesting.

 

for awhile, then the Pandemic hit. That was the big Kabosh for someone who likes to walk City streets with a camera. I still walk my neighborhood and try to exercise my eye/shutter coordination with my phone, but it ain’t the same.

I have a good sense of where my photographic sensibilities come from, but often don’t see a place for them in the current landscape. Last year, I had two critiques at SF Camerawork, and while I was pleased with the response, I was definitely of the minority- artists formally known as “Street”.

In the Art community, a great deal of current work seems to center on the “Project”, a collection of images that revolve around a theme or concept. An offshoot of this (or maybe the result of it) is the self published photobooks, an effective method of wrapping up a project.

To my way of shooting, themed projects can be effective in two ways. Intentional shooting helps provide focus when “the hunt is on”. I was just discussing motivation and inertia with another photographer, and we agreed that going out with a purpose helps considerably. When I was enrolled in photography classes, the assignments kept me on my toes, and I actually finished both the <123 Project> and built my little web site because of those assignments.

But I am seldom that organized, and seldom have a goal in mind. Instead, my usual method is to just start walking around and see what comes up. I read a quote, attributed to Daido Moriyama- ““When I go out into the city I have no plan. I walk down one street, and when I am drawn to turn the corner into another, I do. Really I am like a dog. I decide where to go by the smell of things, and when I am tired, I stop.”  Maybe it is ironic (or maybe it was meant to be) that <Stray Dog> is probably his most iconic photograph, but that is what we are doing-We are just out there looking for scraps to feed our appetites.

Sometimes, before Shelter in Place, I would take the train to San Francisco, come up out of the station, press both crossing signal WALK buttons at the same time, and then go in the direction of the first to light up.

I read another quote, attributed to Larry Sultan that said “The more you try to control the world, the less magic you get.

When I walk City streets, I like to shoot architectural elements and signs. Unless I use them as filler on my Instagram page, most of these images will never be seen by anyone, but the act of hunting sharpens the eye, and both shooting and light editing (even for web/Instagram use) exercises the right muscles.

I like to think that sometimes I even get an image that is photographically interesting.

 

I just read that MAD Magazine is going to cease publishing.

As a kid, MAD gave me permission to be irreverent, but more important, it allowed me to look behind the curtain, to question Authority, and to find the real Truth that underlied the  Ozzie and Harriet worldview that was being spoon fed to us in the 1950s . Nothing against O and H, only the world as the media, the advertisers, and other big shots presented it. I guess it was an Eisenhower thing (no offense to Ike either. After all, he warned us about the Military Industrial Complex).

On a personal level, it allowed me to not take myself seriously, and helped define my Bullshit Detector.

If you believe, as I do, that laughter is the best medicine, it was regular doses of MAD that kept us healthy.

MAD was the Old Testament for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh in and George Carlin, and I suspect that if you looked under the bed of a Saturday Night Live or Simpsons writer, you were just as likely to find a MAD as a Playboy.

 

If MAD was the Bible, then Groucho was the High Priest.

 

 

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

In the 1950s, my Father imported and sold Fiats, I have previously blogged about it here-

https://jimmyreina.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/fiatus-fiatus/

He sponsored a road racing version of their sports car, and one Sunday, he took my Brothers and me to watch a race.

The sports car was named the “Spyder”, we are sitting on the roof of one watching the race.

The “Abarth” was the racing version.

Here is another pic of the Spyder, decked out for my 1960 Grade School picnic-

 

THEN

My interest in photographs preceded my interest in photography. In the 1950s, my Father brought home a copy of a LOOK magazine book titled something like “A Year in Pictures”, and I kept this book on my nightstand for the longest time, continually leafing through it. To this day, I remember a photograph of a pair of Siamese Twins, joined at the top of their heads.                   This was engaging stuff, the power of photography to explain our world to us in a universal manner.

While I now understand the controversy surrounding it, when my favorite teacher loaned me her copy of ” Family of Man “, it seemed pretty remarkable to my 11 year old self.

I have an interest in things scientific, and am a problem solver, so I learned to appreciate both the magic and the “behind the scenes” processes I learned about  in images like “Helicopter”,  “Transformation of Energy”, and “Bullet Through Apple”.

Years later, while traveling in Europe, I bought a basic 35mm rangefinder camera that had no light meter, nor even any batteries. I learned to judge exposure according to the pictograms on the inside of the film box (Cloudy Bright, Open Shade), but didn’t think of myself as a photographer with a capital “P”, only as a tourist shooting snapshots.

When I returned to the states, everybody was doing something crafty-a couple of my buddies were in Art School studying “Media” A roommate had a darkroom, and photography as an activity utilizing mechanics and chemistry in order to express oneself started to make sense to me, so I dove in.

But I didn’t study Media.

Instead, I learned photography by reading everything I could get my hands on, and by looking at a lot of photographs. Photography as an Art Form didn’t really gain traction with me, but the life of the Photographer seemed pretty cool. The LIFE and LOOK crowd seemed to have good jobs, and what could be better than National Geographic? The photo mags ran articles about what special gear those folks carried on assignment, and occasionally, the special setups they used to get the shot. I am a technique guy, I loved those tools and tricks.

I was off and running.

I enrolled in a couple of Community College photo classes that were designed to stretch my creativity. My first couple of projects were flops-high on concept, but not in execution. I think most of my work was pretty mediocre, but two class assignments really stuck with me.

An Andreas Feininger image introduced me to a storytelling technique of using selective focus to make an image more dynamic. I used this to make an image that was made into a poster for the School’s Automotive Technology Department- it was a real photo assignment “commissioned” and accepted by a third party.

Another class assignment was to shoot three rolls of film, then print and display the five best images that came out of that 108 exposure shoot. I have seen variations on this exercise (shoot geometric shapes, shoot only one color for a week, etc.), and still think these exercises are quite valuable.This is a recent “geometric” version.

 

As can be expected, there were quite a few dogs in the batch of 108 (probably over 100), but a few were photographically interesting, and one “happy accident” double exposure was submitted to a Student Show, where it won first prize!

It is a special feeling to know that total strangers respond to your work (and I don’t mean “likes” on Instagram.

A talented graphic artist brought me into his circle, and I did some of the most creative work ever (my work, his creativity).

I did some product photography, and a few portraits, but didn’t really have the eye for it. I shot a couple of weddings, and think I did OK, but really didn’t have the stomach for it. I hung out with a high powered Rock Band, and that was fun, but they wound up with the girls, and at the end of the day, all I had was a bunch of negatives.

I even got a gig as the still photographer on a full length motion picture.

Little of this was creative, none of it was Arty. I seldom made anything out of thin air, and I am not a concept guy.

However, I was getting pretty good with recording what was in front of my camera- less as documentary, perhaps closer to Journalism, or what Walker Evans called “descriptive photography”. I am beginning to call it “observational photography”.

I enjoy people watching, and have always found myself in the company of “characters”. Although there is not often a lot of people in my photographs, I find the product of being Human to be the most interesting thing to point my camera at. I often went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and in the French Quarter street theater is a way of life. I practiced what came to be called “Street Photography”, but now those guys are formalizing a definition of that type of shooter (and taking the fun out of it), so I am moving away from the category, but my guiding principle is still

 

“….if you are standing on the sidewalk, and saw three Chickens, a Horse with a Purple tail, some bicyclists, and a Peacock approaching, you would have to think,

‘Damn, I need a picture of that’. “

I like to think I had some decent work back them, but we will never know, as all of my work was destroyed by the 1991 urban wildfire that consumed a large part of the Oakland and Berkeley Hills.

I still view photography in terms of the image that you capture, rather than something that is massaged in software. Although there is not often a lot of people in my photographs, I find the product of being Human to be the most interesting thing to point my camera at.

 

That was THEN, next I will talk about NOW.

 

 

 

 

WHAT DOES ALFRED HITCHCOCK HAVE TO DO WITH A REAL ESTATE AGENT IN BERKELEY?

BIRDS

At a client’s request I was visiting a property, and as I walked down the driveway, a bunch of Ravens circled me, squawking and screaming.  These critters have invaded our neighborhoods over the years, probably due to what appears to be an abundance of half-filled French Fry containers that litter the streets.

I have seen this mob behavior before, it seems to have been because one of their own is threatened, sometimes by a Squirrel or other neighbor. These guys were pretty aggressive with me, and getting louder, so since I couldn’t see a lockbox, I retreated.

As soon as I turned around, one of these hoodlums flew down and rammed into my head!

 

 

*

It was quite a blow, kind of like getting hit by a pillow in a pillow fight.

I retreated to the front porch to catch my breath, and had to think twice about going back out to find the Realtor lockbox. Two or three of them stood around laughing at me while the rest of the gang hung back over the driveway protecting whatever it was they were protecting.

They didn’t seem to mind me going to the lockbox, and by the time I performed my 30 minute due diligence, they were gone.

 

 

*This is my photograph, but it is not my image. It is a terrific shot done by a fellow BCC student named Norm.