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.

 

PHOTOGRAPHY THEN AND NOW

Except for cell phone snaps, I have not been shooting at all during the past eight months.

Frankly, the cell phone snaps are intended for Instagram, which I don’t find engaging, so I hardly ever post to it.

However, I have continued to remain photographically engaged in all other ways, and now, I’m starting to get a sense of how photography has changed since I first became interested in it in the 1970s.

Or maybe I have changed.

Or maybe I haven’t, it’s hard to tell.

It is also possible I don’t have anything else to say. At least nothing I want to print and hang on a wall.

Part of this disorientation seems to be screen based photography, part it seems to be the

in current photographic trends.

LET’S GET PHYSICAL.

I enjoy digital photography, but have been disappointed with digital presentation. At first, coming from film and paper, digital seemed so liberating, but occasionally, when I had something printed, I realized the added value a finished print offered, something I could view in my own way.

Twice a month when I was in the Camera Club, we had opportunity to show work. One night was Projected Image Night, and as images came on the screen, there seemed to be minimal discussion, along with a tendency to keep moving. I think this tendency is a symptom of viewing (or even reading) on devices-we push buttons because we can.

Print Night, the alternate evening, was much more satisfying, we had to get involved. We had to assemble the portable “Gallery” walls, set up light stands for viewing, then hang the prints, oftentimes jostling for space, and seldom having enough of it. I believe there was significantly more engagement, and more discussion on print night. They even had to set a timer because the discussions kept going on,

and we would run out of time before we could discuss everybody’s work.

I wanted to learn more about printing, so I enrolled in a Berkeley Community College class which included print critiques as part of each class session, and also provided access to a very nice print lab. The Instructor had a thorough knowledge of photography, and photographic printing, and did a good job of managing the critiques. I greatly enjoyed viewing and discussing the work, it was very gratifying to walk right up to something that caught my attention and stick my nose in it.  And I loved the discussions.

Aside from seeing their iconic images, I think this form of viewing is what made the recent Walker Evans and Brassai exhibits at SF MOMA such rich experiences for me. A great deal of their work was printed no larger than 8×10, and close viewing was essential. I know this is a cell phone shot of a photograph, but you really had to get in there and study this in order to absorb it-at least I did.

Subsequent BCC classes were still about photography, but because that instructor approached it from an arty perspective, the sessions evolved into art classes where photography was part of a larger discussion of imagery. There were no critiques, and occasional assignment presentations were digitally projected. It was my sense that there was less group involvement while viewing the images, and once again, the “slideshow” moved pretty quickly.

It wasn’t for me.

In order to refine their eye, many photographers do look to the greater art world for education, but this doesn’t seem to work for me. I have to say that whatever (photographic) sensibilities I might possess were developed by looking at tens of thousands of photos over the years.

Because the customary method of viewing work in this class was digital projection, I decided to do a web site as a final class project. I had been thinking about one for quite a while, but frankly, I needed such a deadline in order to get it done.

Now maybe my work just isn’t that engaging, but when I hung many of these images as prints on the wall in the previous class, they generated conversation (sometimes quite spirited, sometimes critical), but as projected images, not so much. One thing I realized was the difficulty seeing details, which in many cases, brings out the texture that creates the story. Because it has big graphic shapes, this image had esthetic appeal, but no one could see that the crew members are all elderly Women.

However, once they get past the prettiness, everyone who has handled the actual print zooms in on the crew-this is the hook in this photograph they respond to.

This seems reinforced by the competitions that I entered-accepted entries had big strong elements that would be apparent on a screen-

After BCC, I joined a print based critique group, and had the same experience. The conversations were lively, and John Priola, the facilitator was very good at initiating thoughtful and intelligent dialog within the group. My first two print critiques were quite stimulating, but due to a schedule mixup, I was unable to bring in prints of my 123 Project

 

Since it is on my website, we rounded up a projector, and viewed it that way. The results were embarrassing-

“What is this, some kind of road trip?”

“I can’t tell what I am looking at!”

I think this

and this

came off as just roadside architecture, and neon.

Until I told them the nature of the number of prints it is composed of (35), and showed them the actual size of the Carquinez Bridge shot they were unimpressed, but then they were only impressed by the numbers, not the projected image.

 

 

 

But there is so much detail, along with deep perspective in this photo that the print gets some attention-people in the same room with it tend to like it.

I later printed, mounted, and exhibited this same series locally, and it was pretty well received- I even sold a few prints from it.

It is possible the series is too personal, and isn’t that interesting to the general public. I have an opportunity to bring prints to another critique session at SF Camerawork, and am considering using the 123 set.

We will see the response.

 

Until then, I’m

 

 

BRASSAI

We recently visited the Brassai exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and it opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of his work. Brassai is best known for his “Paris at Night” photos, but he was so much more than that. I read somewhere that he started out as a painter, but was inspired to take up photography by Andre’ Kertesz*, his contemporary in the Paris art scene of the 1920s. Kertesz seemed to have a knack for photographically noticing an element of everyday life that “would make a good picture”, and then capturing it-two very distinct activities.

Brassai also had this talent –

To me, this one seems particularly “Kertesz like”

 

Many of Brassai’s photos were of  tradespeople just doing their job

 

The photo adjacent to this one had this guy and his crew eating their lunch. I hope they had Hand Sanitizer with them.

I should note that the museum staff gave me permission to take pics of these pics with my phone.

Apparently, Brassai photographed many society functions, but he is most famous for his pics of the “other” Paris, the one that exists after dark. As depicted, this is the world of night clubs and bars, prostitutes and criminals, and for a photographer, it also was a world of visually interesting characters and situations that made good pictures.

Monastic Brothel?

 

Considering the speed of photographic emulsions at the time, this atmosphere must have presented constant lighting challenges, and aside from the necessary tripod, the cameras, glass plates and carriers must have required a fair amount of muscle to lug around.

 

These two were my favorites

 

 

 

 

“Brassai” is running through February 17th.  If you were raised on traditional photography, and have a chance to visit San Francisco between now and then, put this show on your list.

 

I’m going back for a second look.

 

 

 

 

 

*Who wasn’t inspired by Kertesz?

Currency Exchange

Yesterday, I was running errands, and a shopkeeper gave me a $2 bill as change. At my next stop, I received a Sacagawea dollar coin.

I had to ask myself if it had been declared Oddball Currency Day, and nobody sent me the memo.

I am no stranger to $2 Bills, but haven’t seen one used in circulation for a very long time. My Mother always had an interest in coin (and currency) collecting, and occasionally, when I was a kid, if she got one of these oddball currencies, she would give it to me. This included Indian Head Pennies, Buffalo Nickels,

 

Winged Mercury Head Dimes, and coins produced during WWII that, due to the War effort, were minted from alternate materials.

In Missouri, where I was raised, we also had .1 and .5 cent Mills  or fractional tax tokens-I think sales tax was 4 ½ %, so although a nuisance to carry around, they probably came in handy.

From time to time, she also gave me Silver Dollars, uncirculated coins, and in 1957, she gave me a U.S. Mint Proof Set-a full set of newly minted coins encased in a plastic container. ’57 pennies still had the Wheat Back design, which I still sort out of  my change jar.

The Proof Set was wrapped in a box decorated with miniature $100 bills.

 

But the $2 bill had a special place for her, for on my 50th Birthday, she gave me 50 of them.

 

 

It is curious that coins bearing the likeness of Native Americans and Women (including Susan B. Anthony) fall out of favor, and we are left with a bunch of White Guys.