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?

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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.

 

Next Chapter

Photographically, these are not productive times for me. For a few years after my                   2010 Calendar stimulated me back into serious photographic activity, I got busy.                            I joined a camera club, discovered Vivian Maier and Garry Winogrand (along with others), and heard this term, “Street Photography” being used. I felt I could identify with Street Photography.

For the next few years, I carried a camera everywhere with me, and while I had done this in the past as well, I am happy to say that these last few years were were my most productive.               I don’t think my craft had improved, but I do believe that my sense of photography has matured.

I wanted to refresh my photographic experiences not by sticking my head in books, but getting out there and brushing up against real life photogs who were doing real work. I saw good work at the camera club, but their organizational model was so enveloped in formal judgings and accumulating competition points, that I didn’t attend any of those the meetings. The other meetings were open showings with member critiques, and though the work was very good, the members even used the same language as the judges, and to me it just didn’t have any soul.

I am not a technical photographer, but the camera club made me want to learn about printing, so I took some classes from the Art Department of a local community college. One  thing I learned is  that I am not good at printing, but I did find value in assignments and critiques. Assignments instilled discipline, and I loved the dialogue of a group critique, but as these classes transitioned from one instructor who used Photography to discuss Art, to another who used Art to discuss Photography, I found it no longer stimulating.

All of this time, I was carrying my camera, and shooting like crazy. I was also entering calls for judged exhibitions, got accepted for a few, and even sold some work. The money was nice, but the acceptance, the validation of my ideas, was the most satisfying part.

What I just described took place from about 2010 to 2017, then started to peter out. I had attended a couple of Street Photography exhibitions and lectures, and although the images were fresh, they didn’t look very different. It seemed as if Street Photography had evolved into a genre, and the practitioners were all using the same rule book.

I also unsuccessfully entered a few Arty competitions, but those applications were really just exhibition inertia.

As Terry Allen would say, “All that exhibiting was just too damned inhibiting for a beer drinkin’ regular guy like me.”.

I was already  pretty unproductive for awhile, then when I broke my camera, I lost all momentum. I already had a few projects on the back burner, and thought that since I was cameraless, I could shift my energy to finishing them up, but like Meier and Winogrand, shooting is much more fun than processing and editing.

I have always used my camera for visual note taking, but over time, this chore was transferred to my phone, as I realized it was more accessible. Now that I don’t have a camera with me, I use the phone for everything, but don’t find it satisfying for “serious” work-I am a viewfinder guy, and have difficulty composing and shooting with a touchscreen.

I haven’t given up on Photography, but I think I just need to find new direction. Daily, I still go to several photography web sites*, which take me in several directions. I visit galleries, have read a few books, and attend monthly member critiques at SF Camerawork. I believe something is stirring inside, and hopefully, it will soon bubble to the surface.

 

Stay tuned.

 

* The Online Photographer

* Shorpy

Petapixel 

* Shifter

 

 

 

I Broke My Camera

The triangle is the most stable structure- it’s a basic law addressing the strength of a form.

I was trying to squeeze some extra height out of my tripod by bringing the legs together, which raised the head, but also basically turned it into a monopod with three feet. I was distracted for a moment, and don’t know what happened next, but a crashing sound brought me back into the present. When I turned around, the tripod and camera were flat on the ground. When I powered the camera on, it would shut down after 7-8 seconds.

I take care of my tools, and although I am conscious of the cost to replace this camera, the object itself is not precious-it can be replaced. Every action has consequences, and I can accept the fact that I needed to make this tripod perform in a less than optimum way. I am a bit annoyed that, in the end, I chose a different photograph for my intended purpose, but that happens all the time anyway.

So what now?

Because I carry my camera everywhere, at first I felt the urge to replace it. But then I relaxed, saw this as an opportunity to not shoot for awhile, and put my photo energy to work on a few other projects.

Although I try to keep my photo library organized, bits and pieces get moved around, and duplicates in various file sizes and even formats get stored all over my computer and back up drive. When I need an image, sometimes it is difficult to determine which one is the final version, the one I intend to use, and which ones are just leftovers from the editing process. Here is one image stored in several locations, just on my laptop-

Here are more files of the same image, stored on my external hard drive-

Many of these folders each contain the many of the variations of individual images that are displayed below. they are the same image over and over again, hundreds of them, sometimes saved for only one purpose.

So many files, so little time.

I have developed a method of weeding our all of these duplicates, but it is mind numbing, and I can only clean up three or four at a time during my Friday night Blues show-

https://kcsm.org/jazzprograms/crazybouttheblues.php

2018 Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day

As always, the last Sunday in April is Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Getting accepted in and participating in a couple of shows and exhibitions has been pretty intoxicating, so it was a pleasure to go out and take photos just for the joy of participation.

I didn’t make a new lens this year, I just re used the one from last year

I went out with one subject in mind, and fortunately, got distracted by all of the possibilities I found along the way.

How could I resist the Emeryville City Hall,  one of my favorite East Bay buildings?

As I was shooting, I notice this interesting Giraffe* out in front of a café’

I returned home, and shot a couple of our household friends, a wall shelf in the dining room

 

 

and this Cat head doll my daughter made

 

 

In the end, I chose to use the Giraffe, it was more fun.

 

You can see the post here-

http://www.pinholeday.org/gallery/2018/?id=1091

 

But the greatest pleasure of the WWPPD website is to just start anywhere, and start scrolling through all of the terrific images that have been submitted from all over the world. Because I am a Do it Yourselfer, my additional pleasure is seeing all of the really clever contraptions my colleagues have devised to capture their images.

This ingenuity is still one of the strongest elements of being humans-making our own tools.

 

*No animals were harmed in the shooting of this photo.